I've been digging Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy via Audiobook. In my present realm of study, there's just entirely too much to read. (Next up a book about fashion among slaves. No, seriously.) It sucks that it's so hard to find more obscure books in the audio version, and it sucks more that many of the voice actors are so bad.
That aside, Foote's book is pretty awesome. It's been whispered that he was filled with Southern bias, but I wonder if that has more to do with how he showed up in the film than with what he's actually written.McPherson's book is obviously awesome, but I think the first 200-300 pages--where he demolishes the notion that slavery wasn't the cause of the War--are its strength. (This, of course, like saying "speed" was Barry Sanders' strength.)
Foote isn't much interested in the causes of the War, as much as the personalities. The temptation is to charge him with ducking the issue. But I think in his focus on the people, you learn a lot about the causes. Here's a quote Foote digs up from the diary of a Confederate Louisiana woman (Julia Le Grand) after New Orleans falls to the Union:
This is a most cowardly struggle. these people can do nothing without gunboats. These passive instruments do their fighting for them. Beauregard in Tennessee can get no battle from them where they are protected by these huge block steamers. It is a best a dastardly way to fight. We should have had gunboats if the government had been efficient, wise or earnest. (Emphasis mine.)
The upshot seems to be that means employed by the North win are cowardice, while those same means in the hands of the South are efficiency and wisdom. This reasoning can be extended to hilarious ends--until armies are dismissed as cowards for using canons (These people can do nothing without artillery) charging with horses (These people can do nothing without hiding behind calvary) to firing an Enfield (These people can do nothing without their Springfields. Real men give the bayonet.)
It really is the same logic you see out on the street, ("You only kicked my ass, because I let you swing first.) or in sports ("The Saints only won, because of that lucky onside kick.") The logic proceeds from a deeply held notion, that at the core, somewhere in the bones, the speaker is essentially of better stock. You see this all through Southern propaganda in the Civil War--sometimes they literally speak of a "Southern race." The idea is that there is something about the Southerner, something intrinsic, that makes him a better fighter. Here's Sam Houston addressing that notion, while trying to stop Texas from seceding:
Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming....Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet....You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence...but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction...they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.
This, of course, is the 19th century, and theories about race are wild. Modern racism styles black people as physical superior, and mentally inferior. But in the 19th century, white supremacy styled whites (and in the South, Southern whites specifically) as physically and mentally superior. No one claimed to fear meeting a black man in a dark alley--the logic held that he would run and cower before the white man, his superior in all things.
Knowing that, I think, gives us some perspective on the Lost Cause. Think of it: The South didn't have the North's great industrial power or cultural sway. But what they had was a military tradition. Southerners were fighters. They could say to the North, "You may have poetry and machines, but we both know I can kick your ass." I don't want to overstate this, but I suspect going into the war, no small part of Southern secessionist ideology was built on the ability to kick ass, and that ability being decisive.
But it wasn't. Moreover, it was the secessionist who took the ass-kicking, at the hands of a bunch of effete Northerners and cowardly runaway slaves. It was as if the AV club and the weed-heads got together and beat down the football team--in front of the cheerleaders. Or it's Tyson after Douglass. Indeed since the Confederates galloped out of Richmond, some portion of this country has always been Tyson dazed on the mat, groping for the mouth-piece.
There's a way of looking at the ugliness after Reconstruction--the rise of the Lost Cause, the Klan, the lynchings--as a tragic search for Southern white male identity. First the old slave patrols go. Then the Confederate Army is subdued and humiliated. Then blacks began to dominate "manly" athletic pursuits. Then Martin Luther King exposes the immorality of the Southern system. Reeling from each successive volley, the Southern racist--and really any white racist--is left with a question: If the Southern white man is proven inferior physically, mentally, and even morally, than what is he?
It is from this question that you get protests of "losing everything," or "illegals taking over everything," or "jihad in the White House." It's about identity, and the Confederate South not as geography but as an idea. I'd argue that--from the Confederate battle flag, to all-white country clubs, to the Muslim\terrorist Obama-- the search for identity continues to this day. The Civil War commenced an assault on an notion that was, by the War's onset, some 200 years in the making. My sense is that the unholy idea may require some 200 years of unmaking.
Let's talk in 2065. One way or another, I'll be around.
For those who didn't go to prestigious schools, don't come from money, and aren't interested in sports and booze—it's near impossible to gain access to the best paying jobs.
As income inequality in the U.S. strikes historic highs, many people are starting to feel that the American dream is either dead or out of reach. Only 64 percent of Americans still believe that it’s possible to go from rags to riches, and, in another poll, 63 percent said they did not believe their children would be better off than they were. These days, the idea that anyone who works hard can become wealthy is at best a tough sell.
What it’s like to watch a komodo dragon get dissected
Try to imagine how hard it would be to skin a Komodo dragon.
It is harder than that.
The problem is that the giant lizard’s hide is not just tough and leathery, but also reinforced. Many of the scales contain a small nugget of bone, called an osteoderm, which together form a kind of pointillist body armor. Sawing through these is tough on both arms and blades.
I’m at the Royal Veterinary College, about 20 kilometers outside of central London, watching four biologists put their shoulders into the task. A Komodo dragon, which recently died in London Zoo for unexplained reasons, lies on a steel gurney in front of them. Their task, over the next three days, is to dissect it and measure all of its muscles. So, first, the skin must come off.
There are two types of people in the world: those with hundreds of unread messages, and those who can’t relax until their inboxes are cleared out.
For some, it’s a spider. For others, it’s an unexpected run-in with an ex. But for me, discomfort is a dot with a number in it: 1,328 unread-message notifications? I just can’t fathom how anyone lives like that.
How is it that some people remain calm as unread messages trickle into their inboxes and then roost there unattended, while others can’t sit still knowing that there are bolded-black emails and red-dotted Slack messages? I may operate toward the extreme end of compulsive notification-eliminators, but surveys suggest I’m not alone: One 2012 study found that 70 percent of work emails were attended to within six seconds of their arrival.
This has led me to a theory that there are two types of emailers in the world: Those who can comfortably ignore unread notifications, and those who feel the need to take action immediately.
Reforms were slow to take hold in Cincinnati, but when they did, they drove down crime while also reducing arrests.
CINCINNATI—Citizens were throwing stones and beer bottles at police officers in front of City Hall, and Maris Herold didn’t understand what they wanted.
She was a police officer herself, and knew that her department had made some missteps. Most recently, an officer gunned down a 19-year-old unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas—the fifteenth black man to die at the hands of police in five years.
But, Herold knew, the police were investigating the incident. They were listening to the community. They were working 12-hour shifts to protect the city from looting and fires, though the disturbance would soon turn into the worst riots in the U.S. in a decade.
“I was like, ‘We’re doing everything right, obviously the police officers made mistakes and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,’” she told me recently. Herold, who joined the police force after a career in social work, couldn’t understand what more the police could do to make amends with the community.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
Republican presidential candidates delight in slamming Obama's strategy, but won't vote on legislation to define the scope of the struggle.
Last week, in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, former Clinton and Bush administration counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke pointed out something extraordinary. “Congress has been asked by the President months ago now to make a decision, to vote on the use of force against ISIS. And they’ve refused to do it. It’s incredible.”
It is incredible. On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidates endlessly slam Obama’s lack of a strategy against ISIS. And yet given the opportunity to help craft such a strategy, and back it up with an authorization for war, Republican leaders in Congress refuse. It’s a perfect illustration of the absurdity of GOP foreign policy today.
Last December, House Speaker John Boehner declared that, “I would urge the president to submit a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) regarding our efforts to defeat and to destroy ISIL.” In that demand, Boehner was echoing likely GOP presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, who claimed that “initiating new military hostilities in a sustained basis in Iraq obligates the president to go back to Congress and to make the case to seek congressional authorization” and Rand Paul, who said, “I believe the President must come to Congress to begin a war and that Congress has a duty to act. Right now, this war is illegal until Congress acts pursuant to the Constitution and authorizes it.”
A song from 2011 is causing controversy now, proving how slowly the genre’s attitudes about women are evolving.
The rapper Action Bronson, whose major-label debut came out recently, is mostly known for his love of food, his large frame, and the fact that he sounds so much like Ghostface Killah that even Ghostface Killah gets confused sometimes. He will likely now be known by more people for one particular lyric of his, due to a headline-making petition asking Toronto’s NXNE music festival to kick the artist off the bill because, in its words, he “glorifies gang-raping and murdering women.”
The lyrics in question come from the 2011 song, “Consensual Rape,” which has a verse that mentions giving a girl MDMA and then having very rough sex with her. The petition also calls out a 2011 music video that portrays Bronson happily disposing of a woman’s corpse.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
The plight of non-tenured professors is widely known, but what about the impact they have on the students they’re hired to instruct?
Imagine meeting your English professor by the trunk of her car for office hours, where she doles out information like a taco vendor in a food truck. Or getting an e-mail error message when you write your former biology professor asking for a recommendation because she is no longer employed at the same college. Or attending an afternoon lecture in which your anthropology professor seems a little distracted because he doesn’t have enough money for bus fare. This is an increasingly widespread reality of college education.
Many students—and parents who foot the bills—may assume that all college professors are adequately compensated professionals with a distinct arrangement in which they have a job for life. In actuality those are just tenured professors, who represent less than a quarter of all college faculty. Odds are that students will be taught by professors with less job security and lower pay than those tenured employees, which research shows results in diminished services for students.