Matthew Pinsker: What Do Historians Think of “Lincoln”?

With the recent release of the blockbuster, critically-acclaimed Lincoln, The Recovering Politician has asked Lincoln scholar, Matthew Pinsker — a professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania — to share some historical insights about our 16th President.  Click here and here and here for his prior 3 pieces.

Here is the latest of his columns:

Here is a quick breakdown of the initial reaction from historians to Spielberg’s movie:

The leading academic critics so far have been Eric Foner from Columbia and Kate Masur from Northwestern.  Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and one of the most respected historians in the field, claims the movie “grossly exaggerates” its main point about the stark choices confronting the president at the end of the war over abolition or peace (Letter to the EditorNew York Times, November 26, 2012).  Masur also accuses the film of oversimplifying the role of blacks in abolition and dismisses the effort as “an opportunity squandered” (Op-EdNew York Times,November 12, 2012).

Harold Holzer, co-chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and author of more than 40 books, served as a consultant to the film and praises it but also observes that there is “no shortage of small historical bloopers in the movie” in a lively piece for The Daily Beast (November 22, 2012).

Professor Matthew Pinsker

Professor Matthew Pinsker

Other historian / fact-checkers have been more kind.  Allen Guelzo, Gettysburg College, also writing for The Daily Beast has some plot criticism, but argues that, “The pains that have been taken in the name of historical authenticity in this movie are worth hailing just on their own terms” (November 27, 2012).  David Stewart, independent historical author, writing for History News Network, describes Spielberg’s work as “reasonably solid history” and tells readers of HNN, “go see it with a clear conscience” (November 20, 2012).  Lincoln Biographer Ronald White also admired the film, though he noted a few mistakes and pointed out in an interview with NPR, “Is every word true?  No.”  (November 23, 2012).

Historical author / blogger Kevin Levin finds the whole process of historical nitpicking and response to be more than a little aggravating.  Writing for The Atlantic, he complains, “Historians Need To Give Steven Spielberg A Break” (November 26, 2012).   I agreed with Levin in some ways, but for the opposite reason.  I argued for Quora (and Huffington Post) that people should simply stop worrying about whether any movie which necessarily invents dialogue, characters and scenes should ever be considered as “historically accurate.”  It’s a work of art –historical fiction—which we need to judge by other standards (November 27, 2012).  That’s also the point, Spielberg himself made at the Dedication Day ceremonies at Gettysburg (November 19, 2012) when he called his effort a “dream” and made a careful distinction between his historically inspired movie and actual works of history.

Josh Bowen: Strong is the New Skinny

I have written several blogs and articles on the importance of strength training, particularly as it relates to women. I have documented the reasons why women should pick up the weights. However, for some reason, some people don’t get it. Some think they are a genetic marvel that if they look at a 40 lbs. dumbbell that their quads will expand and it will prevent them from wearing pants. Remember this; any man that works out would love for that to be their problem. I wanted to take the time to profess that Strong is the New Skinny

To back up my claim for those non-believers let’s look one strong hormonal difference between men and women:

  1. joshTestosterone– this hormone has a huge impact on muscle tissue growth (as well as other interactions in the human body). Men, on average, will produce 20 times more testosterone than women. This of course will determine the amount of muscle tissue a person can grow. That also is not to say women cannot build muscle, it just means you cannot build as much or as fast as a normal man.

So I bring this up because I firmly believe that strength training is as important, if not more important, for women than it is for women. Let’s look at those reasons:

  1. Decrease in Body fat- women who strength train will naturally have less body fat than those that don’t. That looks good! Its ok to have a little muscle J
  2. Increase in Bone Mineral Density- Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men and strength training helps combat that. The loading of the bones causes the bones to become stronger and increases the density, warding off brittle and weak bones
  3. It is great for your health- Research has shown that women that strength train are in better overall health than those that don’t. So pick up a weight and start going at it!

    Read the rest of…
    Josh Bowen: Strong is the New Skinny

Lauren Mayer: Finally, Some Bipartisan Agreement

The two parties seem even farther apart these days, between the fiscal cliff negotiations falling apart and all the other standard political standoffs.  But the sort-of-good news is that there’s finally an issue on which there is some bipartisan agreement.  Once the NRA came out with its ludicrous ‘solution’ to school shootings, there were several moderate Republicans joining in the call for the type of things that even most NRA members agree on (more effective background checks, enforcing current laws, banning high-capacity ammo clips and assult-style weapons).  Of course, the NRA has subsequently refused even to discuss anything relating to guns – but I am heartened by the number of politicians on both sides who are standing up to the gun lobby and saying, whoah, hold on, banning terrorist watch-list suspects from buying a gun is not an assult on your 2nd Ammendment rights (and that’s presuming the founding fathers meant not just muskets, but semi-automatic assult rifles?)

So I’m heartened by the beginning signs of bipartisanship – even though it may be more like becoming friends with that co-worker you’re not crazy about, but you’re united in your mutual loathing of the boss.  Still, it’s a start.  However,  I’m also terrified at the prospect of a society in which we need armed guards in every classroom.  (Of course, I’m a wimp – I can’t even watch mildly scary movies)  So here’s a song imagining how we’d explain this to our kids . . . )

Lisa Miller: Great-Great Grandmothers

“Yes, how did we get here?  It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward. “

I love the contribution of women in the arts!  I watched an interview of Kerry Washington and Shanda Rhimes with Oprah yesterday, and I was inspired.  What phenomenal women.

Kerry Washington is the first black woman to star in her own television drama in 40 years; only one other woman held this T.V-first before her.  It was the 70’s in a show called, Get Christie Love!, starring Teresa Graves.  This is surprising but as I think about all the shows I have loved, not one has featured an African American woman in a leading role.

In her ABC drama, Scandal, Kerry is a kick-ass “fixer”: part lawyer, part P.R expert, part White House crisis manager, and part clean-up-the-dead-bodies-mess go-to-person.

LisaIt turns out that art imitates life here fantastically!  Finally, a black woman playing the dynamic role typically represented by men in our culture; but it’s Judy Smith, the real life former White House staffer on whom this character is based that makes this depiction special. Now in private practice, Smith is a crisis manager handling high profile cases that never seem to end. (see and the recent Petraus case among many.  She rocks.)

Struggling toward freedom in the movie Djengo Unchained, in theatres just this week, Kerry Washington takes women back a 150 years as she plays a supporting role as an American slave.  While we might be used to the fact that actors have depicted the era of slavery for decades on the screen, what we tend to forget I think, is that African Americans were considered by constitutional standards at that time, to be just 3/5’s human.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

This is a hard pill to swallow. And so, this historical truth juxtasposed with the accomplishments of North American women today, like Judy Smith, is astounding.

I was moved during Washington’s interview when she said that the character she plays in Scandal: respected, empowered, intuitive, brilliant, stands on the shoulders of the profoundly oppressed women who came before.

Yes, how did we get here?  It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward.

I think about this a lot, but I also forget this truth when I get wrapped up in all my first-world problems that seem so profound in the moment.

Strong empowered womenAnd of course I gain perspective as I think about what it means for my daughters to grow up with first-world problems. Compared to what our foremothers endured, and in the general context of how far women have come, I thank God for these first-world problems!

Finally, an additional snippet of conversation from this interview that resonates in my heart is about abundance.  Oprah asked Kerry what it means to her to be one of the first to represent black women on network television in this way especially when so many others vied for the coveted role.  Her answer: “If I succeed, I create the opportunity for more people to succeed.  I am honored to rise to this challenge.”  Her competitors’ responded, “Do us proud.”

I am white, educated, middle-aged, and this forward motion, shoulder-standing celebration represents me too—represents all of us.

Thank you grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great-great grandmothers, we are all honored and blessed that you have cleared a path for us.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Metric for the Perfect Mate

Metric for the perfect mate

Analytics is all the rage in business and government. The hot new tool of the year—decade maybe—to help organizations make better data-driven decisions.

The movie Moneyball brilliantly depicted the powers of knowing and playing the numbers to get the results you want in more than just business and budgets. You can even use analytics to create a championship level pro baseball team –on the cheap.

So, why not use analytics on a more personal level by individuals seeking “better data-driven decisions”? And why not something more important and personal to you than budget forecasting or sports pastimes. How about an algorithm for finding the ideal mate? Or just a tolerable one? I think it’s doable.

jyb_musingsOf course, you say, eHarmony and other dating websites already use these tools to match people for dating. Yes, they surely do. But that’s dating. And it’s a business. If eHarmony only offered a one shot algorithm telling you that you should or should not marry someone, there would be nothing much to advertise because it’s a one-shot business model. Instead, eHarmony wisely held out expertise for the dating marketplace which provides endless opportunities for selling, buying, re-selling and re-buying .

Dating involves behavior that economists refer to as “elastic” (subject to changing over time, even if only temporarily) as opposed to marriage, which involves behavior that is “inelastic” (only subject to changing in the imagination of one’s spouse). And besides, dating has far too many variables to derive a truly reliable forecast of dating success because much less is on the line. For example, where dating only is involved, literally thousands of faux pas are grounds to refuse a next date….but that same activity if applied in a marriage context would merely become “this week’s topic” in counseling or a cute story to tell at a cocktail party (twice but not that third time when you embellish) or simply viewed as an opportunity to catch up on some reading by sleeping all week on the couch downstairs.

So, what would such an algorithm look like? I can’t say what one for the ideal female partner should look like. I’m not a woman and am not comfortable guessing. I only know it will be far more complex and require a mind capable of revising relativity theory to complete, whereas for the male model, merely having a high school familiarity with algebra is adequate to the task.

I’ll let one of the truly brilliant and accomplished analytics organizations in education, business or public policy (or dating or baseball) take on the task.

My only request is a simple one that will be eagerly provided. If such a formula is ever developed that I’m given credit for promoting the idea. How do I know this credit will be eagerly provided to me? C’mon, it doesn’t take a high school algebra level understanding of analytics to know such a formula would never really work. And that whoever claims otherwise will immediately be looking for someone else to blame for coming up with the foolhardy idea. That’s just common sense.

(See pic below of male professor explaining the overwhelming empirical evidence that the female graduate student should date him if she wants to be truly happy. Who said analytics types don’t have street smarts too.)

Postscript: They have now been married 6 years but the former grad student (now Phd) has since revised the formula to eliminate errors and “kinks” in assumptions in the original formula. I’m joking. I think)

#TeamRP vs. #TeamJYB3 Fitness Challenge, Week 3

Fitness Challenge



My New Year’s New Dietary Math Resolution.

Or what dieters can learn from economists

“Constant dollars” is terms describing income after adjustment for inflation, as opposed to “Actual dollars.”

Inflation (monetarily speaking) is about 2-3% a year. Weight increase follows a similar metric throughout life.

So, for example, if someone weighs, say, 190 pounds and gains, say, 4 pounds for the year….when adjusted for weight inflation, there is no “net” weight gain.

In terms of “real pounds” Sure, there may be some additional “actual pounds” but those have to be accounted for properly and haven’t been by most dieticians in the past—who obviously lack an understanding of econometrics.

InflationSo, for example, this year, I actually lost one pound (when adjusting for inflation). I’m not commenting on “actual pounds” because they are no longer relevant to a more realistic and obviously much more sophisticated understanding of human weight measurement.


After spending the first three weeks of my diet traveling and celebrating the holidays, I got ready to weigh myself.

Stepped on the scales.

And decided that “It could be worse” should actually be result that should register on my scales .

John Y. Brown, III: The Night After Christmas

Twas the Night after Christmas

Twas the night after Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, except a small mouse.
The stockings were strewn across the floor like nobody cared,
In hopes more money would be found insider there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While hip hop on new head phones danced in their heads.
And mamma and I, both feeling like crap,
Had tried for a night’s sleep but got no more than a nap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my office chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I stumbled and then crashed,
But pulled myself up by the shutters and threw open the sash.

It wasn’t the moon’s shiny cast on gleaming white snow
But the local garbage truck, grinding it’s gears low and slow
It was a wonder to tired eyes when what should appear
But Santa’s magic clean up crew—instead of elves and reindeer

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be our garbage man, Rick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called the refuse angry names!

Darned boxes, darned paper, darned instructions and spoiled food
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now trash away! Trash away! Trash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with a hydraulic waste collector, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the wrapping papers they flew,
With the truck full of excesses from St Nicholas’ crew.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard from my perch
The pulling and grunting of the garbage truck’s helpers.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
I thought to myself, what a difference a day makes. In fact it’s profound

I love Santa, his reindeer and am thankful for the gadgets and bling
But this morning, Rick and his helpers seemed like God’s greatest Christmas blessing.

Read the rest of…
John Y. Brown, III: The Night After Christmas

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Christmas

I wish everyone a Merry Mediocre Christmas.


Well, about 20 years ago I noticed that few people we truly enjoying the Christmas holiday season because so many were stressed out and anxious trying to achieve some sort of “perfect” or “idealized” or “amazing” Christmas holiday. And I felt bad pouring fuel on the fire by wishing them a merry Christmas on top of all that burdensome pressure. So I started withing people a “Mediocre Christmas.” And I think it takes the pressure off…a little. And we need that more than we probably think.

It’s not about how “fabulous” the presents are this holiday season. But about how fabulously present you can be to those most important. And sometimes a step back and a deep breath and a reminder that mediocre and present is better than fabulous and stressed out.

jyb_musingsNow, if you think you can handle an unadulterated Merry Christmas, more power to you. Go for it. But otherwise, just know it’s not necessary and I don’t want my overly optimistic wishes to be an obstacle to you having a nice time with those closest to you this holiday season.

It ain’t about how many loved ones we can impress …but more about how many loved ones we can allow to impress us–without asking them to try all that hard to do so.


The benefits on the night before Christmas of having older children.

This is something that I did on the night before Christmas 7-8 years ago. That I will not be doing tonight. Thankfully. ; )

A True Christmas Story.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Brown house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St Nick….well, you get the idea.

Old Santa ClausAnyway, it was a few years ago when my children were still Santa age (before Christmas became more of a business transaction) and my job was to work the wee hours of the morning to assemble a mini pool table for our basement and surprise our children Christmas morning.

I started around 1am. By 3am I was almost finished but realized I had assembled one of the short ends of the table upside down. So, I took it all apart and started over.

By 4:30am I was nearly finished again before realizing I had inadvertently assembled one of the long ends of the table upside down. I took a short break to say as many curse words under my breath as I could recall at that time of morning and got back to work a little before 5am.

I took apart the table again and decided to get out the directions this time. I followed them, but like following all directions, it slowed me down (although admittedly I didn’t make any mistakes this last time). No mistakes….but I did run out of time.

It was now nearly 7am and I heard feet pattering upstairs and cries of “Dad, where are you?” The kiddos were ready to see what Santa had left them….and weren’t going to give me another 30-45 minutes to finish up. Fortunately, I quickly thought of a brilliant solution.

A note. From Santa. Here’s how it read.

Dear Johnny and Maggie, Merry Christmas!! I love you both so much and hope you like all the presents I left you, including the miniature pool table. As you know, I have to cover a lot of ground tonight and in my old age don’t move as fast as I used to. I almost got the pool table set up, but had to leave before finishing to get to all the other children in the world. I left the last few pieces for your father to finish for you.Thanks for the cookies and milk.

Merry Christmas!!!S.C.

(My kids were excited but also skeptical and disappointed. My daughter suspected my handwriting. And my son knew if it depended on me putting something together, it might take all night).

The Recovering Politician Bowl

A big, Christmas, congratulations to Rod Jetton and Show-Me-Mules for winning the inaugural Recovering Politician Bowl Championship! He just edged out the RP and the RP Tittles in the Championship game that came down to the Sunday Night Football game.

The GOP swept the championships as Michael Steele and the Augies won the consolation championship and 7th place. The league’s powerhouse Targaryen 2012 wound up in 3rd place winning its matchup with the #1 seed Team Unibrow.

Thanks to everyone who played and made it a fantastic season that was very fun throughout. Here’s looking forward to next year!


    • 1st PlaceShow-Me-Mules
    • 2nd PlaceRP Tittles
    • 3rd PlaceTargaryen 2012


Week 14
(Dec 4 – Dec 10)
Week 15
(Dec 11 – Dec 17)
Week 16
(Dec 18 – Dec 24)

(1) Team Unibrow



(4) The Dirty Diapers79.60

(5) Show-Me-Mules88.32

View Matchup


(3) The RP Tittles99.32

(6) The Bungals70.14

View Matchup


(2) Targaryen 2012



(1) Team Unibrow105.54

(5) Show-Me-Mules126.98

View Matchup


(3) The RP Tittles86.96

(2) Targaryen 201270.94

View Matchup


(5) Show-Me-Mules96.34

(3) The RP Tittles91.14

View Matchup

3rd Place Game

(1) Team Unibrow82.70

(2) Targaryen 201294.18

View Matchup

5th Place Game

(4) The Dirty Diapers72.06

(6) The Bungals94.44

View Matchup

Michael Steele: NRA Press Conference “Very Haunting and Very Disturbing”

From Talking Points Memo:

Former Republican National Committee chairman and MSNBC commentator Michael Steele on Friday said he found the press conference led by National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre “very haunting and very disturbing.”

Asked by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts for his immediate response to the NRA presser, Steele initially appeared speechless.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Steele said. “As a supporter of the Second Amendment and a supporter of the NRA, even though I’m not a member of the NRA, I just found it very haunting and very disturbing that our country now, that are talking about arming our teachers and our principals in classrooms. What does that say about us? And I do not believe that’s where the American people want to go. I do not believe that is the response that should be coming out of the tragedy in Newtown.”

Watch the exchange:

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