The Imaginary Public

It’s campaign season again–really, when is it not campaign season–and again we get endlessly treated to speculations about image and perception and style. Here’s a typical example, from today’s Washington Post. “Rick Perry has distanced himself from George W. Bush’s brand of conservatism,” says the headline, and it goes on to tell us how Perry […]

A Memorial that Suits its Subject

Like him or hate him, Franklin Roosevelt makes nearly every American historian’s list of the  top three Presidents. It’s always Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, with everybody else a pretty distant fourth. FDR was elected to four terms: he served during the depression and the greatest war in world history. He oversaw the development of the […]

WWII and Wartime Theater

FDR had a gift for theater. It might have had a lot to do with his paralysis, and the elaborate and taxing steps he took to conceal it. He had handrails and ramps set up behind podiums he had hand controls in his car. With the discrete assistance of aides, and a cane he could […]

The Astonishing Antebellum Money System

We often talk about “money” as if it’s always been the same, a simple and constant measure of value, the “bottom line” of meaning. But “money” has rarely been a static thing, especially in the US. The chaotic money system Americans used before the Civil War boggles the imagination. I gave a lecture about this […]

The Unseen Spectacular

Washington DC is full of monuments. Some of them we all know, some of them I go by and have no idea who the person is or what they did. Everybody knows the Lincoln and the Jefferson and the Washington: most people ignore what must be one of the most powerful and compelling pieces of […]

Why Libertarians Love Slavery

Recently Senator Rand Paul argued that wanting universal health care was a form of slavery. And his father, Ron Paul, similarly argued that Social Security and Welfare are also forms of slavery. Ron Paul also argued, on Hard­ball with Chris Math­ews, that he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, because the Act, […]

History, Technology, and the Shuffle Beat.

There’s a kind of beat called a “shuffle.” You’ve heard it thousands of times, maybe without knowing it. It’s an amazing beat when it’s played well, a unique combination of relaxed and urgent. Wikepedia has a long explanation which will be hard to make sense of. I think of a shuffle as triplets—1,2,3—played against four […]

Privacy, Slavery and Weiners

Why can’t I have an indentured servant? Let’s say you’re down on your luck, jobs are scarce; I offer you room and board for three years, and in return I own you. You clean my house, tend my garden etc. It’s a voluntary agreement: at the end of the three years you’re free, or you […]

Strong Dollar/Weak Dollar

The dollar is weak! President X’s policies have weakened the dollar! We need a strong dollar, a dollar with vigor and health! Political debates about money are never just about money. Money is central to who we are. We buy things that express out taste, out political beliefs, our “lifestyle choices,” and these things confer […]

Ignorant and Proud

We often see polling showing that Americans are remarkably ignorant of our history. They can’t name the dates of the Civil War, they don’t know what happened at the Alamo or why: they don’t know the Soviet Union was on our side in WWII. Does that really matter? You could argue there’s really no reason […]