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Something I’ve Been Wanting to Get off My Chest for Awhile

[ 150 ] April 22, 2015 |

Dear digital artists and photographers,

Nazi imagery is not an aesthetic; it’s symbolic of one of the ugliest chapters in human history. It is not like an edgy  version of steampunk. It’s symbolic of genocide. It is not your brush to paint with.

Anyone else haaaaaaaaate the tired and disturbingly cliched use of Nazi imagery in art? When did we decide this was ok?

The Graduate Program

[ 64 ] April 22, 2015 |


Should people in History Ph.D. programs stop taking students because of the job crisis? American Historical Association president Vicki Ruiz is making that decision:

I remain hopeful that our efforts will widen opportunities for current Ph.D.’s. However, this optimism is tempered when I reflect on the job prospects for my recent doctoral graduates. Out of four accomplished junior historians (with seven prestigious research prizes and fellowships among them), only one has secured that elusive tenure-track position. Of the others, one has retreated from view, while the rest remain freeway flyers and/or part-time administrators. Trite as it may sound, it breaks my heart to watch them struggle.

With an additional four mentees in the pipeline, I have placed a personal moratorium on Ph.D. recruitment. I respect and support colleagues who desire to guide a new generation, but my priority remains on the career paths — inside and outside the academy — of people with whom I have a longstanding mentoring relationship. My personal moratorium embodies my hope that the association’s Career Diversity project will stimulate the retooling of graduate programs to prepare our students for wider opportunities. That will take time. In the interim, some of us are likely to slow the pump of history Ph.D.’s into the overflowing adjunct pool.

I have complex feelings about this. A couple of notes. First, I am somewhat associated with the American Historical Association pilot project Ruiz mentions to get programs to rethink graduate training because I am an alum of the University of New Mexico, one of the included schools because it punches way over its weight when it comes to placing PhDs in both academic and nonacademic positions. In February, I went back to UNM to talk about some of the things I do, joining a group of fellow alumni and a few others discussing their experiences. I really don’t know if it was helpful for current Ph.D. students there, but I hope it was. I do have to say that I took verbal exception to what AHA head Jim Grossman had to say and didn’t say at this event, which was basically to a) ignore the fundamental reasons why there are no jobs (the disappearance of history lines and adjunctification) and b) to tell every history PhD to basically be a business major and learn how to read a spreadsheet and learn to budget (a worthy enough skill, but no answer to the problem). On the other hand, it is absolutely vital that we assume that PhD students will not get an academic job, whether at Harvard, New Mexico, or South Carolina. This should be the assumption of every PhD advisor and every PhD student. Sometimes the student will strike it rich and win the lottery from any of these schools! I did and I know some people from all these schools who have in recent years. But usually they won’t. To me, that’s the first step advisors must take. What are students being trained for? Can advisors or other mentors offer skills that will get students actual jobs?

But even outside of that, I think the assumption that we shouldn’t take PhD students is a bit more problematic. Not that I disagree with Ruiz per se, as she takes an obviously defensible position. But the reality is that there aren’t good jobs anywhere in this economy outside of select fields. And some of us–myself included–are very smart in some ways, but not in the ways that this capitalist economy values. So the moral question around accepting PhD students I think revolves around whether they are funded or not. I would not be comfortable accepting students that are not funded. But if they are funded, at least they aren’t going into debt, or much anyway. To me, this is the fundamental difference between the PhD and law school. If the student is just delaying their income earning potential, such as it is in this stage of American capitalism, then that’s one decision and a potentially defensible one. If they are going into debt for that PhD, that’s a horrible idea. I find that a compelling dividing line.

But then I don’t know. There aren’t good answers. And the balance between giving students the opportunity to pursue their intellectual dreams and career goals versus placing them at a disadvantage in their lives going forward is not an easy one to maintain. I figure many of you will have thoughts on this.

Credit Checks on Job Applicants

[ 127 ] April 22, 2015 |


In a nation that places many injustices and indignities on the poor, it’s good to see at least one of those be alleviated in one place:

But the city where first impressions count for everything is about to make the job market a little less judgmental. New York’s City Council just voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the common practice of letting employers prejudge people based on their credit history—passing an unprecedented ban against employers use of workers’ credit background data.

The legislation, which passed last Thursday following an extensive grassroots campaign by local and national labor and community groups, restricts a boss, prospective employer or agency from “us[ing] an individual’s consumer credit history in making employment decisions.”

The final version incorporates some compromises pushed by the business lobby, such as carve-outs for positions that could involve handling “financial agreements valued at $10,000 or more,” police and national-security related jobs, or workers with access to “trade secrets.” While business groups cited these provisions as wins in a bill they otherwise chafed at, economic justice advocates have nonetheless hailed the law as a promising boost for an emerging nationwide movement.

Sarah Ludwig of the New Economy Project says, “It’s a strong law…and it’s going to cover most New Yorkers [and] most jobs by far and away. It’s a real civil rights victory.”

Enforcement of the law will be driven by a complaint process, which makes it a tricky game for the city authorities relying on workers to come forward. But Ludwig adds, advocates hope the system provides a platform for the city’s Human Rights Commission to gain new prominence under the de Blasio administration’s leadership, since the city has “this unbelievably strong human rights law” on paper but not necessarily in practice.

Not perfect, but a significant improvement. Of course, this should be a nationwide law, for what possible valid reason is there to allow employers to access job applicants’ credit histories, unless the goal is to create a permanent underclass.

Mobile Site Down Again

[ 12 ] April 22, 2015 |


The site is down on mobile devices again, although fortunately not nearly as… dramatically as the last time. Working on it.



“Hell Exists On Earth? Yes. This Fall on HBO.”

[ 16 ] April 22, 2015 |

Rarely has a more terrifying sentence appeared in these virtual pages:

Whitney Cummings has landed an untitled pilot inspired by Maureen Dowd’s book “Are Men Necessary?” at the pay cable network…

I feel I should have saved some of the invective I used for The Newsroom. Hopefully at least Cummings’s character will be named “Judy Miller…”

Design on a Budget

[ 98 ] April 21, 2015 |

My husband makes a decent living, but the bottom line is that you will never see one of our homes grace the pages of design magazines; that is almost solely the purview of the very wealthy. However, I do the best with what we have and instead of whining still more about wanting design options for the 99%, I thought I’d share some of my secrets for making my house a haven.


1.) Art is a must, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy inexpensive art at places like and AllPosters. com. You can frame them inexpensively yourself by buying ready-made mat-frames at places like Wal-Mart or Michael’s or you can have them professionally framed. Framing can be ridiculously expensive, but if you stick to a plain off-white mat and a thin, simple black, gold or silver metal frame, you’ll save buttloads of money. And simple frame jobs look good with anything and look good grouped together. Postcards can be framed–cheaply. So can a child’s artwork. Rip a page out of an old book. Art on the walls adds so much warmth and personality to a space. You really can’t skip it.

2.) Private sales sites. Private sales sites. Private sales sites. Join them and shop them. They’re an invaluable resource for–at times–drastically-reduced brand-name furniture and accessories. I pretty much don’t shop for decor anywhere else. Art for the walls, pillows, vases, objects d’art, baskets, decorative books, gee-gaws large and small, it’s all there. What’s more, many of their offerings are sold in groups, making decorating simple. (Because groupings of objects almost always look better than lone knick-knacks.) This is a good to time to bring up staggering–stagger your belongings. Mix little objects with large-scale things. (Lots of little knick-knacks is a bad thing, period. Don’t do it.) Mix textures and heights. And, seriously, these places are great. Wayfair is not a private sales site (but its subsidiary, Joss and Main is). I picked up a room-size wool rug for less than half its retail price. Always be shopping, always be eagle-eyed and looking for deals–you’ll find them.

3.) Buy what you love–it’ll all work together. Things don’t have to be matchy-matchy. Things can be weird and eclectic. If you dig it, you’ll find a way to make it work.

4.) Learn to love paint. Painting a room a bold color can add oodles of drama for almost no money. Similarly, thrift shop finds can be revitalized with a little sanding (or primer) and paint. Back in the day I refinished so many Goodwill finds…and got so many compliments on them.

5.) Look at design magazines and websites to see how the professionals pull rooms together. Look at their tablescapes, mantelscapes, how they style a bookshelf. Use YOUR stuff in place of their expensive crap.

6.) Mix cheapie finds (from, say, Big Lots or Pier One) with more expensive things; it’s interesting and people won’t know which is which.

7.) Your tips here __________.

UPDATE: 8.) Living things are great to have in your house. A.) Many plants and planters are inexpensive. (You can find really cute planters for nothing at places like Big Lots). If you have a green thumb, geez, fill your house with plants. B) Most supermarkets offer sweet little bouquets of flowers for less than 10 bucks. Take out all the filler foliage and cut the flowers to a uniform length and stick them in a vase (you can get plain glass ones for, like, 2 dollars…free, if you’ve ever received the gift of flowers) and voila–instant life and warmth. I’m even a fan of faux arrangements if they’re decent-looking. You can find some pretty nice ones for decent prices at private sales sites.

More #PSFrustration

[ 98 ] April 21, 2015 |


Jennifer Victor has a very useful addition to the debate. Since people are oddly defensive about the idea that gerrymandering is responsible for polarization, let’s start here:

Gerrymandering does not cause political polarization. The U.S. Senate is the best example here: there is no gerrymandering in the Senate because state lines are not often redrawn, yet the Senate has become increasingly polarized in recent years, just like the house. The causes of political polarization are complex and interactive; redrawing districts may play some role but it is not the boogeyman of politics that it is often made out to be.

That’s pretty much checkmate. Also note that even to the very modest extent to which the House is more polarized than the Senate, most of that is about redistricting, not gerrymandering. Even if districts were drawn in an entirely nonpartisan manner, legislators representing local constituencies would be expected to be more polarized than those represented statewide constituencies.

Gerrymandering is potentially relevant to American politics because it distorts electoral outcomes. It’s not relevant because of “polarization.”

I also wanted to repeat something I said in comments about this:

There will never be a viable third party in the U.S. The number of parties in any democracy is determined by its electoral rules. The U.S. has one representative for each congressional district (rather than many) and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. This combination of rules nearly always produces a system with two parties. Third party movements in the U.S. have a tendency to get absorbed by existing strong parties. Political scientists refer to this as Duverger’s Law.

In addition, even if it were possible to have a multiparty system in Congress — and I don’t think it is given the separation of the executive and legislative branches and the electoral college — it’s never really clear what problems third parties are supposed to solve. From the left, calls for third parties are fundamentally a means ignoring the fact that votes (particularly as distorted by the Senate’s malapportionment, single-member house districts, and the electoral college) just aren’t there. Putting the leftmost members of Congress into a new Magic Pony Party Just For You, The Valued Customer party doesn’t make the median vote in the Senate any more liberal. There’s no problem worth solving that dividing the Democratic coalition into multiple parties would actually solve. Indeed, I think it would probably act as an additional veto point that would make things worse — if you thought that the Democratic Congresses under Carter were too productive, you’d love a Congress controlled by an ad hoc multi-party coalition that had to assemble a coalition for every issue without a strong party apparatus.

We cannot be reminded too much that conflict is what politics is about:

Electing the right person to a position of power in Washington will not “fix” politics. While our politics has never been more divided, the divisions are natural and perhaps “true” representations of differing ideologies, beliefs, and preferences. Our government is designed, in some ways, to foster division and (dis)agreement, and to encourage slow, incremental, and glacial progress. The alternative would leave us all dizzy with constant change and lurching policies. The Messiah being elected president would not change this. Disagreement is a natural by-product of democracy, so we should learn to value it more.

Just so. And, finally, it’s always important to be reminded that “mandate” is a Latin word meaning “bullshit.”

There is no such thing as a political mandate–I don’t care how much you won your election by. This is true for more than one reason, but mostly it’s true because people elect candidates not platforms. Also, Condorcet and Arrow tell us that even when a majority has chosen something, it doesn’t mean that thing is the “will” of the group. This is because a different majority could have chosen a different, just as legitimate, option.

I remember having more than one earnest conversation in 2000 with people who assured me that it wouldn’t matter if Bush won because he wouldn’t really have a “mandate” to do anything. One thing Bush did understand is that it’s pretty much all nonsense.

It’s so simple it’s brilliant

[ 14 ] April 21, 2015 |

merchant banker

I’ve mentioned before that Jeffrey Harrison’s blog Class Bias in Higher Education deserves a wide audience. Harrison, a law professor at Florida, doesn’t write very often, but when he does it’s always worth reading. He’s also very funny. Here’s his suggestion on how to run more efficient faculty meetings:

Each faculty member has a life size photo made. This are all kept in the dean’s office but they could also be in the supply room. That is for each faculty to vote on and I am sure they would insist on doing just that. I’d go with the supply room but I will vote with the committee on this.

The faculty meeting is called and faculty stay in their offices writing very important articles, making their next set of reservations to take an important group of people to South America to hear 5 minute talks, napping, playing online chess, or anything else equally productive.

The dean’s right hand person goes to the meeting room and arranges the life size photos. The dean arrives and calls the meeting to order and moves to the first item on the agenda. Let’s say it’s “should we raise the mean GPA from 3.88 to 3.89.” In their photos, each person has his or hand up and the dean recognizes them in turn. But, and here is the revolutionary move. After calling their names he or she just moves to the next person, They do not talk because they are cardboard. BUT the dean (more likely the dean’s assistant) knows exactly what each person will say because they are like a sentences on infinite loops — same thing every single time:

Person 1: Shouldn’t we check to see what the highly ranked schools are doing because we definitely want to move up the ladder, not down because I actually think it is our job to move up in the rankings. (And, by the way, I getting pretty pissed off if anyone disagrees.)

Person 2: I just want to know if this will hurt the students’ feelings because my feelings were hurt once and it does not feel good.

Person 3: Is there some way we could turn this into some money because I really like money.

Person 4: At (my, daughter’s, friend’s) school they have a 4.00 average and, therefore, we should too because I have no original ideas.

Person 5; (Flipping her hair and acting all flustered): I really think we should do something and I am just wondering [don’t you love the passive-aggressive “just wondering move?] if it is really a good idea to give all the students the same grade but I am just wondering so please don’t mind me because the most important thing is that you not realize this is a part time job for me.

Person 6: I actually have nothing to say but I always use up about ten minutes saying nothing it so here is what I think and that is many schools do one thing and some do another and I . . . . . because I like hearing myself sound important because if I hear myself sounding important it makes me think I am important or at least you will think I am here more than the 4 hours a week I actually am on campus.”


The Core of Opposition to the ACA Is People Who Already Have Government-Provided Health Insurance

[ 108 ] April 21, 2015 |


Brian Beutler on the demographic breakdown of the 35% of the population that favors the repeal of the ACA:

Only a third of the country supports full repeal, and, like the Republican coalition itself, it is a very old third—comprised of the only people in the country with almost no stake in the law’s core costs and benefits.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, whose tracking poll is a touchstone for measuring public sentiment about Obamacare, the law is under water—barely. Forty one percent of respondents hold favorable views of the ACA, while 43 percent hold unfavorable views. But if you break it out by age cohort, you find that that two percent margin is entirely attributable to people who have aged out of the program.

Among 18- to 64-year-olds—the people who pay for the law, or are eligible for the law’s benefits, or might become eligible for the law’s benefits at some point in the future—Obamacare is breakeven. Forty two percent favorable, versus 42 percent unfavorable. Among those whose opinions we should generally ignore on this issue—old people—it’s a bloodbath. Only 36 percent view the law favorably, while 46 percent view it unfavorably.

As with so much in American politics, “I’ve got mine, Jack” is the dominant ethos of opposition to the ACA. The fact that so much opposition to the ACA comes from people with so little stake in whether the law survives (and what little stake they do have something that only a vanishingly small number of people would be aware of) doesn’t help the politics, but it’s certainly morally important.

As I’ve said before, if you actually take the heighten-the-contradictions critique of the ACA seriously — if you think that reform that stops short of nationalization is bad because it “entrenches” private insurers — the real villain is not Obama but LBJ. If there was any chance of single-payer or a comparable alternative, it died with Medicare. In my view, there almost certainly wasn’t any chance anyway, so Great Society Democrats were right to take what they could get. But certainly by cherry-picking a politically powerful constituency, Medicare made both passing and sustaining more comprehensive reforms much more difficult.

Coal Companies Up to Their Old Tricks

[ 19 ] April 21, 2015 |


The coal companies are using their traditional power in West Virginia to roll back state health and safety regulations at the same time the federal government is citing them for gross health and safety violations. Not that the companies really care since the penalties even at the federal level are too small for them to bother with.

West Virginia coal companies successfully lobbied for a rollback of state mining safety regulations in the same month that mines they own were issued more than two-dozen health and safety citations by federal inspectors. Murray Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources are all members of the West Virginia Coal Association, which earlier this year led the push for the state’s newly elected Republican-majority Legislature to pass the controversial Coal Jobs & Safety Act.

Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin signed the bill into law in March over objections from the mineworkers’ union and workplace safety advocates. It abolished a joint labor-industry panel that reviews underground diesel equipment to safeguard air quality, removed a prohibition on transporting equipment when workers are deeper in the mine than where the equipment is being shipped and expanded the maximum distance between rail tracks and work areas. The industry said the old regulations, which were stricter than their federal counterparts, were burdensome and did little to improve workplace safety.

In February, as the Legislature debated and approved the reforms, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) visited three West Virginia mines owned by Murray, Arch and Alpha and slammed the companies with a combined 25 citations.

“Unfortunately, it’s no coincidence that while these companies are advocating reducing state mine safety provisions to match the looser federal requirements, they are also being cited by the federal government for engaging in unsafe practices,” said Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia branch of the AFL-CIO.

If another 29 miners died like at the 2010 disaster at Massey Energy’s Big Branch mine, the companies still wouldn’t care. They never have.

SEK on Graphic Policy Radio talking about the politics of Daredevil

[ 20 ] April 21, 2015 |


I know I always encourage you to listen to my appearances on Graphic Policy Radio — co-hosts Elana and Brett really bring out the best in me — but in this case I really think you should, as the conversation was exceptional. (Likely because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Daredevil, as tomorrow’s Lawyers, Guns & Money podcast on the show will demonstrate, as well as an interview I did with NPR which may or may not have already aired.)

I should note, however, that the conversation addresses all 12 episodes, so if you haven’t finished the series and want to avoid spoilers, bookmark this and listen later.


Check Out Pop Culture Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with graphicpolicy on BlogTalkRadio

Solar Energy Batteries

[ 29 ] April 21, 2015 |


Some potentially positive developments in the cost of batteries to collect solar energy from home-based systems, which right now is holding back solar energy development. There is some real reason to think major developments are in the offing, including that the traditional energy providers are nervous about it. Of course, we’ve been hearing these sorts of predictions for almost 40 years now. I’m also a bit curious about the water requirements of a giant new battery factory in the deserts east of Reno. But that might be a secondary concern.

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