Category Archives: curse of knowledge

April 18, 2014, 5:03 pm

Your Random Human Rights Reminder

Given today’s xkcd cartoon:

I wanted to reiterate the point in this post.

“Free speech rights” and “the First Amendment” are not synonymous with each other. The First Amendment is the American legal manifestation of the right to free speech, but the right exists outside the United States and existed before the first amendment. The Founding Fathers were well aware that they were protecting an existing right with the First Amendment rather than establishing a new one.

Nor do all manifestations of the right to free speech include the First Amendment’s limitation of that right to government actions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 19, talks of the right to free speech without any reference to government:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart…

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April 19, 2013, 11:08 pm

Today In “We’re Americans, We Don’t Have To Know Geography!”

The Ambassador of the Czech Republic is forced to issue statement clarifying that, no, his country is nowhere near Chechnya:

As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.

The Czech Republic, also not monetary instrument.

June 18, 2012, 5:18 pm

FDR: not the antichrist.

(Another in an irregularly produced series)

Matthew Avery Sutton, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth
of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (March 2012): 1052-1074.

When and why did white evangelical Christians, or fundamentalists, become categorically opposed to American liberalism?

There is a journalistic rule that all headlines that ask questions are properly answered “no,” and this article is no exception; even to white evangelical Christians, it turns out, FDR was not the antichrist. According to Sutton, they thought he was moving in that direction, though.

This article fits in with the discovery that modern conservatism predates not only the alleged overreach of liberalism in the 1960s or early 1970s, but also World War II. As Sutton says, “As the actions of…

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June 11, 2012, 8:08 pm

In which I say some things about railroads, and digital history, and other matters.

The TLS teases the article here.

October 5, 2009, 8:00 pm

Who still cares for the American Civil War?

I like Mary Beard’s TLS blog. But this time I fear she has Gone Too Far. Or, perhaps more likely, she’s pulling our collective leg — though I don’t remember her pulling it in quite this manner before. Even out here at the veriest Edge, the cityscape is clotted with victors’ memories of the War of Eastern Aggression. Just yesterday I was out picknicking with fellow parents of future yuppies at the Black Point Battery; and of course the map is full of streets named for Vicksburg, Grant, Lincoln and the Union. (Not to speak of the Confederate general from Big Sur.)

Need we quote Faulkner again?

Image by Flickr user maduarte used under a Creative Commons license.

October 4, 2009, 8:35 am

An object lesson.

It’s the time of the semester where nervous students are writing their first philosophy paper, and among my advice to them is the maxim to avoid the temptation to start an essay with any variation on the phrase “Since the dawn of time…” unless they’re actually talking about the dawn of time, which they won’t be, and I know, since I wrote the paper topics.  Why?  It’s a lazy habit, a turn of phrase meant to do nothing more than get the writerly wheels turning.

But it also makes your argument weaker, as this essay shows:

Yet if reason were to be readmitted to the debate, we might find something in the history of military honor to justify the principle now enshrined in the law decreeing that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” We know that soldiering–I mean not training or support or peacekeeping or any of the myriad other things soldiers do, but facing enemy…

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September 9, 2009, 10:59 am

We have been having this discussion for a long time.

Jim Henley’s nice post appreciating the concept of “social insurance” moves me to provide this link to, if not its original definition, then its early full definition, from I. M. Rubinow’s invaluable Social Insurance, (1916; orig. 1913):

… social insurance is that policy of organized society to furnish that protection to one part of the population, which some other part may need less, or, if needing, is able to purchase voluntarily through private insurance. … The term “social insurance” is as yet very little understood by the vast majority of English-speaking nations. … All insurance is a substitution of social, co-operative provision for individual provision. Technically, this substitution of social effort for individual effort, is known as the theory of distribution of losses and the subsequent elimination of risk. … There is an individual advantage is substituting a very…

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August 20, 2009, 8:48 am

The wildness of the West.

Here’s another edition of “there is in fact good and nontrivial scholarship in modern historical journals” (we need a catchier name for this series; previously: 1, 2). Today’s installment addresses the question implicit in this post title: how wild was the West?


Randolph A. Roth, “Guns, Murder, and Probability: How Can We Decide Which Figures to Trust?” Reviews in American History 35, no. 2 (2007): 165-175. Accessed 8/20/09, here.


Was homicide really more common in the American West than elsewhere? How can we know?


July 7, 2009, 1:19 pm

¡Huelga contra WPA!

Ferdie Pacheco, “The Lector Reads to Women Cigar Workers” (Detail)

Today brings another installment of “there is too interesting and nontrivial scholarship in today’s scholarly history journals,” this one drawn from the flagship journal of US history. The article touches on two of my favorite topics. One, I’ll grant, is a favorite for purely sentimental reasons: my native heath. The other, though, is of long-standing scholarly interest to this blog: the New Deal.


Elna C. Green, “Relief from Relief: The Tampa Sewing-Room Strike of 1937 and the Right to Welfare,” Journal of American History 95, no. 4 (March 2009). Accessed July 7, 2009, here.


How did WPA workers think of themselves—as workers, or as recipients of welfare? How did their employer, the state, see them in return?

July 3, 2009, 9:44 am

Jefferson the writer.

Whatever one’s overall opinion of Jefferson the man and Jefferson the president, he could write. Here he is at work, with his strikeouts shown in parentheses:

they are permitting their (sovereign) chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our (own) common blood but Scotch & foreign mercenaries to (destroy us) invade and deluge us in blood. (this is too much to be borne even by relations. enough then be it to say, we are now done with them.) these facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, & manly spirit bids us to renounce for ever these unfeeling brethren! we must endeavor to forget our former love for them and to hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. we might have been a (great) free & a (happy) great people together, but a communicat(ed)ion of (happiness) [g]randeur & of (grandeur) freedom it seems is be(neath)low their…

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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.