Monday, December 29, 2008

Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics

Paul Krugman, this year's Nobel laureate in Economics, is a Princeton professor and a New York Times columnist. He predicted the end of the housing bubble early.

His new book takes on the crisis.

Krugman, Paul. The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. W. W. Norton, 2008.

There's a review in Daily Kos here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New New Deal

There is going to be a lot of debate in the next months and years about economic and national recovery. Here's a brief sketch in The Nation by Robert Borosage and Eric Lotke, "A New New Deal," that usefully summarizes one version of the agenda.

Borosage and Lotke make the traditional but useful rhetorical point, sometimes implicitly, that new policy, especially big national policy change, comes about because in a crisis or widely felt problem, policy thinkers already have reforms worked out in some detail and are just waiting for a chance at implementation. They also add the observation that pressure from further left can move the center in the direction of broadly liberal change (and of course the same thing can happen on the right).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pennsylvania Winter

Merry Christmas from Pennsylvania.

Poster: WPA Federal Art Project poster 1936-1939 from Library of Congress collection.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Senate Armed Services Committee has released its report on United States abuse of prisoners in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report concludes that:

Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period. . . .

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

See the report here.

New York Times article with background here.

Abu Ghraib photo from Wikipedia; believed to be in public domain.

Alison Bechdel, DTWOF


DTWOF is Alison Bechdel's blog and comic strip, now apparently on a sabbatical. Here's a link to her entry for the end of spring semester 2008, with some premises that will be familiar to academics coming to the end of another semester.

Alison Bechdel is the author of Fun Home, her graphic autobiography of growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania.

And don't miss OM-MO, the Zen strip.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For was published in November 2008. Dwight Garner's New York Times review is here.

The images here are copyrighted by Alison Bechdel.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This Is Not Drill

Today, December 7, is Pearl Harbor Day -- the anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

The image shows a naval dispatch sent by CINCPAC -- Commander in Chief Pacific -- to all major naval commands and fleet units. The telegram reads: "AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL"

For this and related documents, have a look at the Library of Congress web site, which has links to a repository of documents relating to the events of that day, including man-in-the-street interviews by folklorists.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's war message, delivered to Congress on December 8, 1941, is available at the FDR Library and at the American Presidency project.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This week posters have been appearing in Paris urging French President Sarkozy to engage in serious negotiations for climate change.

Barak Obama is not yet president, and yet his image is already being matched with Lincoln, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, and now it is being used to call other national leaders to serious policy work.

News of the Sarkobama campaign, now revealed to be a Greenpeace project here; here; here;

Graham Spanier for Secretary of Education?

Marc Ambinder reports on his blog at The Atlantic that Graham Spanier, President of Penn State University, is being considered by the Obama transition team as Secretary of Education in the new cabinet.

Ambinder reports, "For Education Secretary, Democrats say that Graham Spainer [sic], the president of Penn State University, and Ray Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi, are said to be in the running. (If Joe Paterno gets a vote, then maybe it's Mabus.) Others include John Deasy, the superintendent of the Prince George's County public school system, Linda Darling-Hammond, a well-regarded academic from Stanford and an Obama education policy adviser, and Ronnie Musgrove, another former Mississippi governor who lost his bid for Senate. "

The story was picked up by Aubrey Whelan at the Penn State Daily Collegian, who writes a followup.

Aubrey Whelan, "Cabinet May Add Spanier," Daily Collegian (Penn State University), 4 December 2008; Marc Ambinder, "Obama Will Announce Richardson as Commerce Sec. Tomorrow," a reported blog on politics, The Atalantic, 2 December 2008.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Anti-Intellectual Presidency

John McWhorter reviews The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, by Elvin T. Lim (Oxford University Press, 2008) --

Lim pays some lip service to larger trends but focuses on a narrower analysis, carefully posing that the increasing anti-intellectualism in presidential rhetoric resulted from a “tyranny of small decisions” effected by speechwriters and presidents taking their cue from the linguistic tone of the administrations preceding them. This analysis, however, can explain only so much. Truman may well have despaired of equaling Franklin Roosevelt’s eloquence and instead emphasized his own flinty straight-talking persona, while Lyndon Johnson was linguistically insecure and simply did not seek eloquence at all. This kind of analysis, however, fails to explain why in the nineteenth century even a plain-spoken ex-general such as Ulysses S. Grant pitched his official statements at the grand level, while a plain-spoken ex-general such as Dwight Eisenhower did not—or why Richard Nixon’s oratory was even more conversational than Lyndon Johnson’s.

The overarching explanation is the cultural context of an American culture that embraced informality in the 1920s and kept at it ever since. Clinton, for example, was not simply possessed with an animus toward flowery speech, and he certainly did not consciously decide to sound less formal than his notoriously inarticulate predecessor, George H.W. Bush. He was, instead, someone who had smoked pot in dormitories while listening to the kind of music that the parents in Bye Bye Birdie reviled—and that was the source of his rhetoric.

The review: John McWhorter, "A Rhetorical Question," First Things (October 2008).

The book: Elvin T. Lim, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, (Oxford University Press, 2008).

More reviews: Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed; David Broder, Washington Post;

Marcellus Shale -- It's a Gusher!

From the Penn State Newswire, 12 August 2008

Deep-well natural gas drilling a concern for state's water quality

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Reminiscent of Pennsylvania's halcyon days of oil production and coal mining early in the last century, the current boom in natural-gas well drilling is a concern for the state's streams and groundwater, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Decades ago, we weren't careful with coal mining. As a result, we are still paying huge sums to clean up acid mine drainage from that period, and we will be for a long time," said Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist with Penn State Cooperative Extension. "We need to be careful and vigilant or we could see lasting damage to our water resources from so many deep gas wells being drilled across Pennsylvania."

This latest wave of gas-well drilling is unlike other previous exploration because the wells are so deep, tapping the Marcellus shale formation, which is a mile or more below the surface of much of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. Scientists have known for years the gas was there, but it wasn't until new drilling technology was developed that it could be extracted. This method uses hydraulic pressure to fracture the shale layer so trapped gas can escape.

"Fracking, as they call it, can require several million gallons of water for each gas well, and some wells may be fracked more than once during their active life, which might span more than a decade," Swistock explained. "Where that water comes from, and what the drillers do with it when it is recovered, is a big issue for our state. The fracking water can have various chemical additives along with natural contaminants from deep underground when it comes back to the surface, so it needs to be collected and treated or recycled properly."

In other states, fracking water has been found to contain numerous hazardous and toxic substances, including formaldehyde, benzene and chromates. Most municipal sewage-treatment plants can't or won't accept gas-well waste fluids. Another potential hazard from gas-well wastewater is the release of radon and other naturally occurring radioactive materials, noted Swistock.

''Radioactive substances are not uncommon in Pennsylvania groundwater to begin with,'' he said, adding that the waste fluids that come with gas production also may contain high levels of salt, various metals such as iron and manganese, and traces of barium, lead and arsenic. "Although highly diluted with water, the proper treatment of all gas-well waste fluids is a big issue that needs to be addressed."

People who live close to gas-drilling operations should have their water tested by a third-party, DEP-approved lab, advised Swistock. "Homeowners who have their own well or spring and are within 1,000 feet of a gas-well site are very likely to be visited by water-lab employees hired by the gas company," he said, adding that homeowners should take advantage of this free testing and make sure to get copies of the results, which they are entitled to by law.

"If homeowners decide to do their own water testing, it's important that they have an unbiased expert from a state-certified lab collect the samples in case the sample results are needed for legal action," he said.

The timing of sampling is also important, according to Swistock. Well owners should have their water tested within a few months before the start of the drilling. Once a company has started drilling, it's too late because there won't be a record of the well water's quality before drilling. If a resident decides to test for any impacts after the drilling has occurred, that needs to be done within six months because drillers are presumed responsible for any damage to water supplies within six months after drilling has begun.

"Although we have occasionally seen effects on water supplies beyond 1,000 feet, the regulation that is written into the gas and oil act states that any water supply within 1,000 feet of a gas well is the driller's responsibility for six months after drilling," he said. "If there is any complaint, the driller is guilty until he is proven innocent; outside the 1,000-feet distance and six-month time frame, the burden of proof shifts to the homeowner."

While contamination from waste fluids is one concern, another is where the companies will get all of the fresh water they need for drilling and fracking. Swistock warned that taking too much water from headwater streams may disrupt sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

"Our mountain streams, many of which harbor wild trout, are precious resources and we cannot allow them to be dewatered to dangerously low levels," he said. "Two drilling operations in Lycoming County recently were shut down by the state Department of Environmental Protection because they were drawing huge volumes of water from small streams in violation of the Clean Streams Law."

Complicating the water-usage issue is differing oversight across the state. Both the Delaware River and Susquehanna River Basin commissions require permits from well drillers who plan to withdraw large amounts of water. The Ohio River basin currently has less oversight.

Growing up in Indiana County, Swistock saw both the benefits and negative effects of gas-well drilling. "The economic impact can be tremendous, and the environmental effects can be minimized if we are careful," he said. "The newer, deeper drilling in the Marcellus shale is different than the gas-well drilling we are accustomed to, and it's happening very quickly.” We need to adapt our regulations and strengthen our regulatory agencies to make sure we are prepared to protect our water resources."

Thanks to Diane S. Hope, the William A. Kern Professor of Communications at Rochester Institute of Technology, for the link to this Penn State story, which I had missed.

The local papers have been full of stories about the Marcellus Shale, and lots of landowners are reportedly being approached to sell the drilling rights to their property. The process is developing so rapidly that there has not been time for a public debate to mature before some landowners have committed to allowing drilling on their land.

More at Wikipedia.