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Not likely as bad as Bill O’Reilly’s book, but still…

[ 140 ] July 10, 2012 |

this novel by Stephen L. Carter sounds horrendous.

. . . Carter, now a best-selling novelist, nonfiction author and professor at Yale Law School, has his own shelf of [Lincoln] books (including the [Carl] Sandburg tome, which remains a favorite) about Lincoln, whom he still regards as America’s greatest president. This week, that shelf will get a new addition: “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln,” an alternate-history legal thriller in which the president survives the attack at Ford’s Theatre only to face reprisals in Congress for what his political enemies describe as high crimes in his handling of the war: suspending habeas corpus (the principle that someone under arrest can’t be held for long without being brought before a judge), shutting down opposition newspapers and, most ominous of all, conspiring to establish a military government in the District of Columbia.

Perhaps I’m just not a fan of counter-factual historical fiction, but if you’re going to do it, you might as well start with a premise that’s even remotely plausible. I don’t know who exactly Carter has numbered among Lincoln’s “political enemies,” but it was almost universally the case that no one except Confederates and Northern Copperheads groaned for more than a moment about the extra-constitutionality of Lincoln’s policies; whether or not the limited, temporary suspension of habeas rights was a good idea, the fact remains that Congress later gave Lincoln precisely the authority he had sought at the war’s outset. And that Congress — which approved the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act by overwhelming majorities in 1863 — would be succeeded by an even more predominantly Republican assembly following the elections of 1864. This, Carter seems to want his readers to believe, would have been the Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against a President recuperating from a pistol shot to the head. Weird.

It sounds as if at least a few of Carter’s villains are also drawn from the radical wing of Lincoln’s own party — folks like Benjamin Wade and Henry Davis, whose reconstruction bill Lincoln had pocket-vetoed in the summer of 1864 and who supported the third-party candidacy of John Frémont because they believed Lincoln was insufficiently aggressive along a variety of fronts — but that would make even less sense. About all Lincoln needed to do to bring the dissenters around was to boot Montgomery Blair from the Post Office in September 1864. Though it’s certainly true that many fellow Republicans viewed his preliminary thoughts on Reconstruction to be overly gentle toward the South, it’s also pretty clear that Lincoln was, at the time of his death, well to the left of the party median on crucial issues like black civil rights (including suffrage). The fantasy that Lincoln, had he lived, would have been “generous” and “friendly” toward the South eventually became a staple of Confederate and New South mythology before seeping into the mainstream of Lincoln memory, where it continues to reside. Given the trajectory of his philosophy and policy toward slavery and racial justice, I think it’s more likely that Lincoln would have followed a course similar to Ulysses S. Grant, whose rather quickly gave up his naive faith that Southern whites would acquiesce to the postwar order. By 1870, he was using the newly-created Department of Justice to chase down the Klan in South Carolina, and I’m sure Lincoln would have been cheering him along. (It sounds as if Carter in fact understands this about Lincoln, but it also doesn’t sound like this keeps him from imagining that the radicals would have hated him anyway.)

Likewise, the image of Lincoln as a solitary figure, a voice of nobility and unappreciated bipartisan reason surrounded by idiots, purchased men and conspirators, is also boring and absurd. Lincoln was an ingenious politician who had been a devoted Whig and a devoted Republican, and he valued unity enough that I can’t imagine a scenario in which he’d lose influence over the various factions within his own party. But for some reason, Americans have always loved Sad Lincoln, eating a sandwich on a lonely park bench, abandoned by everyone but a grateful posterity. Carter’s novel seems to be animated by this same narrative, which (like Gentle Lincoln) also has its roots in early-20th century reconciliationist bullshit, which had everything to do with pretending that the war had nothing to do with emancipating black people and redrafting the terms of citizenship in a world without slaves. By surrounding Lincoln with enemies of every party affiliation and every ideological orientation, Americans allowed themselves to pretend that everyone but Lincoln — and certainly not the slave-holding and slavery-supporting South alone — shared blame for the war. Perversely enough, Lincoln memory eventually became an alibi for national amnesia about the war’s origins, costs and consequences.

Now, I obviously have no idea whether Carter’s portrayal of Lincoln is as bad as I’m imagining it is. (I recently finished an essay on Lincoln in the imagination of Southern white supremacists like Thomas Dixon, so I’m certain that I’ve read worse.) But he seems to be relying on some pretty obvious, durable cliches about Lincoln, which makes me think the book doesn’t deserve the attention it’s receiving this week. Then again, since Lincoln in literature is apparently my thing now, I suppose I’ll have to read it and find out. If I’m wrong, you’ll hear back from me in, like, six months. Or whatever.

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So the goblins came

[ 26 ] May 8, 2012 |

If you were looking for a reason to crawl inside a dark hole today, Maurice Sendak’s death should do nicely. And if that doesn’t work, read or listen to his interview with Terry Gross last December. You’re welcome.

Beyond Where the Wild Things Are, I don’t believe I encountered much of his work as a child — apparently, I preferred motivational pablum like The Little Engine That Could — but parenthood has given me the chance to spend a lot of time in Sendak’s world, and if I’m grateful to my kids for nothing else, it’s that. Outside Over There — inspired partly by the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. — has become my favorite of his books, and not by a thin margin. Without giving away too much, the story is essentially about an young girl named Ida who is charged with rescuing her baby sister from a pack of goblins who’ve carted her away for some nefarious matrimonial purpose. With her father off at sea and her mother stricken with immobilizing grief, Ida is entirely responsible for her sister’s fate. In an odd way, I love this book for some of the same reasons I love Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (two books that I’m not sure have ever been mentioned in the same sentence): As a parent, I want desperately to know that my kids will be OK when I’m not there, either for the moment or forever. The horror of it all is that I’ll never really know, but Sendak helped reassure me that it will all somehow work out.

Meantime, Dick Cheney’s stolen heart continues to serve its dark, illegitimate master. RIP.

Klosterman at his upmost Klostermaniest

[ 167 ] April 24, 2012 |

This is more Scott’s beat than mine, but evidently Chuck Klosterman — the nitwit who couldn’t spend 30 minutes or so actually listening to a tUnE-yArDs album (“wow, their lyrics are hard to decipher, and Merrill Garbus was a puppeteer once, and she looks androgynous, and that makes me feel funny in my tummy”) — is now willing to engage in an entire evening of urban anthropology to discern the mystery of Creed and Nickelback. It’s not quite Slate-level cultural contrarianism, but there’s a root ancestor there somewhere.

The day before the New York show, Kroeger appeared on a Philadelphia radio station4 and was asked (of course) why people hate Nickelback so vehemently. “Because we’re not hipsters,” he replied. It’s a reasonable answer, but not really accurate — the only thing hipsters unilaterally loathe is other hipsters, so Nickelback’s shorthaired unhipness should theoretically play to their advantage. A better answer as to why people dislike Nickelback is tautological: They hate them because they hate them. Sometimes it’s fun to hate things arbitrarily, and Nickelback has become an acceptable thing to hate. They’re technically rich and technically famous, so they just have to absorb the denigration and insist they don’t care. They have good songs and they have bad songs, and the bad songs are bad enough to build an anti-Nickelback argument, assuming you feel like that’s important. But it’s never required. It’s not like anyone is going to contradict your thesis. There’s no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.

Oh, sweet suckling Jesus, do fuck off now.

Giving organ donation a bad name

[ 59 ] March 24, 2012 |

What a waste of usable muscle. Condolences to the donor’s family, and to the vast majority of humankind. If I thought there were a remote chance my vital organs might wind up sustaining the life of an enfeebled war criminal, I’d gleefully ram a weed-eater through my own sternum.

Great Moments in Cocaine

[ 33 ] March 21, 2012 |

For no particular reason, I give you the Palm Beach Post, 16 April 1962:

At least one of the five Cubans seized here recently with a record supply of cocaine may have been a Castro agent sent here to spread addiction among local exiles and thus discredit them in the eyes of the United States, official sources said last night . . . .

Charles Siragusa, deputy head of the U.S. Narcotics Bureau, said the sudden influx of the hideous drug into this country has a threefold purpose:

  • To damage U.S. morale by circulating a drug that incites its users to crimes of wild abandon.
  • To accelerate the crime rate particularly among local Cubans so that the goodwill so hard won by refugee families will be broken and the exile population in general will be discredited.
  • [No third purpose was actually listed]

Cocaine orgies already have been held here . . . . Wherever its use becomes widespread, cocaine parties are inevitable.

Cocaine users lose all sense of propriety and morality, and the gravest of crimes becomes a joke. It takes only a few minutes to feel its effects. One deep sniff of the sugary powder and the party is on.

Goddamn, I miss the Cold War.

Not as bad as Cheney; still clearly worse than Ed Gein

[ 31 ] March 13, 2012 |

Now and then, responsible bloggers revisit old viewpoints and test them against a fresh stable of facts. This was an especially useful exercise, for example, after the war in Iraq had muddled on for half a decade; in this presidential election year, perhaps we’ll have a similar chance to revisit the campaign of 2008 and measure the strengths and weaknesses of our ancient predictions and preliminary evaluations of Barack Obama. On the internet, we must first be accountable — and unsparingly so — to ourselves.

About five years ago, I demonstrated through unimpeachable, crystalline internet science that Jewel Kilcher could easily be numbered among the worst human beings our nation has ever pinched through its sod-packed colon. This was long before the Whitney Houston Obituary Wars, but long-time LGM readers may remember the discomfort this important (if objectively uncontroversial) truth caused some of our transient commenters, who denounced me for squashing the dreams of young people who wanted nothing more than to scribble shite poetry like their heroine, or for adopting a grossly undeserved tone of disdain toward someone who’d enlivened the souls of millions with her irony-free acoustical earnestness.* And ever since, various japesters in my life have made certain that I’m never wanting for updates on Jewel’s personal life and inspiring professional accomplishments. (Did you know that she got hit by a fire truck last year? Well, you would if you were me!)

So today’s mostly-non-Jewel-related e-mail barrage included this from the Huffington Post, wherein we learn that Jewel, unlike any other artist in human history, used to not have a lot of stuff. We also learn that because “she has not forgotten what it’s like to be hungry,” she’s partnered up with ConAgra to defeat food insecurity — a goal the company will surely achieve once it’s finished blowing up its workers, gouging the Palin family, or making sure Americans are getting enough nutritious Salmonella in their diets. Even worse, I have come to learn via Google Books that ConAgra was once — and perhaps still is — “almost entirely run by homosexuals and pedophiles” and that ConAgra executives have long been central actors in a gruesome, freemasonic Nebraskan underworld that uses children as drug couriers and ass candy.

Don’t be fooled, people.

 

* After LGM migrated from Blogger and we said our final, tearful fuck yous to JS-Kit, we lost that thread among many others — or so we thought. Fortunately, the Jewel Wars produced a few moments of such high comedy that we occasionally linked back to the original discussion, which I stumbled across this morning almost by accident. Behold.

The Reagan Myth moves to white dwarf status

[ 41 ] March 7, 2012 |

I’m a bit late with this, but for the love of the Angel Moroni, the eventual Republican presidential nominee is talking some dubious shit:

Beginning Nov. 4, 1979, dozens of U.S. diplomats were held hostage by Iranian Islamic revolutionaries for 444 days while America’s feckless president, Jimmy Carter, fretted in the White House. Running for the presidency against Carter the next year, Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior. On Jan. 20, 1981, in the hour that Reagan was sworn into office, Iran released the hostages. The Iranians well understood that Reagan was serious about turning words into action in a way that Jimmy Carter never was.

Wow, that Ronald Reagan fellow must have been one terrifying fellow. I’ll bet his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention was brimming with fury, warning of the severe consequences for Iran if–sorry, say what now? He didn’t actually mention Iran at all? That seems weird. But OK, fine. Maybe he didn’t want to harsh the celebratory mood. Surely, though, his late October debate with Carter was filled with the species of aggressive, demonstrative rhetoric that alerted the revolutionary leadership to his resolve and showed the humiliated American public that a vote for Reagan was a vote against the weak and . . . um, wait a minute.

First of all, I would be fearful that I might say something that was presently under way or in negotiations, and thus expose it and endanger the hostages. And sometimes, I think some of my ideas might involve quiet diplomacy, where you don’t say, in advance or say to anyone what it is you’re thinking of doing.

Your question is difficult to answer, because, in the situation right now, no one wants to say anything that would inadvertently delay, in any way, the return of those hostages if there is a chance of their coming home soon, or that might cause them harm. What I do think should be done, once they are safely here with their families and that tragedy is over — and we’ve endured this humiliation for just lacking 1 week of a year now — then, I think, it is time for us to have a complete investigation as to the diplomatic efforts that were made in the beginning, why they have been there so long, and when they come home, what did we have to do in order to bring that about, what arrangements were made? And I would suggest that Congress should hold such an investigation.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue praying that they’ll come home.

Well now I’m just confused. I expected to hear the clanking of gigantic, novelty-sized brass balls, but this sounds like a load of pantywaisted hippie nonsense to me.

No matter. Once Reagan was elected, the Iranians must have been positively soiling themselves with fear, scrambling to reach a deal as word leaked out that the time for shit-taking had well-nigh reached an end. By January 8 — a mere twelve days before the Serious Turning of Words into Action so elegantly and briefly described by Mittens Romney — the forces of manly Republicanism would have been wiggling in their seats as the anticipation mounted and OH MERCY ME WHERE’S THE BONER JUICE?

None of the actions being considered at the highest Reagan levels contemplate military action against Iran. Not yet, at least. Reagan planning shows a fastidious caution about the use, or even the threat, of military force. The reason, as explained by one key actor in the unfolding hostage drama: “We will suggest nothing in the way of military action that we are not absolutely certain we cannot carry out.”

Because Romney is in fact an empty vessel willing to say anything that sounds like something Republicans might endorse, it’s not surprising that Reagan — the chap who denounced Carter for releasing billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets to get the embassy hostages back, then approved illegal arms sales to Iran in exchange for hostages in Lebanon who were never in fact released — receives undeserved credit for being tough on Iran. What’s remarkable, however, is that the guy whose relationship to Iran eventually led him to break the Constitution winds up sounding completely reasonable and cautious by comparison with the people who now claim him as their totem.

Empty stadiums, then and now

[ 27 ] February 25, 2012 |

On June 21, 1948, Life magazine ran a gleeful series of photos ridiculing Harry Truman’s famous don’t-call-it-a-campaign-trip campaign trip through the West — a tour that was widely mocked by his adversaries but which actually had the effect of reviving his fortunes at a time when many within his party were scouting about for a replacement candidate. Henry Luce was a first-rate Truman hater, believing him to be insufficiently hostile toward the Soviet Union and insufficiently supportive of the Chinese nationalists, so when a publicity gaffe led Truman to deliver a speech to a nearly-empty Ak-Sar-Ben coliseum in Omaha, his magazine provided ample space for this:

Life conveniently overlooked the fact that Truman had drawn 160,000 Omahans to a parade earlier in the day, just as they had almost nothing to say about the substance of Truman’s speech, which endorsed still-popular New Deal policies including agricultural price supports, soil conservation efforts, federal support for farm cooperatives, measures to alleviate food insecurity and malnutrition, electrification programs as well as improvements to rural health services. Though Truman would eventually lose Nebraska by a margin of 54-46 percent, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that FDR had lost the state by 15 and 17 points in 1940 and 1944. So while the Republican media made strong efforts to depict Truman’s speaking tour as the work of a bumbling dope, the reality was that the more Truman spoke — sparse crowds or no — the more popular he became with voters.

Not so with Mittens, whose dishonest speech to an empty stadium in Detroit offered — as Ezra Klein points out — a horrifying call for Americans to address a debt non-emergency by hacking away at programs that serve the poorest citizens. No wonder, then, that the more Willard Romney speaks, the more everyone dislikes him.

Sometimes the empty stadium is an anomaly, and sometimes you’ve really earned it.

“Rather than turning to my local politician for prenatal advice…”

[ 10 ] February 22, 2012 |

I intended to link to this yesterday, but here is an outstanding piece of testimony to the benefits of the very kinds of prenatal testing that Bishop Santorum regards as indulgent and murderous. Mittens inevitability aside, I do hope our Man of the Froth eventually wins the GOP nomination, if for no other reason than to facilitate our long-delayed national debate over the merits of 20th century obstetric techniques.

Your daily dose of unpersuasive counterfactuals

[ 82 ] February 21, 2012 |

Frum has an odd little piece about “the elections that went most disastrously wrong for the United States and the world.” Politely refusing to consider more recent contests, Frum decides instead to fixate on the three elections beginning with Wilson’s victory in 1912. Why? I honestly have no idea. It seems that Frum thinks the election of Wilson in 1912 and 1916 guaranteed that the US would neglect to enter the Great War until it was too late; that an earlier mobilization (under Taft or Hughes) would have resulted in a shorter war; and that with Zombie Theodore Roosevelt as president from 1921 onward, the post-war debt crisis might have been resolved in a way that discouraged the Germans from attempting to kill all the people.

The whole thing is just insufferably weird, especially as Frum claims to have turned his “‘what if?’ mind” to these elections “again and again” — though evidently without knowing much at all about them. This is especially so for Wilson’s election in 1912, which Frum suggests had something to do with Roosevelt refusing to “discipline himself” and accept Taft for another four years.

Hardly. Taft was a clumsy President who managed to alienate nearly everyone in the progressive wing of his own party by voting for a tariff bill they hated (and which he subsequently described as “the best bill” Republicans had ever passed), by firing Gifford Pinchot from the Forest Service, and for regarding the presidency in decidedly more conservative terms than Roosevelt had approached the job. Taft was, moreover, distracted by a horrific stroke suffered by his wife, Nellie, a mere two months into his term, as well as by what I’d have to describe as an overall dislike for the position. (In my never-to-be-written book, Presidents Who Hated Being President, Taft would be near the top of the list.) The Democratic Party, helped along by Republican infighting, absolutely clobbered the GOP in the 1910 elections, seizing 59 seats (and the majority) in the House while reducing their adversaries from 60 seats to 48 in the Senate. Heading into 1912, the Democrats could easily have nominated a cinder block, festooned it with tiny American flags, and defeated Taft with several electoral votes to spare. As it happened, the Democrats took the unusual route of selecting the strongest available (and perhaps the strongest possible) candidate, and they won a victory that was more or less inevitable. Roosevelt’s pride had nothing to do with it; he and his supporters would have sat out the election rather than swallow another four years of Taft. Indeed, if anyone could deny Wilson a victory by stepping aside, it would have been Taft himself — but in one of the great episodes of spite in American political history, Taft hung around and accepted the GOP nomination even though he understood that he was toast in the general election. The guy barely campaigned for another term — defeating Roosevelt was satisfaction enough.

But even if Taft had won in 1912, I have no idea why Frum thinks he’d have been able to persuade Congress (and a deeply ambivalent public) to enter the Great War before 1917. After all, Taft — unlike Frum’s former boss — rejected TR’s expansive view of presidential power. Even with fellow interventionists clamoring for blood, Taft most likely have relied on his “What the Fuck Am I Supposed to Do?” face to evade the problem altogether.

“Lager’s amber fluid mild/gives health and strength to wife and child”

[ 32 ] February 20, 2012 |

I happened across this image while reading Daniel Okrent’s fantastic Last Call, a history of the Prohibition movement that I assigned to an upper-division course largely out of an interest in remedying my own failure to devote much time at all to the political and cultural economies of booze during the early 20th century. (I have a variety of hypotheses — none of them very satisfying — about why many historians give short shrift to Prohibition. It certainly deserves more attention than I routinely offer it, especially to the degree that it shared ground with an almost endless variety of social movements, including woman suffrage agitation, nativist jeremiads, Jim Crow apologetics, anti-boss campaigns, child protection crusades as well as the drive for a federal income tax to release the state from its dependence on the impost duty on alcohol. For decades, there was almost literally no aspect of American life that couldn’t be explained, promoted or condemned by reference to whiskey and beer, which the Sage tells us are “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”)

At any rate, the Gies “Against Prohibition” series is outstanding. Okrent doesn’t offer much detail about Gies himself, but the internet (and specifically Google Books) remembers. George H. Gies was evidently dead by the time his sons began issuing these cards around 1914, right about the time Michigan was succumbing, along with dozens of its peers, to state-level dry laws. While alive, Gies had operated a highly-regarded, five-story, 50-plus-room “European Hotel” located on the second Williams Block of historic Monroe Avenue. During the 1880s and early 1890s, he had refused to abide by Michigan’s new statutes regulating saloon and restaurant hours; he also refused to serve black patrons. Both controversies drew him into court, where Gies argued that the 14th Amendment prevented the state from limiting his business hours and permitted him to deny blacks the opportunity to eat and drink and sleep in his place of business. (The latter case, decided in his favor by the Michigan Supreme Court, helped inspire the formation of numerous Afro-American Leagues in the state — a response to the <i>Plessy<i>-era logic by which Federal courts imagined no roadblocks that might inhibit anti-black policies and practices.) George Gies, then, would seem to have been in many ways the embodiment of alcoholic respectability. He ran a classy establishment, defended the property interests of business in court, and refused to supply dangerous negroes with rape juice.

So this madonna-like image here would have fused with Gies’ claims on behalf of his own (now posthumous) reputation and on behalf of his clients’ decency. Among other things, it was clearly drawn to counteract the arguments made by progressive women (suffragists, temperance advocates, etc.) that drinking was a homosocial male cultural enterprise that encouraged the sort of immoderation that endangered the health and security of both wives and children. Progressive feminists were apt to evoke concepts like “home protection” and “municipal housekeeping” to explain why second-class citizens like themselves should have a voice in monitoring the safety of the food supply, improving the labor conditions in textile factories and sweatshops, or reforming the local school and state court systems to better serve the needs of the nation’s youth. Corporate power was invading the home, and its pernicious influence needed to be checked. This image accepts the link between the corporate and domestic spheres but merely reverses the polarity, insisting that responsible brewers are no menace to mother and child. It would have summoned to mind the folk tradition — one that’s medically baseless yet still widely believed — that alcohol somehow enhances lactation by increasing the mother’s milk supply.

Given that the Gies company was essentially working on someone else’s (secure) rhetorical terrain, I seriously doubt the image had any other effect than to infuriate the Anti-Saloon League. But it’s a remarkable little document nevertheless.

ContraceptiMelt!

[ 45 ] February 9, 2012 |

Thank Jeebus for this

The White House is “all talk, no action” on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”

“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

…because it gives me the opportunity to link to this 1997 classic

Hot on the heels of last week’s FDA approval, on Monday PepsiCo subsidiary Taco Bell launched its controversial “morning after” burrito, a zesty, Mexican-style entree that prevents unwanted pregnancies if ingested within 36 hours following intercourse.

Developed by a team of top Taco Bell gynecologists, the $1.99 “ContraceptiMelt” burrito creates an inhospitable environment within the womb, causing fertilized ovum tissue to be flushed from the body.

Also available are ContraceptiMelt Supremes, featuring sour cream and extra cheese.

Could someone please alert the office of Rep. John Fleming? The People must be told.

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