Jesus Mary and Joseph.
As I’m sure all of you know already, a nine-year old killed the man who was instructing her in the use of an Uzi submachine gun this week at a shooting gallery in Arizona. The juxtaposition of this story with a story from earlier this summer, in which a mother spent more than two weeks in jail for letting her 9-year old girl play in a park by herself while she did her shift at McDonald’s, says it all: “In America Today, a 9-Year Old Girl Can’t Play Alone in a Park But She Can Play With an Uzi.”
Andy Borowitz satirized the current conversation about parenting and guns yesterday in “Nation Debates Extremely Complex Issue of Children Firing Military Weapons,” but then I open the L.A. Times this morning to find exactly this kind of “experts say. . . “/”others argue that. . . ” debate as to the best way to teach children to use guns in the pages of one of America’s great newspapers. As though the use of semiautomatic weapons by children is a debatable issue! Where were the voices of public heath experts, family practice doctors, and pediatricians? Where were the voices of parents in Chicago, whose neighborhoods are routinely interrupted by gun violence and who fear for the safety of their children just walking to and from school? Continue reading
“The Taking of the City of Washington in America,” depicting the burning of the city on August 24, 1814
Joel Achenbach offers a lively narrative review of the War of 1812 and the invasion and burning of Washington, D.C. in the Washington Post today, the two-hundredth anniversary of the attack. He spends an unaccountable number of column inches on the Battle of Bladensburg (?), but has some funny and touching stories towards the end about President James and First Lady Dolly Madison wandering around separately in nearby Virginia and Maryland for the first few days after the invasion and destruction of the President’s House, hoping to find some sympathetic locals to take them in. Continue reading
Stop by and sit for a spell. Have a cup of coffee, too, while you’re at it! (It’s fresh, or at least it was this morning.) As you have probably guessed, I’ve crawled my way out of the wilderness and back to internet-connected civilization. Although the entrance to The Huntington Library and Gardens is torn up now because of a major construction project, everything indoors and out is pretty much its usual quiet and studied perfection. As commenter Susan noted in the comments on my last post, the Corpse Flower is about to bloom here, so we’re all on the edge of our seats. (Follow the progress on Twitter, #CorpseFlower).
I’ll surely be reporting more from my new sabbatical year location, but I’m actually getting lots of writing done this week (!) so I don’t want to let the blog suck too much of my mojo right now. I’m enjoying the offline company of my fellow nuns and monks here. It’s a refreshingly cloistered environment, in which people still cultivate the attention spans required for long study and deep reflection rather than the instincts of the blogosphere or Twitterverse.
The Huntington is also culturally and environmentally about 15,000 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri. Working and strolling through this privileged environment, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the incredible liberties I have even amidst the many botanical, art, manuscript, and bibliographic treasures. All it takes is a “reader’s card” on a lanyard around my neck, and I have nearly the run of the place. And who am I? I haven’t paid a dime for the pleasure–in fact, I’m a huge welfare queen! I’m getting paid to be here! What a tragically different experience Mike Brown had of his own neighborhood. Continue reading
This American Life featured a fascinating–as in, car-crashtastic–example of the war on expertise that I thought many of you academic readers might be interested in, if you haven’t heard it already. In a story called “Sucker Mc-squared” (Mc-squared as in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, not Mc- as in McDonald’s), Robert Andrew Powell tells the story of Bob the Electrician, and of Bob’s conviction that he alone had discovered a fatal flaw in Einstein’s theory. You can hear the entire story here–it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.
To summarize: Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong. Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons: there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians. In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have. But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.
Why does Bob believe that all of physics has it all wrong? Why is he argumentative and defensive when finally Powell convinces a real physicist (Brant Watson of the University of Miami School of Medicine) to explain to him why he’s all wet? Why does he admit that he doesn’t understand the advanced training in mathematics that physicists receive, and still believe he’s right? SPOILER ALERT!
From the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:
A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness. While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues. Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling. And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.
It’s true. I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history: Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’ Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.) CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT: I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor: Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution. That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense. Skemp continues: Continue reading
In case you’ve missed the Jill Lepore-Clayton Christiansen Harvard University faculty feud, here’s a brief recap:
John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article. (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.) Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me. He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there. However, he got stalled. Really stalled.
If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.
He went to work for In These Times until 1979. Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue reading