Monthly Archives: September 2009

September 22, 2009, 9:41 am

The specter of online education: it looms.

I once saw Joel Garreau give a talk in which he promised (promised!) that brick-and-mortar stores would soon be gone (gone!) because everybody (everybody!) would be doing all their shopping online. Big boxes, especially, were dinosaurs (dinosaurs!), he claimed. And one of the major challenges facing urbanists would be what to do with the empty shell of the discarded consumer landscape after all of the consumers had moved to Internet. Garreau told his rapt audience that this process of creative destruction would take less than a decade.*

That was eleven years ago. And Davis’s gigantic new Target, a palace to hyper-modern consumer culture, is slated to open in less than a month.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve long had doubts about the idea that online education will spell the death of brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. But this article, coupled with the…

Read More

September 21, 2009, 1:51 pm

Conservatives are outraged over an actual outrage? Color me impressed.

It may have taken awhile, but thanks to Patrick Courrielche’s exposé at, of all places, Big Hollywood, conservatives are positively fuming over the Bush Administrations decision to funnel $2.2 billion through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives into programs that specifically support the President’s ideological and policy commitments, like the Abstinence Education Program, designed to “enable states to provide abstinence education and mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity.”

Conservatives are rightly upset with a speech Bush delivered at the 2004 White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, in which he said “[i]t’s hard to be a faith-based program if you can’t practice faith [and] the message to you is, we’re changing the culture here in America.”

“It’s hard to read his comments …

Read More

September 21, 2009, 11:41 am


Of other people’s career arcs, you mean? Well, yes, occasionally I am. Look, I’m not proud of my covetous nature, particularly not with the Day of Atonement fast approaching (note to self: get right with God). But there it is. And this interview with Jill Lepore didn’t exactly make me feel better. An endowed chair at Harvard, a published novelist, a staff writer for the New Yorker, sigh, it is to want.

Anyway, the interview is interesting. And you should read it. But the part that caught my eye was where Lepore talks about why she became a historian. Oddly enough, someone asked me that question over the weekend. Usually the issue doesn’t come up, because when people ask me what I do for a living, I say that I’m a teacher. Or a shepherd*. Anyway, before my older boy’s soccer game on Saturday, one of the other parents wanted to know why I became a historian. And I totally…

Read More

September 20, 2009, 10:13 pm


An xkcd for US historians. After all, why should the math and computer science folks have all the fun?

I look forward to an FDR installment.

September 20, 2009, 5:36 am

Burglar is totally regretting this Facebook thing.

The 21st century update of the old saw where the burglar leaves his wallet in the sofa cushions:

The popular online social networking site Facebook helped lead to an alleged burglar’s arrest after he stopped check his account on the victim’s computer, but forgot to log out before leaving the home with two diamond rings.

While this particular breed of clumsiness is of course quite rare, according to a friend of mine who is a cop, it is becoming standard practice in certain kind of crimes to check the suspect’s public Facebook profile.

The default settings on Facebook show a limited version of someone’s profile, but also show with whom they are friends.  So suppose you’ve just arrested some kid who knocked over a 7-11.  From witnesses, you know he had help.  But who could have been his associates?  The friends list in some cases is an exceedingly helpful starting point.

September 19, 2009, 4:10 pm

Be nice, now. The English language is not Ed Morrissey’s strong suit, and he at least makes a show of reining in the racist comments he knowingly baits from his audience.

It seems Mr. Ed Morrissey caught President Obama fibbing again. See, Michelle Obama said this:

I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away.

Which the New York Times reported thus:

In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.

So far, so consistent: something was wrong with Sasha Obama; she was brought to a pediatrician;…

Read More

September 19, 2009, 3:06 am

Let’s Pray: Detroit

The Detroit airport is the weirdest one I pass through regularly. There’s the cool fountain and the irritating but points-for-trying tunnel of light– and, it turns out, a chapel, or, as it’s called, a “religious reflection room,” which I found via this interesting post.

I’m trying not to be totally weak with the salat, it being Ramadan and all, and it was time for maghrib and I had a long layover anyway, so I thought I’d give it a shot.


September 18, 2009, 1:36 pm

To the victor belong the airmiles.

Really, Congressional and Political Insiders? Really?

September 18, 2009, 1:16 pm


This chart, gratuitously stolen from Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly, suggests strongly that political discourse in the United States is going to get worse rather than better:


We have the perfect storm: an African-American President and an opposition party whose concerns, language, and obsessions is driven largely by the concerns, language, and obsessions of the American South. Those ideas–racial, cultural, martial–are what is going to drive the GOP until they escape their regional status. Jimmy Carter well knows this, and it is no coincidence that the current poster child for Republican obstructionism is South Carolina. We may date the finish of the Civil War to 1865, but the conflict has never really ended.

September 18, 2009, 11:18 am

Oh, lords of the catallaxy, hear my prayer.

While in Boston recently I happened into a pub offering actual English beer on tap—not just Boddingtons, which I’ve seen, but real good stuff like Old Speckled Hen and Fuller’s.

Are there such places elsewhere—possibly, even, in Northern California? It would save a lot of money and environmental damage in transcontinental-plus-transatlantic pub visits.

September 17, 2009, 5:15 pm

He may have said, “[w]e need segregated buses,” but that doesn’t mean he’s a racist. (This, however, does.)

For purely academic reasons, I’ve never understood the argument that we should ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s simply an entertainer who says outrageous things that millions of people are merely entertained by.  I didn’t read the complete works of Silas Weir Mitchell because they were good—they are almost uniformly awful—I read them because they were popular.  I was interested not in the content of his thought—it is almost uniformly mediocre—but in why his contemporaries found it so wildly appealing.  If you want to learn which ideas and ideologies literate Americans in 1900 found comforting, you do not consult Henry James: you turn to the inartistic novels that parroted their prejudices back to them in a language they already understood.  So when people say that we should dismiss Limbaugh on the grounds that he only says outrageous things to sell his product, I’m never …

Read More

September 17, 2009, 4:08 pm

I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.

The State of Texas is in the process of defining new social studies standards for its public schools. And if the above video is any indication, we can look forward to a much more appealing version of American history going forward. I say that because Texas is a huge market for textbooks. So if Texans want happy history, the rest of the nation will just have to go along for the ride.

Which news, I have to say, comes as a bit of a relief. I mean, history can be such a downer. Things will be much better when we focus, relentlessly, on how exceptional our country is. Also: if we delete all mention of isolationism. Because that topic is pernicious and depressing. And U.S. history should be a celebration of us. Heck, us is right there in the title of the course.

More here and here.

September 16, 2009, 6:26 pm

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

September 16, 2009, 5:01 am


In 1967, Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Labor issued the “Manpower report of the president”, in keeping with the requirements of the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 (76 Stat. 23) signed into law by John Kennedy for “making possible the training of the hundreds of thousands of workers who are denied employment because they do not possess the skills required by our constantly changing economy”.

Heading 4 of the introduction to Johnson’s report read, “We Must Make Military Service a Path to Productive Careers”, and underneath that announced,

… the Secretary of Defense has launced ‘Project 100,000′ to accept and train thousands of young men who were previously rejected as unfit for military service. Under this program, 40,000 young men are joining the Armed Forces this year; 100,000 will join next year. All will receive specialized training to help them become good…

Read More

September 15, 2009, 7:12 pm

Imma let you finish

I’m really happy for you, internet, but we need a new meme, and this should be good for a couple of minutes of chuckles.

I was just teaching rudimentary consequentialism this morning, and it strikes me that instead of talking about same old same old Chop Chuck, we can talk about how Kanye’s outburst is justified by being instrumentally hilarious, not only because of the photoshops but also because of Obama calling him a jackass and almost–almost!– busting on PETA.