Blogs > Cliopatria > A Festival of Trolls and Churchill Links ...

Feb 12, 2005 2:07 pm

A Festival of Trolls and Churchill Links ...

At Horizon, one of its group members, Ben Brumfield of Austin, Texas, comments:"I owe this whole Churchill flap for my discovery of the History News Network's wonderful blog Cliopatria. I may never post again." Cliopatria can be seduced by compliments, Mr. Brumfield, and she'll be adding Horizon to her History Blogroll, but she doesn't encourage infidelity or withholding favors from one's own. Gotta watch out for those alienation of affection law suits!

In the blogosphere, unpleasant sniping from trolls is probably more common than seductive compliments. A troll may appear in many guises. There are Lefty trolls and Righty trolls. Some troll pseudonymously; others troll in their own names. Recent encounters with trolls reminded me of this post from nearly a year ago:

I think it started with Tim Burke's"Battle of the Moms". I think Chun the Unavoidable spotted what he thought was a bourgeois rationalization. I thinkInvisible Adjunct cleaned Chun's clock. It's the old Burke/IA one-two routine. The sucker punch leaves those bells ringing in your head. Bre'r Chun, do not be tempted to go after Burke's apparently innocent introspections. Above all, do not ever mess with the Invisible One. If she comes after you, run!
You can't get the full gist of the thing now because both Chun and IA stopped blogging some time ago and Chun unblogged himself by taking down his site. He was what you'd call a Hard Left Troll. Scott McLemee used to say that how one uses anonymity is a measure of character. Chun used his pseudonymity to dart into discussions and raise hell with those who didn't repeat the Party line. IA was also pseudonymous, but she was graceful and generous. Rarely did she go on the attack, but when she thought it necessary -- Katy bar the door. She left poor Chun hanging naked in the breeze. Actually, I miss both the great IA and the lesser Chun. If I'm tempted to think there was a"golden age" of blogging in our past, Invisible Adjunct would be the star, but Chun would be in its cast of characters.

Most trolls don't even rise to Chun's quality. My friend, Adam Kotsko, has considerable experience with third rate pseudonymous trolls – people who called themselves Hindustani and low rent empiricist positivist. But neither"Hindustani" nor"low rent" rose to Chun's quality.

Sometimes trolls are one's near professional peers, acting in their own names. Mark Grimsley notes that when the Asian American Studies program at Ohio State announced the opening of a month-long commemoration of Japanese internment in the United States, a retired member of his department responded with an e-mail saying:"I want to call your attention to the excellent book," – wait for it --"In Defense of Internment, by Michelle Malkin, or is this just a propaganda program from the gooney left?" Trolls don't intend to initiate significant discussion – only to antagonize and irritate. Mark's got the best response to it. You hold a"Gooney Left Open House" and a good time will be had by all.

But there are Lefty trolls, too, of course. David Salmanson and I ran into one – Louis Proyect – at Crooked Timber the other day. Proyect is an obscure former Troskyite, a computer technician at Columbia University, and the manager of a Marxist listserv. When Henry Farrell criticized Tim Burke's critique of Ward Churchill's work and cited Burke's response to that criticism and Thomas Brown's essay criticizing Churchill's claims about the Mandan Indians and the smallpox epidemic of 1837, Proyect trolled. Farrell and Burke were"mediocrities" and Farrell a"useful idiot."

Proyect was trolling on his own blog, as well. See:
Proyect, Swarthmore Professor Gives Churchill Failing Grade, Unrepentant Marxist, 6 Feb. Here, Farrell is"execrable", Burke writes"shitty prose" [ed: that's elegantly put.], and poor Marc Cooper, whose link merely directed Proyect to Burke's essay, is a"red-baiter" and spokesman for"the liberal imperialist (limp) left." But, see also:
Proyect,"The Mandan Smallpox Outbreak of 1837" Unrepentant Marxist, 10 Feb. After dishing insults to Brown, Burke, Cooper, and Farrell, Proyect says:

After having had a chance to review all of the material cited by Ward Churchill in relation to the Mandan smallpox outbreak of 1837, I am now persuaded that none of it supports his allegation that the US military conspired to infect them. In other words, the model of Lord Amherst, who did use smallpox blankets as a military weapon against American Indians in 1763, does not apply.
After all the personal invective, Proyect looks at the evidence and finds that Thomas Brown was essentially correct, but Brown, Burke, Farrell, and Cooper need expect no apology. (Well, geez, fellahs, welcome to the club. Even I recently had a troll refuse to apologize. It's the mark of their trollership.)

What interests me about the way Churchill, Malkin, and some of Churchill's apologists use history is that if you can find a precedent for an action in the past (Malkin's Japanese internment; Churchill on Lord Amherst's use of smallpox) it becomes, on the one hand, a convenient excuse for similar action in the present; or, on the other hand, justification for blatant distortion of history because we know that there was holocaust intent anyway. Proyect makes his support of Churchill's holocaust argument quite explicit here. If you doubt it, you are a"holocaust denier" and, yet, Proyect is finally persuaded that, in this case, the evidence denies it. Think about it. If past precedent justifies present action or blatant distortion of the historical record, we can repeat the 19th and 20th century's horrors; and we have, indeed, bought the post-modern notion that all the world's merely a text, to be construed as we will.

Fortunately, there are some serious additional citations on the Churchill matter: Michael Berube,"Around the Cornu," Michael Berube, 8 Feb.
Marc Cooper,"Little Eichmanns," marccooper, 4 Feb.
Marc Cooper,"Ward Churchill, Part II: Why It Makes a Difference," marccooper, 6 Feb.
Marc Cooper,"Fabricating Ward Churchill, Part Three," marccooper, 9 Feb.
Dan Simon, I Could Be Wrong ..., 7 Feb.
Charlie Brennan,"Controversy Fuels Interest in Churchill," Rocky Mountain News, 7 Feb.
Charlie Brennan, et al.,"Churchill Met With Gadhafi," Rocky Mountain News, 11 Feb.
Pamela White, The Man in the Maelstrom," Boulder Weekly, n.d. [ca 9 Feb.]
Scott Jaschik,"Debating Speech -- at Hamilton and Whitewater, Inside Higher Ed, 11 Feb.
Dave Kopel,"Media Uneven in Churchill Rumpus," Rocky Mountain News, 12 Feb.

Thanks to Jonathan Dresner and Jonathan Rees for the tips.

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More Comments:

Maarja Krusten - 2/16/2005

Thanks, Derek, for responding. (I told you I had followed the Reeves controversy, LOL). Perhaps there also is a difference in style of discourse between those who instruct others for a living (teachers, professors, educators in general), and those of us who have to use our persuasive powers to survive. We know what we're talking about, too, but might lose arguments on the job if we convey too much of a sense of superiority to listeners who, after all, also are experts, just in fields others than ours. Most of those who post in response to HNN's blogs are educators. I certainly feel as if I do not fit in with that style of discourse. So, it's back to lurk mode for Maarja, LOL. It's a lot safer there. Thanks again for your kindness and courtesy in responding, much appreciated.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/15/2005

Thanks, Maarja, for reminding all of us (me included) that as visible as they are, most people probably do not give a hoot about the comment arguments once they devolve.


Maarja Krusten - 2/15/2005

I've never worked in an academic environment, I chose a different career path after getting my history degrees. I guess I've been luckier than most of you, I've been spared the type of in-fighting that, after reading the HNN blogs over the last few months, I would guess occurs, at least from time to time, in academic circles. Yes, I've been involved in bitter battles, but they haven't involved colleagues and peers.

At age 54 with 32 years of Federal service, I have to say that, on the job, I don't think I know it all. In fact, I know I don't know it all. Of course, I've never worked as a teacher, someone who spends my days instructing others. For better or worse, I often have to zig zag my way through debates in my office, usually with people in jobs different from mine, who have no frame of reference, at all, for what I'm advocating. I am the only Historian at my federal agency. You really learn to be patient and to put yourself in the other person's shoes, I tell ya.

But, being a lone Historian isn't all bad. On the job, I'm still learning, from all kinds of people with differing jobs and perspectives and political viewspoints and educational levels and pay grades. Maybe I have been lucky but I've met very few people who are not worth listening to. So I've never hung the label of "troll" on anyone and never will. For someone like me, all of this sniping is disheartening to read, given the really serious issues that need historians' attention.

I do wish the bloggers and posters could get off this kick about trolls (the "definition" of which seems to have expanded way beyond my understanding of it) and jobs and academic degrees and titles. For what it is worth, I'm not influenced at all by put-downs of other bloggers or posters, whether the insults are directed at age, or type of degree, or lack of degree, or profession, or whatever. I only look at who argues the merits of a case.

I read every posting carefully, and do not care at all whether someone is a Doctor or a pizza delivery man, I'm equally willing to consider the views of either. And I can learn as much from a young blogger (such as Derek Catsam -- Hi, Derek) as I can from a veteran blogger (such as Ralph Luker). But there are days when it really is hard to hang in there and keep is one of them. Yes, yes, I know, there apparently is back story here that we regular readers don't know about. (Yes, I did read all the postings on the Reeves thread, both here and on Rebunk.) But in fairness to us readers, that _is_ all we can go by.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/15/2005

Dr. Howard (Status Anxiety Alert!!!) --
So 23 words in a long post is so brief that it does not count if those 23 words happen to be patently offensive? That is a rather odd argument. If i were ther one being called a "troll" I might take exception to it. In fact, Steve is my friend, and I do take exception to it. Ralph's 23 words (well, not for nothing, but it was actually 23 words PLUS the entire post to which he linked -- in fact we are talking about hundreds, perhaps thousands of words, are we not?) were utterly unnecessary.
At least we know acknowledge that Ralph was in fact implying strongly that Tootle is a Troll. That's one lie out of the way.


(Ooops -- I mean Dr. Catsam. Nope, secure enough not to flaunt it -- I mean dc.)

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/15/2005

Ralph writes the following: "at which point, Derek leaped in to correct me by saying that a troll is known by a troll's behavior."

Beyond evoking my original question, which is "indeed, where did I say this?" Or which could be, "why is Ralph lying about what I said" or which could be "why is Ralph making stuff up?" my main querstion is, so what? Let us say that a troll is defined by his behavior (a roll would be characterized by his behavior). What is more trollish, publicly disagreeing with someone and then writing about it on one's own blog as Steve did (apparently the definition of troll is now "disagreeing with Ralph Luker publicly"), or bringing up the whole Reeves argument again, implying that Steve is a troll, then cravenly denying it, and then misrepresenting what someone else said in defending his friend and colleague from being called a troll.

I fully expect the next step to be Ralph coming up from under the Cliopatria bridge and demanding a toll.


Jason Nelson - 2/15/2005

Dr. Howard,

This is a continuation of another discussion. My comparison to Senator Joe did not come out of thin air; it was based on my interactions with Mr. Luker in the past. I'll take it back, if it will please you.
This does not change the fact that Mr. Luker does not play fair. He often uses adolescent debating tactics and artful dodging to paint himself as superior to some of those he disagrees with. It started with him taking to the warpath against Mr. Reeves. I believe he even did an entire post lamenting that the fear of lawsuits is preventing so much justice from being done. It is not a stretch to connect the dots. Then, when he was challenged by Mr. Tootle, to support why a man's career should be questioned because of an ambiguous link on a web post, he really acted up, all the while still refusing to argue on the merits of the discussion. Likewise, since we began to connect the dots, lets finish the picture. Mr. Luker included as a link, in his brief treatment on the "trolls", much of the above-mentioned discussion. I do not believe an informed, reasonable observer can come away with anything other than he was addressing Mr. Tootle, even if among others.
Like I've said before, Im just a pizza delivery guy. Sometimes all these words and ideas confuse me. I'm so out of place. However, I do know this. I don't like Mr. Luker's behavior. It is not _fair_. I guess I just expect much more from a distinguished man of letters such as Mr. Luker. Life is full of little disappointments.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/15/2005

Unless one simply wants to perpetuate flame wars, Derek, Stephen, and Nelson won't continue picking at this. I told Stephen that a troll is known by a troll's behavior -- at which point, Derek leaped in to correct me by saying that a troll is known by a troll's behavior. I think we are agreed on that, are we not? What's the point of going on and on about it? Unless, of course, one is a troll.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/15/2005

That is simply not true, as on multiple occasions in the link he provides his issue is with Tootle. This is simply a fact and no amount of obfuscation is going to deny it. It is not self-centered for Steve to wonder why tis issue is being brought up again, and in any case, if it the intended meaning is so unclear that two professors and a student are this confused about it, maybe, just maybe, the problem is with the writing.
You are wrong, david.

David Lion Salmanson - 2/15/2005

And aren't we a bit self-centered Misters Tootle and Nelson (he said using the familiar and not professional title to suggest comraderie)? Ralph was referring to an exchange over at Crooked Timber where a computer programmer from Columbia became a bit trollish.

Sharon Howard - 2/15/2005

This post by Ralph contains 1083 words about trolling (high and low quality). In it, he gave 23 words to a somewhat plaintive complaint that he considered himself to have been recently trolled. I don't, as it happens, altogether agree with him on that (although the exchange was far from civil, he did a good deal to provoke, or at least continue, hostilities). Ralph is frequently exasperating, and not always innocent of name-calling.

But calling him Senator Joe does not make him so. You have done nothing to engage with the substance of Ralph's post. Instead you indulged in a piece of grossly exaggerated personal attack and invective, in which it was you, not he, who raised again the sort of insults that were thrown around last time. You have also continued to attempt to provoke him. We all know that that's easy enough. I hope that (for once...) he'll have more sense than to rise to the bait.

And by the way, that's Dr Howard to you, buddy. So you deliver pizzas? I used to take chickens to pieces for a living.

Jason Nelson - 2/14/2005

Mr. Luker does not want to have a discussion on the merits. He has done an artful job of avoiding it and I suspect he will continue to do so.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/14/2005

Saying someone is something does not make them that thing. When one historian publicly calls out someone else, and uses their name, and does so on their blog, and participates on another blog about the debate in question, they are not a "troll" by any standard definition as I understand it. They might be right or wrong on the merits, but let's pretend that words have meaning just this once.

Good to see who is letting that weeks old debate die. Good to see who is calling whom names. Trollish indeed.


Jason Nelson - 2/14/2005

Ms. Howard,
While it is entertaining to exaggerate my position by talking about baby eating, I am happy to defend Mr. Luker. He does not, to my knowledge, eat babies.
He also does not like to answer direct, simple, and fair questions. For the record I do not believe I am a troll, act like a troll, or smell like a troll. However, for the sake of this discussion, lets assume that I am a troll. After all, Im just a pizza delivery guy, what do I know? Mr. Tootle is a much more professional and disciplined writer than I am, so I want to focus on the comments directed at him.
Here is a chance for Mr. Luker to reward the good faith of Mr. Kotsko. I have a fair, simple and direct question for Mr. Luker. Could you please use specific examples of behavior to support your belief that Mr. Tootle is a troll?
To the readers, it is up to you to decide if this is a fair question or not. Further, you will have to decide if it is fair to drop the "troll" designation without supporting it, and to use it as a shelter to avoid answering fair questions.

Jason Nelson - 2/13/2005

Mr. Luker,
I would like to thank you for the honorary doctorate…I have always wanted one…an early Valentine’s day gift. Thanks again.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/13/2005

Dr. Tootle, I will explain this once and, thereafter, refuse to respond to anything you and, especially Professor Nelson, have to say. Anything I say at this point that provokes further attacks is called "feeding the trolls." One is advised not to "feed the trolls." In other words, a troll is not determined by who I say is a troll but by how other people behave. I am a troll if I behave like one. You are one if you behave like one. Trolls also are characterized by refusals to apologize for their offensive behavior. I have apologized -- and on many occasions -- to persons I believed were due apology.

Stephen Tootle - 2/13/2005

We shouldn't jump to any conclusions until Mr. Luker clarifies his remarks.

Adam Kotsko - 2/13/2005

You know, that doesn't actually sound like Ralph Luker at all to me.

Sharon Howard - 2/13/2005

He eats babies too, you know.

Jason Nelson - 2/13/2005

Perhaps this is simply another transparent attempt by Mr. Luker to smear and label his opponents to give him the illusion that he occupies the higher intellectual ground. Given his record on how he likes to "persuade", by name calling, avoiding answering simple questions (otherwise known as dancing), and by baseless condescension, I have no choice but to believe that this post is yet another attempt to pigeonhole any and all who disagree with Mr. Luker as "trolls". In this way his opposition can be relegated second class intellectual status, not to be taken seriously. Once again, the more I hear from Mr. Luker the more the comparison to Senator Joe seams to fit. If Mr. Luker can not convince, he will smear, condescend, and demonize any of his critics. For those who are inclined to be a touch more reasonable, let me be clear. Just because one disagrees with Mr. Luker, does not make him, by definition, a "troll". The beauty of this forum is that all of this public discourse is available for all to weigh, and each individual has the opportunity to examine the argument of every other individual. I have confidence that the readers will see through this ploy by Mr. Luker, the great rhetorical stuntman, and see this post for what it is, an unchecked dismissal of anyone who may disagree with Mr. Luker because they are "trolls". Nonsense.

Stephen Tootle - 2/12/2005

Before I respond to the accusation that I am a "troll" I want to give Mr. Luker a chance to clarify his remarks. Mr. Luker, were you writing about me as a "troll," or were you referring to someone else in the exchange?

Louis N Proyect - 2/12/2005

What is so controversial about calling attention to the underachievement of Timothy Burke and Henry Farrell? Farrell has zero books published and Burke is the author of an obscure post-colonial treatise on Zimbabwe that is read by other specialists.

Furthermore, the issue is holocaust denial. The logic of Brown's position is that unless you are administering bullets or smallpox blankets to Indians, there is no genocide going on. That is far worse than anything that Ward Churchill said about 9/11 and his failure to document charges about what took place in Mandan villages in 1837.

And as far as Burke's shitty prose is concerned, I invite anybody to run it through a grammar checker and see all the red underlines. I myself run all my longer pieces through a grammar checker myself before foisting it on the public. I guess if you are a big-time scholar at Swarthmore, you don't need to be bothered by such burdensome tasks.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/12/2005

Yes. I agree that Chun was a high class troll and that "low rent" seems to be just your basic slimebag.

Adam Kotsko - 2/12/2005

Chun was an example of what it looks like when a high-grade troll also gets his own blog. He was one of my favorite bloggers for that reason -- I'm just disappointed that he never trolled my site.

That low-rent guy is currently going under a bunch of different names and attacking the sites of everyone on my blogroll, until they finally get around to blocking him. Let me tell you -- that's annoying.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/12/2005

I would point out that some of the criticisms of Churchill's claims about Amherst, and the Mandan, were pointed out last November on HNN by Guenter Lewy:

I think Lewy is too generous on the Amherst case. From my reading of the original sources some years ago, the timing is off -- Amherst's suggestion (which has become transmuted into an order) postdates the smallpox breakout, which was initiated on site by soldiers before any suggestion reached the Fort.

Timothy James Burke - 2/12/2005

There's another Net term that applies here, what some folks have called the "energy creature". It's a reference to a science-fiction trope that pops up in various movies, TV shows and books: an alien who grows stronger and stronger the more it gets shot with phasers and death rays and so on, because it feeds off of all energy directed at it.

It's a bit different than a troll. A troll is happy to have needled someone into responding, sure, but trolls like to flit around, and they can actually be rather playful. An energy creature, however, is drawn voraciously to anything that gives it attention and grows all the stronger the more attention it is given.

Don't feed energy creatures.