Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Here's the cut: Read Gordon Wood's original essay.
Pennsylvania Republicans are seeking to recruit a candidate for the state legislature via newspaper want ads."I've never seen that," said Political Science Professor G. Terry Madonna at Millersville University,"but nothing surprises me anymore." Madonna should have checked with his colleagues in the History Department. In 1946, Richard Nixon got his start in politics by responding to a want ad for a Republican candidate for a seat from California in the House of Representatives.
Michael Bywater writes that ‘tis the season to be phony in a review for the Independent of William Ian Miller's Faking It. By all accounts, it's a learned and perceptive study of authenticity and inauthenticity, an issue to ponder when you're making out that list of New Year's Resolutions.
In a piece for USA Today, Kathy Kiely writes about blogging as a major new force addressing an elite audience in partisan politics. Bruce Bartlett at National Review Onlinesurveys the significant increase of blogging among economists in the past year and argues that academics in other fields will increasingly take up their keyboards and blog as a means of communicating with a broader public.
Happy New Year to All from Cliopatria!
Reading Kenneth Pollack's survey of the Middle East I was reminded, a little, of the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868. Pollack says the Middle East suffers from a surplus of educated but useless males, disrespect for the rule of law, failed pseudo-socialist economies, kleptocratic leadership, terrorism, and the only apparently viable alternative is Islamicism and Islamic fundamentalism. In mid-19th century Japan there was an archaically-educated and underemployed hereditary elite, divided into roughly 250 highly independent clans and living on shrinking government stipends, a relatively weak legal tradition (again, about 250 independent systems), a tottering pseudo-monarchical Shogunate, and widespread disaffection with Japan's position in the world. A relatively small group of mid-rank radicals -- classically educated, with strong clan loyalties, pro-Imperial, anti-foreign -- engineered a coalition of regional powers and a small corps of troops using modern weapons and methods that forced the Shogunate to initiate reforms (as well as crackdowns because of the steady stream of assassinations and terror and infighting coming from the pro-Imperial factions) and eventually forced the Shogunate into total collapse. I wouldn't want to push the comparison too far: Japan had a dynamic mercantile economy (though it got a little creaky when foreign goods started to come in and Japanese silk started to go out) and strong middle class. Japan had only a small fundamentalist problem (and most of them were working on the side of the reformers, at least initially).
But the whole process, from the initial contact with Commodore Perry to the Meiji Restoration (named after the reign-name of the pro-Imperialists Emperor who conveniently took the throne that same year) took only fifteen years. Then, having toppled the Shogunate, the pro-Imperial samurai leaders of Japan proceeded to undertake a thorough and radical revision of Japanese society, economics, politics, law and culture. Within twenty years, Japan was playing an active role in regional politics; in forty, Japan was the leading nation in Asia. (And in eighty, Japanese Imperialism had led to the US atom bombing and occupying Japan and again reforming Japanese politics and society, so the story isn't entirely positive, but there's time for that later.)
So it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see a radical, but practical, Arab nationalism take hold and lead the Middle East through extensive and positive changes. If it follows the Japanese model: the movement will be led by middle and low ranking bureaucrats, competent but frustrated at the failure of opportunity; the ideology of the movement will be divisive, starkly nationalistic and a little frightening, but ultimately more focused on internal reform rather than lashing out. The initial moves of the movement, after seizing power, will be to break down traditional barriers (clan, state) to"national" identity and unity, as well as to jettison counterproductive traditions and entitlements (for example, the Meiji state legislated the samurai class out of existence). Ironically, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference seems to actually fit the bill pretty well.
So, in a round-about way, I'm starting to think that Pollack is right when he argues that success in creating an independent liberal democracy in Iraq is vital to our national interest (I already thought it was a good thing, by the way, but for different reasons, mostly having to do with the joys of living in a liberal democracy.). Given how powerful and threatening Japan became after its Restoration revolution, what would the world look like half a century after an Arabian Restoration?
Everyone who knew Mike Yaconelli had many stories to tell about being with him. Ben Patterson recalls"the time someone unwisely asked [Yaconelli] to give thanks for the food set before us in a restaurant. Mike stood atop the chair he was sitting on, raised his arms into the air and began to pray loudly and sonorously. Our faces got red, our ears hot, but we laughed our heads off, and I'm still talking about it."
I loved and hated being with him in public. He mainly loved it. He looked for ways he could create disequilibrium in a room, or in a crowded elevator. Once he spoke to me in confidential tones just loud enough for those around us to think they were eavesdropping on a private conversation. He said,"Ben, when are you going to go back to your wife and family? She's heartbroken and the kids are crying and hungry." The people around me were glowering, and there was nothing I could say to him or them that wouldn't make me seem even more guilty. I wanted to throttle him, but his impish grin saved his life, and I'm still talking about it. And I'm still thinking he was totally out of line.Robert Darden recalls the scene at a large church convention banquet where Yaconelli and his friend, Tony Campolo, an ethicist at Eastern University, were seized by holy hilarity.
In the midst of a giant banqueting hall filled with more than a thousand people, Mike suddenly hung a spoon from his nose, stood in his chair and wordlessly began rotating in the chair, his hands waving above his head, his fingers snapping to a soundless beat – like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. Immediately, Tony Campolo joined him in the silent dance. Then, across the hall, dozens of people hopped up and joined them. As quickly as it began, it was over and Mike resumed eating as if nothing had happened.If there were no laughter in heaven, earth would be a very sad place, indeed. Be of good cheer. Mike's got laughs in store for you yet.
Ombudsgod makes an important point: the ombudsman at the Palm Beach Post failed to catch the fact that we don't know enough about Strom Thurmond's affair with his family's African American maid to accuse him of rape. Essie Mae Washington-Williams does not believe herself to be the child of a rapist. Of course, there was a disproportionate power dynamic between her father and her mother, but you cannot make the leap from that abstraction to certain knowledge of the circumstances of her conception. Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the tip.
My friend, Eugene McCarraher at Villanova, has a fine essay on Christianity's challenge to Marxism at In These Times. While I'm thinking about McCarraher, do yourself a favor and read his book, Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern American Social Thought. In a world so badly fragmented as ours, we need to remember those who dreamed the possibility of community. Thanks to Mildly Malevolent for the tip.
Speaking of books, let's take advantage of Cliopatria's convenient new comments function. Tell us about the best book you've read in recent days. I know what my choice is: Edward P. Jones's The Known World: A Novel. It's a story of the world of a black slave-owner in ante-bellum Virginia. My own research on a bi-racial family in that area tells me that Jones gets the tone of things just about right and his fiction illuminates that world for us in vital ways that my bondage to empirical evidence and surviving documents simply can't do. It is an amazing achievement, fully worthy of a National Book Award. So, what's the best book that you've read lately?
If true, this legacy says more about how the Senate has changed than anything about Simon. The former Illinois senator was someone who celebrated his somewhat old-fashioned nature, and he sought to wield influence in somewhat old-fashioned ways—by framing how issues would debated (a non-lawyer, he obtained a slot on the Judiciary Committee, recognizing the importance that even lower-tier judicial nominations would have on contemporary politics) or in highlighting issues that otherwise might have been ignored (financial disclosure in the cynical world of 1950s Illinois politics, Americans’ inability to speak foreign languages in an increasingly global world). Dissenters traditionally have made their mark in the Senate by taking the approach that Simon did; in the more partisan, less idea- and debate-oriented Senate, however, that strategy seems less and less likely to yield results.
Reflecting on the passing of senators, the NTSB also recently released its report on the plane crash that killed Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, concluding that pilot error caused the crash. In this sense, the report provides another reminder of the importance of chance in politics.
In a preview of how Howard Dean would gain ground in 2003, Wellstone had celebrated his dissent from Bush administration policies in a tough 2002 reelection contest. His vote against the resolution authorizing war in Iraq improved rather than weakened his chances, and in the days before his death, he had amassed a comfortable lead over his GOP challenger, (now senator) Norm Coleman. If Wellstone had lived, he almost certainly would have prevailed in November, producing a Senate with a 50-49 Republican majority. Yet widespread speculation existed that Republican senator Lincoln Chafee would have joined Jim Jeffords as an independent who caucuses with the Democrats had his vote made the difference in terms of which party organized the Senate. One wonders how 2003 would have differed politically had Tom Daschle rather than Bill Frist served as Senate majority leader.
The potential effects of Wellstone’s death call to mind a similar event from political history. In 1917, Wisconsin senator Paul Husting, a Democrat, was accidentally killed while deer hunting. Although an election for his seat was not due until 1920, Wisconsin law mandated a special election, which was won by Republican Irvine Lenroot. The 1918 elections produced a Senate with a 49-to-47 Republican majority; had Husting lived, Democratic Vice President Thomas Marshall would have cast the tie-breaking vote to organize an evenly divided Senate, meaning that Democrat Gilbert Hitchcock rather than Henry Cabot Lodge would have chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Perhaps the fate of the Treaty of Versailles would have been the same. But there was little question that Lodge’s delaying tactics (the hearings lasted three months) and his calling of effective anti-Wilson witnesses such as Robert Lansing and William Bullitt helped pierce the atmosphere of inevitability surrounding the treaty’s adoption.
According to the NY Times, computer scientists are developing software that can produce credible paraphrases of English-language texts. Yippee. It's hard enough assigning papers to students today, with the ease of computer-aided plagiarism. It's pretty easy to track down most copying from the internet (do they really think I don't know how to use Google?) though subscription encyclopedia are becoming more popular and are a little harder to get a look at. But paraphrased material can be very hard to track down if it isn't cited.
Some teachers have abandoned research papers entirely in favor of in-class writing, but I find it hard to see how to teach writing about history without students having the time and space to read and consider their sources, develop arguments, and consider alternatives. I don't want to become a writing teacher, spending class after class on the argumentative essay and citation standards; that's what we have writing courses for. But if (when) this tool becomes widely available, I'm going to have to seriously rethink the papers I do assign. I already assign most of my papers based on specific course texts, with questions quirky enough to be hard to find the answers elsewhere (though I have to start changing them, because I suspect there are starting to be copies of answers to my questions floating around). It's tough to be very original, particularly in classes like World Civ surveys where the students have very weak backgrounds in the subject matter, in writing and in analysis. I do what I can, but students don't always appreciate my assigning questions without clearly predetermined answers...
This raises other questions, as well, about the nature of authorship, about the nature of education, about the automation of supposedly intellectual tasks, and about honor and ethics in modern society. But at the moment I'm really much more concerned with my students' intellectual and ethical development than with first principles and intellectual property.
Deputy Schools Chancellor Diana Lam, however, has made a career of opposing gifted and talented programs, first in San Antonio, then in Providence, and now in New York. Lam argues that these programs are anti-"diversity" and elitist. A few weeks ago, she announced that the city would"expand the definition of what it means to be gifted and talented" so as to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. Lam was quite candid that this"expansion" would entail including non-academic factors; she had taken a similar approach in seeking to transform Providence's Classical High.
The impending change has generated strong opposition. Last week, two city councilors urged the mayor and chancellor to overrule Lam, but Chancellor Joel Klein was noncommittal. This morning, the New York Post had a forceful editorial opposing Lam's proposal. The issue interests me because of the candor of Lam's language."Diversity" is used so often today in higher education that the term has no consistent meaning. It is useful to remember that, when carried to the extreme that Lam envisions,"diversity" entails a tradeoff with academic rigor, a tradeoff that sometimes is not worth the price.
I was reminded of my little shrine yesterday when I read this story about Lauryn Hill denouncing corruption of the clergy at a Vatican-sponsored concert. Hill's pronouncement at the Vatican reminds me also of Eartha Kitt's denunciation of the Johnson administration's pursuit of the Viet Nam War when she was at a White House conference in 1968. Can you imagine the bodacious courage it would take to do such a thing? Some people call it rude and tasteless, but the prophets are always similarly dismissed.
More than that, we've recently been learning that African American women, more often than not, were the backbone of local civil rights movements all across the South. Finally, after Dr. King got his national holiday and two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies, we learn about the women who were on the ground and doing the work: Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and toomanymore to name them all. We should have known that all along and my Aunt Jemima is a constant reminder of it.
From the ruthless partisanship of a Tom DeLay, which knows no restraint, to the reckless fiscal policies and the crusading foreign policy of this administration, I see nothing but repudiation of core conservative values. The genius of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain combined couldn't have made up a better name for a conservative American republican. Alas, he isn't one. Balanced budgets? All too briefly remembered. International restraint? Please. Several days ago, I wrote about the dilemma of American liberalism, caught between the competing values of freedom and equality. The problem of"American conservativism" is that it isn't conservative at all. It is, in fact, quite radical and, I fear, recklessly so.
As I see it, the new American" conservatism" is an alliance of two core constituencies: A) believers in an unbridled capitalism as productive of the greatest good for"me" and B) religious traditionalists who feel threatened by social change. It is an uneasy alliance because the purposes of A do not well serve the needs of B. Ten years ago, I wrote that "industrial capitalism" has been"the radical force in American society, generating social change of unforeseen consequence, heedlessly disruptive of human community." We have no reason to think that post-industrial capitalism is any less so. Witness a jobless economic recovery that winks at illegal immigrants working for less than minimum wages here at home and outsources middle income jobs for 1/10th of their domestic cost abroad.
The very unconservative nature of American conservatism appears in Michael Crichton's critique of contemporary environmentalism. It is currently widely cited in" conservative" circles, by Richard Jensen's Conservativenet, by Glenn Reynold's Instapundit, by David Beito on Liberty & Power and elsewhere.
My colleague, Oscar Chamberlain, may comment on the"science" in Crichton's address. I have no expertise in it. What fascinated me was Crichton's attack on the"religion" of environmentalism. That might even give religious traditionalists some pause. Crichton apparently believes that merely because one can discern in some environmentalists' operative assumptions a belief in a primal rightness of things which was somehow and subsequently relentlessly damaged that their beliefs can, in the name of"science," therefore be dismissed as"religious." Well, welcome to much of the whole western intellectual tradition, Mr. Crichton. Sure, the myth of a primal nature of things has its origins in the early Biblical narrative, but it is elemental to the western psyche. Variants of it are found in every major western intellect since Augustine. Hobbs, Locke, Marx, Darwin, Freud argue about the character of our primal selves and society, but they all take our primitive condition as a benchmark. Doing so isn't essentially unscientific. Science wishes to discover what that primal condition was and how it has changed.
What passes for" conservatism" in America isn't conservative at all. If it were, it would take the lead in efforts at" conservation." Don't count on unbridled post-industrial capitalism to do that.
items (products or processes) that satisfy all these criteria:"Stirrups, whipped cream, cowpox as a vaccine for smallpox, penicillin, Arabic numerals, the abacus, sterile technique, distillation, the printing press, the scientific method, pasteurization, the horseshoe, the toothbrush, the compass, the wheelbarrow, glass lenses, gunpowder, soap, and horse plow collars" have been commonly suggested, but some of them don't meet all the criteria. The abacus is out because the Romans had it.
They were unknown to people in ancient Rome circa 150 B.C.
They could be manufactured with then-existing technology and then-available raw materials.
They would be at least modestly useful in that era.
Even a nontechnically minded person today -- say, a smart 12-year-old -- would know how to make and use them. This is particularly important, and one on which many suggestions seem to founder.
Their absence would be pretty clearly visible.
If you don't mind the spoilers, Cliopatria's Tim Burke has a critically appreciative review of"The Return of the King" at Easily Distracted.
Twenty-five years after I invented the A-bomb .... Well, ah, it wasn't exactly me who did it and he didn't actually invent it, but John Aristotle Phillips got an A on his Princeton term paper for his figuring out how to make one and life's been downhill ever since. You end up indiscriminately being a fund-raiser for Bush, Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott, and Joe Lieberman.
And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
The article, by Timothy Noah, comments on what I consider one of the most interesting aspects of American diplomatic history, namely the tensions between the consistent expansionism of the United States and the persistent strand of anti-imperialism in American political culture.
My first two books examined Senate anti-imperialists—figures such as Ernest Gruening, Robert La Follette, or George Norris, dissenters who would make the anti-war stance of someone like Howard Dean look tame—and I always ask my classes to consider not only the question of why the United States has embraced empire throughout its history but why its doing so has so consistently stirred domestic opposition.
That said, I agree with Noah that Cheney’s celebration of empire is rare among American policymakers, especially since 1900.
Instead his Remarks to the Commonwealth Club show him to less an advocate of science and more of a second-rate Ann Coulter or Michael Moore.
The points that he really made were these: (1) most environmentalists are religious airheads, just like Christians, and (2) most people, including most members of the Commonwealth Club, are dumber than Michael Crichton.
The way he made those points was easy. He made scores of unsubstantiated claims. If he had followed his own advice and used science scrupulously to make his points he would have had problems.
For example, the one issue he discusses at length is DDT. He argues that its banning is one example of environmental-religious blindness in that it did not harm animals. But the only"evidence" he gives for this is asserting that it was falsely labeled a carcinogen. That may or may not have been true, I don't know the regulatory history/ But I do know the studies that indicated DDT caused harm concluded that it did so by impairing reproduction, not by causing cancer.
I might not be writing this if he had given even one authority to show that it did not hurt animals. That would have been consistent with his call for a scientific environmentalism. But he doesn't.
Someone reading this might reasonably say,"But in a speech, does he have time to do that? Maybe there is a good study out there that refutes clearly the previous findings on DDT."
Maybe there is. And if any readers know of one I will be happy to post information on it here. I do believe in using science honestly, even when it reveals that I have been wrong.
For the moment, however, Crichton's own words will do for a response. This long excerpt will show his real attitude toward scientific debate and for giving sources. (It will also document my comment about his ego).
I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.
I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous [sic] science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependant [sic] on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.
He does have time. He knows it. He chooses not to because he does not respect his audience. He says so himself.
So why have some pretty intelligent people latched onto this speech? I think it's the same reason Coulter and Moore are popular. They pick targets that their audiences hate and caricature them. Crichton chooses those environmentalists who tend to have an Eden-like view of nature, caricatures them, and then implicitly connects them with everybody concerned about the environment, except for himself or course.
Some readers I think saw the caricature, liked it, and didn't look carefully at what followed. It's a mistake I've made.
The sad thing here is that Crichton's a smart man and a rich man. If he truly wants to support good environmental science, he can do much good. But if this is any indication, good science is the last thing on his mind.
PS Here's the link to Science. Crichton is right that it is good. Put Global Warming and CO2 into the internal search engine and ask yourself if he's read it lately.
Readers of my postings in Cliopatria might wonder why I seem so concerned with what might loosely be labeled excessive political correctness in both personnel and curricular matters. Partly, of course, my approach to these matters arises out of my tenure case: when an institution tries to fire you for advocating merit rather than gender quotas in hiring and criticizing a college-sponsored educational event on Middle East international affairs that had no supporters of either the US or Israel, you become sensitive to how ideologues can abuse the personnel process. And, as a glance through the cases handled by FIRE suggests, it seems that in the academy today, the threat to academic freedom more often comes from an extremist “left” than from the right.
But I also am so interested in such curricular matters because of the situation on my own campus, Brooklyn College. It never seemed to me a question that the job of a professor was to teach students about academic content rather than behavioral skills or what to think about political “values.” At Brooklyn, now, however, that question is very much up for debate, partly due to the apparent attitude of the campus administration. I’m a believer in Alan Charles Kors’ argument that sunlight—public exposure—is the best way to combat such ideas.
Over at Easily Distracted, Tim Burke expands on his thoughts about"The Return of the King" with a second essay about genre and the problem of what I would call"disciplinary discipleship." Odd that I'd never thought how those two words had the same root. Followers of the same discipline would be disciples, but Burke sees the problem in thinking and working that way. Sure, we need to learn from the learned in apprenticeship, but a follower cannot transcend the achievement of the leader. That's the problem of derivative scholarship and derivative literature. No wonder that the Swiss theologian Karl Barth denied that he was a"Barthian." Lately, I have to kick myself and say:"Don't try to be a Burkean or a Johnsonian. They'll always be better Tim Burkes and KC Johnsons than you can ever hope to be."
Fortunately, my own apprenticeship as a historian was an easy mantle. My dissertation director allowed, even encouraged, me to disagree with him -- to"revise" him, if you will. So, on the one hand, I've never experienced the horror stories of those who ran afoul of rigid taskmasters and, on the other, I've never understood the cry against"revision," as if it were ipso facto distortion. In many, if not most, cases, to do worthy history is necessarily to"revise." Nor do I understand the umbrage some historians take at being challenged. To be challenged, after all, means that the good Lord or fate or happenstance has allowed you to live so long that some reasonably intelligent historian thought that you had once said something that was worthy of debate and has finally gotten the challenge into print. Many historians never have the pleasure of having lived long enough to see themselves"revised." What's wrong with that?
At Atlanta's recent AAR convention, I introduced myself to Oberlin's A. G. Miller. On hearing my name, he smiled and referred obliquely to his new biography, Elevating the Race: Theophilous G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 1865-1924. I first encountered T. G. Steward's legacy forty years ago, when I was interning as an assistant pastor for the summer of Macon, Georgia's First Baptist Church, an African American congregation. Just up Cotton Avenue from us was Steward Chapel A. M. E. Church. In that building named for its early pastor, I heard Martin Luther King, Sr., raise some righteous hell with Macon's white folks. Years later, I wrote a bit about T. G. Steward in The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885-1912.
Miller was kind enough to send me a copy of his fine new book and, behold, I was revised. The larger context for his disagreement with me is this. I surveyed a spectrum of white attitudes in race relations at the turn of the century and identified spokesmen for each position: radical assimilationism (Josiah Strong), conservative assimilationism (Josiah Royce), conservative separatism (Edgar Gardner Murphy), and radical separatism (Thomas Dixon). Based on a definition of what"racism" is, I said that only the separatists, Murphy and Dixon, might rightly be called racists. That definition held that"racism is a pattern of thought that relates mind to matter by making culture a function of physiology." Racial separatists held that people of African descent could not and should not try fully to exemplify high culture as defined by the canons of western civilization. Racial assimilationists held that people of African descent both could and should expect to do so.
My friend, A. G. Miller, challenges my argument that a radical assimilationist, such as Josiah Strong, is not rightly understood as a racist. He and many others by now and by implication would argue that my definition of racism is inadequate. For one thing, it allows for the possibility that some African Americans are racists. If"true culture" is rooted in an Africanist frame, those who reify biological descent would say that we white folk are just out of luck or, at best, in a separate sphere. I cannot fully appreciate the blues, for example, because I am not an African American. Secondly, and by extension, I think Miller would argue that my definition of racism is inadequate because it takes no account of power or structural relationships. Only when racial prejudice wields power is it truly racist. Racial prejudice lacking power is no significant threat.
These are significant issues, I think."Racism" and"racist" continue to be bandied about. We need to understand what people mean by them when they use the words. I still disagree with Miller because I think one must give definitional precision to them, lest they lose all utility. Like the Mother Hubbard dress of yesterday's modesty, they could cover everything, but touch on nothing. Miller does convince me that the problems of a" cultural assimilationist" position are as real as the problems of a" cultural separatist" one, but I still would like to hear a definition from him of what"racism" is. In any case, I am grateful for having lived long enough to witness having been revised.
For the moment, however, this revised historian needs to get to bed and deal with those tangled Christmas lights in the morning.
I'm a life-long science fiction and fantasy fan, with a preference for short stories, and for novels that take exeptionally long historical perspectives. This is an exciting time for an F/SF fan, because the technology now exists to depict on the screen anything that can be pictured in the mind. The reason nobody's made a really good version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings until now (though I still have a fondness for the old animated version, which is a little more whimsical but no less rich) is that the technological hurdles were too great. The final frontier in movie/TV, though, is not smell-o-rama (though I wouldn't be surprised to see USB-ready aroma peripherals in a few years) but really good emotional and historical and philosophical background/context. Perhaps the DVD, with it's hypertext-like flexibility and supplements, is the format in which the novel will truly be realized on screen.
One of the reasons I still enjoy F/SF is its experimental nature. Not so much as a literary form (I'm pretty conventional when it comes to the writing I like) but as an emotional and historical test-bench."What if" is a far more fundamental question in history than we like to admit (though I'm ironically leery of large-scale alternative history) and futurism is a powerful tool for thinking through the implications of ideas and processes, alternative visions, and the human potential under different circumstances. Plus, why should our imaginations always be limited by convention and reality?
OK, just to give people something to complain about, here's my off-hand, very incomplete list of favorite authors and works: Frank Herbert (Dune series of course, though White Plague is frighteningly, increasingly plausible); Isaac Asimov; some Robert Heinlein (especially his future history series); Harlan Ellison (Deathbird Stories is my candidate for single-author short-story collection of the century); Olaf Stapledon (deep and rich stuff); Ursula LeGuin (Left Hand of Darkness is a mind-bending experience); Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams for humor (also Asimov); Ray Bradbury (indescribably powerful ideas and writing); Neil Gaiman (probably the finest fantasist at work today, and one of the best word-on-paper writers since Bradbury); Henry Kuttner (energetic writing and ideas that will trouble you for days, if not years) and C.L. Moore, his wife and collaborator and a fine writer in her own right (I'm particularly fond of her Jirel of Joiry stories, which look like pulp fantasy but are much deeper meditations on humanity). I'm a current subscriber to Fantasy and Science Fiction. I'm sure I've left stuff off the list.
OK, back to the grading. Next time, some history, or politics, I promise! Happy Hanukah, everyone!
But, finally, we know why almost any stranger on the streets in Edgefield might be mistaken for one of Strom Thurmond's relatives. There are simply a whole lot more of them than the family ever acknowledged. About 30 years ago, I first heard the rumor that he had a daughter of color and had little reason to doubt it. I didn't comment on Essie Mae Washington-Williams's belated acknowledgment that she is the daughter of ol' Strom Thurmond, but this widely reprinted piece in the New York Times about the reactions of the old man's white relatives summons me.
According to"Miss T," my wife's look-alike, Ms. Washington-Williams's announcement was"was like a blight on the family."
"I went to a church meeting the other day and all these people came up to me and you could tell they didn't know what to say," Ms. Freeman said."For the first time in my life, I felt shame."Really, my dear, both you and I have known about this for years. Years of knowing it -- years of Strom's winking and nudging you in the ribs with his elbow -- should have prepared you with something more gracious than this. What astonished me then and astonishes me now is, by contrast, the quiet dignity of Strom Thurmond's oldest daughter. She had deferred to her father's public career for nearly 80 years. Only after his death did she tell their secret. Whether the other Thurmond relatives acknowledge her or not is a matter of some indifference to Ms. Washington-Williams. She knows that she was there first.
Ms. Freeman also said that had the secret daughter been white,"it would be a whole other situation," because public criticism would not have been as harsh.
"Strom rose to such stature, you just wonder how in the world this could have gone on," said Ms. Freeman, 64, a retired teacher in Lugoff, S.C."My family always had help around the house. But it just seems Strom would have been above that."
Recommended Reading: the interesting discussions of this story, hosted by Kieran Healey and John Quiggin at Crooked Timber, the thoughtful editorial column by Cynthia Tucker in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and this fascinating story of detective work in the Washington Post.
Not because of any personal animus towards Richard Nixon--my only personal beef with the President at the time was that Watergate hearings used to interrupt my favorite cartoons in the afternoon. I am of course like many unhappy about its legacies: there is no question that late 20th Century American antipathy towards government and politics finds its deepest and most wounding origins in the career of Richard Nixon and the traumas he visited upon his office and his society. Even Nixon's curiously moderate record has to be stacked up against the kinds of political careers he helped set in motion, more than a few of which have come back to haunt us in the current Administration.
My gratitude has to do with the composite impact of the tape transcripts which continue to be made available: 240 more hours were made available to the public this month. That has obvious specific relevance to scholars working on the Nixon Administration, on the US government in the early 1970s, on the history of the Presidency, and so on. But I think it has a deeper relevance, one that has still gone largely unappreciated.
The tape transcripts, taken as a whole, show us an unintended, relatively unmediated view of the interior culture of political power, something that ordinarily historians know almost nothing about whether we're dealing with ancient or recent cases, Western or non-Western societies. Most of the people who have listened to the tapes released in recent years come away with rather ordinary, even banal, revelations about Nixon's character and worldview, more or less confirming things that we already guessed or knew anyway, that Nixon was an anti-Semite, or disliked Kissinger, or that he hated the Eastern Establishment.
What I think is more useful is to begin to think about Nixon not as the atypical, psychologically curious figure that he undoubtedly was, but also to see him and his conversations with aides and visitors as a revelation of what the typical business of political decision-making and information-gathering may look like in its general outlines. Yes, certainly, there is a Nixonian particularity to the more recent transcripts that have been released--it is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton having quite the same loopily off-the-cuff, awkwardly polite locker room discussions with aides about Greek homosexuality and the character of political enemies and so on. But what I strongly suspect is quite typical about the transcripts is the decidely non-Olympian, non-omniscent perspective they display. The later, non-Watergate tapes tend to show that while Nixon and his aides knew more than the average citizen or the average pundit or the average Congressman about national and international affairs, and had far more ability to move events and institutions in a direction that he desired--that's what power is, in the end--his knowledge and influence were also finite, sometimes strikingly so. I have argued this before, but it seems to me that the total body of tapes offers a fairly striking rebuke to ideas about historical causality that require power to always do that which it ought to do, and to always have a transparent command of the social and cultural landscape it inhabits. The tapes reveal that there were numerous conspiracies within the Nixon White House--but they also tend to undercut a conspiratorial conception of history.