Luker Blog Archives 8-28-03 to 10-24-03

Luker Blog Archives


After six dozen posts about the Mobile Museum controversy and the Civil War on H-South and several hundred others on HNN, James Miller, a historian at Carleton University in Canada, writes:

For every southern historian, fourteen years or older, not once but whenever he or she wants it, there is the instant when no posting on civil war causation, no matter how long the thread, has yet used the word feudalism. The thesaurus of reaction is in position behind the Shift and F7 keys, . . . the manichean premises of past/bad, future/good are laid and ready in the American mind and ahistorical assumptions regarding the meaning of progress are already loosened to break out . . . and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even been used yet, it not only hasn't been used yet but there is still time for it not to be used. Yet it's going to be used, we all know that, we have been here too often and with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a southern historian to think, This time. Maybe this time . . . and maybe I'll see you at the Cubs-Red Sox World Series next year.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 p.m. EDT


Kieran Healy is being irreverent about the successor to John Paul II.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


Columbia University historian Mark von Hagen has recommended that the Pulitzer Prize given to Walter Duranty for his reporting from the Soviet Union in the 1930s be revoked. For his report, see: here. Arthur Sulzberger and Bill Keller at the New York Times worry about such a revocation being like a Stalinist"airbrushing" of history. Eugene Volokh sensibly points out the difference. (See also here.)If the Pulitzer Prize once given to Duranty is revoked, no one will pretend that it had never been awarded. How hard is it to understand that difference?

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


Did you really want to know what happened to American prisoners of the Japanese who George H. W. Bush left behind when he was rescued from Chichi Jima? We read that their parents were never told how they died because the prisoners were eaten by their captors. Or, how's this for a description of the aftermath of a bombing raid in World War II?"People's heads exploded in the heat, the liquid brains in their burst skulls bubbling an eerie fluorescence. The feet of the fleeing masses scrunched eyeballs that had popped from sockets under pressure." Janet Maslin reviews James Bradley's new book, Flyboys.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


What does a university administration do if editors of the student newspaper don't do as they are told? If it's at Virginia's Hampton University, it simply steals all copies of the newspaper. Erin O'Connor has the story at Critical Mass. FIRE, where are you? It's bad enough when students steal newspapers carrying articles they don't like. Youth and inexperience isn't an excuse, but it may be a mitigating factor. When an arbitrary administration violates freedom of the press in an academic community, it teaches students that, finally, power is the only thing that counts. That is shameful.

Updates:Eugene Volokh suggests that"seizes" might be a more prudent choice of verbs in the second sentence above.
I forwarded a copy of this post to historians at Hampton. They have not replied. No surprise there. They have apparently learned something that editors of Hampton's student newspaper had not. There are some things that ought not be taught.
Another update here

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

"UNDER GOD" ... 10-23-03

I've argued before that the United States Supreme Court should rule in favor of retaining the term"under God" in the pledge of allegiance. James Piereson has a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard about the history of the term before its insertion in the pledge of allegiance in 1954. Abraham Lincoln, yes; but Parson Weems, even Jefferson, and George Washington, too. I've been preaching to deaf ears on the secular Left and to a crowd that agrees with me for the wrong reasons on the Right."Under God" ought to be retained in the pledge as a curb on unbridled nationalism. The state, even the United States – even especially the United States when it is a colossus in the contemporary world -- should never be allowed to believe or demand that we believe that it is its own highest majesty.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

NOT ON MY BUMPER ... 10-23-03

Crooked Timber has the best collection of bumper stickers this side of Anniston. They are in the post and comments to it. See also: David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy.
Memo to WelcomeWife: Hide the blue Volvo station wagon behind the house. It's a cliche.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Twelve former or current presidents of the Southern Historical Association, joined by 68 other historians of Southern and African American history, urge President Bush to withdraw the nomination of Judge Charles B. Pickering of Mississippi to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I am among those 80 historians.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


In case you don't have this tip from the other bloggers, do read Seymour Hirsch's piece in the New Yorker on"how conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq's weapons." See also this interview with Hirsch about his article.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Several years ago, I wrote an op-ed for History News Service about the meaning of the biblical word, ebenezer. It means"a stone of hope,""a stone of help," or an altar. The prophet Samuel erected his ebenezer in gratitude for the Lord's storm which scattered a Philistine attack on the children of Israel."Hitherto the Lord has helped us," he said. (I Samuel 7:12) The op-ed was a hard sell for my secular, liberal, Yankee editors, but for historians of the civil rights movement ebenezer is an important clue to what energized and sustained us. Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was one place where it was found, but the altar from which we drew strength was there for us when and wherever we needed it."Here I raise mine Ebenezer," we had sung all our lives,

Hither by thy help I've come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Now, David Chappell takes up that theme in an important book, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Benjamin Schwartz reviews it in the Atlantic Monthly."This unusually sophisticated and subtle study takes an unconventional and imaginative approach by examining both sides in the struggle:"
Chappell asks what strengthened those who fought segregation in the South and what weakened their enemies. His answer in both cases is evangelical Christianity. He argues persuasively that revivalism engendered the civil-rights movement's solidarity, leadership, world view, and rhetoric. Inspired by what he characterizes as this"illiberal" faith, southern black activists led what was at heart a religious movement with political dimensions.

... the ethos of the southern black movement—its pessimistic view of human nature, together with its ultimately redemptive faith—was not merely different from but in essential ways antithetical to northerners' tepid liberalism. ... the secular liberal creed of pluralism and political equality had proved inadequate and largely irrelevant to the contest in which southern blacks were engaged.

David and I have debated these issues several times over the last few years. It seems to me that he is essentially correct to the extent that by"liberalism" he means a liberalism which is severed from its roots in biblical traditions.

A Stone of Hope cuts new and more certain furrows when it focuses away from Yankee liberalism to the struggle in the South.

Chappell's greatest insight, however, is to discern that the struggle against segregation triumphed owing not only to the religious views of southern blacks but also to the religious views of southern whites. Evangelical Christianity undermined whites' segregationist convictions even as it bolstered the black community's resolve—a fact that black leaders recognized and shrewdly exploited.
... in the struggle over segregation white denizens of the Bible Belt, no less than black ones, needed the cultural depth, tradition, and moral authority of their churches. ... the segregationists got none of that. In the mid-1950s the Southern Baptists and the Southern Presbyterians each overwhelmingly passed resolutions endorsing desegregation, and appealing to all southerners to accept it peacefully (in the Southern Baptist Convention the vote was staggeringly lopsided—about 9,000 to 50). ... nearly every important southern white conservative clergyman and theologian averred that there was no biblical sanction for segregation or for white supremacy. And the country's—and world's—best-known Southern Baptist, the North Carolinian Billy Graham, shared the pulpit with Martin Luther King in 1957, commended what he called the"social revolution" King was leading in the South, and, having no truck with what he saw as the modern, secular concept of racism, insisted, even in the Deep South and in contravention of local laws there, that his revival meetings (along with his ushering staffs and choir) be integrated.
Both as an historian and as an activist, I think that Chappell has hit a long ball here. I suppose that neither my father nor I understood that when I marched by his side to a Billy Graham revival in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1956, it was preparation to march beside my seminary professors to a Martin Luther King revival in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
the Graham revival of the 1950s and 1960s—a national, indeed international, phenomenon—was, by vitiating the forces of segregation in the southern white community, crucial to the success of the civil-rights struggle.) All this was plain to southern segregationists at the time, and indeed they understood that the white southern churches—although few clergymen were as stalwart as Graham—were their de facto enemies. (Which is why, for instance, the White Citizens' Councils progressed from an anti-clerical to an increasingly anti-Christian stance.) Without the sanction of their churches, Chappell concludes,"the segregationists' foundations in southern white culture were mushy. The segregationists had popular opinion behind them, but not popular conviction."
As Schwarz points out, other historians, such as Taylor Branch, have sensed the importance of the post-World War II evangelical revival as preparation to the civil rights movement. No one before Chappell has seen that quite so clearly. There are those of us who hope that what Martin Luther King called"our beloved Southland" may yet be"our beloved community."

Thanks to Clayton Cramer for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 4:30 p.m. EDT


Christopher Hitchens on Mother Theresa.

Update: See also: Invisible Adjunct and Matthew Yglesias.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Kausfiles has a thoughtful piece on the Easterbrook donnybrook. It seems increasingly clear that the appearance of anti-semitism on Easterbrook's New Republic blog was the occasion for, not the cause of, his firing by ESPN. Easterbrook fears an expanded vendetta by Michael Eisner. Blacklisting is an ugly business. It doesn't wash off the hands of those who engage in it. I have former colleagues who know that.

Update: The Easterbrook e-mail was apparently a fake. Or, maybe not.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is on a list of 21 finalists from which voters will select a favorite novel in BBC's Great Read program. Thanks to Moby Lives for the tip. At 4 to 1 odds, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice is favored to win. The other finalists are:

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks; Captain Correlli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, Catch-22 by Joseph L Heller, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

I haven't read them all (three titles I barely recognize), but Atlanta's favorite is way out of its class. There are a half dozen Southern novels which should be on the list before GWTW. To Kill a Mockingbird, which just got banned in Indianapolis (see here, here, and here), is surely a better novel. GWTW doesn't merit shelf space beside War and Peace, which would be my choice for the BBC honors. Besides, it took all the bourbon and branchwater in the house to get me through last week's discussion of"Gods and Generals" on HNN. Now, I see that we face a second week of it. If Atlanta can rename its airport,"Good lawdy, Mis Scarlett" needs to make way for "Good golly, Miss Molly."

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


The unfortunate speech of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the Organization of the Islamic Conference early last week and the coincidental thoughtless generalization of Gregg Easterbrook and his being fired by ESPN at the end of the week has pre-occupied the blogosphere over the weekend. One of the things that I find truly impressive about many of my Jewish colleagues on the internet is their sense of equity.

Very often, when I'm reading, I don't know who is Jewish and who is not. I usually don't need to. It conditions neither everything they say nor my understanding of everything they say. But I can't help noticing that many of my Jewish friends on the net were as outraged by ESPN's summary dismissal of Gregg Easterbrook, as they had been about his thoughtless generalization. It seemed like a foolish over-reaction on ESPN's part and no one said that more clearly than some Jewish bloggers. I needn't name names, because I haven't checked everyone's DNA. Even more unlikely, I haven't checked the DNA of everyone's mother, but I'm thinking of people at Oxblog, The Volokh Conspiracy, and elsewhere. They set a great example for all of us.

Not incidentally, several commentators on Mahathir Mohammad's remarks noted that their anti-semitism was mixed with a summons to Moslem modernity. In that limited sense, some of his remarks that are rightly read as anti-semitic might as rightly be read as an envious tribute to Jewish contributions to modernity. Chris Bertram over at Crooked Timber has a interesting post about how one might explain the success of such a small percentage of the modern world's population.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

WORTH READING ... 10-19-03

I recommend the following:

a) Tim Burke's interesting post at Easily Distracted about taking his daughter for a visit to two Philadelphia museums. The ordinarily familial becomes food for thought about the public and the private, privilege and obligation, urban and suburban. Tim abstracts and concretizes very thoughtfully.

b) Andrew Sullivan's op-ed in the New York Times. Nothing particularly surprising here for those who follow Andrew's agonistic relationship with Rome, but it is Sullivan at his best. As one watches a similar agony in the Anglican communion, it is increasingly clear that both Rome and Canterbury are in deeply troubled water, without clear direction from scripture, tradition, reason, or a via media. Pray for the whole church.

c) Danny Postel's interview with Shadia Drury at Open Democracy about Leo Strauss and his influence on the neo-cons."The bitch from Calgary," a critic's label she embraces, is controversial to say the least, and I tended to dismiss this piece as philosophy lite until I read it more carefully and found that my friend, Laurence Lampert, the sage from Winnipeg, had come to Drury's defense. Move over, ordinary Straussians, an alliance between a bitch and a sage must be a formidable one.

Update: Chris Betram at Crooked Timber cites the Postel interview with Drury, illustrates the controversy over her work, and provokes an interesting discussion.

Posted by Ralph 4:30 p.m. EDT


Two recent posts by Clayton Cramer disturb me very deeply. The first is his post "The Tin Foil Hat Brigade at Work" about the remarks of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and the second is his post defending "General Boykin's Remarks". They disturb me – not because Clayton isn't entitled to hold crackpot ideas – he's entitled to hold them and a number of others that bother me too. But his first post got cited as a "first rate post" by Eugene Volokh, who ordinarily has a pretty good crackfilter. I might ignore that, too, but Daniel Drezner has a post on "The State of Islam" which is equally disturbing. Even the New York Times sees anti-semitism at the heart of contemporary Islam. When Clayton Cramer and the New York Times are in agreement, it's a formidable challenge to show why they are wrong.

I have no problem putting a tin foil hat on Malaysia's prime minister. Some of his remarks were outrageous. Put them beside the remarks by Army Lieutenant General William G. Boykin (see also: here), Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, however, and you have to wonder, if this is our guy in charge of intelligence, if our leadership isn't also wearing lite metal on its head. The American Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence appears in full dress uniform before evangelical Christian audiences and says of his confrontation with a Muslim opponent"I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol" and of our"war on terrorism":"we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan." When that happens, we're in the land of Oz and our guy is at least as dangerous as their guy.

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders across the world need to understand quite clearly that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Lord of Jesus Christ and the Allah of the Prophet Muhammad. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the great family of western religions. Leaders here and abroad need to understand that Arabs and Jews are both Semites and that when they and we kill each other, we kill our brothers and sisters. Clayton's conclusion that"There is a real struggle for the future--and it is beginning to look like Islam vs. the West" misreads history. It is both wrong and dangerous.

Update: Clayton is not alone in his apologia for General Boykin. The crazies over at Little Green Footballs think he's an o.k. guy, but see Allen Brill's commentary on the speeches by General Boykin and the Malaysian Prime Minister at The Right Christians.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT

THE SEASON'S OVER ... 10-17-03

As far as I'm concerned, if David Adesnik, Randy Barnett, Tim Burke, Daniel Drezner and Jacob Levy agree that the baseball season is over, it is over. Do check out David's and Jacob's posts. Adesnik's biblical eloquence isn't matched by Brett Marston's effort; and, as if visions of a Cubs/Red Sox series weren't bold enough, Levy sees another unthinkable past. No World Series necessary or recognized here. Who cares to watch it? Let us move on ... Unless ..., unless ..., we simply secede and stage a Cubs/Red Sox matchup. What's wrong with having a world the way you want it? What can I say? Chalk it up to the Confederate in me.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EDT


It took about a minute for blogdom to see the irony when George

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he"didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.
The line is Runner Up for Quote of the Day at Eric Alterman's Altercation, gets notice from Atrios and Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber, and a fuller treatment from Tom Spencer's Thinking It Through. The story got equal coverage, however, from conservative bloggers, Clayton Cramer and Daniel Drezner.

Ending leaks when they are a confirmed strategy is about as likely as a Bush White House living within a budget. There are valuable leads to a history of American leakage on HNN and in John Woestendiek's "Secret Weapon".

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


Erin O'Connor continues to rally a Critical Mass for good literature. If only the Modern Language Association and the American Studies Association would lend an ear!

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

ALBION ... 10-16-03

I suspect that reading Christopher Hitchens' review essay, "That Blessed Plot, That Enigmatic Isle," of Peter Ackroyd's new book, Albion, for The Atlantic will be more rewarding to you than reading Ackroyd's book.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


"Four score and seven billion dollars ago, ...." Congress will approve it in any case and those who vote against it, for whatever reason, can expect to be criticized as unpatriotic. But on the quotation: I've got it in quotation marks, I can't recall who first said it, I'll be glad to credit whoever did say it, if you'll tell me, and I don't mean to plagiarize. I just wanted to say it. I'm suffering from blog- or bog-envy.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT


Nominees for the National Book Awards have been announced. Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History, a history of the Soviet labor camp, 60 years and 30,000,000 people later, George Howe Colt's The Big House, history through a family summer home, Carlos Eire's Waiting for Snow in Havana, a memoir of Cuba in the 1950s, John D'Emilio's Lost Prophet, a biography of Bayard Rustin, and Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, were nominated for nonfiction. In fiction, I'm pulling for Edward P. Jones's The Known World, the story of a black slave owner.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT

JOHN PAUL II ... 10-16-03

The senior leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is gathered in Rome to celebrate the 25th anniversary of John Paul II's elevation to the papacy. By March 15, he will surpass Leo XIII to become the second longest reigning pope in church history. Only Pius IX will have had a longer pontificate. (Quibblers will point to Peter, but he doesn't really count here.) The choice of John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in modern time, was a brilliant one, but the long, slow, painful decline has been a sad one. He has prepared for a major transition by strengthening the College of Cardinals and the oddsmakers are taking bets on his successor.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT

ODD LOTTS ... 10-16-03

I always read Randy Barnett's posts at The Volokh Conspiracy on the John Lott controversy very carefully. His call for an independent panel to adjudicate the complicated issues at stake makes sense.

Last year's controversy over Trent Lott's reminder that Mississippians had voted for Strom Thurmond for president in 1948 apparently taught Mississippi Republicans nothing. Kevin Drum at CalPundit has a good commentary on Republican gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour's getting himself photographed with leaders of Mississippi's Council of Conservative Citizens. I'm gonna say this just once for you fellahs: your great-great-grandaddies were defeated in the War of Yankee Aggression, your grandaddies lost the presidential election of 1948, and your moms and dads were, ah, corrected by the civil rights movement. Does the"L word" ring large in that history? Haven't got that yet? But, really, it's a stitch. Read Jacob Levy's commentary on this embarrassment and follow his links to the CCC website. There, you can order the good ol' boys' video about The Frankfurt School. I'm glad they know there was one. You can get 2 videos for only $12. They make nice gifts for Confederate Memorial Day. In case you hadn't got it yet, fellahs, you're being laughed at.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT


Many of us still haven't quite got our minds wrapped around the news, but"people of African descent" probably means all of us. Pat Shipman explains that "We Are All Africans" in the American Scientist.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 a.m. EDT


The Sons of Confederate Veterans' effort to oust George Ewert as director of the Museum of Mobile fizzled yesterday. Angered by his review of"Gods and Generals," leaders of the SCV sought to pressure Mobile authorities to remove Ewert. When news of the effort was announced on HNN and H-SOUTH, a private listserve of Southern historians, it generated many e-mails in opposition to the SCV's intentions. Both on HNN and H-SOUTH, the news also generated significant discussion, including criticism of both Ewert's review and the sponsor of Intelligence Report in which it appeared: the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Both of these issues are essentially irrelevant to the matter at hand. Ewert should be as free to publish a poorly crafted review as he should be free to publish a well-crafted one and his association with the SPLC should not be held against his leadership of the Museum of Mobile.

The discussion does, however, prompt me to second questions raised by a contributor to H-SOUTH about the Southern Poverty Law Center. He quoted two key passages in recent national periodicals."'Morris Dees doesn't need your financial support,' writes Ken Silverstein in"The Church of Morris Dees" (Harper's, November 2000), observing that:

The SPLC is already the wealthiest civil rights group in America. Back in 1978, when the Center had less than $10 million, Dees promised that his organization would quit fund-raising and live off interest as soon as its endowment hit $55 million. But as it approached that figure, the SPLC upped the bar to $100 million, a sum that, one 1989 newsletter promised, would allow the Center 'to cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising.' Today, the SPLC's treasury bulges with $120 million, and it spends twice as much on fund-raising-$5.76 million last year-as it does on legal services for victims of civil rights abuses. The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the Center one of the worst ratings of any group it monitors, estimating that the SPLC could operate for 4.6 years without making another tax-exempt nickel from its investments or raising another tax-deductible cent from well-meaning 'people like you.'
Three months later, JoAnn Wypijewski wrote in The Nation (February 26, 2001):
What is the Southern Poverty Law Center doing? Mostly making money. In 1999 it spent $2.4 million on litigation and $5.7 million on fundraising, meanwhile taking in more than $44 million--$27 million from fundraising, the rest from investments. On the subject of 'hate groups.' No one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of such groups than the center's millionaire huckster, Morris Dees, who in 1999 began a begging letter, 'Dear Friend, The danger presented by the Klan is greater now than at any time in the past ten years.' With.a salary close to $300,000 putting him among the top 2 percent of Americans, Dees needn't worry about 'fitting in' with the masses of Montgomery [SPLC headquarters]. Naturally, he'd erect a multimillion-dollar office building that's a monstrosity. 'I hate it,' a security guard across the street told me, as the sun's hot rays bounced off the building's vast brushed-stainless-steel-clad southern exposure and onto his face, making him sweat, roasting his skin while he stood watch for the militia nuts Dees would have his donors believe are lurking around every corner.
My understanding is that the SPLC takes no more than four cases a year and that they are selected as big ticket investments. Deep as my commitment is to the values of the civil rights movement, I should have known that some cracker would figure out a way to make himself wealthy on it. Morris Dees has moved out of his double-wide. That's about the extent of the SPLC's impact on Southern poverty.

Posted by Ralph 1:45 a.m. EDT

OCCASIONALLY ... 10-14-03

Occasionally, my tenured colleagues get beyond their smug insularity and go to bat for public historians whose freedom of speech is threatened by pressure groups. I am heartened by the historians at the University of South Alabama who defend George Ewert, director of the Museum of Mobile. His review of"Gods and Generals" offended the local Sons of Confederate Veterans, who are demanding his dismissal. Have the rest of us joined ranks? And, why not?

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT

BENNY ‘N JOHN ... 10-14-03

"Benny Smith" responds to Sam Browning's request for more information. He misreads Andrew Ackerman's editorial opinion column as a news article and avoids offering hard evidence that could settle the issue of whether he is Michael Bellesiles's"sock puppet" decisively. Perhaps the controversy is to supply the"buzz" for publication of the revised 2nd edition of Arming America that Soft Skull Press can't afford to buy.

Lest either Benny or Bellesiles find me hostile, I should say that I really hope that Michael Bellesiles can make a professional recovery. The best evidence for it would be within the pages of the revised edition of his book. Even then, it may be too late. Hue to the truth and hard evidence, Michael and Benny. I see nothing inherently wrong with using a"sock puppet" on internet postings. My toleration for them grows out of experience on the HNN comment boards, where one of our friends recently bid us adieu, taking a half dozen pen names with him. Using a"sock puppet," however, leaves one open to the sort of derision John Lott faced when we learned he was"Mary Rosh" and that she made claims for him that were patently self-serving and false. As Chris Mooney reports,"Lott had created a ‘false identity for a scholar,' charged Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy. ‘In most circles, this goes down as fraud.'" I suppose I don't wholly agree with Kennedy. It makes an enormous difference what one does with the false identity one has created for the self.

In the meantime and speaking of Lott, Mooney's "Double Barreled Double Standards" in Mother Jones gets widespread and justified attention on the net. See also: Mooney's commentary and transcripts of his interviews with Lott. Instapundit allowed that, given the Mother Jones slant, Mooney's article is"not a bad summary, I think." For a fuller summary of reactions, see: Tim Lambert's Deltoid. See also: CalPundit, Clayton Cramer, Tom Spencer's Thinking It Through, and Mark A. R. Kleiman. Among the active commentators, I tend to find The Volokh Conspiracy's Randy Barnett the most persuasive. His call for an even-handed inquiry into John Lott's scholarship may be met by a National Academy of Sciences report from an expert panel which will examine Lott's work and is due for release in the late fall. It may be the equivalent of the report by Emory University's panel of experts in the case of Michael Bellesiles and we will see if the American Enterprise Institute is prepared to bite this bullet.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EDT


"Montezuma's revenge" is a natural reaction to eating the inassimilable. We have Benny's revenge at the Emory Wheel (scroll down) and on HNN. Benny demands an apology and a retraction from the Wheel. The reason: weeks after being asked repeatedly for a source for his information, Benny supplies an internet site from which he claims to have gathered it. Like others, I had searched for it repeatedly and come up empty-handed. Phil Lee and Tim Lambert here and here independently verify the claim that Benny might have found cover art for the revised 2nd edition of Arming America at this site when he claimed to have found it.

Like"Montezuma's revenge," Benny's revenge can be a"learning experience." Sam Browning makes that point very well here and here (scroll down). I see a number of other points to be made. First, we can congratulate Benny. After a year of his postings in defense of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America, this is to my knowledge the first instance of his supplying a piece of substantial evidence. It had to be dragged out of him, but he is capable of it. Second, nothing Benny says proves that he is not Michael Bellesiles's"sock-puppet." He'll have to provide more hard evidence to make the case for that. Third, Benny is a poor reader. From the Emory Wheel's headline through Andrew Ackerman's penultimate paragraph, the article poses the question of whether Benny is Michael Bellesiles's"sock-puppet" or his double. It makes no absolute claim that Benny is Michael. It's still an open question. No retraction or apology is necessary. Finally, it's an open question, too, whether it is the more embarrassing to be someone's"sock-puppet" or to be so lacking in critical distance as to be mistaken for one.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EDT


Tom Wolfe has a way of telling us that we are about to do something horrific, knowing full well that telling us will do nothing to prevent us from doing it. The New York Times carries the first of two installments of his most recent piece, an essay on architect Brad Cloepfil's plans for transforming the white marble clad Huntington Hartford Museum on Columbus Circle by stripping it of marble, dressing it in glass, and offering us peekaboo vistas. What a dreadful, unnecessarily expensive and wasteful idea!

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT

GERMAINE GREER ... 10-12-03

Germaine Greer has lived a life in violation of taboos. Now, the Guardian gives us both Stephanie Merritt's biographical profile of her and Natasha Walter's review of her latest taboo-defying book, The Boy. Appreciating beautiful boys is a good thing, she thinks.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT


I've posted earlier about Evelyn Waugh. Such an unattractive character, but it's the centennial of his birth, as good a time to be uncharitably truthful as any other. The novelist William Boyd has a good essay on the colorful Waugh in the Telegraph and finds merit in some of his fiction.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EDT


Credit the Emory Wheel's Andrew Ackerman for the story on"Benny Smith". It won attention from History News Network and plaudits on the Wheel's comment boards (scroll down) and from Instapundit, The Volokh Conspiracy's Randy Barnett, and Tim Lambert's Deltoid.

Ackerman's story also won notice from Clayton Cramer, but he should pay especially close attention to Ted Barlow's ironic reading of Ackerman's story and referencing of Tim Lambert's Deltoid at Crooked Timber. In case anyone else is as slow-witted as I am, I explained away the irony in the comments to Barlow's posting. AEI, the Federalist Society, National Review Online, Clayton Cramer, and all you other freedom- and gun-loving defenders of the Second Amendment need to belly up to the truth-bar: your hero in drag is a fraud.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT


Moby Lives takes note of Steve Oney's recent talk in Marietta, Georgia, about the lynching of Leo Frank:

The idea, historian Steve Oney told a crowd of 600 people in Atlanta Tuesday night,"is simply getting the past down on paper so future generations can learn from it." Oney, author of a new book And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, spoke in a theater four blocks from where 13–year–old Phagan was murdered in 1913. The case is notorious because Frank, a Jew from Brooklyn believed by many to be innocent, was convicted of Phagan's murder over another, black suspect. As Michelle Graff writes in a report for the Marietta Daily Journal, however, Oney sought to avoid opining about the role of anti–Semitism in the case, and wanted to emphasize his job of simply recording the facts to let readers decide. But many in the audience were more interested in the fact that"Oney's book also provides, for the first time, a comprehensive list of the 26 Marietta residents believed to have taken part in the lynching."
Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT


William Butler Yeats put it best:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocense is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
– W. B. Yeats,"The Second Coming," (1921).
One of those centers, Terry Teachout suggests, was"middlebrow culture." Whatever its short-comings, and there were many, it gave us a common culture. Its loss, he argues, is as incalculable, as it is irretrievable. Thanks to Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 a.m. EDT

INTERVENTION ... 10-10-03

Would someone please do an intervention with Pat Robertson? He needs to go back on his meds. Get a load of the picture of him. Looks a bit like Emily Dickinson's crazed half-brother.

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT


The struggle for a free press and free speech in Alabama has been a long and tortured one, with shifting alliances. For the latest updates, see: Instapundit and Liberty and Power.

Posted by Ralph 4:15 p.m. EDT


The editor of the Emory Wheel, Andrew Ackerman, compiles evidence that"Benny Smith" both knows more about Michael Bellesiles's professional career than some obscure database administrator in Detroit could possibly know and misleads readers of his on-line posts at HNN and the Wheel's website in ways familiar to historians who publish misleading data about guns in America."Benny Smith" meet"Mary Rosh."

Posted by Ralph 11:35 a.m. EDT

GENDER WARS ... 10-10-03

The gender wars broke out on HNN this week. It is no surprise that at least one man in the universe still thinks that the behavior of Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and perhaps Kobe Bryant is nothing to be ashamed of. It is heartening to see that some women don't mind slugging it out with him toe to toe and some enlightened men put him in his place. And, while he's down, I know someone in leather who just can't wait to get his hands all over him! What any of it has to do with history is another question. Maybe it's a lesser incident in a history of the gender wars.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EDT

O. K., LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN ... 10-10-03

After being closed for three months for renovations, the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon is open again.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EDT


In the New Yorker, Tad Friend has a very thoughtful piece about suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EDT


Listening to Terry Gross on PBS's"Fresh Air" has been one of my weekday rituals for, oh, just about twenty years or so. She is one of the finest interviewers I know. When Bill O'Reilly appeared on yesterday's program, she punched his buttons and O'Reilly walked off the show. I suspect that O'Reilly staged the walkout for increased publicity. Fox News claims that Gross ambushed him. O'Reilly dared her to put his walkout on the air. Terry met the challenge. You can hear the exchange here. That's what I love about Terry Gross.

Update: Not everyone agrees with me.

Posted by Ralph 2:15 a.m. EDT


All of us who care deeply about the integrity of historic faiths are bound to have reservations about their"Americanization." As Will Herberg warned a half century ago in Protestant-Catholic-Jew, the domestication of historic religions in America may reduce them to such a degree that their outward symbols may represent no more inner meaning than a national creed. What happens to historic faiths in a nation so deeply ignorant and indifferent that 10% of the public thinks that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife? Rich Barlow of the Boston Globereviews Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith.

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EDT


To Whom It May Concern: The Alabama Scholars Association may be a pain in the neck. It may have recently committed the offense of defending free speech rights within the academic community and some of its members may have wrongheadedly opposed the Governor's tax reform proposal. But the ASA forcefully represents a legitimate point of view. At Liberty and Power, David Beito will hold you accountable for curtailing the ASA's right to circulate promotions of its meetings. More importantly, David and Liberty and Power have friends at FIRE, Instapundit, the Volokh Conspiracy, here and elsewhere. Prudence recommends that you avoid petty harassment of faculty organizations which may irritate you. Besides, do you really want to add to the suspicion that the free exchange of ideas is suppressed in Tuscaloosa?

Posted by Ralph 1:15 a.m. EDT

MARK TWAIN IN MY BED ... 10-08-03

Some years ago, when I was doing a little mission work in the northwestern Pennsylvania wilderness, I went out shopping for a bed and bought the one I sleep in today. The bed is a fine piece of 19th century craftsmanship, with a massive headboard in a deep red mahogany and darker framing, with neatly carved details on it and the matching footboard, and sideboards heavy enough to give a fellow a leg up into bed. The question is: Who climbed in there before me?

The sheister, who sold me that fine bed, said that it came from the Mark Twain Inn, an old hotel in a nearby town. Not only that, he said, but the chances were pretty good that old Mark Twain, himself, had slept in it.

Young and innocent, then, I was capable of believing almost anything. Some years later, however, I read this essay on"The Danger of Lying in Bed" by the man himself:

The man in the ticket-office said:
"Have an accident insurance ticket, also?"
"No," I said, after studying the matter over a little."No, I believe not; I am going to be traveling by rail all day today. However, tomorrow I don't travel. Give me one for tomorrow."
The man looked puzzled. He said:
"But it is for accident insurance, and if you are going to travel by rail--"
"If I am going to travel by rail I sha'n't need it. Lying at home in bed is the thing I am afraid of."

I had been looking into this matter. Last year I traveled twenty thousand miles, almost entirely by rail; the year before, I traveled over twenty-five thousand miles, half by sea and half by rail; and the year before that I traveled in the neighborhood of ten thousand miles, exclusively by rail. I suppose if I put in all the little odd journeys here and there, I may say I have traveled sixty thousand miles during the three years I have mentioned. AND NEVER AN ACCIDENT.

For a good while I said to myself every morning:"Now I have escaped thus far, and so the chances are just that much increased that I shall catch it this time. I will be shrewd, and buy an accident ticket." And to a dead moral certainty I drew a blank, and went to bed that night without a joint started or a bone splintered. I got tired of that sort of daily bother, and fell to buying accident tickets that were good for a month. I said to myself,"A man CAN'T buy thirty blanks in one bundle."

But I was mistaken. There was never a prize in the the lot. I could read of railway accidents every day--the newspaper atmosphere was foggy with them; but somehow they never came my way. I found I had spent a good deal of money in the accident business, and had nothing to show for it. My suspicions were aroused, and I began to hunt around for somebody that had won in this lottery. I found plenty of people who had invested, but not an individual that had ever had an accident or made a cent. I stopped buying accident tickets and went to ciphering. The result was astounding. THE PERIL LAY NOT IN TRAVELING, BUT IN STAYING AT HOME.

I hunted up statistics, and was amazed to find that after all the glaring newspaper headlines concerning railroad disasters, less than THREE HUNDRED people had really lost their lives by those disasters in the preceding twelve months. The Erie road was set down as the most murderous in the list. It had killed forty-six-- or twenty-six, I do not exactly remember which, but I know the number was double that of any other road. But the fact straightway suggested itself that the Erie was an immensely long road, and did more business than any other line in the country; so the double number of killed ceased to be matter for surprise.

By further figuring, it appeared that between New York and Rochester the Erie ran eight passenger-trains each way every day--16 altogether; and carried a daily average of 6,000 persons. That is about a million in six months--the population of New York City. Well, the Erie kills from 13 to 23 persons of ITS million in six months; and in the same time 13,000 of New York's million die in their beds! My flesh crept, my hair stood on end."This is appalling!" I said."The danger isn't in traveling by rail, but in trusting to those deadly beds. I will never sleep in a bed again."

I had figured on considerably less than one-half the length of the Erie road. It was plain that the entire road must transport at least eleven or twelve thousand people every day. There are many short roads running out of Boston that do fully half as much; a great many such roads. There are many roads scattered about the Union that do a prodigious passenger business. Therefore it was fair to presume that an average of 2,500 passengers a day for each road in the country would be almost correct. There are 846 railway lines in our country, and 846 times 2,500 are 2,115,000. So the railways of America move more than two millions of people every day; six hundred and fifty millions of people a year, without counting the Sundays. They do that, too--there is no question about it; though where they get the raw material is clear beyond the jurisdiction of my arithmetic; for I have hunted the census through and through, and I find that there are not that many people in the United States, by a matter of six hundred and ten millions at the very least. They must use some of the same people over again, likely.

San Francisco is one-eighth as populous as New York; there are 60 deaths a week in the former and 500 a week in the latter--if they have luck. That is 3,120 deaths a year in San Francisco, and eight times as many in New York--say about 25,000 or 26,000. The health of the two places is the same. So we will let it stand as a fair presumption that this will hold good all over the country, and that consequently 25,000 out of every million of people we have must die every year. That amounts to one-fortieth of our total population. One million of us, then, die annually. Out of this million ten or twelve thousand are stabbed, shot, drowned, hanged, poisoned, or meet a similarly violent death in some other popular way, such as perishing by kerosene-lamp and hoop-skirt conflagrations, getting buried in coal-mines, falling off house-tops, breaking through church, or lecture-room floors, taking patent medicines, or committing suicide in other forms. The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to that appalling figure of 987,631 corpses, die naturally in their beds!

You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.

And my advice to all people is, Don't stay at home any more than you can help; but when you have GOT to stay at home a while, buy a package of those insurance tickets and sit up nights. You cannot be too cautious.

[One can see now why I answered that ticket-agent in the manner recorded at the top of this sketch.]

The moral of this composition is, that thoughtless people grumble more than is fair about railroad management in the United States. When we consider that every day and night of the year full fourteen thousand railway-trains of various kinds, freighted with life and armed with death, go thundering over the land, the marvel is, NOT that they kill three hundred human beings in a twelvemonth, but that they do not kill three hundred times three hundred!

Reminded by Twain of mankind's record for dying in bed, I thought, too, about our record for lying in bed and out. If Mark Twain kept his oath not to sleep in bed again, the sheister who sold me that fine bed may have been lying. But, it sure is one fine bed and I like to think that Mark Twain took his rest there before me.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Daniel Drezner noted yesterday that he would not be posting today because it is Yom Kippur until sundown. Tapped is also observant. As a Gentile, I appreciate having Drezner's explanation."It is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement," he writes.

The ten days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur are the Days of Awe, during which we are supposed to repent our myriad sins from the past year.
It is particularly important that we apologize and forgive our fellow man. On the Day of Atonement God always forgives one's sins against the Almighty. However, God cannot forgive the transgressions committed against other human beings -- only those people can.
Because of the immediacy of blogging, and the frequently anonymous exchanges that take place on the World Wide Web, my various flaws are on full display every day on this site for all to read. So, to all readers, as well as those I've written about – let me apologize for the displays of pride, pettiness, slander, belligerency, cruelty, and offensiveness – be they intentional or not.
Wow, that feels good.
I particularly liked that closing touch. A little unscholarly, perhaps, but deeply understandable.

Tim Burke's essay calls me to an accounting for my own offenses. To the extent that I have offended my colleagues, Christine Heyrman and Glenda Gilmore, I apologize. We have been discussing important ways of understanding professional behavior. I suppose the burr landed under my saddle when I wrote to Christine about quantitative and qualitative problems in her book, Southern Cross. I had discussed them with another Yale-trained historian, who had said that he once found a significant error in one of his books and had urgently published an article which corrected the mistake. When Christine responded to me, this sentence was the burr:"It's hard for me to assess your statistical findings from so a brief summary, but I certainly encourage you to write them up with all the usual scholarly apparatus and to submit the results to a refereed journal." (Heyrman to Luker, 05-01-03).

By the standard of her fellow Yalie, that seemed to me to shun responsibility for her errors. I had done her the favor of telling her where they were. Why should I have to correct them in a subsequent publication in"a refereed journal?" Tim tells me via e-mail that it's a legitimate way of doing scholarship. It's all process. I don't need to correct myself in print because one of my colleagues may do so. But my irritation with Christine's response only mounted when I checked her publication record. Search engines available to me showed no peer reviewed articles by Christine Heyrman in over 20 years. She does have an article in the current Church History, but that doesn't count. It was a commissioned article.

I had already published peer reviewed articles when Christine Heyrman was still filling out blue books at Macalester and I've certainly published peer reviewed articles since Christine last published one. She was telling me that I should correct her mistakes in"a refereed journal?" I thought about that and then I thought about the fact that both Southern Cross and Arming America were published by Alfred A. Knopf, where privileged access means there is no significant peer reviewing and the prestige of publication by Alfred A. Knopf is privileged access to a Bancroft Prize. Arming America's stunning embarrassment to our profession was not only that it implicated our most prestigious journals, publishing houses, and prizes, but that it did so largely by evading real peer review.

The fact is that"we-all-make-mistakes-but-it-sure-is-easier-for-me-to-see-yours-than-it-is-for-me-to-see-mine." Mistakes happen. They happened in Volume I of The Papers of Martin Luther King, despite the fact that we had a whole staff and tough external readers trying to help us publish immaculate work. I think there may even be an error somewhere in The Social Gospel in Black and White, but I'm not going to tell you where it is. We do peer review to perfect a text. If you evade it, you run the risk of committing your mistakes to print and subsequent embarrassment. So, I'm finished with peer review of Southern Cross. Thanks for the chastisement, Tim. Welcome to the club, Christine. Welcome back to my list, Glenda."Wow. That feels good."

Posted by Ralph 6:00 p.m. EDT

NOTED IN PASSING ... 10-04-03

I've Welcomed 10,000 visitors To My World ... since June. Come back and visit often!

With his new format, Allen Brill at The Right Christians seems likely to make it essential reading for all people of good faith.

How can California be our most populous state, have 200 candidates for governor, plus or minus a few dozen, and still be left with such bad choices?

The 2003 IgNobel Prizes have been announced. Thanks to Josh Chafetz at Oxblog for the tip.

I thought that my own experience in higher education was a corker, but read this from Tiny Voices and the Update from Critical Mass. As Erin O'Connor says,"You can't make these things up," but why in the name of anything decent do we keep doing them to each other?

Alan Dershowitz faces accusations of plagiarism.

Tom Palaima, a MacArthur Fellow and professor of classics at the University of Texas, offers a fine illustration of the problem of plagiarism in contemporary writing. He called an obvious instance of it in a book by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Chris Hedges, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, to the reporter's attention. Hedges had taken words and ideas from Ernest Hemingway and used them without quotation marks or a citation. The reporter explained it as an error in note-taking, which is the most common cause of literary theft, and revised his text to obliterate his literary dependency on Hemingway. Without a citation to Hemingway, however, Hedges's book still commits the theft of an idea. In fact, the title of Hedges's book makes me wonder if he gave credit to William James's "The Moral Equivalent of War" or Randolph Bourne's "War is the Health of the State," not simply for a single literary reference, but for the whole idea of his book. At some point, plagiarism reminds us that few ideas are genuinely new, that our obligation to those who went before us is very deep, and that historical lethe may be worse than outright theft. Thanks to History News Network (scroll down) for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EDT

NOTED IN PASSING ... 10-03-03

I've Welcomed 10,000 visitors To My World ... since June. Come back and visit often!

Soft Skull Press indicates that the revised 2nd edition of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America will be published – not in October, as previously announced – but in late November.

The Invisible Adjunct pays due tribute to Tim Burke's excellent blogessay, "On Ellipses and Theses and Archives," calling it"a must-read for anyone who cares about, and who cares to think about, the practice of history."

I know some critics contend that bloggers tend to exaggerate the significance of the blogosphere, and I'm willing to entertain the possibility that those critics are right. Still, I honestly don't think it's blogger bias that leads me to state that Burke's essay is more interesting and thought-provoking than anything I've encountered of late in a professional historical journal. Burke's piece is a followup to a comment he made at Ralph Luker's Welcome to My World, in response to Luker's treatment of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt.
I heartily endorse the Invisible One's praise of Tim's essay. It is more thoughtful and thought provoking than any journal article I've read lately. I am proud to have had a role in provoking it. Do not miss it.

Thanks to, you can enjoy
1. a quiz: "What Kind of Thinker Are You?". (Me? I'm an Existential Thinker.) and
2. the best photographs of the year. Some of them may have been artificially enhanced, but they are awesome.

"Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" was Groucho Marx's question on"You Bet Your Life." Far more interesting is:"Who is buried in St. Peter's Tomb?" In a fascinating piece for The Atlantic, Tom Mueller attempts to get an answer deeply layered under Vatican intrigue.

For the latest on John Lott, see: Instapundit, with Jim Lindgren's comments. See also: Mark Kleiman and Randy Barnett and Tyler Cowan at The Volokh Conspiracy. Lott's sponsors, primarily the American Enterprise Institute, but also the Federalist Society, may now want to distance themselves from him. Tim Lambert's Deltoid is always current, if always critical, of Lott.

My Duke classmate, Sanford"Sandy" Levinson explains why he would not sign the Constitution. Clayton Cramer fisks Sandy's reasoning as"political," as if the adoption of the Constitution weren't political in the first place. Who's the originalist?

The new Common-place is up. Don't miss such gems as Jill Lepore's explanation of how pirates became comic figures and James Cook's"Dancing Across the Color Line" in 19th century New York City's Five Points.

If you're having difficulty working up a lot of sympathy for Rush Limbaugh's drug and racism troubles, could it be because of his deeply empathetic and humane commentaries over the years?

The AHA's Professional Division is working on revisions to its influential Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. Its revision will apparently describe standards applying to all historians and then as they apply to historians working in higher education and those who are not. After reading the current document, anyone wishing to offer recommendations to the Division may do so by sending them to: Sharon K. Tune/American Historical Association/400 A Street, SE/Washington, DC, 20003.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


Nine months ago, the big news on the gun war front was that Michael Bellesiles was publishing a revised 2nd edition of his book, Arming America. He had proposed revisions to his initial publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, but Knopf rejected them as inadequate and withdrew the 1st edition of AA from its list. With his orphan manuscript in hand, Bellesiles struck a deal with down-scale and slightly off-beat publisher, Soft Skull Press. Its name and list of porn titles drew howls of glee from high places, like the Instapalace, to the humblest abode, HNN's comment boards (scroll up and down). Its previous big seller, J. W. Hatfield's Fortunate Son, a biography of the White House's current occupant, was remarkably problematic. Hatfield was a convicted murderer who subsequently committed suicide and for more sordid details, go here.

Ordinarily, I might have joined in the netglee, but coincidentally my favorite punk, Green, many-pierced, and tattooed daughter #2 was interning at ... you guessed it, Soft Skull Press. Her mother and I don't tell anyone. What can I say? You spawn ‘em, you raise ‘em, and they go out and make you proud. I am proud of her. Anyway, not only was my daughter interning there, but she has proved that, even on the kinky Left, Green is thicker than Red. Despite my entreaties, I've can't get a decent bit of gossip out of her. Call it professionalism. Whatever.

So, I had to piece together this little bit of news for you on my own: After last February's press release and continuing publicity, there was this announcement of the release of the revised 2nd edition with a preface by Richard Bernstein on for October. But go over to Soft Skull Press's website. Key in Arming America, Bellesiles, Bancroft Prize, guns ... whatever and there's nothing there. _AA_ was to be Soft Skull's big ticket for October. It is October. There may be trouble on the kinky Left, but if there is you can bet that my favorite punk, Green, many-pierced, and tattooed daughter #2 wouldn't tell me about it if she knew anything.
Update: Benny Smith claims to know what's on the book jacket of AA's second edition. We should introduce him to Mary Rosh.

Anyway, so, if Michael can at least announce that he's got a revised 2nd edition of his book in the wings, why can't Christine Heyrman publish a revised 2nd edition of Southern Cross? I've urged her to. If, as Caroline Ward suggests, the problems with the book were merely routine matters of interpretation and correcting numbers in tables at the back of the book, no need to revise interpretation and the numbers could be corrected in a 2nd printing of the book. Ward is correct about the numbers. They could be corrected fairly inexpensively in a second printing. Ward's proposal goes awry, however, because the matters of interpretation are not routine. Heyrman drove herself into ellipses and a reviewer, Kurt Berends, found her there.

Heyrman used ellipses in Southern Cross sparingly. After all, the little dots aren't salt and pepper, Ohio's idea of exotic spices. They are, appropriately, exotic spices. But the spice is concentrated in three pages where Heyrman offers evidence of Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis in early Southern evangelicalism and it's interesting stuff.

The problem is that the whole of Heyrman's evidentiary base for Butler's magic/shaman thesis in early Southern evangelicalism is fabricated by ellipsing texts to make them say what Heyrman wants them to say. Not only that, but she does it in ways that parallel the ways her student, Michael Bellesiles, ellipsed texts for Arming America. (See my critique, text and notes 6, 7, 9, and 10.) That makes me wonder whether this is something that has been taught – that ellipses are conveniences with which you can reshape a universe of textual evidence. I can suspect that, but I can't prove it, so there's no need for Jim McPherson to reconvene that hearing. My friend, Tim Burke, apparently without shame, tells me that it is more commonly done, even in the best of families, than one might wish. Just as, with hesitation, even the best of families admit to having interns at Soft Skull Press. I know it isn't routine, doesn't come recommended, and shouldn't be done.

What does all that have to do with why Christine Heyrman can't publish a revised 2nd edition of Southern Cross? What would she do with pp. 73-75, where the evidentiary base for Butler's magic/shaman thesis is wholly fabricated by ellipses? Acknowledge error? Can't have three blank pages at the end of a chapter. Wouldn't be prudent. This isn't a case, such as Burke cited, of the archives themselves being elliptical. There's a ton of evidence out there. Too much trouble to go out and find real evidence for what you didn't really find the first time? I am not saying that it isn't there. It may be and it is an interesting thesis, but Christine hasn't found evidence for it yet. Finally, given a limited market, the Press can't be enthusiastic about the expense of a revised 2nd edition. There's a lesson there for Michael, Christine, and all of us sinning historians: get it right before you go to press.

There's a last and bigger lesson for us in all of this and then I'll turn it over to the Lord. It has both to do with pretense and with we-all-make-mistakes-but-it's-a-whole-lot-easier-for-me-to-see-yours-than-it-is-for-me-to-see-mine. Right now, I need some sleep. Good night, Christine. Good night, Tim.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT


HNN's Rick Shenkman has a cracking good op-ed,"Not All Lies Are Equal," over on It's all the more telling because the name of the current occupant of the White House is nowhere mentioned.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EDT


Imagine, if you will, that we are at an informal hearing about Christine Heyrman's Bancroft Prize winning book, Southern Cross. Let's say that James McPherson of the AHA presides as judge. There are attorneys for the defense and prosecution present. I take the stand as a witness. The attorney for the defense asks me two questions:
1) Do the citations in notes to Heyrman's Southern Cross accurately refer you to the obvious sources of her data and the texts of her primary and secondary sources?
2) Do the data in the tables at the back of her book and the quotations scattered throughout her book obviously derive in some way from the sources she cites?
My answer to both questions is"Yes." The attorney for the defense says:"Motion to dismiss." The attorney for the prosecution says:"No objection, your honor." McPherson says:"Case dismissed."

Had the hearing been about Michael Bellesiles's Arming America, a well-informed witness would have had to answer"No" to both of those questions. As Tim Burke points out, it is "an important distinction." Remember the San Francisco archives?"No" to the first question. Remember the enormous variances that James Lindgren found from numbers Michael reported when he checked the sources that Michael cited?"No" to the second question. Despite the short form question that Rick Shenkman offered as the title of my critique of Heyrman's book,"Did Another Bancroft Winner Have Trouble Counting?" the problem with Michael's data wasn't that he couldn't count. It was, rather, that you couldn't get the numbers that Michael reported no matter how you manipulated the data. Or, as Burke says, "there was good reason to think that he'd outright falsified quantitative data." Christine's quantitative problem was a much simpler one: she couldn't count. Had Michael merely been guilty of being a"very careless" researcher, as their editor at Knopf insisted, he might have escaped all censure.

What that means is that the bottom line for the writing of history is accurate citation of sources. You must leave an accurate trail of your research in order for others to verify your findings. Michael did not; Christine did. I followed her trail. It was scrupulously accurate. Following her trail, I found lots of problems with her findings. She was insufficiently critical of her sources. In some cases, her mathematics might not pass high school proficiency. In both her quantitative and qualitative evidence, she consistently underplayed the importance of the African American influence in Southern religion. And she ellipsed primary sources so that they said something other than what their authors intended. Had these things been known at the time her book was published, it would have been less praised than it was and might not have received a Bancroft Prize. By not leaving an accurate trail of his research findings, Michael undermined his whole credibility. By leaving an accurate trail of her research findings, Christine left herself open to tough criticism. But that is what a historian must do.

Imagine, if you will, another scene -- not an inquiry -- but a Most Beautiful Baby contest. Your precious infant daughter or son has recently won it. Then, some jerk like me comes along, heaves your child high in the air, and says to the whole world:"Look, look, this is one ugly baby. Its head is bald. It drools from teething. Its eyes are crossed. Its skin is chaffed and the diaper is beyond disgusting." In that context, my friend, Glenda Gilmore, the Woodward professor of history at Yale, is guilty -- not of throwing gender-card ad hominems below the jerk's belt, as he earlier said -- but of understatement. The jerk deserved that, at the very least. He is not merely being"unkind" or"rude." He is too stupid to realize that such flaws are inherent in the mixed glory of babyhood.

But the writing of history is no baby contest. All of this leaves open the question of whether accurate citation of sources is a sufficient bottom line. Is everything else what the theologians call adiaphora, that which is neither commanded nor forbidden by the canons of our professional practice? Surely, we must expect more from ourselves, our peers, and our students. Even more certainly, we must expect candidates for our profession's highest honors to surpass that bottom line, but that is where it currently is.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 p.m. EDT

THE BOTTOM LINE ... 09-29-03

After raising challenging questions here about my critique of Christine Heyrman's Bancroft Prize winning book, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997) to which she replied here, Timothy Burke replies to my answer of 09-24-03 (scroll down) with a characteristically thoughtful essay, "On Ellipses and Theses and Archives." I recommend it to everyone.

Burke's experience grappling with the ellipses of an archive largely defined by the legacy of colonialism enriches the conversation enormously. Not having that experience, I can yet readily imagine the challenge. It puts the discussion in the broader contexts which all historians confront in one way or another. We are agreed, too, that the dead hand of Rankean positivism is simply that: dead. We couldn't achieve it if we wanted to and the more we tried to approximate it the deadlier our product would be.

Where Burke and I may continue to disagree, as he suggests in both of his contributions is about"guilt by association." There, he suspects, I risk blaming Christine Heyrman for Michael Bellesiles's errors. Raised in the shadows of the McCarthy era, I share the civil libertarians' dread of such reasoning. She certainly is not responsible for the particular errors of Bellesiles's Arming America. Yet, to ignore the relationship of Heyrman to Bellesiles is to act as if the privileged access of the Yale connections, the introduction to a publisher with enormous prestige and which yet or for that reason doesn't bother with the peer review, and the access to an editor with a track record for producing books which win Bancroft Prizes – to ignore all that is to ignore very large realities at the productive ends of our lives. Burke might even agree with me about that.

But I would press the point about association further than I suspect Burke would go. Same publisher, same editor, and same Bancroft is likely a function of privileged access, but similarity of error may be a function of modeling or teaching. I'll address those issues in subsequent posts, attempting to explain what Burke calls the sturm und drang I raised over Heyrman's book. After all, a Bancroft Prize is no certification of professional probity. One of its first honorees was Allan Nevins and we know about him, don't we? Nor did I raise the storm merely because I am a crank, though I may be of the breed. I did so because I'm curious about whether Michael Bellesiles's Arming America and other scandals that wracked the history profession from June 2001 through June 2002 are symptomatic of some deeper malaise into which the profession of American history, in particular, has fallen.

Learning that Heyrman directed Bellesiles's graduate work and that a reviewer had found a problem with her use of ellipses, I looked more closely at her book. After gathering the evidence, I wrote the piece which subsequently appeared as"Did Another Bancroft Winner Have Trouble Counting?" and asked a former president of the American Historical Association to read it. She suggested that I share my findings with Professor Heyrman. I summarized them for her in an exchange of e-mail and became convinced that Heyrman either didn't understand the depth of the problems in the book or didn't care to correct them. So, I asked other colleagues to take a look at the article before publishing it on HNN. Generally speaking, historians encouraged me not to publish it; academics who were not historians urged me to do so. My title for it was:"In History's Cross Hairs." The title linked the two books and did not suggest that the problems with Southern Cross were merely matters of counting.

If the problems with the book are as serious as I've said and they are, there are three questions left to answer:
A) How Is Southern Cross Not Like Arming America? And Why Should It Not Lose The Bancroft Prize and Be Withdrawn from Publication?
B) Why Can't Christine Heyrman Publish A Revised Second Edition Of Southern Cross? and
C) What The Heck Is The Burr Under My Saddle?
I'll answer those three questions in postings over the next three days. Pardon the cliché, but hang onto your hats. It could be a bumpy ride.

Posted by Ralph 10:00 p.m. EDT


I started to say something nice about Paul Johnson, like The Volokh Conspiracy's Tyler Cowan, but then I saw these memorable lines by Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell:

Johnson is a dreadful old fraud, even as superannuated Tory farts go. And his prose style is wretched; the sort of sub-Burkean lugubrious sententiousness that conservatives are liable to mistake for profundity when they've overdone the port a bit.
and I changed my mind.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EDT

LOCAL HISTORY ... 09-29-03

Out in Bartow County, there's a memorial to the Ten Commandments hanging in the county courthouse. The ACLU, of which I'm a card carrying member, has challenged local authorities there, of course, and the battle is on. What interested me wasn't the predictable civil libertarianism of the ACLU, but the rally this past week that brought other"outsiders" into Bartow County to shore up local opinion. A self-proclaimed leader of the Klan from south Georgia joined the members of Atlanta's House of Prayer, an African American congregation, to praise the Lord and hang the Ten Commandments. The pastor of the House of Prayer is currently behind bars for beating children during church services, but they had a passel of ‘em out praising the Lord this last week. The Klansman said he didn't mind rallying with the Negroes."I thought they were called Christians," he said. Ernie Suggs did his best on this story for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but it would take a Flannery O'Connor or a Will Campbell to do it justice. They wouldn't tell it the same either. I'm not sure whose version I'd prefer, but they'd both be hum-dingers.

The bigger local history story in Atlanta these days is the publication of Steve Oney's And The Dead Shall Rise. It re-tells the story of the death of Mary Phagan in an Atlanta pencil factory, the conviction of its manager, Leo Frank, for her murder, the governor's grant of clemency to Frank, and the lynchers who seized and executed him. This is one great and terrifying story, with layer after layer to be examined. Thirty-five years ago, Leonard Dinnerstein told it as best a historian could at that time. But the truth was that Cobb County's finest white folk had organized the group who lynched Leo Frank. It wasn't a mob of rabble. An ex-governor, a state legislator, a sheriff, the most influential local merchants decided that Leo Frank was to die and they saw that it was done. Cobb countians weren't ready to tell Dinnerstein about it 50 years after the event. Now, 17 years after he began his research and 87 years after the lynching of Leo Frank, Oney's naming names: Marietta's finest; and some of their grandchildren are owning up to it. Many of them didn't know it. It wasn't talked about.

Update: The AJC is serializing selected chapters in Oney's book. I'll post them as they appear:

A. Leo Frank is convicted of the murder of Mary Phagan.
B. Riot breaks out in Atlanta when Governor John Slaton commutes Leo Frank's death sentence. The good Christians of Dacula lynch Slaton in effigy. A sign underneath his effigy reads:"Governor John Slaton, King of the Jews ...."

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EDT


Two op-eds and the scandal:

A) David Brooks's op-ed, "Lonely Campus Voice," in yesterday's New York Times about the scarcity of conservative voices in important academic communities, particularly in the liberal arts, is must reading. See also: Juan Non-Volokh's commentary on it at The Volokh Conspiracy. But the interesting conversation is provoked by Timothy Burke's and Henry Farrell's response to Brooks at Crooked Timber, Invisible Adjunct, Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass and David Adesnik at Oxblog, herehere, and here.

B) Nicholas Kristof's op-ed, "God on Their Side," is another must read. Its appreciation of the work of Christian missionaries abroad is a welcome note."... evangelicals may be Africa's most important feminist influence today," says Kristoff. Amen, brother!

C) The long-brewing scandal which apparently involves one or more high White House officials in blowing the cover of a CIA operative as an act of political retribution against her husband strikes me as one of potentially enormous proportions. Increasingly, George W. Bush's White House begins to look like Richard Nixon's. The CIA's demand for an investigation of the White House is reported in the Washington Post. Atrios and Josh Marshall are all over the story. In both cases, also scroll down. See also: CalPundit and Daniel Drezner. Josh Chafetz and Henry Farrell at Oxblog and Crooked Timber put in an important cautionary note.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 p.m. EDT


My friend from our days together in seminary, Laurence Lampert at IUPUI, is the Friedrich Nietzsche expert in my circle and I know too little of him to say very much that is intelligent, but the story of his life and thought is lately being uncovered from the pall thrown over it by his sister, Elisabeth."We more or less know about Nietzsche," writes Jenny Diski,

but Elisabeth, the little sister and living embodiment of everything the mad philosopher disdained, who took control of her brother's thought, should not on any account be overlooked. Her life is a story of mediocrity triumphing over inspiration, meanness over excess, ressentiment over the Übermensch. Her transformation of her brother's work into a Nazi cookbook bears an uncanny resemblance to the rise of National Socialism itself in a chaotic Germany. After a lifetime of failing to keep up with her brother, she finally appropriated him, body and what was left of his mind: not so much will to power as determined opportunism. Little beasts that lay their eggs in a larger creature and whose offspring use the living body of their host as a food store come to mind.
After reading that bit, let your morbidity take you through the rest. Jenny Diski reviews Carol Diethe's new biography, Nietzsche's Sister and the Will to Power: A Biography of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche for the London Review of Books.

Posted by Ralph 11:15 p.m. EDT

WHILE WE'RE WAITING ... 09-27-03

While we're waiting for Tim Burke's reply over on Easily Distracted (apparently, he is) and, more importantly, for Christine Heyrman to make her Bancroft Prize winning book worthy of its honor, Simon Kuper's piece in the Financial Times about oddball animal sports is too good to miss. Many of them, apparently, are a legacy of the British Empire. Animal rights activists will surely find West Javan Ram Butting the most offensive, but any friend of a tortoise named Rosa Luxemburg is a friend of mine. Thanks to Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber for the tip. What a terrific blog the Crooked Fellows have!

Posted by Ralph 1:30 p.m. EDT

SAID ... 09-26-03

Eric Alterman and Christopher Hitchens pay fine personal tributes to Edward Said.

Posted by Ralph 10:45 p.m. EDT

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.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 p.m. EDT

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 11:00 a.m. EDT

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