You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2008.

I say, to look at things in bloom, fifty springs were little room.


Perhaps this is all over the tubes. But it’s the first I’ve seen of it. And I think it’s much more interesting than the one below. Not least because of the subtitles (Vietnamese and English — you’re welcome). Also because it’s a remarkably hard-hitting piece of advocacy art. Obviously, this one is for the Texas market.

As presented by EotAW, it may seem that the colonial period in North America was nothing but a string of massacres. Well, that’s not true. There were also plagues, whippings, and outright warfare. But then, after the Revolution, everything got better.

Regardless, on this day in 1704, French troops and their Native allies sacked the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, among the most harrowing episodes of Queen Anne’s War. The attackers killed close to 50 villagers and forced those who survived, more than 100 others, to make a forced march to Quebec. Many of the captives were later ransomed or returned to Massachusetts. But several of them, most famously Eunice Williams, chose to live out there lives in Indian country. Williams’s father, Deerfield’s minister, John Williams, published a memoir of the ordeal, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.

There have been other books about the Deerfield raid and its aftermath. John Demos’s controversial and weird experiment with narrative, The Unredeemed Captive, of course. Also, Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney’s Captors and Captives. And I’m pretty sure that Historiann is working on something as well. But since we’re in front of our computers, I thought I’d draw your attention to this site, which is the best effort I know of to bring a subject so fraught with cultural politics as this one to the interweb. Rather than trying to create a unified narrative of the event and its context, the historians who worked on the site used multiple perspectives to tell the story. The result is pretty impressive, I think. But I’m not sure. Because my judgement is clouded by what I know: the literature on public history and collective memory. So take a look and let me know what you think.

[Update: Historiann comes through with a very interesting reply to this post.]

A few thoughts:

1) The chanting is scary. Really, it scares me. I’m unsettled by it.

2) If Obama’s elected, this video’s existence will cause me to lobby agressively for a special tax bracket for celebrities: 93% of income. That would be a popular measure, I’m pretty sure. And it would guarantee a second term.

3) Once again — just as in the first video — the candidate is much more interesting than the stars are. But this time, Obama doesn’t speak until about the 2:30 mark. That was a bad choice by the producers. At least I think so.

4) This is for Texas? I’m assuming that must be the case.

5) The Dipdive folks should have quit while they were ahead.

[Editor’s Note: If you want a better version — you’re a masochist? — go here.]

The novelist Nicholson Baker writes affectingly about loss here—about, that is to say, lost knowledge; the elimination of entries from Wikipedia.

As I am most fond of Nicholson Baker for his article on fingernail clippers I suppose it should come as no surprise that he loves Wikipedia; as I am secondarily most fond of Nicholson Baker for his article on the evils—evils! I do not use the word lightly—of libraries’ deaccessioning and destroying newspapers (which gave rise to this collection), I suppose it should come as no surprise that he hates the wanton deletion of articles from Wikipedia. After all, newspapers take up a lot of space—you can at least make a case for getting rid of them; Wikipedia articles not so much. Still, people are busily determining what you should not know:

There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples’ work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard “Engrish.” They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.

In the fall of 2006, groups of editors went around getting rid of articles on webcomic artists—some of the most original and articulate people on the Net. They would tag an article as nonnotable and then crowd in to vote it down. One openly called it the “web-comic articles purge of 2006.” A victim, Trev-Mun, author of a comic called Ragnarok Wisdom, wrote: “I got the impression that they enjoyed this kind of thing as a kid enjoys kicking down others’ sand castles.” Another artist, Howard Tayler, said: “‘Notability purges’ are being executed throughout Wikipedia by empire-building, wannabe tin-pot dictators masquerading as humble editors.” Rob Balder, author of a webcomic called PartiallyClips, likened the organized deleters to book burners, and he said: “Your words are polite, yeah, but your actions are obscene. Every word in every valid article you’ve destroyed should be converted to profanity and screamed in your face.”

I once attended a fine after-dinner talk called something like “On the Burning, Sinking, Rending, and Eating of Books,” about all the things we, as a civilization, used to know and now can no longer know. Strange things are done to the historical record in the name of orderliness and conservation of space.

On this day in 1939, as the world fell apart overseas, an alert editor at the G. & C. Merriam Company in Springfield, Massachusetts noticed an oddity in the company’s flagship dictionary, the New International: a word, on page 771, without an etymology. The culprit, dord, carried a one-word definition: density.

Read the rest of this entry »

On this day in 1922, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Leser v. Garnett, ruled that the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enfranchising women, is constitutional. How could it be otherwise?

Well, maybe if you’re an adamantine states’ righter (and, yes, male chauvinist pig) and you don’t think the federal constitution can overrule a state constitution: “The only ground of disqualification alleged was that the applicants for registration were women, whereas the Constitution of Maryland limits the suffrage to men.” In such cases, you might argue that the state legislature cannot vote the ratification of a federal amendment that defies the state constitution, which gives life to the state legislature.

Not so fast, said the Supremes. The state legislature is the state legislature except when the federal Constitution wants it on the phone: “the function of a state Legislature in ratifying a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution, like the function of Congress in proposing the amendment, is a federal function derived from the federal Constitution; and it transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state.”

This seems like as good a time as any to show you the below. Enjoy the 70’s ethos, and wonder, is it as inaccurate and in its way as appalling as the “Manifest Destineeee” one? (Hint: consider the line, “not a woman here could vote….”)

Answer below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Russert spent a portion of tonight’s debate bringing to life the hateful spam I occasionally get that might as well be titled, “Muslim Obama Will Kill Jews.” And while I agree with all of the prominent (and, as it happens, Jewish) bloggers (here, here, here, and elsewhere for all I know) who are saying that Russert really plumbed the depths with this line of so-called inquiry, the bigger shame was that there were actual issues of interest to American Jews left undiscussed with Obama tonight.

Read the rest of this entry »

The picture I would like to show you of George Fredrickson is a picture I don’t have but remember well, a picture I hope some suitably-situated obituarist will retrieve from the original dust-jacket of The Inner Civil War, a picture of a square-jawed George in 1965 with the Kennedy haircut and a straight-stem pipe, looking as if he had just stepped out of the ExComm. That was the George who wanted to punch his weight with the greats, the George who could write

I am convinced that the few who have a genuine interest in ideas and a powerful urge to find meaning and coherence in their experience are able to tell us more about a crisis of values, with its inevitable confusion and ambivalence, than the many who avoid difficult issues and are content to speak in outdated clichés.

His intellectual journey took him far from that statement, which he later said left him feeling “slightly embarrassed,” because he had chosen his “few” without reflecting on their position in an “elitist canon.” He did not make that mistake again. He transformed himself into the major historian of American racial thought with The Black Image in the White Mind. In 1980 he examined the field of comparative history and concluded that it “does not really exist yet.” In 1981 he remedied this defect with his incomparable White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, which he followed in 1995 with Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa.

George was my Doktorvater, as they say; I believe he was the one who taught me the word. In college I took Joel Silbey’s class on the Civil War and Reconstruction, which fit me to read The Inner Civil War and The Arrogance of Race, and with the arrogance of youth I wrote a personal statement saying I wanted to write books like those, and I wished George would please teach me. In the spring of 1991 there was a message on my answering machine from George Fredrickson saying he would do that very thing. It remains one of the greatest honors of my career.

Read the rest of this entry »

On this day in 1919, Congress created Grand Canyon National Park. I’m going to save the early history of the Park Service for another day, when it makes a bit more sense and I don’t have this horrible flu.

Read the rest of this entry »

I know, I know Yglesias to-be-sure’s here, where he says, “TR is a complicated, multi-faceted figure” but he goes on to accept John McCain’s appropriation of TR as a crazy imperialist devoted to unilateral uses of American power. TR wanted to see the Hague Court “greatly increased in power and permanence.” It’s, to say the least, missing the point to call Roosevelt a warmonger.

Which is all a bunch of academic harrumphing about “nuance” and “journalism!” (and pot-kettling, to be sure) and I wouldn’t have said anything—except that just this morning, the kid was also saying “There was, I would note, a similar assassination fad around the turn of the previous century associated with anarchism, but eventually extending out of any particular ideological niche. That’s how William McKinley got killed….” Harrumph. Nuance. Journalism! Bah.

Look, all I’m really saying is, don’t let McCain have Roosevelt. McCain had his chance to be Roosevelt: he did Roosevelt-the-loyalist in 2000, and he could have done Roosevelt-the-bolter in 2004, when he might have created a coalition of the national-security sane. He let it go. Allowing McCain v.2008 to claim Roosevelt is almost as bad as this (upon which those with sensitive dispositions shouldn’t click).

On this day in 1862, Congress passed the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the Treasury to print $150 million in paper currency — so-called greenbacks. Opponents of the bill, largely Democrats, claimed the law was unconstitutional (“to coin money,” they argued, literally meant making only coins), ungodly (the Almighty had created gold and silver; turning away from those precious metals thus spurned the divine), and impractical (inflation would, in short order, render paper money worthless, throwing the Union economy into an inflationary spiral like that plaguing the Confederacy).

Read the rest of this entry »

From earlier this month, a picture of Patience with her gift-wrapped library. Do not open until 2011. Which will take, er, patience. Probably also fortitude, but she didn’t show up for the shoot; bad hair day. (Yes, I know you think they’re both male lions. But see here, dear reader. You can’t judge a lion by its hairdo. The world is full of stranger things than are dreamt of in your philosophy.)

Okay, the Clintons are being banished from the Kelman family Hanukkah card list. Race-baiting backfired, accusations of plagiarism came off as a bit silly (since, y’know, Hillary is far guiltier of that “crime” than Obama), so now it’s time to fall back on the War on Terror. The black man can’t be trusted to keep you safe! Because he’s angry! And black! And radical! From Justin Rood’s piece for abc on the Clinton camp’s allegations that Obama is part of the Weather Underground:

The Hillary Clinton campaign pushed to reporters today stories about Barack Obama and his ties to former members of a radical domestic terrorist group…

“Wonder what the Republicans will do with this issue,” mused Clinton spokesman Phil Singer in one e-mail to the media, containing a New York Sun article reporting a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the Weather Underground, to Obama in 2001. (Obama’s ties to the radical group first surfaced last week in a Bloomberg News article.)

In a separate e-mail, Singer forwarded an article from reporting on a 1995 event at a private home that brought Obama together with Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, another former member of the radical group.

But here’s the thing: Rood is a… Wait, what is he? What do you call ’em? They’re so rare these days, I’ve almost forgotten the name. Oh yeah, he’s an “investigative reporter.” (A TPM alum, right?) And so, rather than allowing this nasty bit of flim-flam to hang in the air, Rood goes on (a bit frostily, it seems to me):

Opting to leave any attacks on the issue to the GOP may be wise, as attacks from Clinton could backfire. In his final day in office, President Clinton pardoned another one-time member of the Weather Underground, Susan L. Rosenberg, after she had served 16 years in prison on federal charges.

It seems that reports that Hillary would lose gracefully, putting party and country over personal ambition, were exaggerated. Or wishful thinking. So: I’m now comfortable saying that I hope she doesn’t win the nomination. And not just because she’ll have to employ dirty tricks in order to do so. But also because I don’t want to vote for her. Under any circumstances. To be clear: I will (Supreme Court) vote for her. But I don’t want to. And please spare me the Republicans-will-dredge-up-all-this-crap-in-the-general-election-so-isn’t-it-better-to-hear-about-it-now? argument. That’s right. They will play dirty. So let them. But no self-respecting Democrat should dignify this nonsense, offering it standing, by using it now. Seriously, the death throes (I hope) of a presidential campaign are really ugly.

[Editor’s Note: I saw this story somewhere. But I can’t figure out where. So I’ll doff my cap later, when I figure it out. In the meantime, sorry I’m so spacey.]

[Update: Vance wins a prize for pointing out that I saw the story at Sadly, No! The whole post is really funny, by the way. And thanks, Vance.]

[Update II: Another prize! Andrew points out that the link I embedded above doesn’t match the one that Vance offered in the comments below. Andrew is right! Ari is an idiot! So: here’s the correct link. Also: this one isn’t as funny.]

Ezra Klein tries to explain the press’s (particularly the boys in the corps) lust for John McCain. I’ll lift a bit of his post rather than paraphrasing his argument:

The qualities we most admire in others are those we don’t have, or fear we don’t have, in ourselves. The press isn’t impressed by smart, cerebral candidates because the press is full of smart, cerebral, people, who sort of believe they are smarter and more cerebral than the politicians they cover. There’s almost a resentment there, and it comes out in the reporting which often tries to show that the reporter is smarter because they can take down the candidate. They can win the debate, poke flaws in the argument, identify inconsistencies.

What very few (male) reporters feel comfortable with is their personal physical courage. Their ability to fare well in a bar fight, or make a credible threat to someone stalking their wife, or endure five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp. McCain has something that they don’t understand, and that they want. And it’s one reason they like him. Because not only does he possess those qualities, but he also appears to like them. And that validation from a tough guy is reassuring.

Ezra’s main point jibes with something my colleagues and I talk about often. John McCain’s appeal is rooted in history and gender archetypes: he’s the last American man. In a country in which masculinity is always in crisis — see Eric’s post on historical verities — someone like McCain has incredible appeal. He has a mean streak. He fought in a war. For goodness sakes, he survived torture. All of which makes it okay that he knows next to nothing about domestic policy, is a terribly corrupt hypocrite, and thinks that we don’t currently have nearly enough wars of choice. Because, you know, even in his seventies, he could kick your ass.

[Update: I’ve pasted in some of Ezra’s words to flesh out the post a bit.]

On this day in 1889, Grover Cleveland signed into law the omnibus admissions bill that brought the Dakotas, Montana, and Washington into the union as states—which might seem unremarkable enough on the face of it, but in fact poses one of the few Genuine Historical Mysteries I have lying around. This is a dissertation waiting to happen, people. Or at least an article. Or else one of you is going to email me to say that someone has already done it, and I will feel I have been ignorant (which is an unpleasant if familiar feeling, trust me, but I’d rather feel I have been ignorant than go on being ignorant).

Before I get into this, if you’re from the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona or Nevada and especially sensitive about how your state became a state, why don’t you accept my happy stativersary wishes and not click on the rest of the post? Mormons, Mormon-haters, racists, Democrats, and Republicans may also be offended. Also, proponents of plural marriage and opponents of polygamy. Probably, also, everyone else. This is a pretty obnoxious blog, isn’t it?

Those of you who venture below the fold have been warned.

Read the rest of this entry »

As Friday shades into the weekend, please enjoy this stirring tribute to African-American Confederate soldiers. Remember, “black is nothing other than a darker shade of Rebel grey.” Once again, via Kevin at Civil War Memory.

Unless I’m missing something, this is a brilliant blog post. Or, at the very least, it’s Yglesias at his best: reducing an incredibly complex geopolitical issue to a still complex, but more manageable, series of policy options. In this case, he’s turned his gaze on the thorny question of independence for ethnic minority groups, beginning with Kosovo and then pivoting to Israel/Palestine. Oh, and he also bashes Marty Peretz. So: extra credit! Even though I’ve just made an anti-Semite of myself. Anyway, here’s the nut graf of the post (but you should read it in its entirety):

It’s clear, though, that granting Israeli citizenship on terms of equality to residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is incompatible with the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus, Palestinian independence emerges as a reasonable, practical, and moral alternative. Basically, there are four things you could do with Israel-Palestine. One option is partition and independence. Another option is equal citizenship and the end of Israel. A third option is “transfer” and ethnic cleansing. And a fourth option is apartheid. I wonder which of the alternatives to Palestinian independence Peretz favors?

Again, I really might be missing something here — I’m pretty stoned on cough medicine today — but I don’t think so. You have to choose from one of the above if you’re Israel. It’s not an easy choice, to be sure, but it’s the choice that’s before you.

This is Hannah. Well, actually this was Hannah. But before getting to the sad stuff, I want to say what a great dog she was. She was. A great dog. She was so sweet it makes my heart ache to think about her. She allowed the kids to do just about anything to her that they wanted. The baby boy would point at her and say, “dug dug,” and then leap onto her flanks. She always wagged when this happened. I wouldn’t have. I’d have been quite peeved at having the little brute attack me, cackling as he tried to climb up my back to reach my velvet ears. But Hannah always loved all of us more than we had any right to expect. Or, if it wasn’t love, you could have fooled us. Because she was big on the full-body wags.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vicksburg, Mississippi, you may know, fell to the Union on July 4, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg ended the previous day, meaning that, after a long, very hard spring, the North had two great victories back to back. Which was good news for President Lincoln, who, at the time, was dealing with a fatigued homefront that badly needed a morale boost.

Regardless, I’ve always heard that the people of Vicksburg (Vicksburgers? Let’s hope so.) didn’t begin celebrating Independence Day again until the middle of the twentieth century. But it turns out that’s a myth. Or so says Chris Waldrep, whose new book on Vicksburg and collective memory just arrived in my mailbox today. Better still, Waldrep has traced the myth back to its taproot: a bit of promotional flummery in which a National Park Service superintendent made up the story about the Fourth of July in order to generate more tourism at the Vicksburg National Military Park. After checking my lecture notes, I’m relieved to report that I haven’t been passing along the Independence Day myth to my students. But I’m also wondering what stopped me. Surely not good sense or keen intuition.

Thanks to Kevin at Civil War Memory for bringing this to my attention.

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."