Monday, February 27, 2017

"That Shadow Has Mostly Subsided"

"These days, the black-and-white artifices of midcentury studio films often seem overly mannered to viewers who didn't grow up watching them on TV as Harry and Sally did. And while young men will always struggle to define masculinity in a way that feels authentic, the world in which they're struggling has changed dramatically. The bitter stoicism that made Bogey cool in the eyes of Allen Felix might look like emotionally stunted self-pity to Felix's son."

Laura Miller at Slate explores if Casablanca is losing its reputation as a beloved movie.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"I Keep Telling People I'm a Fashion Icon"

"He knows that you probably didn't know that he's an actual living person, or that if you had at one point heard that he was a tennis player, you most likely thought he was already dead. 'I'd love to sit here and say the success of the shoe has been totally because I'm such a great guy or I'm such a great player or whatever. But, you know …' So what is it like when a shoe named after a man is way more famous than the man born with the name himself? To have your name mean so much beyond who you actually are? When you Google Stan Smith, only one of the first 100 images are of the man."

Lauren Schwartzberg at New York talks with Stan Smith, of the eponymous tennis shoe.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"They're Telling the Truth about Words"

"Words belong to everyone. That was Noah Webster's premise, and now, in a world Webster couldn't have imagined, his successors are delivering that message in newly definitive ways. As the rest of us debate the existence of 'alternative facts,' they're keeping it simple:"

James Sullivan at The Boston Globe describes how the Merriam-Webster dictionary continues on in the twenty-first century.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Conflict and Consensus"

"Perhaps they're right to be cautious. In framing a narrative about a nation, there's always the danger of letting description shade into prescription—as Hartz saw when he wrote about the 'compulsive power' of consensus. Stories about the past are bound to leave things out, and any narrative will eventually come to grief as neglected groups disrupt settled assumptions to make themselves known. Yet we can acknowledge those dangers and still recognize that Woodward was also right. The task for the next generation of American historians will be to draw a new roadmap of our country’s history—simple but not simplistic, rigorous but not rigid, inclusive but not incoherent. As our most recent history has shown, we refuse this task at our peril: if Americans are not offered realistic stories about their country's past, they may well choose mythological ones."

Scott Spillman at The Point asserts that "historians no longer know how to tell a narrative history of the United States because they no longer know what to think about the United States."

"The Chain of Responsibility Is Too Long and Obscure to Have Any Bearing on the Average Voter"

"Here is the story. The House of Representatives has refused to investigate either one of the two massive ongoing legal and ethical violations involving the Trump administration: President Trump's opaque ties (financial and otherwise) to Russia, and his ongoing self-enrichment in office and violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
"If the House won't investigate, what happens next? Well, the next-best course of action would be some form of public debate on the matter. This is not nearly as good as a real investigation, since the absence of subpoena power means Republicans can simply deny Trump has done anything wrong while blocking any efforts to acquire the evidence that would prove the case. But at least it's something. That's why House Democrats introduced a 'resolution of inquiry' that would force House action on these issues.
Jonathan Chait at New York explains how Donald Trump gets away with it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Obama's Lost Army"

"As we now know, that grand vision for a postcampaign movement never came to fruition. Instead of mobilizing his unprecedented grassroots machine to pressure obstructionist lawmakers, support state and local candidates who shared his vision, and counter the Tea Party, Obama mothballed his campaign operation, bottling it up inside the Democratic National Committee. It was the seminal mistake of his presidency—one that set the tone for the next eight years of dashed hopes, and helped pave the way for Donald Trump to harness the pent-up demand for change Obama had unleashed."

Micah L. Sifry at The New Republic calls "the failure to keep the grassroots movement going" Barack Obama's "original, and most costly, political mistake."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"It Illuminates the History of Not Only the School, but of New York, Too"

"After the revolution, King's College changed its name to Columbia. Then slavery was abolished gradually in New York. Little by little Columbia's direct connection fades away. But New York City in the 1830s and '40s is still very tied into the cotton trade. We don't like to think about this as New Yorkers, we like to think of it as a bastion of liberalism. But New York was a pro-slavery city. The economy was very connected to the South and to slavery."

Gillian B. White at The Atlantic interviews Eric Foner about Columbia University and Slavery, a historical research project.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"An Angry Screed of a Campaign Speech"

"I've been watching and listening to inaugural addresses since John F. Kennedy's, in 1960. I've never heard anything like this one in terms of its divisive content and complete lack of uplift. Even its call for the blessings of the Almighty was to a nationalist God Trump seemed to be charging with protecting the country—if and only if our military and police forces failed. And absent any admission of his own fallibility, his appeal to unity sounded more like a threat of repression than a call for mutual understanding and bipartisanship."

Ed Kilgore at New York reacts to Donald Trump's inaugural address.

"'I Promise To Work Tirelessly To Achieve My Campaign’s Goals,' Threatens Trump In Terrifying Address"

From The Onion.

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate credits Mitch McConnell for the rise of Trump.

And Jonathan Chait at New York reacts to the anti-Trump marches the day after the inauguration.

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Looking at Historical Experience, There Is No Obvious Relationship between the Minimum Wage and Unemployment"

"This conviction that the minimum wage hurts the poor is an example of economism in action. Economists have many different opinions on the subject, based on different theories and research studies, but when it comes to public debate, one particular result of one particular model is presented as an unassailable economic theorem. (Politicians advocating for a higher minimum wage, by contrast, tend to avoid economic models altogether, instead arguing in terms of fairness or helping the poor.) This happens partly because the competitive market model taught in introductory economics classes is simple, clear, and memorable. But it also happens because there is a large interest group that wants to keep the minimum wage low: businesses that rely heavily on cheap labor."

James Kwak at The Atlantic argues that "introductory economics can be more misleading than it is helpful."

"The Source of the Triple-A Attack Line"

"The smear is being mentioned in some of McGovern's obituaries, but most of these leave out the phrase's weird provenance, which remained a secret until 2007. In that year, Robert Novak revealed its source (in his memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington) to be none other than Sen. Tom Eagleton."

In a 2012 New Republic article, Timothy Noah explains how George McGovern "became the candidate of Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion."

California Dreamer

"Starr captured the state's rise in influence, and its singular hold on the public imagination, in 'Americans and the California Dream,' a sweeping book series that moves from the Gold Rush into the Progressive Era, the 1920s, the Great Depression and other distinct chapters of California’s past.
"Throughout his work, Starr celebrated the state's creativity and its openness to new ideas. And he demonstrated a familiarity with a vast range of topics central to the state's development and its image of itself: architecture, agriculture, literature, water infrastructure and the entertainment industry, among others."

David Zahniser and Matt Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times writes an obituary for historian Kevin Starr.

And Carolyn Kellogg, Peter H. King, Shelby Grad, and William Deverell provide appreciations.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"They Spring from Four Strategies of Approaching the Problem of Authenticity"

"First, autofiction: narratives that appear to do away with much of fiction's familiar scaffolding — plots, scene-setting, the development of characters other than the hero; that eschew familiar modes of storytelling in favor of the diary entry, the transcript, or the essayistic digression; and that collapse the distance between the hero-narrator and the authorial persona by investigating that dual figure's claims to authenticity. Second, fables of meritocracy, often satiric: social novels and comedies of manners in which higher education and its professional aftermath are both crucibles that allow characters to reveal their authentic selves and alienating systems that strip them of their native identities. Third, many historical novels have been set in the near past, locating in recent decades the romantic grit and violence their nostalgic authors find lacking in the sterile present. And, fourth, a set of narratives have placed the experience of trauma—rape, pedophilia, homophobic abuse, incarceration, the horrors of war—at their center, where it assumes an animating role: Suffering bestows meaning on an otherwise comfortable world."

Christian Lorentzen in New York explores "the Novel in the Age of Obama."

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Now We Know Nixon Lied"

"But Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson's actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.
"'! Keep Anna Chennault working on' South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon's orders. 'Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.'"

John A. Farrell in The New York Times discusses notes written by H. R. Haldeman about Vietnam in 1968 that establish that Richard "Nixon directed his campaign's efforts to scuttle the peace talks."

"Making the Great Man Theory of History Great Again"

"As a professional historian, this sort of analysis is entirely contrary to the way I was trained, which was to see social change developing across broad swaths of society, not emanating from particular individuals. Moreover, I was partly trained in France, under the aegis of the so-called Annales school, whose vision of history could not be more different from the heroic one. Fernand Braudel, one of the leaders of the school, taught his followers to pay attention to the deep, slow, geological, and climactic forces that, in determining the shape of the continents and patterns of global warming and cooling, ultimately shape human societies as well. After that, Braudel directed us to study centuries-long patterns of economic and social change. He compared all these subjects to the deep currents moving through oceans. Mere 'event history,' by contrast, including decisions taken by powerful individuals, he likened to the insignificant foam tossed up on the ocean's surface. Much of the history influenced by Braudel barely even mentioned particular individuals, let alone attributed a decisive influence to them. In short, my instinct was long to treat the 'heroic mode' as simplistic and misleading."

David A. Bell in Foreign Policy says that Donald Trump's "unpredictable rise is forcing historians and social scientists to rethink their most basic assumptions about how the world works."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Tonight It's My Turn to Say Thanks"

"My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  I won't stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain.  For now, whether you're young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president–the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.
"I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change–but in yours."

The Los Angeles Times runs a transcript of President Obama's farewell address.

Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR provides statistics from 2009 to 2017.

And The Onion "looks back at the historic legacy of Barack Obama, a post-racial president for a pre-post-racial America."

Monday, January 09, 2017

"The Great Irony of the Moment"

"Obama rejected Wright's vision with a speech that saved his campaign and made him president. Given our present circumstances, it's clear he could have used a little of Wright's insight. Obama saw his candidacy and ultimately his presidency as part of the story of American progress. But governments change, the pastor said. Things can and will get worse, our ever-perfecting union be damned."

Jamelle Bouie in Slate argues that "The optimism that helped Obama reach this office—the same faith in our ever-perfecting union—is wholly inadequate in the face of the revanchist rage that gave us President Trump."

But Jonathan Chait at New York contends that "the specific changes Obama wrought may prove far more durable than either his gloating enemies or his despairing supporters believe."

Friday, January 06, 2017

"An Artistic Activist"

"Though he was a critic, and a great one, Gleason didn't review art or life from the sidelines; he wrote from inside the moral, political, and artistic crises of the times, and he perceived them clearly and understood them passionately. His standard of critical practice and his model of critical responsibility are awe-inspiring."

Richard Brody in The New Yorker reviews Ralph J. Gleason's Music in the Air.

"But Also About the Things and Attitudes That the Music Embraces"

"One of the first assignments he gave Lydon–which wound up becoming the main story on page one–concerned money missing from the Monterey Pop Festival. 'Jann didn't want a fanzine," says Lydon. "He wanted investigative reportage.' Many articles–including pieces on David Crosby getting fired from the Byrds and the Dead's big drug bust–didn't have bylines. 'We didn't put our names on everything,' says Lydon, 'because that would have showed how few people were working for the paper.'"

For the fiftieth anniversary of Rolling StoneAndy Greene writes about the magazine's birth in San Francisco.