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History of White Trash

This review appeared in the Cultured Classrooms section of NEPCA’s fall newsletter. It seems appropriate to repost it as a review on Inauguration Day.

 

Putting Class Back Into the Classroom

22bookisenberg-blog427-v6I’m guilty of being one of those scholars who too glibly use the words “important book” in reviews and academic discussions. We often mean, simply, a work that advances some argument within our narrow specialty—not a book we could actually teach, or one that undergraduates would find provocative. Every now and then, however, a book appears that truly is “important.” Such a work is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (New York: Viking, 2016). Its author, Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg, hit the market at a propitious time: during the Donald Trump political tsunami. Whether or not Trump wins in November, his campaign has energized many of the people about whom Isenberg writes: the white working class, especially those who live on the economic margins, often–but not exclusively–in the proverbial hinterlands. Educated Americans and those with financial resources have, historically, evolved a host of terms to dismiss these folks: waste people, sturdy beggars, clay-eaters, crackers, hillbillies, rednecks, trailer trash, lubbers, tar-heels, underclass, white trash….Isn’t it odd that few of these terms are ever discussed during campus cultural-sensitivity sessions?

Isenberg asserts that we ignore this group at our own peril. By most accounts, white wage-earning Americans make up 30% of the electorate. This means they’re no longer a majority, but given the stark divisions within American society, that 30% has the potential to alter elections. I think this book needs to be taught, so allow me to highlight a few of Isenberg’s assertions and to add questions I think could spark lively debate.

* First and foremost, Isenberg asserts that the working poor are not a recent phenomenon; they are sewn into the very fabric of white North American society. Isenberg catalogues this pattern from British colonization to the present. It’s not really the “untold history” she bills it, but few have marshaled as much evidence for the claim that outcast underclasses are not merely unfortunate; they are the deliberate creation of economic elites that exploit them for their own gain. Moreover, white trash has been conditioned to see itself as such; Isenberg’s is a pathology of powerlessness.

* This will ruffle feathers, but Isenberg argues that those who discuss race or gender without referencing social class are futilely talking to themselves. This is because elites have successfully inserted the mudsill theory into the national dialogue. (The mudsill theory holds that society, like a house foundation, sits upon a bottom layer of social “mud” on which all power relations are constructed.) In essence, the white working class–often masculine in character–compensates for its lack of power by defining others as inferior: non-whites, recent immigrants, and women. This has also been done in ways familiar to pop-culture scholars: when crude power fails, use manufactured flattery of the sort we now see in the “new rage of slumming” (291), or what I’d dub “redneck glorification,” as seen in Elvis, Dolly Parton, Bill Clinton’s presidency, and TV shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Honey Boo Boo,” “Redneck Island,” and “Duck Dynasty.”

*This will also rankle: Isenberg sees class as the essential analytical category. She has little patience with using social class as a sort of “drive-by” tool in the way we view history or contemporary sociology.

*Isenberg has even less patience with those who equate white trash traits with the Scots-Irish. Such ethnic identification isolates, stigmatizes, and ignores both the pervasiveness of the white underclass and the power relations that created it. She dismisses–and I agree–Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture. I’d toss J. D. Vance’s recent Hillbilly Culture (Harper, 2016) into the not-to-be-taken-seriously pile.

*Another target of Isenberg’s analytical sword: conservatives who dismiss white poverty as proof of degeneracy, lack of initiative, or cultural/regional norms. She bristles with indignation when someone like Mitt Romney insists upon the personhood of corporations, given the systematic manner in which the 1% he represents has denied the humanity of poor whites. If you think she exaggerates, see her chapter on eugenics.

* She reminds us that the Civil War was as much a class war as one about race. Scholars know this as well, but it’s good to be reminded.

*Isenberg suggests that the cherished American ideals of equal opportunity, equality under the law, and freedom are largely ahistorical descriptions of the true American past.

So how can we use this book in the classroom? Here are ten discussion questions that occurred to me. Other readers will easily come up with others.

  1. Isenberg says discussions of race and/or gender without references to social class are worthless. If you agree, list concrete reasons why you find Isenberg to be correct; if you disagree, move beyond personal preference and enumerate reasons why you think she’s wrong. (One could easily devise a classroom debate of opposing sides on this question.)
  1. Isenberg has a very pessimistic view of American ideals. Do you think she’s right that these are more mythic than historical? What does the evidence suggest? (Have students do a sociological investigation into poverty. Who is poor? Where do they live? How many poor people are full-time workers? What is the racial breakdown on poverty?)
  1. Question two could be approached in political terms like this: Mitt Romney made a major gaffe in the 2012 election when he said that 47% of Americans were reliant on some form of “government handouts,” even though he was (mostly) correct. What happens, though, is we ask: Why are 47% of Americans dependent upon government handouts?
  1. What is a secondary labor force/market? What did Marx say about the exploitation of working people? What is Antonio Gramsci’s “hegemony theory?” Do any of these ideas fit Isenberg’s analysis? (Obvious “egg hunt” possibilities here.)
  1. Donald Trump’s campaign attracted a lot of white working class voters. Why? In what ways were his followers similar to those attracted to Bernie Sanders? How did they differ?
  1. An interesting recent phenomenon: In the late 20th century, nearly 80% of Americans thought of themselves as “middle class;” now just 51% think so (and many sociologists would place the objective number at closer to 35%.) What are the differences between being middle class and working class? How have those definitions changed over time? Why are fewer Americans seeing themselves as middle class? Does this mean that the “white trash” is growing in numbers?
  1. Isenberg gives us an incomplete (and dated) list of TV shows and entertainment that present the white underclass and she’s not very good at all with movies. Come up with your own list of music, shows, and movies that deal with the white underclass she describes. How is class represented in these?
  2. Other than a handful of characters such as Davy Crockett and the “common man” meme of the 1930s, Isenberg gives very few examples of working-class heroes and heroines. Can you compile a list of positive working class and/or poor folks who ought to be part of the discussion?
  1. Is Isenberg guilty of casting underclass whites as historical victims without agency? What about, for example, the labor movement? Welfare-rights advocates?
  1. This is controversial, but needs to be discussed: Does Isenberg unintentionally justify boorish, racist, and sexist behavior? Does she make excuses for people to wallow in ignorance? Does the underclass have any responsibility for liberating itself? Do we believe in Isenberg’s pathology model? How does one escape the past? Should one? (Aren’t these the same questions we raise about non-white poverty?)
  1. Bonus question: If your students are mature enough to grapple with this—and if you’ve set it up as a discussion, not an assertion–ask students if it’s as racist to use terms such as “white trash” as it is to use the “N word.” (This could spark intriguing discussion of white privilege. How does it work in the face of economic depravation and social marginalization?)

 

Rob Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst

 

Teaching Ideas: Ways of Thinking about and Seeing the Grateful Dead

Ways of Seeing the Grateful Dead:

 

It often surprises music fans to learn that rightwing author/commentator/shock jock Ann Coulter claims to be a Deadhead who has seen over 60 shows. You can read all about it at: http://www.jambands.com/features/2006/06/23/deadheads-are-what-liberals-claim-to-be-but-aren-t-an-interview-with-ann-coulter It also surprises some to learn that there is an ever-growing body of scholarship called “Grateful Dead Studies,” that the PCAACA has a Grateful Dead area chair, and that a Grateful Dead Archive has been established at the University of California Santa Cruz: http://guides.library.ucsc.edu/grateful-dead

Whatever one might think of Ms. Coulter’s claim that Deadheads are what liberals claim to be but aren’t, there’s little disputing this quote from her: “Watching a Deadhead dance is truly something to behold.” Ms. Coulter’s strong identification with the Grateful Dead suggests rich teaching opportunities. A sociologist, for example, could construct a lesson about the dynamics of groups and the formation of group identity that affords opportunities to discuss the role (or non-role) of ideology in group dynamics; a political scientist could fashion something similar on the rhetoric and meaning of ideology in contemporary politics in keeping with recent studies suggesting that many aspects of politics are as much performance as deeply held values. A dance professor might also take the above Coutler quote at face value and explore the role of ecstasy in dance, to say nothing of the free-form aesthetics of Grateful Dead dancers. Of course, professors specializing in popular music have unlimited opportunities.

11-atxlThose looking for some strong images to supplement their lessons can find them in two recent works from photographer/film maker Jay Blakesberg. The San Francisco-based Blakesberg has produced untold numbers of rock photos, album art images, and videos, but he’s also part of that amorphous group sometimes labeled Grateful Dead “insiders.” His aptly named 2015 collection Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion & Surrender (Rock Out Books) is a no-apologies look at music as a form of physical abandonment. It consists of 445 images Blakesberg took over three decades. It’s not entirely about the Grateful Dead–he even got Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) to write the introduction–but those joyous Deadhead dancers of which Coulter speaks are heavily represented. In a strange way, Blakesberg also gives us a needed corrective to looks at the Sixties that focus too heavily on politics and disruptive behavior at the expense of the era’s playful and cultural milestones. Take a look at hippie dancers and compare them with those of earlier generations, and not even 1950s poodle-skirted American Bandstand twirlers can match them. Blakesberg might be open to charges of male gaze exploitation in some cases, but this too makes good classroom fodder.

imgresHis Fare Thee Well (Rock On Books) came out at the very end of 2015–just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead. This one focuses entirely on the band and if you want to know what being an insider means—Blakesberg estimates he shot the band over a thousand times–this collection from the band’s 2015 swan song concerts (minus deceased members such as Jerry Garcia and Ron McKernan) shows it. Anyone wishing to explain the importance of spectacle will find a visual feast for illustrating the concept. And, yes, one might even make the case that the 2015 tour oddly justifies a few of Coulter’s more provocative remarks. It’s no stretch to think that cultural capital might have transcended music or ideology. A good way to introduce the thought of Pierre Bourdieu? Why not.

 

Robert E. Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Teaching about the History of White Trash

Putting Class Back Into the Classroom

061916-white-trash_white-trashI’m guilty of being one of those scholars who too glibly use the words “important book” in reviews and academic discussions. We often mean, simply, a work that advances some argument within our narrow specialty—not a book we could actually teach, or one that undergraduates would find provocative. Every now and then, however, a book appears that truly is “important.” Such a work is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (New York: Viking, 2016). Its author, Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg, hit the market at a propitious time: during the Donald Trump political tsunami. Whether or not Trump wins in November, his campaign has energized many of the people about whom Isenberg writes: the white working class, especially those who live on the economic margins, often–but not exclusively–in the proverbial hinterlands. Educated Americans and those with financial resources have, historically, evolved a host of terms to dismiss these folks: waste people, sturdy beggars, clay-eaters, crackers, hillbillies, rednecks, trailer trash, lubbers, tar-heels, underclass, white trash…. Isn’t it odd that few of these terms are ever discussed during campus cultural sensitivity sessions?

Isenberg asserts that we ignore this group at our own peril. By most accounts, white wage-earning Americans make up 30% of the electorate. This means they’re no longer a majority, but given the stark divisions within American society, that 30% has the potential to alter elections. I think this book needs to be taught, so allow me to highlight a few of Isenberg’s assertions and add questions I think could spark lively debate:

* First and foremost, Isenberg asserts that the working poor are not a recent phenomenon; they are sewn into the very fabric of white North American society. Isenberg catalogues this pattern from British colonization to the present. It’s not really the “untold history” she bills it, but few have marshaled as much evidence for the claim that outcast underclasses are not merely unfortunate; they are the deliberate creation of economic elites that exploited them for their own gain. Moreover, white trash has been conditioned to see itself as such; Isenberg’s is a pathology of powerlessness.

* This will ruffle feathers, but Isenberg argues that those who discuss race or gender without referencing social class are futilely talking to themselves. This is because elites have successfully inserted the mudsill theory into the national dialogue. (The mudsill theory holds that society, like a house foundation, sits upon a bottom layer of social “mud” upon which all power relations are constructed.) In essence, the white working class–often masculine in character–compensates for its lack of power by defining others as inferior: non-whites, recent immigrants, and women. This has also been done in ways familiar to pop culture scholars: when crude power fails, use manufactured flattery of the sort we now see in the “new rage of slumming” (291), or what I’d dub “redneck glorification,” as seen in Elvis, Dolly Parton, Bill Clinton’s presidency, and TV shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Honey Boo Boo,” “Redneck Island,” and “Duck Dynasty.”

*This will also rankle: Isenberg sees class as the essential analytical category. She has little patience with using social class as a sort of “drive-by” tool in the way we view history or contemporary sociology.

*Isenberg has even less patience with those who equate white trash traits with the Scots-Irish. Such ethnic identification isolates, stigmatizes, and ignores both the pervasiveness of the white underclass and the power relations that created it. She dismisses–and I agree–Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture. I’d toss J. D. Vance’s recent Hillbilly Culture (Harper, 2016) into the not-to-be-taken seriously pile.

*Another target of Isenberg’s analytical sword: conservatives that dismiss white poverty as proof of degeneracy, lack of initiative, or cultural/regional norms. She bristles with indignation when someone like Mitt Romney insists upon the personhood of corporations, given the systematic manner in which the 1% he represents has denied the humanity of poor whites. If you think she exaggerates, see her chapter on eugenics.

* She reminds us that the Civil War was as much of a class war as one about race. Scholars know this as well, but it’s good to be reminded.

*Isenberg suggests that cherished American ideals of equal opportunity, equality under the law, and freedom are largely ahistorical descriptions of the true American past.

So how can we use this book in the classroom? Here are ten discussion questions that occurred to me. Other readers will easily come up with others:

 

  1. Isenberg says discussions of race and/or gender without references to social class are worthless. If you agree, list concrete reasons why you find Isenberg to be correct; if you disagree, move beyond personal preference and enumerate reasons why you think she’s wrong. (One could easily devise a classroom debate of opposing sides on this question.)
  1. Isenberg has a very pessimistic view of American ideals. Do you think she’s right that these are more mythic than historical? What does the evidence suggest? (Have students do sociological investigation into poverty. Who is poor? Where do they live? How many poor people are full-time workers? What is the racial breakdown on poverty?)
  1. Question two could be approached in political terms like this: Mitt Romney made a major gaffe in the 2012 election when he said that 47% of Americans were reliant on some form of “government handouts,” even though he was (mostly) correct. What happens, though, is we ask: Why are 47% of Americans dependent upon government handouts?
  1. What is a secondary labor force/market? What did Marx say about the exploitation of working people? What is Antonio Gramsci’s “hegemony theory?” Do any of these ideas fit Isenberg’s analysis? (Obvious “egg hunt” possibilities here.)
  1. Donald Trump’s campaign attracted a lot of white working class voters? Why? In what ways were his followers similar to those attracted to Bernie Sanders? How did they differ?
  1. An interesting recent phenomenon: In the late 20th century, nearly 80% of Americans thought of themselves as “middle class;” now just 51% think so (and many sociologists would place the objective number at closer to 35%.) What are the differences between being middle class and working class? How have those definitions changed over time? Why are fewer Americans seeing themselves as middle class? Does this mean that the “white trash” is growing in numbers?
  1. Isenberg gives us an incomplete (and dated) list of TV shows and entertainment that present the white underclass and she’s not very good at all with movies. Come up with your own list of music, shows, and movies that deal with the white underclass she describes. How is class represented in these?
  2. Other than a handful of characters such as Davy Crockett and the “common man” meme of the 1930s, Isenberg gives very few examples of working-class heroes and heroines. Can you compile a list of positive working class and/or poor folks that ought to be part of the discussion?
  1. Is Isenberg guilty of casting underclass whites as historical victims without agency? What about, for example, the labor movement? Welfare rights advocates?
  1. This is controversial, but needs to be discussed: Does Isenberg unintentionally justify boorish, racist, and sexist behavior? Does she make excuses for people to wallow in ignorance? Does the underclass have any responsibility for liberating itself? Do we believe in Isenberg’s pathology model? How does one escape the past? Should one? (Aren’t these the same questions we raise about non-white poverty?)
  1. Bonus question: If your students are mature enough to grapple with this—and if you’ve set it up as a discussion, not an assertion–ask students if it’s as racist to use terms such as “white trash” as it is to use the “N” word. (This could spark intriguing discussion of white privilege. How does it work in the face of economic depravation and social marginalization?)

Robert E.  Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst

 

Pedagogy Database

We are developing the new Pedagogy Database at www.pedagogydatabase.com, an academic online community where professors can share teaching pedagogy.  We are at the initial stages of building the database across multiple disciplines and course levels, and we are seeking contributions of pedagogy that you have created in your teaching career, such as:

Timelines
Glossaries
Case Studies
Videos
Illustrative Stories and Anecdotes
Bibliographies
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Charts, Tables, and Graphs
Discussion Topics
Role-Playing Scenarios
Games
Quizzes
PowerPoint Presentations

As the files are put on the database to share with other academics, please note you retain the copyright and you are credited in the documents. They are shared only with other academics and are not used for commercial gain. You can easily upload files at the website that will be evaluated and processed by the Database Editor (See “About Database” at the website).

Why upload? Because you increase the visibility of your scholarly work while pursuing your goals as an educator, you can add the contributions to your CV, and it’s a great benefit to other professors and students alike.

Go to: www.pedagogydatabase.com

Thanks,
J. Geoffrey Golson
Database Founder and Editor
editor@pedagogydatabase.com

University of KY History Podcasts

Two doctoral students in the History Department at the University of Kentucky, Dara Vance and Cody Foster, have started a podcast series called “Long Story Short: A Brief History of History” that features UK historians reflecting on and summarizing fascinating stories in history. The target audience is local, regional and global audiences as well as, in particular, 14-19 year old youth who might be interested in learning more about history and historical topics.

The series started with “The Power of the Vote, with Mark Summers” and “The Voyage of Chistopher Columbus, with Erik Myrup” and has several others in the line-up now, including one on Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 Presidential bid and relating that to today’s chances for a woman to become President of the United States.

Subscribe to the podcast series in SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/ukarts_sciences/sets/long-story-short-1.

You can hear a radio interview on WUKY with Dara and Cody on October 29th where they describe their goals and aspirations for the podcast series.

 

Contact Info:

Dara Vance and Cody Foster
University of Kentucky
1713 Patterson Office Tower
Department of History
Lexington, KY 40506-0027
Department Office Telephone: (859) 257-6861

Bleak Journal Statistics

Are we reaching students through print? Or anyone else? This provocative article raises issues that deserve wider consideration. 

In this article from the Strait Times, authors Asit K. Biswas And Julian Kirchherr argue that academics should help shape public debate and policy. While Biswas and Kircherrs arguments center on the need for policy-making suggestions by academics, they do raise good questions as to the the utility and reach of the modern system of academic publishing.

The authors throw out some intriging statistics, such as that less than 10 people read an academic journal in its entirety and that in the 1930s and 1940s, 20 per cent of articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review focused on policy recommendations, down to 0.3 per cent today. Up to 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually, with 82 per cent of articles published in humanities, 32 per cent of the peer-reviewed articles in the social sciences, and 27 per cent in the natural sciences never cited once.

From the article

“MANY of the world’s most talented thinkers may be university professors, but sadly most of them are not shaping today’s public debates or influencing policies. Indeed, scholars often frown upon publishing in the popular media. “Running an opinion editorial to share my views with the public? Sounds like activism to me,” a professor recently noted at a conference, hosted by the University of Oxford.”

A solution put forward is if academics want to have an impact on policymakers and practitioners, they must consider popular media, which has been generally ignored.

http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/prof-no-one-reading-yo…

Zeitgeist Novels for Those Teaching the 1990s

I like to read “period” novels whenever I teach a U.S. history survey course. I unshelf  Howells and Twain when I teach the Gilded Age, dust off Steinbeck for the 1930s, and dive into Angelou and Walker to get an African-American perspective. With the semester winding down, I’ve been reading about the 1990s.

Recent novels are tricky. Books only evolve from “noteworthy” to “classic” in retrospect; lots of heralded works come off as shopworn or silly a decade later. Even good books take on meanings that eluded the first batch of readers. The latter has certainly happened to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) and The Corrections (2001). Both were received in their initial runs­ as if they were sociology as well as literature. So they were, but now each also seems an indictment of Baby Boomers and Generation X excesses. Such generational labels are, of course, media inventions. As a historian, I don’t hold much stock in generational interpretations of the past, so I’ll just call these zeitgeist novels.

A Heartbreaking 3805Work of Staggering Genius was and is a genre-defying work that obliterates the line between fiction and autobiography. Its narrator, Dave Eggers, is both author and principal character. It tells of the travails of the Eggers clan. Paterfamilias John, a nasty drunk, died in 1991, followed the next year by the cancer death of the family rock: Heidi. Her death threw the Eggers children upon their own devices. Eldest son William was already living an independent life in Los Angeles, and soon the remaining children–Beth, Dave, and Christopher–depart Illinois for San Francisco. Challenges arose immediately, as youngest child, “Toph,” was just nine and his primary caretakers were Beth (24) and Dave (22). Both cared deeply for Toph, but neither was prepared to be a parent. (Beth played a larger role than assigned in the book, but she had demons of her own and committed suicide in 2001.)

Anyone who has been to San Francisco knows that it’s a tough town in which to be poor. Dave and Toph eek out a living from their inheritance, Social Security, and whatever work Dave can drum up, but he’s more of a slacker/hipster-wannabe than breadwinner. The book purports to recount his on-the-job-training lessons in responsibility and parenthood, but in retrospect it reads like Eggers’ thinly veiled anger at being robbed of his adolescence. He and Toph trash one cheap rental after  another, as neither is very good at adult basics such as wiping up messes, taking out the garbage, or housekeeping. Dave lands a job, but with a magazine that never made a dime; his real talents include prowess at tossing Frisbees and imagining himself in the sack with sexologist Sari Locker.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius remains a very good read, though a title meant to be ironic now feels solipsistic. Like works such as Running with Scissors, it  has a “look at me” quality whose true irony lies in how badly Gen X mangled attempts to emulate what it lampooned. That is to say, for all the Gen X contempt for Baby Boomers, many of them tried to become hippies and simply weren’t very good at it. Blame the “Dream,” or blame Gen X-fueled MTV, hipster mags, and reality TV. Or, as I prefer to do, read Eggers to gain insight into what confused twenty-somethings were thinking in the 1990s.

heartbreakingJonathan Franzen’s National Book Award-winning The Corrections is the superior novel. Today it seems the ultimate pre-apocalyptic novel as it ends with the Stock Market “correction” of 1999, and was published just months before 9/11/01. The novel tracks the highly dysfunctional Lambert family. Parents Alfred and Enid still live in the prototypical Midwestern town of St. Jude, but their adult children have bolted to the East. Alfred is a retired railroad engineer/inventor who, in his prime, was a tyrant. Parkinson’s and advancing dementia have transformed him from being difficult to being impossible. Enid, his wife of 50 years, realizes time is short, tries to rally Alfred for a few last hurrahs, and harbors the dream of a final family Christmas in St. Jude.

Good luck with that! The kids are to busy making of hash of their lives. Eldest son Gary is a Philadelphia banker obsessed with the Stock Market, all things material, and few things emotional. He has a postcard family, but Gary is either bullied by his equally selfish wife, or is clinically depressed–depending on whose point of view you believe. Middle child Chip, the family intellectual, is a college professor hurtling toward self-destruction by violating the school’s sexual conduct code that he helped write. That avenue leads him to New York, where he fails as a playwright, and to post-Cold War Lithuania, where he falls in with oligarchs. Diane escapes a bad marriage and reinvents herself as a celebrity chef, only to jeopardize it all by having simultaneous affairs with her boss and his wife. Different problems, but each is too mired in imagine a warm-and-fuzzy Christmas in St. Jude.

Franzen’s novel crosses generations—Depression era parents, a Baby Boomer-turned Yuppie eldest son, an idealist-gone-egoist “tweener” middle child, and a Gen X youngest daughter. Each is a metaphor for the hope and greed of the Clinton years. The first brick fell when the dot.com bubble popped in 1999, Nasdaq lost 78% of its value, and its 457 IPOs shrank to just 76 in 18 months. Looming on the horizon: the falling masonry of September 11. Looking back now, The Corrections feels like the warning siren in advance of the tornado.  Rob Weir