Luker Blog Archives: 7-27-03 to 8-27-03

Luker Blog Archives


David Garrow's op-ed, "Betraying the Dream," in the Christian Science Monitor argues that our public celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington are likely to ignore the fact that we have largely evaded its primary objectives.

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT

GENE LYONS ... 08-27-03

Tom Spencer's Thinking It Through publishes Gene Lyons's column for today. Its assessment of the Bush administration and the state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is well worth reading. But, see also Amy Sullivan's commentary, here.

Posted by Ralph 10:30 a.m. EDT

FORTY YEARS LATER ... 08-27-03

Virginia Heffernan has a thoughtful meditation in anticipation of Peter Jenning's commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington. It will air tomorrow night on ABC-TV.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


If you're interested in comparative national data, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber recommends It ranks Luxembourg as the wealthiest nation per capita, Andorra as the country with the greatest longevity, Norway as the best educated, and Denmark as the least corrupt. The top 10 nations in per capita giving in foreign aid are all European."Old Europe" looks pretty good in comparative perspective. On the other hand, at least according to this report, Italy is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Posted by Ralph 8:30 a.m. EDT

ERNEST"Fritz" HOLLINGS ... 08-27-03

There have been some people in American public life whose honesty with us prevented their election to higher office. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was one of them. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina is another.
Unashamedly stolen from the Correspondent's Corner at Eric Alterman's Altercation:
Fritz's Wit:
Name: Dan Riley
Hometown: Vista. CA
My favorite Fritz Hollings moment? Once on Brinkley's old show, Donaldson tried the typical"gotcha" gambit, asking Hollings how he could be buying imported suits when times were so tough on the textile industry in his state. Hollings turned to him and said (I'm paraphrasing, but not by much) I'll tell you what, you don't ask questions about my suits and I won't ask questions about that hairpiece of yours. Eric replies: My recollection is that Sam said to Hollings,"How much did you pay for that suit, senator?" to which the great man responded,"How much did you pay for that rug, Sam?"

Posted by Ralph 7:30 a.m. EDT

Update:Finally, getting it as it was:
From"This Week with David Brinkley," Sept. 16, 1990
Mr. DONALDSON: Senator, you're from the great textile-producing state of South Carolina. Is it true you have a Korean tailor?
Sen. HOLLINGS: Well, I'll tell you the truth. I think I got that suit — this is not the one-
Mr. BRINKLEY: Let's see the label in that one. What is the label in it-
Sen. HOLLINGS: -but the same place right down the street where - if you want to personalize this thing - where did you get that wig, Sam.


Tom Spencer's Thinking It Through:
Iraq is a quagmire, Bush and Cheney lied, and their ratings in the polls are falling. Don't you think so too?

Ralph Luker's Welcome to My World ...:
You must read Andrew Sullivan's brilliant take-down of Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.* (Ooops, forgot. Andrew's on his August vacation, which your contributions paid for. But he'll be back doing his gay but conservative, Bush supporting but fiscal conservative high wires soon. He'll post it when he gets back. Promise!)

David Beito's Liberty and Power:
Alabama Governor Bob Riley's outrageous proposal to increase state income tax levels to make it 44th among the states in per capita taxes rather than 50th threatens to put coercive power in state government hands. These new funds will be used to make University of Alabama students have politically correct thoughts and further inflate their grades.

Judith Apther Klinghofer's Déjà vu:
Help, help! Israel is surrounded by evil, hostile Arabs and Palestinians should go back where they came from.

Jeffrey L. Pasley's Notes of a Left-Wing Cub Scout:
Sorry about the light posting lately. (By the way, What's up with that Cub Scout salute? Is that one or two fingers he's giving us?)

Posted by Ralph 4:30 p.m. EDT

Update:*At least I don't pose as a comedian. These caricatures are about as close as I come to that. For laughs, go here. Which reminds me to tell you that my books are being re-issued as Fox's Social Gospel in Black and White, A Fair and Balanced Historical Dictionary of the Civil Rights Movement, and The Martin Luther O'Reilly Papers.


I keep expecting to give up on Christopher Hitchens, but he keeps showing me why I cannot. His essay for the Times Literary Supplement,"Kennedy the Invalid: In Sickness and By Stealth," tells us yet again why the Kennedy myth is not to be shared by serious minded adults and why Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 is not serious biography.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m.


Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. ... It is [not] the wish of [our] government to impose upon you alien institutions. ... [It is our wish] that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world. ... It is [our] hope that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realized and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals.
-- British General F. S. Maude to the people of Mesopotamia, March 19, 1917

The government of Iraq, and the future of your country, will soon belong to you. ... We will end a brutal regime ... so that Iraqis can live in security. We will respect your great religious traditions, whose principles of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq's future. We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave. Iraq will go forward as a unified, independent, and sovereign nation that has regained a respected place in the world. You are a good and gifted people -- the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity.
-- President George W. Bush to the people of Iraq, April 4, 2003

Comparing British international power early in the 20th century and the American international power early in the 21st century, Niall Ferguson invites us to consider: "Hegemony or Empire?"

Posted by Ralph 2:15 a.m. EDT

IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE ... 08-26-03

Josh Marshall explains why it may not be too late for General Wesley Clark to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Posted by Ralph 12:50 a.m. EDT

FOX NOT APPEALING ... 08-25-03

If you had any doubt about it before now, this confirms that Fox is not appealing.

Posted by Ralph 5:15 p.m. EDT


David J. Garrow reviews William Saleton's new book, Bearing Right: How the Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 p.m. EDT

SELLING THE DREAM ... 08-25-03

Like the ladies of the night down on Auburn Avenue, the King family has been hawking its wares for years. In this latest offering, Sotheby's displays 7,000 documents spread over 20,000 square feet in Manhattan and select clients are invited to negotiate terms of the sale. The documents are on display for the public from 26 August to 8 September at the Manhattan auction house.

Sotheby's created good will with the King family some years ago by placing an estimated value of $30,000,000 on the collection. The family offered the collection to the Library of Congress for $20,000,000 in 1999, but those discussions collapsed when Congress refused to appropriate the money.

There is no question about the legality of what the King family proposes to do. Fortunately, for the public interest, it lost a suit against Boston University 10 years ago which would have returned its vast collection of King documents to the family's control. In that suit, the family argued that King had placed those documents at Boston only for safe keeping in the interim and that they rightfully belonged in Atlanta. Having lost that suit, the estate now says that what it owns rightfully belongs in the highest pockets. This sale of King documents betrays hundreds of good faith donors of civil rights era documents to the archive of the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta by pulling out of it the keystone to its collections. Dismantling the dream of that archive – the largest repository of civil rights era documents in the country – will be a nightmare.

Posted by Ralph at 12:15 a.m. EDT

Update: See also: here and here

THE KNOWN WORLD ... 08-24-03

Do read Jonathan Yardley's review of Edward P. Jones's new novel, The Known World, and then read the book.

Posted by Ralph 4:45 p.m. EDT

HARVARD'S SUMMERS ... 08-23-03

James Traub's long article for the New York Times Magazine on Harvard's President Lawrence Summers is well worth your time.

Posted by Ralph 11:15 a.m. EDT

THE 1950s ... 08-23-03

There are three new entries on the popular culture underside of the 1950s that you ought to read. Paul Krassner's "Slaughtering Cows and Popping Cherries" in the New York Press discusses his early years as the founder of The Realist. Be sure to let me know if you get through the whole piece without your jaw dropping open. Jonathan Yardley's review for the Washington Post of historian Glenn C. Altschuler's new book, All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n Roll Changed America is less graphic and oddly inconclusive. Fred Goodman's review of Alanna Nash's biography, The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley for the New York Times is a more satisfying read about a fascinating showman. If rock ‘n roll were through changing America, Altschuler and Yardley might have been able to give us a final word on it.

Posted by Ralph 6:00 a.m.


The cover story in this issue of the Weakly Standard is Josh Chafetz's critique of the BBC, both for its coverage of the Iraq War and its cost to British taxpayers. Matt Yglesias feels obliged to tell us that he won't be reading the article. Hardly the stuff of great debate! But, nonetheless, Josh responds here. Kevin Drum at Calpundit begins his own critique of Chafetz's piece by telling us that he, Drum, doesn't watch the BBC and Josh responds to that critique here. I hardly know what to make of the frank confessions of ignorance by Drum and Yglesias. If these pro forma self-disclosures are correct, why should one credit the arguments of those who make them. I am reminded of the compulsive pronouncing of an alcoholic faculty colleague some years ago. No matter what issue came up in a faculty meeting, he would be sure to"occupy the time." Once, when he began by saying:"I don't know what I think about this issue ...," another faculty member could no longer restrain himself and broke in with:"Well, sit down then!"

Posted by Ralph 6:00 a.m. EDT

SWEET HOME, ALABAMA ... 08-23-03

Sometimes, a cartoon says it best. Thanks to Richard Jensen of Conservativenet. Apart from the law and the deference to legal authority, it seems to me that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his supporters are guilty of"symbolatry," the undue worship of symbols.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

A TIME TO UNITE ... 08-22-03

David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, has struck the right chord in response to the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq. First, it means that the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq is in trouble. It must rethink and regroup. Secondly, critics of the administration's policy, whether in the international community or in our domestic politics, must not dwell on the administration's mistakes. The United Nations did not encourage the United States to bring us to this place and it has suffered dramatic losses in its efforts to assist the Iraqi people. American critics of administration may rightly say: you misled us into war and you had no adequate plan for or sense of its aftermath. But, finally, American troops and other international forces are in an Iraq which is no longer ruled by Saddam Hussein. The United States and the international community must find a way to help the people of Iraq rebuild an infrastructure and a government which can defend itself from the likelihood of continuing terrorism after American and other international forces are withdrawn.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT


A federal district court judge has dismissed Fox News suit against Al Franken and his publisher, Penguin Group, for trademark infringement. Judge Denny Chinn found the case without merit either factually or legally. Fox may appeal.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT


Now, here's some evidence for those of you who believe that"Alabama Christianity" is an oxymoron. In this case, that would mean a religion of oxen and morons.

Alabama Pastors Feel Political Heat on Tax Plan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama clergy say they understand the moral and theological arguments made by Gov. Bob Riley in his push for tax reform, but many church leaders are wary of talking taxes from the pulpit.

In other words, the brothers of the cloth fear to proclaim of the word of the Lord. As well they might. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
Riley, a Southern Baptist, says Alabamans have a moral duty to overhaul the tax structure to ease the burden on the poor and children. The state must also raise taxes to cover what Riley estimates will be a $675 million deficit next year, the governor says.
Alabama voters will decide the fate of the plan in a referendum Sept. 9.
"This is an issue that is being wrestled with in every church," said the Rev. Dan Nichols, pastor of Walker's Chapel Baptist Church in Fultondale and moderator of the Birmingham Baptist Association, which has 147 member churches."I would think the majority of pastors would find themselves just like me -- being careful."
"I know your works," says John the Revelator:"you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (Revelations 3:15-17)
Many clergy campaigned against a state lottery that was proposed by former Gov. Don Siegelman when he was in office, saying it was immoral. But churches are being more cautious on the tax issue.
The Rev. Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist in Vestavia Hills, with more than 5,000 members, said that although he feels obligated to speak out on moral and ethical issues, he's not taking a public stand on Riley's tax plan. Wood opposed the state lottery.
The Rev. Martin Muller, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood, which also has more than 5,000 members, called the tax issue a hot potato that left him struggling to appear fair to all parishioners.
If these two sorry shepherds speak for Alabama's clergy, the shepherds have suddenly become sheep and oxen. A lottery is to be opposed; tax reform is to be shunned? Forget the fact that most of the churches of colonial New England were actually built by money raised in a lottery. There's a legitimate moral complaint against state lotteries as disproportionately exploiting the hopes of the poor. That exploitation is voluntary, however. The exploitation of Alabama's current income tax structure is obligatory and it taxes the state's poorest citizens at 12% and its wealthiest citizens at 3%. These deceitful morons could even quote the words of Jesus to justify the injustice:"For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have in abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29) The devil's disciple has his favorite passages of scripture.
"I'm in favor of helping the poor, and the church should be in favor of helping the poor," Muller said."The other side says that it's a lot of government waste. Who's going to vote for a tax increase if they think there's not going to be accountability?"
So long as Alabama continues to under-educate its children, spending less per pupil than any other state in the American republic, not expecting them to become anything more than morons, there will be no responsible electorate to demand real accountability.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

JUST IN CASE ... 08-21-03

Just in case you haven't read about the young fellow who scored 1600 on his SAT's, won early admission to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and then blew off his senior year so badly that the University revoked his admission, you can read about the story in the Charlotte Observer and the Durham Herald-Sun and his law suit against the University at Begging To Differ, Cranky Professor, Instapundit, Number 2 Pencil, and The Volokh Conspiracy.

Posted by Ralph 9:30 p.m. EDT

WORTHY OF NOTE ... 08-21-03

If you don't have time to read William Taubman's excellent biography, Khruschev: The Man and His Era, do take the time to read Neal Ascherson's fine review of it for the London Review of Books.
And, while you're browsing in the LRB, if you don't have the time to read three important books in the Orwell revival, do take the time to read Terry Eagleton's excellent essay about George Orwell.
And before thinking about the intellectual godfathers of the Anglo-American left slips away from you, slip over to the Logos Journal for Stanley Aronowitz's essay on C. Wright Mills.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 p.m. EDT


Scott W. Davis, one of the certified candidates for governor in California, has dropped out of the race when it became known (full story costs $) that he is the primary suspect in the 1996 murder of a millionaire near Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia voters want it known in California that we have additional suspects of lesser crimes if you have lower level offices you want to fill by recall.

Posted by Ralph 4:45 p.m. EDT


Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been over-ruled by his 8 fellow justices who have ordered the monument to the Ten Commandments to be moved.

Posted by Ralph 12:35 p.m. EDT

ARIANNA ... 08-21-03

Arianna Huffington is running for governor of California. Her children have moved out of her Brentwood estate and I've taken her off of my blogroll. Susan Estrich has the latest on Arianna. More Arianna Ouch, here.

Posted by Ralph 11:45 a.m. EDT


If you've never shot a 700 pound boar, you may want to read Elliott Minor's story about hunting wild hogs in south Georgia. It's a different world, all right.

Posted by Ralph 5:30 p.m. EDT


A direct confrontation between Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and a Federal District Court order is even closer at hand as the United States Supreme Court has refused to stay the district court order to remove the massive monument to the Ten Commandments from the judicial building in Montgomery. Moore's supporters appear likely to have the opportunity to live up to their promises of civil disobedience.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT

Update: As of 7:30 p.m., sixteen demonstrators at the judicial building in Montgomery had been arrested. Others remained in the building.


Atlantans can take their hands off their wallets and return to life as normal. 5,000 sociologists have just left the city.

Posted by Ralph 4:15 p.m. EDT


Periodically, there are queries about who said:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
It was the German pastor, Martin Niemoller, who said it in 1945.
Cranky Professor is only half serious when he says:"First, they came for the smokers, ... Now, they come for the coffee drinkers ...."

Posted by Ralph 12:15 p.m. EDT


Score one for the libertarians: Britain's Plant Varieties and Seeds Act (1964) has created a lively illicit trade in the finest apple and tomato seed. Read Katy Guest's column, "Forbidden Fruit" in The Independent. Thanks to Instapundit and Samizdata for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 11:15 a.m. EDT

IF YOU THINK ... 08-20-03

If you think that the"Hypocrypha" might be"extra-canonical documents that pretend to be part of the apocrypha but aren't," you'll want to take a look at Randall West's "Theological Terms from the Esoteric Dictionary of Quasi-Spiritual Mistaken Knowledge".

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

"GOD AND WOMEN AT RHODES" ... 08-19-03

On 25 July, I posted the following observation at"Welcome to My World ...:

I come from a generation in which the notion that"the personal is political" has been a touchstone of"insight." A) I'm not sure what it means. B) I don't know that believing it to be true has the liberating effect it was supposed to have. Take the case of Rhodes College's former assistant professor of religion, Carey Walsh. The Memphis Flyer tells the sordid story leading to her being denied tenure and the subsequent lawsuit. Erin O'Connor has additional information. Sorry, Rhodes, but this steamy tale has the smell of truth to it and you've just sent up a mighty stench.

Shortly thereafter, a fellow historian for whom I have enormous respect challenged my concluding sentence about"the smell of truth" and we exchanged several e-mails about our disparate interests in the matter. He teaches at the institution where Carey Walsh's department chairperson earned her doctorate and, from that perspective, questioned my rush to judgment about the guilt of the accused. My interest in the case is more complicated.

Carey Walsh was my next door neighbor 25 years ago and her father was my faculty colleague then. I regarded him as a friend, as well, and was astonished when he played a rather ugly role in the decision to deny me tenure at Allegheny College. So, even though I haven't seen either father or daughter in almost 25 years, I bring some history and some emotion to the reading of this case. Personally, I have to consider what is most important to me: my righteous anger at her father for his betrayal of our friendship or my identification with his daughter for the damage done to a very promising academic career. Neither of those things has any merit or weight in the disposition of the case in Memphis, of course. It is important only to me, but identification beats anger every time.

John Branston at the Memphis Flyer has published a second article about Carey Walsh's law suit against Rhodes College. You can read additional steamy details there. I can say only this: she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Allegheny College; she earned a graduate degree at Yale University; and she completed her graduate studies at the University of Chicago. She had excellent teaching evaluations at Rhodes and she brought two books to the tenure decision. Frankly, at a good liberal arts college, such as Rhodes, it just doesn't get much better than that.

I remember Carey Walsh only as an attractive and talented teenager, but I know this better than I know myself: it is a tragedy and an outrage that departments and institutions willingly hire talented young people and array to themselves the prerogative of destroying their careers. Pared of the sexual allegations, the case reminds me of KC Johnson's struggle for tenure at Brooklyn College. Rhodes, I repeat,"this steamy tale has the smell of truth to it and you've just sent up a mighty stench."

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


It's official: the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The Department of Justice has only now officially acknowledged what others have been reporting for years. The Department of Justice report shows that 5.6 million Americans, 3.7% of our adult population, are or have served time in prison. Currently, .686% of our adult population is in prison. It doesn't get higher than that in any other country in the world: not Russia, not Cuba, not Burma, not Saudi Arabia. It gets higher than that only in some states within the United States. Louisiana and Texas lead the pack with 1.013% and .966% of their adult populations in prison.

The percentages are not evenly distributed within American society. One black male in three is likely to spend some part of his life in prison. A Hispanic male's comparable chances are one in six, but only one white male in seventeen is likely to serve part of his life in prison.

Like most data, these figures are not self-interpreting. Does it mean that America's system of justice is more efficient than that of any other country in the contemporary world? Or does it mean that the United States is more crime-ridden than any other country in the contemporary world? Violent crime seems not to be the cause of our high rate of incarceration.

The numbers come after many years of get-tough policies - and years when violent-crime rates have generally fallen. But to some observers, they point to broader failures in US society, particularly in regard to racial minorities and others who are economically disadvantaged.
If harsh sentencing for nonviolent, drug-related offenses is a major cause of the high rates of incarceration, the rippling effects are substantial. They exaggerate father-absenteeism. They disfranchise citizens in many states. Our prisons become colleges in the culture of crime.

Posted by Ralph 8:30 p.m. EDT


On this 25th anniversary of its publication, Edward Said gives us a new edition of his enormously influential book, Orientalism. So much has happened in the interval. Writing in Atlantic Monthly, Christopher Hitchens argues that Said was ideally placed to interpret East to West and West to East. Said's project, says Hitchens, has failed – not from lack of capacity, but from lack of will.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


For most of human history, the night was a time of darkness. The electrified city created the illusion that life could be lived 24 hours a day. Jeet Heer writes about what happens when the lights go out in the city for Canada's National Post. Reflecting on 17th century London's ban of Halloween and 20th century London's embrace of the blitz's blackout, he tells us that it holds the possibility of communal festivity and of chaos.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


If you loved Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, or John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, or Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts, you'll want to read Garrison Keillor's Love Me. Howard Frank Mosher reviews it for the Washington Post.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


Dale Russakoff's fine article in the Washington Post today on Alabama Governor Bob Riley's crusade to change Alabama's state tax laws clarifies for me why I am neither of the"neoconservative" nor the"libertarian" persuasion. That may seem odd, since I don't even live in Alabama, but the issues at stake there are critical and where you stand on them says a great deal about who you are.

Neoconservatives, says their godfather, Irving Kristol, favor cutting tax rates to stimulate economic growth and, in doing so, they are not deeply interested in the"particularities" of the tax reductions. They would surely be critical of Riley's tax proposals to raise state income tax revenues dramatically. But why not? The state faces a $675 million budget deficit. Riley's proposal will raise more than twice the revenue necessary to meet the deficit. But why not? Even with the passage of Riley's tax reform, Alabama would rise among the states from 50th to only 44th in state and local taxes per capita. The additional funds will increase per pupil public school subsidies in the state which now pays the least per public school pupil of any state in the country.

Neoconservatives, Kristol tells us, are indifferent about the"particularities" of tax reform. But how can a responsible citizen not pay attention in a case like Alabama's, where the current state income tax code is the most regressive in the country? While taxpayers in the highest income tax brackets pay an effective rate of 3% on their incomes and absentee companies which own the state's vast timberlands pay only $1.25 per acre to the state, taxpayers at the lowest levels, down to $4,600 a year for a family of four, are burdened with a 12% rate. The state's Republican Party chairman complains:"this is not a tax increase any longer. This is a massive redistribution of wealth." Get a grip, fellah! Exempting a family of four earning $4,600 a year from state income taxes isn't going to move the undeserving poor into your neighborhood.

But neither am I a libertarian, certain that a minimalist state clears the way for individual and voluntary action to solve our most difficult problems. "Welcome to My World ..." has asked its friend, David Beito, of HNN's libertarian group blog, Liberty and Power, to give us some coverage of the issues in Alabama. Suspicious of Riley's proposals as just another effort to magnify the state, however, my friend at the University of Alabama has only offered complaints that University officials support the reform and telephones in state offices have replaced muzak with promotions of tax reform. A libertarianism with a conscience would give priority to reducing the 12% tax burden on a family of four which earns only $4,600 a year.

In addition to the article in today's Washington Post, I recommend Joyce Appleby's op-ed which appeared on HNN and on-going coverage by A Minority of One and The Right Christians. I suspect that if Riley weren't an evangelical Christian Republican that his reform efforts would be getting the much greater attention they deserve from most of the lefty blogs.

Posted by Ralph 7:00 a.m. EDT


I first encountered the English Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), when I was in seminary and read his remarkable book, St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. You get a preliminary taste of it in this 1932 essay, published in The Spectator before Hodder and Stoughton commissioned Chesterton to do the book. Both Etienne Gilson and I think that it is the very best book on Aquinas, but you should put more stock in Gilson's word for it than mine. In any case, it is the first book about Aquinas that you should read. It is brief and the prose is brilliant. Admiring the book, I was captivated by a report that Chesterton had found himself up against a short deadline. Determined to meet it, said the story, he laid in a supply of alcoholic support, locked himself in his study, and in a single, stupered sitting wrote the first book that you should read about St. Thomas. I could strike a deal with the alcoholic demon if it guaranteed producing such a book.

Zachry Kincaid and Darren Sumner's "Beloved Enemies" directs our attention to G. K. Chesterton's relations with a number of his contemporaries. They were a remarkable crew. Chesterton was fond of some of them with whom he profoundly disagreed. These brief comments by him about some of the more notable ones are intended to tempt you into reading the piece by Kincaid and Sumner:
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
"He is something of a pagan," said Chesterton of Shaw,"and like many other pagans, he is a very fine man." Our public discourse would be immensely richer if we could learn from Chesterton and Shaw, who disagreed with each other about virtually everything imaginable, but remained"beloved enemies."
Rudyard Kipling (1895-1936)
"Mr. Kipling does certainly know the world," Chesterton wrote;"he is a man of the world, with all the narrowness that belongs to those imprisoned in that planet." Chesterton gives us a picture of Kipling as the cosmopolite, a man who traveled everywhere, but was rooted nowhere.
Robert Blatchford (1851-1943)
"Mr. Blatchford's philosophy," Chesterton said of the atheist editor,"will never be endured among sane men." His debates with Blatchford led to Chesterton's important books, Heretics and Orthodoxy.
H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
"He is so often nearly right," says Chesterton of H.G. Wells,"that his movements irritate me like the sight of somebody's hat being perpetually washed up by the sea and never touching the shore." Surely, he had Wells, at least, pegged.
But that gives you a taste of Kincaid and Sumner's piece. You'll enjoy it.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT


Before you say another word about it, read Irving Kristol's essay on "The Neoconservative Persuasion"in the Weekly Standard. As its godfather, Kristol speaks with authority. He thinks of it -- not as a movement -- but as an"intellectual undercurrent" or a"persuasion," in the same sense that historian Marvin Meyers wrote of The Jacksonian Persuasion. It is, he writes,

the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the"American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan.
Neoconservatism, Kristol says, is a conservatism suited to govern a modern democratic state. Its domestic policy advocates cutting tax rates to stimulate economic growth. In doing so, it is not deeply interested in the"particularities" of the tax reductions nor is it so risk averse as more traditional conservatism. It is less fearful of big government than libertarians and strikes alliances with more traditional conservatives on issues like education, church-state relations, and regulation of vice.

In international affairs, says Kristol, it is guided by a series of theses:

First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.

Finally, for a great power, the"national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal.

Kristol is not easily abbreviated. Read the whole thing. Thanks to Josh Chafetz at Oxblog for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT


Bustamante shows surprising strength in the most recent California Field Poll. Although it is well within the poll's margin of error, Bustamante leads Schwarzenegger in the race to succeed Governor Gray Davis, who seems bound to defeat. The poll shows that Republican support for other Republican candidates is clearly cutting into Schwarzenegger's expected strength. This is merely a preliminary indicator that the race may hold yet more surprises.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


The controversy is over the Bush administration's nomination of Daniel Pipes to the board of directors of the United States Institute for Peace. In the first place, it came as a surprise to almost everyone, apparently including Pipes himself. He is, to say the least, controversial for his relentless criticism of what he calls"Islamicism," a form of the religion which he claims is no more than a front for terrorist fanaticism. His occasionally fierce rhetoric did not bring his name immediately to mind when one thought of"peace." Pipes speaks for himself at his website here. Christopher Hitchens made the case against Pipes's nomination in an essay for Slate, here. Charles Krauthammer makes the case for Pipes's nomination in a column for the Washington Post, here. In doing so, Krauthammer accuses Senators Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, Tom Harkin, and James Jeffords, and, by indirection, Hitchens of"McCarthyism."

What caught my attention, however, were the measured words of Eugene Volokh after reading Krauthammer's column. Regular readers of Welcome to My World ... will not be surprised to hear that I have the highest regard for the patriarch of The Volokh Conspiracy. I feel more secure about my opinions when he re-enforces them. When we do not agree, his disagreement gives me pause. After saying that his uninformed"knee-jerk" reaction would be to support Pipes's nomination, Volokh says:

this could become a very interesting political battle, one that echoes -- though largely by proxy -- various other important arguments about fighting Islamo-fascist terror: arguments about racial and religious profiling, about how the Administration should talk about Islam, about the proper level of surveillance of various Islamic religious organizations, and so on. I will likely remain mostly rationally ignorant of the matter. But if Pipes is indeed put before the Senate (and not just appointed as a recess appointment), I think this could produce a fascinating, possibly brutal, and possibly valuable and possibly demagogic debate. My tentative suspicion is that the Bush Administration would benefit politically from this debate, though I express no judgment on whether the debate is likely to advance the Administration's policies.
Volokh's Pipes-like use of the term"islamofascism" irritates me because Arab nationalism has little historical or ideological relationship to European fascism, except the embrace of anti-semitism, and I doubt that it is the primary hallmark of either European fascism or of Arab nationalism. Nonetheless, Volokh's intuition that a Senate debate on Pipes's nomination may be seismic is noteworthy. Read the articles by Hitchens and Krauthammer.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 a.m. EDT

IDI, AMEN ... 08-16-03

Idi Amin has died. See also: here. No comment.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 a.m. EDT


It's been nearly 40 years since Montgomery, Alabama, had its last big dose of civil disobedience and, my, how the loyalties and sympathies have shifted about. Its protagonist this time is not my friend, Michael Thurman, the pastor of Dexter Avenue-King Memorial Baptist Church. It is Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has announced that he will defy a federal district court order to remove a 5,280 pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building in Montgomery. Defenders of certain traditional values will rally to this cause, though they were distinctly missing from the cause then. The American Civil Liberties Union is, now, among Moore's leading opponents. Among the other interesting contrasts is the vocation of the chief protagonist. King was, of course, not an officer of the law and always hesitated to violate a court order. Here, pending an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the chief officer of Alabama's state courts is defying a federal court order. Today's rally in support of Moore brought about 10,000 demonstrators to Montgomery and featured Jerry Falwell and Alan Keyes. Stay tuned.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 a.m. EDT


It's fair and balanced Friday! Here's a growing list of "fair and balanced" blogs.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Jack Shafer over at Slate does a fisking of Newsweek's current feature article on teenage prostitution. Historians need to think about"bogus trendspotting" because, without naming names or pointing fingers, of course, some among us have been known to engage in it. Shafer helpfully directs our attention to Daniel Radosh's piece on "bogus trendspotting", which appeared in GQ several years ago.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Another urban legend bites the dust. The New York Timesgave birth to this one and Jayson Blair wasn't even writing for it then. Thanks to Oxblog for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Balkin has the top ten theories on the cause of the blackout. Thanks to Instapundit for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

Update: Oh heck, forget my feeble efforts. Amy Langfield is all over the blackout related links.


Josh Marshall directs our attention to this remarkable website on the blackouts of 1965 and 1977.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

THIS IS COOL ... 08-14-03

Everyone else in my immediate family is currently in blacked out areas of New York and Pennsylvania, but I won't be doing any coverage of the northeastern blackout. Here is an explanation of how power grids work, but also take a look at this. It is a java applet of the Eastern Interconnect Power Grid. Instructions for navigating around the grid are at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Tom Spencer at Thinking It Through for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 8:30 p.m. EDT

A TALENT FOR TITLES ... 08-14-03

Maybe I'm missing something, but the lawyers seem to have it all over the historians when it comes to colorful titles for scholarly articles. Take the exchange between the distinguished attorneys Laurence Tribe and Nelson Lund on the case of Gore v. Bush. Tribe set it off with:"eroG v. hsuB" which appeared in the Harvard Law Review. Lund replied with"‘Equal Protection, My Ass!' Bush v. Gore and Laurence Tribe's Hall of Mirrors" in Constitutional Commentary. Anyway, you can follow the on-going exchange, with links to the articles themselves, over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


I cite you two examples:

A. There is this. Not quite"Much Ado About Nothing," but it's close. One hopes that it is intended to send a warning signal to genuinely nefarious characters. Otherwise, we've merely entrapped a bankrupt, desperate, and very foolish old man.

B. Then, there is this. I give you the same blurb as Josh Marshall, from whose enterprise I stole it:

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said yesterday US troops would not leave Iraq until they found weapons of mass destruction there.
"We will (find them). I have absolute confidence about that," he told an Asia Society lunch in Sydney - after talks with Australia's Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday.
While the US did not want to remain in Iraq any longer than necessary,"we are not going to leave until we find and destroy Iraq's capability to launch biological, chemical and nuclear weapons," Armitage said.
He said the fact that no weapons had so far emerged was a" chilling" reminder that they were"far too easy to move and far too easy to hide."

Please re-read what you have just read. Am I to understand that we are to celebrate the arrest of desperately bankrupt and foolish old men who we entrap and that we will occupy the land of Eden and of Father Abraham until the Lord comes again?*

Take a memo to that fellow in the White House: I do not want to pay for this and, more importantly, I do not want more of my brothers and sisters dying for this folly.

*My apologies to my Jewish, Muslim, and assorted Bright readers who may be offended by the Christian assumptions here. I'll try to assert them again, but when I do I'll apologize again.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Joan Acocella has a very smart article on interpreting the history of childhood in The New Yorker. Fortunately for us, she frontloads it with a key to unlocking much of modern scholarship."A good deal of our intellectual life in the past half century has been ruled by the following pattern," she writes:

First, a French person, with great brilliance and little regard for standards of evidence, promulgates a theory overturning dearly held beliefs. Second, many academics, especially the young, seize on the theory and run with it, in the process loading it with far more emotional and political freight than the French thinker—who, after all, was just"doing theory"—had in mind. Meanwhile, other scholars indignantly reaffirm the pre-revisionist view, and everyone calls for more research, to decide the question. In the third stage, the research is produced, and it confuses everybody, because it is too particular, too respectful of variation and complexity, to support either the nice old theory or the naughty new one.
Read the whole thing. Along the way, you'll learn a great deal about childhood, to be sure, but also about many other things and, above all, the very process of doing history.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

THEY'D BE FUNNY, IF ... 08-14-03

... they weren't so on target. Eugene Volokh over at The Volokh Conspiracy started it all by posting a Czech joke from the Soviet era. Now, Patrick Belton at Oxblog gives us a selection of The Jokes of Oppression.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Speaking of diversity, our temptation is to speak too glibly of it. Diversity and multiculturism are a de facto reality in contemporary America. The sheer givenness of it inclines us to speak positively of it. Yet, on balance, it seems to me that the weight of other peoples' experience in other times suggests that it is very problematic. Tito's Sarajevo and Kosovo were models of diversity and multiculturalism – until the lid of tyranny came off. And when it did, one had to wonder whether the people of Sarajevo and Kosovo were not better off when they were not free to slaughter each other.

Experience in diversity and multiculturalism is more common in, but not exclusive to the modern world. Maria Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain takes us to an Arab-dominated Spain in which Cordoba and Granada vied with Damascus and Baghdad as centers of Muslim arts and letters. The Arab conquest and the European reconquest of Iberia have pre-occupied our understanding of the period, but Menocal insists that the martial struggle gives us a distorted picture of life in Muslim Spain. Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived and worked together there as"people of the book" and made it a center of intellectual vitality unmatched in contemporary Europe. Were it not for Muslim Spain, the intellectual legacy to us from ancient Greece might have been altogether lost.

Above all, diversity and multiculturalism must rely on a willingness to tolerate irreconcilable differences. Kate Elliot van Liere's more sober review of Menocal's fine book reminds us of the contingencies and limits of toleration in medieval Spain.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 p.m. EDT


It gets a lot of lip service, but diversity and multiculturalism isn't something we do voluntarily. David Brooks helps to keep us honest about that in the current Atlantic Online."I've come to think that it is not useful to try to hammer diversity into every neighborhood and institution in the United States," he writes.

Sure, Augusta National should probably admit women, and university sociology departments should probably hire a conservative or two. It would be nice if all neighborhoods had a good mixture of ethnicities. But human nature being what it is, most places and institutions are going to remain culturally homogeneous.
If you recall the moniacal campaign of Howell Raines's New York Times last year to diversify Augusta National, you get a sense of what a different voice Brooks will bring to the grand dame of American journalism."It's probably better to think about diverse lives, not diverse institutions," he continues.
Human beings, if they are to live well, will have to move through a series of institutions and environments, which may be individually homogeneous but, taken together, will offer diverse experiences. It might also be a good idea to make national service a rite of passage for young people in this country: it would take them out of their narrow neighborhood segment and thrust them in with people unlike themselves. Finally, it's probably important for adults to get out of their own familiar circles. If you live in a coastal, socially liberal neighborhood, maybe you should take out a subscription to The Door, the evangelical humor magazine; or maybe you should visit Branson, Missouri. Maybe you should stop in at a megachurch. Sure, it would be superficial familiarity, but it beats the iron curtains that now separate the nation's various cultural zones.
Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph 7:30 a.m. EDT

FRANKENCISE THIS! ... 08-13-03

Fox Network's law suit and Matt Drudge's publicity drove Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right to the top of the non-fiction best sellers list yesterday. At midnight, depending on whose list you checked, it was either #1 or #2 in nonfiction sales. This is market madness. It should happen to a better book.

You'll notice that"Welcome to My World ..." has become, for the time being, at least,"Welcome to My Fair and Balanced World ...." I'm joining the netsanity to protest Fox's foolish law suit and you should expect to see signs of the protest all over the net. Prepare for Fair and Balanced Friday. Neal Pollack encourages us to stick it to Fox on Friday in every fair and balanced way possible.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

LADY DI PASSES ON ... 08-12-03

No. No. Not that one. I'm talking about Lady Diana Mosley, who has just died at 93. She was born a Mitford and what a fascinating tale that was. Publishers Weekly put it this way:

Born into the ranks of the minor aristocracy and educated at home by eccentric and perennially cash-strapped parents, Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah Mitford hardly seemed the types whose exploits would generate endless fodder for the sensationalist press. But when Diana left her wealthy young husband to take up with and eventually marry Sir Oswald Mosley, infamous leader of British fascism; when Unity became close friends with Adolf Hitler and a proponent of Nazism; when Jessica, a vocal Communist, eloped with a notorious cousin who was also a nephew of Winston Churchill; when Deborah married the Duke of Devonshire; and when both Nancy (Love in a Cold Climate) and Jessica (The American Way of Death) became acclaimed, bestselling authors, the world responded with avid, insatiable and at times alarmingly intrusive curiosity.
What women they were!"All in the family," they lived the madness of the 20th century.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT


As Eric Alterman says,"Just when one was ready to write Christopher off as completely ‘round the bend, he writes a first-rate piece like this one." Christopher Hitchens nails Daniel Pipes.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT

Update (08-14-03): David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy seems to disagree with Hitchens and me.


The Democrats could do worse than nominating an Oxford University Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas for President. This one's even got a military background! His critique of the administration's bungling engagement in Iraq and criticism of its wreckless fiscal policies are noteworthy. Look for General Wesley Clark to enter the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination on or about Labor Day. It's a late start, perhaps too late, but I haven't noticed that there are any other serious candidates yet. (Thanks to Oxblog for the tip).

Posted by Ralph 2:00 p.m. EDT

"FAIR AND BALANCED" ... 08-12-03

All the lefty bloggers seem to be lining up in solidarity with Al Franken in Fox Network's suit over his use of"their" signature slogan,"fair and balanced," on the cover of his book jacket. The publicity has given sales of the book a hefty shot in the arm. The suit doesn't seem to have much merit to me. You'll feel better about the fact that Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh agree with me. I do think someone should sue Franken for posing as a comedian. They haven't pronounced on that issue. Where's the outrage?

Posted by Ralph 1:30 p.m. EDT


Jonathan Shaw has a fascinating article about the building of the pyramids in Harvard Magazine. To begin with, the people who built them weren't slaves ...

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


One difference between David Brooks and me is that his piles become paragraphs."I have a very old-fashioned way of writing," he says.

I carry notebooks around and observe how people behave. I fill up notebooks and lay them out on the floor. Each pile is a paragraph. And I sit and I stream them all together. I have no memory. I have to write everything down. I've never had writer's block. I can't think without writing. I can't think of what I believe in unless I write it down. That's the form my brain takes.
I've got some piles that have resisted taking on the form of paragraphs for years!

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


Why did the title of Michael Young's article remind me of Christine Heyrman's book?

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


Todd Gitlin reviews Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History and Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. His warning to us is ominous:

Today, as Richard Cohen writes, the ruthless Tom DeLay ‘and other Clinton-haters wander the streets of Washington, unscarred, uncensored but, nonetheless, unhinged.' DeLay, who declared that what was at stake in Clinton's impeachment was nothing less than ‘relativism vs. absolute truth,' is not some random crank with a weblog or any old former exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, but the House Majority Leader, the most powerful man in the House of Representatives.
His fellow Texan know-nothing nationalists and oilmen rule not only Washington but as much of the known world as they can (barely) handle. Their vitriol, venom, and victories, Blumenthal knows, are the big story of American politics in the last generation. A journalism that does not know that it happened is clueless. A politics that fails to address it is helpless.
Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


As Mel Gussow and Erin O'Connor remind us," charming" isn't the word that springs to mind when we think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but Paul Auster's new edition of Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa introduces us to more approachable sides of both Hawthorne and Melville.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT

PASSAGES ... 08-11-03

Both her hubby, Bobby Brown, and I missed the public celebration of singer Whitney Houston's 40th birthday in Buckhead Saturday nite/Sunday morning. His excuse was an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest. Mine was, ah, something less dramatic.

On a more sober note, we will miss Gregory Hines. But can't ya just see and hear his elegant dance up those golden stairs?

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


Get a load of this, from Friday's KausFiles:

What's so"ugly" about the recall? There's been nothing very ugly so far. The voters are mad at Davis over legitimate issues.... It may get ugly, especially in the anti-Arnold attack phase, but so far it's clean and highly democratic. There were some nasty whispering campaigns but they haven't seen print.
Kaus's crystal ball's a little cloudy. It's been a weekend in which Matt Drudge published a photograph of one California gubernatorial candidate which involved nudity (my link to it was, properly I suppose, edited by my censors), California Democratic Party spokesman, Bob Mulholland warned the same candidate to expect"real bullets" to be fired at him, and Drudge reports that the Davis camp is conducting a"scorched earth" campaign to locate videotape said to be embarrassing to that candidate. California doesn't have enough water for all the candidates -- let alone all the voters -- to take the shower they'll think they'll need before this is all over. This is the sort of thing that gives Davis his reputation as the state's greatest champion of intimidation and smear since Richard Nixon. Firing Mulholland now might improve Davis's chance of surviving the recall campaign. It's never too late to try to create the appearance of decency.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m.

GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE ... 08-10-03

David Bernstein reflects on whether the notion of being God's Chosen People is a racist one over at The Volokh Conspiracy. So far as I can tell, he's got it about right, though all Christians and Bernstein would do well to re-read Roman's 9-11, in which Paul writes of the Gentiles being"grafted into" the community of faith. Israel is the root stock, Judaism is its present form, and Christianity is a branch of it. Islam, I would argue, is too a branch. What a raucous, quarrelsome family it is.

Posted by Ralph 10:30 p.m. EDT

IT'S WACKY, THAT'S WHAT IT IS ... 08-10-03

The Invisible One has a great post up,"What's a Wiki?" It includes an amusing dialogue of the compulsive self with the less retentive one. When you check out IA's post, you'll discover what a"Wiki" is. It's intended to be the 21st century net's answer to the 18th century book's Encyclopédie and we're all invited to contribute what we know to it. You correct my faux pas and I'll correct your abysmal ignorance!

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT


Laura Miller's "Black Sheep of the Family" tells you all about books by well-known authors that they'd rather you not know about.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT

DO NOT MISS ... 08-10-03

Do not miss Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus's coverage of the administration's stretch of intelligence information and its public rhetoric in the run-up to war in today's Washington Post.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT


The culture wars have left us in need of something like a Vocabulary Protection Act. Threats to verbal species now occur from restrictive speech codes, on the one hand, and from an overuse or overly expansive use of words, on the other hand.

An example of the latter is the infelictous term, "feminazi," a male defense-mechanism against serious and not-so-serious feminist criticism of our sexism. No one seriously meant that real feminists were lineal descendants of Adolf Hitler. Rather, the term was coined to denote a feminist whose argument or action threatened the civil liberties of others. But the culture wars have left too many of us conversing only with people certified to agree with us on the hot button issues. For the rest, there is only the exchange of epithets. I don't often socialize with anyone who might be called a"feminazi." Ann Coulter's Treason is a classic example of our condition: if you don't agree with me, you must be a traitor.

Scanning the net suggests that the word currently most endangered – i. e., deprived of significant meaning by abusive over use – is"fascism" or"fascist." The Rational Anarchist actually offers a "Guide to How To Be a Bootlicking Fascist Pig".

Conservatives should be keenly attuned to the abuse of the word,"fascist." In fisking of a film review at Salon, Eugene Volokh commented on its expansive use in the review:

It doesn't really mean ‘following the views of Mussolini or Franco' or even ‘violating civil liberties.' But what then does it mean? What is the idea or attitude that the highly pejorative term ‘fascist' is now being used to describe, even jokingly (and if it is a joke, it's a joke that's hostile to whatever attitude is being described)? As best I can tell, this attitude is no more and no less than the unabashed use of force in defense of innocent people (whether oneself or others).
Seconding Volokh, Glenn Reynolds observed that the word, fascism,
has so thoroughly lost its original weight that few lefties even considered that Saddam Hussein was literally a Fascist. How could he be a Fascist, after all? -- he was an enemy of America!
Irritated by Reynold's slur, Matt Yglesias objects that most folk on the left fully understood how evil Saddam Hussein was, that he was in no literal sense a fascist, and that, if anything, Mussolini was the lesser evil.

In agreeing with Volokh, Reynolds's own words illustrated the point he was making. This war of words certainly took new life in the term"islamofascism," used by conservative polemicists Richard Horowitz and Daniel Pipes. But conservative abuse of the word doesn't end there. Rush Limbaugh sees"fascism" in Richard Gephardt's presidential platform. John Derbyshire at National Review Online sees a widespread"gay fascism":

Make no mistake about it: there is a serious, strong current of thought out there that believes ANY objection to homosexuality is"hate speech" and ought to be criminalized--or, if it cannot be criminalized, shut down by any means that come to hand. I say again: there are many exceptions, and I thank those readers who, after identifying themselves as homosexual, went on to argue with me in a thoughtful and civilized way. But I now know something I did not know 48 hours ago, or knew only vaguely and imperfectly: gay fascism is real, and strong, and determined. If this Political Correctness cannot be stopped, we are going to lose our freedoms.
Clayton Cramer concurs.

In fairness, Derbyshire does use the word in the more restricted sense that Volokh acknowledges as legitimate:"violating civil liberties." Derbyshire used the word to name a reaction to"hate speech." Still, that use of"fascism" is entirely too expansive. There are plenty of democratic threats to civil liberties that are not in any significant sense"fascist" and there are understandable hostile reactions to verbal attacks on the self. But when Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Dick Gephart, and Andrew Sullivan all get housed under the"fascist" umbrella, it's time to give the word a rest. Like the Mother Hubbard dress of yesterday's modesty, it covers everything and touches on nothing.

Three things may see us through the culture wars and contemporary threats to civil liberties: First, there is a sense of civility. Because I choose not to offend my neighbor, I may choose not to say or do everything that I am free to say and do. Second, there is a sense of humor. I can choose to be amused rather than offended by my neighbor's incivility. Finally, there is the marketplace's way of disciplining those who appear to be incapable of being both civil and free. Over at Oxblog, Patrick Belton gives us a great example of all three of those buffers at work. They are both more effective and less threatening to civil liberties than all the speech codes in all the world.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 p.m.

WHICH CAME FIRST? ... 08-09-03

Which came first: war or civilization? Lawrence Keeley's War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage argues that modern warfare is, relatively speaking, less destructive than primitive warfare. Thanks to Volokh Conspiracy for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 a.m. EDT


Reviewing Peter Constantine's new translation of Nicholas Gogol's Taras Bulba, for Modern Library, J. Bottum says"perhaps the greatest historical novel ever written came from a literature that hardly existed at the moment of the book's composition." Without it, however, there would have been no War and Peace, no A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Gogol's prose epic, Taras Bulba, takes us to a world to which we are inescapably drawn, from which we are inexorably repelled.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 a.m. EDT

WHOA! ... 08-09-03

Check out this report on conflicts of interest on the 9/11 commission. Resignations, please! Thanks to Instapundit for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 7:00 a.m. EDT

AH, DEMOCRACY ... 08-09-03

Jon Mandle and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber have been blogging about the following California scenerio: Governor Gray Davis loses the recall election by a vote of 30% to 70% and Arnold Schwarzenegger wins the gubernatorial races with a 25% plurality of the vote in a huge field of candidates. For background, see: here, here, and here. That wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that a candidate for major office with fewer popular votes was declared the winner by how we provide that they be counted.

Henry Farrell notes that:

Kenneth Arrow's"impossibility theorem" ... indicates that if you make certain reasonable assumptions about people's preferences, no possible voting system (or other means of social choice) can be expected to aggregate people's preferences without distorting them. This suggests, according to the late William Riker, that democracy is bogus. Riker argues that there's no such thing as the"will of the people" - the result of any vote is as much a product of how choices are presented to people as the actual preferences of the electorate. The message is simple - there ain't no such thing as a perfect electoral system.
Farrell compares American presidential campaigns in 1992 and 2000 with the last French presidential election, showing that the means by which we aggregate choice can produce results that seem distasteful or unjust."So does this mean that democracy is a sham?" he asks. His answer appears to be an only slightly encouraging"Maybe not." The whole discussion is well worth reading.

Posted by Ralph 7:00 a.m. EDT

THE PROTOCALS ... 08-08-03

Both Erin O'Connor and Eugene Volokh discuss the use of The Protocals of the Elders of Zion in a class at UC, Berkeley.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT

SIDNEY EXPLAINS ... 08-08-03

Sidney Blumenthal reminds us that the little dagger or asterisk appears next to Ann Coulter's Treason on the New York Times Best Seller List because unnamed right-wing angels have been bulk ordering the book and the bulk orders guarantee its place on the list. (Note to Angels: I've published a couple of better books that you could bulk order at better rates.)

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


Within 24 hours of Arnold Schwarzenegger's joining the race for governor of California, the trash has begun to fly. At Slate, Timothy Noah writes about "Arnold's Nazi Problem." It's only beginning. Governor Gray Davis is fighting for his political life. Ineffective as he may be as governor, Davis is California's most skillful politician at the big smear since Richard Nixon. Arnold is vulnerable at a number of points. This is not going to be pretty.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT

BURMA'S CHILDREN ... 08-08-03

I have, from time to time, joined other bloggers in calling attention to the plight of Burma's Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held in detention by the country military dictators for months now. Today is the 15th anniversary of a military assault which killed thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators and brought the current regime to power there.

In honor of that anniversary, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has just released a thirty-page report, "Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship." AIDS, diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia, and tuberculosis threaten all of Burma's children, 10% of whom die before the age of five. If they survive, an education is free by law, but it is so vastly underfunded that 35% of the country's primary teachers are unqualified and textbooks may be 40 or 50 years old. Once the wealthiest part of southeast Asia, Burma has become so impoverished under the military regime that the"vast majority" of parents must rely on their children to work to support the family. They work in construction and mining and in domestic and military service. According to the report,"the worst forms of child labor ... are present throughout Burma."

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT


A CBS news report on Wednesday evening claimed that"CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret for 40 years." The Vatican directive long hidden in the archives was what an attorney for plaintiffs in the United States called"a blueprint for deception." The CBS report was deceptive in several ways. First, the Worchester Telegram & Gazette and the Boston Herald had received the document and broken the story a week earlier.

Update (08-08-03, 2:30 a.m.): They're still duking it out in New England over who had the story first, but all New England agrees that CBS's claim to having first"uncovered" the story is horse pucky.

More importantly, the story included the attorney's claim that it proves his allegation on behalf of victims in priest-abuse lawsuits:"that the church engaged in a crime – racketeering." It is, he continued,"an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect pedophiles and exactly how to avoid the truth coming out." The report, written in 1962 by Cardinal Ottaviani, focuses on what it calls the"worst crime,""sexual assault committed by a priest" or"attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals." It instructed bishops to pursue these cases"in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone {including the alleged victim) ... is to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office...under the penalty of excommunication." As Clayton Cramer observes, there simply is no smoking gun here. Given the confidentiality of the confessional, it is simply inconceivable that a responsible ecclesiastical authority would have directed otherwise. Even if it were conceivable, does the glaring light of public trial, with its circus atmosphere, give any stronger guarantee of justice being done? As in so many cases, it wasn't the policy, itself, that failed. It was its execution that failed. It failed to take the crime itself with utter and absolute seriousness. Ottaviani, himself, had called it the"worst crime."

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


"Three Tenors Take Bath" (CNN, thanks to Patrick Belton @ Oxblog)

"Former Head of John XXIII Remembered" ("On Campus," thanks to Kieran Healy @ Crooked Timber)

Posted by Ralph 5:30 p.m. EDT


If you've not already read it, do not miss Tibor Fischer's essay on Martin Amis. He has a few words for Christopher Hitchens, too.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune gives the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes a righteous thrashing for his role in the last minute smear of the Episcopalians' Bishop-elect Gene Robinson.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

WINGERS' PICKS ... 08-07-03

Over at the right-wing blog, Right Wing News, they polled righty bloggers for the 20 worst characters in American history. Among the living, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Charles Manson, and Al Sharpton made the list. Among the dead, Lyndon Johnson beat out Richard Nixon who, nonetheless, topped Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lee Harvey Oswald who tied for 17th. And the winner is: the Rosenbergs! Would someone please tell those people that she was innocent? What kind of perverted reading of American history puts Jimmy Carter and Franklin D. Roosevelt on the same list of anything with Charles Manson and Lee Harvey Oswald?

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Alabama Governor Bob Riley's righteous fight for tax reform in a state with the country's most regressive income tax structure has gotten too little attention outside the state. There is this piece at Salon by Philip Rawls and Jeff Paisley has blogged about it here. It would be good to get some insider coverage from a certain Alabama-centric blog that focusses on issues of Liberty and Power. Riley's tax reform efforts have just picked up support from a surprising source: the Christian Coalition.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

CALIFORNIA ... 08-07-03

The crisis will not be contained. Californians will have many candidates and we non-Californians are lining up with good advice. Andrew Sullivan comes out of hibernation to endorse candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger; Eric Alterman endorses candidate Arianna Huffington. No surprises there. Volokh calls the Arnold v. Arianna campaign an"accent-off." It has grown more colorful since Gary Coleman both entered the campaign as a candidate and endorsed his opponent, Schwarzenegger!


For the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Eric Rauchway at Altercation corrects a very misleading piece by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Rauchway easily demonstrates that Gar Alperovitz speaks for no consensus among historians that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was unnecessary. Kristof needs to introduce himself to a broader spectrum of historians before he attempts a summary of their" consensus."

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

YES! ... 08-06-03

Both A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered and Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklintrump both Ann Coulter's Treason and Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History in sales! You can't fool all the market all the time.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


James Taranto at Opinion Journal doubts that Howard Dean's use of blogging will help his candidacy. Money quote:"Blogging, in short, thrives on sarcasm. Politics doesn't." H-m-m-m. I'll have to think about that, but it sounds right.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


The ordination of Bishop-elect Gene Robinson of New Hampshire will end any reason for ecumenical conversation between the Roman Catholic communion and the Episcopal Church in the United States, says Cranky Professor."Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is, apparently,"Holier Than Thou."

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


To England's everlasting credit, it put Lord Jeffrey Archer in jail. Lord Archer was titled nobility, of course, but also deputy chairman of England's Conservative Party, a real establishment character and they put his titled self in the slammer. He drew four years for perjury and" conspiracy to pervert the course of justice." Unless you're really interested in his case, his recently published Prison Diary may not be worth your time, but Francis Wheen's review for the Washington Post is worth it."Archer is sublimely unaware of his own absurdity," she writes.

He seems surprised to discover that jails are full of criminals, many of whom take drugs, and that the food isn't quite up to the standards of his favorite London restaurant. After his first shower, he complains that Belmarsh prison doesn't have"quite the same facilities" as"my apartment on the Albert Embankment."
Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

WESLEY CLARK ... ? 08-06-03

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, here and here, ponders the possibility of a Wesley Clark candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Most sensible folk agree that there's much to dislike about Evelyn Waugh: the racism, the sniveling craving for acceptance and recognition, the hopelessly reactionary cultural politics, and more. Judith Shulevitz and Christopher Caldwell discuss the more difficult and interesting question: what's to be said for Evelyn Waugh?

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Patrick Belton at Oxblog publishes a letter about a journalist from the Ivory Coast and what the conflict there has done to his life. It is a chilling story.

Posted by Ralph 8:15 p.m. EDT


This is a great time of year if you love film reviews that challenge the language of contempt to its limits. There is, for example: Matt Welch's pronouncement on Le Divorce:"... after 120 minutes of this cheerfully destructive narcissism you'll feel like you've swallowed a whole bucket of rat poison." The film of the season that seems to test everyone's skills is Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's Gagli, er, I mean Gigli. I liked the Newark Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty's comment:"Such an utter wreck of a movie you expect to see it lying on its side somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, with a small gang of engineers circling and a wisp of smoke rising from the caboose." Or there's this by Geoff Pevere for the Toronto Star:"It is an exquisitely bad movie: One to be savoured, marvelled over, shared with friends and generally appreciated in a state of awestruck wonder. Gourmet fromage." There's a trove of amusing and devastating reviews of Gigli over at

Posted by Ralph 12:15 p.m. EDT


You'll want to read Jeff Paisley's post at Notes of a Left-Wing Cub Scout on revising the tax code in Alabama. It's good to have Jeff actively posting again.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT


Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has additional observations on conventions of academic professionals as beauty contests. He seems to agree that we fall short of glory.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

LORD, LORD ... 08-05-03

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, appears to have been the first to break the story of the last minute accusations against the Reverend Gene Robinson which have caused the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops to postpone indefinitely a vote on its concurrence in Robinson's ordination as Bishop of New Hampshire. The accusations against him are a charge of unwanted touching by a male resident in Vermont and a tie to website which linked to pornography. In slightly over 3 hours, the gang at Atrios/Eschaton showed that you could move from Barnes's Weekly Standard website to porn"in three easy clicks." Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the healing of the church.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


The"Reverend" Brendan Smith has recreated hundreds of scenes from the Bible in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, i. e., little pieces of snap-together plastic-like material (those are legos, for you laypersons). Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Both David Bernstein and Eugene Volokh have thoughtful posts on the necessity of protecting freedom of speech, particularly as we appear to be entering a new round of the culture wars in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas and the Vatican's declaration of war on gay marriages.

Posted by Ralph 2:45 p.m. EDT

IT'S THE PITS ... 08-04-03

It's the pit of the summer. You know what I mean. The temperatures here in Atlanta have been blessedly mild so far, but reality may set in and we'll get a span of days or weeks so hot and so humid that the mildew chokes the air conditioners and there's no energy left to split open a decent watermelon. My internet compatriates at Moby Lives have taken what they modestly call the"book industry holiday" for August. In high camp, Andrew Sullivan announces that he expects to go through the change of life during his August break. The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Review of Books will publish less regularly but still pretend that someone is working there. It's just that time of year. But the life of the mind never ceases at Welcome To My World ....

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


Speaking of summer reading, Erin O'Connor has a thoughtful post over at Critical Mass on the summer reading controversy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It's reference to a teach-in by an underpaid house and grounds staff at Chapel Hill reminds me that we had the same controversy there 30 years ago. There was a strike. The university took advantage of the strike to reduce the staff. Chapel Hill's reputation for radicalism has always been over-rated.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 p.m. EDT


The Journal of Academic Socialism publishes Chris Bertram's interview with Michael Walzer about life on the Left and just and unjust wars.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 a.m. EDT


Richard Cohen calls our attention to Nelson Algren's rules for life:

Never play cards with any man named 'Doc,' never eat at anyplace called"Mom's' and never, never, no matter what else you do in your whole life, sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.
Sounds like good advice to me.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

IF YOU OWN A FAZIOLI ... 08-03-03

If you own a Fazioli, please contact Sujatri K. Reisinger in New York City immediately. For those of you who don't own a Fazioli, it is a fine Italian built grand piano. Mr. Reisinger is a dealer in fine pianos and is attempting to round up 21 Faziolis for the opening concert at the Winter Garden in New York's financial district. Two pieces to be premiered there are Danielle Lombardi's Sinfonia Numbers 1 and 2 for 21 pianos. Mr. Reisinger believes that he has commitments for 14 pianos already, including three from Boston, four from Virginia, and four and a maybe from Utah. If you own a Fazioli, Mr. Reisinger would love to hear from you.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


Robert Wright reviews Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. It's a grisly tale of murder in the name of religion. Along the way, both Krakauer and Wright meditate on fundamentalisms and violence.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


You didn't learn this in high school Latin class, but Andrew Sullivan wants you to know that the first papal pronouncement on impotence was Pope Sixtus V's 1587 proclamation,"Cum Frequenter." No comment.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

EMERSON ... 08-02-03

Do not miss John Updike's essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson in the current New Yorker. Among its gems is the transcendentalist's advice on good writing:

All writing should be selection in order to drop every dead word. Why do you not save out of your speech or thinking only the vital things—the spirited mot which amused or warmed you when you spoke it—because of its luck & newness. I have just been reading, in this careful book of a most intelligent & learned man, a number of flat conventional words & sentences. If a man would learn to read his own manuscript severely—becoming really a third person, & search only for what interested him, he would blot to purpose—& how every page would gain! Then all the words will be sprightly, & every sentence a surprise.
Here, Emerson was of course exactly right. Taste in good writing changes over time and a twentieth century critic would be likely to say that Emerson's 19th century prolixity invites application of his own advice.

Updike's essay is a collective review of books published in this 200th anniversary of Emerson's birth. Easily the most important of the books reviewed here is Lawrence Buell's biographical Emerson. But it is Emerson, himself, and his message to America that interests Updike's essay. It is the Emerson of"Experience" and"Self-Reliance," who wrote:

We dress our garden, eat our dinners, discuss the household with our wives, and these things make no impression, are forgotten next week; but in the solitude to which every man is always returning, he has a sanity and revelations, which in his passage into new worlds he will carry with him. Never mind the ridicule, never mind the defeat: up again, old heart!
I hear Ralph speaking directly to Ralph. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT

THE SAUDI FACTOR ... 08-02-03

Both Josh Chafetz at Oxblog and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo emphasize the importance of John Judis and Spencer Ackerman's article for The New Republic on the 28 unreleased pages of the congressional inquiry's report on 9/11. If Judis and Ackerman source is correct, those pages link"multiple places" in"high levels of the Saudi government" directly to 9/11's hijackers. If that is correct, it would explain very much, except the administration's relentless focus on Saddam Hussein as a terrorist threat.

Posted by Ralph 11:55 p.m. EDT

TABLES OF ... 08-02-03

Some tables of elements are merely amusing. But a table of condiments is also useful.

Posted by Ralph 11:55 p.m. EDT


Did it take Christopher Hitchens to tell us that Bob Hope wasn't funny?

Posted by Ralph 11:45 p.m. EDT


In September, Christoph Luxenberg will publish his Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur'ansprache. Here is a brief introduction to Muslim origins studies prior to Luxenberg. His is a reading of the origins of the Qu'ran which subjects it to the same historical methods that have churned our reading of biblical texts for the last 150 years. The effects upon Qu'ranic studies are likely to be equally revolutionary. To begin with, Luxenberg will argue that the original language of the Qu'ran was not Arabic, which did not become a written language until 150 years after Muhammad's death. It was, he says, the Syriac dialect of Aramaic. That has the most far-reaching consequences, for the word, Qu'ran, itself thus translates as"lectionary," or the fixed readings of biblical texts for the liturgical year. It becomes possible to think that Muhammad was an Arabic Christian who preaches as the last in a long line of biblical prophets. Needless to say, Luxenberg is a pseudonym adopted by a German linguist. For a fuller explication of Luxenberg's work, see this review. Thanks to Cranky Professor and Clayton Cramer for the tip. Clayton's commentary on this remarkable work, however, is problematic because he insists on reading Muhammad as a corruptor of biblical faith. A more systematically historical reading of the evidence would acknowledge that Muhammad saw himself as utterly faithful to it.

Posted by Ralph l0:00 p.m. EDT


Can you take three hours of Camille Paglia? Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT


Andrew Sullivan explains why proposals to amend the constitution to bar gay marriages is not a conservative act. It risks an extraordinarily divisive amending process to achieve a radical assault on federalism. To the extent that government must be involved in defining marriage at all, real conservatives would want it to encourage stable relationships.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

HNN AT ITS BEST ... 08-01-03

Many historians lurk on History News Network, but avoid the comments below the article because the discussions often either begin or degenerate into uncivilized exchanges. The editor will delete the most offensive of these remarks. But HNN can be a wonderful opportunity for discussions among historians and between historians and an interested public. A good example of HNN at its best is the exchange precipitated by Mary Beth Norton's op-ed in the New York Times. Thomas Fleming responds to it on HNN, 07/28/03. Bernard Weisberger, Michael Green, Ronald Dale Karr, Richard Dyke, Jonathan Dresner, and Joan Gunderson all participate in a very intelligent discussion of the issues at stake. No name calling, no flaming, no ad hominem, no trolling, no vulgarities – just intelligent discussion of the issues. May their tribe increase!

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EDT


I'm not a gambling man, myself, so I may get this metaphor wrong, but I don't recommend playing poker with the Bush administration. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wonders at the astonishing priorities of this administration, when after 9/11, it spends $4,000,000,000 a month in Iraq and proposes to reduce spending on air transportation security. What is the"war on terrorism" about and what is the Department of Homeland Security supposed to do?

Posted by Ralph 1:45 a.m. EDT

SOUTHERN HONOR ... 07-31-03

Paul Robinson's fascinating essay on the subject for The Spectator interprets American aggression abroad in the light of Southern notions of honor. This very smart essay by a former intelligence officer in the British and Canadian armies is informed by a close reading of the work of American historians, James McPherson and Bertram Wyatt-Brown.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

LIVING HISTORY ... 07-31-03

I have been an admirer of Garry Wills published work for almost 30 years. In fact, two of my best articles (scroll down) were about it and were done, frankly, out of a need to exorcize his intellectual influence. So, I've followed his subsequent work with interest, but less closely. But do not miss his review of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History. He is, I think, one of the intellectual treasures of my generation.
But speaking of H. R. Clinton's LH, I note with sadness that last week it fell behind Ann Coulter's Treason for the first time this summer. On a happier note, A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered outsold both of them and Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin was a healthy #4 among non-fiction best sellers.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

IT'S ABOUT TIME ... 07-30-03

Whoever gave the name of the South's favorite meat product to unwanted e-mail did it a disservice. Finally, Hormel steps forward to defend fine eating.

Posted by Ralph 3:15 p.m. EDT


The Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon is closing for two months of renovation. Where will I get a decent sugar shock when I need one?

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT


Following the examples set by other very successful group blogs, Crooked Timber, Oxblog, and The Volokh Conspiracy, David Beito has transformed his blog, History, Liberty, and Power, into a group blog, Liberty and Power by adding five new collaborators. Liberty and Power's initial posts are up and already being noticed.

Posted by Ralph 2:45 p.m. EDT


Right wing accusations of anti-Catholicism are common these days, both in the arts or politics, as if there were a difference between the two. Critics of Mel Gibson's new film on the death of Jesus are being accused of anti-Catholicism. Being Catholic has not protected critics of Bush administration nominees to the federal bench from charges of anti-Catholicism in newspaper ads by a Republican PAC, the Committee for Justice, and a Catholic PAC, Ave Maria List. Apart from the political advantage to be gained by such charges, one of the reasons that they are made is that what it means to be Catholic is in contention these days. It is no longer the fixed reality, the unchanging ground of security, that it once seemed to be.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 p.m. EDT

SOUNDING JEWISH ... 07-30-03

Lewis Ginert, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern language and literature, and Alexander Hartov, associate professor of surgery, at Dartmouth, are gathering recordings of Yiddish humor, Jewish folk songs and spirituals, performances by cantors, and radio programs at the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive. It includes a wide variety of material: Zionist folk songs, a speech by David Ben-Gurion celebrating Israel's independence, a reading of Alice in Wonderland in Hebrew, and children's ballads. Scholars should contact Ginert directly about research access to the collection.

Posted by Ralph 11:30 a.m. EDT

LIBERIA, LIBERIA ... 07-29-03

Jacob Levy at The Volokh Conspiracy has thought through the historical responsibility of the United States to Liberia. He doesn't think that it automatically translates into intervention, but he does clear the debrise of those who have been arguing that Liberia's malaise is no historical responsibility of the United States.

Posted by Ralph 11:45 a.m. EDT


Erin O'Connor over at Critical Mass has compiled the skinny on faculty exemplars across the country. Her spin on it is a bash at advocates of"diversity." These folks are diverse, all right. My take on it would be that some faculty members aren't doing much better at being role models for our youth than some of our athletes or some of our clergy are. Well, if not athletes, clergy, or faculty members, how about librarians as role models? Accoutrements has just introduced its librarian action figure. Push Pearl's button to make"her right arm rise to put a finger in front of her lips in a silent shushing gesture." Thanks to Moby Lives for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 a.m. EDT


Robert Siegel reviews Walter Wagerin's St. Julian, the tale of a medieval saint who murdered his parents.

Posted by Ralph 8:00 a.m. EDT


Who needs Gilbert and Sullivan (that would be Sir Arthur, not Sir Andrew), when we've got Ann Coulter and the Weekly Standard? Thanks to Oxblog for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:15 a.m. EDT


If you were Andrew Sullivan and a) the Vatican just announced an offensive against gay marriages; and b) National Review just endorsed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, what would you do? You would rant, of course. That's what you would do. Being both a gay Catholic and a fiscally conservative supporter of the Bush administration can't be easy. How many high wires must a fellah walk at one time?

Posted by Ralph 8:35 p.m. EDT


This is not going to go down well with my fellow historians. Both Erin O'Connor and Invisible Adjunct have taken notice. Come to think of it, when did the AHA last meet in Atlantic City? Ever been to an AHA convention? Does it look like a beauty contest?

Posted by Ralph 2:45 p.m. EDT

KAZIN ON HOBSBAWM ... 07-28-03

Michael Kazin reviews Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography.

Posted by Ralph 2:15 p.m. EDT


American Episcopalians, meeting in convention beginning on Wednesday, will consider the confirmation of a gay bishop and whether gay unions should be approved by the church. Those issues could divide the world-wide Anglican communion in two.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Melody Herr reviews Mark Pendergast's new book, Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. This fine history of a not so obvious subject runs deeper and is more revealing than you might think.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

PANDERING TO THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR (could make you rich) ... 07-28-03

Anne Applebaum explains why the rumor that Ann Coulter has just received a $3,000,000 advance for her next book are discouraging.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


If you don't love good parody, you may want to check with a local clinic of some sort, but if you do love good parody, you gotta love Gilbert and Sullivan. In 1879, their"Pirates of Penzance" debuted at London's Savoy Theater. One of its great parodies,"I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General," was a send-up of the form-over-function incompetence of the British military's command-by-class system of the day.

W. S. Gilbert's"I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General" opens with these lines:

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

Over the years, Gilbert's"I Am The Very Model Of ..." has, itself, inspired dozens of parodies. Most recently, Doggerelpundit suggests that the form-over-function issues are still with us:

"I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Media-Journalist"
(with thanks in perpetuity to William Schwenck Gilbert)

I am the very model of a modern Media-Journalist,
I‘ve information biased, bogus, banal and paternalist,
I know the talking heads and every bureau puke and oracle
from A-B-C to C-N-N in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with schedules for sabbatical,
I live to write a sentence that's both simple and grammatical,
I'm good at leading questions, and my team puts out a lot o' news,
With many damning facts for which, at times, fact-checking's not in use!
With many damning facts for which, at times, fact-checking's not in use!
With many damning facts for which, at times, fact-checking's not in use!
With many damning facts for which, at times, fact-checking's not, oh not in use!

For the whole thing, go here. Thanks to Photon Courier for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT

#3 DOWN THE PLANK? ... 07-27-03

Will Condolezza Rice be next to accept responsibility for the President's"sixteen little words"? See the Washington Post's story and Josh Marshall's reading of it.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT

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