Monthly Archives: May 2009

May 20, 2009, 1:05 pm

Also, don’t go for the joke.

The first rule of improv comedy is, “don’t deny.”1 If your partner says something about you, it’s true; if you don’t like it, work around it. If you stop and say, “No, I’m not a beet farmer, I’m a rocket scientist,” then the scene loses all interest for the audience and becomes two annoying actors squabbling.

I hereby arbitrarily assert by the authority vested in me as a guy with a blog, this rule applies equally to introductions to academic talks. If someone mispronounces your name, let it go. If they get the title of your book wrong, you can if you really must find a way to mention it properly yourself, without explicitly correcting your host. If they say you’re an expert in x and that’s why you’re giving this talk, and it turns out your talk isn’t really about x, you can probably find a way to say, “Yes, I have interests in x, and those led me naturally to the material in this…

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May 20, 2009, 10:06 am

No law at all in Deadwood


Imagine, if you will, a football field of standard dimensions. The faculty in Computer Science and Engineering, Mathematics and Statistics, along with a smattering of faculty from other sciences and a few in the Humanities, are sitting in the stands, spectating. The rest of the faculty are crowded together down on the field, wearing football helmets and running into each other at random, over and over and over again. There are no referees.

Such is the electronic behavior of the LSU faculty this afternoon, after geniuses in the registrar’s office decided that all 5000 faculty at LSU needed to be added to an unmoderated listserv. Yes, you read that correctly: an unmoderated listserv. We may never understand how the office arrived at this decision, especially in consideration of the fact (announced proudly on the listserv when it sent its first broadcast this morning) that the…

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May 20, 2009, 9:35 am

Not only did we pay attention, we paid through the nose.

Scott McLemee has a great interview with Jeet Heer, on the original Little Orphan Annie:

In 1931, Daddy Warbucks loses his fortune to unscrupulous Wall Street speculators, is blinded, and lives for a time as a street beggar. But after hitting bottom he regains his fighting spirit and outwits the Wall Street sharks who brought him and America low. By 1932, the villains in the strip are increasingly identified with the political left: snide bohemian intellectuals who mock traditional values, upper-crust class traitors who give money to communists, officious bureaucrats who hamper big business, corrupt labour union leaders who sabotage industry, demagogic politicians who stir up class envy in order to win elections, and busybody social workers who won’t let a poor orphan girl work for a living because of their silly child labor laws. Gray started to identify liberalism with elitism, a…

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May 19, 2009, 9:56 am


[Following up on this post.]

The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery. The military denies that this is an official requirement, though there is skepticism:

The U.S. military appears to have toughened its standards for bestowing the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in battle, to exclude troops who survive their heroic acts, a California lawmaker charged Thursday.
Either troops are “not as brave as they used to be, which I don’t believe is true,” or the criteria for the award have been amended “so that you have to die” to receive it, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., told the…

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May 18, 2009, 3:08 pm


Last week I gave a couple of talks, one at Cambridge on “New Deal Revisionism Revisited” and one at Århus (also known as Aarhus) on “Region, Nation, and Immigration”. I imagine the first talk would have little in it that is new to readers of this blog; the second talk drew on the research I’m now doing for my new book, about which I may have more to say in a while.

But for now a few notes.

1. Denmark is expensive. Holy smokes, I thought England was pricey, but Denmark leaves poor Blighty stumbling at the starting gate in the purchasing-power-parity stakes.

2. During one of many stints on planes-trains-and-automobiles, I watched the Channel Four/NOVA documentary on the Irving trial. It’s an interesting lesson, worth a post perhaps, on the dynamics of denialism and the obligations of historians to know when to quit in demanding proof of a case.

3. European undergraduates and…

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May 18, 2009, 10:22 am

An end-of-term treat

The Dowd plagiarism thing is just too delicious. The cut-and-paste from Josh Marshall is eye-popping by itself, of course. JMM:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Dowd on Sunday, via Delong:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

I love that it’s Josh in particular, because TPM is serious business and because Josh has (rightly) busted on newspaper reporters for lifting from blogs without attribution. But Dowd’s excuse takes it to the next level: …

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May 15, 2009, 6:08 am

100 places.

From the street display in Århus of “100 places to remember before they disappear”, on the web in English here.

May 14, 2009, 2:16 pm

Cheap Shot for the Day

ciaseal.pngThe CIA has a kid’s page. So does the CIA, for that matter, but I find the former much more disturbing. The kids’ page of the Central Intelligence Agency includes a “Bird’s Eye View of CIA History,” narrated by “Aerial, the ace photography pigeon.” There are links to the CIA “Hall of Fame,” which–disappointingly–includes only non-classified information (I know about Harry Truman and George H.W. Bush! Tell me cool secret things).

Interested in a job at the CIA? For all those 6th-12 graders who might be eager to join, the agency says “Seriously, Just Say ‘No’“:

For those of you who can pledge to stay away from illegally and improperly using drugs and alcohol, there are student opportunities immediately available at the CIA for the best and brightest.

Finally, there are games. There are puzzles, word finds, and “break the code.” “Break the code” includes a challenge involving…

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May 13, 2009, 9:02 pm

If it were 1866, the Inquirer would be hiring Zombie John Calhoun

This is 31 flavors of stupid:

“There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication,” Mr. [Harold] Jackson [the Inquirer's editorial page editor] said. “We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix.”

Asked if the release of the memos affected his view of hiring Mr. Yoo, Mr. Jackson said: “From a personal perspective, yes. We certainly know more now than we did [in 2008], but we didn’t go into that contract blindly. I’m not going to say the same decision wouldn’t have been made.”

But Mr. Tierney said the memos did not alter his opinion.

“What I liked about John Yoo is he’s a Philadelphian,” [the paper's publisher, Brian] Tierney said. “He went to Episcopal Academy, where I went to school. He’s a very, very bright guy. He’s on the faculty at Berkeley, one …

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May 13, 2009, 3:17 pm


One may question the pedagogical value of final exams, especially when one is in the midst of grading them, but the plain truth is that in-class exams afford a somewhat unique opportunity for feverishly scrawled… artwork (reproduced via Paint here):


The problem of induction, illustrated.

Happy grading, everyone.

May 13, 2009, 8:48 am

Postblogging 1909

Brett Holman, whose series post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis inspired my Boxer Uprising Day to Day, is now starting to work his way through the “phantom airship wave” in 1909 Britain:

It’s 90 years since the phantom airship wave of 1909, when mysterious aerial visitors appeared in the night skies over Britain. Or at least, stories about mysterious aerial visitors filled the newspapers of Britain. It’s hard to tell from this distance: the only evidence we have about the scareships are the press reports, which could be a problem if you are interested in a possible underlying reality. But then again, since the number of (alleged) phantom airship witnesses is relatively small, the press was the only way most people would have learned that their sky was being invaded by Zeppelins every night. So for them as for us, the stories are the event itself.

If it lives up to his previous work, it…

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May 12, 2009, 6:39 pm

“By God, Jim, it’s a giant red ball of . . .

. . . phlebotnum.”

That being what Bones would’ve said had he taken a look at the “red matter” in Spock’s ship.  Which is fine because, as Russell Arben Fox notes, the new Star Trek film manifestly works.  I don’t share the qualms Timothy Burke and his commenters are expressing over the continuity issues raised by the film, because I care more about quality than continuity.  Moreover, I think what Abrams did there was damn clever.

(If you ain’t yet seen the film but plan to this is where you should stop reading.)


May 12, 2009, 6:03 pm

“And now you have cholera.”

Sent in by a loyal reader who cares about the blog. And you? What have *you* done for the blog lately? Well? It’s not really a hard question, you know.

May 12, 2009, 2:57 pm

Tortured logic.

Did NPR ever not suck? That’s a serious question, by the way, as I’ve begun to doubt my memories of public radio’s glorious past. Anyway, I was trapped in my car yesterday and had no choice but to tune in to “Talk of the Nation”. Lucky me, I got to hear Neal Conan’s inane effort to be fair and balanced about torture (listen here — if you dare). I almost drove into incoming traffic to end the pain. I really miss Ray Suarez. (And yes, before you ask, I do still love “This American Life”.)

May 11, 2009, 5:35 pm

Boxers, April 15, 1900-May 15, 1900: The Squeezable Lord Salisbury, The Din of the Hammer and the Axe, and the Hum of Wheels, The Panting Man Falls Into His Grave

A seemingly slow month in China, at least as the New York Times reported it. Events from China were less compelling to the paper than events at which people spoke about China. The Boxers were still active, attacking Chinese Catholics southwest of Tianjin, and mounting an attack on both British and Russian units during the period. But the Times wasn’t really interested. The first news it related in a brief 71 word story on 23 April, only to retract it on 26 April as “quite erroneous.” Instead, the paper reported “Some Boxers attacked a village occupied bv a number of Catholics, but were driven off.” The lack of interest of “some boxers” is palpable. [1] The attack on the Russians and British were not seen as part of a larger uprising, but official conniving. “The disturbances are due to Chinese officials working on the credulity of the natives.” [2] The Times was curiously…

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