What if the Civil War Had a Birthday and Nobody Came?



Three years ago, Don Dodson planned to make a killing selling the Civil War artifacts he and his metal detector have uncovered near his hometown of Ringgold, Georgia. In Jersey City, New Jersey, Jamie Delson designed and packaged up special sets of toy soldiers from famous Civil War battles that he planned to sell. Louis Varnell opened a military memorabilia store near Chickamauga, the site of a bloody 1863 battle. They—and a lot of historians, reenactors, hoteliers, restaurateurs and fellow businessmen—were counting on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War to stir up a flood of action commemorating what was, arguably, the most cataclysmic event in American history.

Today, according to a story last week in the Wall Street Journal, the relics sit unsold. So do the toy soldiers. And Varnell is shipping more World War II collectibles than Civil War stuff. Three-quarters of the way through the four-year commemoration of the war that pitted brother against brother, the general consensus is, nobody gives a damn. “If it’s a celebration,” Delson told the Journal, “it’s a celebration that the public is either not aware of or not interested in.”

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Introducing the Phillymag.com Friday Pop Quiz! (April 7-11)

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

How closely have you been paying attention to the news in Philly this week? Take our quiz and see where you rank.

Commencement Speaker Smackdown!

The first round of announcements regarding May college commencement speakers has wound down, and if you think college admissions are competitive, you should see the commencement-speaker arms race. Is our school’s smarter than yours? More famous? Better looking? We took the trouble to arrange the first 20 announcees according to overall desirability as we see it from here.

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Twitter Could Kill Your Relationship, Study Says

twitter app

I’ve often marveled at how tone-deaf my friends’ tweets can seem—something about the limitations of those 140 characters, perhaps? Too much striving to be witty in too small a space? So I really can’t say I was surprised at a new study indicating that those who can’t start or end the day without checking their Twitter feeds could find themselves with a lot more free time in which to do so. According to the study’s author, the more active you are on Twitter, the more likely your relationship will blow up.

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Normcore? More Like “Momcore”

The Thursday Styles section of the New York Times last week contained a big bloomingarticle on the fashion trend known as “normcore,” which the article helpfully defined in the following way:

 A fashion movement, c. 2014, in which scruffy  young urbanites swear off the tired street-style clichés of the last decade — skinny jeans, wallet chains, flannel shirts — in favor of a less-ironic (but still pretty ironic) embrace of bland, suburban anti-fashion attire. (See Jeans, mom. Sneakers, white.)

Accompanying the article were a lot of photos of my clothes. Specifically, there were Nike sneakers, cargo shorts, t-shirts, a hoodie from a random college, Champion sweatpants … Well, hello, old friends!

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Science Finds a “Stupid” Gene. What Should We Do With That Information?


Linguist/philosopher and Philly native son Noam Chomsky once postulated that the current era of human history might “provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid.” We got closer to that answer last week, when researchers from Cardiff University in Wales announced an intriguing new find: a gene for stupidity. Specifically, they showed that kids born with two copies of the common gene known as Thr92Ala who also have low levels of thyroid hormone are four times more likely to have a low IQ than children with only one copy of the gene, or with two copies but normal hormone levels.

How low an IQ? Between 70 and 85, the researchers say. Anything below 70 is classified as an intellectual disability; the 70-to-85 range is considered “mild intellectual disability.”

So, let’s all rush out to have tests on our unborn babies, right? Read more »

Nation’s Largest Rape-Victim Advocacy Group: It’s Not “Rape Culture”

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

At long last, there’s been a heartening development in the escalating war between anti-”rape culture” activists and due-process advocates.

In case you haven’t been following along, college students have been filing Title IX complaints with the Department of Education at a furious rate, claiming their schools have been lax in prosecuting what Vice President Joe Biden once termed an “epidemic of rape” on campuses; others have been shouting that the Department of Education’s rules for investigating sexual assaults trample the rights of the accused to fair treatment and hearings; and for the first time, a male student’s claim that his school’s judiciary board violated his Title IX rights by expelling him and using him as a scapegoat to appease the feds has been allowed to proceed in a federal court.

Now into the fray comes the strangest player of all: RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which just announced that it has sent a 16-page letter to the task force appointed by the President to address the campus-sexual-assault problem, outlining its recommendations on what should be done. And RAINN — the “nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization,” according to its website, says “rape culture” has nothing to do with it.

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Trigger Warning: This Article Will Offend Those Who Like Trigger Warnings


A few days back, a student at Temple filed a grievance against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights. The student claims officials at the school discriminated against him regarding his request that special accommodations be made for him because he has bipolar disorder. The student, David Harris, wanted extra time to work on a paper “so he could take it to the writing center,” according to Temple’s student paper.

Harris’s beef is that Temple’s “unofficial policy” regarding “accommodations letters” is that they must be hand-delivered to a faculty member. Harris, who is studying social work, claims that disabled students are frequently “abused” by faculty members who are presented with such letters. How? “[O]ftentimes professors take the opportunity to question the student as to why they need this accommodation and what the nature of their disability is,” he explained.

When I read about Mr. Harris, I was reminded of a newspaper story I saw last year about Grand Valley State University in Michigan, which paid a $40,000 settlement to a student who kept an “assistance animal” guinea pig in her dorm room. The school was perfectly fine with letting Kendra Velzen keep the critter in her dorm room, seeing as, as her attorney explained, it “provides her with emotional support and attachment.” (She suffers, the article said, from depression.) Where GVSU dug in was in refusing to allow her to take her support guinea pig to class and to food service areas. So she threatened to sue. And the school paid out. Read more »

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