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.
David Bentley Hart’s text recaptures the awkward, multivoiced power of the original.
In the beginning was … well, what? A clap of the divine hands and a poetic shock wave? Or an itchy node of nothingness inconceivably scratching itself into somethingness? In the beginning was the Word, says the Gospel according to John—a lovely statement of the case, as it’s always seemed to me. A pre-temporal syllable swelling to utterance in the mouth of the universe, spoken once and heard forever: God’s power chord, if you like. For David Bentley Hart, however, whose mind-bending translation of the New Testament was published in October, the Word—as a word—does not suffice: He finds it to be “a curiously bland and impenetrable designation” for the heady concept expressed in the original Greek of the Gospels as Logos. The Chinese word Tao might get at it, Hart tells us, but English has nothing with quite the metaphysical flavor of Logos, the particular sense of a formative moral energy diffusing itself, without diminution, through space and time. So he throws up his hands and leaves it where it is: “In the origin there was the Logos …”
Carrie Bradshaw, Hugh Hefner, and Barbie have all helped construct a new generation's ideal woman, who is athletic, alluring, ... and waxed.
Meet Sophia Pinto: the 21st century's standard-issue, all-American perfect 10.
The 5-foot-5 Minnesota native -- a sly, funny, 22-year-old natural blonde who spends every summer bikini-clad on the shores of Lake Minnetonka -- works out five days a week. Her slim waist and megawatt smile hearken back to the polyvinyl glamour of the original Barbie doll.
In fact, if Mattel were to redesign Barbie based on the new millennium's ideal woman, she would likely resemble Pinto. Healthy, athletic, alluring, and smart (Pinto will graduate early this month from Northwestern University), she's both a role model and a sex symbol.
And if you were to undress Pinto, you'd find she embodies yet another trademark characteristic of the plastic glamour girl-turned-careerwoman: Like Barbie, Pinto has no pubic hair.
A conversation about inheritance, philanthropy, and aging with the philosopher Martha Nussbaum and the law professor Saul Levmore
What is the right way to age? It’s a question that isn’t explored enough in American society, where, seemingly, people are expected to be forever young, until, suddenly, they are not. Reflecting this binary, any writing about a long life’s final decades tends toward extremes. On one hand, there are the accounts of heroic men and women who still put in more than 40 hours a week on the job in their late 60s and early 70s (a genre I like to call “retirement porn”). On the other, there are the articles warning about the dangers of not adapting a home for aging bodies, or the plague of financial scammers targeting lonely or cognitively challenged seniors.
That leaves out a vast middle, the space where many older people actually, you know, live their lives. Luckily, Martha Nussbaum, the renowned philosopher and ethicist at the University of Chicago, and Saul Levmore, the former dean of and a current professor at the university’s law school, decided to explore that middle. The result? The recently published Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations About Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, & Regret.
Students don't seem to be getting much out of higher education.
I have been in school for more than 40 years. First preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and high school. Then a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, followed by a doctoral program at Princeton. The next step was what you could call my first “real” job—as an economics professor at George Mason University.
Thanks to tenure, I have a dream job for life. Personally, I have no reason to lash out at our system of higher education. Yet a lifetime of experience, plus a quarter century of reading and reflection, has convinced me that it is a big waste of time and money. When politicians vow to send more Americans to college, I can’t help gasping, “Why? You want us to waste even more?”
The cryptocurrency is almost certainly due for a major correction. But its long-term value remains a mystery.
To call Bitcoin the biggest and most obvious bubble in modern history may be a disservice to its surreality.
The price of bitcoin has doubled four times this year. In early January, one bitcoin was worth about $1,000. By May, it hit $2,000. In June, it breached $4,000. By Thanksgiving, it was $8,000. Two weeks later, it was $16,000.
This astronomical trajectory might make sense for a new public company with accelerating profits. Bitcoin, however, has no profits. It’s not even a company. It is a digital encrypted currency running on a decentralized network of computers around the world. Ordinary currencies, like the U.S. dollar, don’t double in value by the month, unless there’s a historic deflationary crisis, like the Panic of 1837. Instead, bitcoin’s behavior more resembles that of a collectible frenzy, like Beanie Babies in the late 1990s.
Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?
No man can serve two masters, the Bible teaches, but Mike Pence is giving it his all. It’s a sweltering September afternoon in Anderson, Indiana, and the vice president has returned to his home state to deliver the Good News of the Republicans’ recently unveiled tax plan. The visit is a big deal for Anderson, a fading manufacturing hub about 20 miles outside Muncie that hasn’t hosted a sitting president or vice president in 65 years—a fact noted by several warm-up speakers. To mark this historic civic occasion, the cavernous factory where the event is being held has been transformed. Idle machinery has been shoved to the perimeter to make room for risers and cameras and a gargantuan American flag, which—along with bleachers full of constituents carefully selected for their ethnic diversity and ability to stay awake during speeches about tax policy—will serve as the TV-ready backdrop for Pence’s remarks.
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
The "Weinstein effect" continues to roil the nation’s power centers. But the allegations against the president have largely stayed in the background.
It’s been two months since the reckoning began. In early October, The New York Times and The New Yorker first published the alarming accounts of women who said they’d been assaulted by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Rare is the day since then that women, and some men, haven’t come forward with accounts of sexual misconduct from famous and not-so-famous men alike.
Lurking in the background of the roiling debate about harassment and assault in American society are the allegations made against President Trump by at least 19 women, many of whom came forward after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016. Trump vociferously denies any wrongdoing. “Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?” a reporter asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in late October. “Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning, and the president’s spoken on it,” Sanders replied.
No one should expect a woman with a newborn to be "on cloud nine."
Early one morning when my daughter Rosie was a few weeks old, I packed her up in a baby carrier and took her to the drugstore, which felt at the time like an ambitious outing. It had been a rough night, and she was now happily sleeping off her bender. I got into line with my stain stick and baby wipes and let my eyes go out of focus.
"Can I see this little one?" said a smiling voice at my shoulder. I turned around so that the older woman behind me could peek at the tiny creature nestled against my poop-stained shirt. She sighed, looked deep into my bloodshot eyes, and asked, "Aren't you just on cloud nine?"
Actually, I was queasy with fatigue. I was sad about the way my husband and I had snapped at each other while Rosie was crying the night before, and fretful about when she would regain her birthweight, and slightly freaked out about how totally my life had been upended and whether it would ever be mine again. And I was more than a little worried about this cloud nine. What was this supposed to feel like?
How filler words and tiny pauses keep conversations from going off the rails
When one person asks another a question, it takes an average of 200 milliseconds for them to respond. This is so fast that we can’t even hear the pause. In fact, it’s faster than our brains actually work. It takes the brain about half a second to retrieve the words to say something, which means that in conversation, one person is gearing up to speak before the other is even finished. By listening to the tone, grammar, and content of another’s speech, we can predict when they’ll be done.
This precise clockwork dance that happens when people speak to each other is what N.J. Enfield, a professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, calls the “conversation machine.” In his book How We Talk, he examines how conversational minutiae—filler words like “um” and “mm-hmm,” and pauses that are longer than 200 milliseconds—grease the wheels of this machine. In fact, he argues, these little “traffic signals” to some degree define human communication. What all human languages have in common, and what sets our communication apart from animals, is our ability to use language to coordinate how we use language.