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I loved Levinson's _The Box_, even though it took me years to get around to reading it. I had bought it in hardcover for my husband around the time it came out, and then promptly quit reading things in paper. Despite that, it took me a while -- altho only months, not years -- to convince myself to take a flyer on _An Extraordinary Time_. Levinson's book is about the immediate post war decades, but his perspective is to show how odd those decades were by comparing them to what came before and after. And since the after is my entire life, I've got some pretty strong feelings about those decades and I haven't run into a lot of economists or economic historians who agree with me much. I didn't want to find out that Levinson was just another one of Them.

Lucky me! I love this book.

Naturally, when I read something that runs along lines that I already think, I am predisposed to like it. Aren't we all. Actually, this is not entirely true. I can get hypercritical of stuff I like a little too much. But honestly, that didn't really happen here, either, because Levinson focuses on telling the story: what happened, what were the policy responses, what happened after the policy responses, how did various investigators, whether bureaucrats or academics, interpret the policy responses and the results of the policy responses.

And it is actually pretty impossible to entirely agree with the way I have thought about the world in which I grew up, because I've changed my mind far too many times. From a world in which I hated Reagan and Thatcher, to an age where I don't think what they did really worked in any larger sense but I can now really understand what they were reacting to, it's difficult to imagine how one could reconcile those very divergent opinions, each of which I have held in turn. And yet, Levinson's analysis is so measured, he can describe the outrageous demands being made and the dire economic circumstances, the bizarre and not particularly consistent ideologies subscribed to by supply siders and Conservatives in the UK, and come out the other side basically saying, well, you definitely couldn't keep doing what had been the status quo, and the new stuff didn't work either, but . . . it's not at all clear that anything was really going to make that much of a difference anyway.

If it all sounds kind of dry and non-committal, it didn't feel that way reading it. To me, it was like watching a sped up version of the background of my life, and along it unreeling the many ways I have tried to understand it. Behind it all, Levinson does really _get_ that this all went the way it did because of two underlying factors which are not handled in great detail. First, technological change and progress which initially was compatible with full employment but later was not. Second, different societal goals that arose over time that were not well captured by economic statistics (environment, especially, but others as well). Significantly lacking in the background is a sense of the massive demographic changes -- if I have a complaint, it would be that. Backgrounding the technological changes and the What Do You Measure problem does not bother me; backgrounding the demographics leaves me with a chicken and egg problem.

It's a great book. I have no idea what it would be like to read this book if you are significantly older or younger than me, nor do I have any idea what it would be like to read this if you've never explored an economics perspective on history. I can readily imagine that reading this with a different life span to measure it against, or with a different sense of economics could result in a very, very different opinion of the book.
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"Instead, Montes memorized details from sensitive documents and then — when she got home — typed them from memory onto her laptop."

Sure she did. From 1985 until when she was arrested just after the 9/11 attacks. Yup. Def typing shit into a laptop. And then -- this is the best part -- transferring the data from the laptop to an encrypted disk. I suspect she was actually using a desktop PC during the first decade and maybe switched to a laptop towards the end of the period.

CNN has absolutely no excuse for this kind of error. This website is considerably less reputable; I was there pursuing a question about what exactly is responsible for the rise of Storye rye bread (what are they corralling exactly: bacteria, yeast or something else?).


This is the specific claim that triggered my, "really?! Really?!":

"When baker’s yeast was first introduced as an alternative to sourdough starters in 1668 in France, it was strongly rejected because scientists at the time already knew that it would negatively impact people’s health."

Yes, scientists were definitely the people objecting to baker's yeast in 1668 in France. No. It was actually medical doctors on the Faculty of Medicine of Paris University. And they were, technically, complaining about the use of brewer's yeast in making bread -- it wouldn't be called baker's yeast until _after_ bread made with added yeast took off. So you could call the objectors doctors. You could call them academics. You could call them consultants to the king. But anyone who complains about rotting water is tough for me to accept as a "scientist".

I get that you might be thinking, yeah, but that's not a Kids These Days, that's something else entirely. But the _specific_ issue I have is a Kids These Days issue. Whoever wrote that honest to goddess thinks there was an influential category of people that could be called "scientists" present in France in 1668.

Which there was not. Encyclopedists. Dilettantes. Rich fucks who stole ideas from mechanics and miners. And none of them were involved in this controversy anyway.

To be fair, neither of these errors is nearly egregious as that ridiculous thing about how in the 1980s a bunch of anarchist/socialists in Silicon Valley invented the PC or whatever ... on their laptops. I don't really get how people manage to pretzel fairly simple historical timelines so badly, but they do.

ETA: Also, as long as I'm here: those Frenchies were a little backwards anyway.


"According to an Amsterdam ordinance of 1652, the yeast for bread baking had to be unadulterated, just the way it came from the brewer, and measured with a verified and approved measure. In Leiden in the middle of the seventeenth century, yeast was sold in a gist-huis, or “yeast-storage house,” but numerous petitions made clear that the bakers preferred to obtain their yeast directly from the brewery."

The Dutch had apparently worked their way through all of these issues 15 or more years before Quatorze was asking the medical academics to get into the argument he was having with one of his personal doctors about whether he could eat the light fluffy bread or not (I seriously doubt that bread made with brewers' yeast was where Quatorze's diet needed to be modified. But I wasn't there, now was I?).
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Look, I get that Nixon was a horrible President. I understand that. However, we've had more than one horrible President, and honestly, the older I get, the more confused I am regarding precisely _why_ it was that people who were adults in the Nixon years hated him so very much.


Okay, then. Yeah, I get it now. Wow.

Someone could have mentioned this to me _sooner_.

I went looking because the almost certain nominee for one of the parties has been quite slow to release his returns, and TRMS was contextualizing Why Candidates Release Their Returns.

Fave sentence in the above linked article: "Ironically, Nixon may have been the first AMT taxpayer."
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He was going through some of his father's papers and found his classification notice. Because of a novel project I've written a synopsis for, I recently learned that absolutely no one was drafted from birth year 1954 on. Krugman was born in 1953. His number was 295, so he was safe anyway. But I was sort of interested to note that (a) he apparently never knew his own number and (b) he doesn't give any indication that he is aware that his birth year was the _last_ birth year anyone was drafted from.

The transition to the end of the draft is easily one of the least marked and remarked upon transitions in the middle of the 20th century, possibly because it occurred in such slow stages, that it was only in retrospect that any end "point" could be determined, and even then, the "correct" "point" to choose was entirely ambiguous (do you pick the last birth year? do you pick the last calendar year anyone was drafted? do you pick some later year, based on any number of further legal changes that moved us from having a draft but never using it to not having a draft?).

ETA: Also, we should all send him a birthday card next Feb 28.
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Subtitled: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

Levinson is an economist whose ability to write history is amazing. That's not a common trait of economists (<-- weaponized understatement there) or, for that matter, anyone else. I may buy his A&P history next, just because.

I bought this book because when it came out, the reviews were uniformly positive, and it seemed like the kind of thing my husband would enjoy, and it connected peripherally to a lot of the reading I was doing at the time in rail networks and rail history, and intermodal in general. I didn't read it myself, because it was published in 2006 and my life was kind of busy. By the time things were settled down somewhat, I had a kindle and was mostly reading on that.

The central figure of the origins of container shipping and this book was Malcom (spelling explained in the book) Mclean. He started out in trucking, switched to boats and never really looked back. For all that Mclean invented the container ship and the world we live in, he did not succeed in creating the seamless intermodal world we are still building now (not knocking him for it -- no one could have surely, altho his efforts in Vietnam gave a sense of the possible future, by contracting for end to end shipping). In the hands of a lesser author, Mclean's character would have taken over the tale; Levinson ably balances the idiosyncratic and ambitious man with the physical and economic realities of the world he acted in.

Levinson starts with a compelling description of what it was like to ship cargo before containers: the timelines, pilferage, hard and dangerous labor, how factories and longshoremen both were highly motivated to live and work as close to the docs as possible, the long standing conflict between those who loaded and unloaded ships, and everyone else, the politics of the port cities, etc. He shows how the end of WW2 made available, cheap, boats that could be converted to move containers. He does not spend time on the changes in the steel industry during this time frame (and they are kind of important but _way_ out of scope), or the growth of oil. Instead, inexpensive fuel for boats and inexpensive materials for the boxes are treated as a given.

Containers do several things. Like just about everything else in the middle of the 20th century, they make it cheaper per unit as long as you are willing to run a whole lot of units. They saved money by clearing up the port bottleneck: once you can load up the container and truck it around, you no longer have to have your factory located next to the docks. You also can pay a very different rate to have that container loaded, because you can have your own people do it, rather than deal with the dock workers and their complex work rules, unions, pilfering ways, etc. They saved money by reducing the amount of time spent in port, loading and unloading the ship, so the ship could move on to the next port. They ultimately made possible Just In Time inventory systems, reducing the overhead costs of keeping inventory. As insurers recognized the reduction in damage and theft to items being shipped, there was savings all around on insurance.

Over the longer term, they compressed the world, as the subtitle notes. One of the oddest bits of the book occurs when RJ Reynolds in the late 1960s/early 1970s has a lot of cash on hand and is staring in the face of increasing domestic regulation and a shrinking market at home. They wanted to diversify, to become one of the conglomerates characteristic of the age, and Mclean sold out to them so he'd get money to build more container ships. And thus, ironically, the bad habit of the blue collar factory worker became the instrument of the end of factory jobs through outsourcing. Altho not right away.

Mclean was imperfect, and in a particular way: he tended to optimize blindly. For a guy who created massive, longstanding change based on many stages of effects, he guessed wrong big on oil prices. Twice. He got caught out building super fast ships just before the oil crisis. And then he got caught out building super slow fuel sippers just before oil got real cheap again.

His biggest successes occurred when he looked at the world around him, saw how it worked and concluded that he was needed to Fix It. The chapter on Vietnam is a real eye opener. The military invited shipping execs to Washington, "where they were shown film clips of sailors lowering cargo nets by rope and asked for advice. When Malcom McLean saw the film, a colleague recalled, "[h]e got obsessed with the idea of putting containerships into Vietnam. He was back and forth to Washington, talking to people, and they told him there isn't anything you can do in Vietnam.""

Of course, the problem of container ships is you need special port facilities to realize benefits from them: huge cranes and a lot of space, mostly, but also significant organizational capacity to manage the containers moving in and out and making sure you don't sink the boat loading in the wrong order. Container shipping got into computers early, in a big way. New ports were built, and ""The port congestion problem was solved," the army's history of 1967 declared triumphantly." And since Sea-Land was making money on one leg, the backhaul was essentially pure profit.

Levinson tells the stories of West Coast, East Coast and English unions and how they wrestled with the changes brought by containerization. It would be incredibly easy to viciously denigrate unions and unions leaders when telling these stories. Levinson does not succumb to the temptation. He remains even handed and fair minded throughout the discussion.

I grew up in Seattle. Seattle, like many port cities, converted its older docks in an effort to revitalize a derelict area that had once been packed full of people and stuff. When we went down to the piers to go look around the shops or go to the Aquarium, my father told stories about the past, and, like young people everywhere, I mostly ignored those stories, hanging onto only occasional details like the eye popping salaries he claimed the longshoremen made running the cranes further south in the container port that had utterly replaced the piers we now came to for recreation (partly from reading this book, partly from reading other things, I now know that the eye popping salaries he quoted, like nearly everything he had to say about unions, was true). Levinson's book gave me a chance to really see the change happen that my father saw happen as a young man. And it gave a vivid backdrop to efforts around the country to revive derelict waterfronts with recreation, shopping and restaurants. All those waterfronts died at basically the same time, for the same reason.

Best of all, this book explained something that I've been scratching my head about for a decade or more. Whatever the hell happened to SeaLand, anyway? Those containers were everywhere when I was a kid, and then suddenly, I was 30 and that name was vanished as if it never existed, replaced by Maersk, mostly. My first wedding was officiated by a gentlemen who worked as a VP for Sealand -- I couldn't have imagined it all, could I? Whenever an economic segment commodifies, companies -- even big ones -- come and go with great rapidity, and it can be hard to understand why if you aren't in the industry during those years. Levinson manages to make it at least as accessible as a synopsis of a relationship-heavy novel or soap opera.

I can't recommend this book enough. It is a great read, an amazing story, and it explains so much of our world and why things changed when they did and how they did.
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It's interesting to read after _The Alchemists_. The focus on personalities that made me so suspicious of Irwin initially (until I understood what he was doing, at which point I was really impressed) contrasts sharply with the history-of-ideas approach of Mark Blyth. Blyth's work is much more uneven than Irwin's, but overall I am finding it worth reading and enjoyable.

Reading Blyth's summary of Locke's _Second Treatise of Government_ I suddenly understood the structure and rhetoric of the homestead acts (you know, how the Ingalls' family in the Little House books got their land). It is the detailed working out in policy of Locke's theory of private property (the land becomes yours when you labor on it, there's more than enough to go around so it's not like you taking some means someone else doesn't get any, and God doesn't approve of people holding onto land that they aren't laboring on appropriately). I had no idea. I mean, literally, I had no idea. I remember reading Locke's On Toleration/A Letter Concerning Toleration and being _very_ surprised about what was in it and I still remember the details vividly decades later. Clearly, as distasteful as I find Locke, I really should read more of what he had to say, because those words have had so much power over our world.

ETA: Over lunch, R. and I were discussing Blyth's summary and he noted that adverse possession fit into this as well.


Looks like adverse possession has some real legs to it; Locke probably wasn't really innovating on any level at all in describing how private ownership of land came to be/worked.

I also realized that "highest/best use" in eminent domain and zoning fits in well with Blyth's summary of Locke, also.
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Subtitled: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire

I keep wondering if maybe this guy is related to a good friend of mine, based purely on that last name. Not really relevant. Anyway.

This came out about a year ago; I bought it last August and then didn't read it. Not sure why I finally decided to give it a go, other than that I've had good luck with non-fiction lately which tends to give me some momentum for more. It's a long book, even when you discount the end notes, but it moves along quickly because Irwin tells the story very much as a story of People. The three central bankers of the subtitle are Ben Bernanke, Mervyn King (of the Bank of England) and Jean-Claude Trichet of the ECB. As with some other books I've been reading, I was an interested adult paying attention as the events covered in this book occurred, so some of what is contained within was already familiar to me.

But mostly, Irwin managed to get everyone but the Germans to talk to him. Extensively. I don't know if that's because the cables released by wikileaks sort of made everyone decide there wasn't much left to lose and this was a great chance to frame their legacy or what. Probably what: there are a lot of indications that Irwin is the sort of guy you want to tell your story to. He'll be accurate and sympathetic, which is an unusual combination. By sympathetic, I mean he'll explain why the person did what they did -- what the actor's value system was and how their choices fit within it. Obvs, the reader may be headdesking madly while reading about Mervyn King or Axel Weber or whatever, but it won't be because Irwin _told_ them to headdesk; it'll be because the reader is a Sensible Person. The few exceptions (the open contempt Irwin displays when describing Sarkozy and Merkel's little walk along the beach) are kind of hard to argue with.

The plot is straightforward. As a result of the full flowering of securitization, insurance and financialization of lending (notably mortgages, but in general), the most recent economic bust was more comprehensive and difficult to recover from than recent busts, comparable to events like the Great Depression, 1907 and similar. Because the dollar is the reserve currency for most of the world, it was particularly important that the US Get It Right after the crash, and we (mostly) did (eventually) (thank you, Ben). Because holding sterling denominated debt (gilts) is largely optional, Mervyn King's options were somewhat constrained, however, his theory-orientation and general pigheadedness led him into a bunch of foolishness which was probably avoidable but not necessarily catastrophic. Irwin's main contribution to the usual presentation is to argue that Jean-Claude Trichet's repeated runs right up to the brink of disaster -- which largely seemed like madness at the time -- were in fact calculated attempts to pressure European political figures into taking fiscal action. Irwin then largely undoes a lot of his success at this argument by presenting Mario Draghi as tackling the rest of the same situation and generally being much more effective at it by taking a different approach to personal interactions with political figures. This is not to suggest Irwin is wrong -- likely he is just making the same damn point over and over and over again, which is that monetary folk can and must do some things, but the politicians must do other things -- and both groups are better served by genuinely listening to stakeholders, making sure everyone is actually heard, considering what they have to say, and then presenting a plan that can be accepted by enough/all. Also, that all Germans other than Angela Merkel are Not Helpful when it comes to a Europe-wide financial crisis, and she's questionable.

It's weirdly touchy-feely good in a book that's all about international money flows.

I particularly liked that Irwin really seemed to understand why the Euro is so important to Europe. Few commentators in the US really grasp this (Paul Krugman in particular is just inadequate on the topic, which always makes me cranky and sad, because I want him to Get It).

I hesitate to suggest you run right out and read the book, because were you paying attention to what I said it was about? Central banking? Seriously? But if you think you could slog through it, give it a go. Irwin writes engagingly, and the people-focus (while it initially made me very suspicious) turns out to work both as an analysis and as a story.
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Subtitled: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality

There are some word-os (intimated when intimidated was meant, inappropriate duplication of words such as "that that" when it is not called for, missing words, etc.). It is a little irritating.

The reviews over on Amazon are a little startling as I type this: 44 reviews, 2 stars overall. Virtually all of the negative reviews are in-movement objections along the lines of, hey, HRC isn't really all that and Chad shouldn't get all the credit and Windsor is the case that is actually being used as precedent etc.

Jo Becker has written one of the most amazing sourcing essays at the end of this book that I have ever read. I didn't read it first and I'm not sure whether I should have or not. She presents an incredible amount of dialogue and self-described feelings throughout the years that the book covers, but did it in a way that just sort of slid right into my brain as part of the story (often, this kind of stuff makes me go, are you inventing this based on recollection? Did everyone keep really good journals? Was there video? WTF?). Turns out she was actually there for a huge fraction of what she describes: she embedded early on with the plaintiffs and other parties (Judge Walker, defending counsel Cooper) were very generous with their time in interviews at the end of the process.

Becker starts with Prop 8 passing, and an effort started by Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake to legally challenge it in court that succeeded in arriving, eventually, at the Supreme Court along with Edie Windsor's estate tax/DOMA challenge. Griffin and Schake get the Reiners to help fund raise, and they bring in Ted Olson who, in turn, brought in David Boies, guaranteeing an enormous amount of media coverage throughout the various legal maneuvering (since these guys had faced off against each other in Bush v Gore in addition to being high profile as individuals). If you're old enough to be reading this, you more or less had some awareness of this case as it inched along: the mystery of who is Cooper? California declining to defend Prop 8 and the question of standing on the part of the people who filed Prop 8 to defend it in turn. The trial itself with the disappearing defense witnesses and the question of whether it could be taped and put up on YouTube. The various delays that led to the DOMA cases catching up to it. Obama's "evolving" position on marriage equality. Biden "getting in front of his skis". The 2012 election cycle. Whether the case would be certified and then the decision to hear it and Windsor together. The marriages at the end.

Marriage equality existed as a movement long before this case got started, and Becker's presentation guarantees that you won't be _that_ surprised at the nature of the negative reviews on Amazon. Every significant social/civil rights movement has many stages that it passes through before succeeding in changing the world in a way that makes our own past that much more incomprehensible. Becker was there for when marriage equality passed from being an issue deprecated from many sides (on the one hand, because marriage itself is regarded by some as a very problematic institution; on another hand, because it was too important to risk dangerous precedent against marriage equality; on a third hand, because procreation/ew gross <-- full disclosure, I fell firmly into the first group, altho I'm not a sufficiently principled creature to object to actually being Partner A in a Massachusetts marriage in August 2004) to being a cause that ordinary people who had once voted for same-sex marriage bans were prepared to support because they now knew and felt strong connections of friendship, kinship and love for people who were suffering from being cut off from this basic institutional building block of our society. That pivot -- from a marginal, unpopular, but passionate group of people who are at the vanguard to a mainstream, popular, oh, wait, if they're in favor of it it probably isn't cool any more -- is a difficult one for those who are early adopters of important changes.

Becker praises her cast of characters highly, and presents many of the people who struggled against and/or with them less positively. If you're hoping for journalism of the don't-take-sides variety, this is not it. But it is a rollicking good tale, and while a lot of people are taking shots at the book, they do not appear to have any beef with the details, so much as they do with the framing -- and the trouble they have with the framing is sufficiently self-serving that I think we can all just agree to disagree.

Go read it. This was _fun_, even more so than Warren's _A Fighting Chance_.

ETA: I know some of the objections to marriage equality involve identity politics concerns on the part of people who don't fit into the dyadic, permanent relationship model of "marriage". There are some real trigger-y moments reading this (anyone who identifies as bi- or poly- or anywhere near there on some spectrum is going to find a lot of the rhetoric irritating if not infuriating). For me, it is also bittersweet to read so many stories of people who finally came around as accepting/loving parents/family members in the course of the case (especially in the wake of Biden/Obama/etc. coming out in favor of marriage equality as a right). I am _so very happy_ for all those families. And they provide such a contrast to my relationships with my own parents, older sisters and other JW family members.
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Subtitled The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900

Published by Rutgers University Press

Hardcover original was Temple University in 1981; the first paperback was 1990. This has the preface for the first paperback thus some retrospective about where it fits into other women’s studies literature and also some comments about how the author would do things differently if writing it at the later date.

The author’s other books include a biography of Frances Willard.

I’ve read at least one other detailed history involving Prohibition (_Last Call_, by Daniel Okrent, which is also excellent). Immediately before this, my previous non-fiction read covering the rhetoric of the women’s movement before, during and after this time (_White Women’s Rights_, so-so).

The WCTU, the organization which is the subject of this organizational biography, continues to exist; you can visit their website here http://www.wctu.org/

Whatever you might think of alcohol (whether it is or was a problem, and if so, what if anything should be done to address it), the WCTU served a variety of purposes in its quest for Prohibition. It was an organization which respectable, middle-class women felt comfortable joining: it did not negatively affect their status as prosperous, locally influential wives and mothers nor did it threaten their religious identity or their church affiliation. Their husbands were more okay with them speaking in public in support of this cause, unlike others of the time (such as women’s suffrage, and, earlier, abolition), and were amenable to financially supporting this cause. Because the WCTU never allowed voting male members, the organization was made up of women at all levels of leadership and membership. Because Frances Willard, over time, came to believe that temperance and Prohibition would not by themselves cure all of the ills of the world, the WCTU branched out into numerous other causes (including women’s suffrage, kindergartens, the 8 hour day, Sunday off and half day Saturday, equal pay for equal work, disarmament, peace, international arbitration and numerous other causes), which by themselves had difficulty attracting the attention and participation of these women in support of them.

Willard and the WCTU made conscious choices to encourage local organization with local leadership, including Native Americans, blacks and various immigrant groups. Of course this was in service of the cause of Temperance, but it was also done in recognition that these groups (and Southern white women, for that matter) remained largely unpoliticized and Temperance could provide the same jump-start to political activism of all sorts which it had to the members of the WCTU.

Really, the WCTU is a model of how incredibly effective community organizing can be: a cause with broad, deep, non-partisan appeal combined with good works in communities, local pseudo-autonomy, national leadership, a willingness to join forces with other causes and other groups where membership overlapped in values and current priorities and above all effective legislation to impact education around the country is a pretty straightforward template for how change occurs in our country and around the world.

A good, detailed history monograph -- without even meaning to -- is deeply relevant and resonant in later eras. Ruth Bordin has produced one of the best. You might think of Prohibition with a shudder (honestly, I no longer do, altho of course I do not advocate for it, either), but the women who pushed the world in that direction (in conjunction with organizations like the Anti-Saloon League, which came into existence in part to counter the backlash to the WCTU) were politically brilliant and their example is instructive even now.

There are also some great details. Ohio law at the time of the first Crusade prohibited the sale of beer or alcohol to persons whose relatives had asked that they not be served. At times, Ruth Bordin’s perspective is too obvious, as when she criticizes Willard, describing her Crusade experience as “at best contrived and minimal”, largely because her experience was more as a teacher assigning themes in her classes on the subject, rather than direct action. And also when she describes Willard here: “Women liked Willard. Indeed she was more than liked, she was loved, she was adored. Her intense, almost sexual attractiveness to members of her own sex was a major factor in her success. Women competed for her favors and cherished some intimate moment with her as they would the attentions of a male lover.”

I’m mostly okay with the “almost sexual”; I’m _really not okay_ with the “male lover”. That male really does not need to be there; it is straight up (ahem) heterocentricity at a moment where heterocentricity is least justified.

WCTU was instrumental in getting the age of consent raised in many states, in part as a way or reducing prostitution. “In 1886 the laws of twenty states placed the age of consent at ten years, and one at seven. 86 By 1894 only four states (all in the South) still put consent at ten, and in twenty states legal consent had been raised to sixteen, an accomplishment for which the WCTU could take substantial credit.” A clearer example of good work done in the service of a cause that we may no longer approve of would be harder to imagine.

I picked my copy up at Half Price Books for $5.98, over 10 years ago, possibly closer to 20. If you would like my copy (it’s not available as an ebook, as near as I can determine), let me know and I’ll send it to you. I will hang onto it for at least a few months and will edit this review to indicate when I no longer have it.
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Subtitled The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States
OUP 1999

I bought it in October 2002 in Williamsburg while on a road trip.

I rarely comment on the physical characteristics of a book, beyond noting whether I read it on the kindle or not. However, the print in this book presented enough problems for me to feel compelled to mention those problems. First, the print is small and I, increasingly, am old. Second, the ink or toner is weak or faded, or inadequate, particularly on the left hand pages, and more towards the spine. I did not consciously notice this at first, but it contributed greatly to my difficulties reading the book (along with the prose style, which monographs sort of universally suffer from, and the trigger-y nature of the topic). After a while, I asked R. to take a look at it, and he was able to identify the toner or ink problems (he thinks this may have been a POD edition) which, combined with the font (there’s no colophon — maybe no one wanted to take any responsibility for this) result in o’s which are not complete, etc. (He said it was like reading a whole page of captcha. Which it is.)

I’m not sure what I will do with this copy. In general, I prefer to destroy physically flawed books (provided they are not rare), to save future readers the agony.

The author “is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida” at the time of publication, and the CV I found online for her looks like Associate Professor now. The text is informed by her use of the material in teaching.

Chapters 4-7 are character studies of particular women: (4) May French-Sheldon (who went on safari in Africa), (5) Alice Fletcher (who administered allotments of land on reservations), (6) Charlotte Perkins Gilman (and Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge) and (7) Margaret Mead. These chapters aren’t just character studies; they argue that these women modified cultural discourses involving the place of (white) (middle class) women, vis a vis (white) (ruling class) men and POC, both in their writings and in how they lived their lives.

Chapter 2 is more or less the same thing, for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catharine Beecher, Mary Dodge/“Gail Hamilton", as (white) (middle class) women abolitionists (mostly) were prevented from participating in abolitionist organizations dominated by men, started their own, and (sort of) started the woman’s movement as well. This _could_ have been a really great analysis of differing perspectives on whether and how much to work towards Someone Else’s (Primary) Goal vs. focusing on One’s Own (Primary) Goal — a real classic dilemma of identity politics when the identity groups are each a minority but collectively the majority. I don’t know if Newman didn’t want to frame it that way, because that’s a modern frame, or she didn’t think to frame it that way, because she did all that work in the 1990s, and those ideas were not yet dominating academia yet? In practice, all the information is there, but without any frame that I perceived.

Chapter 3 is a mess, and it’s probably not the author’s fault. She’s attempting to describe the convergence of the Serious Thinkers Becoming Aware of the Demographic Transition, the industrial revolution in full swing and total control of the judicial system (thus rolling back all labor protection that had previously been put in place), and increasing female participation in the labor force. What women’s organizations decided to do (agitate for access to college/careers, agitate for protective labor laws for women, since they couldn’t keep them on the books for everyone, and back anyone who had an intellectual/academic fig leaf to justify these two goals) was entirely reasonable, but if you’re parsing the rhetoric, it seems a little odd. Hence, the mess.

And that brings me back to chapter 1, which sets up the book as a whole. Newman’s overall frame is the use of social evolution, Spencerian and Lamarckian conceptions of racial progress/devolution, by (white) women to carve out a better place in society for themselves and future generations of men and women (and I didn’t put white in parentheses there on purpose). Newman talks throughout the book about how evolution and ethnography and ideas of race and sex difference were modified by women (and men) for various purposes. What she _doesn’t_ do is talk about how this discourse interacted with the historically more dominant and still very powerful religious frame — which was even worse for women and for POC, but much harder to rework directly, much less attack directly.

That, in combination with her extremely limited treatment of the temperance movement, make this book a lot less powerful than it could have been. It’s sort of an interesting oddity, rather than a Must Read. Because this is basically a horribly detailed analysis of a strain of rhetoric that wound through a whole lot of very exciting political times — while mostly ignoring all of the excitement. This book supports the thesis that the history of ideas separate from, well, everything else is hugely problematic.

Next up: either Ruth Bordin's _Woman and Temperance_ or Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's _Righteous Discontent_. It's like I planned this to coincide with Women's History Month or something. (I didn't.)

Additional complaint:

p 166: "In this climate of racial tension, Anglo-Protestant women often saw themselves as potential rape victims, even when no sexual interest was shown them," Erm. What's that clause doing there?

Further observation: It's clear that this book was written at least partly in response to arguments that the women's movement (in its various incarnations over the decades) got more racist after the Civil War. Newman exhaustively demonstrates that race (and racism) was part of the discourse and the way (white) women thought about themselves and their place in the world from well before the Civil War, and that to the extent there was a trend, it wasn't to become more openly contemptuous of POC (altho it wasn't necessarily to become _less_ racist, either -- just different forms, alas).
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T. likes popping bubblewrap. Who doesn't? Of course, few of us love it as much when someone else is getting the fun of doing the popping while we have to listen to it. In any event, he is having a merry old time _jumping_ on bubble wrap. I had no idea you could get that kind of volume out of those pops.

I'm reading _Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture_. It is slow going, because I'm off to YouTube every paragraph or three to listen to music, and then off to iTunes slightly less often to buy tracks/albums. Things I have learned in the last couple days:

(1) Holy crap I love Chic. Really, words fail to convey just how perfect I find this music. I find this music amazing to the extent of buying the complete studio album collection on iTunes and _not getting tired of it_. That Nile Rodgers memoir is probably coming up after this book.

(2) The Trammps album with Disco Inferno is actually a really good album. Who knew?

(3) I actually don't like much Chaka Khan, other than some of the Rufus albums (which I already knew I liked). And I'm starting to understand some of why.

(4) Sylvia Robinson. That has to be the oddest career in music I have ever encountered.

Because I am Too Youthful (*cackle*) to have really participated in The Disco Years, but old enough to remember them sliding by (sort of), I had a very limited grasp of the timeline and essentially no real understanding of the relationship of disco to the development of identity politics. While the opening to Alice Echols' book is cringe-inducingly personal, it turns out to be a really effective opener once into the book proper, because she helps the reader find the relationship between their local/personal experience of disco and its time period to the NYC-centric cultural archetype. She does a fantastic job of exploring economic, racial, gender, and obvs orientation politics in and around disco.

I'll post a complete review when I'm done, but don't bother to wait for it. Get a copy and read it. Maybe it will help you find your favorite disco music, too! Because navigating around the stuff that's just gonna piss you off is Tricky.

ETA: Also, my Grado SR 80s are so thoroughly on their last legs I've ordered replacements. I _could_ replace a whole bunch of parts, but instead, Sennheiser HR 558's are on their way.
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Subtitled: A Search for Ancestors

Littrell decides to track down his maternal McDonald ancestors after some additional family papers turn up. He starts out in the most amateurish way imaginable: googling names. He proceeds through sending away for his own DNA test, visits to Scotland, looking at close matches online, asking other people to provide DNA test information, visits to cemeteries (including one on private land still owned by distant cousins), hiring other genealogists to do local research for him and paging through books of marriages, probate records and similar.

So half the book is the Making of a Genealogist, in a very modern sense: one who combines what we can get from paper with what we can get from blood to piece together a scattered history.

The other half of the book is the history of his branch of his clan, in particular, the events leading up to the massacre at Glencoe. The structure of the book alternates chapters of history with chapters of genealogical research and his own life progression (he gets married and honeymoons in Scotland, meets new found relations, etc.).

I did not read this because of any overlap in trees with Littrell; I bought it because I will eventually write my own genealogical memoir, and would like to understand how other people structure material to maintain reader interest (hey, it's _all_ interesting to me, but I know better than to think anyone else will feel that way), and I'm also curious about what kinds of family stories people believe can carry a memoir.

I'm not sure I would have finished the book, except for the fact that it was sitting on my kindle when I restarted an indoor exercise program (i.e. I read it on the treadmill). I also skipped a fair amount of the Scottish (Scots?) historical material. I think it might be more interesting to someone with a stronger interest in Clan Donald/MacDonald/Mcdonald/etc. I really liked the other half of the book, as Littrell did a really non-preachy depiction of how he got really good at being a careful genealogist, largely by doing genealogy.
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I ran across a remark indicating that Millard Fillmore opposed Abraham Lincoln during the war, and backed Andrew Johnson during Reconstruction. This was a point where I went, yeah, never really understood any of that, either. So off to wikipedia for a refresher, to see if it made more sense now than it did the last time I saw it (possibly college, more likely high school).

Most superficial and ridiculous conversations about US politics in the middle of the 19th century sort of lose track of how, er, multi-faceted they were. During Reconstruction, the States which had Lost were not participating in national politics: they weren't represented in Congress. There was an ambiguous and contested relationship between the occupying Army and the state legislatures. There was debate about who should be allowed to vote. There were debates about who should be prosecuted and how. Etc.

You can think of roughly three interests participating in these debates: freedmen and that fraction of Republicans which thought they ought to be citizens and be allowed to vote, other Republicans who were incredibly pissed about the war and wanted to make sure Something Happened as a result, and a third group that hadn't been all that hot about abolitionism in the first place, Andrew Johnson appears to have fallen somewhere on the Democratic side of that last group. His horse in the race was the poor, white, scrappy farmer, and he was a lot more worried about freedmen voting for their former masters who they were still farming for just under a technically different arrangement, than about anything we might recognize as justice.

Andrew Johnson really got into it with his Congress. This seems sort of surprising, altho if you give any thought to how the Whigs went down, and the various assemblages that cratered until Lincoln finally got the nod (in exchange for Committing to Not Support Abolition), maybe not so surprising at all. But it's so odd: basically a completely one party setup, and Congress kept overriding his vetoes -- and then they impeached him.


Andrew Johnson switched parties.

If you are wondering why they didn't just find a way to get rid of him, apparently the Vice President favored Women's Suffrage, which is about the only thing all these white men could agree to be in opposition to.

The wikipedia article on Andrew Johnson has (at the time I read it today) a really great section on succeeding generations of historians and what they thought of him. In many ways, I feel bad for _anyone_ who was involved in politics through the middle decades of the nineteenth century (I mean, even more so than most other times). Basically, if you could convince other people to agree with you on anything at the time, there was guaranteed to be a whole wave of people then or later that would think you were Evil Incarnate for whatever it was. Given that Johnson was from Tennessee, and assuming he wanted to actually go home again, his politics don't seem that inept to me. At all. They really quite liked him when he went home. He got to be a Senator after a bit.

But whenever I think about what he did from the perspective of liberty, justice and Righting of Wrongs, well, he still doesn't seem inept. Evil, and damn good at it.

I'm not seeing the inept theory, I guess.

I also feel like I can see the underlying theme that was appealing to Fillmore and Johnson. They were both fundamentally status quo guys, who were freaked out about immigration, and freaked out about people who had historically been at the bottom of the pile somehow being elevated. Johnson had his own group that he wanted to succeed, but his was a weak populism, at best. They were absolutely centrist beings in a hyper-partisan time: for farm, family, and a white Protestant God.

This may be the Best Argument Ever against centrism, but it sure does a great job of explaining my mid- to late- 19th century ancestors living in what is now the Midwest. For them, it wasn't about being for or against slavery. It was about being _for_ the nuclear family climbing the economic ladder by settling new land.

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Two different (and unrelated to each other) cousins once removed on my mother's side (one on her father's, one on her mother's) got in touch with me on the same day. So that got me started on genealogy again, which otherwise would have waited probably another couple weeks, possibly longer depending on how weird November is.

One of the cousins wanted access to my tree as a contributor in exchange with access to hers as same. Once I understood that's what she had in mind (and who she was), I added her, and then sent her e-mail with a bit more general information about my branch and what (little) contact I had had with hers, and a feeler about whether it was okay to ask questions about the ancestral religion or not. It's a Real Touchy Subject.

The other cousin has a long-standing interest in a middle name that appears several times in our family tree: "Millard". The first time I see the name in the family tree is as my great-great grandfather's middle name. His mother's maiden name was Susan or Susana Carson, and I've got decent (altho not comprehensive) lines for her, with no indication "Millard" as a last name on that side.

Because that great-great grandfather was born in 1853, and because Millard Fillmore was President from 1850-1853, I sort of just assumed that the fam were fans, and named their kids for him; it wasn't uncommon. It sort of _looks_ like my great-great grandfather may well have been _named_ Millard Fillmore [last name], but then ditched the Fillmore part, made Millard his middle name and adopted the universal male first name of "John". At least, that's one way to interpret his entries in the census. There are plenty of others.

My 3rd great grandfather, Millard's father, who I will call William, fought in the Civil War on the Union Side. He joined up in Illinois, but said he was from Tennessee by birth, and his census entries back to shortly after his first son was born are at least consistent. I've been unable to find any of his family (parents, siblings, etc.) AT ALL. He shows up surrounded by Susan Carson's kin -- like, the entire page of the census are her kin. She died young, the kids were parceled out to others and the Carson descendants seem to think that William died. But he did not. He reappears married to another woman and they had a second family, and everyone moved to Iowa. One of William's son's in that second family was named "Elmer M", which a variety of people seem to think stood for Millard as well, altho I don't know why (they tend to have family records; I don't, so I work exclusively off of public sources).

Elmer M [last name] is thus the half-uncle of my cousin's father, with the exact same name. Feels very Dutch, altho it probably is not.

I think it is safe to say that William, who fought in the Civil War on the Union Side, may have Really Liked Fillmore's politics.

What _were_ Fillmore's politics?

Well, he's sort of despised _now_ because the story gets written by the winners, in the end, and Fillmore was anti-Catholic and nativist. He didn't like Lincoln. He supported the Compromise of 1850. And therein, I think, may lie the answer to my question. If you think the Compromise of 1850 was a terrible idea AND you oppose slavery, in pragmatic terms you were effectively supporting starting the Civil War earlier rather than later, altho you probably would vehemently dispute that assertion. Federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act(s) really, really, really rankled. If you think the Compromise of 1850 was a terrible idea AND you think the Civil War was the War of Northern Aggression, you are so crazy it's hard to know what to say about you, other than that you are probably kind of an awful person.

I don't like the politics of this crop of my ancestors. Some of them were Democrats who lived in Iowa and supported the Fugitive Slave Act(s) but don't seem to have actually ever owned slaves themselves, altho that might have been a function of when they were poor and when they became wealthy, rather than reflective of a moral position. Some of them gave their sons the middle name "Fillmore" and while from Southern states, moved West and during the Civil War fought on the Union Side. I think of these two groups as being unlikely bedfellows (literally!), but maybe that wasn't unlikely at all. Maybe these people fundamentally all thought basically the same (War = Bad, Slavery = Shouldn't Spread Further but maybe not worth more of a fuss than that).

My next step was to take a look around on Amazon, where I was more than a little shocked to discover that one of the most recent biographies of Millard Fillmore argues that what he did _caused_ the war! That's approximately the least reality based idea ever. Only approximately -- I'm sure you can find something worse. The nativist/Know Nothing strand of Fillmore's politics is surely worth mocking, and of course as the beneficiaries of the efforts of those who came before us, we can comfortably say that everyone should have been more true to the ideal of freedom much earlier on in the process. But blaming Fillmore for the Civil War? Seriously?

The guy who wrote the thing appears to be at Albany Law and lives in Slingerlands. Maybe this T-weekend I'll do a little asking around to find out if he's this nutty in general, or if it is limited to this particular topic.

As I looked at what I had in my tree for William's second family, I realized that once they left Iowa, I sort of lost track of everyone. Well, there's really no excuse for that, especially since the best online source for these people thinks that the daughter named Estelle would ultimately die in Seattle in 1950! Alas, I haven't found her marriage yet, so I have no idea. But Agnes and a couple of her brothers ended up in Omaha, where the brothers died, but Agnes would ultimately pick up and move to California somewhat later. Ancestry.com really let me down, but Forest Lawn's interment records are (mostly) online, so I could find the brother's burial information. Ancestry obviously had the census records where, at intervals, the brothers could be found living with Agnes' family. They also all turn up in Ancestry's copies of Omaha city directories, which was convenient in helping me figure out which Elmer in the book was my Elmer, by comparing addresses for Agnes' husband's listing and the various Elmers.

The next step is probably to get in touch with the person who has been working this line, show them the city directories and interment records and ask them what their evidence is for a 1909 death for Elmer vs. the 1915 death date that I prefer -- and to ask them to pretty please tell me who Estelle married. I could also continue to try to understand Omaha's Wards and Districts in the 1910 census and find Elmer that way; I have his address in the city directory so in theory that should work; the index is utterly failing me.

None of this does anything for me, in terms of going backwards in time above William.

Also, hadn't realized Fillmore was involved in New York banking reform that provided the basis for the Fed. I feel bad for Fillmore. I doubt I would have liked him, but given how many people died in the Civil War, it's hard to blame someone for wanting to avoid going to war.
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Subtitled: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President

We had a good turnout at Mayberry (<-- not its real name) Public Library for book group: 6 people. We all finished the book (this is somewhat amazing in and of itself) AND we all really liked it. AND we had a great discussion. I don't think this trifecta has _ever_ occurred in this group before. I'll be getting Millard's earlier book, and looking forward to future ones.

If you've ever given Garfield's assassination any thought at all (I had previous to this read a multi-page description of the medical "treatment" he was subjected to, but I hadn't really thought about the assassination part at all, Garfield's politics or anything else), well, you were ahead of all of us. Millard quite capably ties together several distinct threads to the tale in ways that avoid confusion and create a degree of insight into the third quarter of the 19th century that isn't easy to achieve.

The first thread is Garfield himself: his humble beginnings, his marriage and family life (Millard's treatment of his affair is sensitive and makes the reader like and understand everyone even more), his education, participation in the Civil War, nomination and then election to the Presidency. I don't think I had any real idea that Garfield is the Origin Point for the "no, no, please, don't nominate me" meme, nor did I realize how truly he embodied the log cabin Origin Story. Best of all, however, Millard conveys an idea of how deeply divided the party was at that time between those who wanted to continue traditional machine/partisan politics and a reform wing that wanted to professionalize more elements of governmental service.

The second thread is the assassin: Charles Guiteau. His history of craziness, influenced in part by his father's religious ideas and the Oneida colony (but even _they_ thought he was nuts) and the enabling of his sister until even she felt he was a threat to her. Running out on bills for clothes, for rent and train fare and abusing his wife during their brief marriage are enough to recognize him as mentally unbalanced -- the problem was he kept running a little too fast for people to actually institutionalize him.

The third thread is technology. Medical clashes over antisepsis are obviously crucial to the story (and an echo of authority/seniority vs. professionalism arises in this thread, too), but Alexander Graham Bell is an important character as he develops a device for using induction to detect balls and bullets inside a human body. I had no idea that this device would continue to be used down through the Vietnam War, when X-ray machines were unavailable in the field or the results they were producing were not helpful.

Weaving this all together are the women. Candice Millard does a stunningly good job of showing how important women were to all of these men, and in all of these events. They are obviously not front-and-center because of societal restrictions, but, in the the most clear-cut case, women Change the Outcome. Julia Sand's letters to Chester Arthur, which he improbably read, was influenced by and preserved, were written by a woman unknown and unrelated to the Vice President. She said in strong terms that he must become a better man as he became the President and he must not allow his weak and corrupt past to determine the future of the Nation.

So Chester Arthur implemented the reform plans that Garfield supported -- and then we all forgot the whole thing.

It's a great book. I expect I'll be rereading it in the future, because there was so much in it. Lucretia Garfield created the first Presidential Library and started a grand tradition of preserving presidential papers so we could go back in time through them and better understand our national heritage. The kids turned out well. Lister was decorated and lauded and eventually, because his ideas (and those of Semmelweis) won out, we all live a lot longer after trauma (and childbirth) than we otherwise would have. Good stuff.

Also, a very enjoyable read.

ETA: Oh, after reading this, I got to thinking about the list of assassins that Guiteau was one of. It seems that people who attempt to kill heads of state are really not connecting to reality as the rest of us understand it. I think I had assumed there must have been _some_ that had a coherent political platform/ideology/wtf that they thought would be advanced by assassination, but it turns out that might not be true. Like, at all. If you are defending against assassination, there are really two things you care about: crazy people, and getting shot accidentally by the armed guards who are protecting you.

But this conclusion may be influenced the by selection of universe. I think if you are looking at assassination in the context of drug lords, or Italian city-states, you could probably find "rational" assassinations. Altho maybe not -- they might have been part of an overall plan, but the person picked to do the deed may always be Not Sane.
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Wound up here from Brad DeLong's blog, and I really want to love this post, but I feel like it ends on a confused note. Here are the bits I agree with:

There are real problems with the ability of some Euro member states in terms of doing basic state things like collecting taxes, registering land and so forth (Greece being the current target and quite possibly the most deserving target of this kind of Shape Up, Now! outrage). States which are currently good at this sort of thing were not always so.

There are some obvious parallels between the United States of 100 and more years ago and the European Union currently, in that neither the current EU nor the United States of 100 and more years ago (actually, more recently, but let's pretend that what counts it the creation of the Federal Reserve Banking system, even tho it's not really what counts for our purposes) is/was a "fiscal union": they share a nominally identical currency (the EU is more truly a currency union than the US of 100 and more years ago) but money decisions (both collecting and distributing it) are made at OTHER than a central level.

The confusion in the above blog starts with a possible implicit misunderstanding of what happened when the Second Bank of the United States lost its charter. I don't _know_ that the blogger misunderstood what the transformation of the bank post-Congressional charter meant -- but I don't see clear indicators that the blogger "gets" that after the charter elapsed, that bank was Just Another Private Bank. But never mind that now.

The real confusion occurs in the final paragraph, with the third sentence, certainly the fourth. "The United States is both a monetary union and a fiscal union, so even though the states adopted balanced budget amendments, the federal government could still do countercyclical fiscal policy." But the US that she is comparing the current EU to _was not_ a fiscal union and HAD NO COUNTERCYCLICAL FISCAL POLICY. Period. End. Shouty caps. In 1836 or 1841 or whatever year she has in mind, The United States was a nominal monetary union and states adopted limits on borrowing and no one did countercyclical fiscal policy, except when private individuals and/or organizations undertook to do so a la the organization formed after the lapsing of the Congressional Charter of the Second Bank of the United States. [<- Edited for clarity. Also, _cannot_ over-emphasize how nominal the currency union was.]

It gets worse.

"The euro area is a monetary union without a fiscal union, so it would be very costly for states to institute such restrictions on deficit spending."

Euro area already has restrictions on deficit spending! Scandal associated with fakery to get around it! Duh! W.T.F.! And yes, it is a problem. Which is why the US ultimately had to create a fiscal union.

"One possibility is that the euro area will become more of a fiscal and/or banking union; or there may be other changes in the structure of public finance that I can't foresee."

I don't understand why the slash between fiscal and banking union. If the Euro is going to survive, it _will_ have to improve the productivity? efficiency? effectiveness? of its member states (just like we chronically have to improve education and elections and so forth in some of our member states, and fix benefits distributions and tax policy in all of them). AND it will have to come up with something in the direction of a fiscal union.

If she thinks banking union = euro wide deposit insurance, I probably agree, altho I don't see how that connects to fiscal union. I'd have to think about that for a while, to see if I can imagine ways to do it without fiscal union (I think I can, actually, but I haven't worked it through enough to be sure).

ETA: If she has in mind the creation of the Federal Reserve Banking System as a "banking union" then you can _definitely_ do that without a fiscal union.

ETAYA: Down in the comments, the point is made that there wasn't any counter cyclical federal fiscal policy (there's an assertion that "a de jury potential" existed, whatever that means). The blogger agrees, adding:

"Absolutely right, the US wasn't doing countercyclical fiscal policy back then. I know the 1870s had some bad panics, but will need to read more about what the 1850s-60s were like."

Printing money for a war, is what was going on for a chunk of that period, also an income tax that may or may not have been constitutional and definitely got unwound in a hurry, the legal elimination of a major form of "property", etc. The printing money thing is sort of interesting, because everyone expected that stuff to become worthless but it sort of didn't exactly do so.

I'm starting to understand why everyone finds the idea that the Euro Zone could survive this thing, and that what they are doing other-than-stimulus maybe needs to really be done so tough. Apparently we've collectively forgotten our own process with this material.
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One of the risks of doing genealogy is the "Oooh, my ancestor was a bad dude." The classic form of this in the United States is discovering slave owners in one's ancestry. I periodically poke at my great, great grandfather, John Veeder Plantz, because I think he was kind of a bad guy. I know he left his home in Mohawk around the time the Civil War got started, and he turns up living with his future father-in-law and family in the next census in 1870. He'd shaved some time off his age, perhaps to be more appealing to his much younger future wife, my great, great grandmother, Susan Hamlin. Susan's sister was another of my great, great grandmothers and there's a persistent family rumor that this marrying a cousin thing was maybe something the Hamlin branch had engaged in for a while, but I haven't seen any really obvious evidence of it. Yet. [ETA: Oh, lookee. There it is on page 83 of Andrews' history of Audubon County. I'm so confused by this paragraph I'm going to go sleep now and put it all together tomorrow:

"His children were ... James, adopted, married Sally, daughter of Reuben Hamlin; William (see record of him in the following paragraph); Eleanor, married her cousin Charles, son of Nathaniel Hamlin." That's an earlier Nathaniel than the one I'm carrying on about, obviously. Who Reuben Hamlin might have been is completely unexplained. William is the father of the Nathaniel I'm on about.]

Anyway. John's twin brother George served on the Union side of the War of the Rebellion, but there is no evidence of John's service and that move plus removing years from age plus turning up pretty far west (Iowa) shortly after the war looks a lot like draft avoidance to me.

And then there is the problem of the Millards. I have a great uncle whose middle name was Millard, and whose daughter is very curious about the source of that middle name. Susan's sister Clarinda or Clara married John Millard Allen, so I always assumed the great uncle got it from him (his grandfather) and in the back of my head I figured that was one of those "pick a name from a favored politician/president". Lots and lots of people named their kids Millard around that time. But when Millard Fillmore isn't a joke about irrelevancy, Millard was kind of a bad dude, too, responsible for the Fugitive Slave Act, among other things. If John's middle name is Millard, then John's dad from Tennessee probably wasn't entirely anti-slavery. Family legend suggests that John Allen wound up with the Hamlins because of a falling out with a previous generation over the slavery issue, but John's dad William wound up in Exira, too, so I figured the story had gotten confused as to which generation had the falling out, but who really can tell at this late date?

It seems abundantly clear that the families in Exira weren't exactly pro-Union or pro-abolition. Quite the contrary! Clara and Susan's youngest sibling was named Robert E Lee Hamlin -- and he was born in 1868.

What to make of all this? Iowa sent a lot of young men to fight on the Union side of the War of the Rebellion, but they had their fair share of residents opposed to Lincoln, abolition, and the war in general. With that in mind, I scrounged around to find that biography of Nathaniel, to see if it made any more sense now, having an effort to restore and expand upon my extremely limited understanding of the politics of the time.


"He was the first postmaster appointed at Hamlin's Grove postoffice, and held the position until the election of Abraham Lincoln. He has always been an old-style Jacksonian Democrat, and was appointed postmaster under General Taylor's administration. For two years he was county supervisor. Instead of Mr. Hamlin's seeking the office it sought him, and politics was in a healthier condition than it is to-day."

As one of the first settlers in the county, and along a route taken by those traveling to the western frontier, opening his home to travelers, it's not hard to imagine how John Plantz found himself working for Nathaniel Hamlin. If John was indeed dodging service during the war, I cannot imagine Hamlin having a problem with that.

John's trouble with neighbors later in life over how he fed his pigs seems really quite harmless by comparison.
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Finally, a review!

I got this from my library system (not ILL -- internal request through the Minuteman network; the book itself belongs to Newton Free Library, which seems like the library that has _all_ the books I request, which probably means something) and I may yet buy the thing. It is in print and reasonably priced (around $30 on Amazon, B&N online, etc.) but not available as an e-book through Amazon. It was written and published before the bust and the period it covers ends around 2000 or so.

The author has been an economist for Quite Some Time now and admits to having changed his mind about a few things, and he's spent a bunch of time at various components of the Fed, so there's a lot of reason to believe he knows what he's talking about.

It's a slow read, because there is a lot to think about. I think the more familiar you are with the time/place covered (let's call it 18th century and onward), the more sense you'll be able to make of the book itself -- it assumes you already know about the wars that presented such stresses to the financial systems of the participants, for example. I have zero formal training in economics, and thus don't know the names of a lot of really basic ideas (the Phillips Curve, for example -- I mean, I know that term _now_), however I have decent rough understanding of the domain and various schools of thought within it, so a lot of my slowness involves matching the unfamiliar terminology to the familiar idea. If you don't recognize the underlying ideas, you're going to be in a lot of trouble here.

That said, it's a great book and a really interesting one. Wood _has_ opinions but he's (mostly) not embedding them in the frame, which is very refreshing. I think he has had a great deal of experience navigating discussions with people who maintain long-standing different perspectives and that enables him to structure the exposition as objectively as I could imagine.

If you've played any of the online games I've pointed to (or just read my reviews of them), you know the basics: money supply, price level, unemployment, interest rate/cost of money, and perhaps even pertinent regulatory targets like reserve requirements. Whether you are Jane Doe or Banker Jane Roe or Businesswoman Zoe, you care about all these things even when you cannot name them, because you have to figure out how you're going to make it through the day/week/month/year and pay for the stuff you need. Your life is more difficult if you cannot predict what you are going to be paid tomorrow/next week/next month/next year, or what you will have to pay to buy food, ditto, or you don't know the value of what someone owes you will be etc. Inflation can make life easier for debtors, if they have incomes which ratchet up more or less with the price level (inflation makes your debt go away!). Deflation can make life great if people owe you money and you're sitting on a liquid pile of the stuff. Prices which don't change (very much) don't necessarily directly benefit one group or the other -- except by making those predictions so much easier to make.

Central bankers exist at the nexus of domestic (in-group) price stability and foreign (out-group) markets (exchange rates). They _try_ to keep these things from moving around too much, but as Wood does a fantastic job of displaying over and over and over again, this isn't very easy, and as soon as you add additional goals (like, say, full employment or financing a war) it becomes hair-raising. Worse, other places' price problems get transmitted to you via the exchange -- and vice versa.

Central bankers have a variety of tools to try to keep all this sloshing around from turning into a destructive flood (or drought). All of those tools have limitations. And Wood ably depicts the use of those tools and the limitations of those tools, and how changes in the global rules of the game have strengthened or weakened various strategies -- and how history gives us clues as to what to expect, but the gap in time means we _forget_ and repeat our mistakes. Particularly in the 20th century discussion, he incorporates a nuanced understanding of the intersection of politics, economics and central banking.

If you've ever sat around and wondered how we ever got in the habit of giving our money to someone else to hold onto and then writing checks against it, Wood has the story right here. If you've ever wondered about just what it is the FOMC does, Wood has (some of) the story here as well (he assumes a lot of knowledge). If you've ever wondered why the government has a monopoly on creating money (and prosecutes people who introduce competitive money), you'll have a much more solid understanding after reading this book. It's not that that's what the book is about -- it's that all of those things are around the edges of central banking.

I even think this book constitutes a solid grounding for understanding why the Euro exists, even tho people across the political spectrum in the United States think it's an incredibly stupid thing. If you're up for 400 pages (really: this book isn't a third end notes. There are some footnotes, but it's basically 400 pages of exposition) about monetary, fiscal and etc. policy, I doubt you could do better (altho I know what I'm going to read next on this topic, because I found something with a very favorable review by the author of this book).
walkitout: (Default)
Subtitled: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall

If you can locate a better overview of the history of Tammany Hall/its Committee/the Manhattan branch of the NYC Democratic Party, I'd love to know about it, because this one isn't very good.

I bought it used in Concord because I'd heard of Tammany and didn't really know much beyond "Boss Tweed", NYC and corruption. I'm not entirely certain I could have attached "Democratic" to "Tammany", I was that unaware. That, however, was several years ago. In the interim, I've been reading more transport history, and got particularly interested in the interaction between Tammany and the development of the subway system.

This book only mentions the subway once (a minor issue of a corrupt contractor relationship involving tiles for the subway). This is particularly amazing, because of this passage on page 234:

"On top of this, Tammany's own bailiwick, Manhattan (otherwise known as New York County), was losing population to the other boroughs, Brooklyn in particular. At the turn of the century, fully half of the city's population had resided on Manhattan Island, but by 1930 only a quarter of New Yorkers were Manhattanites, and the percentage kept dropping further, weakening Tammany's ability to lead. Finally, as Tammany's power declined, it found itself relying more and more on payoffs from organized crime, and when such arrangements became known the Hall was further discredited."

So the Fall of Tammany is directly attributable (through more than one mechanism) to this population movement. Yet at not point does Allen even _mention_ why this population movement happened. There had been ferries and then (a) bridge(s) to Brooklyn for some time, but what happened in the time frame Allen identifies was the creation of meaningful rapid transit -- the subway system. It was an important three way struggle between Hearst, Republicans and the various elements of the Democratic party which was not entirely controlled by Tammany even at this point. The coalition that Got It Done as led by a New Jersey guy and the crucial piece that made it all possible was ... Brooklyn. This really can't be ignored. It is completely representative of politics and it determined what would eventually happy to Tammany.

There's an incredibly stupid and gratuitous screw-up on pages 195-6 about the New York Auto-Truck: "a firm with tremendous potential now that horse-drawn freight delivery was yielding to the internal combustion engine". Except it wasn't. This was in 1898 and IC for trucking lay several years in the future. The New York Auto-Truck company ran vehicles based on compressed air (really), which Allen knew, because the whole section of the book is about Croker and Manhattan Elevated and George Gould refusing to put the compressed-air pipes on the El structure until after he heard back from engineering and legal and pissing off Croker and therefore Tammany as a result and the showdown not doing Tammany any favors but damaging Manhattan Elevated as well. I can only assume that Allen didn't bother to pay attention to what the compressed air was going, but I'll just note that it didn't involve internal combustion engines.

Allen liked the juiciness of his topic; this thing reads like a poorly understood series of political anecdotes. I wish it had been better.
walkitout: (Default)
I bought this used, back when I was reading about rail.

Derrick is "Archivist for the Bronx County Historical Society". Well, or was when this was published in 2001 by New York University Press. Copyright appears to be held by "The History of New York City Project, Inc."

A little over 250 pages of text in an over 400 page volume (the balance in bibliography AND notes and an index), Derrick's focus is on _policy_, and how the Dual System came to create the rapid transit system that continues to serve NYC well. Derrick ignores the larger financial background (does the 1907 panic merit even a passing mention? No, it does not. Which is pretty incredible, all things considered) and quite a lot of other things as well. However, I think he is justified in doing so, because otherwise this thing would have gotten way out of control.

In a lot of ways, this is the story of McAneny engaging in a deliberate negotiation with various newspaper interests, the IRT (the company which ran the first subway), Brooklyn Rapid Transit and the various NYC commissions attempting to create a big enough rapid transit system to empty out the overpacked communities of lower Manhattan and just-over-the-bridges. The goal was a virtuous one, and by no means inevitable in its success, which makes this a very suspenseful read even if you know how it turns out.

If you find long-running, seemingly fruitless, multi-way negotiations exasperating, this book might help teach you the benefits of persistence. Alternatively, it might make you want to destroy the book. Hard to say.

I enjoyed it, but I think it might have made more sense if I knew more about Tammany Hall. I have a book upstairs about that, too. I'll get to it, but first, I'll read _Down the Asphalt Path_.

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