Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

February 27, 2009

Rocking the Revolution: A Rebels Rising Playlist

Filed under: Music,Playlists,Popular culture,Revolution,Urban history — Benjamin Carp @ 7:27 am

In honor of Oxford University Press publishing the paperback edition of Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, I thought we might strike up a playlist.  The annotations make it a long entry, so if you’re in the mood for some Friday fun, please follow me below the fold.  In the meantime, pick up a copy and add it to your syllabus today.

I should start by saying that there isn’t much musical, historical, or thematic rhyme or reason to this list (which I first created in 2007 when the hardcover edition was published): I just wanted a CD-length playlist inspired by the book, drawn from songs I already owned (although I did hunt down a couple more).  Under my self-imposed rule, the songs had to have “rebels,” “rising”, “city,” “cities,” or the name of one of the book’s five cities (Boston, New York City, Newport, Charleston, and Philadelphia) in the title.  I also included songs that corresponded with the introduction and epilogue.  Where songs are named for a specific city, they are in chapter order; the three “rebels” songs precede the three “rising” songs.  Here’s the book’s table of contents if you’d like to follow along.

(more…)

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Minute Bicentennial Post

Filed under: Common-Place,Media,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 1:36 am

This the 200th post on this blog, begun a little over a year ago. In celebration, I present the only “Bicentennial Minute” I could find on YouTube. I suspect these are a fond childhood memory for many of us budding early Americanists. Back in 1975-76, the young television viewer waiting for Kojak or Hawaii 5-0 to come on could learn a quite lot of history, probably more than any given hour of basic cable history programming today. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Miss Jessica Tandy:

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February 26, 2009

Smile!

Filed under: Media,Popular culture — Benjamin Carp @ 9:21 am

Because of the Worcester connection (and the Worcester dis), I had to link to this: a history of the smiley face, in The Guardian.  For anyone interested in reading further into the relevant issues of visual iconography, by the way, I can recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.

(Hat tip, AHA blog.)

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Oh the Humanities!!

Filed under: Economy,Education,Historians,Media — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 1:17 am

So the NYT says the Humanities are in trouble in these troubled times.  “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth,” the headline reads. Possibly, but not as much trouble as the media.

I am never sure whether history is included in media/political discussions of the Humanities, but I will bite here on one bit of justification: If most of the people running our financial and government institutions had even the slightest factual knowledge of history, especially historical trends, they would never have wrecked the economy by placing so much faith in the idea that property values would only go in one direction, up, forever. They would also have known that far from needing to get out of the way, law and government created modern private property markets in the first place and strong periodic restructuring and regulation has always been necessary to maintain them. That did not sound very humanistic, I know, but it is the kind of thing you and learn from humanities education. I will be discoursing on the Panic of 1819 later today myself, a case in point if ever there was one.

But I should perhaps let the Times speak for itself.

But in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency. Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.

Already scholars point to troubling signs. A December survey of 200 higher education institutions by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Moody’s Investors Services found that 5 percent have imposed a total hiring freeze, and an additional 43 percent have imposed a partial freeze.

In the last three months at least two dozen colleges have canceled or postponed faculty searches in religion and philosophy, according to a job postings page on Wikihost.org. The Modern Language Association’s end-of-the-year job listings in English, literature and foreign languages dropped 21 percent for 2008-09 from the previous year, the biggest decline in 34 years.

“Although people in humanities have always lamented the state of the field, they have never felt quite as much of a panic that their field is becoming irrelevant,” said Andrew Delbanco, the director of American studies at Columbia University.

I’m sorry Andrew Delbanco feels irrelevant, but me not so much. We are not hiring right now to be sure and cutbacks are on the way, but as the Times figures indicate, the humanities seem to be falling apart at about the same rate as everything else in the world economy. At the same time, in my Midwestern public university, at any rate, our history enrollments and graduate applications are up and undergraduates seem to be looking for historical perspective more than ever, wondering how the hell we got here from there, and where else we might be going.

In short, this Times article seems to be premature, chasing after a trend that might develop but has not quite happened yet. Frankly, I put it down to the schadenfreude toward humanities academia that has long fairly pulsated through the cultural coverage of our tottering elite media institutions.

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February 25, 2009

The Seething Base

Filed under: Conservatives,GOP,Obama Administration,speeches — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 5:48 pm

Not that I care in the least, but if you want to see what the GOP is up against in any effort to reinvent itself or respond creatively to the economic crisis, check out a few comments I came across, thanks to my Obamanian efforts to keep in touch with friends of a different political persuasion. These were made in (live) response to last night’s speech eminently reasonable speech, as perceived by something like 82% of viewers.

The theme of the speech, and the substance of most of the specific proposals, keep in mind, was taking government action to allow the private enterprise system to function properly again. In other words, it was all about supporting capitalist markets and private business. There was a nice explanation in there of how the credit markets operate, and the role government plays in them. That was all lost on these people, to say the least, whose “thought” consists of “free market” banalities so simplistic my GOP committeewoman high school government teacher back in 1980 would have been embarrassed by them:

Does Obama really believe that government is the source of all good things? It seems so. I have to say his speech is scaring me.

Yes, he does. For some reason, it escapes their mind that the state has been the greatest mass murderer in human history. They’re a real clear bunch…

How dare you criticize the Messiah! We all must submit, pay higher taxes and let Big Brother run our lives.

The government is going to make car loans? I am watching Obama’s speech on tivo and am shocked at how idiotic some of these ideas are.
What happens when we run out of taxpayers and only have tax spenders?
I have never been so frustrated. Did you see Ben Nelson defend the earmark system? Or Eric Canter do a rah rah speech for Obama on Hannity? The base is seething and these idiots inside the beltway don’t get it.

The base is seething alright, but base of what, is the question.

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February 24, 2009

Peace Dividend Revividus

Filed under: Conservatives,GOP,Government,Military,Obama Administration,speeches — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:48 pm

I started to write a post labelling President Obama’s promise to cut the deficit in half as the first careless utterance of his term, and not a very good idea even if it could be done. Then I listened to the speech tonight and twigged to what he has in mind. Or at least I think I have.

I am sure there will be some self-defeating, triangulatory budget cuts coming down the pike, but it seems clear from the speech that what Obama plans is a form of what they used to call the Peace Dividend, the conversion of now-superfluous defense spending to other more useful purposes. So, a good chunk of Obama’s savings will come from winding down our commitment in Iraq and “not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.” This target was linked with several other examples of pork-barrel spending for GOP-leaning constituencies, such as ending “direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.” Amen! Munitions (my preferred more accurate retro term over “defense”) and agriculture have long been two areas in which vast sums of public money have spent to boost the  profits of people who immediately turn around and give some of it back to politicians who promise to get the government off their backs. The Projectionist Right, you might call them, wards of the state who can’t stop complaining about it.

The really clever and yet doubly praiseworthy bit had to do with the changes in government accounting practices Obama plans to implement:

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

An incredible and increasing proportion of the government’s spending on “national security” has been hidden since the beginning of the Cold War, especially in the Reagan and Bush years. Obviously minmizing these figures made it easier to make the typical GOP arguments for transferring money from domestic social programs to their favored constituencies, under the pretense that the federal budget was bloated with wasteful “welfare” programs while Baby Pentagon went begging for a new set of aircraft carriers. Obama’s more honest accounting will shock people with just how much of our national wealth we have been flushing down the defense establishment all these years. By revising the Bush era deficits vastly upward, it will also make this cutting the deficit in half promise considerably more achievable.

Call it a potential case of doing well politically by doing something really good for the cause of honest government. That is high praise in my book.

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February 23, 2009

It Aint No Sin to be Glad You Rolled Five

No Oscar commentary from me, but all this talk of Hollywood did bring me back to a quote from a couple of weeks ago.

Like hungry jackals at a carcass, factions have already begun fighting over how best to spend the $800 billion stimulus.  One of the tastier goodies will be an allotment for high-speed rail connections in various parts of the country.  Republican Senator Jim DeMint seemed particularly upset at the prospect of a Los Angeles to Las Vegas connection:

The President has a point that taxpayer money should not be used to pay for Wall Street fat cats to fly to Las Vegas but why is it okay for taxpayer money to be used to help pay for Hollywood elites to get there on a fancy gambling train? And why are we subsidizing leisure in a stimulus bill rather than encouraging work and greater productivity?

A few points here.  Does anyone really think a genuine Hollywood elite would take the train?  Also, can’t we imagine that down-home productive plebeians would find plenty of uses for a rail connection between two major population centers?  (As a side note, does anyone even pretend that “Hollywood elites” isn’t dog-whistle for “Jews”?)

Finally, why is it that politicians believe they can get so much mileage out of demonizing certain parts of the country?  The examples in recent (or semi-recent) politics are numerous:

  • The 2004 ad that stated,  “Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading . . .” says the husband. His apple-cheeked wife interrupts to say, “. . . body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, Left-wing freak show back to Vermont [Dr Dean's home state] where it belongs.”
  • The 1988 attempts to saddle Michael Dukakis with the label of “Taxachusetts” based on the policies of his home state.
  • More recent efforts to lambaste Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her “San Francisco values.”  (No mystery about the dog-whistle target there.)

In any case, Matthew Yglesias asks a similar question:

For whatever reason, conservatives are constantly allowed to get away with this business of summarily dismissing vast regions of the country as unworthy and never get called on it. But this sort of thing is leading the movement on a direct (albeit, non-rail) route to a Dixie-only ghetto.

This idea put reader BPM in the mind of the Federalist Party in the 1810s, which was more or less a New England-only ghetto.  Historians have argued endlessly about the degree to which nineteenth-century political parties were regionally based.  And it remains to be seen whether the Republican party will wind up being confined to the South and the Plains/Mountain West.  Regardless, this sort of rhetoric does appear to be self-defeating.  Shouldn’t each party claim to be the better representative of all America?  Why single out some locations as more American than others?  (I mean, I think I know why, but it’s worth asking the rhetorical question.)

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February 19, 2009

At Least You’re Not Travelling by Steamboat

Filed under: Missouri — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 7:02 pm

As I may have mentioned before, I am teaching our History of Missouri course for the first time this semester, not a thrill for most I suppose but something I wanted to do because this region’s weird past was probably what first got me seriously interested in American history as a kid. Putting together my lectures I have been re-informing myself on many favorite topics and discovering some interesting items to share with the class.

For instance, I have been reminded that steamboats were possibly the most dangerous form of powered travel ever invented. Floating palaces of occasional scalding death, those things were, when they didn’t sink, run aground, or out of fuel. At any rate, I thought this page from University of Northern Iowa, “Helpful Hints For Steamboat Passengers” was fairly informative and clever. It admits to being made-up in the first few sentences but when I first found the page I missed that and thought for a while that someone had posted an unusually honest piece of 19th-century travel advice literature.

I also had to remind myself about earthquakes. I was looking up the New Madrid Earthquake 1811-1812 specifically, when “the Mississippi River ran backward.” More generally I re-ingested the fact we here in the Nation’s Doughy Midsection live in a California-esque environment, seismically speaking, only without the beaches, the Hollywood glitz, or buildings designed to withstand earthquakes. Here is a somewhat dated but informative video I found (possibly from the U.S. Geological Survey) that lays out the information without the History Channel hype. Check out the discussion of “liquefaction.” A good time will be had by all: Missouri highways already drive like they are paved over liquid.

If that is not worrisome enough, I also found a far too informative site includes a feature where you can see all the Central U.S. earthquakes detected in the last six months, week, or two hours.

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February 17, 2009

Breaking the Vice Grip?

Filed under: 2008 elections,Jeff Pasley's Writings,Media — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:17 am

Possibly it is obnoxious to say I told you so, but I was very pleased to see Obama campaign manager David Plouffe quoted making the same point I made last August about the electoral insignificance of vice-presidential picks. He also notes the real impact of the great Mooseslayer on the race: she helped the Democrats, big time.

Here is Plouffe on Gov. Sarah Palin: “Vice presidential picks rarely but sometimes make an electoral difference. Our view was it probably wasn’t going to matter that much. It’s the most over-covered story in politics. This was the one exception to that. It did have an effect.”

“She was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall.”

Long may she run as the GOP’s shining star.

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February 13, 2009

Further Stimulation

Filed under: GOP,Obama Administration,Political Parties — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:34 am

Following up my last, I think Michael A. Cohen at TPM Café has put the outcome of the recent Struggle for Stimulation in its proper perspective:

Listening to the heated arguments from both ends of the political spectrum one might be forgiven for believing that President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package is a giant lemon.

The left claims that Obama’s bipartisanship has failed. They argue his “centrist” compromises, as well as the failure to offer a bigger initial package, will fatally weaken the stimulus effort. Republicans see “glimmers of rebirth” through their opposition to the Democrats’ plans. But both groups are missing the larger context.

Progressives are in the process of winning a transformative political victory that may be the harbinger of a new era of activist government. For conservatives, their unity might be cause for celebration; but from a policy standpoint they have suffered a decisive defeat.

Cohen has more details. While I remain unconvinced that there is any coherent movement out there that merits the noun “Progressives,” Cohen is right that what we have here is a huge, virtually overnight shift in the nature of our government’s economic policies, and there was precious little that the GOP’s united rump could do about it.

And, to slightly undermine my last post, there was a comment from historian Lewis L . Gould on the H-POL email list that made it clear that at least some bipartisan cooperation was offered by the opposition party in that other economic crisis 76 years ago:

The total of thirty-five Republicans and one independent in the Senate from 1933 to 1935 does not tell the story of the party’s response to the New Deal. Four Republican senators, Robert M. La Follette, Jr., Hiram Johnson of California, Bronson Cutting of New Mexico, and George W. Norris of Nebraska, had endorsed Roosevelt for election in 1932. Four other Republicans had stayed neutral as between Roosevelt and Hoover. In addition, the Republican leader in the Senate, Charles McNary of Oregon, himself a moderate Republican, thought it was unwise to obstruct FDR at the start of the New Deal. “To oppose the President now in a purely partisan spirit would be rocking the boat at a particularly unfortunate time,” he said in August 1933. At the outset of 1934, he added “The majority of the Republican members of the Congress will continue warmly to support those measures fashioned materially to improve the economic conditions of the country.” That left room for GOP opposition to specific legislation but meant the party lacked the discipline and cohesion of the present time. Moreover, McNary was sick during the spring of 1934 and the Republicans were thus leaderless.  Finally, in those days a filibuster meant that the senators had to get up on their feet and talk in the Senate as Huey Long did for nineteen hours in June 1935. There was little stomach for a futile filibuster effort against the New Deal during the first two years of FDR’s presidency.

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