I’m an animation history buff, as you may know. Here’s something I noticed today.

“Hell-Bent For Election”, the 1944, Chuck Jones-directed, proto-UPA pro-FDR agit-prop classic, shows Roosevelt’s streamlined profile as the head of the Win The War Special. On the other track is the Defeatist Limited, pulling various cars including, finally, the Jim Crow Car.

jimcrowcar

That is, the cartoon basically says: vote FDR, because Thomas Dewey is in favor of Jim Crow.

I am very surprised to see this messaging in 1944. I wouldn’t have thought the Democrats would have wanted to go there. Too much of a raw nerve. Too close to home for a party still based in the South. (Probably also unfair to Dewey, but the cartoon isn’t a model of fairness. It contains a pretty raw ad hitlerum argument. The surprise is only that it seems to risk offending the white Democratic base.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if the cartoonists, who were all lefties, were wishing FDR further to the left. Maybe message discipline for this stuff wasn’t very tight.

The cartoon got a lot of play in the election. From a book on history of the studio:

The film worked. Distributed in 16 mm by Brandon Films, Inc., of New York City, the cartoon could be rented for ten dollars. Boxoffice reported that it was screened in “union halls, political clubs – even in private homes at parties organized for fund raising purposes.” Naturally, the liberal press trumpeted Hell-Bent For Election: “Clever cartooning, obviously done by Hollywood’s best,” noted John T. McManus in the newspaper PM. The Daily Worker praised the cartoon’s “expert craftsmanship and sound political advice to labor and the nation.” Hell-Bent also warranted a two-page spread in Life – a periodical aimed at the middle-American mind. Direction magazine estimated that Hell-Bent was “shown to more than ten million persons.” (57)

What do you think? I’d be kind of curious to see the Life spread.

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Sunday photoblogging: Southville reflections

by Chris Bertram on February 8, 2015

I’ve just gone through a big house move and we’re still in the unboxing phase (and I’m desperately catching up at work). As a result, I’ve not wandered round with a camera so far this year at all. But I’m looking forward to exploring the new area soon. But here’s a picture from nearby, that I shot a while ago.

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Has vaccination become a partisan issue?

by John Quiggin on February 8, 2015

Some recent statements by Chris Christie and Rand Paul1 have raised the prospect that vaccination, or, more precisely, policies that impose costs on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, may become a partisan issue, with Republicans on the anti-vax (or, if you prefer, pro-freedom) side and Democrats pushing a pro-vaccine, pro-science line. Christie and Paul took a lot of flak from other Republicans and even Fox News, and tried to walk their statements back, so it seems as if it won’t happen just yet.

But there are some obvious reasons to think that such a divide might emerge in the future, and that Christie and Paul just jumped the gun. The outline of the debate can be seen in the ferocious response to Reason magazine’s endorsement of mandatory vaccination. And, while Reason was on the right side this time, they’ve continually cherrypicked the evidence on climate change and other issues to try to bring reality in line with libertarian wishes.

The logic of the issue is pretty much identical to that of climate change, gun control, and other policies disliked by the Republican/schmibertarian base. People want to be free to do as they please, even when there’s an obvious risk to others and don’t want to hear experts pointing out those risks.2 So, they find bogus experts who will tell them what they want to hear, or announce that they are “skeptics” who will make up their own minds. An obvious illustration of the parallels is this anti-vax piece in the Huffington Post by Lawrence Solomon, rightwing author of The Deniers, a supportive account of climate denial3.

As long as libertarians and Republicans continue to embrace conspiracy theories on issues like climate science, taking a pro-science viewpoint on vaccination just makes them “cafeteria crazy”. The consistent anti-science position of people like Solomon is, at least intellectually, more attractive.

Update Another issue that fits the same frame is speeding. Anti-science libertarians in Australia and the UK are strongly pro-speeding, but I get the impression that this isn’t such a partisan issue in the US, the reverse of the usual pattern where tribalist patterns are strongest in the US.


  1. Christie was just pandering clumsily, but Paul’s statement reflects the dominance of anti-vax views among his base and that of his father (take a look at dailypaul.com). 

  2. Of course, the situation is totally different in cases like Ebola and (non-rightwing) terrorism, where it’s the “others” who pose the risk. 

  3. The Huffington Post used to be full of leftish anti-vaxers. But the criticisms of Seth Mnookin and others produced a big shift – Solomon’s was the only recent example I could find. Similarly, having given equivocal statements back in 2008, Obama and Clinton are now firmly on the pro-vaccine side. 

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HR Tips from Roman slave owners

by Henry on February 6, 2015

A few people in the previous thread pushed me to say more about my underlying theory of trolling, and why Jonathan Chait’s piece (and much of his previous oeuvre) should be categorized as very talented trolling of the second magnitude. I don’t have one – instead I’m trying to suggest that we should evaluate trolling in aesthetic terms. This obviously implies that we can’t and shouldn’t try to come up with a Grand Unified Perspective on Trolling, since aesthetic judgments, a la Bourdieu, are inevitably drenched with positional politics and personal circumstances. I will say that in my personal opinion Chait wasn’t particularly artistically successful (it wasn’t an especially subtle or elegant troll, and entirely lacked that subtle sense of irony that I like myself in a really first rate bit of trollage) but certainly succeeded in getting the crowds out. Hence, the Michael Bay comparison – lots of explosions, noise and box office, but not very much else.

This new piece by Jerry Toner at Aeon is in my opinion a much more successful example, if not quite of trolling, then of something closely related.

Most Romans, like Augustus, thought cruelty to slaves was shocking. They understood that slaves could not simply be terrified into being good at their job. Instead, the Romans used various techniques to encourage their slaves to work productively and willingly, from bonuses and long-term inducements, to acts designed to boost morale and generate team spirit. All of these say more than we might imagine about how employers manage people successfully in the modern world. … Like the weak manager who hides behind the Human Resources department when there is firing to be done, some Roman masters clearly baulked at the violence intrinsic to their system. But most openly embraced taking the unpleasant acts that being a master entailed, seeing them as a means of advertising their power and virility. … Small perks could make a big difference to morale. Masters sometimes made a point of checking the slaves’ rations personally to show them that they were taking an interest in their welfare. … Even when treated relatively well, slaves naturally longed for freedom. This desire could be turned to great advantage by the master. It was a carrot with which to motivate the slave to work diligently and honestly. … In Gellius’ retelling of the famous Aesop fable of Androcles and the lion, the slave Androcles put up with undeserved floggings every day. It was only after endless abuse that he finally took the tremendous risk of running away. No doubt there are few wage slaves who do not also dream of throwing off the yoke of their mundane existence and becoming ski-instructors, writers, or their own self-employed masters. Modern managers must make their staff feel that they are earning enough, or have the possibility of earning enough, that these dreams are possible, however remote they might be in reality.

It took me a couple of reads, and some consultation with a third party, before I was reasonably sure that this was a beautifully constructed satire. It’s so deadpan, and so close to the tone of a certain kind of glib-management-theory-building-on-the-new-institutional-economics-book, that the reader isn’t sure whether this is seriously meant or pince-sans-rire. And this is what brings it close to trolling. Its underlying logic is similar to a Jonathan Swift style Modest Proposal, but Swift is all visible saeva indignatio . He takes the language and assumptions of English elite debates on the Irish question and uses them to dress a solution that is objectively appalling. The reader is discomfited – but has a very clear understanding of Swift’s intention. Toner, instead, strands his reader in a kind of Uncanny Valley of intentionality, with a proposal that may, or may not be seriously meant. It’s a much more profound sense of intellectual discomfort. I don’t think that the piece is trolling – but it evokes a feeling of intellectual confusion that’s related to the kinds of confusion that really good trolling produce. So that’s not, obviously, a definition of first rate trolling, or even an example of it. But it maybe sort of helps all the same.

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Fire away in comments. Looking at the pattern of home and away fixtures, my money is on France if they can beat Ireland away next week. But, as usual, four teams could win it.

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The Epic Bureaucrat

by Corey Robin on February 5, 2015

Hannah Arendt often seems to counterpoise the epic nature of political action, the glorious and distinctive deeds of ancient heroes, to the anonymous and impersonal processes of modern life. Where is the Achilles of bureaucracy, the Pericles of the corporation? Nowhere, she appears to say: we live in an age where everyone behaves, no one rules.

Patchen Markell has an excellent article, “Anonymous Glory,” in the latest issue of the European Journal of Political Theory showing how subtly and carefully Arendt helps to undermine that distinction. The opposition she appears to draw between ancient action and modern behavior, between glorious deeds and impersonal processes, is not nearly as stark as we might imagine on a first—or second or third—read of her work.

There’s actually a wonderfully illustrative moment for Markell’s argument in the history of the New Deal. Hallie Flanagan—immortalized by Cherrie Jones in The Cradle Will Rock—was the head of the Federal Theater Project, which was an agency of the WPA, hiring actors, directors, stagehands, writers, and more, to, well, put on a show. In an article in 1939, in The Virginia Quarterly Review, she captures what Markell is talking about, turning the statistics of unemployment and poverty—and the Federal Theater Project’s efforts—into a glorious and heroic epic. “The bare statistics of Federal Theater,” she writes, “are in themselves a drama.” [click to continue…]

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California Vaccination Exemptions by Type of School

by Kieran Healy on February 5, 2015

Update, Feb. 5th: Figure and Table updated to identify Catholic Private schools. And again later the same day, finding more Catholic schools.

I took another look at the vaccination exemption data I discussed the other day. This time I was interested in getting a closer look at the range of variation between different sorts of schools. My goal was to extract a bit more information about the different sorts of elementary schools in the state, just using the data from the Health Department spreadsheet. As we saw before, the smaller the unit of observation the more variability we are likely to uncover. So, looking at the rate of Personal Belief Exemptions (PBEs) in public vs private schools shows less variation than looking at the rates across counties, which in turn show less variation than what we observe at the district and school level. At the same time, the larger the number of observations within any particular category, the more variability there is likely to be as well. There are far more public schools than any other sort of school in California, so even if most public schools have very low rates of PBEs, the fact that there are thousands of them makes some outliers more likely.

To get a more fine-grained sense of the different sorts of schools there are, I used their names as a guide. How many private schools have the word “Christ” or “Christian” in their names, for example? How many have “Waldorf” or “Montessori”? This is an imperfect measure because it’s not guaranteed that, say, a private Christian academy will have the words “Christ” or “Christian” in its name. But it’s imperfect in a generally conservative direction—though not uniformly, as if you don’t search carefully you might mistake Christa McAuliffe Elementary, a public school, for a private Christian school. So you take care not to write regular expressions that aren’t too greedy, and double check against their public/private status, which is also given in the CDPH data. With this in mind we can produce a table of different types of schools ordered by mean PBE rate.

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Semper ubi sub ubi

by Eric on February 4, 2015

I write to record a position on a subject already treated in more specialist fora, but so far as I can tell given only Kieran’s crispest disposal on CT.

I refer, of course, to a matter routinely, if implicitly, raised by the auditors of curricula, every time they ask for samples of a syllabus: if they request more than one, what do they say they want? Syllabi? Or syllabuses?1

Doubtless this issue vexes few of the hoi polloi, nor troubles many alumni of great universities. Indeed, academics – from the Hebrides to the Antipodes – seem often to use “syllabi.”

A highly scientific anti-prescriptivist study has it that the answer is “syllabi.” Yet Kieran, per above, prefers “syllabuses,” as indeed do I.

If your etymological antennae are twitching, you can find a detailed account of the story of “syllabus” at the specialist links in the first sentence of the post. But the short version is, it’s a made-up word, erroneously thought to be adopted into Latin from the Greek, which it wasn’t. I.e., there isn’t a true proper correct answer, horribile dictu.



1I’ve never actually heard anyone insist it’s syllabūs.

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Asset sales and interest rates (wonkish)

by John Quiggin on February 4, 2015

One of the strongest most politically effective arguments made for selling publicly owned assets, such as government owned corporations is that, by reducing debt, it will reduce the interest rate on government bonds. This is plausible enough, and not by itself a conclusive argument. The interest saving (including the benefit of lower rates on remaining debt) needs to be set against the loss of earnings. But it would be nice to know how large this saving might be.

The Queensland state election, just passed, provides something of a natural experiment. The LNP government proposed to sell $37 billion in public assets and repay $25 billion in debt ($18 billion associated with the enterprises to be sold, and $7 billion in general government debt. Going in with 73 of 89 seats, the LNP was almost universally expected to be returned. Instead, they lost their majority and will probably lose office. Although the result is not yet final, everyone is now agreed that asset sales are off the table.

So, we should be able to look at the secondary market for QTC bonds to see how much this surprise changed the interest rate demanded by bondholders (this is what’s called an “event study” in the jargon of academic finance). You can get the data from https://www.qtc.qld.gov.au/qtc/public/web/individual-investors/rates/interactive%20rate%20finder//

and I’ve included it over the fold (a bit of a mess as I can’t do HTML tables)

The data shows that interest rates have generally been tending downwards, as you would expect given the Reserve Bank’s much-anticipated cut. On the trading day after the election, rates on longer term bonds rose by between 0.05 and 0.1 percentage points (or, in the market jargon 5 and 10 basis) points. But all of that increase, and more, was wiped out the next day when the RBA confirmed its cut. Overall rates on QTC debt have fallen by around 0.25 percentage points since Newman called, and then lost, his snap election.

To sum up, the surprise abandonment of one of the largest proposed asset sales in Australian history caused only a momentary blip in interest rates on Queensland government debt, immediately wiped out by a modest adjustment in monetary policy at the national level.

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Greece – surplus, stimulus & strategy

by Daniel on February 3, 2015

I have a post up at Medium.com, outlining some further thoughts about how Greece might go about negotiating. This post was rendered sightly obsolete by the FT headline this morning, but since the plan described corresponds pretty closely to “Program 1” in my article (spoiler: Program 1 is the bad one), I think it’s still relevant. Because Medium restricts comments to 200 characters and requires login, I tend to only get reasonable, concise comments there from people who have thought about the issues. So I thought I’d throw it open here to get plenty of the other kind …

Only kidding. Comments are open on this thread, but I only really want to hear from Greek people. By “Greek people”, I mean a) ethnic Greeks and b) people living in Greece. I have no means of establishing this, other than that regular Mr Angry type commenters whose names are known to me but who have never mentioned any Greek ancestry in the past are not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Everyone else – short questions relating to technical points or asking for clarification will be replied to, but otherwise please don’t. I might make a partial exception for really substantive points made by Spanish, Portuguese or Irish people if there’s a link between the Greek program and the outlook for their own country.

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This one goes to 0

by Eric on February 2, 2015

For my new book, I spent long hours trawling through the many, many reels of the microfilmed diaries of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. We didn’t have them at my university, so I had to order a few at a time from Interlibrary Loan, wait, and then seize upon them and go through them before they were due back at their home institution. Working through them at that speed, and on the microfilm reader whose lens & screen combination wasn’t quite right to show a full page, invariably gave me motion sickness.

Then they showed up, digitized, free to download. The joke was on me.

Except, for some reason, the digitized edition seems to begin with Book 1. Which you would think was okay – except the first book is actually Book 00. And that’s the book that covers the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, which was a critical period during which decisions were made about monetary policy that lasted for the duration of Roosevelt’s terms in office.

A peril, perhaps, of the digital archives.

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I Aten’t Ignoring You

by Belle Waring on February 2, 2015

I wasn’t paying attention to un-approved comments in the queue, so a bunch got stuck there. Why? Because I almost never do anything about them until a co-blogger is like, “hey Belle, remember how we have a moderation queue that ever requires you to do a thing ever?” I just went and approved them all, as is generally my inclination, even—I will have you know—the ones calling me a bad person who writes in a fundamentally unserious way about serious subjects, and who is personal friends with Brad DeLong even though he is an economic quisling and opinionatedly wrong about works of history about Eastern Europe which I (myself, Belle Waring) have not read. So, if it seemed as if you were in moderation hell, sorry about that.

You also really have to work at it to get me to ban you; please don’t. It’s tedious. I wouldn’t do it even if I personally disagreed with you about historiography of Eastern Europe, rather than at a trusted remove (at which remove I also won’t ban you obvi, since, here you are). Well, if I knew you were fabricating lies and hurling spurious claims of ‘anti-Semite’ everywhere I’d hassle you, but you’d have to be King Dick of it to get banned on my account. I did have some homophobia in the first thread from whoever it is who has been baiting MPAVictoria so incessantly. It was fake homophobia that he wasn’t even selling. I wasn’t buying a nickel bag of it. But pretending to be bigoted is almost worse. I seriously am too bored to look up his very-like-another-person’s name right now. You, thingface, knock it off, and MPAV for the love of all that is unholy just don’t rise snapping to that hand-tied-fly what has been cast onto the mottled surface of our limpen stream. And then…a male commenter said this to me:
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Belle-ing the Chait

by Henry on February 2, 2015

So Jonathan Chait has responded to his critics, sort of. The core claim:

The story’s critics have repeated their claim that I am personally upset so often, they have come to take it as an obvious fact. (“It’s understandable that Chait, and the many others who agree with him,” writes Amanda Taub faux-sympathetically, “find it so upsetting to be on the receiving end of what he refers to as ‘P.C.’ criticism.”) … If there were a single sentence in the story expressing self-pity, it would be widely quoted by the critics, but no such line can be found. (Belle Waring, unable to find any quotes substantiating her characterization of my views, actually goes so far as to invent her own quotes that supposedly describe my thinking.) Nor is such a sentiment hidden, lurking somewhere outside the text. I don’t feel victimized in any way by political correctness or (as some have alleged, in one strange variant of the charge) by new media, which has been a boon to me. I feel, with regard to my career and my place in American society, things have never been better. The response partly reflects the p.c. culture’s inability to evaluate arguments about identity as abstract arguments rather than reflections of the author’s own identity.
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A Tale of Two Snowballs

by Corey Robin on February 1, 2015

I grew up in Chappaqua, New York, which is 20 miles northwest of New Rochelle. Both towns are in Westchester County, but they’re different.

Chappaqua’s population is 81% white, 12% Asian, and 2% black. Its median household income is $100,000. Its poverty rate is less than 4%. New Rochelle’s population is 47% white, 19% black, and 28% Latino/a. Its poverty rate is more than 12%. Its median household income is $67,000.

But here’s how I really know the difference between the two towns.

When I was growing up, my friend Mario, who’s no longer alive, came over to play. It was a snowy day. We decided to throw snowballs at cars. Our position protected by a tall hedge, we packed the snowballs tight and started hurling them onto the street. We did it for a while, till we heard a car screech and stop. And then we ran like hell.

About five or ten minutes later, my dad called out for us. The police were in the driveway. We got a stern talking-to, my parents yelled at us, and that was that.

Last Wednesday, a group of kids (it’s hard to say for sure, but they seem to be black; they’re definitely not white) were having a snowball fight in New Rochelle, somewhere near Lincoln Avenue and Hemingway Avenue. A snowball fight with each other.

A cop showed up, the kids dropped to their knees, and as this video shows, the cop drew his gun, shouting, ”Don’t fucking move, guys.” He proceeded to frisk one of them, while keeping his gun on him, and then another.

There’s a report that the cops were responding to a call about a gun, but no one has confirmed it. The person taking the video, a woman, says, “They were having a snowball fight. This group of guys was having a snowball fight and now a cop has a gun on them.”

Update (8:30 pm)

I just found a Daily News report on the incident, which came out after I posted this. According to the News, the cops are claiming they responded to a 911 call about a teenager pointing a gun, in a group of teenagers, at someone else. They also claim that they have a transcript confirming the call, which they may release. As soon as the cops arrived, they claim, the kid with the gun took off. That is the point, they say, where the video begins. They also say there was no snowball fight going on prior to their arrival. I have no idea what the basis of that claim is.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/westchester-pulls-gun-teens-snowball-fight-article-1.2099426

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Sunday photoblogging: Rue de Vaugirard

by Chris Bertram on February 1, 2015

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