Taft is an interesting case–being fat certainly didn’t shorten his life (1857-1930) relative to those of his age peers. He lived to the ripe age of 72, when the average life expectancy for people born around 1860 was still in the low forties. (That’s a crude average that probably counts people who died in infancy and childhood, so it’s extraordinarily low. But still–his longevity was pretty impressive.) I’m sure his abstention from both drinking and smoking helps explain his lifespan. Here’s something equally impressive: he was not famous for telling people to “shut up” when they talk about issues that he himself has raised. How would that have sounded in a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? (Taft, like John Quincy Adams, went on to a post-presidential career that was more distinguished than his presidency.)
Archive for the 'European history' Category
I finally had an opportunity to see Game Change, HBO’s fictionalized account of the John McCain campaign for president in in 2008 and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was really good! Although I was certainly not a McCain/Palin voter, even I was drawn into the drama of the campaign as Palin was selected and tested in various venues. And although it was certainly very critical of Palin’s preparedness for the job of Vice President, it was also sympathetic to her in that she realizes that she’s out of her depth. It portrays her as a very good small-town or small-state politician who knows she’s no policy wonk but who recognizes very quickly that she’s nevertheless the star of the 2008 campaign.
The movie does a smart job of invoking the particularly eventful campaign year of 2008, leading the viewer to understand why Palin was ever considered in the first place, and why she emerged victorious over other potential running mates. (Hint: her extreme abortion politics, which are not shared by the vast majority of prominent Republican women pols, were decisive–at least according to the script, which was based on the book by the same name by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.)
Game Change called to mind Tina Brown’s portrayal of Diana in her recent biography, The Diana Chronicles, in which a political naif is selected to play a starring role on the national and global stage. Continue Reading »
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find the story about the discovery and identification of Richard III’s remains just about the coolest historical and biomedical discovery since Thomas Jefferson’s DNA was found in Hemings family descendants back in the last century. It’s a terrific example as to how the historical and archaeological records are still viable and valuable in investigations like this. I’m sure my students in Life and Death in Early America will want to talk about this when we meet for class this week!
Speaking of death and early America: The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture’s newsletter, Uncommon Sense, has published an online memorial to Alfred F. Young that includes links to reflections on his life and work from thirty different historians, including yours truly and several of this blog’s readers and commenters. Continue Reading »
NPR featured a story tonight about how poorly compensated home health care work is. Currently, they are not entitled either to the minimum wage nor to overtime pay. Most make between $8-10/hr., while the company that employs them pockets the $18/hr. payment from Medicare. Spokespersons for the home health-care industry were permitted to whinge and whine about the terrible hardship that a minimum wage and overtime requirements would put on their businesses.
The tone of the story tilted towards compassion for the workers and their clients, but they story’s historical perspective looked back only 40 years when I think a critical component of this story is the longue durée of this kind of low wage work, work that now (as in the past going back at least 500 years) is performed overwhelmingly by working-class women, and in the Americas for the most part, by black and brown-skinned working-class women.
Intimate body care has never been a well-compensated occupation. Continue Reading »
Some of you have probably heard of Geoffrey Nunberg’s Ascent of the A-word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years (2012) because of his platform as the resident linguist for NPR’s Fresh Air. A few weeks ago, we learned that Aaron James, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine, published a book in 2012 called Assholes: A Theory, and this article describing James’s book made me laugh out loud:
So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?
James was at the beach when he began mulling those questions. “I was watching one of the usual miscreants surf by on a wave and thought, Gosh, he’s an asshole.” Not an intellectual breakthrough, he concedes, but his reaction had what he calls “cognitive content.” In other words, his statement was more than a mere expression of feeling. He started sketching a theory of assholes, refining his thinking at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where he spent a year as a fellow in 2009.
Now here’s the part I really like as a historian. James pushes beyond the linguist’s focus on the word to explore the history and philosophy of the asshole avant la lettre:
He consulted Rousseau (who, James notes, was something of an asshole himself on account of his shabby parenting skills), Hobbes (especially his views on the “Foole” who breaks the social contract), Kant (his notion of self-conceit in particular), and more-recent scholarship on psychopaths. He spoke with psychologists, lawyers, and anthropologists, all of whom suggested asshole reading lists. “There are a lot of similar characters studied in other disciplines, like the free rider or the amoralist or the cheater,” James says, calling his time at Stanford an “interdisciplinary education in asshole theory.”
James argues for a three-part definition of assholes that boils down to this: Continue Reading »
Chauncey DeVega called me up a few weeks ago to talk about the Newtown murders, and in particular about the deep historical connection between white masculinity and firearms ownership. We also talked about why Americans can have very different perceptions of physical safety, their own rights, and American history itself. In any case, you can eavesdrop on our conversation: it’s available here at We Are Respectable Negroes and at the Daily Kos as well. You can also access the interview here directly and either listen to it or download the mp3. As you will hear, Chauncey is a very smart guy, and I struggled to keep up with him intellectually. I had a great time, and will eagerly listen to all of the interviews he’s podcasting on his blog.
In other news: Gerda Lerner, the pathbreaking women’s historian, died yesterday at age 92 (h/t to cgeye on the blog and Indyanna via a private e-mail for tipping me off.) I for one am glad that her connection to Communism is right there on page 1 of her New York Times obituary–Betty Friedan might be rolling over in her grave about the prominent discussion of the CP, but can’t we be okay already with the truth of the historical connections between Communism and other mid-twentieth century Progressive movements like Civil Rights and feminism? Continue Reading »
Merry Christmas to those of you who keep the feast; to those of you who don’t, enjoy the short lines at the movies today! Although I am by faith a profane scoffer, I enjoy a little choral music at Christmas time, old-school style. 1441 style, that is: it helps me get in the mood to cook a turkey and toast some walnuts. Here’s the King’s College choir singing The Holly and the Ivy. Continue Reading »
Here’s something amazing I learned from Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, by Alice Kaplan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). Apparently, even Susan Sontag struggled against an inner Disney Princess!
The X Factor
With two books in print, life went on–the more and more dazzling public life, the secret inner life. Life and work were tightly combined, yet under the pile of manuscripts, cultural outings, and intellectual connections was a constant buzz of worry, a struggle that preoccupied her throughout the winter months of 1960, in her daily existence with [her lover] Irene and her son David. She called it “X”–the overwhelming desire to please, to appease, to see oneself through other people’s reactions, to spare other people’s feelings, to care what they think. Women, she decided, were X; America itself, with its cult of popularity, was “a very Xy country.” “X is the scourge,” she wrote in February 1960: “How do I really cure myself of X?” She made lists of X situations, X feelings, X characteristics, and finally connected her personal problem to a concept in existential philosophy: “X is Sartre’s bad faith,” (125-26). Continue Reading »
From Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 41-42, a description of the some of the experiences of women in the Smith College junior year abroad program, ca. 1949-50:
At the Sorbonne itself, the experience of sitting in the “Grand amphi” set the tone. It was an auditorium complete with balconies and seats for a thousand students. The professor sat on a high stage, with statues and an enormous neoclassical mural as his backdrop. This was the ultimate theater of learning, grandiose and also slightly ridiculous, from the moment the professor walked onto his stage, accompanied by the traditional Sorbonne appariteur, a kind of classroom concierge in a dark suit, whose job was to announce the master and keep the blackboard wiped clean. Continue Reading »
Today’s example comes from Katherine Kersten, a fellow at something called the Center for the American Experiment in Crappy History. It’s a twist on the “Obama is not an American” theme so popular with anti-Obamaniacs these days. Big news, kids: President Barack Obama’s agenda is not rooted in Kenyan anti-colonialism. Instead, it’s rooted in Kaiserreich Germany! Behold:
Progressivism views the roles of citizen and state very differently than our founding fathers did. The founders anchored the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in three principles. They believed that human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inherent in nature and human dignity, and preexist the state. They believed that government should be limited, and that its primary purpose is to protect these rights. Finally, they crafted our Constitution to disperse power and curb its abuse through mechanisms such as checks and balances, and federalism.
As the 20th century opened, progressives like Woodrow Wilson — a former president of Princeton University — dismissed the Declaration and Constitution as outmoded. They insisted that America’s archaic political system was unsuited to solving the problems of a new industrial age. Ironically, however, they drew their own vision for perfecting democracy from a very undemocratic place: the imperial Germany of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnnn! Now, forget about some American intellectuals’ fascination with German education back in the 1870s for just a moment, a phenomenon to which Obama is only very, very distantly attached, to say the least. Did you see what she did with the so-called “Founding Fathers?” Continue Reading »