Author Archives: Ari Kelman

November 10, 2011, 9:31 pm

“Wikipedia had nothing!”

Having taught the War of 1812 the other day, I have to say I only did marginally better than this. And I’ve got no excuse. I’ve read Alan Taylor’s new book.

November 9, 2011, 10:25 pm

The center: not holding.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But it certainly looks like UC police began beating unarmed and peaceful students in Berkeley this afternoon.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in the unfortunately named Happy Valley, students apparently are rioting to protest the ouster of Joe Paterno.

November 9, 2011, 12:38 pm

Renovating Rushmore.

Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy…

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November 8, 2011, 12:56 pm

Paterno’s “Grand Experiment”.

Forgive me for casting aside studied indifference and blog-standard irony. And forgive me also for seeing in tragedy a potential opportunity. But I think the horrifying situation at Penn State suggests that it’s time to acknowledge that big-time college football is a net loser for universities.

Forget that most programs hemorrhage money. Forget that the players are typically African-American, typically don’t graduate, and are typically put in harm’s way for the entertainment of wealthy donors who are typically white. Forget that academic standards are rejiggered or ignored so that these young men can be admitted to play football. Forget that the BCS isn’t a meritocracy that rewards excellence so much as an oligopoly that protects its most important members. Forget that college football has always oozed corruption. Forget that football coaches wield extraordinary, even…

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November 4, 2011, 2:11 pm

Nothing gold can stay.

Casting about last night for books that the older boy* might want to read, I began thinking about S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders as a possible candidate. Then, while looking around the web for reminders of its contents — too sexxxy? too violent? — I discovered that Ms. Hinton** was in her teens when she wrote the book. “That’s remarkable,” thought I. I then remembered the moment that I learned, shortly after reading Rumble Fish in fifth grade, that she was a she rather than the he that I had supposed. I share this anecdote not because it’s important but because the older boy only recently grilled me about why J.K. Rowling uses her initials rather than revealing her gender. “The patriarchy,” I explained with a sad nod. He understood.

Anyway, if you can think of books suitable for a somewhat precocious nine-year-old, that would be wonderful. Said books can even be written by women….

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October 28, 2011, 6:29 pm

Better angels.

I know Wordles are so last week, but I just decided to Wordleize Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugurals. I’d like to say the results are stunning or at least interesting. They aren’t. Still, if you’d care to see for yourself, you can peek below the fold.


October 28, 2011, 5:01 pm

Today’s top search terms…


Alice Paul
When did the political parties switch?


Plastic Surgery WWII.

Well, okay then.

October 28, 2011, 11:28 am

Chatty Cathy, clip your string.

I’m having an unusually difficult time this quarter convincing the students in one of my courses that I really do want them to be quiet while I teach. As always, I began the quarter by mentioning that I have very few pet peeves, but people who chat while I’m lecturing are near the top of that short list. I mean, people who kick kittens and/or puppies are far worse than incessant talkers. But I don’t encounter kitten- and puppy-kickers all that often, at least not while I teach, so they’re not a real-world pedagogical concern of mine.

That said, for some reason the initial no-talking PSA didn’t seem to take this go round, so I decided to mention it again. Adopting my very best insouciant manner (because I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that the talkers weren’t getting under my skin), I stopped class a couple of weeks ago and said, to nobody in particular (because I…

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October 25, 2011, 6:35 pm

Best practices.

Among the many things we don’t teach our graduate students — not just here but anywhere that I can think of — is how to referee a manuscript. There are many reasons why this skill isn’t taught: methods aren’t universal, time is short, most people suck at it. There are others, too, I’m sure. That said, this is a really useful guide. Useful enough that I’m just going to paste it in its entirety below the fold.


October 23, 2011, 1:11 pm

It’s a paean to procedural liberalism? I think?

One of the best things about being a dad, for me at least, is the chance to revisit some of my favorite childhood experiences*. Sadly, George Lucas chose to sully several of these sacred moments when he bowed to Mammon made the Star Wars prequels. Now, I know that shrewder critics have done a much better job** than I ever could documenting Lucas’s hackery. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pile on.

Last weekend, the younger boy, having saved up his screen time for several days***, earned the right to watch an entire movie. Yes, an entire movie! All at once! He wanted to see Episode I, but, because I’m a good father and a patron of the arts, I insisted that he had to sit through Episode IV first. He loved it. Phew. But then he saved up his screen time again, and yesterday he put his foot down. It was time to watch Phantom Menace. “Okay,” I said, “if you really want to waste your…

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October 21, 2011, 8:44 am

Early Blogginheads footage discovered (or: Vidal pwns Buckley).

Look, I’m aware of Gore Vidal’s excesses: in literature, politics, and appetite. And yet, there’s something positively delicious about the moment when, after Buckley calls him a queer, a sly smile creases Vidal’s face. “I got him,” he’s so obviously thinking to himself, “I’ve got this pompous little bigot right where I want him.”

As for context, remember, as Eric notes below, that the country was literally falling apart in 1968: the aftermath of Tet brought the realization that Vietnam would end in a stalemate (at best), the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shattered many people’s hopes for a better world, and, of course, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where Mayor Daley screamed at Senator Ribicoff, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”) suggested that even the…

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October 20, 2011, 3:14 pm

We’re doomed (and maybe also back).

A friend*, who happens to be among the most astute observers of the political scene I know, has this to say in the wake of last night’s Republican debate:

I think he’s [Romney] going to be an unbelievably good candidate in the general. He’s Obama — a tall, handsome technocrat who instituted universal coverage — with a different coalition behind him. I now have this dystopian fantasy about how the campaign will play out:

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m not black.
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I’m not Mormon.
R: I’m not secretly a Muslim.
O: My religion doesn’t treat “Space Invaders” as a sacred text.
R: I don’t want to rape your daughters.
O: I won’t force them to become my sixth and seventh wives when they turn 13.

Good times. Oh, by the way, with the economy in tatters, Steve Jobs in the grave, and the nation mired in countless foreign wars, we’re considering coming back.

Time …

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May 20, 2011, 11:25 am

Anyone have plans for the end of the world?

With the End Days upon us (finally, right?), I really wish I had found the time to finish this book. I hope you have your affairs in order.

December 8, 2010, 11:55 am

Thirty years? Really?

August 13, 2010, 2:30 pm

At least Saul Alinsky is an inspired choice.

As apo at unfogged notes, a poll of conservative bloggers answers the burning question, Who is American history’s greatest monster? Oddly, there’s not a conservative blogger on the list! Really, it’s sad how boring and predictable the results are, with FDR, Barack Obama, and Jimmy Carter occupying the top spots. Still, credit where credit is due: Saul Alinsky? Not bad, conservative bloggers. You surprise me with your latent antisemitism attention to detail! Then there’s Woodrow Wilson. Wait, what? Woodrow Wilson? Because of internationalism, I guess. But where’s Eugene Debs? Or Big Bill Haywood? Or any of the big-government-loving Federalists? These bloggers have no sense of history, I tell you.

It probably goes without saying that if we were to use some sort of inverse felicific calculus — to find the person responsible for visiting the greatest harm on the greatest…

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