April 29, 2014, 1:37 pm

Putin and Rationality

Who’s a nice naval base, then?

Shorter John Cassidy: Putin may have a set of motivations that are rational by his lights, but I think he’s crazy:

Putin is a Russian nationalist[*] through and through, and, historically, an important part of Russian nationalism has been expansionism. When you are dealing with a something as combustible as that, you can’t always rely on rational behavior to prevail.

The problem with Cassidy’s article is that logic that he ascribes to Putin actually makes perfect sense. Putin may think that the short-term economic and political costs of annexing the Crimea (and possibly Eastern Ukraine) is worth the longer term benefit of fully recovering the best port in the Black Sea, taking a large chunk of population and resources, and generally showing Eastern Europe and Central Asia that Russia is still a power with which to be reckoned. The rump Ukraine, he…

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April 24, 2014, 5:47 pm

Signposts of the New Gilded Age, No. 309

The Department of the Navy is advertising a summer internship as a “Student Trainee Laborer.” It is paid, admittedly, but doesn’t strike me as a particularly educational experience:

This position is that of a Student Trainee (Laborer) assigned to perform a combination of tasks requiring little or no special skill, experience or training. The work requires primarily physical effort and involves use of common hand tools and power equipment.

  • Loads and unloads heavy boxes, bulky supplies and materials to and from trucks, hand trucks and dollies.
  • Performs a multitude of ground maintenance such as maintaining and preparing lawn area, removing weeds and debris, grass, tree and shrub maintenance.
  • Moves and arranges furniture.

Luckily, your graduate education will, in fact, work as qualification:

2) Any of the following educational institutions or curricula that have been accredited by an…

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April 21, 2014, 4:30 pm

In A Continuing Series On Things That Might Still Go Boom.

World War II will not be entirely over for a long while:

Tens of thousands of city residents and U.S. Army soldiers here will evacuate their homes, offices and barracks Thursday as military explosives experts, seasoned by duty in Afghanistan, attempt to disarm a gargantuan bomb that was among thousands dropped during a single Allied mission 70 years ago.


Covering it with a wooden box seems…inadequate, somehow.

This is what it looks like, going off:

And what the bombing raid that dropped it in 1944 might have looked like:

April 18, 2014, 5:03 pm

Your Random Human Rights Reminder

Given today’s xkcd cartoon:

I wanted to reiterate the point in this post.

“Free speech rights” and “the First Amendment” are not synonymous with each other. The First Amendment is the American legal manifestation of the right to free speech, but the right exists outside the United States and existed before the first amendment. The Founding Fathers were well aware that they were protecting an existing right with the First Amendment rather than establishing a new one.

Nor do all manifestations of the right to free speech include the First Amendment’s limitation of that right to government actions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 19, talks of the right to free speech without any reference to government:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart…

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April 16, 2014, 5:11 pm

First Emoticon: 1648?

Everything is older than you think it is:

We interrupt our blogging of Daniel Deronda to share breaking news: In reading some of Robert Herrick’s poetry last night, I discovered what looks to be the first emoticon! It appears at the end of the second line of “To Fortune,” which was published in Hesperides in 1648

Here’s a scan of the original printing:

Tofortune png CROP promovar mediumlarge

Only, no, probably not. As Ben Zimmer at Slate points out, punctuation inside parentheses was fairly common in the 17th century, and there are numerous examples of colons appearing just before a parenthetical close.

So, entertaining as it might be, it seems that Herrick didn’t use the first emoticon.

April 10, 2014, 3:34 am

I, the Gentry

Harvey Milk

A year ago, Rebecca Solnit wrote a “Diary” item for the London Review of Books titled “Google Invades”, complaining of the influx of moneyed Silicon Valley types, from Google, Apple, Facebook, Genentech, etc., into San Francisco. I sent in a short response, and the LRB published it (it’s appended to the piece online). Since then, the argument has grown livelier, and I’ve even heard from a couple of journalists. (See “The dawn of the ‘start-up douchebag’”, in the Independent. I’m not the douchebag — I almost wish I could boast I was.)  But I don’t think I’ve managed to get across what needs to change.

First, I should say that the problems Solnit and others are protesting are very real. Living is expensive, and getting worse. People without plush incomes have to weigh income against…

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April 7, 2014, 7:16 pm

Brain Rewires Itself, Panic at Eleven.

Neuroscientists are discovering that online reading rewires the brain in favor of high speed sorting and filtering, rather than deep concentrated reading:

To cognitive neuroscientists, [the rewiring] is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

This “eye byte culture” (awesome phrase, by the way) becomes, of course, a source of panic. English professors are consulted. The result?

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” [the scientist] said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of…

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April 7, 2014, 6:20 pm

This Blog Was In London, By The Way

And, at times, over London:

IMG 2800

Thus the radio silence. I’m back!

March 27, 2014, 11:18 am

The Ron Rand Paul Revolution Aims For 2016

Rand Paul, Lifting Off
Charles lindbergh flying his plane everett

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is putting together “a network in all 50 states” to jump-start his Presidential run in 2016. This is a warning shot across the bows of Republican rivals like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, but also taking a lesson from the Obama 2012 campaign, which built a large organization very earlier, especially in the swing states. Some of the paid Obama campaign staffers, in fact, never left Ohio after 2008, but stayed there for the next four years. That ground game is perceived to be one of the major reasons why Obama won re-election. Paul is trying to imitate that early start.

There may, however, be less here than meets the eye:

Rand Paul’s nationwide organization, which counts more than 200 people, includes new backers who have previously funded more traditional Republicans, along with longtime libertarian activists


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March 25, 2014, 6:20 pm

I Don’t Think You’re Clear On What “Ultimate Authority” Means

The National Football League is moving to a centralized replay system. That will enable referees at games to consult with the NFL’s Officiating Command Center in New York on controversial plays.

Asked Monday how the system would work if approved, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said, “It’s still a referee review; he has the ultimate authority. We’ll come to a consensus. We’re certainly not going to let him make a mistake, but the referee has the final authority on the call.”

So the referee has ultimate authority except if he’s going to make a mistake, and then he won’t.

March 24, 2014, 11:35 am

Pedal for the Living

(Guest Post! Ian Lekus is a lecturer in LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland and an LGBT Thematic Specialist for Amnesty International USA. He is writing Queer and Present Dangers: Sexuality, Masculinity, and the Sixties, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press. He’s here to tell us about a bike ride that for him brings together memory and hope, the past and the future, in equal amounts. Thanks, Ian.)

Pedaling 65 miles under cool blue skies, at the very beginning of a New England fall, I have plenty of time to ponder all the history that brought me back to Cape Cod for my second Harbor to the Bay AIDS Bike Ride. The September before, I had committed myself to my greatest physical challenge to date: biking from Sagamore to Provincetown in support of Community Research Initiative’s cutting-edge work to make HIV medications safer, less expensive, and more…

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March 18, 2014, 3:24 pm

The Transfer of Knowledge

Political campaigns are giant startups that flare into existence in campaign season, hire thousands and spend millions, and then mostly wink out of existence. Others have made this point. What’s interesting me at the moment is what happens to those campaign workers when the effort ends? A fair number stay in politics: move on to the next campaign, go to DC, or something similar. But a lot don’t, and it would be fascinating to trace their movement into the American economy. They have a lot of skills and experience, often at a very young age, and those skills are useful. In the same way that the veterans of World War II, often with great experience in logistics and supply movement, came back to the United States and filtered into an economy where those skills were prized, political campaign people may well be having knock-on economic effects. The people in the Obama campaign were…

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March 14, 2014, 1:55 pm

Founder of Blog Makes Good

Ari Kelman, who co-founded this here blog, manages to make good:

Columbia University announced today that two acclaimed works will be awarded the 2014 Bancroft Prize:

Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson (Liveright Publishing Corporation / W.W. Norton & Company, 2013) and A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek by Ari Kelman (Harvard University Press, 2013).

The Bancroft, for those non-historians in the crowd, is the leading award for historians [of the US, I should update to note], our rough equivalent of a Pulitzer. Nice work!

Ari can be found these days over here.

March 13, 2014, 1:05 pm


The cost of living is going up:

We are writing to provide you advance notice that the price of your [Amazon] Prime membership will be increasing. The annual rate will be $99 when your membership renews on July 14, 2014.

Even as fuel and transportation costs have increased, the price of Prime has remained the same for nine years. Since 2005, the number of items eligible for unlimited free Two-Day Shipping has grown from one million to over 20 million. We also added unlimited access to over 40,000 movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video and a selection of over 500,000 books to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Urk. Amazon Prime (free second day delivery) is, of course, a luxury, not a necessity, but it’s saved me more times than I can count around the holidays, birthdays, and when I’ve forgotten to order the class book ahead of time.

Historical connection:…

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March 12, 2014, 3:13 pm

Making Me Think Even More Highly of Steve Jobs

After Glenn Beck made racist comments on his Fox News show, Steve Jobs was not pleased:

When Apple founder Steve Jobs found out what Beck had said, he was furious. On a Saturday, Jobs, who hadn’t known Apple advertised on Fox, fired off an email to a West Coast executive of Omnicom, the giant ad agency that spent hundreds of millions a year on Apple’s behalf. Jobs’s message was simple: I want all Apple ads off all Fox News shows immediately. And no, it couldn’t wait until Monday. After much scrambling, an Omnicom executive and a technician from News Corp. had to drive to a News Corp. facility on Long Island that Sunday and remove the digital file containing the ads.[1]

Roger Ailes must have loved that.

Jonathan Alter’s The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, p. 66.