Re: Modern Love: PBUH Edition

1

It's more stylish not to admit to the existence of passable Modern Love columns.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:14 PM
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Am I imagining it (/forgetting the bad ones), or are the MLs about the author's parents better, on average? The ones about kids are a mixed bag, though I still sometimes think about the flat daddy one.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:15 PM
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Has ML done furries yet?


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:20 PM
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I was at lunch with several 30-something female grad students last week, talking about the China-trip ML, and everyone had at least one tale of that sort. Though none of us had gone that far or spent that much money. The most extreme of our group had gone to NYC (a four-hour busride) to meet up with a guy from Chicago she'd never met in person. They were going to see Anna Netrebko at the Met in Romeo and Juliet.

The guy was a disaster. She thought, 'Well, at least I still get to see Anna Netrebko!' Then the guy sat next to her chewing gum through the entire opera.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:29 PM
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And people wonder how you end up crossing state lines and committing felonies.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:31 PM
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chewing gum through the entire opera

Yes, yes, but did he wear a cummerbund?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:31 PM
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Bugs Bunny tried to wear a cummerbund once. Look how it turned out for him.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:33 PM
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7: This is how.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:34 PM
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He sounded like enough of a dork that he just might have. With jeans!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:34 PM
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Sorry about the sound effects.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:35 PM
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With jeans!

And a hat which he left on.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:36 PM
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I know this has probably been discussed at some point with regard to earlier columns, but given the "several months ago" aspect to the Beijing hookup one, the fact that the column itself is part of a continuing story dominates my thought process while reading it. OK, nice little story, but where it gets really interesting to me is, "And then I decided to submit it to Modern Love and I did/did not let him know and ...". We need the Paul Harvey of Modern Love doing the "rest of the story", including the reaction of friends and family to publication and any subsequent impact it had on either party's love life.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:37 PM
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I'll bet he didn't even remember to doff his cummerbund to the ladies in the elevator!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:39 PM
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"And then I figured I might as well at least recoup some of my financial loss, so I pitched a Modern Love column about it."


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:39 PM
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We need the Paul Harvey of Modern Love doing the "rest of the story", including the reaction of friends and family to publication and any subsequent impact it had on either party's love life.

Pitch it to the Times as a regular feature. The Style section is going to be needing some new content now that their target demographic has lost all its money.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:39 PM
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And another from last week that may hit closer to home for some of us than we'd like to admit.

Come on, Becks, share the whole story with us!



Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:40 PM
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The Style section is going to be needing some new content now that their target demographic has lost all its money.

Yes, they need another demographic with money to replace the lucrative "people with money" demographic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:43 PM
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Come on, Becks, share the whole story with us!

I can't speak for Becks, but some version of this part:

MY fantasy narrative, the fairytale, the fictional man in a foreign land -- it all began to vanish under those bright lights. The person who remained, sitting across from me, reciting movie lines while wrestling with his chopsticks, was intimidating because he was real, and someone to whom my imagination hadn't given enough credit.

seems to happen all the time to lots of people.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:47 PM
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Funny how long it took me to realize I have a similar story.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:47 PM
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"And then I decided to submit it to Modern Love and I did/did not let him know and ...".

...


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:48 PM
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18 gets it right. All kinds of people are posting these "25 things about me" on Facebook, and I find them all interesting, except that I dread when the woman I keep inadvertently idealizing and fantasizing about posts one. Because any surprise will be dissonant in the extreme.


Posted by: Chester B. Cleveland-Hayes | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:52 PM
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The Conde Nast product placement is a nice touch.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:54 PM
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he was real, and someone to whom my imagination hadn't given enough credit

This is related to the 'tell' that I identified early on for when I'm falling for someone: I catch myself thinking, Wow, I could never have imagined this person before I met him.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 8:55 PM
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Yes, they need another demographic with money to replace the lucrative "people with money" demographic.

But different people with money!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:00 PM
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I never imagined that the tall stranger who repossessed my yacht would also carry off my heart. [This column ends in a pawnshop.]


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:03 PM
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25: "How long were you together?" "Thirteen years and four months." "Thirteen years?" "And four months."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:06 PM
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The ML column about Iran made me wonder if the editors timed it with an eye towards Khatami's announcement that he would run against Ahmadinejad.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:10 PM
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"All that time I spent restoring model furniture, I was actually modeling the restoration of my sense of self. The I threw it all away by embellishing a story that was itself a lie."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:10 PM
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No more masturbating to Blossom Dearie. PBUH.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:20 PM
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23 is exactly right, and not just for romantic relationships, either.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:28 PM
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@23

Actually, my tell is that I fantasize about strangers and crushes but not people I'm serious about or in relationships with.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:44 PM
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Speaking of tells, I'm surprised she wasn't more concerned about the drop in e-mail correspondence, which in my experience has meant the same thing. Since she doesn't return to it at the end, I suppose it could have been unrelated.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 9:49 PM
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eb-

At trivia tonight I failed to convince my team that the answer to (paraphrasing) "who drove the golden spike in Utah at whatever date in 1869?" was "Leland Stanford." And I failed because I wasn't sure enough of the answer to argue for it. I feel that you'll be interested in this story.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:18 PM
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What other answer could there be that sounded better? (You could guess Durant, but he's pretty obscure.) Was there a penalty for guessing wrong?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:36 PM
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Was there a penalty for guessing wrong?

Presumably, paying their full bar tab, as most of these trivia things go.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:40 PM
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The only trivia thing I did was just an aggregate score setup, with the winners getting something but no one being penalized.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:49 PM
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29: Oh, drat. I adored her. Sigh.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:51 PM
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There's no guessing penalty. We (including me) weren't sure if it would be a railroad person (Stanford was the only RR person named) or some more famous person who was given the honor of driving the golden spike, and went with a more famous person, namely Grant. Even after discussing how much time traveling to Utah would take away from Presidenting. On the other hand, my teammates correctly convinced me that Jimmy Stewart, and not Gary Cooper, got in a fistfight with Henry Fonda in '41 over politics.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 10:55 PM
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Huh, we had read the question as saying the fight happened in 1941, but reading up on it now, the fight was in'47. Apparently it just meant that Stewart won Best Actor in '41 (the question gave the clue that Fonda fought the 1941 Best Actor winner).


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:00 PM
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I once traveled to see someone I already knew on whom I had a terrible crush, on the pretense that I was just coming for a vacation. Before I scheduled it, he sounded really excited to see me and take me around. I asked him about a particular weekend and he didn't get back to me, but he'd previously said that month was good, so I went ahead and bought tickets. Then he told me he scheduled a trip up to see a woman we both knew on whom he had a terrible crush, for the same weekend.

I arrived in town and drove myself around all weekend. We did get to spend one day together, on which he looked sort of tragically at me and said, "My weekend with [mutual acquaintance] was awful and disappointing. I wish I'd been here with you." I left that night, and we never saw each other again.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:10 PM
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33: I was unable to convince my trivia teammates that (A) the only west coast structure on the AIA list of favorite structures was the Golden Gate bridge, and (B) That A-Rod was on the Texas Rangers in 2003 or 2002 or whatever. The other ones we got wrong were just toss-ups. Still, when I've been along we've placed every time: first once, and twice each for second and third, so that's decent.

We only do that well because my brother-from-another-mother has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. If it was just me I would be in bad shape.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:14 PM
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Wow, I could never have imagined this person before I met him.

This can be said with a variety of valences.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:21 PM
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43

Huh, it turns out that unfogged/unfogged is a valid user/pass at the Times!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:22 PM
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44

Always make the men come to you. That was her chief mistake. This method solves the "is he just not that into you?" issue that she had as well.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:29 PM
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45

How can we ever be certain of what we can and can not imagine?


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:30 PM
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46

Amber, calculating seductress.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:30 PM
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44: and yet, with your strategy, you'll never date the kind, caring, loyal, wildly sexual man in a locked-in coma.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:32 PM
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In fact, literal seductress! Ho ho ho!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:34 PM
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Auf Deutsch, Herr W-lfs-n.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:38 PM
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The pun doesn't work in German. In fact I just decided not to post a comment about precisely these differences between "seductive" and "verführerisch".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:40 PM
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Or indeed "seduce" and "verführen".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:41 PM
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I'm always getting internet crushes. I can nurture them for quite some time only to find my nascent interest quashed by some unfortunate detail, like the presence of a spouse, or my realization that we're all just imaginary anyway.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:52 PM
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Meanwhile, 'anonymous but age-appropriate public domain Internet penis' (new mouse-over; would Lessig concur ?) is on a front page story now.


Posted by: E | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:53 PM
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54

The presence of a spouse is a bitch.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:54 PM
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54: Sometimes she's just a very nice woman who doesn't understand!


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 8-09 11:56 PM
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Yes, but I'm a very nice woman who does understand. Marry me!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:01 AM
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57

(Hmm, that came out equal parts desperate and creepy).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:02 AM
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55, maybe in some states.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:05 AM
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Tell me more about desperate and creepy.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:05 AM
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(Hmm, that came out equal parts desperate and creepy).

Don't worry, you're among kindred spirits here.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:10 AM
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AWB's real name revealed: Eliza!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:12 AM
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This might fit in the creepy category- I found out today that I'm two facebook friends away from Ben W-lfs-n (I was doing some unrelated stalking). That's not really desperate though, since it was quite innocent. I swear.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:15 AM
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W-lfs-n is everywhere. A grad school acquaintance of mine went to elementary school with him.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:23 AM
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And a grad school classmate of mine went to high school with him. In addition, I believe it was determined that he and I were in the same Discrete Math and Algorithms classes in college.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:33 AM
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went with a more famous person, namely Grant.

Perhaps you and your teammates overestimated the historical accuracy of the film Wild Wild West, which depicts President Grant as the one who attempted to drive in the golden spike. He of course failed because the ceremony was interrupted by a giant steam-powered mechanical spider.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:16 AM
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It's always the giant steam-powered mechanical spiders, isn't it?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:34 AM
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You know what movie rivals Wild Wild West in its steam-related historical inaccuracies? Steamboy. It had a 300m tall flying death-star thing blowing up the 1851 World's Fair in London, powered by 3 (three!) balls with what were depicted as unlimited amounts of extremely-high pressured water vapor made from water extracted from some caves in Iceland. (Gotta love those Iceland caves.) The preteen hero invents a small flying machine powered by one of these balls out of a few parts from an entirely different, smaller design of flying machine in a matter of 5 minutes, and proceeds to fly it around to save the day.

Only in Japan.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 3:39 AM
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37 Endorsed completely.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:24 AM
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Since no one followed up

Am I imagining it (/forgetting the bad ones), or are the MLs about the author's parents better, on average? The ones about kids are a mixed bag, though I still sometimes think about the flat daddy one.

Yes. The ones about parents have the advantage of being at a remove; making them interesting doesn't require self-degradation, since they can be about the something other than simple romance without having to involve insanity. Whereas the first-person narratives have to be interesting enough ('man bites dog') to make it into the paper, which means they have to be 1) written by awful people or 2) written by psychos or 3) written by someone who has done a credible imitation of psycho or awful at some point or 4) bogus. Otherwise it's just run of the mill romance. It goes the same for kids, since everyone has the best kids in the world, and kids just don't do that much interesting stuff.

max
['Moans for sale.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:29 AM
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I did like the one about how the woman helped her kids deal with having their Dad in Iraq.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:46 AM
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My daughter could write a much better ML column about her own life, than about mine. I could write a better column about my life than about my parents.

(Only she could write something they'd put in the paper. Without getting into details, she's currently newly all-aswoon over a guy, the long process of disengagement with the last guy not quite completely done, and is five weeks away from leaving the country for a year. There's a column in there, right?)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:49 AM
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||

ANyone know anything about getting cheap flights to South Africa. A friend of mine is getting married there this August. She's from Zimbabwe but has family in South Africa, and his Dad is in Nigeria. They figure that it's cheaper to have American friends and family go there than the other way around. (They were both born here, so both U.S. citizens, and his Mom's family was American. I hope that they'll get married in a courthouse here first just to keep the paperwork simple.)

Friend said that flights to South Africa were around $750 and that nice hotels could be got for around $60/day. Expedia doesn't list anything for August that's less than $1100 or $1200.

|>


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:57 AM
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BG, check your e-mail.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:01 AM
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It goes the same for kids, since everyone has the best kids in the world, and kids just don't do that much interesting stuff.

You'll pry my Iris anecdotes from my cold, dead hands.

As a very earnest lover of Homer, I've always resisted the modern* depiction of Nestor as a tiresome, long-winded old man. But as I was reading his recounting to Patroklos of a battle of his youth, I couldn't help but explain to Iris, "This isn't really about Troy, but Nestor likes to tell long stories."

* And I don't know if it's only modern - did the ancients suggest this as well?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:06 AM
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yeah, I frequently have women come halfway around the world to throw themselves at me. It's really annoying, but I try to be kind about it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:58 AM
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Blossom Dearie's "Everything I've Got" is the Our Song of my divorce. Ex introduced me to Blossom during our courtship. We listened to her a lot during the initial intoxicating period of our relationship and whenever she came on during random shuffling of CDs in the car it reminded us of those early days. I know I she listened to "Everything I've Got" quite a bit during the implosion phase of our relationship, as did I. Weird, complicated emotions tied up in that music. Love, hate, sadness, pity, shame.

Lyrics


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:31 AM
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Her real name, believe it or not. And she was an ancestress of the Swingle Singers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:45 AM
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69: Or, perhaps, structured by cows.

Funnily enough, I've had some of those "travel excessive distance to visit someone" things work out. For varying values of work out, of course. And it helps that I'm imaginary in the first place.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:54 AM
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77: Only you would know that.

The Blossom Dearie song I know best is "Always True to You in My Fashion." If the Harris pat means a Paris hat...


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:03 AM
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I've done the "travel excessive distance to visit someone" once. And had it work out once.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:09 AM
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Quite while you're ahead?


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:13 AM
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44 Always make the men come to you. That was her chief mistake. This method solves the "is he just not that into you?" issue that she had as well.

I did the "travel excessive distance to visit someone" thing once when I wasn't that into the person I was visiting, for reasons that I can't articulate very well. It was incredibly awkward. So, um, no, what you suggest isn't guaranteed to work.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:13 AM
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I don't anticipate that I'll have the need to try it again, so yes.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:14 AM
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84

Also, per 82: On that one occasion, I wasn't entirely sure myself how into the other person I was.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:16 AM
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I didn't know who Blossom Dearie was and assumed from the name that she was a campy trensvestite.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:35 AM
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I think it falls to Nellie McKay to be the new Blossom Dearie. I hope she's cool with that.

"How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen?" Seems apropos, but you might to have a hanky handy.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:36 AM
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80: Me too.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:40 AM
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84 - My experience with not knowing how into the other person I am is that invariably I am not into them enough to be worth any effort on my part. YMMV, but I find that either I know fairly early one that there's real potential or I'm wasting my time hoping the other person is going to turn out to be more awesome than they actually are.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:44 AM
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80, 87: me sort of, depending on how you define "work out"


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:08 AM
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Always make the men come to you. That was her chief mistake.

This is less "he's just not that into you" and more "The Rules." Although it's a little of both! Because women are desperate and clingy and confused while men are exactly sure of what they want!


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:09 AM
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depending on how you define "work out"

I think getting married and having a kid counts. I did the travel excessive distance thing once, too, and even though we broke up four years later, I'd still count that as working out. We had some great times before I matured and was like, "d'oh?!"

Although I guess we traveled to each other; our first two meetings were roughly half-way between our respective homes.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:11 AM
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Always make the men come to you.

I have a single-mom friend who is negotiating the dating scene and constantly spits lines like this back at me (citing, of course, her assorted guy friends). I have done well thus far in suppressing the near violent reaction such principles stimulate.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:12 AM
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63, 64, but who, but who?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:15 AM
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Sometimes travel to them is a way of keeping people more distant from you; if you're unsure enough that you don't really want to explain what you're doing or run into the possibility of your "real" friends meeting the "imaginary" friend, travel to them makes sense. After all, then you can pass it off as a vacation, and no one need be the wiser. (Well, almost always, as it is of course still a good idea to inform people that you might be meeting a potential serial killer). Then again, I've only done it once and it worked in my favor to create a good friend, if not a relationship (which wasn't really on the table at the time).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:29 AM
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74: They sure did, JRoth. The idea that old men talk waaaay too much about back-in-the-day is an old one indeed. (Think here of Phoenix's speech, too.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:43 AM
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As for Blossom Dearie (pbuh), I suppose I will always think first of her lovely, gliding, slightly triste, torch song rendition of "Manhattan."


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:48 AM
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95: Yeah, I had a feeling. I think it didn't strike me so much in previous readings because the whole artificial mode of heroic speech obscured just how tiresome Nestor can be - plus, of course, none of the other characters ever comment on it (or perhaps only very subtly).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:23 AM
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I think it falls to Nellie McKay to be the new Blossom Dearie. I hope she's cool with that.

I assume so. At the TED Conference last year, she did a 20 minute set starting with a song "in the style of Blossom Dearie."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:24 AM
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If I were a man, I would have said to always make the woman come to you. It's less a gender roles thing than a power equalization tactic and a quick test for interest. She was obviously more interested in him than he was in her, so she was thrice-disadvantaged by being in a strange place, out of pocket for thousands of dollars, and the victim of an affection imbalance. Even if there's no affection imbalance, letting the other person come to you is pleasant, since most people are cheap and lazy and if they do show it's a fairly strong signal of interest, and interpreting signals is half the difficulty with new relationships.

If you're traveling long distances to see people you're not that into, you're insufficiently cheap/lazy for this to work. Take heart in your large bank balance or high energy level.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:31 AM
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When I was in Boston a couple of years ago checking out Harvard's post-JD program, I made a point of meeting up with one of the non-libertarian/literary dudes of Crescat who was attending MIT for some science thing. I had been charmed by reading his posts written in Latin on Mahler and T.S. Eliot. Also his very sympathetic accounts of how lonely he was and how he just wanted someone to walk the banks of the Charles with, drinking Mariage Freres tea in paper cups and talking about books. We had emailed a little, and it seemed promising, at least in my head.

Man, that was a mistake. It was so awkward. It was so lame. The lack of spark was awful. We just ended up chatting about another Crescat blogger we both sort of knew. I gave him a book I brought for him anyway though.

The next time I let another blogger come to me, which was still a mistake, because they disappoint you and then you still have to take them around and pretend that you do not completely regret meeting them in person.

After that I went onto the dating websites and never looked back. It's more honest there, and the information is so simple and basic that it's hard to romanticize and create an entire myth around a person or lose your head over a good email. Meeting dudes off of blogs rarely works out. You either know too much or the wrong things about the person. I always thought I'd meet someone off my blog, but nope.


Posted by: belle lettre | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:42 AM
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I think the blog problem is in part that one somehow knows both too much and too little about the person one is reading.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:49 AM
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belle, aren't you glad, though, that you didn't spend a bunch of money to meet these guys? Even a T fare would have been wasted, methinks.

The more time elapses between first contact and meeting, the more likely there is to be serious disjunction between the person in your head and reality. That's also a danger if you find a picture of the person's more attractive sibling online long before they send you a photo.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:50 AM
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The next time I let another blogger come to me, which was still a mistake, because they disappoint you and then you still have to take them around and pretend that you do not completely regret meeting them in person.

Well I had a good time.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:54 AM
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BL actually said what I said. 101 should say "Yes."

But yeah, in a certain way I like meeting friends from blogging because all that hassle of explaining my interests and issues is already over. I don't have to patiently spell out certain things, and there are already topics of conversation that we're both obviously interested in. But I am also fully aware that my blog makes me look a lot more aversive to and unpleasant in interpersonal relationships than I am, and that's sort of on purpose.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:54 AM
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Amber: yes, I'm glad I didn't blow a lot of money to meet the guys, but I deeply regret letting guy #2 (who without the loneliness/desperation goggles I have figured out has a _terrible_ blog!) come stay with me. Augh! Time wasted is even worse, much less awkward time wasted! Thank god for Firefly, which we ended up watching so that we did not have to talk to each other.

Re the picture of the lovely pre-Raphaelite sibling: see, this is why dating websites are better. At least they're pictures of the actual guy. You might get caught up in a more flattering angle/older picture/picture of them without long Fabio hair, but still, it's them.


Posted by: belle lettre | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:55 AM
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103: Don't make others think this was you! I liked meeting you! It wasn't _my_ fault we took months to meet up, despite living only a few miles apart!


Posted by: belle lettre | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:57 AM
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I will say though, that meeting up with blog friends has always been awesome, and never disappointing. I recently had a blog friend come stay with me for a conference, and it was a lot of fun and I even enjoyed crashing the conference, which wasn't in my area. Maybe it's the addition of sexual longing/disappointment that ruins everything.


Posted by: belle lettre | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:59 AM
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Re the picture of the lovely pre-Raphaelite sibling

The idle hypothetical Amber posed in 103 has gained some specificity, I see. All to the good; examples are better when more concrete.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:59 AM
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Time wasted is even worse, much less awkward time wasted!

Further confirmation of 103's leap of logic.

(That said, you didn't intend the identity of the Crescat person to be terribly obscure, did you? Just making sure it wasn't an indiscretion error, since I for one knew immediately who you meant.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:59 AM
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Maybe it's the addition of sexual longing/disappointment that ruins everything.

Another convert to the relationship-free life. You just need to get rid of the boyf and we can issue you your card.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:00 PM
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I should be glad, I guess, that essear didn't single out 105's "terrible blog" as a covert signal.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:04 PM
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Hmm, I like meeting new people, even if it is awkward. It doesn't have to go anywhere for me; none of it is straight-forwardly time wasted in my opinion.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:05 PM
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109 doesn't make a lot of sense appearing after 106.

Somehow I was remembering Crescat as having been populated by zillions of people I was noddingly acquainted with, but looking back at it now I only recognize a few of the names.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:06 PM
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The Biophysicist and I both flew long distances to meet for the first time, he 1100 miles and I about 3000. We had agreed that, were there no chemistry, we could at least chat about science fiction for those four days. Wednesday is the 16th anniversary of our meet up at Logan airport. We can never stay at the Hilton again, tho', as they are really uptight about people pawing each other in the lobby. I mean, really, we still had most of our clothes on...


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 12:06 PM
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More Blossom Dearie that I bet you all know even if you don't know that you know it:

"Unpack Your Adjectives"

and

"Figure Eight," and again, man, she can make a song about a number a little bit sad.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:16 PM
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I'm so down on long-distance relationships in general that I'd be reluctant to travel a long way to visit a potential flame. I have no beef with the initial travel, but the thought of the year or years afterwards of having a g-friend in a *whole other city* is such a massive turn-off I can't even face it. THe way I figure it, if you see a distant person a quarter as often as a nearby person, then the distant person has to be four times as good in bed as the nearby person. Is that really likely?

Also, you can't gradually ease in to living together with a distant person, it's all or nothing, the big move to stay together or else twice a month. I like the gradual slide when they stay over one night a week, two nights, then four nights, then you sort of discover you've actually merged your possessions.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:21 PM
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Also, you can't gradually ease in to living together with a distant person, it's all or nothing

Ooh, yes. I would have been so screwed if some unforeseen incompatibility had manifested itself after I'd moved up.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:28 PM
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114: Domi, you're ruining the story line we're developing here.

Domi is a hostile and unreliable witness and her testimony should be stricken from the record.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:32 PM
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OMG, people who move to live with a previously-long-distance partner terrify me. I've known like five guys whose girlfriends moved to NYC, and although they didn't cohabitate before, he moves into her NYC apartment and suddenly, for the first time, they learn that they hate each other and now he's stuck having either to move back home or find a new apartment in a city where the only person he knows is his ex and her friends. Maybe this is worse because it's NYC and you move here and are immediately surrounded by this big sexy interesting place that you can't really explore without feeling guilty about tension with the gf, but it seems like a horrible risk to me. And, weirdly, I have never known a left-behind girlfriend to move to NYC and immediately into the bf's apartment.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 1:38 PM
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119 understates considerably the level of risk I ran.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 2:23 PM
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So, since we're talking about meeting people via blogs... Any of the sureños up for a meetup next weekend? Magpie and I will be in LA.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 2:32 PM
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121: Given that my knee surgery was cancelled because I don't have any red blood cells and would likely die on the table, I'm free. Biohazard probably is, as well. If we do dinner, it will have to be somewhere that offers raw liver and iron filings on the menu.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:28 PM
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3: Has ML done furries yet?

Not that I recall, but we could probably work up one and sell it to them, as long as we over-write, moan bathetically and come to a sad end.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:30 PM
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122: I'd been thinking maybe brunch... unless Versailles will satisfy your iron cravings. (I haven't been to Versailles in a decade and have to have to have to get some garlic chicken while we're down south.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:42 PM
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123: "It was in those late hours, petting Amanda's ample brown tufts, that I realized: love itself is a fuzzy concept."


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:44 PM
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And now that I look like a callous asshole, that sucks about a) the knee surgery and b) the low red blood cell count.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:44 PM
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120: "When I showed up at my supposed gf's apartment, two huge leather boys with tattooed faces threw me to the ground and then sat on me, giggling. They immediately sprang to their feet and stood facing her when she entered, docile as faithful pit bulls.

"Don't mind them", she said. "They don't mean anything by it".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 4:48 PM
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126: Hell, you aren't callous - I was just whingeing a little, Versailles would be great - which location do you favour? I've only been to the Culver City one and the one on La Cienaga, but I hear they're all over nowadays.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:11 PM
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127, fixed: They immediately sprang to their feet and stood facing fell to their knees before her when she entered


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:13 PM
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Also up for an LA meetup -- either Culver City or La Cienega would be great. Be warned though -- VS has declined in quality a bit recently, although it's still very good.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:27 PM
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Of the two Versailles I've been to, the one near San Pedro (which I've been to twice) was noticeably better than the one in Culver City (the one on Venice, right? - which I've been to once). I'm not in Southern California, though, so feel free to discount this.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:30 PM
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Also, this thread reminds me of the friend I had in college who said she preferred long-distance relationships. She liked not being not in a relationship, but also having lots of every day space.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:32 PM
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I don't know the one in/near San Pedro, but could probably drive.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:33 PM
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Long-distance relationships are a step in the right direction. Eventually you'll have these fictitious, pain-free marriages where the spouses live on different continents and never see one another at all.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:36 PM
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It's apparently actually in Manhattan Beach on Sepulveda. Locations.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:37 PM
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Either Culver City or La Cienega works for us (the latter is a tiny bit more convenient to where we're staying, but not so much as to make a huge difference). San Pedro/South Bay is right out. I'm a little weirded out to discover that they have a location at CityWalk.

Does Saturday night work?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:38 PM
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Off topic, but does this sound odd to you:

Group A supported plan Z, but plan Z was never carried out.

Plan Z was then modified slightly to become Plan Y.

Group A said they opposed Plan Y because Plan Y was too different from Plan Z.

Does this mean Group A is making a straw man argument? It's simply a fact that Plan Y and Plan Z are different. But no one is arguing that they're the same.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:44 PM
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EB, are you taking the LSAT?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:46 PM
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Also, Sat night at the Versailles on La Cienega should work for me. Maybe we could get a front page post on this pour encourager les autres?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:47 PM
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I just found out that Aaron Copland was a gay Communist. I have to give him another listen. I always assumed he was sort of a Reader's Digest Norman Rockwell type guy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:47 PM
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No, I had a conversation in which the concept of the straw man argument made what I thought was a surprising appearance.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:48 PM
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137: I don't think Group A is saying anything exceptionable, so long as they prefer Z to Y on the merits. "We would have been able to support Z, but the differences between Z and Y are so great that Y has moved outside the sphere of plans we support." Now, if they're saying "If Z had never been proposed, Y would have been great, but now that we've seen Z, we have two criteria -- whether we approve on the merits and likeness to Z -- and while Y is a great plan in its own right, it's too unlike Z for us to support" that would be weird.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:48 PM
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127: don't talk about my friends like that! They have all been super-nice and welcoming to Tom, even after talking me off multiple previous ledges involving long-distance relationships (let's not go into the one about the Dagestani Spetsnaz Afghanistan vet during the collapse of the USSR).

He's going to strangle me for posting this, but though I should have had many more reservations at the time than I actually did, his spontaneous move (planned with less than a week's lead time) was the best thing that ever happened to me.

(You can all stop puking now.)


Posted by: Eva Luna | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:52 PM
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142: And yet, isn't this how we move from dating to courting to heartbreak? Fair Rosaline is eclipsed by Juliet?


ROMEO: O, teach me how I should forget to think.

BENVOLIO:
By giving liberty unto thine eyes;

Examine other beauties.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 5:54 PM
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142: It's possible they thought the second way, but the statements under discussion as potential straw men took the form of the first. The other odd thing about this use of "straw man" was that it seemed like it would not have been a straw man argument had supporters of Y argued that Y and Z were exactly the same.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:00 PM
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143: Apparently your filtering process was well-designed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:02 PM
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||
Tell us, O Philosophers and Political Scientists, what are we to make of eightmaps.com? (NYTimes commentary here).
|>


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:15 PM
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The John Templeton Foundation is one of the biggest donors. There are 10 to 20 $100k+ donors. Utah isn't prominent at all. at the $100,000 level. Several retirees in the group.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:29 PM
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147: I almost -- almost -- feel bad for that one donor in Manhattan.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:30 PM
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The Templeton Foundation gives an annual million-dollar award which tends to specialize on the intersection between science and religion. Some legit people have recieved it. It also may do creationist - ID stuff.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:33 PM
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149: And then there's the guy who actually lives in the Castro. Oy.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:33 PM
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They seem to have separated themselves pretty emphatically from ID. They claim not to be politically conservative, but do give to conservative / libertarian groups. There's a claim up that the Prop 8 donation is not from the foundation, but from the son of the founder.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:38 PM
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Biohazard probably is, as well.

Waittaminute! Is Biohazard ... the biophysicist?!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:43 PM
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This place is too quiet. Is everyone listening to Obama?


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:44 PM
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Obama who?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:45 PM
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INTERRUPTING OBAMA


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:47 PM
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Obama Rosanadanna? Obama Bananabama Fee Fie Foe Famabama?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:48 PM
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He RUINED the name game.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:49 PM
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It appears that no one on the block where I grew up donated to prop 8's passage.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:49 PM
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150, 152: The Templeton Foundation throws a lot of money at scientists, and were careful to try to distance themselves as a foundation from the donation to Prop 8, which would have made their already shaky reputation even shakier. They provided the initial funding for the "Foundational Questions Institute" (FQXi), which gives grants to a number of respectable physicists, but also to crackpots. FQXi insists that even though it got its start with Templeton money it is now completely independent. Templeton itself gives big prizes but also funds a lot of smaller things. Some religious dude in my graduate program got funding from Templeton to start a series of lunches, for discussion of how cosmology informs our understanding of mankind's place in the universe, or something like that. (Of course most of us avoided it like the plague.) There's a mix of attitudes, from people who would never touch money associated with Templeton to people who take the attitude "the money has to go to someone, I might as well take some of it" to people who wholeheartedly endorse Templeton's program. The last are pretty rare, though.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:54 PM
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Jeeezuz! "Bipartisanship" is the gotcha tonight.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:56 PM
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||

I'm probably just skimming too quickly, but it seems like the AP reports have not done a very good job explaining exactly what today's stimulus vote was on. It's a key procedural vote, I know, but what's the specific procedure? Don't make me go to senate.gov.

|>

Also, I'm hoping that the centrist Senators who cut all that spending yelled "Knives out, motherfuckers!" as they walked into the meeting.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:57 PM
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Yeah, some of these reporters sound determined to pin the lack of Republican votes on Obama. I don't get it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 6:58 PM
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162: I thought it was the cloture vote to force them to stop debate and move on to a vote on the bill itself?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:01 PM
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162: It's sort of scary living in a country where 35 brain-dead people have as much power as that. They were 3 or 4 morons short of cloture.

I think that this vote sends the bill back to conference with the house to negotiate differences. If I'm not mistaken, the negotiating committee will be Democrat dominated, but they'll still have to send it back to the Senate. I', not sure the joint bill can be filibustered. If not, only 51% is needed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:02 PM
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163: It's like how fiscal responsibility always means lower taxes, less spending, and a budget balanced at a lower level. The government is just like a household, see, and no household members ever take on second jobs, ask for raises, seek promotions, seek higher paying work, or otherwise try to increase their incomes. That would be personally irresponsible.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:02 PM
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The last fiscally conservative President was Clinton, and before him, Eisenhower. Fiscal conservativism is a fetish. Eisenhower's conservativism slowed the economy, and Clinton's closed of an opportunity.

When people start talking about fiscal conservativism they always slide into talk about profligates and wastrels and so on. It's reptile-brain stuff.

And few of those assholes peeped a peep about Bush's deficits.

My Congressman is an anti-pork deficit hawk, but he's heavy on the gasohol subsidies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:06 PM
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"Short of defeating cloture"


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:07 PM
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151: Seriously. Oof. There were no donations in the bit of NJ I grew up in, which is one of two Republican counties in NJ. But my county is really of the "Go have your gay marriage abortions, just don't touch mah munneee" variety.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:08 PM
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164: They made me go to senate.gov. If I understand it, the vote was to invoke cloture on the Nelson-Collins amendment, which is an amendment in the form of a substitute for the original bill. So they're going to vote on it as the final bill next time around, then if it passes it goes to conference. I don't know if they still need a 60 vote threshold.

I guess this is why the AP just called it "procedural."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:08 PM
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In my fantasy someone slips major spending in a couple of districts represented by endangered GOP senators into the reconciliation bill. The senators vote against it because they haven't read it (and most reconciliation bills never get a full reading by anyone but a few powerful committee staffers before the vote). In 2010 the opponents of the targeted senators can run ads saying "Senator Pizzletwizzler voted against the project that is currently employing 2000 people right here in Outer Bumfuck." Unfortunately Harry Reid lacks anything like the required killer instinct.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:12 PM
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So they're going to vote on it as the final bill next time around, then if it passes it goes to conference. I don't know if they still need a 60 vote threshold.

I read somewhere on the internet -- I think at DailyKos, which I never read, but for some reason glanced at the other day? -- that there's some Senate rule that 60 votes are needed to consider any bill which will unbalance the budget (independent of filibustering), and that if the bill is changed in conference, this will apply and 60 votes are needed before it can be approved. Hopefully someone can give us a more authoritative version of this.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:21 PM
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172: Probably this, which I saw over the weekend. That's why I'm not clear on the thresholds. The Senate appears to have a lot of rules designed to approximate the filibuster without requiring anyone to risk exerting themselves on behalf of their views.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:26 PM
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173: Yes, that.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 7:46 PM
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La Cienaga Versailles works for us - what time? It's small and tends to be crowded; maybe we should try for an early dinner?


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:02 PM
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153: W-lfs-n, my poor bastard child, I think you're the last to figure that out...


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:04 PM
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176: Second to last! By I am much slower than Ben . . .


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:08 PM
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By=but. See?


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:08 PM
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177: third to last.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:22 PM
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I thought the connection having been suggested, had been previously denied.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:24 PM
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177: Third to last. Good grief. Who knew.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:26 PM
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Dibs on third to last.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:28 PM
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Also, 114 sounds a bit like at least one long-distance meetup I've had, without the 16-years extension, though. Nice, makes me smile.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:28 PM
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Fourth Fifth to last. I'd wondered, though.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:46 PM
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Apropos of nothing, John Cornyn is a chump. Not voting?


Posted by: Gabriel | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:48 PM
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great news, it's exactly what i suggested, dating within U! and there is another couple revealed TS&EL
a happy thread
my next great match which i'm going to promote now is .... tararararaaaam -
Becks and Eb! could be a very compatible couple, now as i understand with geographical possibility to meet, an activist western woman-intellectual and gentle, humor loving Asian man, both Democrats, i can see great future


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:50 PM
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TS&EL?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:54 PM
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143


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 8:56 PM
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As we came together to the last meet-up [which I could swear had been mentioned], I kinda thought it had become even more obvious than our mutual references to living in WeHo, being ancients, etc.

Sifu, blame yourself for not showing up at Masa.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:03 PM
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Okay.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:06 PM
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Now blame yourself for the economy, global warming and any movie staring that oafish guy [Vince?] who used to bang Jennifer Anniston after Brad left.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:11 PM
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I blame Vince Vaughn on global warming, actually.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:13 PM
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192: He seems like sort of a douchebag. Maybe we can power the new economy on douche. There seems to be ample storage capacity in place, in the form of bags of it.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:16 PM
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Stanley, ew.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:19 PM
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Cringe you can believe in?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:20 PM
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||

Speaking of douchebags.

|>


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:20 PM
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196: That actually makes me want to smash things. Fucker. I mean, I've always thought he was full of shit, but I truly didn't suspect that he was knowingly fraudulent. Gag.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:24 PM
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196 tests my commitment to non-violence. Indeed, given the opportunity, I should avail myself of the chance to punch him in the face.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:29 PM
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What's wrong with vince vaughn?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:30 PM
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Very British of you, ari.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:30 PM
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Somebody should probably tote up how many dead kids he has on his conscience, not that he has a conscience.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:30 PM
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Be the rage you want to see in the world, ari.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:31 PM
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200: I'm a citizen of the Commonwealth, you know.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:34 PM
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203 to 202.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:42 PM
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201: Somebody should probably tote up how many dead kids he has on his conscience

Two, according to the linked article. Possibly more unreported.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:43 PM
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Coming into the thread at 196 I was sure Sifu was linking to something about Arod, then I was trying to figure out how he had killed two kids.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:46 PM
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That's okay, SP, I don't even know who Arod is.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:48 PM
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Of course not.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:49 PM
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Arod is not abar.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:52 PM
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Something that gets thrown. (Does arod throw though?)


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:52 PM
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After listening to the full two hours of Young's Dorian Blues in G my ears are ringing a little.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:52 PM
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So Ari, I'm awake now. Anyway, I got one of Hofstadter's books (Age of Reform) figuring I'd dig around and see if memes come from there. I expected to have to dig around a bunch and would end up having to temper my ignorant snap judgment against Hofstadter, but I've read about 30-40 pages and that book has conspiracy theory accusations like a dog has fleas. Apparently his editor made him hedge a bunch, because the introduction makes no sense. He rants a bit and then say "This is not to say that...."

I was looking for a technocratic End of Ideology anti-Populist smear, and I found it. It's like Roosevelt had two populist terms and two populist-killing terms.

Every goddamn intro Poli Sci student reads this book, and nothing else about populists. That's why the Democrats always lose. That, and everything else Ivy whiz kids read.

Of course, it's possible that I just stumbled on the only 30 pages in the whole book......... I don't think so.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:55 PM
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Arod son of Zothar!


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 9:57 PM
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That's why the Democrats always lose.

Uh, John?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:05 PM
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I don't think anyone who wants to understand the Populists looks to Hofstadter, John. The canonical texts on the Populists are by Robert McMath, Lawrence Goodwyn, Steven Hahn, and now, in the past couple of years, Charles Postel. Hofstadter, as eb said yesterday, basically disappeared entirely for thirty years. And now he's making a comeback among people who are interested in broad-gauge scholarship.

Into the Wild is bumming my ride.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:08 PM
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Obama seems to be donating the government to moderate Republicans slightly less insane than the others.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:08 PM
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OK, but is Hofstadter still read in intro classes? This looks like a Econ 101 problem, where beginning students are mistaught even though the leaders of the field know much better.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:10 PM
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The grizzly bear wasn't in the book, was it?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:11 PM
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Hofstadter wouldn't be read in any intro. courses, no. He's the kind of thing that people like me stick on a particularly ambitious graduate syllabus, a window into a bygone era of scholarship.

(Well, he might be read in some. But very, very few. His admirers consider him an admirable relic. Sort of like you, John.)


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:13 PM
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No, inside of a book it's too small for a grizzly bear.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:13 PM
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Dude, I'm a little sad here. And you're being supercilious. It hurts.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:18 PM
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Look at it this way: I don't even know what you're talking about.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:18 PM
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John is not a relic.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:21 PM
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You've never been sad?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:21 PM
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OK, but when you talk to any common educated person about populism you still get the same "populism = ignorant racism" thing. And the Democratic Party is technocratic and adamant against populist appeals. And in Kazin's book on Bryan he seems to be pushing back against people who believe that Bryan was totally horrible.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:23 PM
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I'm always sad, which arguably means that I've never experienced the sadness that only a happy man can know.

But what I meant is that I've never seen this book/read this movie.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:23 PM
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I assume you don't want any spoilers?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:23 PM
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Goodwyn goes a bit far in the other direction. But there's a CT thread where a lot of people were recommending it; I guess the movement culture anti-fusion aspect of it has had a lot of influence among activists.

Anyway, of the two Hofstadter books I've read, I think American Political Tradition is better. But the Bryan chapter struck me as mean, and I'm not even a Bryan fan.

The real question is, why am I up late two nights in a row commenting about Hofstadter and populism?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:24 PM
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Hofstadter seems to have defined general educated public opinion about populism for decades. His influence still seems to be there.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:26 PM
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eb either you acknowledge that Hofstader is single-handedly responsible for ruining the reputation of populism in this country or you and John are going to be here all night. Those are the rules.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:28 PM
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225: That might be. And some of them were plenty of racist, it should be said. But the reality is that the Populists were no more monolithic than the Democrats are today. Anyway, I don't really know any common educated people. Which is to say, I use my mom as the representative well-educated, non-expert reader. And I'm not sure that she knows the first thing about the Populists. Other than maybe "Cross of Gold."

227: Yeah, don't tell him it's sad.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:28 PM
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plenty of racist


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:29 PM
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Ruth Bryan Owen had an interesting career. Won as many elections as her dad, too, I think.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:31 PM
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Plenty of racist, ari. More than plenty.

Weren't the Populists the guys who shot that dude out back of the Quik-E-Jut just for dissing that Marika song?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:31 PM
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I think Hofstadter is the only thing the general public would read about the Populists. It's the only book I've ever read on the subject, and I didn't read it as part of any course.

As someone who is a technocrat at heart, it makes me sad that technocrats are killing America.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:32 PM
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Motherfucker. I get ten minutes to read and comment on Unfogged, and I'm already pwned by 229.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:34 PM
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These threads are telling you to go back to graduate school, eb. I've heard UC Davis has a fine program in US history.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Worth seeing?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:34 PM
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237.2: he dies in the end.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:35 PM
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The unorganized really shouldn't revolt against the consequences of organization. They should just allow leaders to fulfill their destinies by bureaucratic means.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:35 PM
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Basically the Southern Populists were racist, like everyone else white in the South.

Hofstadter puts in a footnote acknowledging that the elite was anti-Semitic, too, but explaining that it was really no big deal compared to Populist anti-Semitism, because if you squint your eyes right Populist anti-Semitism looks Nazi.

I'm really talking about 50s intellectual history, not the Populists, and also how certain judgments were established in the fifties and never shaken. And how the Democratic Party became a corporate administrative liberal party.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:35 PM
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238:He dies in the end

The grizzly bear?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:37 PM
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how certain judgments were established in the fifties and never shaken

Boomerangs? A design panacea.
Abstract Expressionism? Not art.
Destruction? Mutually assured.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:38 PM
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Your version of the story gives scholars an awful lot of power, John.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:39 PM
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241: wrong movie.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:39 PM
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240.last: Well thank god you finally got around to the point, John.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:40 PM
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Bryan only won about one election in his life, but was an important national figure for at least two decades. Somewhat the same was true of Ignatius Donnelly. Both were amazing orators.

Bryan wasn't really a Populist, BTW. He was a Democrat whom the Populists endorsed. Donnelly was a real Populist.

Donnelly wrote a pioneering dystopian novel, which is admittedly racist.

Donnelly is also the Ur-father of American Atlantis lore.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:42 PM
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Also, the Democratic Party of the 1950s and early 60s wasn't exactly committed to equal rights for the black man, right?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:42 PM
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Your version of the story gives scholars an awful lot of power, John.

Someone's gotta have it! Why not a professor at an elite university?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:44 PM
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Wait, but Donnelly wasn't southern, why was he racist?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:46 PM
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That should make you feel good, Ari! You're a scholar.

So Hofstadter crystallized the technocratic corporate-liberal Zeitgeist's dismissal of populist-type politics, but caused nothing, because nothing ever causes anything, because everything is always caused by something else, and ultimately, there's only one thing in the universe, which consists of all these internal links of cause and effect, in toto, with none being more important than any other. Gotcha.

Or did you mean something different?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:47 PM
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I'm assuming Emerson will not agree with the assessment that Donnelly was "the greatest crackpot that ever lived".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:48 PM
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I think Hofstadter is the only thing the general public would read about the Populists.

I thought that was The Wizard of Oz.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:51 PM
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And how the Democratic Party became a corporate administrative liberal party.

But that happened everywhere, so any uniquely American explanation kinda fails.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:51 PM
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He wasn't racist in his politics. Dystopian novels need villains, and he chose Jews and Chinese, unfortunately. He was embarrassed by that aspect of his book and tried to back off. I haven't seen signs of anti-Black racism of the lynch-mob type, which the Southern Populists (and Progressives) were guilty of. Like most Yankees (but not Bryan) he was, on political issues, pro-black.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:51 PM
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Again, John: the idea that Hofstadter painted the Populists as racist, and that depiction then caused the Democratic party of the 1950s, a party still dominated by its Southern (and racist) wing to turn its back on Populism, well, that strikes me as odd. Also, yes, nothing causes anything. Like a any good historian, I think causation = bad.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:53 PM
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So Hofstadter crystallized the technocratic corporate-liberal Zeitgeist's dismissal of populist-type politics, but caused nothing, because nothing ever causes anything, because everything is always caused by something else, and ultimately, there's only one thing in the universe, which consists of all these internal links of cause and effect, in toto, with none being more important than any other. Gotcha.

Dude, how many different things can you apply this style of argument to?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:54 PM
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I think we can reject out of hand the idea that Hofstadter's work became popular because it fit an increasingly corporatist/administrative liberal zietgeist borne out of the economic transformations of WWII. That's putting far too much power in the hands of seismic technological, environmental, and cultural shifts.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:54 PM
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"borne out of" is wrong in some kind of incredibly pointless, petty way.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:55 PM
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Like I said, Donnelly was a national figure in national politics for a couple of decades without winning an election. There were plenty of 10-term Congressmen during that period who were in his shadow at the time and are rightfully forgotten now.

Proposals of his like a graduated income tax or women's suffrage became real decades later.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:56 PM
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I'm afraid I just don't get your point here -- you seem to be claiming there's some sort of secret history of a real American Left, but your secret history isn't particularly coherent or Left.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 10:59 PM
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These threads are telling you to go back to graduate school, eb

I've more or less decided I want to do some history-related job. But apparently, I have too much education or am too old or something to get the low-level archive/museum/whatever experience that you need for mid to higher level work, but have too little of that same low-level experience to get that higher level work despite having enough education for it. (It might help to have the Ph D instead of an MA, but it's not required, as far as I can tell.) So apparently I have to get another degree in addition to the history degree because the process of getting that degree suddenly makes you eligible for low to mid-level work that as a regular non-student it's not easy to get, but that can't start until the academic year starts. Also, the economy is in the tank, so what has been paid experience in the past is likely to become unpaid experience in the near future. So I'm just kind of killing time until then, I guess. This answers the question of why I'm on this comment thread still, I think.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:00 PM
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256: It's a metaphysical point of view which I don't share. Nothing is the sole cause of anything, and no effect has only a single cause, so anytime you say "X did Y" or "A caused B", you're wrong.

As I found out recently at EOTAW. It's something they learn in the Pavlovian boot-camp period of their training.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:00 PM
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That's putting far too much power in the hands of seismic technological, environmental, and cultural shifts.

See, but what caused those shifts? You have to back to some other shift, and some other shift, but clearly this is absurd. There must be an Uncaused Cause at the beginning of the chain. That Uncaused Cause is what we call "Hofstadter".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:00 PM
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(And that that secret history has been suppressed/the participants slandered. (By the liberal technocratic Democratic Party, I assume.))


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:01 PM
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Nothing is the sole cause of anything, and no effect has only a single cause, so anytime you say "X did Y" or "A caused B", you're wrong.

Or, anyhow, imprecise.

John I think you should start a political movement based on reasserting the simple chain of causality. Hofstatder leads to Hofstadter's book leads to the rejection of the Populists as racists leads to Jimmy Carter leads to the destruction of the Democratic party leads to, um, racism. Or profit. I'm not sure at that point, but I'm sure you can get the crowds going in any case. Wear some kind of spiffy suit. And if you can work it back to god creating the animals, that would be a good through-line.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:04 PM
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263: no wonder the poor bastard was crotchety with all those turtles on his back.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:05 PM
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260: If you're talking to me, I don't know what you mean.

As I understand now, if I'm claiming that Hofstadter was the unaided sole cause of the rejection of populism by the Democratic party, I'm wrong, because there are no unaided sole causes of anything (250); but there's no other intelligible meaning of what I've been saying.

Hofstadter published in 1955, but his books were read in later decades too.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:06 PM
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John, all kidding aside, we are trained to reject mono-causal explanations. Nuance is the gold standard for scholars, no lie.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:09 PM
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260, 264: You're making stuff up, in a Hofstadterian way. Where id I say "secret history", or anything like that? Where did I claim to be offering, on a fucking comment thread, an alternate history.

Secret-history-wise, both official histories of Minnesota's DFL Party, which was born with the merger of the Democratic Party and the Populist Farmer-Labor Party in 1946 or so, do in fact misrepresent many aspects of the FL party's history. The FL people ran the state 1930-1938, but were destroyed by WWII and related factors, and in 1946 merged with the previously-feeble Democrats.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:12 PM
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But what are you claiming?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:12 PM
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As I understand now, if I'm claiming that Hofstadter was the unaided sole cause of the rejection of populism by the Democratic party, I'm wrong, because there are no unaided sole causes of anything (250); but there's no other intelligible meaning of what I've been saying.

Here and at EOTAW, you seem to be pushing explanations of the form "let's consider this big collective action taken / opinion formed / whatever by many, many people -- I blame it on that guy". Which, you know, sure, sometimes individual people have outsize influence and are responsible at least for starting in motion some much bigger set of events. But you don't seem to really propose a mechanism by which said person's influence shaped the ensuing events, and you're predisposed to reject other people's attempts to locate the individual's influence within a broader context, or to provide alternative structural explanations of what was happening, and then you bitch that other people are predisposed to reject you. It doesn't seem terribly productive. Surely you can work a little harder at providing some narrative of how these things are supposed to work, instead of pointing fingers and expecting us all to jump on the bandwagon?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:12 PM
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but there's no other intelligible meaning of what I've been saying

Gosh, you seem to get misunderstood an awful lot, John. I wonder why that is?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:13 PM
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268: I wasn't kidding, Ari, either: it's Pavlovian.

What might have I been saying about Hofstadter other than claiming that he was the sole cause of the technocratic takeover of the Democratic Party? Put on your thinking cap!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:14 PM
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260, 264: You're making stuff up, in a Hofstadterian way. Where id I say "secret history", or anything like that? Where did I claim to be offering, on a fucking comment thread, an alternate history.

Um, you are claiming that there is a dominant history which is incorrect, and that there is a repressed, more truthful, version of history. That's what I meant by secret history; it seems a better phrase than some awful lefty nonsense.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:15 PM
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270: Why should I answer? Your unaided imagination has already answered the question to your satisfaction, in a way suggesting that I'd be wasting my breath.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:16 PM
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Can't we just hedge and say that Hofstadter's popular influence* has often been understated but his influence among people who actually study populism has gone from people saying "you're wrong" to people moving on? Anyway, I'm going to bed.

*There was an informal or at least not quite scientific survey in the 90s, I think, of historians of the US where people were asked to name three books for some reason. Maybe it was books that influenced you or books that were important or something like that. The 800 or 900 who answered listed something like 1300 titles altogether, but Hofstadter was represented fairly highly among authors mentioned multiple times. I'm going from memory here; it's on JSTOR somewhere. Anyway, lots of people had read Hofstadter, but that doesn't mean they agreed.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:16 PM
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What might have I been saying about Hofstadter other than claiming that he was the sole cause of the technocratic takeover of the Democratic Party?

That he, in some incredibly minor way, might have helped facilitate it, basically totally by accident?

I'm right there with you!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:17 PM
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Argh! Look, you haven't actually put forward a fucking testable claim; how the hell are we supposed to do anything with vague mutterings about the Technocracy and how the pre-war left got slandered as Nazi and god knows what else.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:18 PM
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(for testable, substitute understandable, would you?)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:19 PM
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Keep me posted on the L.A. Valentine's Day Massacre Meetup (that is the Saturday night you're talking about, right?), although I think I just planned a dinner party then. And I don't know how to make garlic chicken.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:23 PM
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251: the assessment that Donnelly was "the greatest crackpot that ever lived".

I thought I had heard the name somewhere else. Martin Gardner covers him in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. As John mentioned, Donnelly was the writer who really woke up the Atlantis myth (apparently Gladstone tried to organize an expedition to investigate the claims in Donnelly's book and map Atlantis*). He also wrote a book Raganorak which described a comet visiting the Earth and causing all manner of biblical and geological phenomena, and he was big on a cipher in Shakespeare's plays proving they were written by Bacon.

*Gladstone himself apparently wrote a book postulating that people were color blind in ancient Greek based on the paucity of color words in Homer.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:23 PM
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273: Okay, it's Pavlovian, then. Whatever, dude. As often happens, I tried to say that there was more than a kernel of truth to what you wrote, which you then interpreted as fighting words. Are you mad because I called you a relic? Or do you really want me to play the part of Hofstadter in your passion play? I'll wear the crown of thorns, if that's what it's going to take.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:24 PM
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271: Essear, at EOTAW I was most specifically saying that Graham and Sulzberger, the managers and owners of two large corporations, The New York Times and the Washington Post, were responsible for the things that were done by people working for them that they were able to hire and fire. I never really though that that was something I'd have to argue. The Zeitgeist might have influenced those two guys, but they still ran their business.

The mechanism is the widespread use of Hofstadter in college classes. And he was taken seriously for a long time, even if he isn't now.

I can't believe that I'm in a world where Zeitgeist explanations of corporate behavior are regarded as self-evidently more rational than management explanations.

272: Because I am consciously and deliberately trying to change people's mind about things that their professional training has drilled into their minds.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:24 PM
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The mechanism is the widespread use of Hofstadter in college classes. And he was taken seriously for a long time, even if he isn't now.

As I said above, the last time this might have been true was the early 70s. That's juts a guess, but I'd wager that it's an accurate one.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:27 PM
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281 = me.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:28 PM
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Keir, could you drop out of this discussion? You've gone from caricaturing what I said to demanding something falsefiable. On the "secret history" point: I was just saying that Hofstadter was enormously influential, and that he grossly misrepresented populism in an unfair way. Nothing occult about that. But just shut up and go away.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:28 PM
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Because I am consciously and deliberately trying to change people's mind about things that their professional training has drilled into their minds.

Right. Because everyone who misunderstands you shares the same professional training. (Particularly with respect to the Times/WaPo conversation.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:31 PM
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Oh, fuck off yourself Emerson.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:33 PM
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La Cienaga Versailles works for us - what time? It's small and tends to be crowded; maybe we should try for an early dinner?

Our schedule's pretty flexible. What time were you thinking, 6-6:30?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:34 PM
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278: Or you could actually read Hofstadter's goddamn books. But go away.

Ari, do you think that it's ridiculous of me to say that Graham and Sulzberger actually run their businesses? Because that's one of the things I got ridiculed for saying a couple of days ago. It's unprofessional, I guess.

As often happens, I tried to say that there was more than a kernel of truth to what you wrote,

Ari, which post? It wasn't on this thread.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:35 PM
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Specifically, if you won't say what you mean, then don't get annoyed when people misunderstand.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:36 PM
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I've said what I mean. First people accuse me of making Hofstadter a sole cause, and now you want a testable hypothesis.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:39 PM
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No -- I want an understandable hypothesis.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:40 PM
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John, it was on this thread, though I can see how you might have missed it. I said that we (historians) are trained to avoid mono-causality. In fact, that, llong with the notion that nothing is inevitable, is beaten into. As for the media barons, I've told you a zillion times that I agree that it's in their best interests to have a right-leaning slant to their corner of the public sphere. But I also don't think that's the end of the story. Again, no single-cause explanations for this kid; that's just how I roll.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:42 PM
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I thought you wanted people to NOT read Hofstadter's books.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:43 PM
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Go away. I did even come up with a "secret history" to meet your specifications: the official histories of the DFL party misrepresent the history of the FL Party with which it merged.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:43 PM
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Just pretend the second sentence of 294 makes sense, okay? For old time's sake.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:44 PM
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First people accuse me of making Hofstadter a sole cause

meet

Every goddamn intro Poli Sci student reads this book, and nothing else about populists. That's why the Democrats always lose.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:45 PM
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Third sentence. John's getting awfully near to blowing the lid off my Hofstadter cult. And I'm getting a little bit flustered.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:46 PM
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Ari, that was awful thin agreement. People seem to exaggerate the degree to which they have expressed their sympathy with my views before expressing voluminous disagreement.

That is to say, I'm a paranoid relic, like all populists.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:46 PM
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Go away. I did even come up with a "secret history" to meet your specifications: the official histories of the DFL party misrepresent the history of the FL Party with which it merged.

Right, so the claim is that 1930's Left history was a wee bit malleable? Because I can go along with that...


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:48 PM
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300: Sorry, that's the best I can do in a pinch. Anyway, did you know that Paul Blart: Mall Cop has already grossed nearly $100m. The end is nigh, I tell you.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:50 PM
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And now I forgot a question mark, for fuck's sake. I think that means it's time for me to return to the essay I'm currently reading: Sean Wilentz is arguing that Lincoln was actually a Jacksonian Democrat. And if that's not a punchline to a joke at the AHA, I don't know what is.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:51 PM
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Well, me too, Ari. It really does seem that I've been wasting my breath for some time now, considering you're one of the friendlier ones. My mission to the liberals has been an utter failure. At least Bush is no longer President, and there remains a chance that Obama will stiffen up a bit. As get to know the contemporary mind better, I like it less, so I guess I am a relic. I've said so myself before this.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 9-09 11:52 PM
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Fads and Fallacies

An awesome book. I have the first edition which, I must admit, reeks of the fifties establishmentarianism John so distrusts.

On the other hand, shit yeah scientology and osteopathy are crocks, so I guess it holds up pretty well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 12:44 AM
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305: It really is excellent. Better than some of his later work in the area. I have 2nd Dover edition with a few updates. Zig-Zag-and-Swirl, baby!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:05 AM
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I certainly read Hofstadter on populism in the early 70s and if, as Ari suggests this was the last time it was taken seriously, fine. It was very, very boringly written.

But on point, I was 18, and consequently ill-equipped to judge his standpoint, but the people teaching the course were not at all unsympathetic to American populism, and managed to convey this while using H. as a textbook with no difficulty. So I'm left wondering whether John's experience stems as much from an anti-populist teaching of H., which might have quite different causes, as from H.'s own views.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:24 AM
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shit yeah scientology and osteopathy are crocks, so I guess it holds up pretty well.

Osteopathy is odd. I was treated by an osteopath for a back problem last year. His advice, and his diagnosis all seemed eminently sensible.

"Your back is really flexible here, but really inflexible here; that's making this bit move against that bit in a way that causes irritation here and here. Stretching this way, and strengthening that bit will help."

[And when I reported this back to my GP, her response was pretty much, 'Yeah, that seems right.']

But, when he was reporting to his colleague, the language was a lot more 'crocky':

"There's a qi-blockage between the triple-burner and the snake's eye, and the 9th meridian voodoo pulse is blocked." [except without the talk of qi, of course]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:28 AM
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Osteopathy is odd. I was treated by an osteopath for a back problem last year. His advice, and his diagnosis all seemed eminently sensible.

From what you say, I'm guessing that if he had advertised his services as a masseur, his treatment would have been much the same, but his bill would have been much smaller.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 2:04 AM
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re: 309

His advice went quite a bit further than massage, and I paid essentially nothing for the service [done through the degree program for osteopaths at Oxford Brookes].

His advice was more the sort of thing I'd expect from a physio [combined with a bit of massage and some (gentle) back manipulation].

The underlying model might be flawed/dodgy, but the basic advice/treatment given was, as far as I could tell, fairly orthodox and sensible stuff.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:13 AM
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Hofstadter wouldn't be read in any intro. courses, no. He's the kind of thing that people like me stick on a particularly ambitious graduate syllabus, a window into a bygone era of scholarship.

I think he was taught in my AP high school U.S. history class 17 years ago, but of course the teacher was working off of stuff he'd learned earlier--either in college or in some kind of Master's program.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 5:31 AM
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308-310: Doing some web searching on osteopathy this morning, apparently the practice has evolved in different directions in the US and England. In the US, osteoptahic medicine (practioners hold a DO and can subscribe medicine etc.) has basically become a branch of traditional medicine with some "osteopathic manipulative medicine" (which is rarely used) thrown into the mix. It appears that about 10% of US doctors are osteopaths (Michigan & Oklahoma both >~20%, undoubtedly because Michigan St. and Oklahoma St both have DO programs) and it looks like the % is increasing.

In England it aparently has continued more as a separate practice, as chiropractic medicine has in the US. The kind of treatment ttaM decribes being their main offering.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:13 AM
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312: It is clear that Osteopathic and Chiropractic medicine are rooted in pure late 19th century quackery (per the writings of their founders Still and Palmer). Of course much "traditional" allopathic medicine was a mess at that time. I'm sure there are vigorous and loud debates that could be held in various quarters of the Internets of the value of their current manifestations.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:20 AM
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I, too, read Hofstadter in AP US history at about that time.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:23 AM
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Seems to me that Inherit the Wind did Bryan plenty of harm among thinking people 50s and later. Not to say that this would be independent of the same Zeitgeist JE is talking about.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:26 AM
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I'm sure there are vigorous and loud debates that could be are being held in various quarters of the Internets of the value of their current manifestations.

Fixed.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:12 AM
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Seems to me Bryan did himself plenty of harm during the Scopes trial, Charlie. But sure, Inherit the Wind was very unkind to him, though I don't think it treated him as a Populist so much as a rigid Creationist. Which I think gets to part of Kazin's point in his book: there was more than one Bryan; he was a complicated guy. I think I tried to make a similar argument above, when I noted that the Populists were many things, much like today's Democrats. (Today's Republicans, of course, being only one thing: unalloyed evil.)

But that's not why I came back. John, I'm here to try one more time. My point above, in noting that our professional training really does make us hostile to mono-causation was this: if you want to keep up your missionary work among the academic tribes, you should consider phrasing like, "Well, part of the explanation might be [insert your point here]." That probably won't be very satisfying to you, but it will likely stop your interlocutors from quickly telling you that you're being simplistic, rather than giving your argument a real hearing. Or you can keep trolling. Either way's good with me.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:50 AM
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Seems to me Bryan did himself plenty of harm during the Scopes trial, Charlie.

I can't remember where I read this, so I don't know if it's well founded, but I read somewhere that Bryan's opposition to evolution as a scientific theory was grounded in political opposition to Social Darwinism, which makes it somewhat more sympathetic. He found the justification of inequality with bullshit about 'the survival of the fittest' offensive, and didn't have the scientific background to evaluate how weakly connected the social theories were to the actual science.

Anyone know if there's anything to this?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:54 AM
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318. You probably read it where I did, in an essay by Stephen Jay Gould, who tried to show that Bryan's becoming an obsessive anti-evolutionist was 1. an ill-informed reaction to "Social Darwinism" that was consistent with his prior populist views (as you say), and 2. should not be used to denigrate his pre-war career as a force for progress.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:00 AM
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OK, but when you talk to any common educated person about populism you still get the same "populism = ignorant racism" thing. And the Democratic Party is technocratic and adamant against populist appeals.

I'm really talking about 50s intellectual history, not the Populists, and also how certain judgments were established in the fifties and never shaken. And how the Democratic Party became a corporate administrative liberal party.

The mechanism is the widespread use of Hofstadter in college classes. And he was taken seriously for a long time, even if he isn't now.

Emerson, when I, at least, harass someone about whether they're making sense, and complain that they're not providing enough details, it's because there's enough there that it looks kind of intriguing, and I would actually like to see more details. Seriously, dude, make an argument without all the carping about whether or not people are rejecting what you say out of hand.

As far as I can see there are huge missing steps to get from "lots of people read Hofstadter and took him seriously" to "the Democratic Party became a corporate administrative liberal party". So I guess the argument, roughly, is that the people who determined the direction the party went are the sort of people who absorbed some conventional intellectual opinion in college (and didn't see a need to challenge it or understand opposing opinions?), and that they went on to alter politics according to these opinions. Right? So at the very least it would be nice to see a few more links in this chain. When are you saying the Democratic Party firmly turned its back on populism? Who were the people in charge, and were they of the right age that it's plausible they were heavily influenced by Hofstadter? Why would the people making political decisions have been the sort of people who unquestioningly accepted political views taught by their professors, or out of Hofstadter's book? If there were other people with a more populist bent in politics at the time, why didn't they achieve much power?

Maybe those aren't entirely the right sort of questions; I'm relatively ignorant of history, and of the way that you think this developed. But when I said "what's the mechanism?", I was looking for more than a one-liner in response. And I think giving that explanation requires fitting your mono-causal theory into some of the broader things that were happening at the time, so that if you just tried to spell out more details at the beginning, people wouldn't be so quick to jump on you for pushing mono-causation.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:03 AM
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Essear, at EOTAW I was most specifically saying that Graham and Sulzberger, the managers and owners of two large corporations, The New York Times and the Washington Post, were responsible for the things that were done by people working for them that they were able to hire and fire.

Mmm. I think people were objecting not to this basic claim that reporters have bosses, but the further claim that the personal political beliefs of Graham and Sulzberger alone dictated the systematic reporting biases in the media.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:03 AM
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I'd be interested to know what SEK thinks about that argument, as Bryan certainly painted himself as a church-going Christian. And I did a mediocre post on the Scopes trial a while back, in which I depicted Bryan in that way.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:08 AM
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I think I'll probably just talk to other people about these things, off in my cell of conspiracy theorists. As I said, Bush is out, Obama is in, the Democrats show signs of viability and will probably be walking in a few weeks, and my mission to liberalism has concluded, not entirely successfully it is true.

Note that historical skepticism of the type you defend is adequate to disable any attempt whatsoever to put together a usable understanding of the past for activist purposes.

As you may know, one of my strongest areas of interest is the institutionalization of unargued paradigms in the academic world, and their Pavlovian inculcation to graduate students when they are being trained (like dogs, he added under his breath). I hadn't noticed that in history, but I hadn't been looking hard enough. So my ethnomethodologic intervention was fruitful that way.

My interest in Hofstadter was motivated by the question of how calling something a "conspiracy theory" became accepted as an adequate refutation, even though there are real conspiracies in the world. (I call this the "conspiracy theory theory", which grounds the "conspiracy theory fallacy"). The phrase came up a lot during the official and mainstream responses to conspiracy theories about the 60s assassinations, even though the Malcolm X assassination, the MLK assassination, and the JFK assassination still seem ot me as though they probably were conspiracies.

Going back in time there were the John Bircher conspiracy theory that Eisenhower and Marshall were conscious Communist agents, and I think a lot of the energy behind Hofstadter's conspiracy theory theory came from an identification of populism with McCarthy via Gerald LK Smith and Father Coughlin. This in turn fit a post-ideological Zeitgeist in which all forms of popular political enthusiasm were regarded as proto-Communist or proto-Fascist. This was pervasive in philosophy, sociology, economics, and even literature -- literature as late as 1980 IME. (Let me again state my bemusement at the fact that Zeitgeist explanations are now regarded as more scientific than agent explanations, even when you're talking about a corporate hierarchy. And also at eh apparent belief that once you have a Zeitgeist explanation, all agent explanations are invalid).

Heilbroner (including his writing on anti-intellectualism and the paranoid strain) formed the attitudes of the half generation before mine, the mainstream part of my generation, and directly or indirectly a lot of later people. You claim that he disappeared from syllabi by 1975 or so, and I guess I'll have to register your claim since I can't disprove it. He does seem to be regarded as a classic.

So anyway, I have added Heilbroner's conspiracy theory theory to my own history of the conspiracy theory fallacy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:21 AM
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Actually, as I remember Gould's argument, the point he emphasised was Bryan's revulsion from German militarism, justified by a pseudo-Darwinist racism mediated through Haeckel.

Ari, plenty of populists, and plenty of evolutionists, are church-going Christians. What are you arguing here?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:22 AM
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I'm guessing that Ari's seeing a dichotomy between "I oppose Darwinism for political reasons" and "I disbelieve in evolution because I'm a biblical literalist." It seems perfectly possible to me that Bryan was both: a biblical literalist and a political progressive, and he saw opposition to/disbelief in evolution as consistent with both positions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:26 AM
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And possibly the claim that if Darwin hadn't been so associated with nasty-ass social engineering programs, Bryan wouldn't have condemned the bits about descent with modification.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:34 AM
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People are extremely quick to jump to the conclusion that I have stated a monocausal explanation whenever I say anything, even if I haven't. It seems to be the only way people can process any strong claim (preparatory to refuting it). I cpould restate my Graham-Sulzberger theory all kinds of different ways: G/S consented to what has been happening, G/S had a hand in what has been happening, what's been happening couldn't have happened without their knowledge, G/S played a very major role in what happened, this couldn't have happened entirely by accident, etc. It would just have been a mushier statement of my point, and the conclusion from my point is that the Post and the Times have just gone bad, and there's no one from the bottom to the top to appeal to in hopes of improving it.

As the Taoists say, if you look at things from the point of view of sameness, everyhting is the smae, if you look at them from the point of view of dfifference, no two things are the same. If you look at them from the point of view of bigness, everything is big, if you look at them from the point of view of smallness everything is small. You use different points of view depending on what you're trying to figure out. Basically, in order to put together a usable history for political purposes, you have to use the bigness filter or bigness magnification. This isn't inaccuracy or dishonesty; it's the choice of how to present the material.

On the corporation point, past determinism explanations of everything often amount to explaining things as machines. Early modern science assumed that the whole universe was a big machine devised by God. This way of investigation worked up to a point, but much of reality is not mechanical. But one thing that mechanists did was try to design social organizations which function like machines and can be controlled for a purpose by one or a few commandeing leader. States, banks, armies, and corporations were designed or reformed on mechanical principles. So while lots of things in human life are clearly not controlled by agency, the presupposition should be that certain sorts of organization, to a large extent, are.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:37 AM
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Yes. I doubt if Bryan would ever have accepted natural selection himself. But perhaps he didn't regard rejecting it as politically central in his pre-war career. Even biblical literalists have to prioritise, and if he believed that saving his constituents from being crucified on a cross of gold was more immediately important than denouncing a theory that none of them would have endorsed anyway, that seems perfectly consistent. Only when he became convinced (wrongly) that Darwinism had pernicious social and spiritual implications would he have raised it to the top of his agenda.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:40 AM
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326, 328: Exactly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:43 AM
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Some progressives were Darwinians, and many progressives were also racists. But so was Bryan -- he at least accepted segregation and its consequences. The populists and porgressive don't strike me as necesarily very different; the progressives came later and picked up a large number of populist issues.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:46 AM
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Bryan was unquestionably a believing, practicing, orthodox, active Christian. But he avoided bringing up theological doctrines or sectarian differences and preached the social gospel.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:47 AM
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Because, of course, only paranoid conspiracy theorists state monocausal explanations of anything.

I will add that the transformation of the university after WWII included the disappearance of pragmatism, especially of the activist Deweyan type. When I entered college I wanted to be a pragmatist, which has accounted for my non-career. McCumber, Mirowski, and others have shown how the transformation of the university was motivated and enabled by (conspiracy theory) McCarthyite persecution and large targetted grants from foundations and from the military. Cold War liberalism was the beneficiary, and it pissed off conservatives too, not just populist leftists.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:53 AM
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And let me again recommend Schmitt's "Disciplined Minds", about (among other things) pavlovian graduate school training.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:56 AM
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312, 313: I am sort of confused as to the status of osteopaths in this country. My instinct has been to regard them as cranks, but it seems that they aren't. Or rather, in this country, they seem to do all of the things that MDs do in the way that MDs do them. When I was hanging around a big fancy hospital for much of November, I discovered that one of the bigs in emergency pulmonary care there was a DO. Clearly he wasn't treating his patients by cracking their necks. So I have no clue.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:00 AM
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334: In the US, DO=MD. They're real doctors, who went to real medical school (different medical schools than MDs, but still real schools) -- the differences are more philosophical (more holistic and so on) than anything.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:02 AM
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Bonus Scopes/Bryan trivia: Scopes and Bryan were from the same town in Illinois and Bryan had delivered the commencement address the year that Scopes graduated.

I do not know how Bryan came to focus on evolution, but if his own word are to believed, it really did come down to Christianity versus evolution. The issue is plain: The Evolutionists intend, through our tax-supported schools, to change our Bible and our religion.

As to the Scopes Trial, God forbid that any of us have an H L Mencken present to memorialize us at our worst.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:03 AM
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Back in the day when assorted friends were applying to med schools, schools of osteopathy were essentially treated by them as "safety schools" -- essentially med school, but not quite as competitive to get into. A step up, I would add, from those med schools of the Caribbean, which were the other safety schools.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:05 AM
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Mencken the Nazi, as Kazin reminds us.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:06 AM
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337: Yes, I think that is what DO has basically become; an alternative entry path into licensed practice in the US. Not so much in many other countries (and the degree does not travel well). Apparently every state licenses them, but the last only did so in 1973. One article I read this morning noted a significant difference in average GPAs and Medcat scores. DOs seem to be much more likely to be involved in primary care than specialties. As I was reading, it did it occur to me that at some point in my life I had noticed some Doctor I was seeing had a DO rather than an MD degree and that we had a brief discussion on the topic.

A step up, I would add, from those med schools of the Caribbean, which were the other safety schools.

An added bonus is that we don't have to invade anyone to "rescue" the osteopath students. (Well then again, maybe Oklahoma some day.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:15 AM
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338: Mencken the Nazi, as Kazin reminds us.

A swinish overstatement of the facts in evidence.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:32 AM
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Another famous Emerson there, Emerson the Nazi.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:36 AM
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OT: Dean Baker's opinion of the economics profession seems much like mine: there is none: Unlike dishwashers and custodians and workers in most other occupations, the professional standing of economists is not affected by their past failings.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:40 AM
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323: This in turn fit a post-ideological Zeitgeist in which all forms of popular political enthusiasm were regarded as proto-Communist or proto-Fascist. This was pervasive in philosophy, sociology, economics, and even literature -- literature as late as 1980 IME. (Let me again state my bemusement at the fact that Zeitgeist explanations are now regarded as more scientific than agent explanations, even when you're talking about a corporate hierarchy. And also at eh apparent belief that once you have a Zeitgeist explanation, all agent explanations are invalid).

Pervasive enough to go mostly unspoken, if what I recall from the 70's of the characterization of populism: angry (ignorant, 100% irrational!) peasants with pitchforks besieging the noble (and 100% rational!) scientist attempting to complete his (noble, very noble!) life's work of creating a living human being out of spare parts, via the application of large amounts of electrical power.

Bzzt. Bzzt.

Anyways, I'm thinking that when (say) Robert Reich talks about populism and when he says stuff like this:

Talking about coastal versus inland, there's an age-old political pattern that also bears mentioning. Forget tourism versus drilling, and forget for a moment the overwhelming dominance of business on our political process right now. Think bigger and over a longer period. Go back through history -- European, Asian, United States -- and you see an interesting pattern. Places closest to oceans and big rivers flowing into oceans tend to be liberal. Places farthest from oceans and big rivers flowing into oceans are conservative. New ideas and reform movements start in coastal areas. Reactionary movements start inland. The Greek, Roman, and Venetian cultures, and of the Dutch, French, and English enlightenments all started near coasts. America's coastal districts are the most liberal. Central Europe and central Asia is where reactionary movements began, including fascism. Most "red states" are on America's deep interior. (Study a map of Red versus Blue districts and you'll see a blue-ish line up the Mississippi river as well.)
Why this pattern? Because since the dawn of civilization, water routes have carried people much more quickly and easily than overland routes. The result has been a mixing of ideas, nationalities, and new perspectives on coasts or along big rivers. Hence, inlanders are more parochial, and stay that way longer. They're often offended by what comes to them from the coasts and big rivers. When they're offended enough, they react.
that lurking there in the background is the notion of populism consisting of angry rural peasants with pitchforks... even when he is arguing (to 'liberal' urban technocrats that adore 'creative class' real estate porn) that the angry peasants are right.

max
['How often do they talk about Shakespeare in American history class anyways?']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:07 AM
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The bitter thing is that the midwestern populists and progressives 1880-1940 were the leaders of liberal movements.

Southern populism seems to be privileged in historical studies, since they really were good an racist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:13 AM
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289: Josh, that sounds reasonable. Shall we say 6pm, with a target of 6:30 for dinner, because it will probably take time for people to arrive/find parking?


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:47 AM
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||

Someone at an Adult Education Center whose staff need to formally write up their curricula asked me if I might be willing to help. These people, are, for the most part effective teachers, but they don't have formal pedagogical training. I don't either, but I might be able to articulate things that they can't.

Can anyone recommend books on how to do this? It's because a funder wants more information on what they're teaching so that it can be more easily replicated.

Feel free to e-mail me.

|>


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:48 AM
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What? What part of Italy, birthplace of fascism, isn't near a coast or a river?


Posted by: mealworm | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:55 AM
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Too true, mealworm.

I dunno, John Emerson; the populists in the Pacific Northwest were well in with the Wobblies and (IIRC) Knights of Labor in their racism (esp against Chinese) and sexism and (white) nativism. It's true they backed workers against the rich, but not all workers.

How large were the non-white populations in the Midwest that Midwestern populists and progressives included?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 12:02 PM
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Reich's argument was customized to the point he wanted to assert. Ind he's one of the good guys in today's Democratic party, compared to Rubin.

Liberalism was built in the Midwest with full Populist (broad sense) partcipation, but Hofstadter had to deny or ignore that because liberalism had been transformed into an administrative form during WWII, and warfare states does not want public participation in major decisions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 12:06 PM
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Southern populism seems to be privileged in historical studies, since they really were good an racist.

FWIW, to the extent that we learned about populism in my high school (around the same time as BG), it was presented as far more of a Midwestern/Great Plains phenomenon than a Southern one.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 12:12 PM
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Having just read the 350+ posts, I find Emerson largely annoying in this thread w/r/t Hofstader. BUT I think that he's onto something very important and interesting about the limits of the professional historian's "nuanced" understanding of the past. Even if Ari's no-single-cause principal is in some sense accurate (and it will always be the case that there are no truly unique causes of historical events), the professional historian's approach is almost completely useless when it comes to other ways in which people need to look at or use the past -- and in that sense can also be reality-distorting.

For example, lawyers and judges need the ability to identify a particular person or corporate entity that's responsible for a particular problem. Political movements need exemplars, heroes, and villains. Saying that the answer to "what caused this" is ALWAYS as a matter of principle "well, a multiple layer of cultural, social, and economic factors, together with some particular decisions taken by individuals, all of which need to be specifically related at length" is, while true at some level, not much of an answer at all for most purposes. That's not a slam on professional historians, it's just to say that not all of us need to take on an allergy to monocausal explanations as part of our own intellectual apparatus.

"Conspiracy theories," management-driven theories, etc., have their place and should be acknowledged. Where I break with Emerson is the notion that there's anything particularly true and useful about lionizing the midwestern agrarian populists of yesteryear as a means of reinvigorating the Democratic party of today, or that it makes sense to view Hofstader as a particularly important villain.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 12:31 PM
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The bitter thing is that the midwestern populists and progressives 1880-1940 were the leaders of liberal movements.

Ayup.

Southern populism seems to be privileged in historical studies, since they really were good an racist.

Well this seems apiece with the notion angry southern rednecks attacking nice white people who want to help black people. Which actually did happen. (And worse, they're still at it!) But then nice white people stomped the shit out of the indians, which really tends to go unremarked, comparatively speaking. A lot of historical writing seems to involve quietly settling old scores, whether those old scores are rational or not.

What? What part of Italy, birthplace of fascism, isn't near a coast or a river?

Well, besides the fact that Mussolini started out as a Communist who operated in northern Italy, home of the Renaissance, and um, Venice, now that I mention it, I think Reich (ha!) is talking about HITLER! The problem being that Hitler went as a starry-eyed youth to Vienna in the hopes of getting into school. And Vienna has a... large river running right next to it and it was just full of non-German-speaking furrners, which was some of what pissed Hitler off. Pissed him off so that he had to fuck off to Germany and wound up in Munich, which is also a large city ... next to a ... large ... river.

I'm still trying to think of a reactionary radical movement that didn't start in a city. And then if I dive far back into history, I have a hard time coming up with cities that were actually ON the shore. Alexandria and Istanbul, ok. But Athens was inland, just like Rome, and actually rather a lot of european cities. Even in the US, you've got Baltimore, and Miami and New York and Boston and Chicago and LA and SF and out of gas here. No Philly or DC or Richmond or Houston or Kansas City &c &c.

Ind he's one of the good guys in today's Democratic party, compared to Rubin.

Absolutely.

All that said, I'm not seeing where Hofstader is a source, rather than a vector. (Noting that I haven't read Hofstader, so maybe he is all that indeed.)

max
['How much of our (any) ideology started out (and ended up as) as vague mumbling?']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:09 PM
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Lionizing the midwestern agrarian populists of yesteryear as a means of reinvigorating the Democratic party of today

Did I say that? Just a party that didn't cringe at any sign of populism, and which wasn't quite so tightly involved with finance. Having Rubin and Geithner running the show is already problematic. We'll say which way Obama's post-partisan pragmatism goes, but so far it seems like a remarkably disastrous assemblage of misplaced cliches.

Or that it makes sense to view Hofstader as a particularly important villain

I've also been looking at the "conspiracy theory" smear, which seems to have morphed into a more comprehensive prohibition on agency theories. I find it more or less impossible to talk productively to liberals and Democrats, especially academic ones, so I've been trying to get a better grip on why it's impossible. The archaeolgy of incomprehension.

As far as Hofstader being a source rather than a vector: Hofstadter was not the sole or unique cause of this (end of ideology was pervasive 1950-1960), but with regard to American political history and populism / Progressivism particularly, and the liberal rejection of populism, he was the most important singe individual at the turning point, I think. He wrote three very influential books, and I've only read 30 pages of one of them and it's studded with unfair accusations. He's regarded as a classic and I suspect he's still read more than Ari says. Arthur Schlesinger JR was another one, rather less so, and Hubert Humphrey himself purged the DFL once he got control.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:37 PM
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To put it another way, a lot of "populism" today is Republican. Does this mean that a.) the term populism is being misused just to mean "bigot" or b.) the Democratic Party is organized and staffed so as to make populist appeals impossible? (Or both?)

As I have said a bunch of times, Republican populism is fake, but democratic elitism is real.

The most convincing argument against my position is Teixeira's. Basically he argues that the white poor are so few and fucked up as to be an unimportant demographic, and the non-white poor can be snagged with racial appeals. But we do seem to be entering into a period of real pain, and I don't see the Democrats being able to respond to it. A bit more than cool professionalism will presumably be needed.

On the agency theory, it already seems to be settled policy (in the executive) that there will be no consequences for anyone responsible either for the Bush-era crimes or the economic disaster. Perhaps their minds can be changed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 1:46 PM
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Probably late in the thread to bring something like this up, but I've been reading a bit on Wisconsin and the LaFollettes to follow up on some observations from my father who grew up there during that time. His impression (and he is not necessarily a reliable narrator on this as his father turned out to be quite a McCarthyite) was that progressivism was hurt in Wisconsin by the stances taken on both WWI and WWII, further associated (maybe wrongly) with some fairly straight up German sympathizing* in the German communities. It seems to have been a very complicated dance but do you think that might have been part of what contributed to the fate of midwestern populism during and immediately after WWII? One of the LaFollettes to McCarthy to Proxmire, quite a ride.

*Whatever its connection to populism, his personal experience with open German sympathizers in his community led him to be rather absolute in his condemnation of the Japanese internment, certainly not a universal (or common) sentiment among Pacific theater vets.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 2:18 PM
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And looking for something else I found this intriguing article (the start of it at least), "Populism: Myth, Reality, Current Danger" which looks to be a continuation of a back and forth between the author, Victor Ferkiss, and Paul Holbo on precisely the theme you are pursuing. First sentence: Although the treatment of Populism at the textbook level is still almost exclusively favorable, it may be, as Professor Holbo declares, that in intellectual circles the pendulum has already swung to far from adulation to disparagement.

And this set of readings (from the website of a professor at Missouri State) collected under "The Nature of Populism: Radical, Reform, or Retrograde" looks spot on. I wish I had the time to pursue stuff like this.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 2:31 PM
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This is Joh/n Holb/o's father, BTW. I have a different little casebook he put together on isolationism.

As far as I can tell, WWII destroyed that kind of politics for good. The FL party was thriving up until 1938 and virtually dead in 1942. War trumps everything. Rooesevelt ended up trying to destroy some of the people who had supporte him most strongly on domestic policy. WWI had the same effect.

I think that isolationism was on of the items in Hofstadter's bill of particulars.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 2:50 PM
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357.1: Thought it might be.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 2:58 PM
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Isolationism has been a talking point throughout American history, but the fact is we have been interventionist since the war against the Barbary States.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:03 PM
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Thanks, JP. I'll be using that biblio. It includes something by end-of-ideology Daniel Bell against populism done in 1955, when Hofstadter's book came out. (That destroys my theory that Hofstadter did it single-handed. Curses! I've been exposed!) Arguments against Hofstadter started to appear almost at once, but as of 1977 the revisionist anti-populist point of view still seemed to be the consensus, per the Erlich paper.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:06 PM
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The arguments against the Philipine war, WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Gulf War are like peas in a pod. I haven't seen anything about the Korean War. I have never looked for non-wars, where a proposed military action was stopped by popular or congressional action, so I can't be sure that there weren't any, but it seems that going to war is inevitable once the executive decision is made, regardless of public opinion, reasons, pretexts, congressional opposition, or anything else. In the cases I know much about the press / media seemed to be recruited before the decision was announced though.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:12 PM
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Isolationism especially means not getting involved because of treaties and alliance. It wasn't really pacifist, and certainly not anti-expansionist.

Europe in 1914 was organized into alliances in such away that once one nation mobilized, all nations mobilized, and once mobilization began, for a variety of reasons it couldn't be stopped (it took months to assemble an army at the front.) So it was a machine with a hairtrigger and no other controls.

American's problem with Barbary pirates was because Britain no longer protected us after independence, and also because Britain had its hands full with France and may have been hoping for the pirates to hurt the French. At one point the US allied with Sweden, Sardinia, and one other improbable state in order to get something done, but nothing came of it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:24 PM
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Well, my point was more that the loss of a few American merchant ships in the Mediterranean Sea is not necessarily a reason to send a squadron of warships to the region, unless it is decided to do so.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:47 PM
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Especially when the ships have to be built beforehand. There was quite a bit of grumbling about the expense, IIRC.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:52 PM
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as I remember it was pretty costly and accomplished little, but Jefferson wanted to prove something to the world.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:53 PM
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Depends upon what you mean by little. No more tribute had to be paid, and the ships built went on to win (or not lose) the War of 1812. Decatur becomes a hero.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 3:57 PM
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Sort of a practice war, you mean.

If I remember right the first ship sent over there was captured, and a lot of Americans never made it home. And the treaty signed wasn't honored too long and became unnecessary after the end of the Napoleonic war, when order was restored.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:03 PM
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The Philadelphia ran aground, but Decatur becomes a hero by blowing it up rather than let it fall into the pirate's hands. According to wikipedia, 20% of the annual budget went to tribute (seems like a lot). Shores of Tripoli and all that. A very different age, to be sure.

The early US never had much of a standing army, but has had a blue water, force projection Navy since the beginning. I think that fact has shaped foreign policy more than most people give it credit.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:10 PM
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Isolationism meant "don't fuck with Europe while they have a bigger army because getting pwned is bad for sovereignty."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:13 PM
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Yeah, Lord Nelson gave high paise to Deatur, IIRC. Or one of those guys.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:14 PM
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The arguments against the Philipine war, WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Gulf War are like peas in a pod.

Well, yes mainly true. Except that there's one massive difference about WWII -- viz. the Left was for it* and the RIght against it. (Except for the Communists, but 1930's Communism is not a shining example of good thinking.)

Chamberlain, Petain etc. Not actually DFHs.

* Except for some people who were for a slightly different pan-european anti-fascist war.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:21 PM
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The thing that strikes me about our war on the Barbary Pirates is that we were getting all huffy about England not controlling this scourge of slavery! in their backyard! at exactly the same time that England was huffily fighting, without US assistance, the scourge of slavery in the Caribbean.

AFAICT everyone else assumed that the Anglo shopkeepers were looking after their own trade.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:31 PM
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As Emerson said, in the US, "Isolationism" basically meant "no alliances" and "no interventions in Europe," definitely not "no imperial projects in Asia or Latin America." Cabot Lodge was an imperialist and obsessed with China but was opposed to joining the League of Nations.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:34 PM
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Some of the American WWII opponents were Left, of the Populist sort.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:35 PM
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Some of them, doubtless, same as there were right pro-war types.

But in general, let's go fuck up the counter-revolutionaries is a Lefty kind of thing to do.

(Left Book Club put out pro-war propaganda, including anti-Japanese material.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:41 PM
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The CP was anti-war, of course, uo to a certain point. As I understand, they and the Trotskyists exchanged positions the day Germany invaded the USSR.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:43 PM
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Hahaha.

The CP was pro- and anti-war depending for about a decade.

I'm not sure about prior to '36, but thet were pro-war from then 'till Molotov-Ribbentrop, then anti-war till Barbrossa, then pro-war till they won.

I think the Trots assumed that it was a rehash of WWI, and were thus pro-General Strike etc. But honestly, they were all nutters.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:49 PM
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Pete Seeger made an anti-war album during the Stalin-Hitler Pact period which was suppressed after the invasion. "The Good Reuben James" from the album was retrofitted for the Vietnam War.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 4:53 PM
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re: 371

A friend of a friend is a historian who works on the first world war. He's pretty adamant that the left was for that one, too, and that the popular modern perception of ignorant men sent to their doom through simple-minded patriotism is wrong.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:12 PM
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I'm only talking about the US, not Europe.

Ignorant men were sent to their doom for a complex of reasons, I suppose.

Based on my recent experiences, historians are the last people we should go to if we have questions about history. All you're going to end up knowing is that history is complex, everything is nuanced, and there are no simple answers. Ask me a question and I'll give you the historian's answer.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:18 PM
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379: The FOAF wouldn't happen to be D/an T/odman, would he?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:27 PM
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Note that historical skepticism of the type you defend is adequate to disable any attempt whatsoever to put together a usable understanding of the past for activist purposes.

This has been much discussed in history. General consensus seems to be that the historical aspect of the history is rarely going to be usable - or it can end up being poorly done history (misleadingly selective use of facts, etc.), like some of the labor histories that ignored at length little things like virulent racism - but the attempting to connect to a broader public part of the history tries to salvage something usable out of it. Which is how you get introductions and conclusions that talk about current issues that aren't brought up in the body of the history.

As you may know, one of my strongest areas of interest is the institutionalization of unargued paradigms in the academic world, and their Pavlovian inculcation to graduate students when they are being trained (like dogs, he added under his breath). I hadn't noticed that in history, but I hadn't been looking hard enough. So my ethnomethodologic intervention was fruitful that way.

It's not really unargued, though. People make cases for writing academic histories that aren't usable histories quite explicitly. And as far as professional history goes, I find that the more compelling case. But as Robert Halford points out, this isn't the only way to look at the past, nor should it be. (This sets up an interesting dynamic when historians are called to testify in Native American court cases, which happens now and then. I wish I knew more details.)

Anyway, I'm pretty sure Ari is right that Hofstadter was slipping off of professional history students' syllabi in the 70s - or at least was being read in conjunction with works that said he was wrong and which were becoming the accepted consensus. You can pick that Erlich book off the reading list and set it's characterization of historians' views as of 1977 as the truth, but you'd be ignoring the Pollack works of the 1960s that are also on the list, that argued against Hofstadter, and that went into building the consensus then growing against Hofstadter. The list doesn't include Nugent, who was also writing at the same time. (Have I read either of the two? No. By the time I got to grad school this was all old news. I read Hofstadter plus some articles about the arguments to know what it was all about, didn't read Hofstadter because I was supposed to think he was right.) But this is only what was going on in the narrow slice of the history reading public made up of academic historians.

Was Hofstadter read more widely outside of professional historians? I would say probably yes. But then that's the problem, not the professional historians - except to the extent that their anti-Hofstadter arguments lacked influence.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:48 PM
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Those blockquotes should have been italics.

historians are the last people we should go to if we have questions about history. All you're going to end up knowing is that history is complex, everything is nuanced, and there are no simple answers. Ask me a question and I'll give you the historian's answer.

This is often true. Most historians realize this.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:49 PM
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John Emerson seems to be trolling himself on this issue. What do you expect, if you ask someone whose job is to know literally everything about an issue an incredibly simplistic question?

"So, was Mao Zedong a bad guy?"
"Well, there were a lot of more radical people than him in the party at the time, and a lot of people more venal and unconcerned with their legacy and personal glory as well, so it's hard to say how much worse the worst-case scenario would have been, but he was basically a moderate except on economic and industrial policy. Of course by today's perspective he looks like a bad guy."
"Unbelievable, this guy identifies so much with his little bailiwick that he can't even admit that Mao Zedong was a bad guy."


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:51 PM
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Also:

Furthermore, as Robert Collins has shown, Hofstadter in his post-Age of Reform correspondence insisted on his respect for the Populists and genuinely professed not to be able to fathom why readers considered his portrait of them unfriendly. Writing to C. Vann Woodward in 1963, Hofstadter characterized the Pops as "pretty good guys," and later in the decade he even went so far as to state, "If I had known what an imbecile fuss would be raised about my having mentioned the occasional anti-Semitic rhetoric among the Populists, I would either have dropped it as not worth the trouble or else spent even more time than I did in clarifying what I was saying."5
All that said, Hofstadter without a doubt wanted to even the score, to balance out the "modern liberal's indulgent view of the farmers' revolt" and emphasize the Populists' "limitations." Hofstadter's condescension began in the opening pages, as he casually related how he uncovered in Populism (and Progressivism, too) "much that was retrograde and delusive, a little that was vicious, and a good deal that was comic." From the vantage point of the age of McCarthy, Hofstadter sought famously to highlight the "sour...illiberal and ill-tempered" qualities of Populism that he believed "foreshadow[ed] some aspects of the cranky pseudo-conservatism of our time." And, of course, he zeroed in on the Populists' conspiratorial mindset, which "frequently link[ed] with a kind of rhetorical anti-Semitism."6
As to the latter, Hofstadter to be sure overreached, and he did so in extremely problematic ways. When he wrote that "the Greenback-Populist tradition activated most of what we have of modern popular anti-Semitism in the United States," he offered almost no evidence to support such a long-term connection. The correctives offered by Woodward in his critique of Hofstadter and other 1950s partisans of the vital center, by Walter Nugent in The Tolerant Populists, and even by the much-maligned Norman Pollack in several writings remain important in pointing out how little the mass of ordinary Populists succumbed to antisemitism as well as how Hofstadter misread authors such as Ignatius Donnelly. Donnelly, for example, certainly indulged in classic stereotypes, but he also went out of his way to condemn the historical persecution of the Jews. And in the larger context, Populist antisemitism seems to have paled in comparison to the upper-class antisemitism of the national elite. The fates, therefore, might have been kinder to Hofstadter if he had listened to his cherished students Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, who upon reading the manuscript for Age of Reform desperately pled with their mentor to strike the discussion of antisemitism.7

The whole thing is paywalled, unfortunately. The defense is more like a contextualization.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 6:57 PM
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I don't think Emerson is trolling the issue at all, even if 384 has some force and even if EB is right that most historians already recognize the problem.

It's not really clear to me why professional historians are so attracted to complex layers of explanation as a normative, positive virtue -- kind of a bizarro Ockham's razor. Sometimes carefully nuanced explanations obscure as much as they clarify -- the (fake) answer given in 38 is an example.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:08 PM
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s/b 384


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:08 PM
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I'm probably overstating how much historians recognize the problem. But I do think most would recognize that fake answer.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:17 PM
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Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks
And the rich folks hate the poor folks
All of my folks hate all of your folks
And everybody hates the Jews


Posted by: OPINIONATED LATE 19th/EARLY 20th CENTURY AMERICA | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:23 PM
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Ned, try again.

EB you're comparing a historian who everyone knows with contemporary critics of his that no one has ever heard of. Hofstadter was and is read in tons of departments, including introductory courses.

I think that we're dealing with the same thing I get in econ -- even though public opinion is saturated with erroneous Econ 101 thinking coming from real, professionally taught Econ 101 courses in good, mediocre, and bad schools, it doesn't make any difference because cutting edge research economists don't think that way. (In fact, your last sentence says exactly that.)

In short, one of the main products of Econ or History is students who have taken a single course in the field, and if professors don't think that's their responsibility, the professors should be fired. The job shouldn't be a sinecure.

EB, does a historian ever argue "You're really making things too complicated and muddying things up? Because that's often true. Do they ever say "You're missing the forest for the trees?"

Hofstadter's bafflement is imbecile. There's no positive reading of the parts I read, the introduction and the parts on anti Semitism. And it was part of a very influential polemical trilogy including the anti-intellectualism book and the paranoid style book. Hofstadter was faking it.

When I said "unargued", I meant "unarguable". Once someone commits to a profession and its enforced paradigms, in this case unusable splitter history, they don't want to talk about it because it's a done deal and talking about it can only get them in trouble, and they also will refuse to listen to someone from a different paradigm.

Yet EOTAW is a political site. My understanding it's a site for professional history and contemporary politics, with a glass wall between, sort of like a site for professional history and Busby Berkeley films would be.

As I understand, PorJ is a media expert but has no knowledge whatever of the last ten years or so of internet media criticism -- because it's partisan, unprofessional, and full of blog-cooties, I presume.

Hofstadter is still in print, and at Amazon ranks #24,000, Postel #1,775,000, Goodwyn 125,000, and Kazin 187,000. I'm not sure that these sales even include used books. Anyway, Hofstadter is still influential, and I think that his influence is bad, and once again I've had to write a treatise on historiography in order to say something quite simple which really should be relatively easy to understand.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:32 PM
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That's not a slam on professional historians, it's just to say that not all of us need to take on an allergy to monocausal explanations as part of our own intellectual apparatus.

I actually think this is a bit of crap. Problems in the modern world are complex. If we can't have a nuanced view of the past, then how are we supposed to have a nuanced view of the present? How do you effect real change in the world if your understanding is simply, Leader A is evil and Leader B is good, so let's all get on board with Leader B? You have to attack a complex problem like poverty on multiple fronts. Learning to think about strands of complexity and causality helps you change the world.

Sometimes carefully nuanced explanations obscure as much as they clarify -- the (fake) answer given in 38 is an example.

If a complex answer is obscuring, then it's not a GOOD complex answer. Professional historians, like anyone else, are not infallible. But just because there are bad explanations out there doesn't take away from the virtue of a good nuanced explanation.

Then again, I'm a historian and I haven't read most of the thread, so.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:36 PM
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EB, does a historian ever argue "You're really making things too complicated and muddying things up? Because that's often true. Do they ever say "You're missing the forest for the trees?"

Yes, all the time. All the time.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:38 PM
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complex layers of explanation as a normative, positive virtue -- kind of a bizarro Ockham's razor.

This can happen - complexity for complexity sake - but history is also something very hard to reduce or abstract, and a lot of the complexity grows not for its own sake but because people start to pay attention to details formerly missed, glossed over, or intentionally discounted.

Take this grossly oversimplified version of the history of Native American history. You have Europeans oppressing savages. This is considered good or it's deplorable but inevitable, or it's deplorable but most people think you've got a fringe opinion.

There's a shift and Europeans are still oppressing, but they're not oppressing savages, they're oppressing people who are not just acted on but who act for themselves. The oppression is deplorable and most now agree it's deplorable, but also there's resistance and histories include more detail about this resistance. Oh, and it turns out that the Europeans didn't actually wipe out everyone and there are Native Americans still in the United States, even in some eastern states, and you get histories that have invasion, resistance, and persistence.

But it turns out when you look even closer, you've got some native groups taking advantage of the Europeans' presence, you've got the Iroquois and later the Sioux, among others, gaining for a time at the expense of other native groups; you've got alliances between groups of Indians and groups of Europeans; at a smaller scale you've got people mixing through various forms of marriage, or captivity + ritual adoption, or other things.

And now it turns out that the big war between the European powers usually known in the U.S. as the French and Indian war was triggered by a guy who was sort of representing the Iroquois, and who was trying to hold on to authority over part of the Pennsylvania backcountry. And the French initially do well because they've built up alliances with native groups, but their alliances eventually fray after years of war and this is a big part of why they ultimately lose. And now it's kind of hard to write a non-complicated history of the Seven Years' War and if you do and it's just about the English and the French for control of North America and the right to hold sway over the other peoples there - well, it would be a poor history.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 7:42 PM
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What I see is a Zeno's arrow of explanation that never reaches its target. In any decision-making process, including everyday life, after assessing the data in as much complexity of detail as you want, you have to sort out the main points, decide what's most important for your purposes, and present the main points in an intelligible, actionable way.

Likewise, looking over what's already happened, often you're going to assume agency and assign responsibility. I've probably spent five hours so far batting down metaphysical objections to my radical claim that the CEOs of two major corporations (NY Times and WaPO) , are responsible for what those corporations do. It's never-never Zeno's Arrow land.

Now above and at EOTAW I did talk about the difference between usable history and Olympian history, but at EOTAW either I didn't get the point across, or people over there refuse to do usable history even off hours, or maybe they just disagree with me and dislike me. Basically I'd say that people who have made it a badge of honor to produce unusable history should just butt out and STFU when someone else is trying to do produce usable history, but of course I shouldn't have been trying to do that over there anyway, so my bad.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:07 PM
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391 -- I get your point, but sometimes one does need to use "simpler" levels of explanation, and the more complex answer can obscure. That's not to say that one should become a simplistic dolt or simply ignore away complexity. Nor is it to say that there's anything invalid in the professional historian's bias -- just that it also has its limits.

I used to think more like a historian, but now I think more like a lawyer. Lawyers need to look at past events and reach conclusions like, e.g., to some reasonable degree of certainty, was company x responsible for the accident at train station y? Did corporation x cause losses to investor y? Who is guilty and not guilty, and what should we do about it?

When you look at any problem in sufficient detail, questions of causation and responsibility almost always get complicated. And there is always more to know if you are simply trying to describe what happened. But, at the end of the day, it's a reasonable interpretation of the facts to boil things down to more direct questions about causation and responsibility -- to say yes, in a positive, affirmative, true sense "this company lied to its shareholders, who suffered losses as a result, and they should be held responsible for the lies." Or, "yes, John Yoo is a war criminal and should be treated as such." Or not. But it's not inappropriate to reach more direct conclusions about direct responsibility for events without endlessly attaching a string of qualifiers and nuances or broader explanations of the phenomenon.

And I think that this is also true for a lot of other uses of history, really, for most people who have a need to reach definitive, working conclusions about things that happened in the past. Again, the (fake) explanation in 394 about Chairman Mao is a decent example -- the nuance may be true enough, but the bottom line is that Mao murdered millions of people, and it is probably more important in a political context for most people to focus on that point than on his relative views vis a vis other members of the Chinese politburo.

I'm not averse at all to the idea that we should employ a large, professional group of people who sit in universities who have the job of thinking deeply about and learning about every last detail of past events. But its just not the case that adducing complex explanations to historical phenomena is, in and of itself, a virtue -- and I don't think that the complex explanations reder invalid the less complex, but more useful, judgments that come from other ways of seeing the past.

Incidentally, I love reading the work of professional historians, and find that the absolute best historians are able to combine crisp, clear judgments about causation of events without sacrificing an ability to convey complexity. Actually, thinking about it, Rauchway's work on the new deal is a good example. I do get the sense that there is a professional norm in the historical profession against reaching crisp judgments or sweeping conclusions about causation, which is understandable but also limits the usefulness of professional historians' work for the rest of us.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:17 PM
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393: That's one story and worth telling, but the ultimate 300-year outcome was the destruction of the vast majority of tribal groups in the east, and an enormous reduction (by 95%?) of the actual Native American population. And that's not a simplistic story, that's a factual statement on a different resolution.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:17 PM
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EB you're comparing a historian who everyone knows with contemporary critics of his that no one has ever heard of. Hofstadter was and is read in tons of departments, including introductory courses.

The point is, you're blaming historians. These guys were the historians. By and large the historical profession went with them over Hofstadter on populism. You can cherry-pick an essay from 1977 and call its claim (which looks to me like straight up straw man for the date it was published) the truth, but the author is even more obscure than the people I named and as far as the historical profession is concerned the journal it appeared in is also obscure. (Poli sci, maybe not. In fact, you probably want to blame poli sci for all of this.)

The general public, however you want to define it, might not have gone with the professional historians. The general public has never heard of most of these people - of course not, these people were academic historians! Very few of them have influence, especially not like Hofstadter's. But no amount of focusing on their obscurity with respect to public life is going to make them not historians or make their interpretations of Populism not historians' interpretations of Populism. As I said, blame them for not having influence, not for upholding an incorrect interpretation. Also, blame political scientists, just because.

Hofstadter's bafflement is imbecile.

True. But he's pushed into expressing the bafflement by all those (obscure) historians who were at the time disagreeing with him (to perhaps little effect outside the profession).

And no, I don't think Hofstadter is still in print because of the course text market. People read things outside of formal schooling. I'm always amazed to see people pick up Durant or Toynbee (though both may now be out of print).

they don't want to talk about it because it's a done deal and talking about it can only get them in trouble, and they also will refuse to listen to someone from a different paradigm.

The usable past question seems like one of those perennial discussions, in conferences or journal fora, or whatever, going back to the start of the profession. There's a long, frequently assigned in graduate school, book - which I never read all of - about historians and objectivity that gets into details about historians modifying or not modifying interpretations in relation to various political or social causes. It's probably true that you can't get too far if all your work is of the usable past variety, so you can talk about it, but it's risky to do it. Unless you write a bestseller, and then you might not care about the within profession response. (Same for no/little-interpretation, much less usable interpretation narrative history, which really is less spoken about unless you're already a senior scholar.)


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:23 PM
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My 395 cross posted with Emerson. I think I basically agree with him but am less hostile and don't want anyone fed to the pigs.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:23 PM
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I think I basically agree with him but am less hostile and don't want anyone fed to the pigs.

Then you're on the wrong side, Mr. Nuance.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:25 PM
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396: If you asked a historian what

the ultimate 300-year outcome

was for European - Native American contact, you're probably going to get

the destruction of the vast majority of tribal groups in the east, and an enormous reduction (by 95%?) of the actual Native American population

as an answer of that length.* A longer short answer would include more detail, and a book even more. But historians rarely work on such a large scale using so few words.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:31 PM
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But it's not inappropriate to reach more direct conclusions about direct responsibility for events without endlessly attaching a string of qualifiers and nuances or broader explanations of the phenomenon.

Historians do this all the time when they're teaching. Every time I write a lecture I have to sit down, figure out how to simplify a complex body of knowledge (for any one lecture, I have probably read upwards of 5 books on the topic, and I'm a slack ass), and produce a workable argument that can be delivered in 50 minutes, involve some interesting stories to keep the students awake, and also communicate some essential truth that I think an average college-educated person should know. And I'd argue that any number of historian's books aimed at more general audiences do this as well. We're not incapable, as you seem to think, of coming to conclusions and I'm not sure where you get that impression from (again, I couldn't wade through the bulk of the thread so I apologize if I'm missing something key).

Professional historian's books, on the other hand, are speaking to a different audience. They have different requirements. And even those generally argue a specific point, unless they're truly terrible.

I do get the sense that there is a professional norm in the historical profession against reaching crisp judgments or sweeping conclusions about causation, which is understandable but also limits the usefulness of professional historians' work for the rest of us.

Blame post-modernism, which sent the profession into a crisis about the possibility of ever really knowing anything and which we're still recovering from. But I think this is true of much of academia, not just history.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:32 PM
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The * in 400 was supposed to refer to the use of the words "destruction" and "reduction" as opposed to words like "extermination" or "disappearance" which you might have seen under one of those earlier interpretations. Sometimes it takes a lot of detail work to shift a few words in a generalization.

And you know, I mostly agree with you guys on historians needing to write more in ways that reach the public. But I don't think it's ever going to take up most historians' work and it's not clear it should.

And, and, there's more history behind this issue, too. There was a huge, or at least heated, debate in the 1980s about the synthesis problem, with some people arguing - wrongly, in my view - in favor of particularization (apparently a defense against the inherently conservative homogenization involved in generalization, or something like that ) and others arguing for broader narratives. This seems to have led to a real increase in general narratives since the early 90s.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:38 PM
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There's a long, frequently assigned in graduate school, book - which I never read all of - about historians and objectivity that gets into details about historians modifying or not modifying interpretations in relation to various political or social causes.

That Noble Dream? I've never slogged through it completely, either.

I've also never read more of Hoftstadter than an article, because it was never assigned in my graduate program. It was on the recommended readings, though - and the point of that is that historians generally like to know something about the way ideas have evolved within our own profession. Just because we may read Hoftstadter, doesn't mean we agree. In a course on slavery, I read Ulrich B. Philips (of happy slave fame), not because we thought he was correct but because it was deemed necessary to know the historiography.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:38 PM
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I didn't start out blaming historians, I was just saying that Hofstadter pissed me off like crazy. And the response was, Oh, don't worry, real historians don't think that any more. But that doesn't address my problem, which is that in the real world Hofstadter is still by far the most influential writer on populism, etc. So history's off the hook, except that I also find that historians choose not to write usable history.

Part of my motivation has been to explain the adamant posture of dominant Democratic factions against populism, which I think coincides with the Party's takeover by Ivy League whiz kids. (A frequent topic at Yglesias). A second part is to trace the idea that simply by saying "conspiracy theory" you can discredit someone, which is a big part of educated pop culture, and Hofstadter was definitely one of the sources of that. And then I looked at the destruction of populism during WWII and the Democratic party that came out of the war, and started to come up with an archeology of the present Democratic Party, which still strikes me as feeble and nearly worthless.

But you know, pulling teeth every inch of the way, same as with my NYT WaPo argument, which strikes me as really quite unexceptional but also require a lot of toothpulling.

And ultimately, the answer is that I'm talking to the wrong people, whether or not the people I should talk to exist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:38 PM
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In short, one of the main products of Econ or History is students who have taken a single course in the field, and if professors don't think that's their responsibility, the professors should be fired. The job shouldn't be a sinecure.

While this position has a lot to recommend it, it has essentially no relation to how the academy is currently constructed.

The bit with big newspapers is pretty straightforward. A large company facing hard times can be expected to accommodate its customers (advertisers) at the expense of its suppliers (readers). To the extent that the left is practically by definition opposed to anyone who buys millions of dollars of newspaper advertising, it's pretty silly to expect newspapers to act in their interest. Trying to make it about the particular people in charge at the moment is similarly silly.

Nice trolling at EotAW though. Up there with mcmanus' best work here, if not even better.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:39 PM
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Oh, and Hofstadter wrote for a large audience with lots of simplifications and sometimes a lack of care for detail - and look at where it got him!


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:40 PM
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401: Blame post-modernism

You say that so definitively.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:42 PM
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401 -- What I was really reacting to was Ari's intervention in this thread, in which he explained that professional historians were trained to focus on complexity and contingency. And (not to reveal too much) I have a very little bit of experience with that professional training, which does indeed focus heavily on rejecting monocausal explanations and emphasizing the multifariousness and complexity of the past.

Undergraduate history lectures can, as you say, reach strong conclusions about what caused or did not cause events, or about who is responsible for what. But an equally common strain of undergrad history lecture is to say, "you may think that x caused y, but the truth is . . . IT'S MORE COMPLICATED!!! And the A students will be the ones who are rewarded for recognizing that complexity and nuance. Again, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that, at all. It can be a useful and productive way to think, as you say. But it's just not the case that this is the only way to look at or use the past or the most useful for many purposes.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:43 PM
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407: Indeed, I don't know what I was thinking! How dare I.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:43 PM
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Again, the (fake) explanation in 394 about Chairman Mao is a decent example -- the nuance may be true enough, but the bottom line is that Mao murdered millions of people, and it is probably more important in a political context for most people to focus on that point than on his relative views vis a vis other members of the Chinese politburo.

Dsquared disagrees with you there. And in fact, from a certain political context the very important thing is how his views relate to those of the rest of the Chinese Politburo, and the Marxist-Leninist Politburos more generally.

I also think there's something a little interesting about insisting that historians produce usable history. Nobody expects mathematicians to produce usable maths...


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:43 PM
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(Actually, that's not true, there are people who think that, and we call them Philistines or Wittgenstein.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:45 PM
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I didn't start out blaming historians, I was just saying that Hofstadter pissed me off like crazy. And the response was, Oh, don't worry, real historians don't think that any more. But that doesn't address my problem, which is that in the real world Hofstadter is still by far the most influential writer on populism, etc. So history's off the hook, except that I also find that historians choose not to write usable history.

Yeah, well I agree with most of this. As I said, blame the historians for lacking influence to match Hofstadter's.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:45 PM
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400: But the 300-year outcome can't be obscured by the detail. It's the overall storyline, and it doesn't have to be a 300-year span at all. In the East just 1750 to 1850 is pretty devastating.

I've seen revisionism on Native American history being used politically for "anti-PC" purposes, because it wasn't contexted, and also similar things in in Australia. So this is a notch below unusable history, from my point of view -- harmful history. (Which in some ways, Hofstadter's was too).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:45 PM
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But an equally common strain of undergrad history lecture is to say, "you may think that x caused y, but the truth is . . . IT'S MORE COMPLICATED!!!

Right, and adding a z to the x makes it less definitive or less usable? I'm afraid I don't understand. Just because it's nuanced doesn't mean that there's not a strong conclusion.

But it's just not the case that this is the only way to look at or use the past or the most useful for many purposes.

Like what?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:47 PM
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I also think there's something a little interesting about insisting that historians produce usable history. Nobody expects mathematicians to produce usable maths...

If you're talking to me, I'm not insisting on that at all. Just pointing out that a lot of people do have a need for usable history, and can and will produce it in ways that are different than what professional historians produce.



Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:48 PM
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But I really popped into the thread to say that re: Scopes Trial, watched a great Nova program on the Dover ID trial tonight, good stuff, some folks talked for the camera that surprised me (two probable perjurers). They have it nicely packaged up into twelve "chapters" here.

And, hey! A verdict.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:50 PM
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410: Well, mathematicians do produce lots of usable maths. And people respect mathematicians much more than historians, and give them more slack. (Someone had to tell you). And large areas of history are areas where usable history is needed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:50 PM
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Right, and adding a z to the x makes it less definitive or less usable? I'm afraid I don't understand. Just because it's nuanced doesn't mean that there's not a strong conclusion.

often that's the way people work and the way they write. And some people can negotiate the forest and the trees, but a lot get stuck in the trees.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:53 PM
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418: Eh? Who gets stuck in the trees? I'm confused. (Stuck in the trees, as it were).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:55 PM
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I got stuck in the forest, but not in a tree. I think it was a bog?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:57 PM
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I've seen revisionism on Native American history being used politically for "anti-PC" purposes,

This is true to, and it's been and is being argued about within the profession. (Or was, last I saw.) You get a lot of "this interpretation was okay when it was new and bold and stuff, but it's gone too far and is obscuring important details now" shifts in interpretations. Much of the story I was outlining in that simplified Native American history history took this form. It's just that you got finer-grained histories along the way too.

Similar thing in slavery history. (Example, academically written, basically saying among other things that some of the new interpretations beginning in the 70s went so far in emphasizing resistance and autonomy among slaves that they obscured the overall power imbalance that was a fact of everyday slavery. Argues against certain types of usable past histories, too, I think, because the search for resistance narratives led to overstatements of actual cases of large-scale resistance, when a pretty good explanation of the lack of rebellions on the scale of the Caribbean or South America was simply the overwhelming power and force of the slaveholders.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:57 PM
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Eh, I think that you are going from the claim that we require usable history to the claim that there must be usable history, and I don't think that's possible.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:57 PM
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Face it, John, you should have picked history over philosophy. I hear Davis is still accepting people.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 8:59 PM
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I don't think it is fair to blame historians for having their work misused; all knowledge can be twisted, right?

As eb says, within the profession there's been a correction of such revisionism. It takes time to filter down, but it is certainly there.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:01 PM
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I got stuck in the forest, but not in a tree. I think it was a bog?

Bogs are totally awesome. Fascinating places.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:02 PM
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But there's also an argument that that nuance allows for a better understanding of what actually happened; see the fatal impact theory vs. more modern ideas of colonisation in NZ. By understanding Maori as agents, things like the Treaty can be seen in a more proper light.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:02 PM
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I hear Davis is still accepting people.

Probably not for next year, but maybe for the year after.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:02 PM
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The question in this thread that interests me is to what extent a field or subculture is responsible for the popular understanding and use of it. My bias is to say "Quite a bit," although I'm not sure that is a widely shared belief.

I also wonder if there are differences between being an involuntary or by-birth member of a subculture versus being professionally trained into it. My anecdotal experience suggests that birth-members readily acknowledge that there is an outside-world perception of their subculture, and are keener observers of it [that is, keenly aware of how the majority culture perceives and responds to them], but are also likely to be defensive, sometimes irrationally or disporportionately so.

In contrast, IME members of professionally-socialized subgroups are often much fiercer in their denial that there even exists a common or general public perception of their field that differs from their own within-group definition. They also tend to illustrate the narcissism of small differences, losing track of the reality that most of the world paints with a broad brush and can hardly distinguish between (say) a psychiatrist and a psychologist, much less a Jungian and a Freudian.

I dunno. Just kind of musing. I'm prepared to believe I've defined these groups incorrectly or divvied them up wrong, but I'm not prepared to believe there's no smoke there. People (self included) just get too touchy.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:03 PM
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Man, what if Emerson became ari's grad student? That would be fantastic.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:04 PM
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In contrast, IME members of professionally-socialized subgroups are often much fiercer in their denial that there even exists a common or general public perception of their field that differs from their own within-group definition.

I think historians realize that the public perception of history is different outside the field. We just think it's a travesty, is all.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:06 PM
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Some writers can present both he forest and the trees, and some only the trees, is what I meant to say.

I think we should endeavor to have usable history.

I actually did think until these threads that my mistake back in 1964 or 1975 was in not choosing history instead of philosophy or lit or poly sci or Chinese (things I checked out). History seemed more eclectic and less paradigmed. But I would have hated to have been stuck in a department requiring splitting ("nuance") and unusability too.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:06 PM
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Holy crap. Now that would be something, if Emerson were Ari's grad student. I'd come over to visit if you were, Emerson!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:07 PM
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Disporportionately, she says. I did that on porpoise.

[Would you believe 428 exists mostly because I am avoiding climbing up to the third floor and going through 50+ cartons of books to find out a) which Hofstader book I read in college, and b) what I thought of it? You would!]


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:07 PM
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I don't propose throwing every bit of nuance everywhere to the hogs.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:08 PM
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I'm still stuck on what's so unusable about the history being currently produced. I honestly don't understand what is meant by the claim that history isn't 'usable'. (So perhaps I do fit in Witt's subculture schema?) I guess I should go back and read the thread.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:08 PM
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Like what?

Well, to take a very specific example, I have a case(fictionalized version, but based loosely on a real case I do have) involving a polluted site in California that a predecessor to Boeing helped, inadvertently, pollute 50 years ago when it was building planes for the Air Force. One valid understanding of the past is that "Boeing spilled a lot of toxic waste on this site and caused problems for which it should be held legally responsible."

But that wouldn't be how a professional historian would describe the relevant events involving the plane's construction. Instead, the trained historian would want to look at the wartime development, the backrgound of the cold war, the cultural fascination in 1950s America with the airplane, attitudes towards pollution at the time, etc., etc. Both of these interpretations are equally valid ways of saying "what happened in the past with the construction of this plane and what should we think of it" but there's a difference in perspective.

There are all sorts of other examples. Emerson's example of "European oppression and disease killed off most of the Indians over a 300 year period" is another. Not a particularly interesting conclusion for most historians, but true and usable nonetheless.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:09 PM
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I honestly don't understand what is meant by the claim that history isn't 'usable'.

So far as I can tell, Emerson wants to use history as a club with which to beat his political opponents, and he's upset that the profession has evolved in a different direction.

How exactly this differs from what he thinks has happened to economics, and why it's a bad thing in that situation but would be a good one in this one, I confess I'm not entirely clear on.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:11 PM
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The usability question was raised by me, and eb responded in 382.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:12 PM
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435: can't eat it, can't fuck it, can't trade it for weed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:12 PM
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I'm so un-nuanced that I forgot to close tags. 436 should look like this

Like what?

Well, to take a very specific example, I have a case(fictionalized version, but based loosely on a real case I do have) involving a polluted site in California that a predecessor to Boeing helped, inadvertently, pollute 50 years ago when it was building planes for the Air Force. One valid understanding of the past is that "Boeing spilled a lot of toxic waste on this site and caused problems for which it should be held legally responsible."

But that wouldn't be how a professional historian would describe the relevant events involving the plane's construction. Instead, the trained historian would want to look at the wartime development, the backrgound of the cold war, the cultural fascination in 1950s America with the airplane, attitudes towards pollution at the time, etc., etc. Both of these interpretations are equally valid ways of saying "what happened in the past with the construction of this plane and what should we think of it" but there's a difference in perspective, and the historian's perspective isn't very useful for a judge or jury thinking about where to assign responsibility for the events.

There are all sorts of other examples. Emerson's example of "European oppression and disease killed off most of the Indians over a 300 year period" is another. Not a particularly interesting conclusion for most historians, but true and usable nonetheless.



Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:12 PM
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We just think it's a travesty, is all.

A travesty that, per 424, you all don't see as your responsibility to prevent.

Right, that's awfully harsh. I don't mean you personally, and I don't even really mean that historians should be eggshell-walking on the grounds that OhMyGoodness! some malefactor might mis-use their data. (We saw a bit of that with the contortions that public-health researchers had to go through to write abstracts of their federally funded research that wouldn't set off any gay/sex/gay sex/abortion/other right-wing triggers. I didn't like it then and I don't favor it now.)

I do think, per eb's 421, that there is such a focus on staking out new turf in research areas that people can get pretty far down into the weeds of unrepresentative events and not realize how those are likely to be seized upon by people who want to make a throughly vicious point.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:12 PM
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It's unfair that the science which claims to know what will happen in the future, and claims to be rational, supports a right-wing agenda, while the science which claims to know what happened in the past, and does not claim to be rational, can't be mustered in support of a left-wing agenda.


Posted by: Es-tonea-pesta | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:13 PM
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Thanks, Josh, for your nuanced interpretation.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:14 PM
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436:

But a historian would still come to the conclusion that Boeing was legally responsible, if that was the question being asked and that was what the evidence indicated. And if you read a journal article on the spill, you should be able to use the evidence they uncover to help produce that legal answer. But just because they're interested in different questions than a lawyer, doesn't make it unusable history.

Not a particularly interesting conclusion for most historians, but true and usable nonetheless.

How, exactly, is it usable? Usable in a legal sense, for defining guilt?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:16 PM
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Both of these interpretations are equally valid ways of saying "what happened in the past with the construction of this plane and what should we think of it" but there's a difference in perspective, and the historian's perspective isn't very useful for a judge or jury thinking about where to assign responsibility for the events.

But they are probably much, much more usable to the environmentalist, or the politician, trying to avoid a recurrence of the event.

Moreover, maybe that indicates that assigning blame isn't strictly the best way to approach the problem?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:16 PM
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Going way back up the thread:

Lawyers need to look at past events and reach conclusions like, e.g., to some reasonable degree of certainty, was company x responsible for the accident at train station y? Did corporation x cause losses to investor y? Who is guilty and not guilty, and what should we do about it?

But it's relative uncommon for an academic history to take a topic where these are questions.* Usually where I've seen them come up - like a book on Haymarket or a book on a murder in 1830s New York, the author has not avoided speculation. And those were very detailed, narrative books - and aimed at general audiences beyond historians.

*I almost** wrote, and I suppose still could write, an article about a railroad accident. It would be so complicated that by the end, you'd be wondering if the concept "train" existed.

**Well, not quite almost almost. But it was planned.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:17 PM
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441: I do think it's my responsibility. Why else teach? Why else publish? Why else engage in historical debates on the internet? Why else start a blog? Academics in general have a hard time reaching out to the public, but I think that there are more public historians out and about in the world trying to make a difference than are being given credit for.

I answered flippantly, and I know that's not a personal attack, but I think it's unfair to assume that a great many historians don't believe it's necessary to correct false interpretations.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:19 PM
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432: Holy crap.

Holy carp, you mean. The lure, California Delta Carp Bowfishing a scant few miles from campus.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:19 PM
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439: But can you dance to it?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:20 PM
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Ok, so John is using usable in the sense of politically usable, for activist causes. Makes more sense now. I'll stop arguing now, because I'm afraid I simply disagree about what the purpose of history should be and I doubt either of us are going to change positions.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:22 PM
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449: But can you dance to it?

The Funky Western Civilization? Sure!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:23 PM
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As for "usable": I've been trying to figure out how we should understand various populist movements 1880-1940 in the context of the aggressive anti-populism of the contemporary Democratic Party. I believe that the negative view, which is widespread among all educated Americans, traces back especially to three books by Hofstadter, of which I have read one. (Daniel Bell is another source, and probably Arthur Schlesinger). And since I am unimpressed by the present Democratic party, addressing Hofstadter's books was something I thinks needs to be done).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:23 PM
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So far as I can tell, Emerson wants to use history as a club with which to beat his political opponents, and he's upset that the profession has evolved in a different direction.

Not quite. The anger of Emerson towards academic disciplines comes in many forms that are distinguishable with a little effort.

The anger at history appears to be a lack of good pop history books (or something like it). He knows a bit about populism, but wants to know more. The only options he sees available are Hofstader's book and a bunch of academics on the internet saying "well, it's hard to say anything because it's all fantastically complicated." He dislikes Hofstader, so wishes there was a broader selection in writing at or around Hofstader's level of complexity.

The feelings of academics toward pop literature are well known, so hilarity ensues.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:27 PM
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maybe that indicates that assigning blame isn't strictly the best way to approach the problem?

When worlds collide. Here's philosopher Cristina Bicchieri [never heard of her before tonight, but what do I know] on the current financial crisis:

I have done several computer simulations of the evolution of impersonal trust, and what they show is that impersonal trust can only survive in a society of punishers; that is, if a society includes a majority of people who punish those who do not reciprocate, then trust and reciprocation will be quite common. In terms of what's happening now in the United States, the lesson may be that people must be sure that somebody will be punished. Americans who are facing forclosures or shirking 401(k)s feel very bad when they hear their government saying that they don't really know what happened, that they are bailing everybody out and so on. There's a lot of fear and anger, and I think in cases like this a good way to rebuild confidence is through a big show of punishment of those individuals who violated public trust.

Source (pdf).


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:27 PM
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444 --

What I mean is a conclusion -- which, OK, I'm pardoying, but this is not that far off from a lot of what I read in professional history -- that

"The toxic waste spill at site x was, at some level, the product of an overlapping cultural, economic, and political imperative to produce the artifact of the airplane even in the face of known dangers, and reveals the federal government's cold war commitment to military expediency at all costs. But it also must be seen as the result of a series of contingent decisions made by military personnel. And we also must remember the willingness of Engineer Jenkins to resist the toxic waste spill even at the time, which demonstrates that, even at the height of the cold war, nascent environmental concerns could pierce through the forces of militancy. Altogether, the production of the airplane reveals the nuanced interplay of cold war imperatives and local resistance"

isn't that useful when you're trying to figure out whether or not Boeing should be held legally responsible. I'm not saying that the research done by the historian would be useless to the legal question, or that, if directed upon to answer the legal question, the historian wouldn't come to the right answer -- let's stipulate that historians are generally smarter than lawyers, judged, or juries. Just that they are approaching questions in certain ways and for certain purposes that limits their usefulness for other ways and purposes.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:28 PM
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shrinking 401(k)s, darn it.

It's hard to re-type from small print.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:29 PM
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444: How, exactly, is it usable?

The sentence: European oppression and disease killed off most of the Indians over a 300 year period" gives you a pretty good short summary of what happened. You could substitute something neutral like "pressure" for "oppression" to make it more neutral. But that's the overall frame of NE Native American history 1620-1920.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:29 PM
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If historians were doing the work of lawyers, why would we need lawyers?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:30 PM
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As for "usable": I've been trying to figure out how we should understand various populist movements 1880-1940 in the context of the aggressive anti-populism of the contemporary Democratic Party.

A mix of applied history and pop history, then.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:30 PM
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450 I didn't say that history has only one purpose. But if "activist" has a bad meaning to you, or "political", probably you should leave. A usable understanding of our past wouldn't have to be as loaded as that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:32 PM
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You're really fond of telling people to leave, John.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:34 PM
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I can't believe I just remembered this now. There was a story circulating that some prominent environmentalist got up at a meeting, or book reading or conference, and denounced environmental historians - specifically people associated with this collection - for undercutting environmentalist usable past arguments. But one defense of that particular strain of environmental history is that it's more usable in everyday life because it's less focused on things like the pristine and the wild - which is quite distant from most people - and more focused on the quality of life in the environments we live in. (Of course, as in all things, you can go too far.)

Oddly, the best of the environmental history approach should lead to a kind of thinking about preserving (to use a loaded term), say, the San Francisco Bay that asks "what would fit our practical needs, aesthetic tastes, etc. best for the present and the future" while a lot of usable past preservation thinking is more like "at time X the bay looked like Y, so Y should be our target state" where "time X" is taken to mean the bay in its "natural state" and where the idea of a "natural state" is not closely examined lest it reveal people modifying the shores from the moment they arrived.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:35 PM
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458 -- I'm not trying to put you out of business. Maybe Emerson is, but I'm not. I'm just saying that the "add more nuance" way of looking at the past has limited usefulness to those of us outside the historical profession, and that it's a kind of professional blindness to not acknowledge that fact. According to eb, though, most professional historians DO have a good understanding of the reasons for their approach and the limitations of their approach, so, good on them.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:35 PM
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Water moccasin: I've read lots of good books about populism. The problem with Hofstadter is that he still defines populism for most educated Americans, but his view is egregiously polemical.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:36 PM
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461: I annoy people, but people annoy me too. She had offered to leave already.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:38 PM
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I wasn't suggesting that I leave, I was suggesting that I stop arguing with someone who's mind cannot be changed when I know my own position won't change either. At this point, I still don't understand what John is saying (as in, what does the short encapsulation of Native American history do for anyone?), so I'm relenting and going back to making jokes.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:39 PM
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I'm trying to think about how public libraries and school textbooks fit into this discussion. The snippets of popular wisdom that seep into the culture from these sources are astonishingly durable. Historians are revising the field's understanding all the time, but as Parenthetical says It takes time to filter down. I'm thinking yeah, about 30 years.

I'm not being snarky. I'm thinking about how long it took my local public library to stop filing Malcolm X biographies under "Little" (his birth name, and absolutely a political decision) rather than X. I'm thinking about the pop understanding of Pocahontas (she saved John Smith from getting his head chopped off!).


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:39 PM
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Actually, I'd just like a book like Hofstader's which wasn't so shitty. Refusal to write usable history is not Hofstadter's problem at all.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:40 PM
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A travesty that, per 424, you all don't see as your responsibility to prevent.

That's a pretty uncharitable reading, as you acknowledge. And as with so many things professional historians are supposedly not concerning themselves with, the "if we don't step into public discussions of history, then the terms are often going to be set by people who are saying wrong or misleading things" is another thing historians do concern themselves with. Not always that successfully, unfortunately, but it's not all throwing up their hands and giving up. (See the recent New Deal discussions, for example. Academics in econ and history are pushing back hard. (And yes, sometimes against their colleagues.))


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:42 PM
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In re the short encapsulation, here's my take -- it allows us who don't have the time, energy, or need for a more nuanced understanding to draw a large-scale conclusion about what happened in the past and how we might apply it to the future. For many purposes, that will be more useful and more important than the more detailed understanding. Doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with looking at nuance and detail, though, just that nuance and detail aren't at all times good for all purposes.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:42 PM
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Oh, and please don't anyone leave. This discussion is fun and interesting.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:43 PM
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I'm just saying that the "add more nuance" way of looking at the past has limited usefulness to those of us outside the historical profession, and that it's a kind of professional blindness to not acknowledge that fact.

Um no, you've said it isn't much use for assigning blame in legal circumstances.

But that's not the same as not useful; I can see environmentalists not giving a damn whether or not Boeing was legally `at fault', but rather wanting to set up systems to avoid a repeat, in which case knowing nuances about US militarism might be really useful.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:43 PM
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Witt, I'd say that 470 also goes a fair distance to explaining why it takes time for historians to change the public's view. Most people simply don't have the time or energy to give a rat's ass about what we think.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:45 PM
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What that short encapsulization of Native American history does for someone is give them an accurate framework for understanding everything else they learn about Native American history. The context was that someone reading EB's more nuanced version in 421 might might come away with a misunderstanding of the whole story, even in a 100 year time frame. And I mentioned that I've run into rightwing political apologists who use nuanced, revisionist American Indian history to make "anti-PC" attacks on people who are right in the long perspective.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:46 PM
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In re the short encapsulation, here's my take -- it allows us who don't have the time, energy, or need for a more nuanced understanding to draw a large-scale conclusion about what happened in the past and how we might apply it to the future.

People who don't have the time and energy to get a nuanced understanding don't have influence over the career success of history professors, unfortunately. And given how hard professorships are to come by, that means our desires get mostly ignored.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:47 PM
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462 gets at one of the things that I think makes this issue so heated: the bad-faith crowd. If the first three or four people you come up against who say "Slavery was not the cause of the Civil War" turn out to be neo-Confederates, it makes you kind of testy when the fifth person comes along and says, "There was really no single cause of the war, which bubbled under the surface for years before finally boiling over in a stew of disputes over states' rights, money, control over cotton crops, perceived class and regional snobbery, political considerations involving the entry of new states to the Union, and of course the long-delayed battle put off by the Missouri Compromise...."*

*I am not a historian and this is not an accurate list.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:47 PM
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472 -- Well, I also generally disagree with the usefulness from a policy perspective. Absent the kind of case-study analysis or willingness to draw specific policy conclusions and recommendations that professional historians are basically trained not to do (again, not because they're doing anything wrong, but because it isn't the historians' job) the kinds of conclusions I described in my sort of parody in 455 aren't generally much use to policy makers, either. Which is why you very rarely see environmentalists or environmental policy makers directly using the work of professional historians in their day-to-day jobs.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:48 PM
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And one context of everything I've said is that apparently many historians actively renounce the goal of writing usable history. Which means that their grad students know what not to do. And if this trend is successful enough, in a generation nobody will be writing usable history.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:48 PM
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474: That's the fault of the reader, not the teller of the story. If you're unable to accurately follow an argument, which many people are, it's time to go back to school and be re-taught. I'm serious, here. I view my main function in teaching general-ed history as teaching students how to evaluate arguments and evidence.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:48 PM
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According to eb, though, most professional historians DO have a good understanding of the reasons for their approach and the limitations of their approach, so, good on them.

I think I have to push back against myself here. I think most historians would recognize the description and criticism of history being all about complexity and nuance and stuff. But I suspect it's harder to sell the point that historians aren't the only ones who get to do things with the past.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:49 PM
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And one context of everything I've said is that apparently many historians actively renounce the goal of writing usable history. Which means that their grad students know what not to do. And if this trend is successful enough, in a generation nobody will be writing usable history.

Who? I want names!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:51 PM
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But I suspect it's harder to sell the point that historians aren't the only ones who get to do things with the past.

Really? I fully think that there are huge groups of people out there who get to play with the past who I wouldn't call historians that I respect. Good documentary makers. Legal researchers. Museum staff (some of whom might well have a PhD in history, I know, so the category is fungible). They use history differently because they're asking different questions and speaking to different audiences.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:53 PM
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479: Historians really aren't into assigning blame, especially to themselves. But maybe to their students.

EB's nuanced version looked to me like it could end up as a lost-in-the-weeds story that would mislead someone without context and could be used by the US equivalent of holocaust revisionists.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:54 PM
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Which is why you very rarely see environmentalists or environmental policy makers directly using the work of professional historians in their day-to-day jobs.

There are some crossovers with people trained as historians - if not at the time academic historians - being commissioned to write up site histories for policy use. I have no idea how these have turned out.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:55 PM
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Most people simply don't have the time or energy to give a rat's ass about what we think, which is why the easy-to-digest summaries that trickle out via K-12 nonfiction and school textbooks are so disproportionately influential.

And we're back to whether professional academics should be concerned about the fact that some history major who took "U.S. History 1875 to the Present" in 1996 is going to be writing the half-page on the Trail of Tears or Spanish flu epidemic that tens of thousands of people will learn as Fact.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:57 PM
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Who? I want names!

How about Leopold Von Ranke?

"[...] nicht das Amt die Vergangenheit zu richten, die Mitwelt zum Nutzen zukünftiger Jahre zu belehren, sondern bloß zu zeigen, wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" ("[...] not the duty to judge the past, nor to instruct one's contemporaries with an eye to the future, but rather merely to show how it actually was").

Also, "history is not a criminal court" -- another Von Ranke line.

Admittedly, he's not taking graduate students right now.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:57 PM
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some history English major

Can't argue my own points!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:58 PM
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Yeah, but those people are (basically) holocaust denialists; there's SFA you can do about them.

If you don't mention nuance, it's a cover up; if you do, then there's no consensus. You just have to ignore them.

And, of course, it is also possible that eb's nuanced version could allow a tribal grouping to see potential strategies to use the dominant culture without being consumed or whatever.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:58 PM
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I think John should take on linguists next.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:58 PM
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General consensus seems to be that the historical aspect of the history is rarely going to be usable

It's not as strong as what I said.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 9:59 PM
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General consensus seems to be that the historical aspect of the history is rarely going to be usable

It's not as strong as what I said.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:00 PM
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I think John should take on linguists next.

Once you strip away the political activism, he does have remarkably insightful critiques of study of the humanities as a social institution. I'm not sure if that extends to linguistics, though.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:00 PM
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It's not a lawyer's job to figure out whether Boeing is to blame for (more properly, must contribute to the costs of cleaning up) the pollution. It's one lawyer's job to persuade someone, some fact-finder, that Boeing must pay. It's another lawyers job to convince the factfinder that it cannot be required to pay.

Usable histories don't come from academic historians. They have to be commissioned or created by (or to suit) users. That no one has commissioned a usable history of northern populism means, I suppose, that no one has thought it would be useful enough to justify the cost. Or been persuaded, anyway. John, hire a lawyer. To argue with a foundation to give a grant to a historian. For use by an advocacy group.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:01 PM
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490 --> 481


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:01 PM
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489: I think John should take on linguists next.

Cunning.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:02 PM
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485: Professional historians do go into the textbook writing business. One of the most popular American history high school text books was written by David Kennedy, who's pretty establishment history. I know there are plenty of other examples, that one just sticks out best in my head.

Historians ARE concerned about pre-college education. I think you underestimate the degree to which many historians work to deal with this. There are programs that use history graduate students and professors to train K-12 history/social sciences teachers, among other things.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:02 PM
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493.last is an extremely entertaining idea.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:03 PM
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Once you strip away the political activism, he does have remarkably insightful critiques of study of the humanities as a social institution. I'm not sure if that extends to linguistics, though.

I think John would say that's just more anti-conspiracy-theory badness, and that you can't strip away the politicisation.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:04 PM
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How about Leopold Von Ranke?

You're joking, right?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:04 PM
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EB's nuanced version looked to me like it could end up as a lost-in-the-weeds story that would mislead someone without context and could be used by the US equivalent of holocaust revisionists.

At some point, you've got to assign a lot of the responsibility for that to the dishonest revisionists. It's not possible to write every history with them in mind, and if they get that from a history of the French and Indian War, that's not good, but is it the fault of the history (provided the history is accurate)? Maybe you could put a sticker on the book with the once sentence overview as a disclaimer.

Or take disease: there are people who will tell you that disease takes all the blame off Europeans. Well, that's wrong. But you can't very well not mention epidemics and do a decent job with the history.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:06 PM
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496 is interesting, and making me wonder how much my own perspective on this is colored by the libraries (generally well-funded) and schools (generally very poor) that I am most familiar with.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:06 PM
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I think John would say that's just more anti-conspiracy-theory badness, and that you can't strip away the politicisation.

OK, despite his general ineffectiveness as a political activist, he does have remarkably insightful etc etc.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:07 PM
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There's actually a quite nice bio of Milo Reno put together by a self-taught member of a group he was involved in (Farmers' Union) with the help of U Iowa.

Really, all I started out wanting to say that I was appalled at how bad some of Hofstadter's stuff is. And I did connect it to other things such as the fallacious "conspiracy theorist" refutation which he used freely and which is pervasive now. But all of my interventions of this sort end up proliferating.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:08 PM
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501: It certainly could be. I should be careful to not overstate my case; I know that not every state has the money to set up grants that allow K-12 teachers to do this. The profession, however, is interested in it, and at every AHA conference you see panels dedicated to such questions. (How useful that is, god knows).

And I certainly know how frustrating it was for my step-father to teach the Native American history he knew in his fourth grade class (when they teach missions/colonization of California) because the textbooks were awful and the administration actively prevented him from giving the much more accurate picture of how awful life was at the missions.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:09 PM
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It's not a lawyer's job to figure out whether Boeing is to blame for (more properly, must contribute to the costs of cleaning up) the pollution. It's one lawyer's job to persuade someone, some fact-finder, that Boeing must pay. It's another lawyers job to convince the factfinder that it cannot be required to pay.

Didn't say anything different. But it is the legal system's obligation to figure out who has the responsibility for payment, and the lawyer's obligation to think about how best to convince the factfinder about where responsibility lies (btw, I do see responsibility to pay properly as a form of "blame" although this is a bit of an abtruse academic question about the nature of a tort and not at all the point of this conversation).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:10 PM
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I use history fairly often in my work. It's not just about what happened in my case, but also what happened in the controlling cases, what happened that got Congress (or whoever) to pass a law, what happened generally.

I have an example of the latter from one of my cases. The question was 'are the core functions of the Iranian intelligence service fundamentally governmental?' Answer: Yes. Government have had institutions that engaged in spying, targeted assassination, covert support of factions in other countries of interest as far back as recorded history goes. Examples then cited and discussed.

The history I want is never on the shelf, but always has to be assembled and made useful. Weekend before last, I was trying to figure out if there'd been a trial in the Bloody Assizes reasonably close to the one depicted in Captain Blood. This weekend, I'm back to the impeachment of the Earl of Clarendon.

I think a history usable in public advocacy isn't really any different from what I need for my private advocacy.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:10 PM
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Really, all I started out wanting to say that I was appalled at how bad some of Hofstadter's stuff is.

Now I have to read it.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:11 PM
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482: Really?

I should have phrased that to refer to the professional historians' approach to the past, not to historians as a group of people. Historians are fine with non-historians using their approaches and methods. I'm thinking about history vs. memory stuff, or history vs. inaccurate film stuff, and so on. Bad history (from the professional standpoint) isn't so accepted as a valid use of the past. But maybe I'm wrong.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:14 PM
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the libraries (generally well-funded) and schools (generally very poor)

You have just described the basics of my librotarian dream state. Which enlightened member of our union has instituted, however poorly, my pet ideology?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:15 PM
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Now I have to read it.

Idea of a Party System is supposed to be still worthwhile (at least it was recommended to me by a practicing historian). But don't tell anyone!


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:17 PM
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506: That makes a great deal of sense to me. It's how I use history books to write my own histories because we're all answering different questions. It would be helpful if more historians were doing work that fit into public advocacy's needs, but there are always going to be questions that haven't been answered yet. The point earlier about it taking money is a good one.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:18 PM
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That is to say, John you're more than reasonably articulate, and undoubtedly have the skills to ferret out the unappreciated details. Write the history.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:18 PM
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I'm only sort of kidding about Von Ranke. He's the father of modern professional history, and had a strong objection to produce the kind of conclusive, practically-oriented historical work that vulgar lawyers like Carp and myself demand.

Obviously I know that Von Ranke's ideas have been subject to -- nuance! -- in the profession but the underlying idea of a detailed, objective, "academic" history remains.

Nothing wrong with Von Ranke's approach but don't overestimate its usefulness in other areas.

And, on another topic, it's not just musuem curators and documentary filmakers who have to make use of the past but political actvisits of all stripes, policy makers, lawyers, etc. I'd even argue that most businessmen operate within a conscious (generally very misguided) narrative about American and world history to guide their affairs.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:19 PM
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Bad history (from the professional standpoint) isn't so accepted as a valid use of the past. But maybe I'm wrong.

Ah, ok. You're right, I just misunderstood what you meant.

And yes, I'm one of those who often thinks that history written with a distinct political agenda tends to be bad history (because I think it leads to cherry-picking evidence), so I really am one of the evil members of the profession. (Not that you're saying that).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:21 PM
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If you want to go all Renaissance-y, a lot of the roots of modern historical techniques - particularly working with documentary evidence - go back to people - often trained for the law - comparing Latin texts and determining that a lot of stuff was out of order because of the way the language was shifting. So there you go: linguistics (philology), law, history.

I'm going to bed now.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:23 PM
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He's the father of modern professional history,
I don't think that's a good example of a currently practicing historian busy training his/her students to write unusable history, given that I suspect most historians no longer read him.

As for the latter point, I was thinking of people who are producing what I would recognize as history - stories about the past, to be very simple. I'm aware that people use a sense of history to guide their actions and decisions all the time, and I didn't make an exhaustive list of it. (I think that policy makers sort of fit into both sides of that list; those who produce and are guided by history).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:26 PM
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I was just wondering how much historical research the fellas had to do for that Dover case. I'm too lazy to look for the memos though.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:27 PM
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He's the father of modern professional history

I don't think modern professional history had just *one* father.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:29 PM
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I don't think modern professional history had just *one* father.

That, too. I think more of people like Bloch, Carr, Butterfield as the outdated fathers of my field (who at least I've read, unlike von Ranke - but then again, as I've previously stipulated, I'm lazy).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:31 PM
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509: Unfortunately, it's a suburbs/city issue. Nothing very exciting, I'm afraid.

And the schools are poor quality more than poorly funded, per se. A hint of the political issues at play can be found in the newspaper readers' comments to this story, which at last glance appeared to be split 50/50 on the political merits of merging 501 school districts into just 100, but unanimous in their fear of being contaminated by the toxic Philadelphia district.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:33 PM
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Age of Reform wasn't bad at all, especially if you assume the suspicions of conspiracies were well founded. "Conspiracy" is just another word for business, and business was booming right about then. So what if Hofstadter gives undue prominence to Progressives vs. Populists, and NE types vs. La Follete types? He still describes the interest conflicts accurately. He still shows the development of Western politics and its eventual influence on, and cooption by, national politics. The man is giving the sixties-era party line, but he's honest enough that one can read between the lines.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:35 PM
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519: So what you're trying to say is that Halford's position lacks nuance?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:35 PM
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520: Damn. Unconsciously foiled by the patterns of thinking imprinted on me by my evil overlord (aka, adviser).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:38 PM
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516 -- Yeah, I'm not in graduate school, so I don't know what current historians are training their students to do or not to do. Years ago, when I was almost in graduate school in history, I remember reading a number of essays -- one of which was by Richard Cobb, I think, but there were others -- whose basic message was that the academic study of history can inform others, but that it neither can nor should seek to answer useful practical questions about the present.

And, eb said that "General consensus seems to be that the historical aspect of the history is rarely going to be usable," which jibes well with what I remember being the basic message.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:38 PM
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Um, 522. Maybe I should stop blabbing and go back to grading papers.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:39 PM
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524: I think eb and I have different definitions of usable, and thus different understandings of what the profession as a whole is like, because I don't agree with that statement.

I more wanted to know who it is that you or Emerson is reading that seems to be producing such unusable history, rather than a summary of all people training graduate students - this is part of my attempt to gather the evidence so I can figure out if I agree with y'all or not.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:42 PM
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(Also, I practically study the dark ages, and while I can certainly see the connections between past and present in it, concerns about answering practical questions about the present are not very high on my list of concerns about my own work).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:43 PM
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Since I'm still up, I meant usable in an activist, political agenda sense, not that you can't learn useful information from it.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:46 PM
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528: Yeah, and I don't see that as the only usable function of history, so I disagree with the overall statement (though not with the idea that historians don't see the field as usable in an activist, political agenda sense).

Can you tell I don't want to grade?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:48 PM
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And I basically agree with 514. But I wasn't really referring to political agendas advanced through history in the comment 514 was responding to.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:49 PM
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I disagree with the overall statement

Sure, but you're disagreeing with an interpretation of the statement I never meant. What do you mean by usable, anyway?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:50 PM
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Too many double negatives in the above. I mean, I agree with eb that historians, in general, do not see the field as one that's meant to be usable for a political agenda without adding another layer of interpretation to the history they do produce.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:50 PM
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Usable - something that you can glean useful information from.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:51 PM
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(But I'm sure I'm painting the profession too broadly, anyway.)


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:52 PM
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533: Under that definition, of course the statement is wrong. I've always thought usable meant something more specific.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:55 PM
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534: Possibly. There are definitely many activist historians out there. But less than you'd see in a field like sociology or anthropology. History is a more conservative discipline, on the balance, I'd argue. And I think that academic historians produce books that largely stray away from trying to make an activist point, even if they, in another guise, write editorials or columns that attempt to use history to sway political opinion. I'm happy with that division.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 10:57 PM
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See, that's where I got confused and why I was asking for precise definitions of what usable meant. I never really got one until just now!

But really, I'm believe that plenty of academic historical works provide arguments that lend themselves well to political advocacy, but that do take an extra level of interpretation to take them to that level. That still counts as usable to me.

(And at this point, I feel like I have probably contradicted myself multiple times in this thread).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:00 PM
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History is large, etc. etc.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:11 PM
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By the way John, what do you think about Hobsbawm?

And what do people here think about Gordon Brown's work on Maxton? (Extra points for explicit tie into usable history debate.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:14 PM
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I don't think I, or anyone else, was saying that there was no useful information contained within academic history, or that academic history was "useless" -- if there was, those professors would really be wasting their time! -- only that academic history, with its emphasis on nuance, isn't particularly oriented towards making specific judgments or answering the kinds of questions about the past in the ways that many people not in the field of academic history need to make use of the past. I don't think that should be very controversial, actually.

An example of the kind of book I was thinking about is this, which I got through most of a while back:

http://www.amazon.com/Unredeemed-Captive-Family-Story-America/dp/0679759611

Absolutely fascinating, and full of interesting information. But "usable" as a way of drawing broad conclusions about the effect of the past on the present? No. Again, I'm not at all saying that academic history shouldn't be produced, just that (a) its practitioners shouldn't think they have a monopoly on useful ways to use the past and (b) the emphasis on nuance and complexity called for by academic historians, which I think Emerson rightly calls an undertheorized disciplinary bias, can often obscure as well as clarify.

Since I like academic history, and find it extremely "useful" -- in the same broad, life-enriching sense that a lot of academic work is "useful," and since it's GREAT to have professors of history out there focusing on the past in ways that most people can't, this isn't some fundamental argument for abolishing or transforming the historical profession . . . just a set of observations from an outsider. And with that, to bed.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:25 PM
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And I think I'm just facing my own lack of understanding about what it is people think history should be doing. (And, the realization that I really should have read the full thread for a better understanding of what people meant when using the word "usable" which to me is short-hand for precisely nothing). I guess I see academic history as generally making it possible for people without the ability to access archives to also be able to cobble together their own histories to serve the purposes they need. Ie, that lawyers should be able to open a history book and pull out the relevant fact (gleaned by a historian's hard work in the archives) they need and then put it to use the way they need to. I'm really after the democratic production of history, and I see the secondary source materials provided by historians as eminently useful in this production. CC's advice to Emerson that he write his own history is right on target.

As for the standard of usability being whether or not you can draw broad conclusions about the effects of the past on the present from a book in particular, I'd say that's not an appropriate standard for all areas of history. As for Demos's book, I actually think that you can draw conclusions from it, and he's not generally a historian to shy away from doing so (see, Past, Present and Personal). Also, interestingly, Demos is probably the only tenured member of Yale's department without a PhD and has made some interesting arguments about the training of graduate students.

Right, the conversation is over, I know. And I should go to bed too. Happy thinking.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:38 PM
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Oh for fuck's sake: the idea of a usable past, for US historians at least, emerges directly out of a brilliant essay by Warren Susman: "The Uses of a Usable Past". Susman, by the way, also wrote perhaps the most brilliant essay in the history of modern cultural history: "Culture Heroes: Ford, Barton, and Ruth". Check it out; you won't be disappointed. Anyway, in the essay in question, Susman discusses a usable past as a invented past, a past of memory, created to serve particular purposes. And, lo, he's not sure what to make of such a thing, though he does not that it's pretty much not academic history, which is, wait for it, far more concerned with nuance and contingency.

Then there's this: but that it neither can nor should seek to answer useful practical questions about the present.

Sure, some historians think that's right. But probably fewer and fewer every year, a development that I'd guess is directly related to the Hofstadter renaissance among the pros. Which is to say, lots of people want their work to engage with contemporary political concerns.

Also, the idea that historians won't give you a straight answer is the purest form of bullshit. Craven historians won't give you a straight answer. Bad historians can't gave you a straight answer. But good historians will. It's just that their straight answers usually are pretty complicated. Why? Because that's the way of the world.

Finally, let's talk about this specific case. John showed up at our blog -- a blog that has a post titled "Slavery did too cause the Civil War" (or something like that; I don't actually read the site) -- and began making incredibly broad claims. He found some people (including me) who were willing to say, "well, part of that is surely true, but there's also more to the story." And then he freaked out and hasn't let the issue go since. Was he trolling? Or was he genuinely outraged? Who can tell? Probably not even him. Bear in mind, I'm not a big defender of my field, which, I think, is corrupt in horrifying ways. It's just that I really can't abide John's latest tirade. As several people here have pointed out: he got tired of fighting with philosophers, the economists have always ignored him (probably because they're too busy actually shaping the world around us), and so now he's turned his attention to the historians.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:43 PM
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Oh for fuck's sake: the idea of a usable past, for US historians at least, emerges directly out of a brilliant essay by Warren Susman: "The Uses of a Usable Past".

Thank god a real historian showed up to direct me towards something to read so that I may understand. I've just never encountered this worry. Thanks, ari!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:46 PM
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Craven historians

Got a problem with his account of the causes of the civil war, huh?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:49 PM
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I'm hardly a real historian; I'm just some doofus who's easily trolled. Pathetic. But while I'm here, I have a question for all of the people who are buying into John's line of bullshit: how did Hofstadter so completely shape the opinions of the opinion-makers? I mean, by what mechanism? They read Hofstadter in school? That's probably the most simplistic view of cultural transmission I've ever heard. That's like saying we elected President Obama because of Roots.

That's what I mean by nuance, if the point wasn't clear.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:50 PM
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As several people here have pointed out: he got tired of fighting with philosophers, the economists have always ignored him (probably because they're too busy actually shaping the world around us), and so now he's turned his attention to the historians.

If he goes after the Germanists boy howdy he'll have to go through me!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:51 PM
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I'm just some doofus who's easily trolled.

Hey, me too!

That's like saying we elected President Obama because of Roots.

Kunta Kinte made me do it!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:53 PM
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542: To be fair, ari, you do have in the form of PorJ the purest example of what John is complaining about.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:55 PM
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If 545 is addressed to me, I said about 300 comments ago that I thought Emerson's thinking about Hofstader was totally unconvincing.

But of course I'm a stooge of the anti-midwestern, anti-farmer, anti-populist technocratic elite.

I just really wanted to say that it's perfectly cool for a lawyer (or a political activist, or whoever) to say x past event "caused" y current event in a different (and more "monocausal") way than a professional historian normally would. Different perspectives on the past and how we use it.

And I'm glad to get the essay recommendation, and am glad that historians are more focused on at least being relevant to contemporary concerns.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:57 PM
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I don't think people are buying into the idea that Hofstadter had an overwhelming influence. But I'd have a hard time believing he had less influence (in the short run) on people's views of Populism than all the historians with books not being as widely read outside the profession who were saying he was wrong. By the mechanism of more people reading one guy's books than anothers'. That only gets you so far, though. And I'm not going to argue it should get you any farther - certainly not to shaping opinion makers on his own. He was not beyond being shaped himself, obviously, as his contemporaries were. By various social forces, etc. etc. nuance. (I'm just kidding with that.)


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-09 11:58 PM
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And I don't think anyone is accepting the whole intro course thing.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:02 AM
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548: That's a fair point. But since PorJ isn't here to defend himself, I'll leave it at that.

549: But historians say x caused y all the time. It's just that x is usually something complicated that requires a few hundred pages to explain. And again, isn't that actually the way of the world? I mean, sure, one can say that a house burned down because an arsonist lit it on fire. That's easy enough. But why did a president win a particular election? How come the Populists fell out of favor (if they did)? Why did some groups of Native people resist settler-colonists much longer than other groups of Native people? Well, those questions are going to take some time to answer. Because they're really complicated questions.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:07 AM
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Now I'm coming dangerously close to defending the American historical profession. And really, that's just not my thing. But I will go to the mat for nuance and contingency every time.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:09 AM
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Hofstadter's book was once upon a time widely read, either inside college courses or outside. It's reasonable to wonder why it was so widely read, and how it fit into the Zeitgeist of the time, but it's not that hard to believe that it was influential.

Amity Shlaes' New Deal book is influential, and it obviously fits into pre-existing agendas. But still she wrote the book, and it's become influential. If she had never written the book, New Deal denialists wouldn't have had their wishful thinking distilled into a pseudo-historical case.

At the same time, the Shlaes case shows the limitations of the power of academic historians. Eric has strenuously worked to show, and without nuance, that she's completely wrong. And to what avail? I know which one I've seen on TV, and it wasn't Aquaman.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:10 AM
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See, Walt, I think New Deal denialists would have done just fine without Shlaes. They would have pointed to the Austrian school, whose arguments she just reproduced for popular consumption. Which is to say, she's reflecting rather than shaping the culture. The same is true for most popular books that capture a moment: Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Gilded Age, Silent Spring. I wonder about Jane Jacobs, who seemed to be saying some things that were new. But she never sold a ton of books, even if her ideas became hugely influential.

Again, though, we're talking about cultural transmission, which gets really complicated very quickly.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:15 AM
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Now I'm coming dangerously close to defending the American historical profession.

That's what a lot of this thread was earlier, you know. I'm not actually sure who you're arguing with now (except Walt).


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:22 AM
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It's late and I'm going to bed -- really! But to answer 549, I don't doubt that you're basically right -- the world is complicated. But you're actually underestimating the kinds of questions that need long answers -- almost everything about the world is complicated and multi-causal and requires nuance and qualification to get to the right answer.

In dealing with a complex world, most of us can't look at the past with the same kind of attention to multiple causation and nuance that professional historians do. Nor is it at all important to do so FOR THE PARTICULAR CONCERNS THAT NON-HISTORIANS HAVE ABOURT THE PAST. That's why other disciplines and modes of thinking about life have different understandings of causation. So, there's that. Which is not to say that no one should write a 300 page book about the questions that you mention or that such a 300 page book wouldn't, in some broader sense, be a "better" or at least more complete causal explanation than one which a lawyer or political activist would seek from the past.

And, what you seemed to imply earlier in the thread -- forgive me if I misread you -- is that historians put a particular value on revealing complexities and nuances per se -- a kind of reverse Ockham's razor. That may be unfair, but it does comport with my now hazy memories of academic history and my time reading journal articles, many of which seemed primarily concerned with revealing "interesting but probably irrelevant complexity x." I should mention that I was mainly in contact with professional historians during the heyday of "postmodernism" so maybe things are totally different now and I am unfairly slandering the historical profession.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:28 AM
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Maybe. But I don't think the Austrian school argument would be as influential as it is if it weren't for Ron Paul's run for President. (At least the free-lance "Austrians predicted it!" on-line seem to have learned it from the Paul campaign, since they don't seem know anything about it other than the fact that central banks are bad for some reason.)

Anyway, even if that's the case, it's still Shlaes who's guilty of writing the book. Maybe somebody else would have reanimated the corpse of Murray Rothbard given the opportunity, but it was Shlaes who hooked up the electrodes and shouted "Life! Give my creation life!" A significant part of what John is arguing, in this argument and some others, the kind of causality we use when we ascribe guilt or innocence. Hofstadter is guilty of painting the Populists as paranoid nutcases. Maybe the rise of technocratic liberalism made it inevitable that someone would fill the Hofstadter role, but Hofstadter is still the one that's guilty.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:29 AM
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557: Crappy writers are crappy writers. They obscure causation and produce turgid prose. I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Anyway, it's still true, though there is more emphasis these days on conveying ideas clearly and concisely. Not that it does much good, if the books I'm reading right now are any indication.

558: I think the Populists' political enemies got there long before Hofstadter did. So does Hofstadter get some of the blame? Sure. But is it all his fault? Nope, not by a long-shot. It's just not that simple. In other words, he, too, mostly reflected rather than shaped the culture. But see, now we're talking about a case I really can't make. Because I don't know enough, and I'm way out of my period.

Anyway, I've got to do a bit of writing before I fall asleep.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 12:43 AM
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Hofstadter's book was once upon a time widely read, either inside college courses or outside.

It still is. Judging by Amazon rankings, Hofstadter today, after 50+ years, sells many times more books than his more highly-recommended competitors. The rankings are ordinal so I can't convert it into numbers.

The economists have always ignored him (probably because they're too busy actually shaping the world around us)....

They've been moving in my direction, Ari. I cited Dean Baker above. Right now Brad DeLong is writing about the dishonesty of the Chicago school -- several Nobelists and short-list Nobel candidates have made statements about the stimulus that DeLong thinks are destructive, dishonest, and clearly wrong.

What the economists are doing right now is scrambling around trying to figure out what happened, what they should do about it, why it surprised them so much, and how to blame someone else for the upcoming depression. we're living in their failed experiment, just as the Russians and the third world were 15 years or so ago.

My first posts at EOTAW were on topic (media bias, etc.) I touched on the theme on a subsequent, unrelated thread, and Silbey, who had been on the earlier thread, jumped right in.

I didn't intend to trash the history profession, but I guess when I learned about the profession's hair-trigger response to single-factor explanations and simplism, which includes hair-trigger accusations that people are making single-factor explanations, I guess I did become negative. Ari's advice that I should mush up everything I say with conditionals was not helpful. As I said on the other thread, there are lumpers and splitters, and as far as I can tell, in history now splitting is an absolute value. (Except that zeitgeist explanations are now rational, whereas agency explanations, even of the actions of large corporations, are not.)

So I'll continue my archaeological exploration of the fallacious "conspiracy theorist" refutation, which I got over there at EOTAW and get everywhere else too. And the pervasiveness of fifties anti-ideology ideology, which came back with renewed force after the Vietnam war, but only on the left. Hofstadter is part of those stories. And I still think that my theory of the NYT and the WaPo is right, and am baffled that people find it impossible to accept. (I could even patch in the Zeitgeist without much trouble). And my study of Pavlovian paradigms and their influence.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 7:41 AM
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517: I was just wondering how much historical research the fellas had to do for that Dover case.

Don't know in general, but the neatest bit was the exploration of how creationist texts became intelligent design texts via cut-and-paste. I missed whether it came up at the trial or from a later examination of exhibits, but the best was the discovery of the transitional form "cdesign proponentsists".


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 8:16 AM
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Emerson, you know I respect your trolling ability, but couldn't just this one thread have stayed about bad crushes, traveling for sex, &c.?


Posted by: x. trapnel | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 9:29 AM
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You'll have your day, X trapnel. I don't troll every thread.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 10:15 AM
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Historians failed dismally in getting public space to address the numerous historical fallacies that have been used to justify bad foreign policy from Vietnam on. Perhaps most horribly earlier this decade, when all these ridiculous WWII comparisons were being used, along with this idea that the Arabs didn't have any indigenous democratic traditions, and you didn't hear anything about the historical relationship between Western colonialism and indigenous Middle East democratic movements, which goes back a hundred years or so. (Ummm, not a good relationship).

Maybe that was because historians just couldn't get access to the media.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-11-09 1:25 PM
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