Category Archives: the real thing

June 12, 2008, 9:34 pm


(Previous installments of this silliness include Disadventure, Disaddendum, Dismoralized, & Disinsomnia.)

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Revision 23 / Serial number 8940726

In Apartment Complex

> go to library website

Before you is the UCI Library website. To your left are the crumbling remains of an ancient civilization.

> really?


> open newspaper database asshole

Firefox will not open crap links to spoofed addresses.

> is library is safe open newspaper database

Firefox declines invitations to virus orgies on principle. Perhaps a more gullible browser would be more to your liking.

> open internet explorer

You feel more vulnerable already. Before you is the UCI Library website. To your left is the a visual representation of what is about to happen to your computer.


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June 5, 2008, 8:39 pm

The Guy from that Place, You Know, the One that Thing Happened to?

But you can call me Scott. You may remember me from my star turns as “electrician” in Brick (2005) or “electrician: Los Angeles” in The Kid Stays in the Picture (2003), but that’s not the real me. This is the real me. (But this will be my legacy.) I know what you’re thinking. Why would Ari and Eric invite a guy who studies literature to join them on the edge of the American West?

I don’t know either.

I don’t “do” history. I’m an historicist. Understanding the difference between the two would require I provide you a detailed account of why the items on this list are on it, but such an account would desecrate the very thing it describes. (Sins of non-omission make the Baby Greenblatt cry.) This is because historicism is less about evidence and attentiveness and archives and more about Hayden White and Michel Foucault giving me permission to make shit up.*

I want to thank…

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April 3, 2008, 10:49 am

When Presidents Lie: A Prequel

Eric Alterman1 wrote a book called When Presidents Lie, in which he argues,

If history teaches us anything, it is that Presidents cannot lie about major political events that have potentially serious ramifications—particularly those relating to war and peace—with impunity. In almost all cases, the problem or issue that gives rise to the lie refuses to go away, even while the lie complicates the President’s ability to address it. He must now address not only the problem itself but also the ancillary problem his lie has created…. The point here is that in telling the truth to the nation, Presidents may often have to deal with complex, difficult and frequently dangerous problems they would no doubt prefer to avoid. But at least these are genuine problems that would have arisen irrespective of the leader’s actions. This is, after all, inherent in the job description. But once a…

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January 6, 2008, 7:52 am

Fill in the blank!

This blog and many like it try to clamber over the wall between scholarly cloisters and citizens’ agora. I know many of my professional colleagues disapprove heartily of such efforts, while others believe passionately we should pursue them.

I confess I do not have a thoroughly thought through theory of why I stand in the latter camp. In honesty perhaps this blog and other non-scholarly publications I do as much from reflex as forethought.

But I’m trying to think through the problem. Below the fold, a step in this process (and no doubt a real hum-dinger of a fun blog entry) — the reading schedule for my graduate seminar this quarter, whose theme is the history and structure of modern intellectual life.

And, you’ll note, I’m doing something here I’ve done in the last few graduate seminars — leaving a space for student choice in the last week. You can help, too! Any nominations…

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January 4, 2008, 9:00 am

The genius of Clementine Churchill.

Clementine Churchill

After I wrote about Troublesome Young Men, a friendly correspondent posted me Roy Jenkins’s excellent Churchill: A Biography, which I am greatly enjoying and hope to say more about at length. For now, though, I am struck by how underrated was Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife. Even Jenkins says sniffily, “There were many contemporary references to her great beauty, which does not however entirely come through in photographs.” (134) Look to the right; taste not a matter of dispute, different strokes and all that, but still. Others were even meaner, and wronger. Violet Asquith (later Bonham Carter [in answer to your question: yes]) on the news of their pairing: “Whether he [Winston Churchill] will ultimately mind her being as stupid as an owl I don’t know — it is a danger no doubt….” (138)

Here are two letters from her to Winston, during the Great War. Both come just after…

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December 20, 2007, 4:53 pm

Louisiana, treble invalidity of sale, 339.

Sometimes even your index does interpretive work. The title of this post is a real index entry from Henry Adams’s History of the United States, which does not handle Thomas Jefferson and the Purchase tenderly.

Adams first shows Napoleon in the bath — “the water of which was opaque with mixture of eau de Cologne,” thank heaven for small favors — mocking his brother Lucien, who objects that the cession of Louisiana would be unconstitutional without consulting the Chambers.

Constitution! unconstitutional! republic! national sovereignty! — big words! great phrases!… Ah, it becomes you well, Sir Knight of the Constitution, to talk so to me! You had not the same respect for the Chambers on the 18th Brumaire!

Thus did Napoleon dismiss fraternal scruples — boldly, as a despot should. Contrast Adams’s portrait of Jefferson, who writes that conscience and his strict construction…

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December 19, 2007, 2:47 pm

But not too odious for Congress.

Just to tie together the below two posts, about how historians used to write and what you should really oughta know about the Tariff of Abominations, let us have recourse to the invaluable Davis Dewey, which I have on paper and we all have on Google:

Jackson called in 1824 for “adequate and fair protection,” saying “it is time we should become a little more Americanized, and, instead of feeding the paupers and laborers of Europe, feed our own, or else in a short time by continuing our present policy we shall all be paupers ourselves.”

That’s not too hard to understand, is it? Even without animation. What, we all need to have animation now?

In fact, Jackson was so clear on this point that, as the invaluable Dewey puts it:

Recourse was consequently had to political strategy, which it was hoped would prevent legislation and…

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December 18, 2007, 12:01 am

No Tariff on Violence, II: The Reexport.

Richard Evans:

… Already in the decade from 1924 to 1935, the total national income of the US averaged three times more than that of Great Britain, nearly four times more than that of Germany, and around five times more than that of France or the Soviet Union…. Over the same period, British per capita Gross Domestic Product was running at 89 percent of the comparable US figure, French at 72 percent, German at 63 percent, and Soviet at 25 percent.

European contemporaries were very much aware of these facts; and none more so than Adolf Hitler. Already in his unpublished “Second Book,” written in 1928, he was declaring that “the European, even without being fully conscious of it, applies the conditions of American life as a yardstick for his life.” For Hitler, who read the Wild West novels of Karl May during his childhood and adolescence, it seemed obvious that America had…

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December 17, 2007, 2:31 pm

Globalization is finding a pencil made in China with lead paint that when you chew on it makes your brain slowly decay.

I’m a bit disappointed Daniel Davies appears to have stopped his globollocks initiative partly because I hoped to get named in it but mostly because “globalization” has become one of those metastatic terms covering anything at all that’s loved/loathed by you and only a dose of Davies might have stopped it.

So like a fool I agreed to write a piece on globalization and American politics for a reputable historian’s edited collection. I started by staking a claim to a specific definition of globalization i.e., the process of opening borders to exchange of money, goods, and people/labor. This process has waxed and waned over American history. So, I said, how has globalization affected politics over time?

Here’s my top ten:

  1. Columbian exchange made way for the relatively easy transplantation of European institutions (Alfred Crosby); led to rise of Iberian and Netherlands powers (Ronald…

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December 13, 2007, 7:35 am

Speak for England!

Troublesome Young Men

This was a bedtime read for me, which tells you something already. It’s a very pleasantly told story of how a bunch of rebels within the Conservative Party worked to bring Chamberlain and his appeasement policy down. They wanted the good-looking Anthony Eden to become PM, but he turned out to be an utter drip. So they settled on Churchill, whom everyone knew as a mad hangover from the high-Victorian New Imperialism associated with Chamberlain’s father Joe (he of the omelette/eggs aphorism). And everyone was right — but the country responded exceedingly well to a mad hangover from the high-Victorian New Imperialism playing the role of cornered British bulldog.

The book reminds me of Taylor Branch’s treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., on two counts (although it is gratifyingly shorter). Both are narratives that force the reader to slow down and see the flow of events as they must …

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December 6, 2007, 9:57 pm

No tariff on violence.

So this Welsh bastard1 walks into New Orleans, starts telling people he’s been adopted by a rich American bloke and changes his name. Wanders up to Arkansas where someone sends him a petticoat, which is as much as to say he’s a coward; can’t have that so he signs up with the Confederate Army in 1861. Taken prisoner, Battle of Shiloh, impressed into the U.S. Army. Deserts. Joins the U.S. Navy in 1864. Deserts. Goes off for what is to David Gilmour an unspecified but “bizarre and foolhardy adventure in Ottoman Turkey” then comes back to America in 1867 to cover the U.S. Army’s campaigns against the Plains Indians.

This is “Henry Stanley,” née John Rowlands, who also didn’t say “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” though he did “find” Livingstone and is the subject of a new biography by Tim Jeal, Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, reviewed in the New York Review…

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