River warfare in the US Civil War

The mental images that most Americans have of the American Civil War involve the scenes of major land battles -- Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg. Armies marched dozens of miles, prepared encampments and defensive works, and either attacked the enemy in its own prepared defenses or awaited contact with the enemy. The picture is Napoleonic: an …

Confronting Evil in History

(free download through October 7 at https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009104265) My short book Confronting Evil in History has just been published in Cambridge Elements in the Elements in Historical Theory and Practice series edited by Daniel Woolf.  Here is the abstract: Evil is sometimes thought to be incomprehensible and abnormal, falling outside of familiar historical and human processes. And yet the twentieth …

Malcolm Muggeridge on the Holodomor

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was a much-read English left journalist, critic, and international observer and a close friend of George Orwell in the 1930s. Muggeridge wrote an introduction to Orwell's novel Burmese Days, and along with Tony Powell, he made arrangements for Orwell's funeral in 1950. (Ian Hunter's Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life provides an excellent biographical study.)  Muggeridge was a strong supporter …

Better-functioning organizations

A recurring topic here is the potential for large and costly failures created by the dysfunctions of complex organizations (link). This perspective on organizations follows from the work of sociologists like Charles Perrow, Diane Vaughan, and Andrew Hopkins. But we can also ask the symmetrical question: is it possible for a medium- or large-scale organization …

Sliding toward “semi-fascism”

President Biden's September 1 speech on the political threats posed to our democracy by the language and actions of far-right GOP leaders and elected officials was entirely on the mark. As scholars of the history of fascism have noted, many of the characteristics of fascism are indeed currently present in GOP language and goals. The …

Social cognitive frameworks and social class

It is evident that all of us "filter" the social worlds that we inhabit according to a set of expectations, assumptions, stereotypes, and values. We understand a social interaction that we ourselves participate in, or merely observe, through these assumptions and filters. We might describe these systems of thought as "social-cognitive frameworks" -- the collection …

Philosophers and Marx in the 1950s

In the 1960s, as an undergraduate and eventually a graduate student in philosophy, I had the strong impression that Anglophone philosophy did not pay much attention to the philosophy and theories of Karl Marx. He was regarded as a "dead dog". His work was rarely treated in the history of philosophy in the 1950s and …

Organizational factors and nuclear power plant safety

image: Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has responsibility for ensuring the safe operations of the nuclear power reactors in the United States, of which there are approximately 100. There are significant reasons to doubt whether its regulatory regime is up to the task. Part of the challenge is the technical issue of …

A Trump-era atrocity

The family separation debacle during the Trump presidency seemed horrible at the time. Thanks to a superb piece of investigative journalism in the Atlantic, we now know how much worse it was. Caitlin Dickerson's piece "We Need to Take Away Children" (link) provides previously unknown information about the program and the decisions that led up to …

Resisting authoritarian populism

The rise of an organized effort to create an authoritarian right-wing government in the United States is palpable. Unhinged Republican elected officials call for political violence and "civil war"; an ideological and Christian-nationalist Supreme Court moves forward unhesitatingly in attacking long-established and fundamental rights, including rights of reproductive freedom; Republican-controlled state houses enact ever-more restrictive …

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