Archive for August, 2011
I’m not quite as pessimistic as Ruth Bader Ginsburg is about the possibility of someone with her record being confirmed to the Supreme Court again. I do agree with Carmon and Millhiser that it’s hard to imagine Ginsburg being confirmed under the same circumstances she was — not only with a
Republican Senate but with the recommendation of the chair of the Judiciary Committee.* I do think that Ginsburg could be confirmed in a Senate under Democratic control, although that’s partly because her record was an appellate judge was actually quite moderate. At any rate, it is striking how much the context for judicial nominations has changed.
*A commenter is correct; the Democrats controlled the Senate when RBG and Breyer were appointed; Hatch simply agreed to let her go without substantial opposition. Obviously, that wouldn’t happen today, but it’s possible that she could be confirmed under those circumstances…
As will become even clearer over time as I continue to write here, I can be pretty obsessive about things. One of those things is museums. Museums really affect me in strong ways–I often either love or hate what I see and get riled up about it.
Yesterday, I visited Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is the site where the American military made most of its guns from the end of the Revolution through the mid-20th century. So the site is pretty much about guns.
I’ve never understood the obsession men have with guns. I love a good western, don’t get me wrong. I have no real problem with violence in movies. But the obsession with guns as a physical object, or military maneuvers more broadly, has always completely confounded me. A lot of young men who are into history get super excited about wars and guns. I always liked history and was seemingly hard-wired into the career I eventually chose. But even as a 17 year old extremely nerdy young man, I never cared at all about guns. I remember picking up an overview of the Civil War when I was about that age. It was a popular book that went into great detail about the battles of the war. It was probably the most boring book I’d read to that time. I don’t care if the 27th Missouri Volunteers were to the left flank of General Hooker. Who gives a shit? Maybe Farley can enlighten me on why I should care.
Given all of that, perhaps the Springfield Armory National Historic Site was not the National Park Service site for me. Because it’s basically a collection of guns. Muskets from the Revolution, rifles captured from Native Americans in western battles, World War II-era sidearms–if the American military used or made them, they were there. I’m not particularly inclined to say anything negative about the National Park Service. Its funding is atrocious, as it is a victim of the national disinvestment in infrastructure and, well, just about anything that has made this nation great since 1933. While attendance at the nature parks has skyrocketed, it has declined at the historical parks. Because of this, and because of the inconsistent admission charge policy of the parks (some charge a good bit, others nothing, and the funds are not distributed equally between parks), the quality of the historical parks varies widely. Some are awesome–I’d recommend Harper’s Ferry, Lowell, and the New Bedford Whaling park to anyone. Others are pretty poor–Fort Vancouver and Bent’s Old Fort for instance lacks much interpretation at all.
Unfortunately, the Springfield Armory falls at the lower end of the many parks I have visited. They don’t charge anything and they clearly have not received the funds for a museum upgrade, so they start at a disadvantage. And although I really don’t care about guns, I do understand that they appeal to people and I totally accept their necessity as a way to draw people into the site. And even I can briefly find them interesting. Seeing the Civil War era machine guns helped me to understand why that war killed so many people. It turns out that sending men into machine gun fire may have been a bad idea.
At the same time, it gets under my skin to see a park underperform to what it could be under the circumstances. Without much if any additional funding, the park could do a better job. First, it is totally unclear how to proceed through the museum. I even asked where to start and didn’t get a good answer. You could reorganize the whole thing to have us start in 1782 and continue through the 1950s. Second, while the park does kind of highlight the Armory as part of the story of American industrialization, which is good if incomplete, it could do a better job incorporating some of the big trends or events in American history into the museum. For instance, it was the Armory that Shays’ Rebellion hoped to raid in 1786. This was just mentioned in an easy to miss note, but I was totally fascinated. That’s one of the most important events in post-Revolution American history. I don’t believe any National Park site discusses this in detail. Why not incorporate the Shays’ Rebellion story here more?
As for why there were random pictures of other national park sites taped to some of the displays, I have no idea. I’d kind of understand I guess if they wanted to remind us of other New England historical sites. But while I would like to go to Alaska and visit Katmai, I couldn’t quite figure what I was supposed to get out of that. To steal one of their guns and shoot a grizzly bear when I visit?
Today, the Springfield Armory is most a community college, outside the museum. Could be the most beautiful community college in the country, with its expansive military grounds and old buildings. But the fact that the military moved its weapon production somewhere else in the mid-twentieth century is a story too–one of deindustrialization and the decline of a lot of New England cities (and let’s face it, Springfield is not exactly in great shape. I saw so many old buildings being torn down when I was driving through there, I thought I was in some urban renewal nightmare). I understand that this is not the glorifying story the NPS is under pressure to tell at its sites. But it is an important story. Why doesn’t the military make its weapons here anymore?
If your basic response to this post is wondering why I am getting so uptight about a small NPS site that caters to people with different interests than I, just understand that I think the public interpretation of American history is very, very important. And I’ll be talking about more museum experiences in coming months.
Professors and students at Southwestern University in Texas, where I taught for 3 years, have developed an interesting study that was recently presented at the American Sociological Association and covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education. They sought factors on college campuses that help lead to racial mixing. They discovered the classes are virtually meaningless, largely because everyone is afraid to talk about race in the classroom (and I can say that this is usually true, though I still beat them over the head with it). The dormitories don’t have a meaningful impact, though the reason is less clear from the article.
Where racial understanding is achieved is the cafeteria. It turns out that, at least at Southwestern, if you can get students to eat with those other other races, you can make some progress:
When the researchers asked students about their experiences in the dining hall (the unnamed college has but one, so everyone eats in the same place), they found that a majority of students — both white and minority — reported regularly sharing meals with those of different races. But a minority of students of all races and ethnicities reported doing this seldom or never.
This was where the researchers noted a significant difference beyond eating patterns. Those who didn’t regularly eat with people of a different group were 54 to 60 percent less likely to report a positive racial environment on campus. The gap was similar for all ethnic and racial groups.
This is interesting, though researchers need to upscale this to multiple campuses in order to gauge its larger implications. Although I loved my time at Southwestern (to the point that I would have stayed there forever if a tenure-track opportunity presented itself, despite the fact that it has 2 things I hate: extreme heat and Rick Perry as governor), it’s not exactly an everyperson’s student body. It’s generally pretty well-off. It’s not a particularly diverse campus. In a 20 person class, I’d usually get 1 African-American student and maybe 1 Latino student. I think once I had 2 African-Americans in a class. I know that once I had 2 Asian-Americans. The administration talked about diversity, but class diversity was not what they were so interested in–upper middle-class black kids to go along with upper-middle class white kids is not my idea of diversity. It is an extremely Greek oriented campus, to the point that even the hippie kids were part of the Greek system, which really blew my mind. Its regional diversity is very low, with most of the kids seemingly coming from the Houston or Dallas suburbs, with some other Texans thrown in the mix and the occasional out of state student.
I suppose every campus has some kind of unique demographic profile, which is precisely why we need this study broadened to a variety of college campuses. If it holds to be true, can schools engineer some way for students to eat together or hang out in other public and non-formal settings?
The strong opinion by 1CA holding that police officers who prevent people from recording them in public are acting in violation of the First Amendment is obviously good news. It also seems to imply pretty clearly that laws attempting to ban the practice would be held unconstitutional if the issue had been before the court.
This is certainly the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. The audience reaction makes it even worse than it looks on paper.
I think most baseball fans would get the right answer if asked to name the team with the worst run differential this year (Houston, of course.) But I’m guessing not many would guess the team with the second-worst run differential — the Twins. Sixty runs worse than the Mariners is bad. And while this might not be quite as surprising as it should be given their status as perennial contenders — anyone who watches the Yankees obliterate them year after year knows that their talent wasn’t all that impressive — I certainly wouldn’t have expected them to be 100 runs worse than the Pirates, either.
What’s more striking, looking at the roster, is that I’m not sure that this is a one-year aberration; this just isn’t much of a team. It seems very unlikely that Morneau, already 30, will be good and healthy again. If Mauer stays at catcher he probably won’t stay healthy, but playing at the corners his offense just isn’t that impressive unless he hits like 2009 every year. And beyond that, the team is just dreadful — not only are they barely outscoring the historically inept Mariners in neutral parks, their only good hitters this year (Cuddyer and the now-departed Thome) are past their prime. Even if Mauer comes back, it doesn’t figure to be a good offense anytime soon. Pitching wise, they’re in the same boat, as the strategy of putting together slightly above-average pitch-to-contact guys has turned into below-average pitch-to-contact guys, with their only effective starter this year a 29 year-old with elbow problems.
Basically, the only things they have going for them are a decent amount of resources and a weak division. But it’s hard to see this team back for its traditional sweep by the Yankees anytime soon.