Archive for October, 2008

October 23rd 2008
Question of the day

Posted under American history & weirdness

Who, other than John McCain, still pronounces the word “Washington” as “Warshington?”  Where does this pronunciation come from?  My 97-year old grandfather who died in February pronounced it that way, but otherwise I hadn’t heard it for years until this general election campaign.

Has anyone else noticed this?  (Please note:  this is not an invitation to dump on McCain as old in the comments.  He can’t help that–he tried to become President in 2000 when he was eight years younger, and I defy any of you anti-McCain people this year to argue that he would have done as poorly or worse than George W. Bush.  I don’t have any brief with his age, just with his policies.)  I’m simply wondering if the “Warshington” pronunciation is due to a regional dialect, or generation, or perhaps something else.  Apparently, I’m not the first person to wonder about this–inquiring minds want to know, but the answers proposed at those sites devolve into political attacks.  The Linguist says it’s a midwestern thing–were McCain’s parents midwesterners?  (For the record, my grandfather was, but so am I originally and I’ve never said “Warshington.”)  From what I understand, McCain had the typical Navy brat upbringing all over the place, and only moved to Arizona as an adult.  A native Washingtonian says that it’s the local pronunciation by the hometown crowd.  He notes that McCain attended Episcopal High across the river from D.C. as a teenager, and says that “‘Warshington’ is merely the hometown version of ‘Noo Yawk’ or ‘Missourah.’”


October 22nd 2008
Who’s your daddy?

Posted under Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & women's history

The bitter, shrill, and probably very ugly feminist Neil H. Buchanan at Feminist Law Profs has some interesting data on sex discrimination among lawyers’ salaries, and his analysis also accounts for the parenthood status of the lawyers.  Long story short:  men with children make more money than everyone else, and women with children make less money than everyone else.  Child-free men still make more than child-free women:

My tentative results confirm the “daddy bonus” that others’ have found in other studies, with the range of estimates suggesting a 15-20% salary advantage for fathers. Unlike previous studies, however, I also find a strong suggestion that women with children endure a “mommy penalty,” earning perhaps 10-15% less than the childless (and thus 25-35% less than fathers). I also find some weaker statistical support for the hypothesis that childless women earn less than childless men, with my estimates suggesting an 8-9% difference disfavoring women.

Those of you who are social scientists may want to gaze in admiration at all of the wonky goodness in his study.  Me, I’m a bottom-line kind of gal, and that bottom line speaks volumes.  Buchanan proposes three possibilities for why men with children are rewarded so lavishly:

[T]hree possibilities: fathers feel the need to work harder to bring home more bread for the family, men wait to become fathers until their salaries are high enough to support a growing family, and (my cynical favorite) fathers shirk childcare responsibilities by hiding in the office and incidentally raising their salaries.

Maybe–but let’s focus on the disadvantages to women, who lose no matter what they choose to do with their uteri.  Clearly, women who don’t have children are punished at work, because what the hell are they doing in contract law when they should be home reproducing, and women with children are punished because what the hell are they doing in the D.A.’s office when they should be home with their children?  Conversely, men who reproduce are doing exactly what the cultural script of “compulsory heterosexuality” demands:  they’ve spawned, and they’re busy providing for their children with their hard work.  Men without children are a little more suspect, perhaps because of fear and ressentiment of the gays, but not nearly as suspect as women who expect to be paid for their work.  What’s wrong with these broads–don’t they know that their families and society at large are entitled to their uncompensated labor? 

That’s what makes the work go ’round, kiddies:  women’s volunteer or grossly undercompensated labor.  Seriously, Neil–thanks for the crunchy, data-filled goodness.  Next time, can you serve that up with a mason-jar sized Pisco Sour?


October 21st 2008
Exclusive report: Joe rocked the rally at Moo Moo U.

Posted under American history & local news & students

Historiann commenter ej attended the Democratic rally today at Moo Moo U., and sent in a special report:

So today I drove in to Potterville with my husband and 1-year-old daughter to hear Joe Biden speak at Moo Moo U.  Although doors opened at 10:30 (for an estimated 1 p.m. speech) we did not arrive on campus until about 12:15. In part because there was no way my squirmy little daughter could wait any longer than that, but mostly because I was unable to fathom more than a few hundred folks attending this event. In spite of the recent New York Times’ claim that Potterville is up for grabs, Republicans dominate Weld county! And I’ve always thought that even the student body leans firmly to the right. And honestly, it was just Joe Biden, not Barack Obama.  Much to my surprise, the line snaked all the way from Butler-Hancock Arena to the very end of the practice field! And people had been streaming into the building for over 90 minutes by that point.  The wait was long, but it did provide us with the opportunity to see the man himself arrive in his bus caravan shortly before 1:00. 

Once we passed through security, we found a packed arena, standing room only! After a brief intro by some local congressional rep whose name I did not hear, the Dem challenger for the 4thCD, Betsy Markey introduced Joe Biden. The crowd was extremely enthusiastic, in part because some of them had been waiting since 8am-including several of my students. Who knew? Biden seemed pretty energized, perhaps in part to make up for the controversy he’s caused over the last few days with his “attack” remarks, but he didn’t bring that up.  There weren’t any surprises in this speech, which seemed fairly familiar to me because of my obsessive CNN watching over the last few weeks, but was energizing nonetheless. He hit the standard themes of economy and failed Republican policies, and condemned McCain for his robocalls and gutter tactics (my words, not his), and really hit home the need to get out the vote (which probably means even more calls chez Historiann until everyone in the household votes!).  Ed. note:  how the hell will they know when I vote?  All of this nagging is making me less inclined to vote early, quite frankly.

The crowd was a mix of students and regular folk, who were all extremely excited. I think I and my companions were more moved by the sight of so many enthusiastic Democrats in Potterville than we were by Biden, and that’s not intended to be a critique of Biden! According to early estimates, nearly 4,000 people were there-boy was I off! But it really seems as if the Democrats have a shot here in Weld county.  As a friend remarked, “when you see so many boys in baggy jeans showing up for a Democratic rally, you know the tide is turning our way!” So all in all, a worthwhile trip that made me want to proceed immediately to a local polling center and cast my vote-which I couldn’t do because the baby fell asleep as soon as she got into the car! But it was nice to finally see some love from the Dems after having to put up with those incessant commercials. There’s got to be some benefit from living in a swing state!

Ed. note:  re:  those boys in baggy jeans.  Yes, indeed:  I remember not-so-fondly, ej, that when we marched in the Homecoming Parade with the Weld Dems in 2004, we were heckled by the fratboys on 10th Ave.  Thanks for the in-person reportage–maybe the tide is turning after all.


October 20th 2008
Hard times on the distaff side in kiddie lit?

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & childhood & class

Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Profs asks an interesting question:  “is there a gender angle to the ‘financial hard times’ narratives and books marketed specifically to girls?”  It was inspired by this article at Slate by Rebecca Perl, who waxed nostalgic about her 70s recession/stagflation childhood and the large number of children’s literature titles that seemed to be about hard times:

One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late ’70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison—a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I’m not so sure this was an accident.

Crawford notes that the big-screen adaptation of the American Girl franchise’s Depression-era kid, Kit Kittredge, was released this summer, and notes that the other books Perl mentions all feature girls as main characters.  Thus her question:  is this a coincidence, or is there a gendered angle to hard times in kid lit?

I’m about the same age as Perl, and I have no memory of Ramona’s dad being out of work.  But that’s not to say that I was clueless about class and economic deprivation–I tended to read lots of historical children’s books natch, not just the Little House books, but also those beautiful books by Lois Lenski, which (more often than not) featured girls who wore flour sack dresses and took their lunches to school in tin pails (like Strawberry Girl, if I recall correctly.)  I also really loved a biography of Jupiter, who was a boy enslaved on Thomas Jefferson’s father’s plantation and grew up with Jefferson.  (At least, that’s what I remember–I can’t seem to find this title anywhere.  It was probably published in the 1960s.  Maybe I dreamed it up?)  On the other hand, the modern stories written in the 1970s (Are You There, Judy Blume?  It’s Me, Historiann) were more about “social issues” of the day like divorce, menstruation (Are You There, God…?), voyeurism (Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), and scoliosis, of course.  Scoliosis was a big fear of ours in the late 70s, thanks to Deenie!

(Hey, fellow early American/borderlands warfare freaks–how did I miss this Lois Lenski title when I was a child, Indian Captive:  the Story of Mary Jemison?  I guess I’ll put that on my Christmas list this year!)

All of this is to say, yours is a great question, Bridget, but I’m clearly lost in a fog of nostalgia and can’t venture an answer.  Maybe some of our lurking lit profs, folklorists, historians, and other ex-girls and former boys can chime in with their reflections and best guesses.  What do you think?


October 19th 2008
Swing state election news and notes

Posted under American history & local news


Well, I have some good news and some, well, annoying news to report:

  • Signs of the times update:  The yard sign battle in my neighborhood, which was once so lopsided, is now being won decisively by Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates.  The week after I wrote my original post, all sorts of Dem yard signs blossomed.  So, it looks like the Republican signs were just out there earlier–they haven’t increased in numbers, and the Dem signs have overtaken them.  (Of course, this was true in 2004 too–my neighborhood is where you’d expect to find the Dem signs–but one can live in “hope,” can’t one?
  • The stalkerish Obama campaign:  I was at a little get-together this weekend with friends.  One of my friends, “Jenny,” a big Obama booster, volunteer, and donor from the beginning (she’s got a yard sign and two window signs, m’kay?), complained about the stalkerish phone calls she’s been getting from the Obama campaign.  I was very surprised to hear of her irritation–as I said, she’s been a huge supporter of the campaign.  After repeatedly informing the caller that she can’t give any more money (she’s been unemployed for more than a year), saying that she is of course voting for him, and asking them to take her off their call list, she keeps getting calls.  Jenny informed one of the callers at one point last week that this is the kind of thing that really irritates people, and that if she, a committed Obama supporter is irritated by the obsessive phone calling, that she’s pretty certain this will turn off voters who are on the fence.  She reported that the last call she got from the campaign–after several others she had after having asked to be taken off the call list–she just screamed “NO, NO, and NO!” and slammed the phone down.  The other adults at the table nodded in sympathy.  I’ve seen a little of this too.  (Is this among the joys of living in a swing state?)  Ever since the other adult in my household requested a mail-in ballot, the Obama campaign has been calling our house to nag hir about it.  Hey, Obama campaign:  you’ve already got the votes of the people you’re nagging, like a creepy ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who just won’t let up.  Do they need to write it in their own blood on $100 dollar bills?  Lay off, already, at least on reliable Dem voters who have never missed voting Democratic in any election.  You raised $150 million last month, and you’re ahead in the polls–knock off the Glengarry Glen Ross act with people who are already on your side.
  • Joe (the Senator, not the plumber) is coming to Potterville:  In fact, this afternoon’s call from the Obama campaign was to wonder if the other adult in my household would like to go see Joe Biden, who is apparently coming to Potterville on Tuesday.  We’re pretty jaded around here–we got a visit from a sitting president four years ago.  I wasn’t terribly excited about it, but the military helicopter flyover was pretty cool.  Tuesday Monday will be a big day here in Potterville, since that night we’re also hosting one of the debates between our candidates for the U.S. Senate, Bob Schaffer (R) and Mark Udall (D). 

UPDATE 10/20/08:  Unbelieveable!  Obama is seven points up in Colorado in the latest polls, and the Obama campaign just called to ask me for $100 tonight.  Sorry–when I have $150 million, check back with me then.  I’m giving to Betsy Markey, our local congressional candidate.  Remeber kids, if you’re thinking of donating to a political candidate:  no good deed goes unpunished!


October 18th 2008
Memento mori: why single-payer is the only way to go

Posted under local news & the body

There’s an interesting article in the Rocky Mountain News this morning about a family with two severely disabled teenage boys, Mark and Eric Stahlman.  They were born 3 months prematurely 16 years ago–something that could happen to any pregnant woman.  Their mother, Kelly Stahlman, calls her life since their birth a long and difficult lesson in “‘the business of disability,’ and it’s more than a full-time job.”

There are piles of paperwork: years of documentation of the more than 20 surgeries each of the boys has had to release rigid muscles and fuse bones, records of their condition, back-and-forths with insurers over who would pay what.

At one point, her husband Bruce’s company called to say that the family had already used $400,000 of their $500,000 lifetime benefit.

“What are you going to do next month?” they asked.

Mark and Eric were just a year old.

This family, which has two apparently well-educated middle-class parents in the home, managed to get their children on Medicaid, which pays for much of their care:

15 medications a day, nine different doctors for physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision problems and neurological and orthopedic issues. They both use wheelchairs and are fed through tubes. They require around- the-clock care. Their room is a mini-hospital, with special beds, breathing machines, oxygen tanks, a power lift to get them from bed to bath.

“I never dreamed I’d be a Medicaid mom,” Stahlman said.

No–no one does.  People go on Medicaid because they need to.  The Stahlman family’s middle-class status and their cultural capital undoubtedly help them work the system in ways that are likely impossible for people with less education, less time, and fewer skills.  That’s not to say it was easy for the Stahlmans–far, far from it.  That’s merely to highlight how difficult it must be to navigate these shoals without their advantages.  The Stahlmans have done a remarkable job with their boys, both of whom attend high school now, and who want to live productive lives as adults.  Kelly Stahlman’s experience with caring for her sons has effected a policial conversion:

She had always been a conservative Republican who thought of taxes as a four-letter word. That was before Mark and Eric, before the reality of caring for two children with severe disabilities hit home.

Now, she supports Amendment 51, which would increase a sales tax of a fraction of a percent to raise $186 million for services for the disabled. Colorado’s spending is one of the nation’s lowest, and more than 8,000 are on waiting lists for immediate services.

“It’s not a free ride,” Stahlman said. “Everybody that I know is doing good work and hard work and trying to take care of their own. But everybody sometimes needs a little bit of help.”

Health care in this country–where people (or their employers) are expected to purchase private health insurance from for-profit companies–is based on two flawed assumptions:  1) that health care is a private responsibility rather than a civil right, and 2) that human bodies are essentially healthy, and that disease and illness are exceptional rather than typical.  But, if health is not a right but rather a privilege for those who can pay for it, why do we have the FDA to ensure the purity of our drug and food supply, the EPA to protect our air and water, and consumer protection laws?  (Please note these three things are also things that right-wing Republicans have targeted for attack in the past twenty-eight years.)  We’re already “socializing” a lot of programs and agencies that work to protect public health–why draw artificial lines around health care for individuals?

This question brings us to objection #2:  many people are resistant to national health care plans because they believe that their money will go to pay for someone else’s sins against good health–sloth, gluttony, and smoking being the three unforgivable Deadly Sins according to even secular people in our society.  And, yeah, they’re right:  your money will pay to provide health care for some people who haven’t always made the “correct” decisions (according to you!) about how to treat their bodies.  Teetotaling Mormons and Muslims will pay for other people’s alcohol-induced diseases.  Non-smokers will pay for smokers’ diseases.  Thin people will pay for obesity-related conditions suffered by others.  Zero-population growth people will pay to subsidize other people’s prenatal care and childbirth expenses.  Democrats will have to pay for Republicans’ health problems, and vice-versa.  But, given the choice:  would you really trade places with a sick person in the name of getting what you paid for? 

And in any case, who among us is free of sins against the body?  Think about it:  you’ve also had more alcohol than you should have, you’ve also forgotten or refused to use a condom on occasion, and you also smoked in college.  Maybe you’re more than a little out of shape or overweight, or you tried illegal drugs once or twice…and the reason that you’re still healthy, and someone else is not, is because of dumb luck, not because of your superior judgment and virtue.  You also can’t take credit for having selected ancestors who don’t have histories of cancer or heart disease, nor can you take credit for the random good luck you and your family had if you were born with all of your chromosomes in the right places.

Even if you exercised superior judgment and flawless virtue in taking care of the healthy body you were lucky to be born with, there’s a little something down the road that you may be denying.  Everyone runs out of time.  Everyone’s body breaks down, decays, and doesn’t work the way it did sixty, or seventy, or eighty years ago.  Guess what?  If nothing else kills you sooner, nearly all men get prostate cancer at advanced ages, and nearly all women get breast cancer.  I guess we could blame you for being so fit, staying sober, and eating so well that you avoided death by surer, quicker ways like drunken car accidents or massive coronaries that we now have to look after your prostrate or breast cancer treatments in your 80s and 90s.  (See how that works?  It can always be your fault!  Always!) 

Memento mori, friends.  Death is democratic.  Work for single-payer health care.  (I’ll catch you later–I gotta get my morning run in!)


October 18th 2008
Do we need a knife or a scalpel for this cake?

Posted under Dolls & fluff & the body

Check out this cake celebrating a premature birth–it’s wrecktastic!  It’s technically perfect but actually awful.  (Click the link to get the closeup of the innocent-looking naked marzipan/fondant baby.)  This one goes out to friends and readers KN and KN, on the birth of CMN, who slid out just a few weeks early last weekend but by all accounts is home with hir parents and is doing very well.  Oh, and by all accounts, KN the mother still has her arms, legs, and head intact, so she’s doing better than the marzipan mommy on the cake.

Congratulations to the N family!


October 17th 2008
Autumn receipts: An umble pie, and some humble thoughts on food and technology

Posted under American history & book reviews & happy endings & the body & women's history

An Umble Pie, as found in Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772), 111-112:

Take the humbles of a buck, and boil them, and chop them as small as meat for minced pies, and put to them as much beef suet, eight apples, half a pound of sugar, a pound and a half of currants, a little salt, some mace, cloves, nutmeg, and a little pepper : then mix them together, and put it into a paste ; add half a pint of sack, the juice of one lemon and orange, close the pie, and when it is baked serve it up.

Keep this one in mind while you’re field-dressing your buck this year, boys and girls!  (This one’s for you, Erica:  I double-dog dare you to make this pie!)  Won’t that make for an unforgettable dish this year at the Thanksgiving table?  I admire the determination not to let a sacred scrap of protein go to waste.  Yea, verily:  we are a slothful and prodigiously wasteful generation!

I bring this to you not in mockery or with an attitude of mock-sophistication encouraging laughter at colonial palates, but rather in the sperrit of thanksgiving for modern kitchens with electricity-powered refrigerators and freezers, and petroleum-fueled trucks to bring us fresh fruits and vegetables from California and Florida all winter long.  These marvelous technologies are largely responsible for the fact that we no longer have to rely on salts, pickles, and prodigious amounts of sugar and fat to preserve fresh foods.  Here are a few “receipts” for you vegetarians and vegans that suggest the lengths to which eighteenth century women went to preserve fresh vegetables:

To Keep Green Peas Till Christmas, p. 152:

Take fine young peas, shell them, throw them into a cullender to drain, then lay a cloth four or five times double on a table, and spread them on ; dry them very well, and have your bottles ready, fill them and cover them with mutton suet fat ; when it is a little cool, fill the necks almost to the top, cork them, tie a bladder and a lath over them, and set them in a cool dry place.

This pea-preservation is akin to making potted meats (as the English say), or rillettes, rillons, and pâtés, which were invented to preserve meat without refrigeration, and all relied on a thick layer of goose (or other animal) fat to keep it well.  I guess all of that “mutton suet fat” on top doesn’t make these peas a vegetarian dish exactly, but the next one surely is, borrowing from salt fish preservation techniques:

To Keep French Beans all the Year, p. 152-53:

Take young beans, gathered on a dry day, have a large stone jar ready, lay a layer of salt at the bottom, and then a layer of beans, then salt and then beans, and so on till the jar is full ; cover them with salt, and tie a coarse cloth over them and a board on that, and then a weight to keep it close from all air ; set them in a dry cellar and when you use them, take some out and cover them close again ;  wash them you took out very clean, and let them lie in soft water twenty four hours, shifting the water often ;  when you boil them do not put any salt in the water.

I like that final reminder not to salt the beans further.  Both of these methods of extending one’s garden bounty into autumn and winter would seem to run the risk of being destroyed by mold, but then again blanching or cooking them like potted meats would make them more vulnerable to other kinds of rot.

Something I’ve observed over the years is that very few professional historians are historical reenactors too.  The Society for Creative Anachronism and Civil War battles are things we steer clear of, at least as participants, perhaps because we have no illusions about the glories of the past.  I appreciate the work that dedicated reenactors do, and I admire their interest in using their hobbies to educate other people about history, but it’s not how I want to spend my weekends and vacations.  Give me refrigeration, vaccination, sterile surgery, central heat, ice cubes, and all of the wonders of the modern world.  I like it here.  I’m not going back.


October 16th 2008
Deep in the Heart of Asshats

Posted under jobs & students & wankers


What are those unscrupulous fellas down at Baylor University up to this year?  (If you recall, Historiann had quite a few things to say about the Tenure Massacre there last year, the gendered dimentions thereof, and the resulting $hitcanning of former Baylor president John Lilley, despite his having tried to walk some of his bad decisions back.)  Well, they’re at it again, this time trying to fix their U.S. News and World Report rankings by paying admitted Freshmen to re-take their S.A.T.s so that Baylor could report higher average scoresOfficially, the university denies this, and says that the Mulligan tests are to make sure that students will be eligible for more financial aid. 

Yeah, right.  The people in charge at Baylor appear to be total dirtbags.  (And that’s more polite than the term I have in mind right now, actually.)  The Baylor adminstration’s bad faith was crystal-clear in its treatment of their faculty last year.  I get it that Baylor is ambitious–they want more productive and higher-profile faculty, and stronger students–but their attempts to up their game seem more like gaming the system.  Firing a bunch of faculty and paying students for better test scores are stupid and short-sighted cheats.  What a terrific example to set for their students:  win at any cost, dump on the faculty, and go for the bucks! 

Try to keep your stick on the ice, Baylor.  You’ve got a lot of things going for you–build on your strengths, set a decent example for your students, and don’t be dirtbags.  How hard can that be?

UPDATED BELOW:  Baylor is now abandoning its bucks-for-bonus points scam, reports Inside Higher Ed today:  “Lori Fogleman, a spokeswoman, said in an interview Thursday night that the university ‘goofed’ by offering the cash incentives. ‘We have heard the criticism,’ she said. ‘It just had the appearance of impropriety. It raised unnecessary questions.’”  Baylor has an interesting habit of walking these dumb decisions back pretty rapidly–how about just not making dumb decisions in the first place, gang?


October 15th 2008
Dear Applicant,

Posted under jobs & unhappy endings

It’s the name of the new blog by Bing McGhandi of Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes fame.  His regular feature last year of posting his rejection letters from English departments is so popular that he had to start a satellite blog.  Stop by, have a laugh, and forward him copies of the rejection letters you get this year, so that we can all snicker at your failings.  

Go ahead–we won’t tell.  Promise.

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