Luker Blog Archives: 6-14-03 to 6-30-03

Luker Blog Archives

Click here for Mr. Luker's current blog page.

KK ... 06-30-03

Sometimes, nothing but Krispy Kreme will satisfy that need for real comfort.

Posted by Ralph 1l:45 p.m.

FISKING FRIST ... 06-30-03

Where do you begin on Senate Majority Leader William Frist's endorsement this weekend of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages?

Questioned on This Week about the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the Tennessee senator delivered several revelations. First, according to the Washington Post, Frist said:

I have this fear that this zone of privacy that we all want protected in our own homes is gradually -- or I'm concerned about the potential for it gradually being encroached upon, where criminal activity within the home would in some way be condoned.
What could he have had in mind with that observation: child abuse? spousal abuse? drug abuse? alcohol abuse? Unfortunately, the senator doesn't tell us and there is not a word in the Court's decision that implies a constitutional denial of the state's obligation to protect children and marriage partners from abuse.

In a follow-up question, Frist was asked whether he would support a constitutional amendment to ban any marriage in the United States except a union of a man and a woman. He replied:

I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament, and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between -- what is traditionally in our Western values has been defined -- as between a man and a woman. So I would support the amendment.
Begin, if you will, with the Senator's own theocratic assumptions. The Senator is said to be a devout Presbyterian. If so, he should go back to his catechism. Marriage is simply not a sacrament in his religious tradition. Marriage is a Christian sacrament in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and high church readings of Anglican Christianity. For Presbyterians and most Protestants, generally, who limit sacramental acts to those actually commissioned by Jesus as a means of grace, marriage is not a sacrament. It is an ordinance, a religious act governed by teachings and practices of the church, but it is not a sacrament.

The Presbyterian senator would, thus, impose on us all via the Constitution an understanding of marriage which is held only by his Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican constituents. God save his Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and agnostic constituents, for whom the very word"sacrament" has no meaning. God save his Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Pentacostal constituents, for whom marriage is not a sacrament. God save his heterosexual constituents, to say nothing of his homosexual ones, who believe that a committed relationship is its own means of grace, which does not depend on constitutional definitions, justifications, intrusions, or protections.


An Oxford University professor rejects the application of an Israeli national on ethnic grounds. See also: Little Green Footballs, The Volohk Conspiracy, the Telegraph and the Times.

Posted by Ralph 1:45 a.m. EDT


Sometimes a cartoon is worth a thousand words. Increasingly, however, the"homosexual agenda" becomes "pro-family". Chris Armstrong and Glenn Frankel write about tensions over the issue within the Anglican family. Meanwhile, their first African-American president re-introduces the U-Us to G_d. Unlike the New York Times's Tom Friedman, he doesn't mean Google.

Posted by Ralph 5:30 p.m. EDT

Update ... 07-06-03

Jeffrey John eases the threat of schism in the Anglican community by withdrawing from his appointment as bishop of Reading.

Posted by Ralph 1:45 p.m. EDT


What more evidence do we need of the arrogance of power at the New York Times than is described by Howard Kurtz's story for the Washington Post about Judith Miller's reporting on Iraq? Journalists, like historians, need to keep a critical distance from their stories, lest they become the story.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT

DO NOT EXPECT ... 06-27-03

Do not expect The Onion to speak respectfully of the late Strom Thurmond's one night stand with an attractive younger man.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT

DOWDING THOMAS ... 06-26-03

Maureen Dowd's New York Timescolumn put Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in the bloggers. Eugene Volokh thinks Dowd has a continuing problem in quoting her victims accurately. Andrew Sullivan calls her column an"appalling example" of liberal racism. Dowd has Oxblog's Josh Chafetz and Daniel Urman debating whether the column is liberal racism or Dowd simply loathes a particular black conservative. On HNN, Tom Spencer agrees with Dowd and David Beito attacks the dowdager. Rumors have it that the normally quiet Justice Thomas recalled his confirmation hearings and mumbled something about this being a"high tech dueling."

Posted by Ralph 6:30 a.m. EDT

UPDATE ... 06-27-03

Eugene Volokh extends his critique of those who berate Thomas for his hostility to"affirmative action.""Gratitude" is not an appropriate reason for a constitutional finding, he reminds us.

Posted by Ralph 5:30 p.m. EDT

FURTHER UPDATE ... 06-30-03

Stanford University Law Professor, Marcus Cole, joins in the dowding. The New York Times's Bill Keller weighs in on the other side, with a condescending reference to "Mr. Diversity." Stanley Fish counters Thomas's critics. Advantage: Thomas.

Posted by Ralph 4:40 p.m. EDT


Adam Gopnik has a terrific essay on the current wave of books about Benjamin Franklin in the New Yorker. Among other things, they cast doubt on the story of Franklin's kite. Gopnik concludes:

The moral of the kite is not that truth is relative. It is that nothing is really self-evident. Scientific truths, like political beliefs, are guesses and arguments, not certainties. Dr. Johnson's great, comforting gloss on the Christian funeral service comes to mind:"In the sure and certain hope of a resurrection" did not mean that the resurrection was certain, only that the hope was certain."We hold these truths to be self-evident," similarly, means that we hold them to be so. We hold these truths as we hold the twine, believing, without being sure, that the tugs and shocks are what we think they are. We hold the string, and hope for the best. Often, there is no lightning. Sometimes, there is no kite.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT

MUST READ ... 06-24-03

Alexander Keyssar's "Giving Revisionists a Bad Name" is a must read.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT


The Senate Rules Committee has voted to change the senate rules on filibusters so that a simple majority vote is required to end one. With all 10 Republican members present and voting in favor of the change, all 9 of the Democratic members were absent from the vote. If the Republicans move this resolution to the floor, there is certain to be a Senate donnybrook. The rule is not written in stone. Currently, there must be 60 votes in favor of ending debate. In 1917, the Senate established a rule that two-thirds of its members must vote in favor of a motion to end debate. After record-busting dixiecrat filibusters against civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s, the Senate in 1975 reduced the requirement to three-fifths of the membership or 60 votes. If the Republican leadership is successful in this attempt, it may live to rue the day it did so when it no longer has a majority of the Senate's membership. This is a vote in which Republican moderates may wisely decide not to sustain their leadership's position.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 p.m. EDT

UPDATE ...-06-25-03

It appears that the proposed revision of the Senate rules is headed for certain defeat. It still takes a two-thirds vote to break a filibuster against a change of rules.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT


I have no opinions about Harry Potter, except to think the books are a fun read, but The Door's take had to be interesting. Published initially as The Wittenberg Door, it captured a unique place as the Mad Magazine of the evangelical left. Years later, I still get a laugh from recalling its cover article naming Tammy Fay Baker as"Theologian of the Year." You get the right idea from its current editorial lead:"In these gloomy days, The Door Magazine editorial board has - inexplicably - decided to take the high road. We're not going to mention that"police action" which seems to be dominating the news these days. Instead, we're going to practice our rusty high school Latin ('I ran, I rate, I raq.')..." Anyway, have a look at Harry Potter in the Lake of Fire.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 p.m. EDT


Yale's Harry Stout writes thoughtfully of the Civil War as the "baptism in blood" for American civil religion. While you are there, take a look at Mark Noll's effort to find the redeeming social value in "Gods and Generals" and David Rolfs'review essay, "When Thou Goest Out to Battle", of Stephen Woodworth's book, While God Is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers.

Posted by Ralph 12:00 noon EDT


Atlanta is mourning the death of its former mayor, Maynard Jackson. Perhaps more than any other person, he was the father of the contemporary city. We remember his family in prayer, but his passing to a loss to us all.

Posted by Ralph 11:30 p.m.EDT


In op-eds for today's Washington Post, Michael Ledeen writes about the demonstrations in Iran and Fred Hiatt calls for additional pressure against Burma's outlaw regime to win the release of Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 p.m.EDT


One of the things that distinguished Michael Bellesiles's Arming America and Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross from most books published by scholars is their publication by Alfred A. Knopf, a highly regarded commercial press. Books by scholars are more commonly published by university presses. The difference is not absolute because some university presses operate nearly as commercial presses. But access to elite commercial presses is quite different than access to a university press. To put it simply, a university press is likely to vet a manuscript by peer review.

An elite commercial press accepts a proposal and a sample chapter submitted by a literary agent and makes its decision about whether the author will receive a contract largely on the basis of an in-house reading of that chapter. The decision whether to offer the contract or not is most likely to be made on the literary quality of the work and an assessment of its prospect in the marketplace. In short, Alfred A. Knopf is unlikely to consult with experts in the field before its decision is made or, if it does, it is with a very small circle of insiders.

Thus, it appears that many of the critics of Bellesiles's Arming America, including me, wrongly berated peer review for the publication of the book. It is unlikely that the book manuscript was ever subject to peer review. It had special access. It is unlikely that Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross was ever subject to peer review. It had special access.

It is ironic that Heyrman recommended that I submit my article about her book to a peer reviewed journal. Not only was Southern Cross itself never subject to peer review before publication, but her first book, Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts, was published 20 years ago by Norton, another commercial press and, thus, was probably not vetted by peer review. She has always had special access. Heyrman recommended that I submit my article to a peer reviewed journal and one of her former students criticized one of Bellesiles's chief critics, obviously James Lindgren, for publishing his critiques in law journals which are not peer reviewed. Disregard the fact that Lindgren is an attorney, not a historian, and that Bellesiles's work had important legal implications.

What is ironic about Heyrman's recommendation that I submit my data about church membership to a peer reviewed journal is, not only were her books probably not subject to peer review, but Heyrman appears not to have published in a peer reviewed journal in over 20 years. She had an article in American Quarterly in 1982. Do as I say; not do as I do.

In an e-mail exchange with the editor of one of the journals in which Heyrman's Southern Cross was criticized, he took friendly exception to my saying that the critical reviews appeared in"obscure places." I replied that, as far as I was concerned, that was a tribute to"obscure places."

We need to think about why both Arming America and Southern Cross appeared to near universal praise in all the prominent places, both the prominent popular press and the prominent professional journals. We need to think about why real, tough criticism of both books initially occurred in"obscure places" and thank God for them. But their very obscurity meant that, by her own account, Heyrman had never heard the criticism until I brought it to her attention. Both Bellesiles and Heyrman, as authors, would have been better served had they received real criticism rather than the usual powder puffs handed out in prominent places.

That brings us to the exciting and unnerving world of the internet and what it could mean for scholarship. It is a remarkably powerful tool, granting both philosophers and fools immediate access – to contribute and to consume. It runs roughshod over the privileges and the safeguards of both peer review and special access. It holds the possibility of elevating obscure places to prominence. One would be foolish to think of that in redemptive terms, but I am reminded of Isaiah's words:

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m.EDT

REPORTS ON IRAN ... 06-21-03

Again, the blogosphere appears to be ahead of other media in reports on the student demonstrations in Iran. But here is the most recent New York Times report by Nazila Fathi. See also: this ABC News Online report. Andrew Sullivan points to Jonathan Curiel's roundup of activity in the blogosphere and Jeff Jarvis is particularly on point at BuzzMachine. Will the Left lift its voice for freedom in Iran?

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT


Thanks to Josh Marshall for the heads up to this New Republic article by John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman,"The Selling of the Iraq War: The First Casualty," and this New York Timesop-ed by Ken Pollack,"Saddam's Bombs."

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT


The Washington Post's Darryl Fears looks at the new and controversial "whiteness studies" programs.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT

Update: On the other hand, Eric Alterman thinks ...


For the latest report on United States' pressure on the military regime in Burma, see this BBC story and these recommendations from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 p.m. EDT


When I asked original reviewers of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross to take a look at my critique of her book, Professor R. Stephen Warner, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago, gave me a sound thrashing:

Mr. Luker -
What on earth prevailed upon you to make a public issue of your criticisms of Heyrman's book, and what, especially, led you to the outrageous extreme of bringing up the Bellesiles affair? Heyrman has thanked you for calling some errors to her attention. The other items in your critique are matters of interpretation and detail, none of which address the thesis of her important book, which you acknowledge is"honest." Are you so hungry for attention that you found it tempting to besmirch the reputation of a distinguished historian? Shame on you.

I replied to him:

Professor Warner,
Thank you for your kind words. I should have thought that a sociologist would appreciate the necessity of accuracy in gathering of data. We historians are in the midst of serious self-scrutiny because we did not ourselves recognize the problems in Michael's book. I think it not unfair to point out that our soft judgments and mutual congratulations over the years led us to that point.
Sincerely yours,
Ralph E. Luker

It isn't clear to me that Professor Warner even bothered to read the article before he dashed off this rebuke. I think the book, on the whole, is honest. I think there are elements of it that are not and other matters that are remarkably careless. Despite his ad hominem attack, Warner's frank words are the sort of hard judgments which we need to hear occasionally. Had he bothered to read my earlier blog entry,"Peer Review/Poor Review," however, he would have understood that I see a connection between graduate school mentorship and the collapse of our peer review processes. Our graduate school maws must have their fodder and we send it out, whether it can write a sentence, count accurately, treat evidence with respect, draw logical connections or not.

Posted by Ralph 12:00 p.m. EDT


Professor Heyrman's answer to my article posted today on History News Network is itself evidence of why I changed my mind and decided to publish the article.

My critique of Heyrman's work is not personal. We have never met. There is much in her book that I admire. My critique of it builds on criticism first made by Kurt Berends, Ann Taves, and others in reviews five years ago. They were published in obscure places, however. Neither Heyrman nor I were aware of Berends's review until a fellow historian called it to my attention, I began looking into related matters, and eventually contacted her about them.

My contact with journalists had nothing to do with specific criticisms of Heyrman's work. It resulted from concerns raised during the controversy over Michael Bellesiles's Arming America about the role of journalists in academic disputes. See: Luker,"Journalists Are Rushing to Judgment About Michael Bellesiles," History News Network, 10 June 2002.

A former president of the American Historical Association urged me to send Heyrman a summary of the argument and evidence in this article, which I did on 30 April 2003. It is not as if this comes as any recent surprise to her. It was only after her responses to my e-mail did not confront the full range of problems in her book for a revised second edition that I decided that I must make the issue public. Five years after Berends and Taves first raised the issues and six weeks after I summarized them for her, Heyrman still gives an inadequate, minimalist concession to her critics. She does that knowing full well, but not telling us, that Knopf's Jane Garrett must approve a revised second edition of the book.

Regarding two matters related to Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis,
a) readers can decide for themselves whether Heyrman's use of ellipses is problematic. I am not the first or the only historian to have told her that it is. In the case of John Early's diary, I believe it is dishonest. It is quite remarkable that the only place in her book where she uses ellipses is in crafting quotations to justify her finding of evidence for Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis among Southern evangelicals.
b) her evidence for evangelical itinerants as"fortune tellers" is John Early's claim that some of his listeners would die before he preached in that place again. (Southern Cross, p. 75) She even points out in the book how weak that statement is as evidence of"fortune telling." Death rates in the South and long spans between an itinerant's visits made his statement something closer to a Jeffersonian self-evident truth than an evangelical prophecy.

Ann Taves's point about Heyrman's definition of the South is abundantly obvious. The question isn't any longer so much what her definition of the South is, but what she would mean by the North. It is a rag-tag of New England, much of New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That's about it. If Peter Cartwright is a Southerner, so is Abraham Lincoln.

Heyrman should tell us which page in her introduction explains that her"main aim in Southern Cross" was"to explore the evolving religious cultures (evangelical and otherwise) of southern whites between the 1740s and the 1830s." If she had said it there, that might diminish my emphases on her failure to adequately represent African Americans in her narrative of how the South became the Bible Belt. As it is, she implicitly undermines the claim about her book's aim by telling us that"the entry for ‘African Americans' in the index runs nearly the length of the column." She doesn't tell us that that column is on the index's first page, roughly a third of which is given to white space. No pun intended, but a different indicator is on the index's last page, which has one entry for African American women and 22 entries and two cross-references for white women.

Gathering data is not Heyrman's strength. Take the example of her refusal to see a problem with the data in her Table V, a tally of Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians by race in 1834 to 1836. Keep in mind, but hold in suspension, the matter of her counting Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in tabulating Southern church membership in those years. Seeing that there were substantial numbers of Cumberland Presbyterians and that they were concentrated in the South, she adds them to the totals given for the Presbyterian Church in the United States (and, of course, counts them all white). But she does not do the comparable thing for Baptists and Methodists.

This is not rocket science. Assume that you were looking at the numbers of automobiles produced in the United States in 1959. You count the number of Chevrolet sedans, Ford sedans, and Plymouth sedans. Then you notice that Plymouth also built a number of convertibles and station wagons that year. So you add those numbers to Plymouth's sedan total, but you don't do the same thing for Chevrolets and Fords. You have numbers that are not comparable. Heyrman's data would begin to approach accuracy if she counted Free Will Baptists, Methodist Protestants, and members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in her totals in Table V. I told her that as long ago as 30 April 2003. As of 14 June, she still doesn't get it.

Finally, even when Heyrman does acknowledge a problem with her data, she does it in a way that minimizes the appearance of its importance. When she adds numbers that total 38,797 and 11,407, but reports them in her book as 31,817 and 8,640, she minimizes the importance of the discrepancy by telling us only the difference that the discrepancy makes as a percentage of the total population. Then she insists that correct addition strengthens her argument! I hope Heyrman does strengthen her argument, but she should do it in a revised second edition of her book. In it, she should quote primary sources accurately, respect the context in which they originally appeared, use comparable data, and check her addition across the board. Then she might have a book worthy of a Bancroft Prize.

Posted by Ralph 1:50 p.m.EDT

KEEP AN EYE ...06-15-03

Keep an eye on Iranian student protests. This could become a very big story.

Posted by Ralph at 3:00 p.m.EDT

THINK ON IT ... 06-15-03

Today, family and I visited Emory’s University’s exhibit which features a mummy which seems likely to be that of Ramses I. Brother Ramses is a grim sight -- remarkably intact -- but a grim sight, nonetheless, 3321 years after his death. Looking on his remains was a reminder to think about one’s own legacy. He was a general who came to the throne as an old man, founded a long line of Egyptian pharoahs by the name of Ramses, and helped to complete the destruction of the Atonist regime of Ikhnaton. Now, Iknaton seems to have been the first important monotheist and conceivably, through Moses, the grandfather of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I had to look the old Ramses I in the eye socket and tell him that I wasn’t sympathetic with his legacy. But looking him in the eye socket reminded me of the words of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher
vanity of vanities! All is vanity
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
*** the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the breath returns to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher;
all is vanity.

Posted by Ralph at 12:30EDT

TOM SPENCER’S RIGHT ... 06-15-03

Josh Marshall has a touching post, in more ways than one.

Posted by Ralph at 11:45EDT


Erin O’Conner is thinking the unthinkable and speaking the unspeakable at Critical Mass. Here is just a snippet:

There is no there there in the academic humanities, and in a very real sense, we are all faking it. We feel like frauds because we really are frauds. In a professional culture as relativistic as ours is, we literally cannot be anything else.

As they say, Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph at 11:15EDT


After recent turmoil at the New York Times, there may be more unsettling news about her historical reputation. The Pulitzer Prize committee has just acknowledged that it is considering the possibility of revoking Walter Duranty’s 1932 prize for his reporting for the Times from Moscow. If anything, it shouldn’t be news and revoking the award seems long overdue.

Arnold Beichman reports in theWeekly Standard that a long campaign to revoke Duranty’s award has finally won the Prize committee’s commitment to an investigation that may lead to revoking it. The Times has just acknowledged yet another 10 articles by Blair appear to have serious problems, but Duranty’s reporting from Moscow makes Blair look like a good candidate for a Pulitzer. By comparison with Duranty’s reports from Moscow, recent admissions by American reporters imbedded in Iran that they under-reported the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime look courageous.

Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) shows that deaths in the Ukraine in the early 1930s rank with Belgian atrocities in the Congo, Turkish and Russian slaughter of the Armenians, Germany’s holocaust, and Cambodia’s “killing fields” among the worst cases of genocide in the twentieth century. He offers this spare record from Fediivka, a village in the Ukrainian province of Poltava: The first family to die was the Rafalyks — father, mother and a child. Later on the Fediy family of five also perished of starvation. Then followed the families of Prokhar Lytvyn (four persons), Fedir Hontowy (three persons), Samson Fediy (three persons). The second child of the latter family was beaten to death on somebody's onion patch. Mykola and Larion Fediy died, followed by Andrew Fediy and his wife; Stefan Fediy; Anton Fediy, his wife and four children (his two other little girls survived); Boris Fediy, his wife and three children: Olanviy Fediy and his wife; Taras Fediy and his wife; Theodore Fesenko; Constantine Fesenko; Melania Fediy; Lawrenty Fediy; Peter Fediy; Eulysis Fediy and his brother Fred; Isidore Fediy, his wife and two children; Ivan Hontowy, his wife and two children; Vasyl Perch, his wife and child; Makar Fediy; Prokip Fesenko: Abraham Fediy; Ivan Skaska, his wife and eight children.

Some of these people were buried in a cemetery plot; others were left lying wherever they died. For instance, Elizabeth Lukashenko died on the meadow; her remains were eaten by ravens. Others were simply dumped into any handy excavation. The remains of Lawrenty Fediy lay on the hearth of his dwelling until devoured by rats. Conquest believes that about 6 million Ukrainian people died of starvation in the early 1930s. We will never know how many there were. Andrew Stuttaford in National Review Online notes that Nikita Khruschev later recalled: “No one was keeping count.”

Duranty’s reporting flatly denied rumors of mass starvation in the Ukraine. “There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be,” he wrote in the Times on 15 November 1931. Two years later, he wrote: “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” He wasn’t duped. He told others in the same period that the Ukraine was “bled white,” that 7 to 10 million people had died of starvation there. His cynicism quoted the cliché: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” In fact, Duranty, Nicholai Lenin, and Julia Child are each occasionally credited with having first said it.

By all accounts, Jayson Blair was a charming young addict. By all accounts, Walter Duranty, the “reporter’s reporter,” was an ugly, vulgar exploiter of men, women, alcohol, and drugs. If you don’t have time to read S. J. Taylor’s Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty, The New York Times Man in Moscow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), look at Mark Y. Herring’s review of it in Contra Mundum.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

Posted by Ralph at 12:00 p.m.EDT

AMUSE YOURSELF ... 06-14-03

Amuse yourself at Donald E. Simanek’s Museum of Perpetual Devices, thanks to theChronicle of Higher Education. Subscription required.

Posted by Ralph at 12:00 EDT

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