Category Archives: history and current events

May 14, 2012, 10:00 pm

Louis Brandeis would have words with JPMorgan Chase.

Ninety-nine years ago Louis Brandeis explained why letting investment bankers ruin the country was a bad idea. Bankers were lousy managers; they ran companies with an eye to increasing the value of stock, rather than efficiently providing a service or product; they – contrary to stereotype – exhibited “financial recklessness.” By their very bigness alone they posed a threat to politics and the economy. Running his eye over and over the various problems with the money trust, he kept coming up with the name J.P. Morgan.

It is enough shame that we are facing the exact same problems the Progressives and the New Dealers laboriously fixed. But it adds an extra pain to the historically aware that we are dealing with zombie malefactors bearing the exact same names as their forebears.

May 14, 2012, 1:07 pm

Are there any drachmas?

As everyone knows, money is a medium of exchange as well as a store of value. Suppose Greece leaves the Euro: are there any drachmas around to serve as a medium of exchange? As of January, apparently, no. (Though rumors say otherwise.) Have some been printed or minted meanwhile? Probably not; it would create a panic.

“I don’t think you could do it much faster than four months,” says Mark Crickett, one of De La Rue’s consultants.

But a government could not commission and take delivery of a new currency without word leaking out and panic spreading.

It is much more likely that a withdrawal for the euro would be announced suddenly, and then there would be an interim period – those four months, say – during which a temporary national currency would be used.

Euro notes previously in circulation in a withdrawing country might be overprinted, or have special stickers added.

(I…

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May 1, 2012, 8:34 pm

With A Straight Face

The New York Times, April 28, 2012:

Presidents running for re-election typically boast of programs they created, people they helped or laws they signed. They talk about rising test scores or falling deficits or expanding job rolls. President Obama is increasingly taking the unusual route of bragging about how he killed a man.

To be sure, that man was Osama bin Laden, and he is not mourned among either the president’s supporters or detractors. But in the days leading up to the first anniversary of the raid that finally caught up to the Qaeda mastermind, Mr. Obama has made a concerted, if to some indecorous, effort to trumpet the killing as perhaps the central accomplishment of his presidency.

The article does nod to previous Presidents running on their toughness, but then goes completely off the rails when talking about a recent Obama interview in the Situation Room:

Tony Fratto, …

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April 17, 2012, 1:11 pm

USS Lyndon B. Johnson

Following up to this article, the Navy has continued its streak of not naming carriers after Democratic Presidents. LBJ now has a ship named after him, but a destroyer, rather than a carrier:

The Navy has named the third ship in its class of state-of-the-art destroyers after the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as a naval officer during World War II, the service said in a press release Monday.

“I am pleased to honor President Johnson with the naming of this ship,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement. “His dedication to a life of public service included bravely stepping forward to fight for his country during our entry into World War II.”

No word on whether the ship would have a tendency to report attacks by imaginary torpedo boats, but some folks have been unable to avoid the sniggering locker room humor that the name might inspire:

That doesn’t mean it’s …

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April 5, 2012, 4:43 pm

Paging Mr. Kafka

The Transportation Security Agency, in all its glory:

A spokesman said the agency has its reasons for still requiring that traditional laptops go through X-ray machines in a separate bin. But he declined to share them, saying the agency didn’t want to betray any secrets.

There are reasons, BUT WE CANNOT TELL THEM TO YOU OR THE TERRORISTS WIN.

April 4, 2012, 5:14 pm

“Hmm. At UC Davis you get an F if you’re not gay.”

March 28, 2012, 1:52 am

Rupert in red.

The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)

March 26, 2012, 8:24 am

The Iron Harvest

Leftover ordnance is one of the legacies that lasts generations after the war itself concluded. The phrase “Iron Harvest” comes from the annual crop of exploded shells and bombs that French farmers in northern France bring to the surface when plowing their fields. Farming is a dangerous occupation in France.

But the Iron Harvest is not limited to World War I. World War II era bombs are sometimes found, particularly in areas heavily bombed during that conflict. The city center of Rennes was evacuated within the last few years when a 550 lb British bomb was discovered and had to be disarmed. A similar discovery required the evacuation of the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt

Nor is the ordnance always found in an active war zone. Recently, in Washington, DC, a construction crew building a new supermarket was somewhat surprised to discover an unexploded 1,000 pound bomb. The…

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March 25, 2012, 4:25 pm

Tech support.

A reader reports the below glitch displaying this blog on iPhones. I don’t get it with mine. Do any of you? If so, please report what model and OS, and we’ll see if we can sort it out.

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March 23, 2012, 1:23 pm

Some lying, some exceptions.

I’ve probably never said this here before, but having finished my book on Sand Creek, I’m now co-authoring* a graphic history of the Civil War. As a consequence, I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. I don’t have much to add except this: I decided, very early in the process of writing the book, that we would NEVER put fictional words into the mouths of non-fictional historical figures. Which is to say, although my co-author badly wanted to insert a couple of gold bug stanzas into the Gettysburg Address, I put my foot down. On the one hand, this seems very much like what Silbey suggests should serve as best practices (both in literature and scholarship, if I understand him correctly). But on the other hand, I have to admit that we worked around the attendant problems by making up characters left and right to voice the dialogue and carry the weight of the story…

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March 22, 2012, 5:55 am

Enhance…enhance…

Amelia Earhart, still sought after 75 years:

Ric Gillespie is executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), and he revealed details of the new analysis at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday. Gillespie told reporters:

“We found some really fascinating and compelling evidence. Finding the airplane would be the thing that would make it conclusive.”

The photo is not new to Earhart investigators, but this fresh analysis from 2010 has aroused new suspicions that it could be part of Earhart’s plane in the October 1937 photo. Gillespie said he was convinced, boldly stating:

“This is where the airplane went into the drink.”

The photo is supposed to show her landing gear floating:

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Gillespie and TIGHAR targeted Nikumaroro before.

“Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself,”…

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March 21, 2012, 10:27 am

No Lying, No Exceptions

Understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from — that is not a lie. That is art.

If you use real people and real events, you don’t get to lie. No dramatic license, no aiming for a larger truth, no composite characters, no changing things around for better narrative flow, no “art.” No lying.

I get it. Actual events can happen slowly, or not at all, intermittently, inconclusively, inconveniently, and not in useful way for story-telling. I also understand that, for example, history and historians never get to the pure unvarnished objective truth of myth and legend. There are too many distortions, too many intervening years, too many people, sources, and all the grand filtration that the past goes through before reaching its reporter. I know too that historians often produce pedantic, waffle-full, carefully-couched, well…

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March 21, 2012, 8:51 am

politics vs. rock ‘n’ roll

Johnny Ramone:

One night, the New York Dolls were hanging out there. They were already a band, but I hadn’t seen them yet. I pointed to Johnny Thunders and told Tommy that he looked cool. Tommy said that the band was terrible. But I knew, looking at him, that there was something there. To me, it’s always been about the look.

and

I’ve always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, “Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.” I’m thinking, “This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?” And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking.

March 20, 2012, 9:39 am

The Really Iron Lady.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters, Margaret Thatcher, as played by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, explains what she would do as prime minister: “Crush the working class, crush the scum, the yobs.”

That’s in a pirated version. The cheap joke to make of course is, how pirated is it really though? And we’re not above that, in the same way as the sea is not above the clouds (as Douglas Adams would say).

March 19, 2012, 6:22 am

“Germany of all places”.

John Demjanjuk has died.

Reuters: “Former Nazi guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany aged 91”
BBC: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies”
Al Jazeera: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany”
NYT: “John Demjanjuk, 91, Dogged by Charges of Atrocities as Nazi Camp Guard, Dies”

NYT: Why so circuitous?

Jerusalem Post editorial here.

And, relatedly, a fascinating New Yorker review by Richard Brody of Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, including discussions of the making of Shoah.
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