If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Last night I went on one of my (slightly bourbon-fueled) rants about how the History Channel has turned into reality TV crap. I made a note to write something about that today. But then I reconsidered. I mean…it’s sort of obvious and I don’t see them changing anytime soon so why bother? Instead, here’s two pictures of Civil War era dogs. The top image is Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido, a lovely pup indeed. The bottom image is anybody’s guess. I just thought (s)he was good looking.


Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 11.28.55 AMScreen shot 2014-01-21 at 11.27.40 AM With compliments,


You Ask I Answer: Blogging History

Screen shot 2014-01-18 at 10.25.32 AMA few days ago I got a note from long-time reader Casey Turben. He has been keeping up with my musings since way back in the Cosmic America days and saw me speak on blogging at the CWI conference in 2012. Well, Casey has decided to start a blog of his own: The Unruly Historian. As you might suspect I am a fan of the name – and he has some good things to say as well, so check it out. As he is just starting out he has asked me a few questions to help him along. So here you go Casey, I hope this offers a few insights:

-Do you find yourself trying to not be overly academic?

I cringe at the thought of sounding even slightly academic. There may be place for esoteric language and academic density, but the blogosphere is not it. I believe that this medium is ideal for reaching out to and engaging with the informed public – those who do not have (and probably don’t really want) access to the super-special academic club. I want to expand my readership, not limit it.

-How do you cite your work?

I do not. Blogging is a colloquial format intended as a platform for virtual conversation. You would not, for example, offer citations at the end of every sentence or thought if you were engaged in a face to face talk with a friend about a historical event. So I do not do it here either. If I think it is important enough I will mention where I found a particular source (book, archive, etc) in the post. And, if anyone asks, I will happily supply formal citations via email. But I will not clutter my posts with distracting citations. True story: I once received an email from an irate scholar berating me for my lack of integrity precisely because I had not furnished footnotes for a piece I did on Civil War veterans. He demanded (and used strong language) that I immediately supply formal citations.  I politely (well, politely in my own smug way) responded with my standard anti-citation argument and sent him formal citations. The scholar apparently did not get (or bother reading) my email and once again attacked me in a private message – this time implying academic dishonesty. So, I sent them again. And do you know what? He didn’t even say thanks. Jackass.

-Who is your main audience?

As I mentioned above, I write for an informed public. Blogging, coupled with social media, is the bridge between academia and everyone else. There are plenty of people out there who know their stuff (and plenty who do not, but that’s a question for another day). These folks might agree with me, they might disagree, they might simply be interested in what I am talking about and want to join in the conversation. I want to reach them. In this way we are together forwarding historical inquiry. Blogging is then, in a sense, a collaborative effort between writer and reader. The discussions that emerge from these posts, often taking place on Twitter or by email, have helped shape my thoughts on a number of topics.

-Do you net any income off of your work?

Yes indeed. Blogging has led to paying invitations to write, speak, and appear on television. I have yet earned enough to purchase a Porsche 356C but things are looking up and there is more to come. So stay tuned.

Casey – I hope this helped. And good luck with your blog!

With compliments,


Reject the Academic Job Market

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The tipping point came for yours truly last summer. As I faced yet another season of the academic job search – applying for anything that fit my qualifications, perhaps scrambling for an adjunct position near where I live – I simply said enough.  We all know the near hopeless status of the academic job market: zillions of qualified candidates (and more getting pumped through the system every year) for a mere handful of tenure-track positions, the dismal and poverty-stricken life of the adjunct, and the overall suckiness of rejection. So there is really no point in rehashing what prospective professors have been complaining about for years. These are simply the facts. And we all know it. The system has failed.

So I call for a revolutionary measure. Reject the academic job market. Do NOT apply. Do NOT accept an adjunct position (unless of course, you enjoy earning 24K a year). And most important, do NOT try to be the catalyst of change within the existing institution. There comes a time when we must admit that trying to “fix” a broken system is along the lines of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. So don’t bother.

Here is my advice: become an independent scholar and do what you love. Do you need to pay the bills? Then funnel that energy, creativity, and skill toward a position outside of the conventional job track. Think about making your own way. For God’s sake – you have a freakin’ Ph.D., which should indicate that you are a reasonably intelligent person. Do it. And don’t stop.

This is my micro-manifesto. To convention I offer the proverbial middle finger and ask that others rally to my banner. I know that I am not alone – and that many of you have experienced my frustrations and are tired of the associated bitterness. I am happily over it. And I hope that you will be too. Join the revolution.

With compliments and hasta la victoria siempre!


John Huston and the Art of the WWII Documentary

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 4.11.38 PMWhen the US War Department set out to document the Allied victory at San Pietro on film, naturally they turned to filmmaker and US Army Captain John Huston. Having just recently helmed The Maltese Falcon, Huston turned his cinematic genius to the war documentary – and did so with fine style. His work here is really quite breathtaking in terms of scale, realism, and cinematography. But there are some peculiarities here as well.  General Mark Clark’s introductory speech is nothing short of awkward (you can see his eyes reading cards). And many of the scenes are staged. Huston admits to much of this in a final note at the end of the film but does not note specifics. There were multiple reenactments, GIs posed as dead Germans, and the “ruined village” was actually another town that a US bombing had accidentally destroyed earlier. For a final touch – Huston added the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to add depth to the soundtrack. When the film premiered in spring 1945 Time magazine declared that it was “as good a war film as any that has been made.”

Many were worried that the realness of the film – filthy soldiers, tough fighting, and death would harm morale and sap the fighting spirit of the US citizenry. General George Marshall thought otherwise and defending the film for its grittiness. He even thought it would make a good training film. Soldiers, after seeing the realities of war would most certainly take their training seriously.

Have a look at the film below – what do you think?

With compliments,

From the Mountains to the Sea

Screen shot 2014-01-09 at 1.30.43 PMHere’s an image for those of us in Los Angeles wishing our current (limited) subway system went to the beach. Once upon a time the Los Angeles Pacific Railway did exactly that. They had a line (the Pasadena-Pacific) extending from Pasadena to…you guessed it…Santa Monica.

So for a short time in the 1880s and 90s, Angelenos had what they are currently looking for. From what I understand, there are plans underway to construct a new underground line – due for completion in 2030 or something. That all sounds great to me – but I wish the city would take care of the swimming pool sized potholes on Highland Avenue first.

With compliments,