Random bullet points (more personal than usual).

8 04 2014

* I spent much of last week in New York City at the Roger Smith Food and Technology Conference. I shared my panel with a food scientist and the last artisan salami maker left in NYC. I can’t tell you how cool that experience was.

* I’ll be spending much of the rest of this week at the Organization of American Historians convention in Atlanta. I would never do two conferences in two weeks if it weren’t for 1) My willingness to spend my own resources on professional development and 2) My ability to offer online assignments via class blog posts in my absence. And you thought I was a Luddite.

* My next Chronicle Vitae piece is scheduled to appear about the time I get on my plane Wednesday. It’s called, “What the Heck Am I Supposed To Do With My LinkedIn Account?” Be sure to look for it on 4/9/14. [When I have the chance once it’s out I’ll link to it from here.]

* After I get back next week is when we here in Southern Colorado begin to mark the 100th anniversary of the infamous Ludlow Massacre. I’m actually Vice President of Governor Hickenlooper’s Ludlow Massacre Commission. If you’d like to learn more about the Ludlow Massacre, read some of the books mentioned here or buy a book offered here (which includes mine) or listen to this hourlong interview of me and Bob Butero of the United Mine Workers from a small Boulder radio station. Believe it or not, I’m actually the conservative in that discussion.

* As you might imagine, all of this has left me very busy. [And I’m only teaching three classes this semester! Imagine what happens when they make me teach four!] Therefore, posting here will likely be rather spotty for quite some time. So please Masters of the MOOC Universe, no important MOOC news when I’m otherwise engaged!


At least Woodrow Wilson was being honest about his intentions.

17 03 2011

It’s stuff like this that makes me think that I’m not going to miss the New York Times at all when it mostly disappears behind that paywall:

Despite the obvious appeal of being in such an intellectually rich environment and the chance to learn for learning’s sake, is the much-sought-after four-year education at the nation’s elite colleges and universities even worth it anymore?

Increasingly, the anecdotal evidence against spending such outlandishly high sums of money is looking more and more persuasive even as the demand for the seats — and the price people are willing to pay for them — continues to increase.

Haven’t I seen this argument somewhere before? Oh yeah, I’ve seen it just about everywhere, and while Historiann likes to point out that state schools are a relative bargain, this guy is actually attacking the value of college in general rather than Ivy League schools in particular:

Bill Gates, one of the two founders of Microsoft and now the world’s second-richest person, famously dropped out of Harvard after about two years. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle — the software behemoth —and the world’s fifth richest person, first dropped out of the University of Illinois and then dropped out of the University of Chicago before starting his business career. Perhaps the most admired corporate executive in the country — Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar, a billionaire in his own right and the largest individual shareholder in The Walt Disney Company — also is a college dropout. He left Reed College after six months, hung around campus for another 18 months and then with Steve Wozniak — a Berkeley dropout who completed his degree later —started Apple.

There’s something beautifully 19th century about this line of reasoning. “If Andrew Carnegie could make it from rags to riches without a college education, you can too!” But what happened if you weren’t quite as successful as Andrew Carnegie?

The new issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is entitled “Lines of Work,” and it’s a little slice of heaven for a labor historian like me. I’m stealing this quote from Lewis Lapham’s introductory essay:

“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”

That was Woodrow Wilson in 1909, while he was still President of Princeton. The sentiment is despicable, but at least it’s honest. The anti-college diatribes of today have more to do with the fact that rich people don’t want to pay higher taxes to let people who can’t afford college escape a life of specific difficult manual tasks. Nevertheless, their thoughts are always offered up as if they’re trying to do prospective college students a favor. But what’s their alternative to college? The Bill Gates private charter school for future billionaires? Gleaning, more likely.

It’s not higher education that’s failed the prospective job applicant of today, it’s the structure of the economy itself. We professors can only do so much.

Glenn Beck throws Theodore Roosevelt under the bus.

21 02 2010

I’ve generally found Glenn Beck’s childish, ill-informed diatribes against Progressivism really interesting in a “how many factual errors can you make in one rant” kind of way. This one is no exception:

He scribbled “progressivism” on the board and said it afflicts Republicans as well as Democrats….

In an apparent reference to John McCain, Beck condemned a “guy in the Republican Party who says his favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt.” He then read disapprovingly the Roosevelt quote that “we grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used . . . so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”

“Is this what the Republican Party stands for?” Beck demanded. He was answered with boos and cries of “no!” “It’s big government, it’s a socialist utopia and we need to address it as if it is a cancer.”

I look forward with bated breath to reading Beck’s forthcoming defense of tainted meat, denying women suffrage and child labor.

Next up: The Pure Food and Drug Act?

30 09 2009

So what do conservatives have against the landmark achievements Progressive Era? Apparently everything, as John Debyshire of the National Review has now decided that he is against female suffrage. The radio transcript and summary is at Think Progress:

COLMES: We would be a better country? John Derbyshire making the statement, we would be a better country if women did not vote.

DERBYSHIRE: Yeah, probably.

Derbyshire reasoned that we “got along like that for 130 years.” Colmes countered by asking if he also wants to bring back slavery. No, Derbyshire responded, “I’m in favor of freedom personally.” Colmes noted that freedom didn’t extend to women’s right to vote, however. Derbyshire said, “Well, they didn’t and we got along ok.”

It’s one thing to attack the Progressive Era in general, especially if you want to take cheap shots at Margaret Sanger (or anyone else who’s still controversial), but when you start attacking the foundations of democracy itself you look really out of touch. White men got along when women didn’t vote, but denying the vote to women on the basis of gender is why most women didn’t get along well at all (since it took the vote to get the kind of legislation passed that improved the status of women in society the most).

What I can’t get over though is just how politically stupid this argument is. Just because women are more liberal than men now doesn’t mean they always will be in the future. Of course, supporting the removal of their franchise certainly isn’t going to bring converts to the conservative cause.

If Derbyshire wants to offend half the population that’s his right, but I say why not go for everybody? 100% of the population eats. Therefore, I can’t wait to see the conservative case against the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Most Progressives were actually interested in governing.

24 09 2009

Via Firedoglake, I notice that David Broder seems to agree with a lot of right-wing crazies that the (historical) Progressive Movement was somehow wrong-headed. To do this, he quotes and paraphrases someone from the right-wing Hudson Institute in his Washington Post column:

[William Schambra] traces the roots of this approach to the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when rapid social and economic change created a politics dominated by interest-group struggles. The progressives believed that the cure lay in applying the new wisdom of the social sciences to the art of government, an approach in which facts would heal the clash of ideologies and narrow constituencies.

Really? What about the Prohibitionists? The white slave fear mongers? Heck, I don’t think Jane Addams even fits that description. More:

“In one policy area after another,” Schambra writes, “from transportation to science, urban policy to auto policy, Obama’s formulation is virtually identical: Selfishness or ideological rigidity has led us to look at the problem in isolated pieces . . . we must put aside parochialism to take the long systemic view; and when we finally formulate a uniform national policy supported by empirical and objective data rather than shallow, insular opinion, we will arrive at solutions that are not only more effective but less costly as well. This is the mantra of the policy presidency.”

Historically, that approach has not worked. The progressives failed to gain more than brief ascendancy, and the Carter and Clinton presidencies were marked by striking policy failures.

Thinking ahead is Un-American? Boy are we in trouble then. Besides, look at the history here: seven years of TR and eight years Wilson makes 15 years. That’s an awful lot of time to control the presidency and that figuring doesn’t count the influence of Progressives on the state level. And on what planet can Carter or Clinton ever be considered progressive?

It’s Broder’s criteria for success, however, that I think is most telling. If a movement isn’t ascendant, he thinks it’s somehow failed. Progressivism wasn’t about gaining control; it was about actually making government work for people. What does David Broder have against the Pure Food and Drug Act? The Clayton Antitrust Act? The direct election of senators? The income tax? [I’m sure the Hudson Institute would love to kill that last one, but responsible people would have to come up with an alternative way to make up the revenue and there is none.]

Unsuccessful in their efforts to roll back the New Deal into nothing, the right wing crazies have decided to start attacking the Progressive Movement in order to undermine the case that government can do anything right. Progressives were interested in legislative achievement, not power. They’re being demonized now because they are the original regulators, and when they were around America needed regulation badly. Turn that around and an awful lot of people are going to suffer needlessly.

But just you wait, the more Obama tries to change things for the better, the further back they’ll go trying to undercut the reputation of past reforms. I look forward to the day when Glenn Beck discovers the Articles of the Confederation.

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