Category Archives: nontrivial questions raised

August 20, 2013, 5:20 pm

Embargos, Miranda, and Khaaaannn!

So, what happened while this blog* was on vacation?

Hmm (I started to use the list tag from HTML, but it just looked so 1990s):

1. The American Historical Association came out (as historical associations are wont to do) with a fairly mild statement about not forcing graduate students to dispense their dissertations to all and sundry before they’d, you know, had a chance to publish. This statement came at the intersection of about seven different hot button topics: the catastrophic state of the academic job market, the collapse of academic publishing, the overproduction of Ph.Ds, the power of the intertubes, open access, digital scholarship, and probably a few I’m forgetting. Because of this intersectionality,** there was an immediate outcry on the blogs (including Edge co-founder, Eric Rauchway) and twitter (with hashtag!), condemning the reactionary mandarins of the AHA for failing…

Read More

March 12, 2013, 4:33 pm

The Senate and Democratic Representation

Alternative Senate seal svgThe United States Senate, while directly elected, is organized in such a way as to overrepresent rural areas. The two Senators in Wyoming, for example, represent around 576,000 people, while the two Senators of California represent 38 million. That’s a massive disparity. Jamelle Boule, writing at The Prospect thinks that puts the Senate at the bottom of the global standings:

[Adam] Liptak suggests that the Senate is “the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” He’s right.

The Liptak quote is from here:

The United States Senate is hardly the only legislature that does not stick strictly to the principle of equal representation. Political scientists use the term “malapportioned” to describe the phenomenon, and it is common around the world. But the Senate is in contention for the least democratic legislative chamber

(updated with correct quote)

What is …

Read More

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…

Read More

February 22, 2012, 10:13 am

Fear and present danger.

We are not only safer than we think, we are safer than we have ever been, say Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen.

The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can…

Read More

November 9, 2010, 6:41 am

The founding Fathers just LOVED stalking. And shorter cafeteria hours.

Glad this clown is gone.  Is it new to claim that stalking and harassment is protected by the First Amendment?  Sneaky penumbrellas.


August 22, 2010, 8:36 am

Who are you callin' unassimilated?

Douthat gets some pushback on his earlier post concerning assimilation.   His argument was simply that he thinks that bigotry can be justified because it, like procedural liberalism, helps immigrants assimilate.  It looks bad when you state it like that without running it through the pomposity generator, so he’s stepped back a bit.  He wants to draw a distinction between ugly bigotry and positive nativist sentiment, but he concedes that such a distinction is fuzzy and in practice hard to draw, and because he thinks the alternative is European-style assimilation, where no one says anything politically incorrect and immigrants fail to assimilate, better to err on the side of nativist sentiment, which he admits is going to be occasionally indistinguishable from bigotry.


August 12, 2010, 12:48 pm

My birthright goes for quite a bit higher than a mess of pottage, thanks.

Will Wilkinson presents what can be described fairly as a non-xenophobic argument for the repeal of the fourteenth Amendment.  He paints a reasonably attractive vision of an economically unified Canada, America, and Mexico, where workers could move about freely, but who would have access to social services and other goodies based on their citizenship.  In such a world, he concludes, it would be very important for other political reasons that citizenship be tied to more than mere perinatal location, and so birthright citizenship would need to be replaced by something else, and he suggests that the various laws employed by various European nations might be good alternatives.  After all, giving someone special rights just because they were born somewhere is the height of moral luck, and hardly cosmopolitan.  Thus, we should work to repeal the 14th Amendment, on liberal cosmopolitan…

Read More

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…

Read More

March 11, 2010, 12:08 pm

Wait, how much?

Five?  Five??  Five?!?!? As in, I spent more on a bagel and coffee this morning five the hell what now??



January 8, 2010, 2:23 pm

Would you unknot your panties if I told you that the knot made a better fuse for underwear bombs?

The cry for security theatre, once more, with feeling continues.  From the Atlantic piece:

The minute Abdulmutallab’s father walked into a U.S. Embassy with news that his son was a potential terrorist, the official in charge was duty-bound to see this through. Every scrap of paper and every byte of data on the suspect should have been called up and frozen. That’s why we have embassies. When the information was passed to the first special agent at the CIA, he or she was duty bound to see it through. When the information was passed to the first administrator at the National Counterterrorism Center, he or she, too, was duty bound to see it to the end.

Everyone who read the name “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab” prior to December 25, 2009 should be reprimanded and fired.

Much has been made of the fact that Abdulmutallab’s father, in a modern Euthyphro dilemma, informed on his own son.  What has…

Read More

October 7, 2009, 12:14 am

That’s a funny place to keep your reasoning ability

Via Leiter, an article on why philosophy lags behind the other humanities’ disciplines in gender parity.   Overall, the discipline is about 75% male, and so it’s quite possible to be the only woman in one’s cohort (or one’s program) or department.  This gives philosophy a reputation as a  bit of a boys’ club, and it’s not one that’s entirely undeserved. Let me riff.


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?