Friday… fun?

Via Joe.My.God., here’s a… um… fun browser-based mapping application you can use to simulate the detonation of a nuclear warhead over the city of you choice.  By selecting from a drop-down menu, you can drop anything from “Davy Crockett,” the smallest nuclear warhead ever produced by the United States, to the potential* nuclear blast yield of “Tsar Bomba,” the largest hydrogen warhead ever produced by humankind.

Aside from being a morbid distraction, I’m trying to decide if this would be an appropriate teaching tool to help students visualize a) the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II or b) the damage that could have been caused by a nuclear attack during the Cold War, such that they better understand the nuclear paranoia of mid-century.  One thing that struck me when I “detonated” Little Boy and Fat Man over my house in South Philadelphia was that the destruction didn’t reach out nearly as far as I expected, so I’m concerned that students would be… underwhelmed?  And although the program will show you how large an area would be immediately consumed by a fireball versus merely leveled by the resulting shock wave, the map is a little clinical for my taste.  When I’m teaching this kind of material, I really try to get students to empathize with the bombing victims, so for teaching Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I’ll probably stick to something like this:

Or this excerpt from one of my favorite documentaries:

No joke, Fog of War makes me cry pretty much every time I watch it.  Stupid Philip Glass score.

And as long as I’m basically free-associating YouTube clips here, this whole thing reminds me of Isao Hashimoto’s wonderful piece of video art, “1945-1998”:

When I watched this for the first time, I didn’t know about the history of French nuclear weapons testing in North Africa–I’m sure there’s an interesting study to be done there, if one hasn’t been done already.

Have fun bombing the crap out of your respective neighborhoods, y’all!


*When the Soviets tested it in 1961, they did so at only half yield–a measly 50 megatons.  Here’s more video!


No jest.

1079, 388.

You know when you run across something in the intertubez that makes you want to grab the person sitting nearest to you and shake them because it’s just SO EFFING AWESOME and you want someone to share it with right away, even if that person happens to be the unfriendly coffee shop hipster at the next table who has been giving you the side-eye for ostentatiously mouthing Kylie Minogue lyrics for the past 45 minutes while they try to read Crying of Lot 49?  No?  Because that was totally the reaction I had to this article from the New York Times about The Decemberists’ new video for the appropriately-titled “Calamity Song.”  The video dramatizes what is probably the best single scene from David Foster Wallace’s massimum opus Infinite Jest, in which the students at a Massachusetts tennis academy simulate nuclear war through a game called Eschaton that involves lobbing “5-Megaton” tennis balls at athletic gear representing the combatants’ (AMNAT, SOVWAR, IRLIBSYR, SOUTHAF, and IRLIBSYR being more or less self-explanatory) strategic targets, all laid out on a map encompassing several tennis courts.  We get Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy as Michael Pemulis/The Peemster, grand don and progenitor of Eschaton, drummer John Moen as aspiring sportscaster Jim Troeltsch, and keyboardist Jenny Conlee as a pink-wigged Ziggy Stardust cum DFW himself, as well as child actors playing Otis P. Lord, who runs the Eschaton show from his computer cart, Evan Ingersoll, who brings on the real chaos by launching a ball at Ann Kittenplan, who in the video looks quite a bit more diminutive than the novel’s steroid-addled version.  Director Michael Schur opted not to end the video with Otis P. Lord’s head inside of a computer monitor because “They’re all flat screens, and you can’t put your head through a flat screen.”  I only wish he had included the jockstraps re-purposed as MRVs.

Short as it is, this post involved a lot of Googling since I don’t have my copy of IJ handy.  In the process of searching, I came across this massively detailed diagram of the book.  Regular readers of this blog (hi, Grandma!) know that I have an abiding, albeit pedestrian, interest in maps and cartography, which perhaps explains part of my affection for IJ, given DFW’s extensive use of motifs of maps and mapping.  Also, here’s a link to the io9 post that originally led me to the Times piece.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put my head through the monitor.

Lavender scurred.

This month, University of Chicago Press is offering David K. Johnson’s excellent The Lavender Scare for free download as an e-book.  You’ll need Adobe Digital Editions to view it, which you can also download for free.  Links to both can be found on UCP’s site.

In The Lavender Scare, Johnson details the largely hidden history of the gay men and women fired from federal employment for being “security risks” during the Cold War.  He begins during the 1930s, when Roosevelt’s New Deal drew many young men to Washington, giving rise to a gay subculture in the capitol.  Moving on to the well-worn territory of the McCarthy-era red scare, he describes the close association in the public’s mind between the State Department and homosexuality, and the purges of federal employees who moved somewhat openly in gay Washington, sought out same-sex partners at the city’s cruising spots, or were merely suspected or accused of having same-sex desires.  Although the ostensible reason for their firing was that they would be susceptible to blackmail by foreign agents, Johnson unpacks the anxieties about gender, sexuality, and invasion that inhered in the gay panic on Capitol Hill.  In this atmosphere, simply having been fired from the State Department cast aspersions on one’s sexual proclivities (see above cartoon).  Furthermore, he shows that this “lavender scare” outlasted what we think of as the red scare by about a decade, lasting well into the 1960s, and that this persecution in part fostered the homophile activism that predated the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.

If you like Johnson’s book, you might also want to check out Lee Edelman’s playful essay “Tearooms and Sympathy, or, the Epistemology of the Water Closet,” which offers a more cultural studies-inflected take on the meanings behind police surveillance of gay cruising spots in Washington, D.C.  The PBS website also has a copy of a committee report on the employment of homosexuals in federal government from 1950, which gives you a sense of officials’ slippery reasoning for the firings.

New banner.

This summer I’m teaching a course on Cold War culture in America, and this is part of an image I used during a lecture on Truman, liberal anti-communism, and the Marshall Plan.  Here it is in its entirety:

In the 1948, Truman faced a tough re-election.  With the Cold War escalating, Republicans and conservative Democrats used red-baiting as a blunt tool for discrediting the president and his symbolic ties to the late Roosevelt and the New Deal.  At the same time, Senator Robert Taft and other leading isolationists challenged Truman’s commitment to a leading role in world affairs through the Marshall Plan and the United Nations.  In the upper left hand corner you can see the onion domes of Moscow (capped by a red sky) threatening some (western) Europeans proclaiming their love of peace, prosperity, and democracy.  The United Nations sits along the same vertical axis as Moscow, suggesting that collective security (interestingly, not the United States, although Truman certainly can be understood to represent American power) will provide a bulwark against the spread of communism.  The use of global imagery is also interesting (John Fousek’s To Lead the Free World has a great visual essay along these lines), suggesting at once a world made “smaller” by communications and transportation technologies, and that the entire world can and should be the literal sphere of American influence.

The great thing about teaching this course is the sheer wealth of audio and visual material that I can use during class.  This means that I can literally illustrate my lectures, and that we can practice analyzing posters, photographs, songs, and other primary sources as a class.  To my mind, this encourages the critical thinking and analysis skills that are the most important things that students can take away from a history course.

If you want to practice your own critical thinking skills, or just look at/listen to some fun stuff, here are some links to web collections of Cold War materials:

Authentic History Center



McCarthy for Muslims.

This week Representative Peter King’s (R-NY) House Homeland Security Committee opened hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims.  Amid opposition from Democratic congressmen and -women, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Islamic groups, King defended the proceedings, saying that there is “nothing radical or un-American about these hearings.”  King obviously wants to avoid comparisons (too late) to Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which seriously damaged the lives and careers of left-leaning folks in entertainment and government, as well as those of (suspected) gay men and women working in the federal government.  King is also trying to fend off charges that his hearings are rooted in racism and prejudice by saying that while the majority of Muslim Americans are patriotic citizens, the small number of radicals who engage in terrorist acts warrants the committee’s investigation.  As Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) pointed out during the hearings, by that logic it would make just as much sense to hold hearings investigating the causes of radicalism among white folks:

When the Southern Poverty Law Center put out reports in 2009 and 2010 saying essentially the same thing, that white right-wing extremism poses an immediate threat to Americans’ safety and security, it raised conservative hackles that they were being unfairly targeted by left-wingers promoting a culture of fear by inflating the violent actions of a few to demonize a swath of people with similar political beliefs. (examples here, here, and here) Um, irony much?

Speaking of irony, these hearings come the same week that two NPR executives resigned after conservative activist James O’Keefe (of ACORN pimp fame) caught one of them on tape saying that the Republic party has been “hijacked” by “Islamophobic… xenophobic… seriously racist, racist people.”  The problem with this statement?  Well it’s not great from a PR standpoint, but it’s not exactly an unreasonable opinion.  Looking at the groundswell of oppositional protest by people waving signs proclaiming, “I want my country back” following Obama’s election, the sheer number of Republicans who believe that the president is a Muslim, and recent opposition to the Park51 Islamic community center, it’s a pretty easy conclusion to draw.  The rub lies in that funding for public broadcasting (including NPR) is under Congressional review with the current budget bill.

Of course, the House budget bill seems to have much more to do with settling old scores and pleasing the Republican party’s base (although who makes up that base these days is anyone’s guess) than with functional governance, and that goes double for Scott Walker’s Wisconsin clusterf***.  I wrote here briefly about the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but Americorps has also come up on the chopping block, apparently because it makes House Republicans think of Bill Clinton and Ed Kennedy.  Likewise, Rep. King’s hearings seem to be more about fear-mongering and building political capital than preventing terrorism; King’s support for the I.R.A. in the 1980s only make the proceedings look more cynical.  But the fact remains that Republicans and a fair number of Democrats see this as a productive political discourse, or at least one to which they must pay lip service.  It’s possible that with all the battles Republicans seem intent on fighting, the American electorate will wake up to what’s going on here and throw them out in 2012, but I’m really afraid that this is actually a dark portent of things to come.