Monthly Archives: December 2010


“If America ceases to be exceptional,” says Newt Gingrich, “it will have lost its core values of individualism, liberty, and the rule of law.” It’s not clear what this means: I think it means “America is exceptional because it has the core values of individualism, liberty, and the rule of law.” But all societies have […]

The American History of Santa Claus

Before the Civil War holidays weren’t like they are now. Different regions celebrated different holidays, following local ethnic and regional traditions. There were religious holidays, there were sundry fall and spring festivals. But just as every city, village, and town kept its own standard of time, most places had different holidays.[1. This post was originally […]


Yesterday I posted a denunciation of Google’s new Ngram Viewer as an example of what Marx called “socially unnecessary labor time”–work that takes skill and craft and time but that nobody wants or needs. Lots of people I respect think more of Google’s Ngram Viewer than I do.  Friends who don’t follow the world of […]

The Segway of Digital Searching

It could be a failure of my imagination, but I’m having a very hard time seeing what would be useful about Google’s new Ngram Viewer. It’s being presented in the Times as some sort of breakthrough, and I suppose it is–it’s never been possible to do this before. But then it was never possible to […]

Rethinking the Beast

Ben Butler had the homely man’s suspicion of genetic advantage, and the poor man’s irreverence about class privilege. Nothing in his appearance inspired admiration. Short, paunchy, no heroic proportions or handsome strong features: his bald pate and droopy, crossed eyes made him a satirist’s delight. And satirize him they did. Butler, U.S. Grant recalled, was […]

Thomas and the Aristocracy of Labor

The Thomas the Tank Engine tv shows have been running for years now. I didn’t really know anything about the show till my son was born, 20 years ago. Within weeks Thomas had cut his right-of-way through our imaginations, blasting the landscape as he went, very much in the same way as actual railroads did […]

Secret, Illegal Music

It was sort of like buying drugs:  to get this book you had to go into an alley, and pay cash, or go back behind a legit music store, where the clerk furtively snuck you a copy; or grab it out of the trunk of some guy’s car. Maybe you had a teacher who sold […]

Money and Making Sense

You say you don’t really understand money? You’re in good company–look at  how J.P.  Morgan, the titan of Wall Street, king of the bankers, richest man in the world, talked about money. Morgan is here testifying before the Pujo committee, investigating the Panic of 1907.[1. You can find the full text of Morgan’s testimony before […]

The Party after the Party

Like a lot of “progressives” I’m pretty disgusted with the Democratic Party. It’s not that I expect to get my way in American politics, far from it. It’s that the Democratic Party seems absolutely unable to articulate progressive positions in an affirmative way. It seems to mostly accept the conservative critique of big government and […]