Monthly Archives: June 2009

June 30, 2009, 9:25 pm

Pseudo-liveblogging tenure denial I

The email starts this way:

Dear Neddy,

I am writing to let you know your tenure decision was negative. I am very sorry to have to let you know this unpleasant outcome.*

Fortunately I’d been told on the phone that morning that results were due out in the afternoon, so I have time to flee campus and head downtown before getting the message. I’d done some work to brace myself for the possibility, but it didn’t seem to do a lot of good. Texting reveals that half the decisions were negative this year. What a mess.

The shame is overwhelming. What will my adviser think? How do I tell my mother? (Yes, in that order.)

I go to the office that night to prep for a class. Some senior colleagues are around. They’ve heard, and they’re being supportive and consoling. Sort of a weird dynamic because I don’t know what their formal assessments were like, but still, appreciated.** The provost…

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June 30, 2009, 12:17 pm

The First Rough Draft of History [Boxers, June 30, 1900]

seymour2.jpgJournalism is famously the “first rough draft of history” and today I want to look for a moment at what kind of draft it is. To do so, I’ve taken a relatively short article from the New York Times of June 30, 1900, and read it closely. How well does an article written in the heat of the moment stand up for the long term?

The short answer: not well. The long answer, however, is that it is interesting to analyze how the article was constructed, what agendas were served, and where inaccurate or shaded information served some purpose other than simply reporting. As a factual account of events prior to June 30, 1900, the article failed. As a source for a history of that period, the article seems to me eminently useful.

Before we explore those answers further, let me lay out a bit of the background to the article. Since early June, 1900, the crisis in China had grown enormously….

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June 30, 2009, 9:33 am

That phrase….

Adam Serwer complains today of the administration’s approach to LGBT issues,

In 1955, the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation to commence with “all deliberate speed.” Lately, it seems like the Obama administration has been moving in slow motion.

But that’s kind of what “all deliberate speed” means. Warren had originally written “at the earliest practicable date”. But Frankfurter urged him, successfully, to change it.

‘with all deliberate speed’ conveys more effectively the process of time for the effectuation of our decision…. I think it is highly desirable to educate public opinion—the parties themselves and the general public—to an understanding that we are at the beginning of a process of enforcement and not concluding it…. as … the phrase ‘with all deliberate speed’ … [is] calculated to do.

So, disappointing though the administration’s policies may be, the…

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June 29, 2009, 3:15 pm

Buffy writes a journal article.

You’ll sometimes hear historians bemoaning the state of professional scholarship, saying there’s nothing interesting in the new issues of our journals and everyone’s fixated on trivia to the exclusion of important questions. And I like a good jeremiad as well as anyone. But I thought I’d begin a series of posts on journal articles that are interesting and nontrivial. (We’ll see how long it lasts.)


Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies,” Journal of African American History 92, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 265-288.

Link here, for those who can access it.

June 29, 2009, 12:01 am

Garfield – Garfield = ?

Seriously, check it out.

Via seth.

June 28, 2009, 3:12 pm

“Polygraph-level scholarship may suffice for harmless speculation about the authorship of Midsummer’s Night Dream, but not for Dreams From My Father. Too much is at stake.”

(by request.)

As all actual, practicing literary critics know, few sentences in critical works scream tendentiousness louder than:

What should be transparent to any literary critic is that . . .

Literary matters are only “transparent” when they’re not properly literary. If something is transparent, you don’t need a literary critic to ponder the depths it doesn’t have—any old idiot will suffice. And that’s exactly why Jack Cashill, author of the above and an idiot of long-standing, is just the man to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father. For Cashill and his mysterious contributors (“[t]he media punishment that Joe the Plumber received” requires they remain anonymous), the case against Obama is a compelling one:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the…

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June 26, 2009, 6:50 pm

It’s gone. It was so small. It might come back.

June 26, 2009, 7:48 am

“The monumental man had monumental flaws.”

Maira Kalman tackles Jefferson and Monticello. The piece doesn’t change my opinion of Jefferson: terrible president, massive hypocrite, astonishing mind. Nor of Kalman*: national treasure. But it’s well worth the time.

* Are we related? Perhaps distantly? I’d like to think so.

June 26, 2009, 5:16 am


Look at your local paper; for bad reasons I’m looking at USA Today.

And, srsly? Bigger than Iran, Bernanke, and Farrah Fawcett? At least Fawcett did The Burning Bed.

June 25, 2009, 6:37 pm

“The rush of the flames…”

[Editor's Note: When Jacob Remes isn't using his superpowers to fight crime, he toils as a PhD candidate in history at Duke University, where he's writing a dissertation about the Salem Fire and the Halifax explosion. You can find more information here. And if you'd like to write a TDIH, please let me know.]

The workers at Korn Leather Company in Salem, Mass., made embossed patent leather by coating leather with a solution made of scrap celluloid film, alcohol, and amyl-acetate, and then applying steam heat. On this day in 1914, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, something went terribly wrong, and—perhaps not surprisingly given the flammable nature of the work—the whole rickety structure caught fire. Half an hour later, the fire had spread to fifteen more buildings, forcing 300 workers to flee. By 7:00 that evening, the fire crossed into the Point, a tightly packed neighborhood…

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June 25, 2009, 5:51 pm

Iranian protesters are still in the process of . . .

. . . BURNING SHIT DOWN, which must be why neither the Los Angeles Times nor Twitter will load.  I admit that watching the social media site come into its own in response to an international crisis makes me wonder whether I ought to be a little less cynical of the political power of new media and the political engagement of the online generati—what?

You have got to be kidding me.

Somewhere in Tehran, an Iranian protester’s desperately punching his jerry-rigged mobile device trying to figure out what the fuck happened to Twitter.

June 24, 2009, 2:30 pm

Do [conservatives] dare to eat a peach?

Two groups of people are annoyed that the administration collaborated with the Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney on a question about Iran: seasoned pool reporters invested in the pecking order who believe Pitney jumped the line, and partisan hacks whose concern for Iran disappears the moment an opportunity to denounce the media arrives.

As to the former, they are, to paraphrase Tim Crouse, journalistic Prufrocks who measure their lives in handouts, and Pitney had the audacity to receive more sooner than this collection of easy tools thought prudent. More significant, or at least more revelatory, is the response of those who have spent the past week full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse on the subject of Obama’s refusal to condemn Iran. They pressed Obama to use the word “condemn” itself, because any condemnation that doesn’t sets off their Neville detectors. No mere objection, they…

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June 24, 2009, 12:36 pm

One never expects the hangover, despite all the evidence

The blogospheric dynamic often resembles that of a particularly raucous frat party.  Someone gets the idea in their head to dance on a table.  Suddenly dancing on tables with a bottle in hand is  the best idea to occur to anyone, not dancing on tables is a sign of depravity, and the drunken boys surrounding the table chanting “Chug! Chug! Chug!” reinforce the dancer’s dubious choice.  Hours later the dancer comes to, facedown in a lampshade, and, at this particular party, wondering what on earth he could have done in his stupor to earn the plastic green beads roped around his neck.

Do not mistake my silence on Iran for a lack of interest.  Like everyone else, I’m reading the blogs and the tweets. I find the regime’s violence abhorrent.   I sympathize with the protesters.  They look like the nearby counterparts of my friends and students.  I am impressed by their courage, and I …

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June 24, 2009, 7:27 am

Uh…Uh-huh? Really?

wheres_waldo.jpgSouth Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been tipped as one of the rising stars of the GOP, with potential presidential hopes in 2012. That makes the events of the last week all the more strange. Sanford disappeared. No one knew where he was: not his wife, not his office, not the Governor’s security detail. He was gone. The stories put out got stranger and stranger. First, his office said, he had gone off to work on some writing projects by himself. Then, he was walking the Appalachian Trail to clear his mind after the recent legislative session. The office did mention that his last call to them had been traced to a cellphone tower near Atlanta, which led immediately to the question of why his office had been tracking him via cell phone towers.

Nonetheless, everyone insisted, things were just fine. Sanford would come back on Wednesday to resume the business of government in So…

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June 23, 2009, 3:07 pm

Determined to prove a villain.

Every newly released Nixon tape reminds us afresh how special he was. But this one has extra bonus Reagan approval of Nixon’s attempt to evade justice!

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding: “Or a rape.”

Nine months later, after Nixon precipitated the resignations of two top Justice Department officials and forced the firing of the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate affair, Ronald Reagan, who was then the governor of California and would later be president, told the White House that he heartily approved.

Reagan told the White House that the action — which would become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” — was “probably the best thing that ever happened — none of them belong where they were,” according to a Nixon aide’s notes of the private conversation.