DISPUTATIONS: ‘You Have Your Numbers, I Have Mine.’
February 25, 2011

Good job on Jesse Singal’s article (“From Mississippi to ‘The Corner’: A Tale of Right-Wing Wrongness,” February 8) picking apart my welfare chart apart. It’s an excellent counterpoint and adds to the debate. Despite your take on the various benefits calculations, I believe my argument still stands: That our generous welfare state provides disincentives to work. The hundreds (thousands?) of anecdotal confirmations of my chart in the blogosphere indicates there is, at least, some merit to this line of thinking. What did Mark Twain say about statistics?

Reductio Ad Barbourum
February 16, 2011

Here's Haley Barbour explaining that he's not going to denounce a plan by some fellow Mississippians to issue a state license plate honoring KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest: Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson said it's "absurd" to honor a "racially divisive figure" such as Forrest. Johnson has also called on Barbour to denounce the license plate idea. Asked about the NAACP's stance Tuesday, Barbour replied: "I don't go around denouncing people. That's not going to happen. I don't even denounce the news media." I love that formulation -- I don't even denounce the news media.

The Embroiderer
February 10, 2011

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Selected and edited by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (Viking, 554 pp., $35) The expression “to embroider the truth” was already current when Sir Walter Raleigh—no mean embroiderer himself—complained about the exaggerations of Greek travelers such as Herodotus. But it could have been invented for the English writer and self-styled nomad Bruce Chatwin instead.

From Mississippi to ‘The Corner’: A Tale of Right-Wing Wrongness
February 08, 2011

By now, it’s easy to be cynical about the Internet’s ability to degrade rational argument. After all, one can only read so many birther blogs without starting to go numb. Still, once in a while, the foggy chaos that is the online world parts, and we catch a glimpse of how the realm’s worst ideas form, adapt to the environment, and, despite their utter lack of fitness anywhere else (well, with the popular exceptions of AM radio and Fox News), thrive in cyberspace. Perhaps the best recent example is a chart that has been racing around the conservative blogosphere for the last few months.

Nice Speech, But We Won't Be Coming Together
January 13, 2011

The President’s speech last night was beautiful but ultimately, a magnificent punt. It was brave for Obama to crisply dismiss the idea that partisan rhetoric is what drove Jared Loughner to kill, given how much currency that idea now has among the bien-pensant kinds of people who elected him.

Discovering Equality
January 13, 2011

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery By Eric Foner (W.W. Norton, 426 pp., $29.95) I. As we begin a raft of sesquicentennials that will carry us through at least the next half-decade—the secession of Southern states, the formation of the Confederacy, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Appomattox, and so on—I confess to feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. These are all signal events in our history, the roadblocks and thoroughfares in the making of modern America, and at a time of general crisis they are especially important to revisit.

How Haley Barbour Can Win
December 20, 2010

Andrew Ferguson's profile of Haley Barbour is attracting a lot of attention because Barbour's praise of the White Citizen's Councils of his native Yazoo, Mississippi, accepted by Ferguson at face value, turns out to be historically inaccurate. Aside from the significant flaw of glossing over Barbour's praise for a white supremacist organization, Ferguson's profile is not that bad. It does, however, reveal some persistent tics in conservative thinking about race, segregation and the South.

The Road to Mastery
September 22, 2010

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong By Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 475 pp., $30) Duke Ellington’s America By Harvey G. Cohen (University of Chicago Press, 688 pp., $40) Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original By Robin D.G. Kelley (Free Press, 588 pp., $30) Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone By Nadine Cohodas (Pantheon, 449 pp., $30) I. During one of his engagements at the Cotton Club in the mid-’30s, Duke Ellington spotted Leopold Stokowski sitting near the stage a short time before the start of the show.

To Thine Own Self Be True, Boss Hogg
September 02, 2010

I like the honesty: Said Barbour: "And if I decide to run for President, I won't know what the answer is, either. But I will know this: if I run for President, what you see is what you get, and I am from Mississippi, I do have a southern accent. I was a lobbyist and a pretty damned good one. And I'm very proud -- we were talking before the show came on -- I am happy about my life. I've got a great marriage. I've got great family, and I've had a great career.

Time to Write Off New Orleans?
August 30, 2010

President Obama's speech in New Orleans on Sunday, commemorating the fifth anniversary of Katrina, didn't have one clear message so much as two. The city has rebuilt and, in some ways, rebuilt itself into something better. But a lot of work, too much work, remains unfinished. If you read my dispatches from New Orleans two weeks ago, then you know that was the impression I, too, took away. One question that Obama didn't address was "why"--as in "why bother"? From the first days after the storm, people began asking whether it was time just to give up on New Orleans.