Monthly Archives: August 2011

USPS in 200 Years

Here’s another great demonstration of technology’s awesome use in scholarly work. A graduate student put together a video of the growth of U.S. Postal Offices from 1700 to 1900, and it’s pretty interesting to watch.

I’ve always loved maps, and it’s neat to watch spots start expanding faster and faster as we reach into the 1800s and then watch the West Coast grow whole splotches during the middle of that century. I hope to see more things like this as more talented academics put history and technology together.

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Burkina Faso Side-Steps the ICC

Earlier this week the foreign minister of Burkina Faso announced that his country would be offering Qaddafi haven to go into exile. This was made about the same time Ouagadougou recognized the Transitional National Council as the authority in Libya, along with Chad and Sudan. The foreign minister said that the offer to the Libyan dictator-in-flight was in the name of peace, but he is ignoring Burkina Faso’s obligation to the International Criminal Court, which has issued warrants for Qaddafi.

Would offering the leader a place of exile help usher in peace in Libya? Potentially. But I am of the belief that justice and peace are intertwined, and that peace will be that much less sustainable if he eludes the accountability that justice brings. A number of countries have been skirting their responsibilities by allowing indicted criminals to attend summits or inviting them to ceremonies, but offering one exile is even worse. It is things like this that put even more obstacles before the ICC than already exist on the road to international justice, whether he takes the offer or not. Members of the Assembly of States Party to the ICC need to respect the obligations to the ICC and help bring in alleged criminals when they have an opportunity, not shield them.

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Acquisitions (thanks to Borders)

A few years ago I only partially listened to a professor who was lecturing on a book by Nasim Taleb. Whether the idea was Taleb’s or my professor’s, I never really parsed out, but one thing I took from that day was the idea that a collection of books you have already read doesn’t really do anything except show people what you’ve read. I was drawn to the idea because – for as long as I can remember – I have been reaching towards the goal of building a personal library primarily of books which I have not read. I love book stores, and I spend too much time and money in them. I have numerous books that are on my reading list, but that doesn’t mean I’ll wait to read them before buying more.

With that in mind, I recently went on quite the shopping spree – the only Borders left in the East Valley is about to close and I had a small collection of gift cards. Between last week and yesterday, I have raided Borders three times and come away with a small stack to add to my bookshelf. Even without a job it will take some time to read them, so instead of waiting until I review them I thought I would let you know what I just picked up and you can get to the commenting (if you so desire) or even click through to buy them yourself (full disclosure, I’ll get a tiny percentage if you do). Without further ado, here are the books I recently acquired:

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Campaigning in 1968

I’ve always been a pretty ardent fan of Robert F. Kennedy, and he remains among one of my favorite presidents despite his never achieving that title. I’m not sure if it’s my tendency to glorify the momentous occasions of 1968 or my intrinsic need to lend a hand to the under-privileged, but he always appealed to me as a person and as a policy maker. So this summer I finally got around to reading Thurston Clarke’s The Last Campaign, a book chronicling Kennedy’s presidential campaign right up to his assassination.

The book itself reads from a very pro-Kennedy perspective, and analyzes his speeches and his talking points from almost a purely positive angle. Clarke critiques Kennedy usually from the point of view of others, citing campaign staffers’ dissent on his decision to spend more time on the Indian reservations than in the cities, for example. But almost all of these are soon rejected by how Kennedy was right all along. He alludes to Kennedy’s missteps usually the same way. Looking at how Kennedy barreled into the campaign life and challenged virtually every audience he encountered, there are more faults than Clarke allows to reach the paper.

This aside, the book tried to really tug at who Kennedy really was, and how he had changed from the cold politician of 1960 to the voice of the silenced in 1968. While the book sometimes got repetitive with its references, the anecdotes were often a reminder of just how big this campaign became to people who really shouldn’t have been all that supportive of Kennedy in the first place. And the sad truth of reading the book is seeing how little has changed when it comes to the issues Kennedy cared about: peace, poverty, and racial equality. While many candidates campaign until the election, then plan until they take office, and then begin to make changes, Kennedy thought he had to get to work early.

As Clarke explains, Kennedy hoped that – when he was President – he would provide public funds for documentaries of America’s impoverished in order to show the entire country what was happening in places like Cleveland, Mississippi, where he was struck by the poverty of the Delta region. During his campaign, he lamented that he could not wait until he became president, and the way he carried his campaign is proof of his effort to use it as a vehicle for more than his candidacy but for his message of ending poverty.

Kennedy never played to his audience or shied away from his convictions – he didn’t always succeed, but he always tried to change their minds instead of changing his. It’s sad to think that nobody has really run a campaign like this since. Clarke’s book is full of campaign speeches where Kennedy would tell black audiences that rioting was unacceptable and tell white audiences that law enforcement was too brutal. When a college student (exempted from the draft) told Kennedy he thought America should stay in Vietnam, Kennedy told him to enlist. And somehow Kennedy was able to appeal to union bosses that hated his work at the Justice Department, backlash whites that thought he incited violence, and liberals that remembered his work for Joseph McCarthy.

Despite all of this, the book slants Kennedy anyways. It critiques those who challenged Kennedy’s “victory” in Indiana, and it paints Eugene McCarthy as not worthy of the presidency. While it tells a brilliant story about the eighty-two days that Kennedy crossed the nation and roused Americans’ hearts, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ll be on the look out for some more objective pieces on the ’68 election – if you know of one, holler.

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Weekend Reading

This is supposed to be my third installment in weekend reading. Instead, it’s a measley few links and it’s already the end of the weekend. Read if you’d like, and definitely follow through that last link to a massive link-dump that should carry you through the next few weeks. There probably won’t be a reading post next weekend, as I’ll be roaming the Capitol. Without further ado, read!

Mike Cosgrave takes a look at how to use Twitter in research as a historian, with the Arab Spring as an example.

Tired of everyone with a PhD telling you not to go to grad school? Jsench is, and he put together a brilliant post, chronicling why he’s happy with his decision. While I barely finished my undergrad, I feel some kind of connection with his view on why he went to grad school. It’s a long read, but it’s well worth it.

After protesting a land auction in 2008, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If you want to read a little more into the action, there is a good summary at Politics Outdoors. What’s really worth reading – and you should take the time to read the whole thing – is DeChristopher’s closing statement in court:

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice.  Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.  I know Mr Huber disagrees with me on this.  He wrote that “The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of ‘civil disobedience’ committed in the name of the cause of the day.”  That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience.  Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice.  The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

And that’s about it. In closing, you should spend the rest of your weekend perusing ZunguZungu’s Sunday Reading – let’s be honest, I would have plucked a fair few readings from there anyways.

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In Honor of the End of the Stupidest Debate in American History

This entire debt ceiling debate has been ludicrous at best. Nearly everyone in Congress knew – and agreed – that the debt ceiling must be raised. And somehow the GOP had the gumption to say “In order for us all to do what we know is necessary, I want you to give me something in return.” And everyone else somehow bought into it. And that was how the most useless “debate” was born. Early in the discussion I began to tune out. It was such a charade of government, and everything that I felt was important to our government was being hacked to shreds. And that’s just about the limit to the amount of my own thought I want to put to this. However, a number of people have said things that I either agree with or find informative. For your reading pleasure…

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