Smear Tactics in the Early Republic

A great way to destroy a man’s political power and influence is thus to attack his reputation, his character. So character attacks are a very powerful and extremely popular political tool in this period [the Early Republic], and the press was all too happy to help spread character attacks. In their efforts to obliterate their opponents, partisan newspapers went to extremes and were willing to do or say almost anything to save the fragile new republic by, of course, promoting their own cause and crushing the living daylights out of their opponents. This example is one of my favorite newspaper tricks of the period, used to very good effect, temporarily at least: In the presidential election of 1800, when Federalists were panicked that Thomas Jefferson would become president, some Federalist newspaperman came out with a really brilliant ploy to defeat Jefferson. They announced in their newspapers that Jefferson had died.

— Joanne Freeman, Professor of History, Yale University, from her talk “Dirty Nasty Politics in the Early Republic,” February 9, 2012

Reconsidering Problems

I do want to acknowledge that right now, everybody has problems. Everybody. Being white does not insulate you from having problems. Right now, being straight does not insulate you from having problems. Being married certainly doesn’t insulate anyone from having problems. Living in supposedly suburban communities does not insulate you from having problems. Even being fabulously wealthy does not necessarily insulate you from having problems. Everybody has problems. But here’s the distinction I want to make: This [a photo of an African-American woman sitting on a chair with a large American flag wrapped around her] is a survivor of the Katrina storm, sitting outside the Superdome awaiting rescue. If you ever wondered how it is that people of the Lower Ninth Ward, people of New Orleans East, people of Central City, how they had large American flags to wave while they were waiting for rescue. . . . Those flags are not Fourth of July flags. You know what these flags are? These are the flags that come from the caskets of veterans. The reason that working-class people in the East, the Lower Ninth, Central City had big, enormous flags that they would wrap themselves in when they were on the roofs of their house while waiting for rescue is because they were related to people who gave their lives for the country in military service, and they had the flags from the caskets. I want to remind us of that, because typically what we think of as the ultimate responsibility of citizenship is the willingness to give your life for your country.

— Melissa Harris-Perry Professor of Political Science, Tulane University, New Orleans, MSNBC contributor, and columnist for The Nation, from her talk “King’s Legacy and the New Civil Rights Frontiers,” January 17, 2012

Language and the Brain

At this time [Paul Broca] was ready to stop and go back and join his father’s medical practice, but he was also becoming ready for the comforts of domesticity. He was still single, but he had said a couple of years earlier that private practice and marriage were “the two extinguishers of science.” He later assumed one of the risks and married. But he’d come to realize that research appealed to him more than medical practice. . . . Finally we come to 1865, when he wrote, “The facts are presented in great number and nearly all are the same. The cases where the lesions of aphemia [an inability to speak, now called aphasia] was found on the right are only very rare exceptions.” He presented twenty more aphemic patients, all with left-side lesions, and now he was emboldened to say we speak with the left hemisphere. And soon after, F3 [an area of the brain linked to speech] became known as the convolution of language, and thereafter as Broca’s convolution, and as Broca’s area. He himself did not call them that.

— Lauren J. Harris, Professor of Psychology, Michigan State University, from his talk “We Speak with the Left Hemisphere: The Story of Paul Broca’s Discovery that Changed Our Understanding of the Human Brain,” February 14, 2012