Swing state election news and notes


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!

Memento mori: why single-payer is the only way to go

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!)

Do we need a knife or a scalpel for this cake?

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!

Autumn receipts: An umble pie, and some humble thoughts on food and technology

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.

Deep in the Heart of Asshats


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?

Busted Barry begs to interview somewhere else


We get letters about all kinds of strange and remarkable providences here at Historiann HQ:  guarantees for the biggest “male package” are popular, as are letters from a Nigerian prince in exile with eccentric syntax who brings the wonderful news that we can share in his inheritance if only…well, you get the picture.

Today’s letter comes from Barry in Bakersfield, who’s teaching in a thankless term position that pays a part-time salary for a full-time (4-4) load.  He writes,

Please ask your readers what they think about my choice to wrap up my job letter with the following: “At present, I do not plan to attend the AHA convention; to be frank, I do not believe I can afford to do so on my current salary.” I follow it up with a suggestion for an alternative interview possibility, then a normal “closing” section. Am I shooting myself in the foot?  Do you think phone interviews are an advantage or a disadvantage?

As you historians know, the American Historical Association’s annual conference this year is in New York–a cross-country trip for Barry.  That’s quite a trip, with jet fuel going for what it does these days.  There are other reasons why some of you might want to avoid the whole convention interview scene–perhaps you’re only applying to a select few jobs, or perhaps you’re applying to an institution that’s local, so it seems wasteful of time, money, and petroleum to fly to another city for a 30-minute interview.  (Well, quite frankly, it is wasteful.  Convention interviews make sense only if you’ve got several lined up.)

My instinct is for Barry say nothing in his letter unless and until he hears from the search committee that they want to meet with him.  Up to that point, when you’re just a CV and a letter of application, the only thing you want to stand out in people’s minds is your awesome qualifications, extensive and impressive publications, and your deep and meaningful commitment to teaching–not your assessment of your personal bank balance.  Search committee members may be inclined to think, “well pal, everybody else is doin’ it, including unemployed ABDs, so cry me a river.”

If you hear from the search committee, you might propose a phone interview or local interview then, but I’ve never seen someone for whom we did phone interviews make it onto our list of finalists.  (I know of one instance when a locally-arranged screening interview yielded an invitation for an all-day on-campus interview, but in the end, no job offer.  Sample size N=1 here, so I don’t think we can draw any conclusions yet.)  My guess is that it’s better to advance through the interview process along with all of the other candidates.  If they’re setting this job up to have screening interviews at the AHA convention, then that’s their vision for how the process will work.  If that’s impossible, and you get the sense that the search committee is interested in you and willing to accomodate you, then an in-person interview would be better than a phone interview. 

Et vous, cher Readers?  Barry’s application is due any time now!  Most of you urged caution for Tenured Tammy last month, and talked me out of my advice to Tammy urging total honesty.  What do you think Barry should do?

UPDATE, 10/17/08:  Barry wrote me this morning to say the following:  “I was totally persuaded that I shouldn’t mention either my finances or my plans not to attend the convention.  I just wrapped up by saying ‘I hope to hear from you as you work your way through the search process.’  Totally bland and non-commital–let them be interested in me before even worrying about the next step of the process.”  Well done, readers!  Thanks for steering Barry to a happy resolution of his question.