Author Archives: Ari Kelman

July 30, 2010, 3:22 pm

Seen at the university bookstore.

To be honest, my iPad has disappointed me in some ways. I was expecting a revolutionary device that would fundamentally change my life, upending my sense of how I get from here to there, of what’s what, and even of who I am. But now, now I think I’ve found the product I’ve been waiting for:

Yes, friends, it’s Perky Jerky. And lest you think it’s just caffeinated beef jerky — that would be pedestrian — please understand that it’s actually “the first performance-enhancing meat snack”. Take that, Steve Jobs.

April 16, 2010, 12:35 pm

Who will speak for the beleaguered WASP?

It’s no wonder that this is happening on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch. I mean, am I right or what? And by this, I mean the fact that if Elana Kagan, the chalk pick* as President Obama’s choice to replace John Paul Stevens, is nominated and confirmed, there will be no white Anglo-Saxon Protestants left on the Supreme Court. Not one! Think about it: there will be six Catholics** and three Jews**** charged with interpreting the United States Constitution, the most sacred document in the history of ever. Somebody fetch me some tea; I’m ready to party.

* What does this expression mean? No, I’m not going to look it up. That’s cheating.

** Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas.***

*** “Thomas is Catholic?” you’re saying to yourself. “Yes”, I’m saying back at you. Because it’s true: the man is Catholic.

**** Breyer, Ginsburg, and, in this nightmarish parallel…

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April 11, 2010, 7:21 pm

And somewhere, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is smiling.

Today, Phil Mickelson struck a blow for monogamy and all that is right about America. With the vile Tiger Woods (I mean, how dare he not serve as a paragon of good behavior like Charles Barkley once did?) vanquished and Mickelson wrapped in the arms of his loving wife, no one in this country will ever cheat on a spouse again. Better still, Mickelson’s triumph at Augusta National Golf Club, long recognized as one of this nation’s great social engineering projects, means that African-American children will, going forward, grow up in intact families. Our teeming ghettos are filled with laughter and singing tonight.

April 7, 2010, 11:14 am


I think kb’s right: it’s worth putting Coates’s demolition of the Virginia GOP (and the Republican Party more broadly) on the front page. Responding to Governor Bob McDonnell’s decision to revive Confederate History Month, Coates writes:

This is who they are–the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn’t “have had all these problems,” this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you. If you flirt with secession, even now, then this movement is for you. If you are a “Real American” with no demonstrable interest in “Real America” then, by God, this movement of alchemists and creationists, of anti-science and hair tonic, is for you.

Or, if you prefer a more scholarly approach to the…

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April 7, 2010, 9:59 am

Which side are you on?

Over at B’s place, taddyporter has a post up today about the West Virginia mine disaster that I’m going to steal in its entirety (except for a photograph):

The handsome gent at the center of the photo on the left, the one with the impressive soup strainer, is Bennie Willingham, a coal miner at the Upper Big Branch coal mine and an employee of Mr. Blankenship.

Mr Willingham has been swept away by the gigantic methane explosion at the Upper Big Branch. He is lost to family, gathered around him in the photo, and friends.

Mr. Willingham regularly worked 12 hour shifts 1000 feet below the ground at the Upper Big Branch. He moved tons of coal for the Massey Energy Company.

We don’t know what Massey Energy paid its miners since it is not a party to collective bargaining with the United Mine Workers of America. If it were a party, Mr Willingham would have been paid $22.42 per hour in the…

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April 6, 2010, 10:44 am

I had a farm…

A great many of the pearls of wisdom in this primer on how to write about Africa and Africans apply to writing about Native Americans and Indian Country.

Take note, young scholars, of how to make the subaltern bleak:

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important…

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April 3, 2010, 8:32 am

Muppet Miltie.

I sometimes imagine Statler and Waldorf sitting in the back row while I’m teaching.

March 30, 2010, 6:41 pm


So, the centerpiece of any even-slightly-traditional Seder is a detailed recounting of the Exodus story. But, as I understand it, Biblical archaeologists have complicated things lately by insisting that the Jews weren’t in Egypt for any lengthy period of time during the era in question.* “Hold on, Mr. PhD in Archaeology Smartypants, how do we know this for sure?” asks the obnoxious Jew.** Because the Egyptians were excellent record keepers, even taking detailed note of the many peoples they brutally subjugated. Which is all well and good, at least from the perspective of someone interested in the intersection of history and memory. In other words, it’s not unusual for discrepancies, rooted in methodological, epistemological, or political differences, over how the past is recalled to crop up from time to time.

But then there’s this: why would the long-ago Jews have invented this…

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March 21, 2010, 7:31 am

Madame Speaker.

I’ve been saying for many months that if healthcare reform passes, I believe that Obama, for all of his myriad flaws, will be the best President of my lifetime and one of the ten best in the nation’s history. And before you ask, sure, I know that “one of the ten best Presidents” is not an especially august honor (I mean, I think Taft and Fillmore are on that list), and also that Obama has plenty of time to do enough atrocious things to make him one of the ten worst as well. Which reminds me, Eric, Kathy, and I were recently musing that LBJ is both the fifth best and fifth worst President in American history. But that’s a story for another day.

What I really want to talk about today is Nancy Pelosi. I have the sense that she’s wildly underappreciated: both as a powerful symbol — she’s the first female Speaker of the House, after all — and for her effectiveness. I don’t actually…

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March 16, 2010, 12:18 pm

Smoke-filled rooms.

In a recent article in The Nation, Jon Wiener of UC Irvine writes about historians who have worked as expert witnesses or researchers on behalf of Big Tobacco. It’s an interesting piece, I think, not least because it suggests that souls don’t come cheap the expert-witnessing business is lucrative: Kenneth Ludmerer, a historian of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, apparently made more than $500,000 working for tobacco companies. That’s real money!

But there’s a catch (there always is, right?): it’s a contentious business. Ludmerer and other scholars who have worked on Big Tobacco’s side during litigation claim that they’ve been harassed because of their efforts. Ludmerer asks:

Where is civility in this country? These ad hominem attacks are injurious. I had coronary artery bypass surgery in 2005. I’m sure a lot of the disease came from tension from the comments…

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February 23, 2010, 6:45 pm

Some thoughts about our greatest president.

The older boy’s second grade class is apparently doing a unit on Lincoln this week. So, after finishing his homework, which I have to say is pretty onerous, the boy just explained to me that if he becomes president when he grows up, he’ll “emulate [emulate?] Lincoln in some ways but not in others.” “Oh, in what ways will you emulate him?” I asked. He answered that “if there are slaves then I’ll emancipate [emancipate?] them.” “Good idea,” I said. “But in what ways won’t you emulate our greatest president [it's never too soon to begin indoctrinating them].” He paused as he thought about it and then replied, “I won’t go to any plays.” Fair enough.

February 7, 2010, 8:59 pm

He’s no Bernie Kosar.

Sure, Football/Healthcare Jesus, Peyton Manning is a very fine quarterback. And he played well tonight (that throw to Tracy Porter was heaven-sent). But it’s also worth remembering that other than one Super Bowl victory over a badly outgunned team, Manning hasn’t won anything in his entire life. Nothing. So, I ask you, who will be the first journalist courageous enough to call him overrated? “When considering all-time greats, he’s probably in the Dilfer quartile, or somewhere thereabouts.” I really can’t wait to read a sentence like that.

Also, with good having trounced evil tonight, can we assume that comprehensive healthcare reform is just around the corner?

January 28, 2010, 11:29 am

Just try to stop watching.

What’s there to say? In 1966, Sam and Dave went overseas as part of the Stax-Volt European tour. As Ta-Nehisi Coates says in his post, these guys just killed it every time they performed. Otis Redding, who headlined the shows, apparently became enraged at his manager because he had to take the stage after Sam and Dave. I can see that. I never like teaching in a classroom that Kathy has recently used.

January 27, 2010, 5:02 pm


Magic! It’s gonna change the way we do the things we do everyday! A single piece of multi-touch glass! You don’t have to change yourself; it will fit you! It will wipe your ass if you ask nicely! Order-of-magnitude-more-powerful apps! It just feels right! Hunting and killing hobos has never been easier! To hold the internet in your hands as you surf it! Tap it! Tap that ass! It’s completely natural! Like arsenic! Or strychnine! Just do! The best way! The correct orientation! Huh? FUN!!!!! Reading an e-book is such a pleasure! Now we have three phenomenal stores on the iPad! Your jowls will never again smell like gravy! No problem! The most advanced piece of technology! The largest multi-touch! You really feel the power that multi-touch can offer! Really? Wow! This is a really vibrant display! This product responds so well! Apple’s the one place that you can…

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January 24, 2010, 9:52 am

Werner Herzog reads Curious George.

Probably old, but still funny.