This article in Vanity Fair left me thinking that it’s only a matter of time before performance-enhancing drugs become the norm rather than the exception in the academy. I mean, what happens you realize that the assistant professor that your department just hired can concentrate for hours and hours without taking a break for weeks on end? What happens when you realize that s/he is far more productive than you are because of these extraordinary powers of concentration? And then, what happens when you learn that the secret to her or his success is a prescription for methylphenidate? What are you going to do about it*? As for me, I’ll probably go out for a bike ride and then take a nap. But that’s because I’m old and pretty much past my prime already. But if I could still be a contender — whatever being a contender means — I wonder if I’d think twice and call my doctor.

Here’s the thing: I’ve long known that there are people in the profession who are smarter than I am (some of these people have offices near mine). My response to such cruel realities has been, on the one hand, to acknowledge my limits and, on the other hand, to work my ass off to try to make up the stagger. Put another way, I’ve accepted that nature is fickle (Bill Cronon is a once-in-a-generation intellect; I’m not) and tried to overcome the vagaries of genetics with a response rooted in nurture (my willingness to work hard)**. That said, I think I’m going to find it pretty difficult to take when it turns out that people are outperforming me because they’re relying chemical enhancements*** to help them publish.

Now wait, before you give the obvious reply, yes, I know this already happens. Eric drinks coffee. I don’t. And that’s the only reason he’s written four books and I haven’t. Really, though, if there were a pill that would allow me to be significantly more productive, I worry that I’d think long and hard about taking it. Actually, I suspect that choice is already here. It’s just that I don’t have the right dealer.

* Whitey.

** The nature/nurture divide is far too simple here, I know. Some people are smarter and harder working than I am. Oh well.

*** Especially when it turns out that some people process these chemicals more efficiently than other people and thus have better results when they ingest them. Oh, nature, you are truly cruel!

I’m trying not to put up puff posts for every bit of publicity that the BRatGGC* gets, but I can’t resist two items.

The first is through the kindness of John Scalzi, the noted science fiction author, who runs “Big Idea” pieces for authors with new books. Most of those are, unsurprisingly, science fiction or fantasy, but Mr. Scalzi was kind enough to include the Boxer book today. He is a mensch, and you should buy his books.

The second is from the Wall Street Journal, which ran a review of the book last week. I liked the review, and as long as I sort of squint my way past the opinion page of the WSJ, I like it as well.

*Boy, that’s a bad acronym. Any better suggestions?

That’s a shocking infographic.”

Rick Santorum:

I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught. Just to tell you how bad it’s gotten in this country, where we’re trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are, so they have an understanding of what America should be.

I suppose that narrowly speaking, he might not be lying: he might have read “something … from the state of California” that said this. That something might of course have been scrawled in green crayon on a crumpled paper bag.

But there is certainly no substantial truth in this statement, especially the notion that either of the “California system[s] of universities” is “trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are”.

Someone is trying to make Santorum look like a profoundly ignorant man.

I was able to find US history courses at the CSUs:

Bakersfield
Channel Islands
Chico
Dominguez Hills
East Bay
Fresno
Fullerton
Humboldt
Long Beach
Los Angeles
Maritime
Monterey Bay
Northridge
Pomona
Sacramento
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
San Luis Obispo
San Marcos
Sonoma
Stanislaus

As for the UC’s:

Berkeley
Irvine
Los Angeles
Merced
Riverside
San Diego
Santa Barbara
Santa Cruz

Here at UC Davis, of course, American history is part of the General Education requirement of all students.

And UCSF is of course exclusively a medical school. But even it offers a history of Psychiatry in the United States as part of its History of Health Sciences program.

William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is fifty. Ron Rosenbaum re-introduces it:

The arrest of Eichmann, chief operating officer of the Final Solution, reawakened the question Why? Why had Germany, long one of the most ostensibly civilized, highly educated societies on earth, transformed itself into an instrument that turned a continent into a charnel house? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?

Why? William Shirer offered a 1,250-page answer.…

He was one of a number of courageous American reporters who filed copy under the threat of censorship and expulsion, a threat that sought to prevent them from detailing the worst excesses, including the murder of Hitler’s opponents, the beginnings of the Final Solution and the explicit preparations for upcoming war. After war broke out, he covered the savagery of the German invasion of Poland and followed the Wehrmacht as it fought its way into Paris before he was forced to leave in December 1940.

The following year—before the United States went to war—he published Berlin Diary, which laid out in visceral terms his response to the rise of the Reich. Witnessing a Hitler harangue in person for the first time, he wrote:

“We are strong and will get stronger,” Hitler shouted at them through the microphone, his words echoing across the hushed field from the loudspeakers. And there in the flood-lit night, massed together like sardines in one mass formation, the little men of Germany who have made Nazism possible achieved the highest state of being the Germanic man knows: the shedding of their individual souls and minds—with the personal responsibilities and doubts and problems—until under the mystic lights and at the sound of the magic words of the Austrian they were merged completely in the Germanic herd.

Shirer’s contempt here is palpable, physical, immediate and personal. His contempt is not for Hitler so much as for the “little men of Germany”—for the culture that acceded to Hitler and Nazism so readily.…

Shirer had a remarkable eye for the singular, revealing detail. For example, consider the one Eichmann quote he included in the book, in a footnote written before Eichmann was captured. Shirer takes up the question of the actual number of Jews murdered in what was not yet widely called the Holocaust and tells us: “According to two S.S. witnesses at Nuremberg the total was put at between five and six millions by one of the great Nazi experts on the subject, Karl Eichmann, chief of the Jewish office of the Gestapo, who carried out the ‘final solution.’” (He uses Eichmann’s first name, not the middle name that would soon become inseparable from him: Adolf.)

And here is the footnote that corresponds with that passage:

“Eichmann, according to one of his henchmen, said just before the German collapse that ‘he would leap laughing into his grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.’”

Clearly this footnote, mined from mountains of postwar testimony, was intended not merely to substantiate the number of five million dead, but also to illustrate Eichmann’s attitude toward the mass murder he was administering. Shirer had a sense that this question would become important, although he could not have imagined the worldwide controversy it would stir. For Shirer, Eichmann was no bloodless paper pusher, a middle manager just following orders, as Eichmann and his defense lawyer sought to convince the world. He was not an emblem of “the banality of evil,” as the political theorist Hannah Arendt portrayed him. He was an eager, bloodthirsty killer. Shirer will not countenance the exculpation of individual moral responsibility in the “just following orders” defense.

In fact, Shirer had a more encompassing objective, which was to link the obscene criminality of individuals to what was a communal frenzy—the hatred that drove an entire nation, the Reich itself. What distinguishes his book is its insistence that Hitler and his exterminationist drive were a distillation of the Reich, a quintessence brewed from the darkest elements of German history, an entire culture.

Shirer’s is one of a few impressive books I read when I was young that are the source of all the things I know that I don’t know where I know them from.

In Esquire:

While we’re watching the signal, if not single, liberal achievement — the BFD, if you will — of the Most Disappointing President Ever™ writhe before conservative jurists like a tasty Christian before so many lions deciding whether merely to rip out the mandate or devour it whole (the Scalia lion is, of course, played by Jeremy Irons and drawling, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”), let’s pause to remember how the Real Democratic Party™ acted when the High Court tossed out a law that was important to their constituents and agenda: They simply passed it again, with a different rationale.

You can read the whole thing if you like. There’s also this oldie, which at a glance I still stand by.

USA Today hed reads, “Higher education vanishing before our eyes”.

Even with top grades and extracurricular activities, students may find it difficult to gain acceptance to or graduate from a four-year university after recent cuts to higher education budgets.

The month of March has been particularly bad for colleges and universities nationwide, as budget negotiations have left many institutions of higher education in the red.…

California’s State University (CSU) system announced Monday that they would close the admission process for nearly all of its 23 campuses for the Spring 2013 semester, affecting almost 16,000 students wishing to attend.

In addition, every student applying for the 2013-2014 school year will be waitlisted while officials await Gov. Brown’s proposed budget initiative to increase taxes in November. If the measure is defeated, officials will be forced to cut enrollment by an additional 20,000-25,000 students.

“By limiting enrollment we are able to concentrate on our current students,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU spokesman.

Current CSU students have seen their fees rise while their class sizes have increased and their course options have become more limited; all of which has helped to increase expected graduation time from four to six years, according to Uhlenkamp.

The CSU system has already lost approximately $1 billion, or 33%, in the last 4 years due to state budget cuts.

In Britain, the Labour Party justified doing this sort of thing by a change of colors: it became New Labour, shifting rhetoric and policy, with house philosophers and lots of Thatcherite flourishes. In the US, the Democrats have simply done it.

The Muppets provided joy from start to finish. I knew we were in good hands from the first big musical number – part of which is above – “Life’s a Happy Song.” It gets a full, MGM-musical style choreographical treatment. It states the movie’s major theme (it will be reprised in the finale). And it also sets up the story’s major problems – Walter needs to reach Muppethood, Gary needs to reach manhood. It’s a nice piece of writing work. And the lines, “Life’s a fillet of fish … Yes, it is” still make me laugh.

Most of all, though, the movie suggested to me that the Muppets would serve us best by returning to variety television; the movie made me want to watch new episodes of The Muppet Show and made me confident it could succeed. Jack Black and Zach Gallifianakis would be great guests, as would Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The existence of Funny or Die and College Humor suggests today’s comedians and actors are game enough for goofy bits.

This should happen.

The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)

Given what an ignorant slut* he seems to be, I guess I’m willing to be more charitable than Timothy Burke and accept that David Levy (not the good one, mind you) only worked fifteen hours/week during his academic career.

Really, though, rebutting this sort of disingenuous crap is beneath my dignity. But I do think Corporate Spokesperson Levy should be shunned. Beyond that, take a look at the Burke post. It’s smarter and more thorough than Levy deserves. And unlike Levy’s pat drivel, Burke opens up some avenues of discussion.

* Corporate category; I don’t care about the man’s sex life.

51rSlusxgLL SL500 AA300

My new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, came out today.

Makes a great present for any occasion.

Leftover ordnance is one of the legacies that lasts generations after the war itself concluded. The phrase “Iron Harvest” comes from the annual crop of exploded shells and bombs that French farmers in northern France bring to the surface when plowing their fields. Farming is a dangerous occupation in France.

But the Iron Harvest is not limited to World War I. World War II era bombs are sometimes found, particularly in areas heavily bombed during that conflict. The city center of Rennes was evacuated within the last few years when a 550 lb British bomb was discovered and had to be disarmed. A similar discovery required the evacuation of the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt

Nor is the ordnance always found in an active war zone. Recently, in Washington, DC, a construction crew building a new supermarket was somewhat surprised to discover an unexploded 1,000 pound bomb. The supermarket was being built on the site of the old Naval Gun Factory, a site that apparently the Navy had not cleaned up quite as well as they might have.

H57932

Even better? The Army has still not quite been able to figure out where all the old chemical weapons dumps underneath DC are, including some in heavily populated areas, one of which was nicknamed “Hades”:

[The] corps excavated part of the South Korean ambassador’s residence on Glenbrook Road. They discovered two pits on the ambassador’s property and then a third straddling the property line to the north, all of which contained munitions and glassware with traces of chemical agents.

Perhaps the most damaging form of unexploded ordnance, however, are the cluster bomb remnants and landmines that litter more recent battlefields, from Afghanistan to Vietnam to Korea. Just looking at landmines:

There are between 70 and 80 million landmines in the ground in one-third of the world’s nations. Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that maim or kill 15,000 to 20,000 civilians every year. They cost as little as $3 to produce, but as much as $1000 to remove.

At $1000/mine, that works out to $80 billion to remove all the mines, and that assumes that all the mines can be found. If northern France is any indication, they won’t be , and the legacy, as it has for the French, will be generational, the continuing toll of a fading war.

A reader reports the below glitch displaying this blog on iPhones. I don’t get it with mine. Do any of you? If so, please report what model and OS, and we’ll see if we can sort it out.

20120325-162541.jpg

I’ve probably never said this here before, but having finished my book on Sand Creek, I’m now co-authoring* a graphic history of the Civil War. As a consequence, I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. I don’t have much to add except this: I decided, very early in the process of writing the book, that we would NEVER put fictional words into the mouths of non-fictional historical figures. Which is to say, although my co-author badly wanted to insert a couple of gold bug stanzas into the Gettysburg Address, I put my foot down. On the one hand, this seems very much like what Silbey suggests should serve as best practices (both in literature and scholarship, if I understand him correctly). But on the other hand, I have to admit that we worked around the attendant problems by making up characters left and right to voice the dialogue and carry the weight of the story we’re trying to tell. I’m reasonably sure that this makes me a lousy historian in Silbey’s eyes and a lousy storyteller in Eric’s. Mission accomplished!**

* With Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Who also worked on this project. Which is awesome.

** (Note to self: wear flight suit and codpiece, not academic regalia, to graduation this year. Unfurl self-congratulatory banner at key moment. Bathe in applause.)

- Hi, sorry to bother you, but could you please help me? I’m confused … the description of this collection says it has 44 boxes but then there are only 20 boxes listed.
- Hmm. Let me look at that for you … [clickety clickety clickety … pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, that’s correct. There are 44 boxes, but 24 are uncatalogued.
- [heart sinking; the catalogued 20 are from a period completely irrelevant to your topic] Would it be possible for me still to see them please?
- [pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, though you should know that once we catalogue them the box number may change.
- [calls boxes … boxes begin to arrive … begins looking]

On the one hand, this is terribly frustrating: you’ve no idea what you will get. On the other, it’s wonderful: you’ve no idea what you will get. There are papers in folders and papers in envelopes and loose papers, snapshots and certificates and invoices, family letters and official reports, all very much as if they were picked directly out of the subject’s garage on the day after his death and stuck in acid-free boxes and then left there for decades. There is nothing of real value, though of prudence and courtesy to the material you’ve taken a few notes and snapped a few photos. Boxes come and boxes go. Time ticks by. The archives will close in forty-five minutes. At which point, in the penultimate box – in the middle of the penultimate box – stuck in backward so the title tab is facing away from you and you might have missed it, there is a manila folder crammed about to a thickness of about an inch with onion-skin papers, labeled in unsharpened pencil with the title of your topic

An interview with moi is in this month’s Military History magazine. Introductory paragraph:

Northern China in the summer of 1900 was the scene of the Boxer Rebellion, one of the most spontaneous, disorganized, violent and downright peculiar uprisings of that or any other century. Vividly described and detailed by Cornell University historian David J. Silbey in his new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, the rebellion was at once a peasants’ insurgency, an attack on modernism, a clash of cultures and a game changer in the nascent international struggle for power in the Pacific in the new century.

With pictures!

Amelia Earhart, still sought after 75 years:

Ric Gillespie is executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), and he revealed details of the new analysis at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday. Gillespie told reporters:

“We found some really fascinating and compelling evidence. Finding the airplane would be the thing that would make it conclusive.”

The photo is not new to Earhart investigators, but this fresh analysis from 2010 has aroused new suspicions that it could be part of Earhart’s plane in the October 1937 photo. Gillespie said he was convinced, boldly stating:

“This is where the airplane went into the drink.”

The photo is supposed to show her landing gear floating:

20120322-054816.jpg

Gillespie and TIGHAR targeted Nikumaroro before.

“Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, nicely adverting both to TIGHAR and Earhart.

Eight (because eight begins with “e” and there’s an iron law of journalistic alliteration) Earhart theories.

Understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from — that is not a lie. That is art.

If you use real people and real events, you don’t get to lie. No dramatic license, no aiming for a larger truth, no composite characters, no changing things around for better narrative flow, no “art.” No lying.

I get it. Actual events can happen slowly, or not at all, intermittently, inconclusively, inconveniently, and not in useful way for story-telling. I also understand that, for example, history and historians never get to the pure unvarnished objective truth of myth and legend. There are too many distortions, too many intervening years, too many people, sources, and all the grand filtration that the past goes through before reaching its reporter. I know too that historians often produce pedantic, waffle-full, carefully-couched, well meaning but utterly boring recitations. Their books fly off the shelves only when someone yanks too hard on the David McCullough biographies beside them.

All that is true, and irrelevant. Using real people with real lives and real names as your subjects gives a singular advantage over fiction: the conviction and credibility of reality. The power of talking about things as they are, rather than as you imagine, goes bone-deep with the audience. It goes too deep for disclaimers and denials and claims about artistic license to overcome. That is its great value.

The payment for that power is a duty and responsibility to your subjects, to your audience (now and future), to your peers, and to the act of explanation and narration itself, to speak the truth as you understand it, in all details big and small. There is no “larger truth” that you get to by lying. If you wish to speak the truth, you must actually speak the truth.

There are no exceptions; not if you’re Mike Daisey, and not if you’re David Foster Wallace.

No exceptions.

Johnny Ramone:

One night, the New York Dolls were hanging out there. They were already a band, but I hadn’t seen them yet. I pointed to Johnny Thunders and told Tommy that he looked cool. Tommy said that the band was terrible. But I knew, looking at him, that there was something there. To me, it’s always been about the look.

and

I’ve always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, “Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.” I’m thinking, “This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?” And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking.

Stepping on one of my co-bloggers’ toes (that is, I am stepping on his toes, and he is one of my co-bloggers, not that I am stepping on only one of his toes).

Let’s try that again.

I’m sure Eric will comment about this at some point, but I thought I would note that Ben Bernanke, or Professor Bernanke to you students, spoke on the gold standard in his class at George Washington University the other day:

Mr. Bernanke spoke Tuesday about the history of monetary policy in the United States, including the Fed’s creation in 1913, and its role in causing the Great Depression. He framed much of this history as a critique of the gold standard, which was dropped in the early 1930s in a decision that mainstream economists regard as obviously correct, hugely beneficial and essentially irreversible.

The students in the class did not, perhaps, cover themselves in glory commenting to the Times: “‘It always surprises you to realize that this guy actually exists and he’s not just on TV,’ said Max Sanders, a 19-year-old from New York.”

On the other hand, having been quoted once in a newspaper comparing 9/11 to the American Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, I should probably not be too sarcastic about poor Max.

Ron Paul could not be reached for comment.

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