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“How much of strength, of skill, of possible loyalty, does modern industry tap from the average Hunky?” Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (IV)

[ 42 ] June 26, 2016 |


The genre of “rich person going undercover to show us what the real life of the working class is like” is pretty old now, going from at least the mid-nineteenth century to Barbara Ehrenreich. Sometimes these exercises can be useful, often they are condescending. I decided to read Charles Rumford Walker’s 1922 book Steel: The Diary of a Furnace Worker for the same reason I read many things–it appeared in front of my face at the right time.

It’s hard to feel comfortable reading such a text when this appears in the first paragraph:

I acquired the current Anglo-Hunky language and knew speedily the grind and the camaraderie of American steel-making.

Ah, nothing like some pejoratives to really sum up the camaraderie of the steel mills. Certainly Thomas Bell’s family just loved being called Hunkies by Anglo folks.

I love the class privilege involved in this sort of paragraph, as our narrator decides what to do after being an officer in World War I:

I was twenty-five, a college graduate, a first-lieutenant in the army. In the civilian world into which I was about to jump, most of my connections were with the university I had recently left, few or none in the business world. Why not enlist, then, in one of the basic industries, coal, oil, or steel? I liked steel— it was the basic American industry, and technically and economically it interested me. Why not enlist in steel? Get a laborer’s job? Learn the business? And, besides, the chemical forces of change, I meditated, were at work at the bottom of society—

The next day I sent in the resignation of my commission in the regular army of the United States.

I’ll bet those Hunkies were making the same choice. Should I go work in middle management of U.S. Steel or slum up with the boys? This guy was really with the people!

This guy clearly was one of the boys:

I was first conscious of the blaring mouths of furnaces. There were five of them, and men with shovels in line, marching within a yard, hurling a white gravel down red throats. Two of the men were stripped, and their backs were shiny in the red flare. I tried to feel perfectly at home, but discovered a deep consciousness of being overdressed. My straw hat I could have hurled into a ladle of steel.

Lucky they didn’t hurl him into a ladle of steel.

My heart leaped a bit at “the night-shift.” I thought over the hours-schedule the employment manager had rehearsed: “Five to seven, fourteen hours, on the night-week.”

My father worked the night shift for many years. I don’t think his heart “leaped a bit” over the matter.

As a whole, the thing reads reasonably decently. Walker is a fair writer. He describes the process of steel making pretty well and enlivens it with a decent amount of swearing from the Hunkies and Wops. Oh, wait, did I mention that Walker loves stereotypes? The Russians booze it up. The Italian makes an OK boss even though Walker admits his resentment to taking orders from the Wop. Surprised he didn’t figure him to be an anarchist, infiltrating the steel mills, or perhaps a member of the Black Hand. But, to give Walker credit, after struggling to understand what anyone is saying, he admits his realization:

This is amusing enough on the first day; you can go off and laugh in a superior way to yourself about the queer words the foreigners use. But after seven days of it, fourteen hours each, it gets under the skin, it burns along the nerves, as the furnace heat burns along the arms when you make back-wall. It suddenly occurred to me one day, after someone had bawled me out picturesquely for not knowing where something was that I had never heard of, that this was what every immigrant Hunky endured; it was a matter of language largely, of understanding, of knowing the names of things, the uses of things, the language of the boss. Here was this Serbian second-helper bossing his third-helper largely in an unknown tongue, and the latter getting the full emotional experience of the immigrant. I thought of Bill, the pit boss, telling a Hunky to do a clean-up job for him; and when the Hunky said, “What?” he turned to me and said: “Lord! but these Hunkies are dumb.”

Of course, he immediately backtracks:

I suddenly had a vision of how the New York subway looked: its crush, its noise, its overdressed Jews, its speed, its subway smell. I looked around inside the clattering trolley-car. Nobody was talking. The car was filled for the most part with Slavs, a few Italians, and some negroes from the nail mill. Everyone, except two old men of unknown age, was under thirty-five. They held their buckets on their laps, or put them on the floor between their legs. Six or eight were asleep. The rest sat quiet, with legs and neck loose,

“Its overdressed Jews.” Gawd….

What’s remarkable is how utterly apolitical this book remains. Walker tells of the heat and stress and long hours. But to what end? It’s almost as if the description is just entertainment for the middle classes reading it. There is very little sense of political purpose until the end, when Walker briefly admits that the long shifts are terrible and undermine workers’ lives. But there’s certainly little empathy with the long-term struggles of the working classes in any political aim, except for one brief mention of Walker, who could talk to bosses since he came from their class and was kind of slumming through this, telling one that his claim that his workers labored an 8-hour day was not true..There’s also very little discussion of workers dying on the job, just a mention or two of stories from the past, which is an obvious omission in an industry suffering frequent deaths. This could have led to something of real interest, but is too much about Walker wanting to “learn the trade.”

In short, too much tourism, not enough analysis. It is a kind of interesting book, but suffers the problem of the wealthy in 1919, when Walker labored in the mills, not really understanding the working class, even when they do actually interact with them.

After Charles Rumford Walker left the steel mills, he had a very hard career ahead of him working for Yale. It’s unclear if he let any Hunkies or overdressed Jews into the august institution.

I am one of all of seven people to download this text. A best seller!



[ 21 ] June 26, 2016 |
Slash in 2010.

By Scott Penner –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

As the world disintegrated on Thursday night*, I was at Ford Field in Detroit watching the first show of the new Guns N’ Roses tour. This was the third time I’ve seen GNR; the first in Seattle in October 1992, and the second in April 1993 in Portland. I don’t mind stadium shows, although I haven’t seen one in a while. Thursday’s show was the first of the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, which brings Slash and Duff McKagan back into the fold.  Feel free to debate whether Axl, Slash, and Duff are sufficient to constitute “Guns N’ Roses,” but if your answer is “no,” then the band hasn’t existed since 1991.

Alice in Chains opened, which we missed because really, there are limits. GNR hit the stage at 9:43, two minutes ahead of schedule.  Several friends had asked me “what if Axl throws a tantrum and they only play for fifteen minutes and then cancel the tour?” to which I responded “Well, that would be awesome.” There were hiccups; in particular, the sound effects associated with the pyrotechnics were off, and unnecessarily distracting.  And halfway through It’s So Easy, the first song of the set, Rose looked visibly winded.  A lot of folks seemed to notice this; I thought to myself “first song of the first concert; gonna be a long tour, Axl,” but he recovered quickly.

Axl somehow convinced Duff and Slash to do three tracks of Chinese Democracy. I’m not nearly as familiar with CD as with the rest of the catalogue, although I don’t think it’s a bad album. And I’m happy that it hasn’t been expunged from the history of the band. The inclusion of the songs (along with a few covers) suggests that Rose, in particular, still wants to do something interesting and challenge the audience, rather than becoming a greatest hits act. There were no extra musicians on stage, no background singers, no orchestra; the stripped down set worked particularly well for November Rain, which plays better in such conditions than with the full regalia.

With respect to Axl… it may shock some readers that a fifty-four year old man can add a few pounds over his thirty-one year old self, but let me assure you that this is a thing that can happen in the real world (Slash also seems just a bit stouter than he was in the 1990s, although Duff looked like he had somehow lost weight). Although Rose’s drug use has been overstated, he endured some significant health problems in the 1980s and 1990s. On balance, Rose is almost certainly more healthy now than just about any time in his GNR tenure.  And while he may be a bit slower and less slinky than he was in the early days of the band, it’s only a marginal difference; he remains a remarkably energetic front man, and his voice is still quite strong.

With respect to intra-band relations, Axl and Slash worked very well together.  I’ve heard that relations between Duff and Axl are still quite bad, but it didn’t show up on stage in any meaningful way.  Overall, the entire band performed very professionally, and worked well as a unit.  If GNR is your thing, then you should give the tour some consideration.

*Yes; I was, in fact, frantically checking my phone for Brexit updates during a Guns N’ Roses show.

“Much of the renown acquired for Kentucky by her surgeons was in the treatment of calculous diseases”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (III)

[ 11 ] June 26, 2016 |


What’s the point of looking into old historical texts if not to explore texts about surgery? Thus, Gutenberg presents us with David Yandell’s 1890 treatise, Pioneer Surgery in Kentucky: A Sketch. * You know this is going to be illuminating. How drunk was everyone involved? Were Kentucky doctors still bleeding patients in 1890? Are they still in 2016?

The last question goes unanswered, sadly.

This is the start of the text:

1806. The earliest original surgical work of any magnitude done in Kentucky, by one of her own sons, was an amputation at the hip-joint. It proved to be the first operation of the kind in the United States. The undertaking was made necessary because of extensive fracture of the thigh with great laceration of the soft parts. The subject was a mulatto boy, seventeen years of age, a slave of the monks of St. Joseph’s College. The time was August, 1806; the place, Bardstown; the surgeon, Dr. Walter Brashear; the assistants, Dr. Burr Harrison and Dr. John Goodtell; the result, a complete success. The operator divided his work into two stages. The first consisted in amputating the thigh through its middle third in the usual way, and in tying all bleeding vessels. The second consisted of a long incision on the outside of the limb, exposing the remainder of the bone, which, being freed from its muscular attachments, was then disarticulated at its socket.

It goes from there. Unfortunately, some of Kentucky’s finest didn’t stay in the Bluegrass. They traveled abroad and came under the influence of the Celestials, and no doubt their opium:

While among the Celestials he amputated a woman’s breast, probably the first exploit of the kind by one from the antipodes. Unfortunately for science, he there learned the method used by the Chinese for clarifying ginseng, and thinking, on his return home, that he saw in this an easy way to wealth, he abandoned the profession in which he had exhibited such originality, judgment, and skill, and engaged in merchandising. Twelve years of commerce and its hazards left him a bankrupt in fortune, but brought him back to the calling in which he was so well fitted to shine. He moved, in 1813, from Bardstown to Lexington, where he at once secured a large practice, especially in diseases of the bones and joints. He was thought to excel in the treatment of fractures of the skull, for the better management of which a trephine was made in Philadelphia, under his direction, which, in his judgment, was superior to any then in use.

Of course, anyone can secure a functional career in Lexington, even under the influence of opium, as Farley can attest.

Most of the book is a combination of somewhat disturbing tales of pioneer surgery and odes to the glory of sweet, sweet Kentucky. Such as:

It would be neither fitting nor becoming on this occasion, and in this presence, to speak in detail of the technic observed by McDowell in his work. That has long since passed into history. I may, however, be permitted the remark that the procedure, in many of its features, is necessarily that of to-day. The incision was longer than that now usually made, and the ends of the pedicle ligature were left hanging from the lower angle of the wound. But the pedicle itself was dropped back into the abdomen. The patient was turned on her side to allow the blood and other fluids to drain away. The wound was closed with interrupted sutures. This marvel This marvel of work was done without the help of anesthetics or trained assistants, or the many improved instruments of to-day, which have done so much to simplify and make the operation easy. McDowell had never heard of antisepsis, nor dreamed of germicides or germs; but water, distilled from nature’s unpolluted cisterns by the sun, and dropped from heaven’s condensers in the clean blue sky, with air winnowed through the leaves of the primeval forest which deepened into a wilderness about him on every hand, gave him and his patients aseptic facility and environment which the most favored living laparotomist well might envy. These served him well, and six out of seven of his first cases recovered. He removed the first tumor in twenty-five minutes, a time not since much shortened by the average operator.

I don’t doubt it, but thankfully we have turned this pure Kentucky water away from something as useless as surgery and toward something of far greater value: bourbon.


In all truth, this is kind of an interesting book if you are into reading about historical amputations. And who isn’t?

* I am proud to say that I am evidently one of four people who have downloaded this book.

Was Cameron’s Referendum Decision Defensible? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 152 ] June 26, 2016 |

david-brentAbove: A More Competent British Leader Named “David”

In comments, Murc argues that Cameron’s catastrophic decision to call for a referendum was defensible:

We talk a lot on this blog how all politics is the work of coalitions and that political leaders often are, counter-intuitively, often forced to follow their electorates rather than the other way around. This comes up a lot during Clinton-related sturm und drang; people will say “They put the boot into the welfare state and ran on making poor people poorer and locking up black people” and they’re not wrong, but then others will come back with “the political atmosphere of the Democratic Party and the national mood as a whole at that time required them to make compromises with the no-more-handouts and tough-on-crime wings of their own party, to say nothing of the Republicans” and they aren’t wrong either.

Or, in a more British context… there’s been a lot of talk about how Cameron is going down as “the worst PM since Neville Chamberlain.” Chamberlain is reviled by history for his appeasement… but it is ignored that Chamberlain was representing the will of the vast majority of his party, the opposition party, and most of the British electorate. If he’d tried to drag Britain to war in 1938 there’s a very good chance his government implodes.

The thing is, I buy the Chamberlain defense in re: Chamberlain. Chamberlain probably made the best choice available to him, and even if he didn’t, he certainly had no good choices available, which is often the case with famous political blunders. James Buchanan is currently ranked as the worst president in American history by scholars, and between what he stood for and his ridiculous passivity in the face of secession, I don’t find that particularly objectionable. But, to be frank, he’s ranked as the very worst because of the many generic Jacksonian hacks to attain the White House he was the one who happened to be in office when the police finally raided the floating craps game. I don’t think there were any choices Buchanan could have made to keep the Democratic coalition together. Polk, often ranked as an average or above-average president, almost certainly did more to create the conditions for the Civil War than Buchanan did. Douglas would certainly have better after secession than Buchanan was, but he wouldn’t have been able to stop the secession from happening. By that point I don’t think anybody could have. The category of political leaders remembered as being uniquely bad largely because of circumstances beyond their control is real enough.

Which is exactly what makes Cameron’s incompetence so astounding — this catastrophe was a completely unforced error. He didn’t need to call this referendum, and he really didn’t need to call this referendum.

On the first point, I just don’t buy that coalition politics compelled him to call a referendum. It should have been pretty obvious that Johnson and Gove were cynical rube-runners rather than people deeply committed to leaving the EU (and, certainly, the fact that they’ve gone into witness protection after “winning” settles the question.) While I understand the temptation to use the referendum to stop the trolling, given the downside risk the better option is obviously “put up or shut up.” It is highly unlikely that Johnson could have led a successful coup against Cameron, who had just delivered the Tories their first majority government in more than 20 years even if he wanted to, which he almost certainly didn’t.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you think Cameron had to call the referendum. As MacK said (and, I should note, Murc apparently agrees), it should be blindingly obvious that this referendum should have had some kind of supermajority requirement, starting with the assent of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. In theory, I would also prefer something like a 60% national vote, but the multiple majority requirement would make it superfluous in any case. What you certainly don’t do is call for a referendum that would lead to Brexit given 50%+1 on any given day. Even leaving aside the merits of leaving the EU, you don’t make such momentous changes based on bare popular majorities from a single vote. That a decisive number of voters who were indifferent or actively opposed to leaving the EU might have voted Leave to send a message of frustration or patriotism or whatever is something that any remotely competent leader should have seen coming. You can blame the voters if you want, but the blame is much better directed at Cameron’s stupid decision rule.

In conclusion, Cameron massively blundered. He was trolled into calling an unnecessary referendum, and even worse structured the referendum ineptly. Comparing him to Chamberlain is unfair to Chamberlain.

“C is the Cotton-field, to which This injured brother’s driven”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (II)

[ 4 ] June 26, 2016 |


Lest one think that the Gutenberg Project only provides bizarre books of America’s past that make ridiculous arguments, let me at least point out that you can access such texts like this 1847 anti-slavery children’s alphabet book that is really neat.

A brief note on Michael Simkovic’s white whale

[ 27 ] June 26, 2016 |


Michael Simkovic, who co-authored an article that claimed to demonstrate that getting a law degree increases the average law graduate’s lifetime earnings by one million dollars discounted to present value (the article does no such thing), has developed something of a mania about Noam Scheiber’s Times piece last week on the struggles of recent graduates of low-ranked law schools. Simkovic has written a verging-on novella length critique of Scheiber’s piece, while demanding that the Times run corrections etc.

Throughout this, Simkovic has behaved toward Scheiber with a level of unearned arrogance and sheer pomposity that once again raises the eternal philosophical question of whether Harvard Law School is an asshole factory or magnet. Here he is lecturing Scheiber on Scheiber’s supposed inability to grasp the economic insights of Michael Simkovic:

Read this over carefully. Read my last two communications carefully. Read the materials I referenced. If you want, talk to professional labor economists who do empirical work in an economics department or a business school and who have no dog in the law school fight.

Note that while academic credentials per se shouldn’t be counting for much in these little spats, Scheiber is a Rhodes Scholar who has a Masters in Economics from Oxford. Meanwile Michael Simkovic once went to law school — whoops, “the” Law School, as they refer to it in Cambridge and environs. (Yeah his co-author on the Million Dollar piece is actually an economist, but arguing that “some of my best friends are economists” isn’t a very good look when you’re casting aspersions on the analytical abilities of somebody who actually has a lot more formal training in the relevant subject matter than you do).

Anyway, Simkovic’s obsession with Scheiber has apparently made it impossible for him to notice even the most glaring errors in anything that references the collected works of Michael Simkovic, JD. Simkovic cites approvingly to Steven Solomon’s piece in the Times responding to Scheiber, apparently without noticing that Solomon’s article has a huge statistical mistake at its core. Solomon:

The top graduates earn a median salary that will now start at $180,000, but that represented only about 17 percent of the reported salaries in 2014, according to data from the National Association for Law Placement. . . .

But let’s be clear. Only the lucky 17 percent of graduates earn salaries this high. To be in this group, you needed to go to a top 10 school or graduate in the higher ranks of the top quartile of law schools.

Things are harder for every other law graduate. Law firm starting salaries are bimodal — meaning that while 17 percent of graduates earned a median salary of $160,000 in 2014, about half had a median starting salary of $40,000 to $65,000.

In contrast to his awful 2015 article on the same subject, Solomon is trying to be fair and balanced here, but he’s getting his numbers all wrong, at a level that goes far beyond any purported errors in Scheiber’s piece.

Solomon treats “reported salaries” as the same thing as “law graduate salaries,” when those are two very different categories. As Deborah Merritt points out, only about half of law graduates have reported salaries, and those reported salaries include essentially everybody with a job that pays big law dollars (NALP reporting standards allow law schools to report salaries based on publicly available salary data, so new law graduates with big firm jobs who don’t respond to their schools’ salary surveys will still have their salaries reported). The result is that Solomon is over-estimating the percentage of 2015 grads with market rate salaries by approximately 97.7%.

Either Simkovic was so blinded by his anger over Scheiber’s failure to interview or at least cite him that he failed to notice this mistake — which is far more egregious than anything Simkovic even accuses Scheiber of making — or he noticed it but decided he shouldn’t say anything about it, since Solomon, unlike Scheiber, had the wisdom to cite Simkovic’s path-breaking, unique, unprecedented, and PEER REVIEWED study.

Bye, Britannia!

[ 119 ] June 26, 2016 |

It seems that the EU’s response to Britain’s declaration of You’re not the boss of me! is Look! Mr. Door is open!

When Cameron announced on Friday morning that he would resign as prime minister by the autumn, he said it would be up to his successor to trigger the formal process of talks on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Johnson, the favourite to succeed Cameron, has also said there is no need to hurry triggering the formal process, a move he believes would limit the UK’s room for manoeuvre.

But after an emergency meeting of ministers from the bloc’s six founder members, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said negotiations should begin “as soon as possible” and that Britain had a responsibility to work with the EU on exit terms.

His French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, suggested that unless the UK acted fast, the sense of crisis could spread. He said there was “a certain urgency … so that we don’t have a period of uncertainty, with financial consequences, political consequences”. The president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reinforced the message, saying the split with the UK was “not an amicable divorce” after what was not “a tight love affair, anyway”. Talks to end membership should begin immediately.

Translation: Va te faire foutre.

Meanwhile, several people have asked What’s Boris up to these days?

A source close to Johnson said he had not made a decision on the leadership race but was focusing more on reassuring the country after the Brexit vote.

Here’s a preview.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 37

[ 47 ] June 26, 2016 |

This is the grave of George Washington.


There’s one much one can say about Washington, so just a couple of points.

1) His choosing to step down from power peacefully is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the United States. As we have seen around the world in revolution after revolution, without a respected tradition of peaceful succession, oppression and war result.

2) His record on slavery is highly mixed. He profited his entire life from enslaved black labor. However, to his credit, at least he freed his own slaves on his death. He could not free Martha Washington’s slaves. But he did a lot more than Jefferson. One wonders how quickly this would have changed had he the opportunity to make money in western cotton lands, something he would have been interested in given his lifelong engagement in land speculation.

3) It’s interesting that Washington remains basically inscrutable, even after ages of popular biographies. He was simply an unknowable man, even to his contemporaries.

I’m sure you all have thoughts on Washington. Go for it. The world needs an open thread on George Washington.

George Washington is buried at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

The Failure of the Stronger In Campaign: One Narrative

[ 244 ] June 26, 2016 |


Politico has this, which I encountered this morning. It’s the usual behind-the-scenes sort of thing. As a Labour Party member / activist / whatever, the following piques my interest:

Senior staff from the campaign “begged” Corbyn to do a rally with the prime minister, according to a senior source who was close to the Remain campaign. Corbyn wanted nothing to do with the Tory leader, no matter what was at stake. Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister whom Cameron vanquished in 2010, was sent to plead with Corbyn to change his mind. Corbyn wouldn’t. Senior figures in the Remain camp, who included Cameron’s trusted communications chief Craig Oliver and Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign guru, were furious.

Even at more basic levels of campaigning, Labour were refusing to cooperate. The party would not share its voter registration lists with Stronger In, fearing the Tories would steal the information for the next general election. “Our data is our data,” one senior Labour source said when asked about the allegation.

In desperation, the Remain strategists discussed reaching out to the White House to intervene directly. Obama had met Corbyn during a trip to London in April, when the American president argued forcefully for Remain. They wondered: Maybe Obama could call the Labour leader and convince him to campaign with Cameron?

Don’t bother, Labour aides told them. Nobody was going to coax their boss into sharing a public platform with Cameron. The idea was dropped before it reached the White House.

Some comments. Jeremy Corbyn is being thoroughly criticised within (and without) the party for his lukewarm embrace of remain, and his (putting it charitably) nuanced approach to the campaign. I’m not sure how much of the motivation for the revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party is a function of sincere misgivings about his mishandling of the campaign, and how much is political opportunism (I’m thinking two thirds the latter), but it’s a safe bet that the sacking of Hilary Benn, shadow foreign secretary, was the opposite of a smart move. Of course, the core Corbynista support will brook no critique of their messiah (full disclosure: I voted for Corbyn, but he’s not a messianic figure. He’s no more than a highly principled, at times bumbling politician). This is shaping up to be a not insignificant problem for the party precisely when we need a strong, focussed opposition.

I see, and am some degree receptive to, the argument that one reason for the failure of Labour in Scotland during the general election was the party’s decision to campaign united with the Tories and Liberal Democrats against independence. The Conservative brand in general and David Cameron in particular were toxic north of the border, and we opted for guilt by association. That said, one or two joint appearances would have not killed Corbyn. Furthermore, Labour In was an anaemic campaign at the national level (at the local level here, it was well organised). I doubt a stronger Labour-specific remain campaign would have on its own turned the tide and clawed back the 550,000 votes we’d have needed to swing this thing, but nationally, we were limited at best.

The data thing is an interesting line. Labour are far more data-driven than any other party on this wee island.   The ‘voter registration’ data, to my knowledge, comes from the electoral register, which is available to any political party. While we’re data-driven, it’s a fairly unsophisticated approach engineered for GOTV. It was state of the art in the mid 1990s, but it’s not a patch on the micro targeting of the current era (however, it’s still vastly superior to what the other parties have, and does give us a marginal edge . . . which we need as we don’t have anywhere near the financial resources of the party opposite). We’re getting better at it, especially at the local level here where we have a few people who understand the utility of 21st Century approaches to data, but it’s still largely an archaic process.

Furthermore, on election day our data are best used to mobilise our voters.  We generally know who they are, where they live, and how they’ve been (self-reported) voting in past elections, and our “boards” and “road groups” are optimised to get our voters to the polls. We don’t bother knocking on the doors of known Conservatives, obviously, as it would be self-defeating to remind them that the local election is happening when they had forgotten about it. On referendum day, however, the data were close to worthless. Given support for remain cut well across party lines, and data hadn’t been sufficiently gathered / entered in the month prior to the referendum, we were flying blind on the day. GOTV data were drawn up using mosaic and socio-demographic characteristics, which is under the circumstances probably the best approach. However, it was frustrating, as many of our ‘targets’ voted leave or had leave posters in their windows, and many remain voters / addresses with remain posters were not on our sheets.

Long story short, I don’t see how sharing Labour’s data with the Stronger In campaign would have made a difference to the result. I will say this, however; Stronger In were flush with cash, something I wasn’t used to experiencing.

Finally, to answer Lemieux’s appeal in his excellent post:

I don’t know how many Brexit voters fall into the remorseful category. But I remember seeing somewhere (HELP ME BROCKINGTON) that a large majority of Brexit voters assumed that Remain would win. For what was surely a decisive number of Brexit voters, the vote was not a considered view that leaving the EU would be better than remaining, but rather was a vehicle for sending a message to British elites.

This is mostly anecdotal, but the Ashcroft poll I discussed yesterday does have this:

Seven voters in ten expected a victory for remain, including a majority (54%) of those who voted to leave. Leave voters who voted UKIP at the 2015 election were the only group who (by just 52% to 48%) expected a leave victory.

Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (I)

[ 68 ] June 25, 2016 |

I am presently on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Every now and then, often when on vacation, I start reading random things one can find on the Gutenberg Project, the great collection of old public domain texts. If only copyright law was updated so that material after 1923 that no one was making money on anymore could be included, it would be incredibly useful for my research, but as it is, at least it provides glimpses into past weirdness. Still, some post-1923 material does show up, as is seen below.

So I decided tonight, after my wife has gone to bed and I’ve had a few beers, to read Reau Folk’s The Battle of New Orleans Its Real Meaning: Exposure of Untruth Being Taught Young Americans, from 1932. That battle has a lot to answer for. First, it gave us a genocidal maniac as president. Second, it gave us one of the shittiest country hits in the genre’s history (see above). Third, it gave us whatever the hell this is. Basically, Folk’s argument, such as it is, is that Tennessee textbooks (those bastions of leftism during this period) were shortchanging Andrew Jackson and the importance of the Battle of New Orleans. For without said battle, evidently real America would have been split between the British control of the Mississippi River and the evils of New England. My god, the whole nation would be eating Dunkin’ instead of some holding onto Krispy Kreme as the best donut chain. And to give the South credit, this is absolutely correct and New England’s love for Dunkin’ basically absolves the British for the Intolerable Acts.

Anyway, as evidence, Folk points out all the writers who said it was unfortunate a bunch of people died during the battle even though the Treaty of Ghent was already signed. According to Folk, these deaths were necessary for the Americans to truly take control over this region. I mean, I know that I demand my nationalistic project be based on oceans of limey blood, no doubt smelling like Earl Grey from all the tea those people drank, unlike the good coffee-swilling (or even chicory coffee-swilling!) Americans! Folk begins the book with an utterly idiotic imagined conversation between the author and a student who is waiting on him at a restaurant, who it just so happens is part of a debate team at school that has argued that the Battle of New Orleans was unnecessary. Our brave author sure shows up this nonexistent fictional character! This may be the high point of the book.

Folk reliving impressment shows the need for the bloodshed, although it’s unclear why since the treaty ending the practice had just been signed, but, hey, aren’t we real Americans here! There’s a long, boring section on the negotiations at Ghent, intending to show that the homespun Americans outwitted those suave Englishmen, but sort of forgets the key issue, which is that the British didn’t actually care about America with Napoleon defeated. Rather, he claims that the British were negotiating in bad faith, hoping that they would take New Orleans before the U.S. had the chance to sign the treaty and thus making it moot. Then it goes on to quoting this and that person before getting to the real point: that the British are infecting our schools with their vile propaganda:

In all literature there cannot be found a more concrete, comprehensive line: “Great Britain coveted it in 1815 when Jackson saved it.” Pro-English historians may deftly turn and twist this and other facts to their purpose; but let me give a tocsin call: PRO-ENGLISH HISTORIANS SHOULD BE KEPT OUT OF OUR SCHOOLS, AND YOUNG AMERICA TAUGHT ONLY THE UNGARBLED, UNVARNISHED TRUTH.

I guess I was unaware of British fifth columnists infecting Tennessee schools in 1932 but who doesn’t believe that our good young Americans should only be taught THE UNGARBLED, UNVARNISHED TRUTH?

Not I comrade, not I.

St. Stein Speaks!

[ 234 ] June 25, 2016 |

Jill Stein, as is well known, is the Only Real Leftist in America. Indeed, she is a figure of such pure, undiluted leftist perfection she agrees with Donald Trump only 41% of the time. So I’m sure her thoughts on Brexit will be highly enlightening:

The vote in Britain to exit the European Union (EU) is a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination and who reject the pro-corporate, austerity policies of the political elites in EU. The vote says no to the EU’s vision of a world run by and for big business.

This is just ludicrous nonsense. The bulk of Brexit support came from pro-austerity Tories. What Brexit means is more austerity as EU subsidies vanish, oh and also the end of progressive EU labor and environmental regulations. If you think this is a defeat for big business, I’d hate to see what a victory would look like. Granted, some City finance types will presumably have to ply their trade in Paris or New York City or Frankfurt now. FIGHT THE POWER!

Insane as this is, though, it helps to explain why she’s campaigning in swing states in a year when 1)the Democratic Party’s platform features a $15 minimum wage, expanded Social Security, and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment and 2)the Republican candidate is Donald Trump. Her politics seem to consist entirely of assuming that if something she doesn’t like loses than her ideal outcome therefore must win.

Unfortunately, the rejection was also motivated by attacks on immigrants and refugees, which must be opposed. That is a defeat.

Apart from that, Mr. Farage! Admittedly, by even acknowledging that xenophobia may have played some role in the Brexit vote, Stein risks being denounced roundly on Twitter for selling out to BIG NEOLIBERAL and wanting to punish the white working class. But, don’t worry, she departs from reality soon enough:

The increase in anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expanded because of the EU’s economic policies, and was a key driver in support of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Ye Gods. First of all, British austerity — while certainly terrible policy! — was driven by Parliament, not by the EU. Leaving the EU will in fact result in more austerity. And if you think British political elites love austerity now, wait until Scotland leaves the UK, which it almost certainly will if Brexit proceeds. And, finally, while it’s a nice story that all racial resentments are really just epiphenomenal masks for class and economic anxieties it’s not actually true.

Seriously, if it’s very important to you not to sully your personal brand by voting for an icky Democrat in November, find a better alternative candidate than this.

Music Notes

[ 46 ] June 25, 2016 |


I’ve been so busy that I haven’t done one of these in several weeks. I don’t even really have any good stories to link to, but I have slowly listened to a new or long-forgotten album every now and then over the last few weeks and wrote them up here.

First though, another day, another musician. The truly great Bernie Worrell, RIP.

It’s not that 2016 is some sort of musician apocalypse year. It’s that you are getting old, I am getting old, and the musicians who did not take care of their bodies for decades are really getting old. Imagine what 2020 is going to look like.

Ludovico Einaudi, Taranta Project

This is fairly interesting music. Einaudi fuses Sicilian, North African, and Turkish folk music with electronic and contemporary compositional music into a swirling set of compositions. The sounds work pretty well. My one caveat is that this sometimes sounds a bit too New Agey-type world music to me, a genre I have long found repulsive. Not that I need “authenticity,” whatever that is, but borrowing music of the world to provide background music for white people to feel authentic rubs me the wrong way. Mostly this avoids this and stays in the world of worthy music, but sometimes I felt on the border.


Deerhunter, Fading Frontier

This is a very solid, not great, rock album. Deerhunter is one of those bands that I am happy when it comes on the shuffle, but don’t listen to the albums much. I own both Halcyon Digest and Microcastle, both solid enough. Clearly playing for a classic rock sound, Deerhunter mostly succeeds here. I probably won’t buy it, but you might well want to do so.


Sherwater, Jet Plane and Oxbow

This is a decent rock album, although the singer sounds a bit too much like whiny 80s British pop to me. I’ve always hated that Cure-esque sound. Fans of that scene may disagree. 80s nostalgia has never worked for me. Lyrics are fine, music is fine. Overall, a perfectly acceptable album that I won’t ever listen to again. But if someone puts it on while I’m in the car with them, that’s totally fine.


Kasey Musgraves, Pageant Material

The critics love Musgraves. And she is a solid performer. But this is not an exceptional or even particularly great album. A lot of that critic love is that she sings about smoking marijuana, questioning religion, and being cool with gay people, topics that are risque in the right-wing world of Nashville. And that’s all great. But it does not mean that she has a great set of songs on Pageant Material. She wrote a perfectly acceptable set of songs for it.


Gardens & Villa, Music for Dogs

Mostly I just found this to be irritating synth-pop. Not much for me to grab on to here.


The Pretenders, Packed.

I forgot how much this album sucked. Mitchell Froom was a really terrible producer. I guess no Pretenders album can be that bad. But this is pretty lame.


I have seen one live show since I wrote the last of these posts. That was the percussionist Adam Rudolph at The Stone in New York, with Hassan Hakmoun on sintir, Hamid Drake on drums, Graham Haynes on cornet, and an unlisted North African musician on also sintir and hand percussion. This was pretty amazing. Those mesmerizing North African vocals and music with the two drummers can really take you away. And then Haynes popping in with cornet, which really served as another voice, was just great. I don’t have a good YouTube clip of anything quite like this, but here’s some of Rudolph’s music with Yusef Lateef.

As always, this should serve as an open thread on all things musical.

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