Category Archives: history and current events

March 27, 2014, 11:18 am

The Ron Rand Paul Revolution Aims For 2016

Rand Paul, Lifting Off
Charles lindbergh flying his plane everett

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is putting together “a network in all 50 states” to jump-start his Presidential run in 2016. This is a warning shot across the bows of Republican rivals like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, but also taking a lesson from the Obama 2012 campaign, which built a large organization very earlier, especially in the swing states. Some of the paid Obama campaign staffers, in fact, never left Ohio after 2008, but stayed there for the next four years. That ground game is perceived to be one of the major reasons why Obama won re-election. Paul is trying to imitate that early start.

There may, however, be less here than meets the eye:

Rand Paul’s nationwide organization, which counts more than 200 people, includes new backers who have previously funded more traditional Republicans, along with longtime libertarian activists


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March 11, 2014, 3:26 am

Historical Vision and Greater Russia

Stephen Walt writes in support of learning history, but reveals that he hasn’t quite followed his own prescription:

The United States and the European Union backed the anti-Yanukovych forces in Ukraine in a fit of idealistic absentmindedness, and don’t seem to have considered the possibility that Russia would see this action as a threat to its vital interests and would respond in a sharp and ruthless manner. It is the latest in a string of bipartisan foreign-policy failures, a long list that includes the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of these things is not like the other. The invasion of Iraq was an act of commission under American control. We chose to start a bloody war for terrible reasons, with catastrophic consequences. The revolution in Ukraine was a Ukrainian revolution, one completely separate from the United States. It is the worst kind of national self-centeredness to…

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March 2, 2014, 8:07 pm

The Ukraine

Random lessons to help you understand the situation in the Ukraine:

[UPDATED! See below at #11]

1. Apparently, it stopped being “the Ukraine” around 1991. Now, it’s just “Ukraine.”

2. If the person you’re reading mentions these historical analogies, they know nothing: The Crimean War, 1914, the Sudetenland, Munich, Benghazi, the Cold War, and Syria.

3. On the other hand, if they mention this historical analogy, then they know entirely too much: Yalta.

4. The Crimean War was no fun for anyone.

5. No, Obama changing direction on Syria did not give Putin free license in Ukraine. This meme is impressively bad, because it requires ignoring that the Bush administration invasion of Iraq over (claimed) weapons of mass destruction did not stop Putin from invading Georgia in 2008 while insisting that if Obama had invaded Syria, it would have backed Putin off Ukraine. Well, no.

6. …

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January 2, 2014, 5:13 pm

Evolution and Tribalism

The left blogosphere has been remarking on a Pew Center poll showing that Republican belief in evolution has been dropping over the last four years.

Evolution2013 4

Kevin Drum thinks it’s tribalism:

I don’t think it shows that conservatives are becoming more hostile to science, or even more hostile to evolution. Like so many poll questions these days, it gets interpreted by a lot of people as little more than “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” As Krugman says, between the pollster’s mouth and the respondent’s ears, it morphs into a tribal marker, not an actual question about an actual policy.

Which isn’t that worrying, except in the magnitude of the effect. But he’s not sure and “Perhaps some enterprising political scientist at the Monkey Cage can review the evidence about this for us?” Well, I’m only a historian, but let me suggest another interpretation. The Republicans answering the…

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October 16, 2013, 6:44 pm

A National Blessing

(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is back. He’s still a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing”
        ––Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton5I have been having numerous conversations with friends on Facebook regarding the deficit, the debt, and the debt limit. Several of them have encouraged me to consolidate much that I have written into one coherent essay. This is my (likely feeble) attempt. And let me here say that if this essay appears to privilege one side or the other of the argument, then so be it. Unlike much that is out there in the media and that appears to be dominating the public discourse, what follows has the benefit of being based in fact.


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September 3, 2013, 7:08 pm


(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

Yesterday, while enjoying a football game in The Big House with 112,000 of my closest friends, President Obama took the relatively unprecedented step of moving away from the precipice and stating that he was going to ask Congress for authority to attack Syria. The question of whether or not he already had that authority under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, or under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force is now rendered moot. Yet, a more interesting and somewhat philosophical question remains: why was the use of chemical weapons by Syria a “red line” for the president? Why is there near-universal outrage now when there has been…

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June 17, 2013, 2:28 pm

The National Surveillance State, Going Strong Since 1917

(Guest post! Lon Strauss (full bio at the end) wrote his dissertation on an earlier version of the American surveillance state. He’s here to give us some historical context to the NSA revelations.)

There has been a recent uptick in the news over concern about the United States becoming a surveillance state. The Guardian and the Washington Post published articles about the National Security Agency’s practices that have sparked a renewed debate over surveillance, national security, and civil liberties in America. Journalists have posed questions about whether a democratic surveillance state is possible and the role of US companies willingly handing personal information to a government agency. While there are and should be real concerns regarding national security and civil liberties, it will surprise no one that this discussion is not new. When engaging complex historical debates, it …

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April 7, 2013, 4:14 pm

Rewriting the Times: Videoing the Police Edition

There’s an article in the Times business section today about the use of miniature video cameras by police officers in a trial program in Rialto, CA. The article focuses largely on the technology and the way in which it allows police officers to refute false allegations of police misconduct. The expected result of such videoing would be a reduction in complaints about the police, and that’s exactly what happened, with civilian complaints dropping by 88% during the course of the study, from 24 to 3. There’s a story about civilians coming into lodge complaints, being shown the video, and–in the words of the police chief where the first experiment is taking place–”The individuals left the station with basically no other things to say and have never come back.”

There is, of course, another story here, that pokes through the article, but is pretty much ignored: the way in which camera…

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January 9, 2013, 7:00 pm

Damn The Platinum Coin, Man! Full Speed Ahead!

BALXBqACMAEUf0f An obscure law aimed at coin collectors is now all the rage in DC. It allows the Treasury to make a platinum coin in any denomination it wants, thus giving President Obama a possible, if somewhat sketchy, way around the GOP’s debt-ceiling hostage taking (“We passed a law requiring you to spend the money, now we’re going to make it legally impossible for you to actually do so! Haha! Impeachable offense no matter what!”) See here and here for some details.

That is NOT the topic of this post.

The topic instead is a tweet sent out by the National Republican Congressional Committee about the platinum coin: “The amount of platinum needed to mint a coin worth $1 trillion would sink the Titanic” along with the picture to the right.

We will ignore for a moment the complete ignorance of the concept of “fiat currency,” which suggests that the GOP last took an economics course in the…

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December 21, 2012, 10:03 pm

A Community of Arms

(Margaret Sankey, a military history colleague of mine who specializes in the 18th century, made a lovely point yesterday about the effect of musket technology on community and so I immediately thought “Guest post!” Here it is).

The Surrender of the Town of Ulm, 1805” gives a good sense
of the tight-packed formations made necessary
by the musket

The muzzle-loader in my hands was really heavy, and I was fumbling with the percussion cap as the sergeant bellowed out drill commands. I completed the step and looked left and right quickly, to see if I had kept up with the colleagues on either side of me, and was relieved to be right with them. After what seemed like interminable tries, no one had dropped caps in the grass, or lagged too far behind, or gotten flustered. We were ready. We were ready.

I’m very familiar with guns. The bolt-action rifle I use for target shooting pushes me…

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December 20, 2012, 7:34 pm

Her Sight Was Not Long And Her Weight Was Not Small: A Gun of the Founders

Just to remind everyone what the Founders had in mind with “keep and bear arms,” this is a not untypical weapon of the time of the American Constitutional era, the British “Brown Bess:”


Built and used for over a century, the Brown Bess was a .75 smooth-bore musket. In the hands of a well-trained user, it could fire 3-4 shots a minute. It was terribly inaccurate, with a maximum effective range of about 100 yards and, practically speaking, much less. It weighed more than 10 pounds, and stood just under five feet tall. Because it used loose gunpowder, both for firing the shot and for igniting the charge, it was unreliable in all but the best (i.e. least windy and rainy) conditions. When fired, it gave forth a large cloud of smoke both from the front barrel and, less so, from the priming hole at the back, and kicked back with a heavy recoil. Those characteristics often caused…

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September 17, 2012, 1:10 pm

Presentism rules in screening world history.

Andrew Marr is telling the history of the world in eight hour-long episodes of television. He puts this work in line with a series of “big histories,” including Kenneth Clark’s Civilization and E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, among others. In this post for the BBC, he tries to explain who and what he left out and why, and shows that presentism is alive and well.

We’re no longer living in the Europe-first culture where Kenneth Clark so confidently stood. This had to properly reflect a world in which China, South America and India are the rising powers.

Also, I was determined that although the vast majority of history-making figures – the names we know, the rulers, the scientists – are men, this would also pay tribute to women’s contribution to history.

So, no Eurocentrism, no phallocentrism. Avoiding the DWM theory. Creditable, and bringing television history right…

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September 5, 2012, 12:44 am

The Madness and Stupor of History.

A serendipitous confluence: This week This American Life re-ran “Fear of Sleep,” which begins with Ira Glass meditating on the dangers of that altered state, in which we – whatever and whoever we are – vanish, perhaps to dream strange dreams, walk perilously, even die; from which we can wake to unexpected faces and changed places. The recent New Yorker includes Oliver Sacks’s “Altered States,” a memoir – maybe a confessional – of his youthful enthusiasm for mind-altering substances (it was, he says, the 1960s and for some of the time, for him, it was California: even so, he seems to have been an avid and various consumer). Sacks reports on the thin difference – a few chemical micrograms – between our ordinary selves and psychosis, schizophrenia, hallucination, or an insinuation of heaven. In an amphetamine haze he absorbed Liveing on Megrim and as a result wrote his own Migraine

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August 31, 2012, 3:37 pm

Eastwood brings the red meat.

So, everyone noticed that Clint Eastwood at the RNC appeared determined to portray a cranky old man – scolding an invisible President Obama, represented by an empty chair. Eastwood seemed often incoherent, and fairly goofy.

But it seems also worth noting that Eastwood’s imaginary Barack Obama was angry, inarticulate, foul-mouthed – uppity, even; in need of correcting by an older white man. And Eastwood dispatched him with a movie line he used to cow an African American punk.

I’m just saying.

August 25, 2012, 12:57 am

Paul Ryan’s monetary policy is as unserious as his fiscal policy.

Perhaps Paul Ryan is a gigantic fraud, or perhaps it is everyone who claims to see wisdom in him; perhaps – we should admit a range of possibilities, as our political and pundit class contains many and various mountebanks – both. But if ever there were an undeserved reputation for economic seriousness, it is Ryan’s. Consider the Congressman’s views on the dollar, to which Paul Krugman has recently called attention. Ryan observes that “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Let us pause first, if only briefly, to consider Ryan’s absolutism on this point: Nothing more insidious? Really? Not, perhaps, eroding civil liberties until the President can, at will, assassinate an American citizen?

But no: let’s not permit what might perhaps have been forgivable hyperbole to deter us from investigating the point at issue. Perhaps Ryan …

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