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The ones that mother gives you
Improve focus and recall:

One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory…. The most popular reason for taking the drugs was to improve concentration. Improving focus for a specific task (admittedly difficult to distinguish from concentration) ranked a close second and counteracting jet lag ranked fourth, behind ‘other’ which received a few interesting reasons, such as “party”, “house cleaning” and “to actually see if there was any validity to the afore-mentioned article”…. Our poll found that one-third of the drugs being used for non-medical purposes were purchased over the Internet….

Not so surprising, when you remember Brad DeLong coming out as a user.

On this day in 1866, Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), in New York City. Before that time, Bergh seems to have been something of a dilettante, a child of privilege who spent much of his adult life gallivanting around Europe (lucky devil). While abroad, he found his calling and began crusading for “the mute servants of mankind.” Once back in the United States, he appealed to wealthy New Yorkers, a natural constituency for him, with a manifesto/petition titled, “Declaration of the Rights of Animals.” Certain that history would remember his declaration as fondly as it had Mr. Jefferson’s, Bergh secured signatures from luminaries including Horace Greeley, Peter Cooper, George Bancroft, and Hamilton Fish. (Yes, I just wanted to write, “Hamilton Fish.” Okay?)

Although detractors labeled Bergh an overzealous animal lover, his appeal instead emerged from a marriage of apparently conflicting worldviews relatively common to the era: Christian perfectionism, religious zeal that underlay many of the period’s reform movements, coupled with a new respect for the non-human world, likely rooted in Darwinism. Bergh, then, often framed the mistreatment of animals as a key part of the struggle for the collective soul of the body politic. In his words: “This a matter purely of conscience. It has no perplexing side issues. No, it is a moral question in all of its aspects…it is a solemn recognition of the greatest attribute of the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, mercy.” Some lawmakers in Albany resisted his call for a charter for the ASPCA; they balked at extended legal rights outside the human realm. But Bergh’s connections helped him carry the day, this one, in 1866.

Next, with the help of Ezra Cornell, Bergh successfully lobbied the legislature for a cruelty law that made it a misdemeanor to mistreat animals in New York, regardless of ownership. And then, along with the ASPCA’s original staff of three people, he patrolled the city’s streets, on the lookout for cases in which animals were being treated cruelly. As Bergh put it: “Day after day I am in slaughterhouses, or lying in wait at midnight with a squad of police near some dog pit. Lifting a fallen horse to his feet, penetrating buildings where I inspect collars and saddles for raw flesh, then lecturing in public schools to children, and again to adult societies. Thus my whole life is spent.” For his constant vigilance, he earned his nickname, The Great Meddler.

On this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln returned to Washington from a trip to Virginia, where he had visited Grant’s headquarters, surveyed Richmond in captivity and sat in Jefferson Davis’s chair, contemplating the imminent end of war.

Arriving back in the capital, Lincoln stopped first by the house of William Seward, his Secretary of State, who was laid up owing to a carriage accident that left him with a broken arm and jaw. The president proposed a national day of thanksgiving, and held his face close to Seward’s to hear his colleague’s answer. Seward counseled, not yet. Sherman had still to secure the surrender of Joseph Johnston. Until then the Confederacy remained unconquered.

Lincoln would not live to see the end Seward advised him to await. But when that conclusion came, Lincoln’s trip to Virginia would hang heavy over it. Officers of the government and various journalists would claim that the terms Sherman gave Johnston were so lenient as to seem treasonous, and Sherman would say that he granted only what Lincoln had told him to grant when they met at City Point, Virginia.
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Yesterday we had an excellent guest lecture, despite the fact that the LCD projector failed and so did the video camera. I’d even tested the camera beforehand, though we couldn’t get into the room to test the projector. But to no avail.

To compose my introduction, I tried to find my review of the speaker’s book, and it had vanished off the website where once it was. Only the Internet Archive saved me.

That’s two-and-a-half failures out of three, technology. When we welcome our new robot overlords, we’re going to find out they’re just as incompetent as the human ones.

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Henry cites me as being down on current Sesame Street. (What, you thought it was getting to be a serious blog?) And granted, I have my reservations; whenever I catch a groovy old one with, say, Bob singing “Good Morning Starshine” (oh, yes) I get a bit misty about my childhood. And much as anyone, I regret Cookie Monster being pressed into the service of nutrition with cookies being “a sometime food,” unlike fruits and vegetables.

Still, watching with my kids, I now believe Cookie one of the great redeeming features of Sesame Street. Why? Two examples, which I paraphrase from memory:

[on the word "cowabunga"]

Prairie: That’s not even a word!
Cookie: Sure, it word. Oh, it esoteric, but it word.

[on how he feels on an unfortunate occasion I can't remember]

Cookie: Me not too sad. Maybe a bit lachrymose.

Below, watch him saying he doesn’t like the word “pusillanimous,” and talking about his ambition to be an ophthalmologist.

Okay, so I think it’s funny when an embodied three-year-old id waxes sesquipedalian. What makes you laugh?
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Holy smokes, you have to take a minute to see what Teo is up to: 1692 in America. I’ll quote at length from the site’s “about” page:

This is a blog about synchronicity. It is an account of several notable events that took place in the Western Hemisphere during the year 1692, giving a day-by-day description of every little occurrence within each of these events that was recorded in a form that has survived to the present day. The idea behind it is to give a sense for what was happening at the same time in different places during a very tumultuous and eventful year for the European colonies in America.

The most important and best-documented events of 1692 in America were the Salem witch trials and the reconquest of New Mexico. Accordingly, a great deal of this blog is devoted to these two events. I have also included other less famous events that were going on at the same time in other parts of the New World. These include the witchcraft scare in southwestern Connecticut, the earthquake in Jamaica that destroyed the city of Port Royal, and the corn riots in Mexico City.

These events all involve either the English or the Spanish colonies in America. This is not by design, but rather because I was unable to find any events of comparable importance and documentation in the colonies of other European countries. The areas that were not under European control, of course, are even more sparsely documented, so nothing that happened in them at this time is documented in anything like the kind of detail necessary to be included here. This is unfortunate, but the records are what they are.

And there’s more. Seriously, you should see for yourself.

[Editor's Note: And while we're on the subject of what our commenters have been doing when they're not here (shame on you people for ever leaving), let me also recommend that you check out this post essay at charlieford's site.]

On this day in 1935, the so-called “big bill,” the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act (at, sorry KRK, 49 Stat. 115) became law, appropriating around $5bn “to provide relief, work relief and to increase employment by providing for useful projects.” Under the terms of the law, Franklin Roosevelt created and defined the Works Progress Administration “to move from the relief rolls to work on such projects or in private employment the maximum number of persons in the shortest time possible.”

There’s a lot in this story, and I can only tell part of it here (much more is in this book, of course). Maybe the thing to start with is the year: 1935, two years after Roosevelt took office. The New Dealers took a long time to resign themselves to providing national relief.

At the start, in May of 1933, there had been the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, with half a billion dollars of money it could grant to the states for relief, thus respecting the tradition of federalism. It proved to be too little too slowly. By the autumn of that year, the administration felt moved to act more precipitously. Roosevelt created the Civil Works Administration, charged with hiring four million people. Which it did, by January 1934. And it’s credited with getting many Americans through the record cold winter of that year.

But it made Roosevelt nervous; he didn’t want federal relief “to become a habit with the country.” So before spring thaw had quite come, he’d decided to fire the four million. Which he did.

By the end of 1934, Roosevelt saw that the government had spent some, but achieved little and, he wrote, “I hope to be able to substitute work for relief.” Hence WPA, which hired Americans to do “useful projects.” They built public works; they plied their artistic trade if they had one; they collected a record of vanishing America as it existed.

In 1938 a WPA relief worker said,

The way I look at it is this. This is a rich country. I figger it ain’t going to hurt the government to feed and clothe them that needs it. Half of ’em can’t get work, or just ain’t fixed to handle work if they get it…. We’ve got the money. Plenty of it. No sense in the big fellows kicking about a little handout to the poor. Matter’s not if some ain’t deserving….

This little speech exists because the WPA recorded it, with programs like the Federal Writers’ Project, trying to “take down the exact words of the informant,” trying to hear America. They recorded the testimony of sharecroppers and the memories of slaves. And they published it.

And they got in trouble. The House Un-American Activities Committee brought Hallie Flanagan to book for staging radical theater (which sometimes they didn’t stage). Flanagan did the best she could; Congressman Joseph Starnes interrupted her discussion of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, saying “You are quoting from this Marlowe. Is he a Communist?”

Concerns about encouraging unlawful immigration led to increasing legal restrictions on the WPA’s ability to hire immigrants. Concerns about corruption gave rise to the Hatch Act, to prevent federal employees using public resources to conduct campaigns. In 1943, Congress eliminated WPA. To quote William Leuchtenburg, it

built or improved more than 2,500 hospitals, 5,900 school buildings, 1,000 airport landing fields, and nearly 13,000 playgrounds. It restored the Dock Street Theater in Charleston; erected a magnificent ski lodge atop Oregon’s Mount Hood; conducted art classes for the insane in a Cincinnati hospital; drew a Braille map for the blind at Watertown, Massachusetts; and ran a pack-horse library in the Kentucky hills…. employed actors, directors, and other craftsmen to produce plays, circuses, vaudeville shows and marionette performances… turned out about a thousand publications, including fifty-one state and territorial guides; some thirty city guides; twenty regional guides … a notable series of ethnic studies…. made use of the talents of … Conrad Aiken, … John Cheever and Richard Wright….

And by and large it was vastly more loved than hated. When in 1939 Congress killed the Federal Theater Project and other projects could continue only if they got other sponsors to bear 25% of their cost, the Writers’ Project got adequate contributions from every single one of the states.

WPA drew criticism for being a boondoggle and for providing opportunities for corruption. When a 1939 Gallup poll asked Americans to pick “the worst thing the Roosevelt Administration has done,” 23% picked WPA—more than picked any other agency.

But in the same poll, when asked to name “the greatest accomplishment of the Roosevelt administration,” more named WPA—28%—than named anything else.

While Yglesias is busy prospectively pimping George W. Bush’s merits, Ilya Somin, over Volokh Conspiracy, asks: who’s the most underrated American president? His answer? Warren Harding, about whom we’ve already talked. My answer? Let me get back to you. Wait, how about John Quincy Adams? Or maybe Bill Clinton? On fourth thought, I’ll get back to you after all. In the meantime, what do you think?

Yglesias writes today that…well, I’m just going to quote the whole post, okay?

In a History News Network poll, 61 percent of historians say that George W. Bush has been the worst president ever. It’s very hard to know what to make of these kind of questions. How can you possibly try to evaluate someone like, say, Andrew Jackson in contemporary terms?

At any rate, it will surprise no one to learn that I think Bush has been a very bad president. More interestingly, I also take the view that Bush is probably correct to think that history will remember him kindly. American presidents associated with big dramatic events tend to wind up with good reputations whether they deserve them or not. One possible Bush analogy would be to Woodrow Wilson, who did all kinds of things with regard to civil liberties that look indefensible today and whose foreign policy ended as a giant failure, but who was associated with both big events and with big ideas that were influential down the road. Someday, I bet there will be democracies in the Middle East and some future Republican president will figure out a way to put meat on the bones of “compassionate conservatism” and Bush will be looked upon as a far-sighted figure who made some mistakes in a difficult period of time. Will he deserve a good reputation? No. Will he get one? I’d say yes.

Sure, because of differences in context — the composition of the federal apparatus, the demographics of the electorate, the shifting nature of geopolitics, etc. — it’s difficult to compare Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson. But it’s not impossible. You could say, for example, that AJ, in service of sectional and partisan goals, fought to uphold white supremacy, while LBJ, despite being a southerner and knowing that his actions would have dire consequences for his beloved Democratic Party, struggled to extend the franchise to black people. And, given that I think that not being servile to Slaveocrats or Dixiecrats is, on balance, a good thing in a president, LBJ takes this round. See what I did there? I compared two presidents, both named Johnson, despite the fact that they served in different eras. It’s the magic of historical analysis. Plus: I’m just that good.

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On this day in 1862, the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh, ended. Shiloh is fascinating for a host of reasons: Grant’s and Sherman’s overconfidence, followed, in short order, by their redemption; the fatal hubris of Sidney Johnston, whose desire for victory overawed his better judgment; Lew Wallace’s lost division (found, for the Union, in the nick of time); and the horrifying number of killed and wounded, 20,000 men either dead or disfigured.

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Ezra Klein’s friend asks, “What is tenure for … if not the protection of unpopular ideas?” Ezra replies,

But tenure doesn’t protect those with unpopular ideas, it just makes them harder to fire, and thus raises how unpopular an idea has to be before it merits termination. So on the one hand, firing someone with crackpot notions about tax cuts paying for themselves isn’t really worth the trouble. On the other hand, if, say, Greg Mankiw called for the extermination of the Jews tomorrow, Harvard and MIT would direct their physics departments to come together and create a time machine in order to help them fire Mankiw last week.

Because Ezra is a self-described wonk, I’m sure he will appreciate my taking some time to explain all the ways in which this is incorrect. And because he wants to sack John Yoo (author of the newly released “torture memo to top all torture memos,” as Marty Lederman writes) he will probably want to know that at the end of the post, there is still a route to do that, if he so wishes.

First, we’re talking about tenure as an instrument of academic freedom. And in that guise, tenure does not exist to protect unpopular ideas—or rather it does, but that description is imprecise. Tenure, considered as an instrument of academic freedom, exists to protect scholarly discourse from the influence of powerful forces outside the discourse.1

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Conspiracy of Beards, I’ve just learned, is an all-male choir in the Bay Area. They perform only Leonard Cohen’s compositions. And, given that I’m Canadian and almost painfully fond of Cohen (Must I, because of my national origin, love Leonard Cohen — who knows?), I thought I’d post the above vid. Stick around long enough to hear the singalong version of “Bird on a Wire.”

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This is what you get. Er, I mean, I told you so. No, that’s not a good lede either. What I’m trying to say is, if we accept a milquetoast memory of MLK, we end up with columns like this one, in which Juan Williams writes the following:

Martin Luther King Jr. died at age 39; today, the 40th anniversary of his death, is the first time he has been gone longer than he lived…Now comes Barack Obama, a black man and a plausible national leader, who appeals across racial lines.

Okay, I’m with Williams so far. What’s next?

But to his black and white supporters, Mr. Obama increasingly represents different things.

Wait, what’s that “but” doing there? That seems to imply that Martin Luther King meant the same thing to people of all races, that he was, somehow, a universally understood leader. But, but, but…that just isn’t true. Beyond even the most obvious generalizations that would rebut such a facile statement — people are individuals; individual perceptions are, well, individuated — surely we can agree that, on balance, Dr. King meant very different things to the white and black communities.

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In a post on the anniversary of MLK’s assassination, Matthew Yglesias writes that:

…to some extent I think the creation of the King Myth and the displacement of the more authentic radical King is a good thing. A country doesn’t get official national hero types without mythologizing and sanitizing them to a large extent, and it’s a good thing, at the end of the day, that King has moved into national hero status.

To be fair to Yglesias, I’ve ripped the above quote, without context, from a longer post in which he actually presents a more radical depiction of King than we usually see. Still, I tripped over the section I’ve quoted, and I want to respond to it here.

I should begin by saying that two-thirds of what Yglesias writes is true enough: this country doesn’t memorialize its heroes without first mythologizing and sanitizing them; and it is a good thing that we remember King. But I’m not sure that Yglesias’s transitive logic works from there. I’m skeptical, in short, that “the creation of the King Myth and the displacement of the more authentic radical King is a good thing.”

And here’s why: David Blight argues that, in the the wake of the Civil War, whites in the North and the South reunited without grappling with the war’s causes. Getting back to the business of doing business was easier and more appealing than sorting out why 620,000 people had died in the nation’s most brutal conflict. Notherners and southerners arrived at a convenient series of shared myths about the war: both sides had fought hard, both sides had fought well, and both sides had fought for just causes. A few skeptics, notably Frederick Douglass, challenged this emerging conventional wisdom about the war. But most Americans ignored the naysayers. As a result, the root rather than proximate causes of the fighting — slavery and racial inequities — dropped out of contemporary discussions in service of easy reunion.

Americans, in sum, postponed a national conversation about race. Reconstruction then failed. The South revived its antebellum social and economic castes: tying African-Americans to the land, disfranchising freed people, segregating public facilities. Notherners looked on, profited, and often participated in similar processes. Only the Civil Rights movement eventually overturned those entrenched hierarchies.

Which is why Yglesias’s post doesn’t sit well with me. Collective memories, ephemeral though they may be, have consequences. Our common understanding of the past helps to shape our behavior in the present. It matters, then, that the MLK of American memory is, as I’ve suggested before, too simple and too safe. It matters that this deracinated MLK is a byproduct of corporate sponsorship. King’s critique of American imperialism, racism, and, most of all, capitalism have all been replaced by cuddly calls for unity, for Christian fellowship, for reconciliation. Those are, to be sure, pleasant memories. But they may forestall discussions of what divided us in the first place; they might stand in the way of King’s goal of social justice for all people.

* I kid. My original title was a quote from Yglesias’s post. But then I re-read what I’ve written here and realized what a scold I sound like am. Thus the new title, which is, perhaps, better than Eric’s suggestion, “Matthew Yglesias: Bad for the Jews.”

On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. As Ari did an outstanding piece on King’s legacy back in January, we thought we’d focus on a different, but related, event that same day.

That night, in Indianapolis, Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, broke the news to a mostly African American crowd.

Joseph Palermo, a historian sympathetic to Kennedy, writes that this was “one of the most meaningful short statements on race relations in the 1960s.” Ronald Steel, a historian not so sympathetic to Kennedy, nevertheless notes that Indianapolis seemed calmed by the speech, and Kennedy afterward walked safely through riot-struck black neighborhoods in Washington, DC, where people appeared to sympathize with and trust him.
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[Editor's Note: Louis Warren, the W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of History at UC Davis, is the author, most recently, of Buffalo Bill's America, which won a raft of prizes last year. Louis doesn't know who killed JFK or where to find Jimmy Hoffa's body, but he has theories. Regardless, we thank him for joining us.]

On this day in 1860, a lone rider in St. Joseph, Missouri set out on the trail west, toward Sacramento, carrying a saddlebag full of mail. At the other end of the trail, in Sacramento, another mail carrier set out in the direction St. Joseph. Many picture these intrepid messengers galloping into the sunset, but one of them was headed for the sunrise, and in the interests of conserving horseflesh neither of them likely exceeded a brisk trot most of the time. They changed horses at stations every twelve miles or so, and they covered somewhere between 75 and 100 miles before being relieved by new riders who continued the journey. Somewhere on the long expanse of the West, those two satchels of mail passed each other. Upon the completion of their respective journeys, the last riders on the line handed the mail over for local delivery.

Thus began the Pony Express, the most celebrated mail service ever, and one of the most popular figures of America’s western mythology. Mark Twain would commemorate the pony rider, “brimful of spirit and endurance,” in his memoir of western travels, Roughing It. The Pony Express was celebrated in paintings, in children’s literature and western fiction, and the valiant pony expressman became a Hollywood fixture, played by luminaries such as Ricardo Cortez (in The Pony Express of 1925) , Charlton Heston (in a remake, The Pony Express, in 1953), and by Stephen Baldwin and Josh Brolin (in “The Young Riders” a television show of the early 1990s).

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Eric Alterman1 wrote a book called When Presidents Lie, in which he argues,

If history teaches us anything, it is that Presidents cannot lie about major political events that have potentially serious ramifications—particularly those relating to war and peace—with impunity. In almost all cases, the problem or issue that gives rise to the lie refuses to go away, even while the lie complicates the President’s ability to address it. He must now address not only the problem itself but also the ancillary problem his lie has created…. The point here is that in telling the truth to the nation, Presidents may often have to deal with complex, difficult and frequently dangerous problems they would no doubt prefer to avoid. But at least these are genuine problems that would have arisen irrespective of the leader’s actions. This is, after all, inherent in the job description. But once a President takes it upon himself to lie to the country about important matters, he necessarily creates an independent dynamic that would not otherwise have come about, and we are all the worse for it.

Because Eric is even more of a modernist than I, his ur-lie is Yalta.

Had FDR told the truth about Yalta to the country, it is far more likely that the United States would have participated in the creation of the kind of world community he envisioned when he made his secret agreements.

In this book, and in his earlier Who Speaks for America?, Eric makes a strong case for openness and truth-telling in constructing American foreign policy.

With those ideas in mind, let us consider a case that Woodrow Wilson’s lies about the secret treaties constitute a consequential error similar to, though preceding, Roosevelt’s at Yalta, an error that Wilson might have corrected had he been open and truthful.

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Specifically, A White Bear, who responded to this supercilious column on the importance of grammar (it allows us to pass ourselves off as refined, of course) with a wonderful post. Notwithstanding her totally unwarranted and unfair criticism of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A White Bear suggests that:

To me, “bad writing” is not that which appears low-class, as Kilpatrick suggests, but that which shows an inflexible dedication to habits limited by a poor grasp of how language works. Bad writing does not just “make mistakes,” although, sure, grammatical mistakes make sentences woefully ambiguous where they could be incisive. Bad writing is that which displays a narrow set of choices. It is formulaic because it only knows one formula. Mistakes like dangling modifiers (for which I should have been jailed in college) show that the writer could not imagine reorganizing the sentence in another way to make it clearer. Learning some basic grammatical and syntactical rules helps a writer to think more nimbly and creatively about sentences.

I like to tell my students that learning grammar is not about imprisoning their “natural talents” or “individual voices” or whatever, but about liberating them by giving them more options. When you have a language for talking about syntax and parts of speech, you can ask questions like, “What do I want to be the subject of this sentence?” and “Would restructuring this information into an adverbial clause be more interesting than tacking on adjectives?” Grammatical study destroys some of the romance of the unadulterable utterance, but it, perhaps ironically, provides a structure within which a writer can make conscious choices.

This struck me as so right the first time I read it that I almost jumped out of my recliner. But my recliner is comfy. And I’m getting too old to do much jumping. Regardless, A White Bear nails it: grammar is about choices. Which reminds me of a particular class during my first year of graduate school, when the great and good Volker Berghahn discussed, in painstaking detail, his note-taking methods. Upon finishing his explanation, Volker smiled and said, “I find my system liberating.” At the time I couldn’t get beyond the irony. But now, I think Berghahn meant what A White Bear means: familiarity with a complex but flexible system is not about circumscribing options but creating new ones. Anyway, read the post. It’s good.

Scott McLemee wants to know the zeitgeist of the 00s as a decade.

The 00s were the decade when it stopped being okay to call me on the phone and ask me stuff you could find on the Internets in about fifteen seconds. And no, this is not some fit of pique, a row with an imaginary maître d’ culminating in the shriek, “Do you know who I am?” The premise there is that you should; my premise here is that you don’t and you shouldn’t—but the Internet does, and it would tell you, and that would save us both a deal of time and money.

People have actually called me to ask my email address. I honestly don’t know how it is possible for this to occur.

And of course this doesn’t apply to you if you are living in the Third World, or perhaps if you are quite old, or poor, or poorly educated, or somehow cannot use the Internet very well for medical reasons I can’t now imagine. But for Heaven’s sake, that is not the class of people who do the calling.

Mainly, in fact, they are journalists. You can always tell the really quality journalists, because they will call and say, “I saw in this article I found that you think x. Is that right?” Instead of, “My editor said I should call you to ask about x. Can you tell me why?”

I never, ever, give out this link to people, because I am too polite. But seriously.

[Editor's Note: Kathy Olmsted knows who killed JFK and why, as well as where to find Jimmy Hoffa's body (under my pool). Her history of conspiracy theories is now in press; you can look for it in the fall from Oxford UP. And her first books can be found here and here. Thanks, Kathy, for joining us today.]

Before there was Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was American intervention in the Great War. On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked the United States Congress to declare war on Germany and “make the world safe for democracy.” In the process, he set a new standard for presidential mendacity, and helped to convince many Americans that they should never let a president “lie us into war” again.

In his war message to Congress, Wilson clearly explained “what our motives and our objects are.” Those motives, he said, were pure and idealistic, and the object was nothing less than the protection of the rights of all mankind. “We have no selfish ends to serve,” he said. “We desire no conquest, no dominion.” Later, in his Fourteen Points, Wilson explained that the “day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments.”

Except that it wasn’t. As Wilson knew, the governments of his wartime allies had secretly arranged to divvy up conquered lands after the war. The United States government was not a participant in these secret treaties; but its leaders knew that their allies did indeed desire “conquest and dominion” after the war. Still, the president talked of self-sacrifice and altruism, and after the war he insisted, incorrectly, that he had not learned about the secret treaties until the peace conference at Versailles. In other words, he lied.

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