Thursday, March 27, 2008

If my students can't be bothered to come to class, then dadburn it, I won't have class!

I brush my teeth every morning, so I know it can't be that....

Yesterday morning in my Civil War survey class, less than half the class showed up. Granted, we were watching a video. But since a good deal of the class revolves around watching Ken Burns, that isn't anything out-of-the-ordinary. And considering we're having a mid-term next week, one would think that class attendance would be close to normal. I was Not At All Happy. I made a few remarks, began the episode, and proceeded to grade exams for my survey course.

This morning, in my early class, at the beginning of lecture I had no students present. Now this is one of those dreaded 8AM lectures, and because of my scheduling needs, we all agreed that class would begin promptly each day at 8:10. Personally, I think 8AM classes at a community college are ridiculous, considering how most students can't get up that early and that we would increase community satisfaction by moving classes to 8:30 and then offering 7AM classes to working professionals --but I digress. This morning I had no customers, and as I sit here making this entry, fifteen minutes after scheduled start time (the Gold Standard for Collegiate Courses), I only have four out of fourteen present.

Two more minutes and I'm canceling the lecture. Lecture canceled! Let's all go for coffee, it's on me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What did I tell you just the other day?

If McCain vs. Obama, 28% of Clinton Backers Go for McCain
A sizable proportion of Democrats would vote for John McCain next November if he is matched against the candidate they do not support for the Democratic nomination. This is particularly true for Hillary Clinton supporters, more than a quarter of whom currently say they would vote for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.


I referenced this a few days ago, and now we're seeing further proof. For the Democrats, this primary cycle has got to stop before the bleeding proves mortal. But if it leads to a convention fight, it gives me something to reference the next time I talk about the birth of party conventions.

It was actually funny yesterday when I was discussing the 1824 election: "Crawford, Clay, J.Q. Adams, Calhoun and Jackson. Imagine trying to keep up with five different major candidates. I'm having problems juggling three!"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Something that makes me laugh uncontrollably!

#62 Knowing what’s best for poor people « Stuff White People Like:

I have decided that this is my Favoritest Bestest New Blog (or New-To-Me). I imagine someone suitably British doing the voice-over, like one of the Pythons or David Attenborough.

Is it, dare we say, Swiftian? Mayhaps. There are some deep truths in all that acid.

For those of you more inclined to the classics, however, I offer you this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Power Line: Does Everyone Hate President Bush?

Power Line: Does Everyone Hate President Bush?

Quick trivia quiz: For what popular pieces of legislation do we give credit to President Clinton?

We remember Clinton as a sympathetic man, one who seemed like Bubba from down the street. Sure, to his enemies he was "Slick Willie" but to many Americans he was Ol' Bill. We don't remember him for groundbreaking shifts in American laws. I'm sorry, we don't.

We remember WJC because he was/is likable.

For whatever reason, GWB is just not-so-much. At least that's the image that we see over and over and over again.

A hint to wannabe-Presidents: watch Reagan and Clinton. Now do it again. And again. And again. There is something to be said for both handling the media, and going through/over them to the American people.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts on the current Democrat Dilemma (Or, Al Gore, my Earl of Warwick? or James Polk?)

Political Punch:
In a sign of just how divisive and ugly the Democratic fight has gotten, only 53% of Clinton voters say they'll vote for Obama should he become the nominee. Nineteen percent say they'll go for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 13% say they won't vote.

Sixty percent of Obama voters say they'll go for Clinton should she win the nomination, with 20% opting for McCain, and three percent saying they won't vote.
As a historian, I think it would be a lot of fun to watch an actual, honest-to-God political convention where things get debated. The last convention even approaching controversial was the Democrats in '84, increasingly acknowledged as a "brokered" convention. I was 16 and fairly watchful of the news, but I don't remember anything remotely approaching the current brouhaha. I also remember Kennedy's people in '80 challenging the the rule that delegates were bound to support Carter on the first ballot (déja-vu?). But explaining to my students about the Jacksonian birth of party conventions is like explaining Mayan pictographs: It's arcane, very boring, and of almost no use to those of us in the present day.

The Democrats are perilously close to full division. One exit-poll analysis I read several weeks ago (!) indicated that a substantial number of Obama supporters in states carried by Kerry in '04 by less than 6% would stay home on election day if HRC "stole" the nomination. This, according to the authors (whose names, alas, escape me for now), would probably move anywhere between six and twelve blue states to the red, guaranteeing Republican victory.

A few thoughts occur to me. One, if we really want to 'recreate 68', let HRC take the nomination through rules manipulation and superdelegate suasion. Then you might see that terrible April relived, as the streets go up in flames. Let's not go down that road further. I like watching that cool and groovy Nixon commercial as much as the next historian, but still...

Two, one possibility that I have yet to see bandied about (and if I'm the first, by dang, I want the credit!) is a 1860-style redux. What, you don't remember what the Democrats did in 1860??? Obviously you're not one of my students! In 1860 the Democrats divided over slavery (that's the short version and we're sticking to it). The result was that in the Southern states, Vice President John Breckinridge was listed as the official Democratic nominee, while in Northern states, Senator Stephen Douglas held that distinction. Both lost to Abraham Lincoln, former Whig Congressman and Republican nominee.

Now, today's Democrats aren't as hopelessly divided as that. But what if... since different states show different results for McCain vs. Democrat-To-Be-Named-In-August, what if the Democrats decided to run an Obama-based ticket in states where Obama polled better, and HRC in the other states? Since it is unlikely that either one could win an outright majority of the electoral votes, the election could be pushed into the House of Representatives, which would let the national Democratic leadership decide the election while preserving the semblance of populist democracy. No Democrat would have to stay home, down-ticket voting would not suffer, and all would be sweetness and light.

And winged monkeys will appear around Uranus.

The conventional wisdom holds that the supers will decide this contest. But my sense is that the supers, too, are as much the victims here. No matter who gets the nomination, there will be repercussions within the party. Supers will, in the end, cover their own backsides first, and that means making nice with the people who elected them to their local and state offices in the first place. So my gut says that the supers are going to be as divided as the electorate, barring some Divine Guidance From On High.

No,I'm not talking about Bill Richardson. Not even John Edwards. The Voice As-Yet-Unheard is that of Al Gore. With two words ("Hillary Clinton" or "Barack Obama") Al Gore can end the rancor. In that sense, he is the Warwick in our current War of the Trying-To-Come-Out-Smelling-Like-Roses. An endorsement from him and the supers will move en masse to the designated nominee. No one carries as much moral authority as The Man Who Would Have Been (Except For Those Evil Super-Geniuses). Al Gore can end this debate now if he so chose.

--which naturally begs the question, why doesn't he speak? I have no super-secret insights, no cheat-code to get to the end of the quest. But I am reminded of another Democratic convention, this time from 1844, where the frontrunners were nowhere near reaching the nomination and, after many many ballots, someone from the back put forth the name of a Democrat from Tennessee, one James Polk. I congratulate you, sir, on being the Dark Horse. (And I have $50 from 2006 still riding on your getting the nomination --full disclosure)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The hazards of tiny classes

One of the campuses where I lecture has a "relaxed" minimum size requirement. Instead of the standard seven-student-minimum (which, itself, is considerably smaller than other minimum levels across this system), we have a five-minimum. Even this can be relaxed if, say, a student drops the class after the Official Date Of Record, leaving a class with four students. After all, who wants to cancel a class after students have done their first exams? And we might have to refund their money It wouldn't be fair!

So I have two classes this semester that are "micro-classes." One of them has five students, the bare minimum. Usually I welcome sections like this, because it gives me a chance to really interact with my students. However, in a class this size, literally, there is no place to hide. And three of my students come from a social background that stresses deference to instructors and silence in class, so having discussion is like pulling teeth.

The other class, an evening class, is down to four. This is very problematic in that several of my students are coming straight off of work, so we frequently start late. The second is that when even one of them is absent, the dynamic in the classroom noticeably diminishes.

I'm dealing with this even now: I'm supposed to be at a meeting, I had to get my students started on an exam, and two of them picked tonight to get caught in traffic. Ugh!

Why being a historian can, occasionally, be useful

There we were yesterday, during my Civil War survey, going through The Gospel According To Uncle Shelby (Ken Burns's The Civil War, Episode Three, "Forever Free"). And towards the end of the episode, when it becomes obvious that preliminary Emancipation is going to take effect, one of the comments made by a Northerner used the phrase "original sin of slavery." And I saw one or two of my students perk up ears at that point.

So when the episode ended, I said, " 'Original sin of slavery,' huh? Have we heard that anywhere recently?" And several students laughed.

I'm not going to comment on politics just at the moment. But occasionally this history stuff comes in useful. It's like when I teach the JFK assassination. I always tell my students, "No matter who you are, or where you go, or whom you hang out with, at some point in your life, you will end up in a conversation about who really killed JFK. I'm about to give you the info so that you hang tight with any conspiracy nut that you come across, and even give him or her a few more for consideration." That always get a laugh.

History: for when you really need to be both witty and accurate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


...and as my students took their exams, little did they realize that their Professor was making a blog entry....