Luker Blog Archives: 8-28-03 to 9-26-03

Luker Blog Archives

HEYRMAN REDUX ... 09-24-03

Timothy Burke, an assistant professor of history at Swarthmore, has posted on HNN a first rate rejoinder to my critique of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross. It's so good that I don't understand what is wrong with the folk at Swarthmore. Look at his credentials. Give this fellow a promotion. He is a credit to the profession.
[Correction: David Salmanson corrects me about this. Burke is, of course, a fellow blogger and now a tenured associate professor at Swarthmore. I've added his"Easily Distracted" to my blogroll. My link to his credentials is out of date."It is, perhaps, an unintended irony in this discussion which is about evidence and its uses," David says,"that we get this kind of error." I laughed at myself when I read David's post. Thanks to him, I've cleaned up my mess. I'm waiting for Christine to clean up hers.]
Burke expands on a point earlier made by Caroline Ward here that much of my critique of Heyrman is no more than routine debate about matters of interpretation, to which I replied here. I replied to Burke at his original post, but here also for wider circulation. Here is Burke:

I'm somewhat disturbed by this particular criticism by Ralph Luker. Not because its substance is unfair or unjust, but because he chooses to link it to the Bellesiles case in a way that is rhetorically inflammatory but substantively deceptive, a sleight-of-hand ad hominem.

Let me say parenthetically that I admire the way that Bellesiles' critics stuck to their guns and called both Bellesiles himself and the profession to account. That was an important achievement, and they were especially correct that many academics were unprepared to hear the criticism because their political sympathies lay with Bellesiles.

But let's consider what Bellesiles' critics found, or at least what I think they found: they found that there was good reason to think that he'd outright falsified quantitative data. You can always defend an interpretation of textual material, though there are bad interpretations and good ones (and bad-faith interpretations and good-faith interpretations). Making up numbers (or making up texts) is another thing altogether.

As I read Luker's criticism of Heyrman here, much of the substance of it is an attack on the idea of"thesis-driven research". Well, first off, this is an old historiographical chestnut and for many reasons, most of them good, the vast majority of scholarly historians have turned their back on the kind of positivistic sensibility that would see having a thesis before you go into the archives as an intellectual sin.

More to the point, arguments about whether a historian's interpretation of material is in some respects strained or slanted in a particular way are the bread-and-butter of scholarly argument between historians. There's no need for the Sturm und Drang of Luker's critique here: all he's doing is what historians ordinarily do to each other, which is questioning a particular interpretation. No accusation required: this is just good, healthy scholarly argument.

Even the arguments here about numerical data are not about right and wrong, but about the basic difficulties involved in demographic assessments of populations prior to the modern era. Thousands of historians have struggled with those difficulties, and no"social scientist" could waft in on the wings of a dove and somehow do better, I think. In many cases, it's important to make the best guess you can (and to describe how you made your guess): the alternative is to say almost nothing quantitative at all about any period prior to 1850 in the US or Western Europe, and before 1900 in much of the rest of the world. In this respect, some of Luker's criticisms of Heynman's guesses seem fair enough, or at least a valuable debate, but they're not accusations of wrong-doing, or at least they shouldn't be.

This is an over-reach, and a dangerous one, because it muddies the waters about what was wrong with Bellesiles' work. Luker says he has no intent to propose"guilt by association" but this is what it comes close to. If historians are held to have committed unethical behavior for interpreting evidence and for making quantitative guesses from fragmentary data, then scholarly history (and indeed, almost all historical writing) is dead, or reduced to an undead positivistic corpse. Surely that's not what Luker has come to do?

Thinking about Glenda Gilmore's various accusations, my own comments, and Professor Burke's criticism reminds me of what Albany, Georgia's police chief, Laurie Pritchett, said to reporters when a demonstration got unruly. As rocks and bottles rained down on his police officers, Chief Pritchett asked:"Did you see all them nonviolent rocks?"

Let me be clear: Heyrman is not Bellesiles redux. Were there an inquiry, I would testify on her behalf. She should not share Michael's fate: not run out of the country, not run out of the profession, and not run out of her job. Her Bancroft should not be revoked nor her book pulped. I've said repeatedly, there is much that I admire in it, but she should publish a revised second edition of it.

So, why the Sturm und Drang? If Burke is disturbed, I am delighted. We should all be disturbed by having awarded Bancroft Prizes to deeply flawed books. Burke should be disturbed, not because Heyrman is Bellesiles redux, but because Bellesiles is Heyrman reflux. His book was modeled on hers and, as we rushed with praise of hers, so we rushed with praise of his. Unthinking, uncritical praise, except in obscure places.

Given a tip about a finding in an obscure place, I pursued its lead and was, frankly, astonished to find errors of the kind, if not the magnitude, in the teacher's book that recently had so much attention in her student's book. Given my findings, it would have been irresponsible of me not to take note of their relationship. It wasn't just an ordinary student/teacher relationship: same publisher, same editor, same Bancroft. Ultimately, I think, this a lesson both about what we publish and about what and how we teach.

I am happy to learn from Burke that"the vast majority of scholarly historians have turned their back on the kind of positivistic sensibility that would see having a thesis before you go into the archives as an intellectual sin." This is a sophisticated historian speaking, but if we have learned nothing else from the Bellesiles episode, surely it is that his sophistry must be revised. Such sophistry betrayed us. Historians who know what they will find before they look at evidence are simply propagandists. Bellesiles knew what he would find before he looked at the evidence and he shaped it to fit what he knew it would be. We wanted him to be right about that, but he wasn't. We had rewarded Heyrman for reshaping primary sources to say what they did not say, why wouldn't we reward him? We did.

How did Heyrman exemplify that for him? By using ellipses to cause a source to say what it did not originally say. She knew before hand that Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis was provocative. He had found evidence to sustain it for his book. It must be there in all the sources she would consult. Lo, here's one. If I ellipse all the qualifiers, it will say what I want it to."Ralph Luker is an unemployed historian, who has a book which might have won a Pulitzer Prize." can be:"Ralph Luker is an ... historian, who ... won a Pulitzer Prize." I like that. It isn't true. But if I believe it before I go into the archives, I can make it so. I like the aspiration, but all the luck, the labor, and the sorrow, the real agony, are lost in the ellipses. Ultimately, I don't believe that"you can always defend an interpretation of textual material," neither"bad interpretations" nor"bad-faith interpretations." They are fabrications.

If I can ellipse the troubling qualifiers in small, as Heyrman and I just did, why can't I ellipse the troubling qualifiers in large? I can go to the archives with the thesis that no Holocaust occurred in Europe, that no lynchings occurred in the South, and that there were few guns in America before the Civil War. Troubling evidence to the contrary can be reshaped to sustain what I already believe. If you don't respect the hard contours of evidence, then anything can have been true and, however skilled at propaganda, you are no longer a historian.

I am no positivist, but objectivity is the impossible necessity or the necessary impossibility: impossible to achieve in any absolute sense, necessary as a valued goal to constrain fantasy. Empirical data should ground us in what is and was so. They should curb our flights of fancy. What value do they represent otherwise? My criticism of Heyrman's data was on four levels: a) the sources of her data were flawed by exclusions (she should have known that); b) even if you added up the numbers from her sources, as she claimed to have done, they didn't result in the numbers she reported; c) only one of the reasons that they did not is that she used incomparable numbers in some cases; and d) her quantitative errors repeatedly overcounted white folk and undercounted black folk The last quantitative blinder re-enforced a point about her qualitative evidence. I am astonished, given Burke's professional interests, that he so easily excuses work written about the South which still thinks Southern means"White." Michael's numbers feinted in the direction of empiricism. Christine's didn't. They were numerical abstractions, so despite the fact that we knew there were black Presbyerians, she could count all the Presbyterians as white. What's up with that? What is the difference between"a guess" and"making up numbers"? Or, for that matter, what's the difference between ellipsing a text so that it says what it didn't say and making up a text? Christine's"guesses" were poorly informed, but equally insistent ones. Stubborn wrong-headedness is foolish. I'm a witness.

Finally, to return to the"guilt by association" charge, I have linked student to teacher. I see nothing wrong with and much to be learned from doing that. My critics might as fairly link me to my greatest teacher, my rabbi, Will Herberg, the best I've ever known. His mind was encyclopedic, but Will was also a liar. He fabricated every one of the academic degrees he claimed in order to be able to teach. He lied about his age in order not to be forced to retire. Am I Herberg reflux? Please. I am not worthy of mention in the same breath.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT


Bear with me. This takes some backgrounding. Almost a year ago now, my friend the Woodward Professor of History at Yale, Glenda Gilmore, published a Yale Daily Newsop-ed in opposition to American preparations for war in Iraq. Andrew Sullivan picked up a clip from it and gave her the Sontag Award for its predictably leftish remarks. Subsequently, Professor Gilmore curtly responded to Andrew here. The exchanges deteriorated from there. You can find them in Andrew's archives from mid-October 2002.

But Yale's Woodward Professor was taking a pretty heavy beating both on the net and in New Haven. Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass created a new Gilmore Award for"statements by public figures uttered in the same spirit as Glenda Gilmore's nasty ad hominem response to legitimate criticism of her ideas. Off-topic personal attacks, ethnic and gender slurs, and metaphoric accusations of terrorism are the qualities most admired by the judges in this category." In New Haven, the responses to Gilmore's op-ed on the Yale Daily News website were astonishing. Scan through all 297 of them if you wish (they're archived below the op-ed). Actually, that site has been cleaned up at Glenda's insistence after a torrent of vulgar abuse fell on her. Yale's pc filters had failed it. Recall all of the nasty sexist euphemisms you learned in your youth. They were all there at one time. I hadn't seen anything like it since a few students directed their most impressive five and six letter words at me at Antioch. So, I pitched in and defended the dignity of the professorate, Glenda Gilmore's integrity, and her right of free speech.

You can imagine my disappointment this week, then, when I included Yale's Woodward Professor of History among a group of historians to whom I circulated my posting of 17 September (scroll down) about problems in Christine Heyrman's Bancroft Prize winning book, Southern Cross. I'll let Glenda speak for herself:

I have enjoyed our warm emails in the past, and I will not forget that you came to my defense last year. I also read your initial piece that criticized Heyrman's book.
You have brought your concerns to Professor Heyrman and to her publishers, and you have posted them on the internet. By doing so, you have put them in the court of public opinion for consideration as well.
Your email below [simply the 17 September posting] seems neither constructive nor kind. The only thing that I can imagine it will accomplish is to upset Professor Heyrman and increase pressure on her to engage you in some sort of public debate. I don't know her, but since she knows of your criticisms, I'm sure that she is concerned about them and is checking into them.
It feels rude to me to demand that she answer you, and it feels threatening to send a group email to get her to do so. It is up to her to decide if she wants to continue to correspond with you or answer you in a public forum.
All I can do is point out to you that this crosses my boundaries of civility, and that I would appreciate your taking me off this list.

"Kind!""Threatening!""Rude!""Boundaries of Civility!" I'd show you unkind, threatening, rude, and incivility, Glenda, but you demanded that they wipe the"b" words and the"s" words off the YDN's website. If you want to see"unkind" and"rude," look back at the below the belt punches you threw at Andrew Sullivan last October. Surely, you haven't forgotten your own high toned remarks about his immigrant status, the trajectory of his career, and such personal matters. Ad hominem seemed good to you then. I haven't engaged in it. But here's the kicker:"It feels rude to me to demand that she answer you, and it feels threatening to send a group email to get her to do so." That's classical language for:"You are a male who is criticizing the work of a female historian. You had best back off, you sexist, you." Properly arrayed, of course, such language would immunize the work of all female historians from criticism by all male historians. It's the gender card and the best female historians know that it's a cheap shot. Glenda's getting a lot of experience with them.

But there's more than meets the eye going on here. Glenda's at Yale; Christine won her Ph.D. there; and Christine's misuse of ellipses was in order to find evidence in the South for the magic/shaman thesis of Yale's Jon Butler. What's mere fabrication among members of the Yale Club when we're scratching each other's backs? Right? We have to pretend that there's nothing wrong when a Yale Ph.D. goes out to teach and she publishes a Bancroft Prize winning book, which is itself deeply flawed, and her teaching produces a student whose own Bancroft Prize winning book reflects and deepens the flaws in her own. Most sadly, Glenda's e-mail to me lacks any sense that there is anything amiss in our having given our highest honors to deeply flawed work.

So, I answered Yale's Woodward Professor:

Many thanks for this. The honesty of its criticism is what I have always valued in our exchanges.
I attempted such an exchange with Christine. Her concession of error was both the narrowest possible and, itself, misleading. Had I thought that the exchange was an honest one, I would not have published the article or called further attention to it.
As you may know, I am a Southerner and a gentleman. Civility stands fairly high on my scale of values. The recent embarrassments to our profession, however, leave mere civility impotent. Like sincerity, it's a second-rate virtue. It always depends on what one is being civil or sincere about.
My civility twice went to lunch with Michael Bellesiles after his debacle and long after his Emory colleagues had begun to shun him. We had fine repasts, but as soon as grace was said, I told him that I didn't believe him.
I may be wrong, but I think we've a sort of professional crisis on our hands and we will avoid confronting it if we can. It sure is easier to be civil if we do. A little brutal honesty with each other, as yours with me and mine with Christine, is necessary. Her book became no longer just her book when it won the Bancroft.

Rest assured, Glenda: However distinguished the faculty of Yale's history department, and it is distinguished, it has its own responsibility for the embarrassment to the history profession.

Update: Erin O'Connor and David Beito take note of the controversy at Critical Mass and Liberty and Power. Previously, it's been noted by Instapundit, Moby Lives (scroll down), and the Emory Wheel.

Posted by Ralph 11:30 p.m.


H. D. S. Greenaway quotes President Harry S Truman to the effect that:"There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know." How odd that someone so deeply American would have said something so deeply unAmerican. We are enthralled by the new, certain that modernity sweeps all the world inexorably into its camp, and that it's our way or no way. Here are two essays that in quite different ways raise questions about our illusions:

a) In the days before Vatican II, it took Joan of Arc 600 years to win recognition as a saint. Mother Theresa seems likely to win such recognition in little more than 6 years. What's the hurry?

b) Remember the last time the United States tried to modernize the Middle East? H. D. S. Greenaway reviews Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and Middle East Terror. It strikes me as a very important book.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 p.m. EDT

HISTORIAN JOKES ... 09-20-03

HNN's current Grapevine set me in search of historian jokes, where else? Goggle. The results were pretty lame, but here they are:

1) British historian David Irving said Thursday night that Adolph Hitler was unaware of the mass killing of Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
... Irving said that professors float historical claims like a"Goodyear blimp" and are waiting for someone to come along and prick it.
"I AM THAT PRICK," he said.
– The Daily Californian (UC Berkeley student paper), 2/27/89, p. 1,"Holocaust exaggerated, British historian claims"

2) Two historians, one Chinese, one Jewish, are comparing notes.
Says the Chinese historian:"You know, we have the world's oldest culture. It goes back 4,000 years!"
"Sorry, we have that beat," the Jewish historian."Our culture is 5,000 years old!"
The Chinese historian's mouth gapes."Wow! Where did your people eat for 1,000 years?"
– BeliefNet

3)A historian, an engineer and a statistician are duck hunting. A duck rises from the lake. The historian fires first, and shoots 10' over the duck. Then the engineer shoulders the shotgun and shoots 10' under the duck. The statistician exclaimed"got him!".
– Gregory Zarow

4)Then there was the one about the traveling historian and the farmer's daughter ...

A traveling historian whose car has broken down goes to the door of the closest farmhouse. The farmer says,"You can spend the night but you'll have to share a room with my beautiful daughter.""Oh, I don't mind that," exclaims the historian."Just one thing," says the farmer."No funny business.""Oh no sir," says the historian."You can count on me." Just to be safe, the farmer builds a wall of eggs between the two beds in the daughter's room. In the middle of the night, the historian can no longer control himself, busts through the eggs and has his way with the farmer's daughter. They take the rest of the night piecing the eggs back together one by one and rebuilding the wall. The next morning, the farmer goes to his daughter's room and takes a couple eggs to the kitchen to make breakfast. Cracking open the first egg, of course, produces nothing. Cracking open the second egg, likewise. The farmer pokes his head out the window and yells,"OK, which one of you roosters is using a rubber?"
Adapted from Raneboux

Posted by Ralph 1:00 p.m. EDT


How did we get to the electric chair? Maybe you knew this story already, but I didn't. It's really quite remarkable. Maybe it tells us some things about ourselves that we'd rather not know. Anyway, The Economistreviews Mark Essig's new book, Edison & The Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

NEED A DIVERSION ? ... 09-20-03

Had a beastly week? Need a break from serious thought? Try this. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

MOCKING ANDREW ... 09-19-03

If David Brooks is the Left's favorite conservative, Andrew Sullivan has to be the Left's favorite conservative to mock. I'm a fan of both David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan, but I'm afraid that Eric Alterman's got Andrew here:

Bob Hope Award: Andy is"not reassured that [Wesley Clark} has what it takes to wage a war on terror." Well, that changes everything. I mean, Clark is only the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. But Andy, on the other hand, is a Gaycatholictoryredbaitingweblogger. That's definitely more impressive when it comes to knowing how to wage a war. Well, that's that for Clark, I guess. Coming next: Andy is not reassured that Isabel has what it takes to wage a Category 2 hurricane.
As Eric must have very well known, Andrew had already done the coming attraction here. Jack O'Toole and Ted Barlow call Andrew out on this one, too.

A Fair and Balanced Update: Gay, Catholic right-wingers aren't the only ones who thought Isabel was a woz. Josh Marshall thought so, too. Of course, he has more positive things to say about Wesley Clark and that has to count for something.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT

LOTT-TIPPING ... 09-19-03

The balances of opinion about John Lott's credibility seem now to be tipping heavily against him. Northwestern's Jim Lindgren has weighed in with his doubts here. Glenn Reynolds joins him in doubt here. It's time for Clayton Cramer to belly up to the bar. It isn't enough to claim the Lott is credible because you want him to be credible.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 p.m. EDT


On 6 September (scroll down), I lamented that her friends at Oxblog were indisposed because there were rumors that Burma's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi was still in detention and on a hunger strike. Burma authorities disputed the report, but no external observer had recently been allowed to visit her. We can update those reports now. Suu Kyi is still in detention, but Red Cross officials have seen her. She is currently recovering from surgery. Oxblog is blogging again, but it has said little about Burma lately.

Pointing to thisWashington Post op-ed by Vaclav Havel, Arpad Goncz, and Lech Walesa, Havel's The Power of the Powerless, this recent address by and this profile of Havel, Oxblog's Josh Chafetz argues that a Nobel Prize for Vaclav Havel is long overdue. He's right about that. Havel is not in good health. Chafetz summons Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh, Jacob Levy, Daniel Drezner, and the rest of the blogprofessoriate to nominate Havel. Professors in the social sciences, history, philosophy, law, and theology have the right to nominate candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

CAMPBELL'S IS A PIKER ... 09-18-03

There's a lady out in Utah who is suing Campbell's Soup Company because she found a human tooth in her soup bowl. Bad enough, I suppose, but I've seen worse. I was teaching at a residential prep school for African American students in rural Georgia that year. At meals, my faculty colleagues and I were always seated at two tables apart from the students in the dining room. One day for lunch, some of my fellow teachers were unhappy about the fare of white navy beans, corn bread, and collard greens. Hungry enough, however, we determined to eat what we had, until ..., one of my fellow teachers pulled from her navy beans the jaw bone of a cow. It had a whole set of teeth in it. That didn't make the dietician very popular among us.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT

WORD GETS AROUND ... 09-17-03

Four months ago, at the urging of a former president of the American Historical Association, I exchanged e-mail with Christine Heyrman of the University of Delaware's history department about some qualitative and quantitative problems I had found in her book, Southern Cross. Within a month, the exchange convinced me that Heyrman was not interested in correcting its problems, so I published my findings in "Did Another Bancroft Winner Have Trouble Counting?" on History News Network. I noted, in particular, that they were strangely like the problems which had been identified in another Bancroft Prize winning book by her student, Michael Bellesiles's Arming America. Heyrman exercised her option of answering my criticism here.

The exchange won consideration attention with a link from Instapundit. I called it to the attention of Heyrman's publishers at Random House and the University of North Carolina Press, which owns the paperback rights to the book. I also responded to Heyrman's very narrow allowance of problems with the book in posts on"Welcome to My World ..." on 16 June, 18 June, and 22 June, here (scroll down).

Beyond her initial reply, Heyrman would not be drawn into a public discussion of the problems in Southern Cross, so, I gave it a rest, to post about other important things like Okra and Estonian Wife Carrying. On 22 July, however, Moby Lives posted a notice about the controvery. Unfortunately, Moby Lives seems not to archive its back issues, but I took note of its posting the next day, here (scroll down). I called that to the attention of Heyrman's and my publisher at the University of North Carolina Press, as well. Through it all, I noticed that someone from the University of Delaware was keeping a close eye on"Welcome To My World ..." and I welcomed the readership. Now, the Emory Wheel has taken note of the controversy. Really, Christine, all I care about is that you show some real professional pride in your Bancroft Prize winning book. Get Random House and UNC Press committed to a revised edition of it; don't misuse ellipses this time around; use comparable date; and do the additions correctly.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

A GREAT CARTOON ... 09-17-03

A great cartoon can be, at once, deeply offensive and very amusing. I'd say that this one in the Guardian makes that point. Thanks to Atrios for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT


For nearly 130 years, George Sand's remains have been in her family cemetery in the French village of Nohant. Now there is an effort to move them to the Panthéon, a secular mausoleum of the luminaries in Paris. Similarly, the remains of Alexandre Dumas were recently moved from his home in Villers-Cotterets to the Paris mausoleum because he was of mixed race. The villagers in Nohant are resisting the move of Sand's remains because she is buried exactly where she wished to be. No one doubts that Sand and Dumas deserve ranking among the notables, but must their remains be disturbed by the 21st century's multi-cultural issues?

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


Three days ago, I noted that the snarks were circling David Brooks. I thought that the criticism there was petty. No one is immune to a thoughtful critical look, however. In The American Prospect, Todd Gitlin poses some good questions for the Left's favorite conservative.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT

CLARK IN ... 09-16-03

Retired General Wesley Clark will enter the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination tomorrow, according to AP reports.

Posted by Ralph 12:45 p.m. EDT

POSNER ... 09-16-03

Richard Posner is one of those major presences in contemporary American intellectual life. He is an active federal judge, but he is also a prolific author. Apart from his commitments on the bench, he is the author or editor of three or four dozen books. Alan Ryan attempts an assessment of both the man and his latest book, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy, for the New York Times.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


My friend, Allen Brill, over at The Right Christians asks"Does the Republican Party Have a Soul?" It's a good question and we could debate it. As an amateur theologian, I'd disagree with his premise. I don't think the distinction between body and soul is a biblical one, so I don't hold to it. But Allen's not talking about that. He's asking whether the Republican Party has a vision for the country that is worthy of support. As a Republican, I sometimes wonder"Does the Democratic Party Have a Soul?" Does it have a vision for the country that is worthy of support? Yet, Allen's question cuts close to my heart. I've been a Republican and clear of drugs and alcohol for longer than the little man in the White House. I've been a Republican long enough to have voted against Richard Nixon twice in 1968 and against George Bush twice in 2000. Allen surveys the field of potential challengers to the little man's renomination. I'm afraid Allen's whistling"Dixie." It ain't gonna happen.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


John d'Emilio has a new biography out of Bayard Rustin, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. Rustin was a long-time radical and pacifist organizer, whose life was compromised by his homosexuality. Yet, he played a crucial role in the civil rights movement. Some say that he compromised himself in his later years by subordinating his pacifism to an alliance of organized labor and the Democratic Party. In The Nation, Randall Kennedy gives mixed reviews both to Rustin and de'Emilio's new biography of him

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EDT


The AP recommended it; the NY Times ran it; and I'd call it yielding to temptation.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT

BLOGOSPEL ... 09-15-03

If, without one shred of evidence, the people already believe what you want them to believe , why tell them the truth? Vice President Cheney seems to think that way. Paul Wolfowitz may be having second thoughts. A little prophetic truth telling is in order here. John said it in 8:32:"The truth shall make you free." For some blogospel, see: CalPundit's Kevin Drum here and here; David Adesnik at Oxblog; Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memohere and here; and Jim Henley at the art of the insult. Nineteenth century Americans did and the Brits have always done it to a tee. But if its earthy insult Gibson yearns for, Al Sharpton could introduce a few snaps of"The Dozens."

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT

HORRIBLE JESUS ... 09-14-03

Cranky Professor insists on pointing out the "most horrible Jesus of the Week ever." Now that we've got its max under our belts, I promise not to direct your attention to that website again.


Kevin Drum's hosting a very interesting discussion over at CalPundit about whether the Left, civil libertarians, or secular humanists have chosen their issues wisely when it comes to the free expression of religion in the public arena. Be sure and check the comments.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT


Roger Ailes and Atrios support freedom of speech on American campuses when the voice says things with which they agree. It's allowing speech with which you don't agree that's the test.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT


In colorful English slang for The Spectator, Tom Utley reflects on the theft of the"Madonna of the Yarnwinder" from Drumlangrid Castle and forthrightly declares his independence of felt devotion to high culture.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT


David Brooks has published his second column on the Bushes and the Deans in the New York Times. I think it is excellent, but the snarks are circling him. See: David Adesnik at Oxblog, Arthur Silber here and Atrioshere and here.

Posted by Ralph 6:15 p.m. EDT


Timothy Garton Ash's lead article in the New York Review of Books is here. I'd say it is a must read.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


When a person has 2 books with 5 gold stars over at, as I do, what's wrong with my telling you that? What's wrong is when Ted Barlow over at Crooked Timber tells me that 85% of history books at have 4 or 5 gold star ratings! I felt better about myself before I knew that. Thanks, Ted.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

THE GUN WARS ... 09-12-03

Those who followed the discussion of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America on History News Network will know that John Fought and I often, well, fought. In my lesser moments, I even referred to him as"Professor Past Tense." Sorry about that, John. Well, he has put his talents to more deconstructive work and posted the results on his website. It is, to my knowledge, the first extended examination of problems in Bellesiles's article,"The Origins of American Gun Culture in the United States, 1760-1865," which won the Organization of American Historian's Binkley-Stephenson Award for"best article of the year" in its Journal of American History.* Forewarning: do not expect John to mince any words about the professional depravity of any historian, living or dead, who may have failed to see it all in 1996.

*Update (10: a.m.): Before my gun-loving friends send a posse after me, I hasten to add that the first part of this sentence is wrong. Clayton Cramer's"Gun Scarcity in the Early Republic?" which the Journal of American History might have published and from which it should have taken warning five years ago is posted here.

Saul Cornell speaks his mind, again: After seeing this post about Fought's essays, Saul Cornell writes:

In a quick glance at the essay by Fought I noted that it contains a number of errors. Since some of these errors have been repeated on HNN since the start of the Arming America controversy it is time to set the record straight.
Perhaps the most glaring mistake would be the charge that the collective rights view of the Second Amendment is revisionist. Most courts in the 20th century have adopted it, and political scientist Robert Spitzer has shown that it dominated the scholarly literature for most of the last century until the rise of the so called"Standard Model" in the last two decades of the 20th century. While one might describe Bellesiles and others as part of a counter-revisionist wave, the term revisionist is simply wrong. (The Standard Model argues that the individual rights view dominated the 19th century, but this has also been challenged quite effectively.) While one might argue that the Chicago-Kent essays made use of the argument of Arming America, my Constitutional Commentary forum appeared before Arming America. The work of other supporters of the militia based view of the Amendment, including Don Higginbotham, Lawrence Cress, and Richard Morris all pre-date Arming America.
It is true that I did use some of Michael's flawed work on gun laws in my essay. I no longer cite that article and have had to go out and do the research from scratch. Actually, I found that if Michael had been less thesis driven, he might have made a more robust argument in favor of weapons regulation in early American history. (One of many ironies in this mess.) If one analyzed individual rights scholarship with the same level of scrutiny applied to Arming America one would detect a host of errors at least as bad as those made by Arming America. The probate material is obviously in a separate category-- but the selective use of evidence and distortion of the historical record is quite common in individual rights scholarship.
Here is a link to a very lively debate on the Second Amendment and guns which touches on some of these issues.
Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

JOAN DIDION ... 09-12-03

I suppose most people don't know that Joan Didion first broke into print in National Review. Years ago, when I reread its early issues for an article on Garry Wills, I was astonished at the number of future stars who did their apprenticeships there. I'm not a fan of Bill Buckley's, but the fellow sure had good recruiters. Anyway, Joan Didion's get a new memoir out, Where I Was From and Adam Begley has a terrific review of it in the New York Observer


What do you do when you restore an old Southern courthouse? Do you restore authenticity, including the old signs indicating restrooms for" colored men" and" colored women"? Or do you remove those signs in order not to offend? Pampa, Texas, did it first one way and, then, the other. Perhaps it depends on whether you intend the courthouse to be a museum or a functioning courthouse for all the people. But, wait, there is some smart, young historian out there who's about to claim that Pampa, Texas, is trying to hide from its past.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 p.m. EDT


My neighbors in Fayetteville, Georgia, know how to commemorate 11 September. Fayetteville's a small town south of Atlanta, the kind of place the New York Times liked to feature in horror stories during the civil rights era. Last night, Muslims, Christians, and Jews gathered at Fayetteville's Episcopal Church of the Nativity and remembered 11 September together. The blowing of the Jewish shofar opened the service, in which Muslims read from the Quran and Christians sang their hymns. Tell me that could happen in New York. Pray that one day it may happen in Jerusalem. Yet, Fayetteville and this story are so small that I can't even find the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's story about it on-line to give you a link.

Posted by Ralph 3:15 p.m. EDT


After his damaging behavior at the New York Times, it is no surprise that Jason Blair would exploit the unwarranted suffering in his people's history and identify himself with their resistance in a title for his book about his experience: Burning Down My Master's House: My Life and the New York Times. The scandal is that intelligent investors bet a six-figure advance that the market will reward them for underwriting it.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


There never was much about Edward Teller that I admired, but the s. o. b. outlived the author of his New York Times obituary, Walter Sullivan, by seven years. We should all be so fortunate.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 p.m. EDT

LIBERAL PIETIES ... 09-11-03

I like the work of Philip Jenkins, John McGreevy, and Garry Wills. I don't always agree with them or they with each other, but I like their work because they make me think about why I agree or don't agree with them. So, it's especially good when Joann Wypijewski gets them in the same room to examine "Liberal Pieties." Why have we focused so intently on the priesthood's abuse of young boys, when its abuse has been primarily of woman and little girls?

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


What I don't like about democracy is that (a) sometimes my candidate withdraws; and (b) sometimes my side loses. Aren't you glad you don't live in California or Alabama?

Update: Allen's been standing at Armageddon and doing battle for the Lord over at CalPundit, too. Give this man a pulpit! Er, I think he's seizing every one available. Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

JESUS OF THE WEEK ... 09-10-03

With some regularity, our friend over at Cranky Professor recommends touching base with Jesus of the Week. I don't find it addicting, but it's worth a visit or two. There's a Jesus for every taste and distaste.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


For those who don't know,"blurbs" are those recommendations of a book which appear on the back of its jacket, usually from some acknowledged authority. Book blurbing isn't yet the whoresome business or outright fraud that movie blurbing has long been. Steve Almond has a smart op-ed,"A Few Words About Blurbs," at Moby Lives.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT


Ten months ago, after the outside reviewers' panel at Emory University released its report in the case of Michael Bellesiles, the Organization of American Historians announced that the "editorial board of the Journal of American History will consider a commissioned essay or a roundtable to address the ethical issues of this and other recent cases and how much historians rely on trust in practicing their craft."

According to JAH editor Joanne Meyerowitz, the Journal has commissioned"several authors to write short essays on issues of historical ethics, and we intend to publish them in March 2004." The names of the authors have not been released and their essays are still in revision, but Meyerowitz says that the commissioned essays"do not directly address the Bellesiles case." Rather, they"deal more generally with questions of ethics in historical practice."

With respect to the Journal's responsibility for the publication of Bellesiles's prize-winning article in 1996, Meyerowitz says:

The key clue (and perhaps the only clue) to the questionable research in Bellesiles's 1996 JAH essay was in his Table 1. All of our editorial staff (editors, copyeditors, and editorial assistants)--most of whom did not work here in 1996--have reviewed Table 1 and used it as a refresher course of sorts on how to approach, scrutinize, question, and edit quantitative data.
We do, by the way, check footnotes. But no journal can send assistants to archives to check the accuracy of authors' primary research.
Thus, while Bellesiles lost his position in the history department at Emory University and his book, Arming America, was withdraw from sale by his publisher, he continues to hold the Binkley-Stephenson Prize for having published the Journal of American History's"best article of the year" for 1996 and the Journal will apparently take no action to acknowledge the flaws in the article that launched the book.


The poem is by Clive James. Thanks to Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber for the pointer.

Posted by Ralph 9:00 p.m. EDT


I once taught at an institution where the newly hired Dean of Students announced in the campus newspaper that she liked"to stick my tongue in the doughnut hole of life and lick it." Would I kid you about that? As Erin O'Connor says: "You can't make these things up."Hint: the college hides among the pig farms and cornfields of bleak southwestern Ohio. Anyway, Joanna Briscoe speculates about why phallic references and penis jokes liter our daily discourse, while vagina references are thought distasteful or, even, taboo. She reviews Catherine Blackledge's new book, The Story of V: Opening Pandora's Box, which is not yet published in the United States.

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT

REDNECK NATION ... 09-08-03

O.K., so Michael Graham is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. That means that he knows what he's talking about when he describes ORU as" combining the intellectual rigor of a Sunday School picnic with the sound theological theories of a Sunday School séance." He's the author of Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War. He's been a stand-up comic and an advance man for Pat Buchanan. But this guy is a whole lot funnier than Pat. He knows where our icons are hidden and he's ready to give them all a good whack. Best of all The Door, evangelical America's Mad Magazine, has an interview with him.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

A WORD OF ADVICE ... 09-08-03

Do not say foolish things in your next book or in interviews about it. If you do, do not allow the Invisible Adjunct to comment on what you have said. The Invisible One takes Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis apart about her controversial new book, Against Love: A Polemic. (Memo to Welcome Wife: Do not send Invisible Adjunct review copy of next book.)

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EDT


When the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers, decided to send pro-gun writer John Lott on a speaking tour, it asked Ohio State University history Professor Saul Cornell to debate him. Thanks to Deltoid, Tim Lambert's weblog, here's Cornell's reply:

Lott has been accused of research fraud and has lied on a host of other topics related to his research, including his participation in Internet discussions under a false female identity (cyber-cross dressing—very un-Federalist Society if you ask me—can you imagine Publius in drag?) I would gladly debate with any serious academic on this or other topics, but I have a general rule about not sharing the stage with frauds. In fact no serious scholar would even bother with Lott at this moment. He is only being kept afloat because he has never passed a serious tenure review and has jumped around on a series of ideologically funded fellowships. If he were in a regular academic job, he would certainly be the subject of an independent investigation. I would urge you to reconsider the invitation. I could easily suggest a host of more congenial and interesting persons to defend either the individual rights view or concealed carry laws. If Lott comes to town you are apt to make the issue seem silly—just imagine all of the Mary Rosh (Lott's twisted cyber-sister) street antics you would encourage. Do you really want to make the cause of gun rights look just silly? I certainly would not want to encourage this. The decision is up to you, but I think you are making a mistake.

Come on, professor. Stop pulling your punches and tell us what you really think.

Update (09-09-03): In an e-mail, Professor Cornell puts his comments regarding John Lott in this context:

Some context for my quote about Lott might be helpful. As you may be aware I was a friend of Bellesiles and actively supported him until the WMQ forum appeared and I could no longer defend his research. I substantially rewrote a law review article after I saw a draft of the WMQ forum. (There is a note in that essay that talks about the smoke and mirrors in Second Amendment scholarship and cites Arming America as one example.) I never thought the probate material was very revealing about the Second Amendment. I was always an agnostic on that question and thought that the more important research was Michael's Law and History review article. After Robert Churchill demonstrated errors in that article, I abandoned citing it as well. I also introduced Jim Lindgren to Randy Roth early in their research and I still believe it was their joint effort, not Clayton Cramer's more bombastic efforts, that moved the scholarly debate forward. When the Emory report appeared I endorsed its conclusion in the press. Lott and his supporters have demonstrated that they simply do not care about truth or fair play. While there is no excuse for what Michael did, I now believe that many of his critics were politically motivated. If they were not then they should be screaming for an investigation of Lott. Michael signed an amicus brief and a few judges cited his work. Lott has testified across America and has been sent on a paid speaking tour to spread his misinformation. Lott has been given a free ride, while Arming America was held to the highest possible standard of review after publication. Lott should be held to the same high standard. I think you can understand my outrage at the double barrel double standard here. I have no time for people on either side of this debate who violate accepted standards of scholarly practice.

Posted by Ralph 11:45 p.m. EDT

ARMING AMERICA, 2ND EDITION ... 09-07-03 now lists the revised 2nd edition of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America with an October publication date. No announcement of the book's publication is yet available at the website of its publisher, Soft Skull Press. It appears that the 2nd edition of Arming America will include a new preface by Richard Bernstein.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 p.m. EDT


When last I taught"World Civilization," department authorities ordered me not to expect students to read chapters in the mandatory textbooks about southeast Asia, China, and India. If you persist in calling the course"World Civilization," I said, that rules out an awful lot of world civilization. Despite the department's failure of the"truth in advertising" standard, the authorities were right on another level. Southeast Asia, China, and India are real other worlds from our western experience. Not that there's anything wrong with that or with exposing students to other worlds, for that matter. That is, after all, at least one of the things that an education is supposed to be about.

But southeast Asia, China, and India are so alien to our experience that it's difficult to expect students to absorb much from a brief exposure to them in a survey course which also intends to be comprehensive of the western experience. Kingsley in café talk about history, film, and culture gives just a taste of how alien to us Tamil culture really is.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Let's take ‘em in alphabetical order:
1) Alabama: All predictions indicate that Alabama's Governor Bob Riley's push for tax reform in the state will be defeated at the polls on Tuesday by a wide margin. Already, the state's prisons are crowded to double their capacity. Already, manikins are sitting in state patrol cars on Alabama highways to make you think you are being protected. Reports say that the state will follow Kentucky's example and release about 5,000 inmates if the tax reform is defeated. Reports say that the state will not start laying off the manikins until the trooper force is reduced to zero.

Allen Brill at The Right Christians hits the right notes on tax reform in Alabama. David Bernstein's mockery of its plight at The Volokh Conspiracy should not be mistaken. He believes that neither its cumbersome constitution nor its libertarian tax shelter for the rich are models of good government. Alabamians should know when they are being mocked.

2) Burma: The southeast Asian country is so isolated that diplomats are divided on whether Burma's Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is on a hunger strike in protest of her illegal confinement. Consistent with its pandering to Burma's military dictators, spokesmen for Burma's neighbor, Thailand, deny it. Citing reports from its embassy in Rangoon, American State Department officials insist that it is so. International authorities have no certainty because no one has been allowed to see Suu Kyi since a Red Cross visit in July. Unless China, India, and Thailand bring additional pressure to bear on Burma's dictators, there seems little hope of getting relief to the people of Burma.
Just when we have needed them most, the fellows at Oxblog, Suu Kyi's strongest defenders on the net, have been silent.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 p.m. EDT

FREEDOM OF SPEECH ... 09-05-03

If you enjoy seeing two good minds going head to head on a difficult issue, read Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy, Henry Brighouse at Crooked Timber and Volokh, again, at VC. The case involves a professor at the business school at Indiana University who was required to remove anti-gay expressions of opinion from his weblog on the university's server. I'd say: advantage Volokh and freedom of speech. I don't happen to share the professor's opinions, but you simply cannot have free and open debate in an academic community or in the country if only one side of the debate is allowed to express itself.

Update (09-07-03): According to Eugene Volokh (links bloggered; scroll down), Indiana University has reversed its decision and the business school professor may continue to post his views at his weblog on the university's server.

Posted by Ralph 8:45 p.m. EDT


Sotheby's press release about the display of Martin Luther King Papers for sale in New York is remarkably full of interesting details which will intrigue all King scholars.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT

I HAVE A SCHEME ... 09-05-03

Atlanta's Coretta Scott King won the Weekly Scalawag Award presented by the city's alternative newspaper, Creative Loafing. Scott Henry presented the award with the following citation:

You've got to hand it to the widow King: She's discovered how to get someone else to clean out her attic and pay her upward of $30 million for the privilege.
It was announced last week that the"King Collection," a trove of history and scholarship that includes an early draft of 1963's"I Have a Dream" speech and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, would be going on the auction block this fall at Sotheby's in New York.
Certainly, her fondness for full-length fur coats is soon to be indulged in grand style, now that she's selling off one of the 20th-century's most important collections of letters and writings to the highest bidder. That it also happens to be her dead husband's stash of books and papers seems to be her sole rationalization for cashing in big.
The King family has long lived like Atlanta royalty -- posing for photo ops with world leaders, taking up space on the Fulton County Commission as if it were a birth right, lining up for the cameras on every Civil Rights Era anniversary, soaking up second-hand admiration for Dr. King any time they walk into a room.
Meanwhile, of course, they've operated a shabby memorial site that would have benefited from the exhibition of these documents; they've feuded with Park Service officials who wanted to provide a public destination worthy of Dr. King's legacy; they've sued media companies ballsy enough to reprint a speech that King delivered publicly to tens of thousands of listeners; and Mrs. King took Boston University to court, trying to regain papers that Dr. King had given the school before he died -- presumably to peddle them for a quick buck.
And who can forgive the family for treating us all to the embarrassing TV spots in which the image of Dr. King speaking on The Mall was used to hawk cell phones?
Can you pay me now? Good!

Dr. King's admirers elsewhere in the country and the world may be shocked at Atlanta's lack of respect for the King Estate's management of Dr. King's legacy. The city has watched the whole charade closely. For all of its indebtedness to Dr. King personally, Atlanta has long since grown weary of the family's crass exploitation of his memory. Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT

GET A LOAD OF THIS ... 09-04-03

According to Romenesko: the Columbus Dispatch has apologized for having published an op-ed by Ohio State University Professor Tunc Aldemir, whose column included"several substantial passages" written by a lobbyist for a nuclear-energy group."Editors learned that these same passages," said the Dispatch,"had appeared in similar columns attributed to other authors in at least four other newspapers. Clearly, something deceptive was going on."

This isn't just your ordinary"professor plagiarizes" story, however. When asked about the plagiarism, Aldemir blames it on a ghostwriter, who he routinely hires for communicating technical issues to the public. O. K., so there's that. Ghostwriting. It's occasionally necessary. As commonly, in academic life, it's exploited so empty suits can continue to draw their big salaries and claim that they actually do something. But, the ghostwriter plagiarizes. So, is it, as one might expect, a trust betrayed? Not according to Professor Aldemir. He claims that it isn't plagiarism until it exceeds the limit of 150 words! At that rate, my students could claim authorship of half of the Gettysburg Address without penalty. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Oates, call Columbus. You've got a witness. Alex Haley and Stephen Ambrose, come back. All is forgiven. I've got a headache. Get that man out of the classroom.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


Tom Spencer at Thinking It Through refers to the fact that my fellow Atlantan, Dr. Charles Tryon at Georgia Tech, is teaching a course on "Writing to the Moment" or blogging as writing. With no intention of insult, Tryon must have been struck by some form of madness.

Some bloggers actually are good writers. Unlike Tom, I don't think good writing follows ideological lines. Good writers are scattered across the blogeological spectrum. For all the sniping comments about him on the net, Andrew Sullivan is an excellent writer. Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass is a fine writer. Eugene Volokh disproves the theory, to which I generally still hold, that lawyers are incapable of readable prose. Of course, I believe that social scientists should, ipso facto, be barred from any influence whatsoever on undergraduate prose, but the philosophers at Crooked Timber are, generally, remarkably lucid.

Studying blogs is a way to learn to write, however. First, there is the scandalous finding of Rutgers University Professor Donald McCabe that already 40% of college students acknowledge plagiarizing from internet sources. What does that have to do with blogging? I don't think that studying blogging will teach a student to take such pride in the development of her or his own style and thought that plagiarism would be unthinkable. I don't plagiarize because it is unethical, though that is reason enough. I don't plagiarize because no one can say what I intend as well as I can.

But, beyond that, good writing is an exercise in self-editing and revision, revision, revision. It is a huge pain in the neck to read revisions of students' work. I've had colleagues who avoided it at all costs, but it is the only way to teach writing. Blogging doesn't encourage self-editing or revision. Writing to the moment is writing only for the moment. It is unlikely to produce a work of lasting quality. (Ooops. I just looked in the telephone directory. Charles Tryon really is my neighbor. Sorry, Chuck!)

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

ENOUGH, ALREADY! ... 09-04-03

Non-academics may be surprised to learn that the controversy at Brooklyn College over the decision to promote Professor Robert KC Johnson to professor of history with tenure did not end the controversy at the College. Those who subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education know better. Unfortunately, the links to it below will work only for subscribers.

Regular readers of HNN may recall that Johnson earned his own page here and set up his own website about the struggle here. Subsequent to the announcement that Johnson would be promoted and tenured, Scott Smallwood published a cover story in the Chronicle, "Tenure Madness." In turn, it produced seven letters to the editor in the Chronicle on 27 June 2003. Among them, a letter by Brooklyn College Speech professor and chair of the Promotion and Tenure Committee, Timothy Gura, raised new allegations against Johnson's professional reputation. Johnson and his attorney, Robert Rosen, reply in the Chronicle's issue of 5 September 2003 with a demand for a public apology. Really, children: This is unseemly and unprofessional behavior. It damages the reputation of Brooklyn College, its history department, and all parties to the controversy. Just stop it.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


The roof collapsed on the Beautiful Restaurant last Thursday, while I was still worrying about the King family's plan to sell Martin Luther King's papers (here, here and here.) Some folks think the fall of the Beautiful roof doesn't mean a thing. Weakened by fire and burdened by a storm's rainfall, it just collapsed. Others, however, see in it signs and wonders. Let me explain.

The Beautiful Restaurant was a store front restaurant in a little strip mall on Auburn Avenue, just across Jackson Street from Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church. I've eaten there many times. The oxtails were the best I've ever had. Rightly seasoned and braised in their own brown gravy for hours, the naturally tough meat yields to the cooks' demand and becomes the best eating you can imagine. Served with potatoes, carrots, and onions, they call for a couple of hours of rest thereafter, just to sleep with the memory of a fine repast. I didn't try the Beautiful's pig ears. As a spam lover, I've probably eaten as many bits of ear as Mike Tyson, but in their unadulterated form the little pink tents on a plate didn't appeal to me. The turnip greens, corn on the cob, and mac and cheese were good, but you had to love oxtails to enjoy the Beautiful at its best.

A fire closed the Beautiful Restaurant three years ago, but its owners were still renovating it Thursday. Veterans of the civil rights movement had just ended their celebration of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington at the King Center plaza, when the Lord opened the heavens over Atlanta and poured a flood on all of us. That flood left its mark only at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street, however, when the roof fell in at the Beautiful Restaurant. I'll have to wait a bit longer to enjoy those oxtails again for sure, but for us evangelicals the Lord sometimes works in a mysterious way to get our attention.

My favorite example of our reasoning is an old story of Georgia politics. In 1946, Eugene Talmadge won the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. He was a race-baiting politician who fought to maintain Jim Crow in all its forms. After Talmadge won the pro forma general election, Georgia's Afro-Baptists called for a day of fasting and prayer before he was to take office. Well, three weeks before his inauguration, Talmadge died. For a lot of folk, death is a natural event, but many black Georgians believed that the Lord had intervened in history once again. Even so sophisticated an evangelical as Benjamin Mays thought that God had simply taken Gene Talmadge home before he could do any more damage.

Now, there are problems with evangelical logic. Undoubtedly, some white folk didn't see God's overruling justice in taking out Eugene Talmadge. So, what is the criterion in evangelical logic for when a natural event may rightly be called divine intervention? Well, the biblical criterion for it would be that God intervenes in what may appear to be a natural event when the covenant is violated. In a bush that appeared to burn but was not consumed, He appeared to Moses to establish the covenant. He fulfilled his promise by sweeping back the waters to allow His people to pass through to safety and by raining manna on His people when there was no food. According to the prophets, when His people violated the terms of that covenant, God allowed their re-enslavement in Babylon as a chastisement. Gene Talmadge had often shown his unwillingness to keep his obligation, his covenant, to equally protect the citizens of Georgia in political office, so the Lord simply took him out.

So, when I heard that the roof fell in at the Beautiful Restaurant just as Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, and the whole Atlanta civil rights family were leaving the memorial service on Auburn Avenue, I was reminded of the covenant Mrs. King and her family is breaking with all those who in good faith helped her to create the country's most important archive of the civil rights movement. The Lord warned Noah with a flood. A rainbow sealed His promise that he wouldn't do that again. But if we continue to violate the covenant, He said it would be the fire next time. When the roof fell in at the Beautiful Restaurant, I heard the Lord open up the heavens and declare: "CO-RETTA, DON'T SELL THEM PAPERS!" And, I saw a rainbow comin' on.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

TEN MONTHS LATER ... 09-01-03

Ten months ago, responding to the report of Emory University's panel of outside reviewers in the case of Michael Bellesiles, the Organization of American Historians announced that:"The editorial board of the Journal of American History will consider a commissioned essay or a roundtable to address the ethical issues of this and other recent cases and how much historians rely on trust in practicing their craft." As of this date, the editorial board of the JAH has given no indication, to borrow the language of Watergate, of what it intends to do or when it intends to do it.
Sure, the JAH is a big, lumbering elephant which intends to publish for the ages, not for the moment, but after publishing Bellesiles's article on guns in early America in 1996, it has been embarrassed by the more aggressive inquiries of amateurs, of gun enthusiasts, of legal scholars, of journalists, of historians working outside OAH frameworks, and of the William and Mary Quarterly. Can our lumbering elephant finally assume some responsibility or tell us how it will assume some responsibility for what it hath wrought?

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT

I'M RECOMMENDING ... 09-01-03

I'm recommending that you read Allen Brill's piece at The Right Christians on Ann Coulter's apostacy and Kieran Healey's piece at Crooked Timber on"Kinds of Quagmires." Kieran's also got an amusing post up on Getting a Fake Lifestyle Trends, which is a less serious side of the"bogus trendspotting" which Jack Shafer and Daniel Radosh discuss.

Posted by Ralph 11:55 a.m. EDT

V. S. NAIPAL ... 09-01-03

British letters today benefits from what is sometimes called"the revenge of the empire." Much of the rebirth of England letters is the work of people of color who resettled in England from the far reaches of the old empire. Among the most prominent examples, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, and V. S. Naipal represent, as well, their vast diversity. They and dozens of less well known writers are the cutting edge of post-colonial literature. Writing in the National Post, Chris Foran sketches this portrait of the Nobel Prize winning writer, V. S. Naipal.

Posted by Ralph 12:45 a.m. EDT


I have posted earlier about the persistence of slavery in many parts of the world. On this Labor Day, there is reason to celebration this report of the liberation of 1,000 of Brazil's estimated 25,000 people who are enslaved.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

WHY AMERICA SLEPT ... 08-31-03

You will want to read this piece from Time's issue for 8 September. In rare show of agreement about what is important, both Atrios (links bloggered; scroll down to 8-31-03, 12:27 p.m.) and Instapundit are quoting from it. The article draws upon the work of lawyer/journalist Gerald Posner in his new book, Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11.

Here is the piece of the article which is catching everyone's attention: Posner elaborates in startling detail how U.S. interrogators used drugs—an unnamed"quick-on, quick-off" painkiller and Sodium Pentothal, the old movie truth serum—in a chemical version of reward and punishment to make Zubaydah talk. When questioning stalled, according to Posner, cia men flew Zubaydah to an Afghan complex fitted out as a fake Saudi jail chamber, where"two Arab-Americans, now with Special Forces," pretending to be Saudi inquisitors, used drugs and threats to scare him into more confessions.
Yet when Zubaydah was confronted by the false Saudis, writes Posner,"his reaction was not fear, but utter relief." Happy to see them, he reeled off telephone numbers for a senior member of the royal family who would, said Zubaydah,"tell you what to do." The man at the other end would be Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a Westernized nephew of King Fahd's and a publisher better known as a racehorse owner. His horse War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby in 2002. To the amazement of the U.S., the numbers proved valid. When the fake inquisitors accused Zubaydah of lying, he responded with a 10-minute monologue laying out the Saudi-Pakistani-bin Laden triangle.
Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden"personally" told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high-ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (isi), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was"blessed by the Saudis."
Zubaydah said he attended a third meeting in Kandahar in 1998 with Turki, senior isi agents and Taliban officials. There Turki promised, writes Posner, that"more Saudi aid would flow to the Taliban, and the Saudis would never ask for bin Laden's extradition, so long as al-Qaeda kept its long-standing promise to direct fundamentalism away from the kingdom." In Posner's stark judgment, the Saudis"effectively had (bin Laden) on their payroll since the start of the decade." Zubaydah told the interrogators that the Saudis regularly sent the funds through three royal-prince intermediaries he named.
The last eight paragraphs of the book set up a final startling development. Those three Saudi princes all perished within days of one another. On July 22, 2002, Prince Ahmed was felled by a heart attack at age 43. One day later Prince Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud, 41, was killed in what was called a high-speed car accident. The last member of the trio, Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, officially"died of thirst" while traveling east of Riyadh one week later. And seven months after that, Mushaf Ali Mir, by then Pakistan's Air Marshal, perished in a plane crash in clear weather over the unruly North-West Frontier province, along with his wife and closest confidants.
Without charging any skulduggery (Posner told TIME they"may in fact be coincidences"), the author notes that these deaths occurred after cia officials passed along Zubaydah's accusations to Riyadh and Islamabad. Washington, reports Posner, was shocked when Zubaydah claimed that"9/11 changed nothing" about the clandestine marriage of terrorism and Saudi and Pakistani interests,"because both Prince Ahmed and Mir knew that an attack was scheduled for American soil on that day." They couldn't stop it or warn the U.S. in advance, Zubaydah said, because they didn't know what or where the attack would be. And they couldn't turn on bin Laden afterward because he could expose their prior knowledge. Both capitals swiftly assured Washington that"they had thoroughly investigated the claims and they were false and malicious." The Bush Administration, writes Posner, decided that" creating an international incident and straining relations with those regional allies when they were critical to the war in Afghanistan and the buildup for possible war with Iraq, was out of the question."

Posner's previous books on the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., have been controversial, but I find him to be a careful researcher, as well as a fine writer. Giving his King assassination book a positive review in the Journal of American History is the only time in my career when I have been severely attacked for writing a positive review. With a title that must consciously invoke memory of John F. Kennedy's Why England Slept, Why America Slept is likely to hold our attention for some weeks ahead.

Posted by Ralph 4:15 p.m. EDT


A wise and discerning reader over at Calpundit says:

On a related subject, Ralph E. Luker has an interesting blog on the History News Network and I'm under the impression he had an ugly denial of tenure spat decades ago because he was a conservative. Does anyone know what the backstory is on him? Compared to the GOP of Bush, DeLay and Santorum, Luker seems quite moderate to me. I'd just like to know what happened to him -- I like his blog. Posted by: Jim E. at August 20, 2003 06:28 PM
Posted by Ralph 9:00 a.m. EDT


So I'm doing my little evangelical Christian historian's act, innocently dishing up some truth and justice, occasionally proclaiming the Word of the Lord, and I'm suddenly jumped, over at Liberty and Powerby – not one, but – two Libertarians. But, stand back, no need to come to my aid. It takes more than two Libertarians to mug a normal evangelical Christian historian. Too much Liberty; not enough Power.

First, my friend David Beito complains about how I have cast the terms of the debate on tax reform in Alabama. Now, for a fellow who, so far as I can tell, has spent virtually the whole of his adult life with both of his feet firmly planted in the public trough, David is surprisingly determined that its supply of swill shall be limited. Give the man credit: chalk it up to a sincerity of belief. But, as Robert Shaw observed,"sincerity is a second rate virtue" because the real issue is always whether what one is sincere about is worthy of sincerity. And the minimalist state is not. If it were, we should want to dismantle Beito's University of Alabama yesterday. There are those who believe that dismantling the University of Alabama would be a service to the whole state anyway, but they make their case on grounds other than a minimalist state.
But, seriously, look at the slight of hand tricks that Beito offers up as argument: we are to be horrified that Governor Bob Riley's plan calls for a 20% state income tax increase. Put that in the context of the fact that a) Alabama has a serious shortfall in revenues; and b) Alabama stands at the very bottom of all 50 states in per capita taxation. Suddenly, that awful 20% figure seems less forbidding. Put it in the context of the fact that Riley's plan would reform a current state income tax structure that taxes the state's wealthiest at 3% and its poorest – right down to a family of four earning $4,600 a year – at 12%, and suddenly justice would seem to demand not only implementing the reform. Real justice would make it retroactive!
Yes, Beito is defending the status quo: Alabama as it now is. It is a Libertarian's tax haven, but only for the wealthiest of its citizens. Its public schools (including the University of Alabama) are underfunded and its citizens will continue to be undereducated until its tax system is reformed.

Second, Beito's colleague at Liberty and Power, Keith Halderman, tackles an article about the reform struggle, Frances Wilkerson's "Divine Right: From the belly of the southern conservative beast, a small group of Christians set out to change the way the pious think about politics,"The American Prospect Online, August 28, 2003, which I recommend. Now, I want to give the same Christian benefit of doubt to Brother Halderman that I gave David Beito. Halderman, too, may be sincere, but as Oscar Wilde said"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal." Surely, Haldeman doesn't believe the ideologically driven-madness he has written. Perhaps when he wrote this he was smoking some of that good Southern hemp whose marketing and prohibition he studies.
Halderman suggests that the work of tax reformer Susan Pace Hamil is somehow tainted by the fact that she once worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Why, that's, that's no more a respectable argument than my innuendo about Beito and Halderman! More to the point, Halderman suggests that tax reform reaches beyond itself as tax increase and that it will diminish rather than enhance the lives of impoverished Alabamians. My Libertarian friends offer no proposal for implementing the reform of Alabama's state income tax structure which they apparently concede needs doing. They are right to examine closely where Governor Riley's proposal would direct new revenues it would raise above and beyond those necessary to close the current budget deficit. But if Halderman really believes that these reforms will further curtail the freedom of Alabama's poor folk, he is fuller of ideological folly and sincerity than Oscar Wilde could have imagined.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

THE presidentiaL ... WORD ... 08-30-03

Speaking of lies and the lying liars who tell them (so, sue me, al franken), the Washington Monthly offers you a selection of lies told by Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush in "The Mendacity Index". Its panel of experts rated each lie on a scale of 1 (least) to 5 (most) seriousness. You'll be surprised at whose lies they rated least serious. Over at BeliefNet, you are offered an opportunity to evaluate the deceptions for yourself, creating your own ranking of our last four presidents on their mendacity.

Posted by Ralph 11:15 p.m. EDT

HAVE YOU NOTICED ...? 08-30-03

Have you noticed that an unnamed official in Iraq tells an AP reporter that the four men arrested for the bombing at the Najaf shrine are all linked to Al Quaeda without offering one shred of evidence and intelligent commentators in the west, including MSNBC, David Adesnik at Oxblog and Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit pick up the meme as evidence of a Ba'athist/Al Quaeda alliance. All this, without one shred of evidence offered to substantiate it. There is only the predisposition to want to believe it. Uncritical acceptance of the assertions by authorities, anonymous and otherwise, brought is to this point. When do we start demanding evidence? Tacitus rightly insists that we sift through evidence before accepting assurance without it.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT


Take a moment over Labor Day Weekend to read about the issues in the struggle for tax reform in Alabama. My fellow bloggers at Liberty and Power recommend John Berthoud's op-ed, "In Line With Big Government," in the Washington Times. It attacks the League of Women Voters for supporting the tax reform. Francis Wilkinson's"Divine Right: From the belly of the southern conservative beast, a small group of Christians set out to change the way the pious think about politics," The American Prospect Online, August 28, 2003 is both moving and much more persuasive. Wilkinson sees the struggle for tax reform in Alabama as a belated response to Martin Luther King's"Letter from the Birmingham Jail." My libertarian friends at Liberty and Power side with the status quo; many of Alabama's evangelicals are finally saying that it is time to step up to the plate and dish out some equity.

IT IS SAFE TO PREDICT ... 08-28-03

Given the condition of the country at home and abroad and the condition of the current field in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it is safe to predict that there will probably be an additional entry in the latter: either Hillary Rodham Clinton or General Wesley Clark (and here), but probably not both.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


Now, do you see why I blow hot and cold on Christopher Hitchens? He simply has no self-critical instinct that would tell him that the delete function is on his computer for a reason. One suspects that the Ten Commandments will survive both his fisking, Roy Moore's exploitation of them, and his followers symbolatry.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT

"ANIMAL HOUSE" ... 08-28-03

Both Elvis Mitchell, writing for the Washington Post and David Adesnik at Oxblog have thoughtful pieces for this 25th anniversary of"Animal House." There was more to it than I recalled.

Posted by Ralph 3:20 p.m. EDT

"I HAVE A DREAM" ... 08-28-03

Allen Brill at The Right Christians has an appropriate posting today, an annotated version of King's"I Have a Dream" oration at the March on Washington. Allen's tracking of the sources of King's speech is yet incomplete, but until the Martin Luther King Papers Project gets to this event Allen's close reading of the document will be helpful.

Posted by Ralph 2:40 p.m. EDT


You'll want to read Bob Dognan's story in the LATimes which argues that Iraqi double agents were responsible for misleading stories of weapons of mass destruction. See also: Josh Marshall's commentary on it."Murky as hell" seems to be a common assessment. And, then, there are these concessions of"inadequate planning" for security in a post-war Iraq.

Posted by Ralph 11:30 a.m. EDT

THREE OUT OF SIX ... 08-28-03

It's not a bad week when three of the top six books on the New York Times best seller list are good ones. For 7 September:
4 TREASON, Coulter
Posted by Ralph

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