Category Archives: history

Patience and maturity

Wimpie de Klerk — older brother of F.W. de Klerk, who would later become the last apartheid ZA prime minister — was by the standards of mainstream Afrikaner politics a racial liberal.  Here’s how that sounds in December 1981:

Experience throughout the world shows that black groups have a thin skin in their attitude to whites, and the reverse is apparently often the case.  We simply have to accept this element of mutual hatred…

We, the whites, will have to take a lead, and forget about demanding an eye for an eye on the score of hatred.  We must exercise patience and maturity.

“Apparently” is my favorite part.

By the late 1980s, by the way, de Klerk, against his brother’s wishes, was participating in secret meetings with the ANC.

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A free writing tip, or: the extraordinary m*****f*****s who founded this country

It gets under my shirt when writers use “individuals” as a synonym for “people.”  It sounds bureaucratic, like a police report:  “Several individuals were observed entering the vehicle in the vicinity of the establishment…”

But people do this all the time, especially when they’re trying to sound a little formal.  I have a writing tip:  every sentence in which “individual” is used in this way is improved by replacing the word “individual” with “motherfucker.”

For example, the New York Times business bestseller list describes the book Succeed On Your Own Terms as an account of “The defining qualities shared by highly accomplished individuals.”

Now try:

“The defining qualities shared by highly accomplished motherfuckers.”

Doesn’t that sound like a better book?

Or consider the remarks by Republican National Committee chief of staff Katy Walsh, about the Koch brothers:

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”

Strong words, but

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed motherfuckers who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,”

would have been stronger.

A great source of “individuals” is the amazing database of Presidential speeches and proclamations at UCSB.  Here’s Ronald Reagan, on October 24, 1986:

And when it happens and we’re able, for the first time, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons threatening mankind, it will be a result of the realism and commitment of solid motherfuckers like Don Nickles, motherfuckers who understand that peace through strength is not just a slogan, it’s a fact of life.

That’s what Reagan should have said, at any rate.

Bill Clinton on Flag Day 1997:

Adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes became the official flag of the young United States and a compelling symbol of our new independence. Woven into its folds were the hopes, dreams, and determination of the extraordinary motherfuckers who founded this country.

And Barack Obama, proclaiming National Maritime Day this May:

Our Nation is forever indebted to the brave privateers who helped secure our independence, fearlessly supplying our Revolutionary forces with muskets and ammunition. Throughout history, their legacy has been carried forward by courageous seafarers who have faithfully served our Nation as part of the United States Merchant Marine—bold motherfuckers who emerged triumphant in the face of attacks from the British fleet in the War of 1812, and who empowered the Allied forces as they navigated perilous waters during World War II.

But perhaps nobody did it better than John Quincy Adams, in his inaugural address of 1825, pleading for Americans to put aside their political differences and work together:

There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the motherfuckers throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which in times of contention for principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.

John Quincy Adams was one bipartisan motherfucker.

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Why does Indianapolis like the Cubs?

When two baseball teams share a city, one of them dominates the geographic region with the city as its center.  Greater New York, upper Jersey, lower CT like the Yankees, not the Mets.  Northern California likes the Giants, not the A’s.  In SoCal you won’t find many Angels fans outside Orange County itself.  And the whole mid-northern Midwest, from Iowa across to central Indiana, roots for the Cubs, not the White Sox, whose fanbase consists of southern Chicago and a few adjacent suburbs.

(Go here for an amazing, data-rich, zoomable interactive of this NYT UpShot map, but be prepared to be depressed about how many Yankee fans there are freaking everywhere.)

Why?  For NYC, LA, SF it’s pretty clear; one team is older and has a historic base that the other lacks.  But for Chicago it’s less clear.

One friend suggested that Iowa has a, um, relevant ethnic similarity with the part of Chicago containing Wrigley Field.  But Chicagoan tell me that the ethnic identification of White Sox fandom is historically Irish, not African-American.

My best guess is that it’s WGN, a mainstay of basic cable for decades which may have spread Cubs fandom across the nation the way TBS did for the Braves.  But then one asks:  in 1950, before TV, was there more parity between Cubs and White Sox fans?  Who did people in Des Moines and Indianapolis (and for that matter Milwaukee and Minneapolis) mostly cheer for back then?

And what about New York, back when there were three native teams of about the same age?  Did fans in Poughkeepsie and Rahway split evenly between Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants?  What about the Phillies and the original A’s?

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It will not be an easy or a simple task

From “Automation and Unemployment:  A Management Viewpoint,” by Malcolm L. Denise, vice president for labor relations, Ford Motor Company, 1962:

As a result of these developments, together with a vast growth in capital investment, we have managed to increase our productivity, as measured by output per man-hour, at an average rate of about 2.2 percent per year in the total private economy.  To permit a similar rate of productivity increase over the next fifty or sixty years, we must have new developments as dramatic, as far-reaching, as inconceivable as the developments of the past 60 years would have seemed in 1900.  Work will not soon be obsolete because we have learned how to build computers and employ electronic controls.  Indeed, it will not be an easy or a simple task even to maintain the past rate of productive increase from our present high base.


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The dime of America

I take it as a near-certainty that, assuming we’re still using physical currency throughout my life, some denomination of that currency will eventually feature Ronald Reagan.  But where will he go?  You can’t really evict Jefferson or Washington or Lincoln.  Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson seem more vulnerable, but somehow it’s the coins that really read as “inner-circle President” — would Reagan’s boosters really settle for grubby green pieces of linen, that get filthy and torn?

But here’s what would work.  Put Reagan on the dime.  Instead of Roosevelt?  No — in addition to Roosevelt.  Nobody cares about the shrubbery on the back of the dime.  Roosevelt on the obverse, Reagan on the reverse.  The two radical revisions of the American idea that shaped the 20th century, separated only by a thin disc of copper.  A government big enough to crush Hitler versus a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.  Now that’s a coin.  Flipping that coin has stakes.

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Erotische Flugblaetter

I was working in Memorial Library yesterday. Whenever I’m over there, I like to pull a book off the shelf and look at it.  (E.G.) I feel I have some kind of duty to the books — there are so many which will never be taken off the shelf again!

Anyway, there has never been an easier choice than Flugblatt-Propaganda Im 2.Weltkrieg:  Erotische Flugblätter.  How was I not supposed to look at that!  And I was richly rewarded.  The Nazi propagandists knew their business; the leaflets are written in perfect colloquial English, assuring American troops that the US government is purposely prolonging the war to keep unemployment low at home, that their kids and wives are pleading for them to come home alive by any means necessary (especially:  surrendering and riding out the rest of the war in a comfy German POW camp, with movies, sports, and the same food the German soldiers get) and, most of all, that their girlfriends back home, tired of waiting, are taking up with draft-dodgers and war-profiteers (especially the ruthless “Sam Levy.”)  UK troops got their own version:  their girlfriends weren’t making time with shifty Jews, but with US soldiers, who were “training” in England while the British men died at the front.

Some highlights:

photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

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I looked at him good

From a US Senate investigation, Reports of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, concerning the Fort Pillow Massacre, which I had never heard of until today.

Question. Did you see any buildings burned?

Answer. I staid in the woods all day Wednesday. I was there Thursday and looked at the buildings. I saw a great deal left that they did not have a chance to burn up. I saw a white man burned up who was nailed up against the house.

Question. A private or an officer?

Answer. An officer; I think it was a lieutenant in the Tennessee cavalry.

Question. How was he nailed?

Answer. Through his hands and feet right against the house.

Question. Was his body burned?

Answer. Yes, sir; burned all over—I looked at him good.

And this:

Question. We have heard rumors that some of these persons were buried alive; did you hear anything about that?

Answer. I have two in the hospital here who were buried alive.

Question. Both colored men?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How did they escape?

Answer. One of them I have not conversed with personally, the other I have. He was thrown into a pit, as he states, with a great many others, white and black, several of whom were alive; they were all buried up together. He lay on the outer edge, but his head was nearer the surface; he had one well hand, and with that hand he was able to work a place through which he could breathe, and in that way he got his head out; he lay there for some twenty-four hours, and was finally taken out by somebody. The others, next to him, were buried so deep that they could not get out, and died.


Francis Galton could be kind of a jerk

As here (from Hereditary Genius, p. 21)

Every tutor knows how difficult it is to drive abstract conceptions, even of the simplest kind, into the brains of most people—how feeble and hesitating is their mental grasp—how easily their brains are mazed—how incapable they are of precision and soundness of knowledge. It often occurs to persons familiar with some scientific subject to hear men and women of mediocre gifts relate to one another what they have picked up about it from some lecture—say at the Royal Institution, where they have sat for an hour listening with delighted attention to an admirably lucid account, illustrated by experiments of the most perfect and beautiful character, in all of which they expressed themselves intensely gratified and highly instructed. It is positively painful to hear what they say. Their recollections seem to be a mere chaos of mist and misapprehension, to which some sort of shape and organization has been given by the action of their own pure fancy, altogether alien to what the lecturer intended to convey. The average mental grasp even of what is called a well-educated audience, will be found to be ludicrously small when rigorously tested.


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Plagiarism, patchwriting, Perlstein

Some people are complaining about Rick Perlstein’s new book, claiming that some passages are plagiarized.  Most of my friends think this is nonsense.

Here’s a passage from Craig Shirley’s Reagan’s Revolution:

Even its ‘red light’ district was festooned with red, white, and blue bunting, as dancing elephants were placed in the windows of several smut peddlers.

And from Perlstein:

The city’s anemic red-light district was festooned with red, white and blue bunting; several of the smut peddlers featured dancers in elephant costume in their windows.


Whenever he flew, Reagan would sit in the first row so he could talk to people as they boarded the plane.  On one occasion, a woman spotted him, embranced him, and said, “Oh Governor, you’ve just got to run for President!”  As they settled into their seats, Reagan turned to Deaver and said, “Well, I guess I’d better do it.”


When Ronald Reagan flew on commercial flights he always sat in the front row.  That way, he could greet passengers as they boarded.  One day he was flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  A woman threw her arms around him and said “Oh, Governor, you’ve got to run for president!” “Well,” he said, turning to Michael Deaver, dead serious, “I guess I’d better do it.”

The second passage is cited to Shirley, the first isn’t.  But I don’t think it matters!  You shouldn’t paraphrase someone else’s book sentence by sentence, even if you cite them.  If you’re going to say exactly what they said, you should quote them.

Is this plagiarism?  It is, at the very least, patchwriting:  “restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source.”  Mark Liberman at LanguageLog has a long, magisterial post about patchwriting in Perlstein’s book, pointing out some places where Shirley himself patchwrites from the New York Times.

I once came across a magazine article whose lede was patchwritten from an article of my own.  I talked to a few trusted friends about how to handle it.  Uniformly, they said:  it’s not nice, but it’s not plagiarism, and you shouldn’t accuse the other author of stealing your stuff.  In the end, I alerted the other author to the issue without accusing her, and she apologized, saying she’d done it in a hurry and didn’t realize it was so close.  Which is probably true.

So I guess it’s not plagiarism and Shirley is not going to win his $25 million lawsuit against Perlstein.  But I don’t really like it and I think when we do journalism we should strive to write our own stuff.

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Conservative commentators on education are mad about the new AP US History standards.

The group’s president, Peter Wood, called the framework politically biased. One of his many complaints is about immigration: “Where APUSH sees ‘new migrants’ supplying ‘the economy with an important labor force,’ others with equal justification see the rapid growth of a population that displaces native-born workers from low-wage jobs and who are also heavily dependent on public services and transfer payments.”

Here’s the full text of the relevant bullet point in the standards.

The new migrants affected U.S. culture in many ways and supplied the economy with an important labor force, but they also became the focus of intense political, economic, and cultural debates.

You can decide for yourself whether the standard sweeps under the rug the fact that many people wish there were fewer immigrants.  But shouldn’t Newsweek print the whole sentence, instead of letting its readers rely on selective quotes?  Why do I have to look this stuff up myself?


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