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The email starts this way:

Dear Neddy,

I am writing to let you know your tenure decision was negative. I am very sorry to have to let you know this unpleasant outcome.*

Fortunately I’d been told on the phone that morning that results were due out in the afternoon, so I have time to flee campus and head downtown before getting the message. I’d done some work to brace myself for the possibility, but it didn’t seem to do a lot of good. Texting reveals that half the decisions were negative this year. What a mess.

The shame is overwhelming. What will my adviser think? How do I tell my mother? (Yes, in that order.)

I go to the office that night to prep for a class. Some senior colleagues are around. They’ve heard, and they’re being supportive and consoling. Sort of a weird dynamic because I don’t know what their formal assessments were like, but still, appreciated.** The provost is apparently sitting by his computer– we exchange some emails and schedule a meeting for the next morning.

The first night is not so good.

The next morning I get a summary of the committee’s reasoning. Scholarship is the issue, basically. We talk about the appeal procedure. (It’s made to the same committee that makes the original decision, and historically about 10% of appeals are successful.) The provost is as nice and as supportive as possible given the situation. Polite, sympathetic, but not writing any checks his office can’t cash.

I then get to read the internal letters. (That is, the recommendations from the tenured members of my department. External reviews of scholarship will be available when names and identifying information is redacted.) Support, support, support…do not support. There’s always someone, isn’t there? I read the text. Most of it is critical but fair. I think the author misunderstands some of the scholarship in a fairly obvious way, but whatever, that happens. There are also some unnecessary low blows.

I am sitting in a conference room giving the middle finger to a piece of paper.

The second night isn’t so hot either. I take a mental health day. It’s extremely pleasant. The day after, I detect the whiff of pity from other faculty and some students. The department secretary is crying when she hugs me. I hear that another unsuccessful candidate told his classes about all the results, not just his. We’re all suffering and this is a time for interpretive charity, but this strikes me as dickish. I hate being pitied.

I am now a memento mori.

I’m amused by who’s nice and who isn’t, once it looks like I’m a lost cause. Some interesting surprises in both directions. My newfound power to spread gloom by my very presence pleases me.

A few days later I’m able to see the external letters. I had been dreading this. (Over the summer I assembled a list of people in my area who are competent to assess my work. I was then in the grips of despair and didn’t put a whole lot of thought into things, so I’d worried that I’d be screwed by my own carelessness.) My chair has seen the letters and describes them as “more positive than I expected, given the outcome.” They are indeed positive. It’s a genre rife with inflated claims, but still, these are good. “Really top-notch” and “no reservations at all about recommending tenure” and “strongly support” and things like that. My supportive colleagues intend to be more supportive after reading them. They have another letter in the works.

There’s a first glimmer of hope.

I get to work on the appeal document. The more I write, the more I think I have a case. (I do this with referee reports and comments too– my first thought is that I’m screwed, and then I think about things and realize it’s not as bad as I thought.) I circulate things to colleagues in and out of the department, collect feedback, revise. I meet with faculty who won on appeal. I keep my ear to the ground for rumors. I am deeply grateful to the people who are watching out for me, both here and elsewhere. I get advice from old mentors, but I also get a call, just to make sure I’m doing all right. “These things can mess with your head, and I just wanted you to know that all of us here think really highly of you.” He pretends not to notice that I’m choking up a bit.

In the meantime I have to give a talk. My hosts are gracious and seem willing to forgive the fact that my head is lodged deeply up my own ass.

I’m mainly sticking to my vow to be decent about this. No raging, no childish stuff in public. (Except for liveblogging!) The high road is free, and I’m aware that this is my own damn fault. I should have made it easy for the committee, and I didn’t, so I’ve done it to myself.

My plan is to think mostly about the appeal until it’s over, then turn in earnest to the task of finding another job. I have a rough outline of a strategy: try the academic market in the fall. It’s going to be a brutal year, but I have some nice publications and a “record of teaching success.” If nothing happens there, look for applied-ethics possibilities– maybe medical ethics sorts of things. If not, more distantly related work in other fields. A friend says that I’d find something in Big Pharma. I keep reminding myself that I’m a white man with a lot of degrees. I will not starve. I will lose my house, I will have to move, but I will not starve. Of course I don’t believe it, but I do my best to pretend.

The appeal document is polished and buffed to a high gloss. I have the feeling that I’ve done the best I can for myself. I hand the thing in to the Provost’s office. Meanwhile, the stack of grading has grown to soul-crushing proportions. On the other hand– whatcha gonna do, fire me? I enjoy the liberation of the damned.

Next up: I meet with the committee.

*It was sent months ago, and rereading it now still feels like a punch in the gut.
** Here the P&T decisions are made by a committee constituted by faculty outside the candidate’s department; senior colleagues from the dept individually recommend a result but do not vote as a body. In cases of negative decisions the candidate is entitled to read internal letters and redacted copies of external reviews of scholarship.


seymour2.jpgJournalism is famously the “first rough draft of history” and today I want to look for a moment at what kind of draft it is. To do so, I’ve taken a relatively short article from the New York Times of June 30, 1900, and read it closely. How well does an article written in the heat of the moment stand up for the long term?

The short answer: not well. The long answer, however, is that it is interesting to analyze how the article was constructed, what agendas were served, and where inaccurate or shaded information served some purpose other than simply reporting. As a factual account of events prior to June 30, 1900, the article failed. As a source for a history of that period, the article seems to me eminently useful.

Before we explore those answers further, let me lay out a bit of the background to the article. Since early June, 1900, the crisis in China had grown enormously. Early in the month, the western powers sent several hundred guards–soldiers, marines, and sailors–up to the foreign embassies in Beijing to protect them from the Boxers. Within a few days of that arrival, the train and telegraph lines from Beijing were cut, and almost all communication with the capital was lost. The naval forces assembled off the coast at Dagu in the Yellow Sea put together a scratch force of whatever fighting men they had available, led by Admiral Edward Seymour took the train north from Tianjin, close to Dagu, in hopes of being able to repair breaks in the line and make it quickly to Beijing. They failed, and had to fight their way back to Tianjin, reaching it in late June.

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Adam Serwer complains today of the administration’s approach to LGBT issues,

In 1955, the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation to commence with “all deliberate speed.” Lately, it seems like the Obama administration has been moving in slow motion.

But that’s kind of what “all deliberate speed” means. Warren had originally written “at the earliest practicable date”. But Frankfurter urged him, successfully, to change it.

‘with all deliberate speed’ conveys more effectively the process of time for the effectuation of our decision…. I think it is highly desirable to educate public opinion—the parties themselves and the general public—to an understanding that we are at the beginning of a process of enforcement and not concluding it…. as … the phrase ‘with all deliberate speed’ … [is] calculated to do.

So, disappointing though the administration’s policies may be, they’re actually quite consonant with the Court’s directive to move forward with “all deliberate speed.”

You’ll sometimes hear historians bemoaning the state of professional scholarship, saying there’s nothing interesting in the new issues of our journals and everyone’s fixated on trivia to the exclusion of important questions. And I like a good jeremiad as well as anyone. But I thought I’d begin a series of posts on journal articles that are interesting and nontrivial. (We’ll see how long it lasts.)


Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies,” Journal of African American History 92, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 265-288.

Link here, for those who can access it.
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Seriously, check it out.

Via seth.

(by request.)

As all actual, practicing literary critics know, few sentences in critical works scream tendentiousness louder than:

What should be transparent to any literary critic is that . . .

Literary matters are only “transparent” when they’re not properly literary. If something is transparent, you don’t need a literary critic to ponder the depths it doesn’t have—any old idiot will suffice. And that’s exactly why Jack Cashill, author of the above and an idiot of long-standing, is just the man to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father. For Cashill and his mysterious contributors (“[t]he media punishment that Joe the Plumber received” requires they remain anonymous), the case against Obama is a compelling one:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the poet Carl Sandburg. In itself, this is not a grand revelation. Let us call it a C-level match. Obama and Ayers seem to have shared the same library in any case . . . Ayers and Obama, however, go beyond citing Sandburg. Each quotes the opening line of his poem “Chicago” . . . This I would call a B-level match. What raises it up a notch to an A-level match is the fact that both misquote “Chicago,” and they do so in exactly the same way.

So both Ayers and Obama misquote the opening line of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” substituting “hog butcher to the world” for “hog butcher for the world.” This mutual error would be significant (an “A-level match”) if Ayers and Obama were the only two people who ever made it, but according to Google Book Search—a secret search engine to which only I have access—the same mistake has been made by Nelson Algren, Alan Lomax, Andrei Codrescu, H.L. Mencken, Paul Krugman, Perry Miller, Donald Hall, Ed McBain, Saul Bellow, S.J. Perelman, Nathanaël West, Ezra Pound, Wright Morris, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. (To name but a few.) According to Cashill, I have now proven that Dreams From My Father was written by many a dead man of American letters, a living mystery writer, a New York Times columnist and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. That bears repeating:

I have an “A-level match” that proves that Obama’s autobiography was written by a “study of the economic and social effects of automation and other technological changes on industry, commerce, agriculture, education, manpower, and society in Illinois” when Obama was only six years old.  If that somehow fails to convey to the dubious merits of Cashill’s argument, perhaps this will:

Returning to the exotic, in his Indonesian backyard Obama discovered two “birds of paradise” running wild as well as chickens, ducks, and a “yellow dog with a baleful howl.” In [Ayers’] Fugitive Days, there is even more “howling” than there is in Dreams . . . In [A Kind and Just Parent], he talks specifically about a “yellow dog.” And he uses the word “baleful” to describe an “eye” in Fugitive Days. For the record, “baleful” means “threatening harm.” I had to look it up.

You did read that right. Cashill did cite as “A-level” evidence the fact that Ayers and Obama used a word he didn’t know, despite his being the Executive Editor of Kansas City’s premier business publication, Ingram’s Magazine; despite his having written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Weekly Standard; despite his having authored five books of non-fiction; and despite the word “baleful” having appeared in print 342 times in the past six months alone. Granted, all those appearances were in high-minded literary publications like Newsday (“[w]ith his baleful countenance, wild hair, sonorous baritone and sage pronouncements”) or leftist rags like The Washington Times (“warn them in baleful tones if they’ve forgotten, say, the Constitution”), so it would be unreasonable to expect Cashill to have been familiar with the word . . . or would be, were it not for the fact that it also appears 19 times in the pages of the American Thinker, the publication for which Cashill penned this tripe. (Seems he can begin his careful literary analysis of the other 848,000 potential ghost writers closer to home.)

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Maira Kalman tackles Jefferson and Monticello. The piece doesn’t change my opinion of Jefferson: terrible president, massive hypocrite, astonishing mind. Nor of Kalman*: national treasure. But it’s well worth the time.

* Are we related? Perhaps distantly? I’d like to think so.

Look at your local paper; for bad reasons I’m looking at USA Today.

And, srsly? Bigger than Iran, Bernanke, and Farrah Fawcett? At least Fawcett did The Burning Bed.

[Editor’s Note: When Jacob Remes isn’t using his superpowers to fight crime, he toils as a PhD candidate in history at Duke University, where he’s writing a dissertation about the Salem Fire and the Halifax explosion. You can find more information here. And if you’d like to write a TDIH, please let me know.]

The workers at Korn Leather Company in Salem, Mass., made embossed patent leather by coating leather with a solution made of scrap celluloid film, alcohol, and amyl-acetate, and then applying steam heat. On this day in 1914, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, something went terribly wrong, and—perhaps not surprisingly given the flammable nature of the work—the whole rickety structure caught fire. Half an hour later, the fire had spread to fifteen more buildings, forcing 300 workers to flee. By 7:00 that evening, the fire crossed into the Point, a tightly packed neighborhood of three- and four-story tenements, filled with the immigrants who worked at Salem’s leather factories and the enormous Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company.

The Salem Evening News reported:

The rush of the flames through the Point district was the wildest of the conflagration, the flames leaping from house to house with incredible rapidity. Police officers and citizens went from house to house in the district when it was seen that it must fall a prey to the flames, warning the occupants to get out and get out as quickly as possible. Soon the streets were thronged with men, women and children, carrying in their arms all they could of their belongings, while wagons, push carts and now and then an automobile were pressed into service in the removal of goods.

The fire burned through the night, and by the time the fire reached the Naumkeag cotton mill, it was too hot; although the factory was equipped with modern devices to stop fires, it burned down, leaving 3,000 people without jobs. All told, the fire destroyed 3,150 houses and 50 factories and left 18,380 individuals homeless, jobless, or both. Of these people, nearly half were French-Canadian, the group that dominated the Point. “St. Joseph’s structure is not only destroyed, but the whole parish has been scattered to the winds,” the Salem Evening News wrote that week of the neighborhood’s French-Canadian parish. Many camped for weeks at nearby Forest River Park, under the watchful eye and armed authority of the National Guard.

Fires were endemic to 19th-century industrial cities. Just in the 35 years preceding the Salem Fire, Chicago (1871), Boston (1872), Seattle (1889), St. John’s, Nfld. (1892), Hull and Ottawa (1900), Jacksonville, Fla. (1901), Toronto (1904), Baltimore (1904), and San Francisco (1906), and Chelsea, Mass. (1908), among others, all suffered major conflagrations. But changes in building and firefighting meant that in the twentieth century, large-scale urban fires declined drastically. Automobiles required clear roadways, so the flammable material that used to often sit in streets, blocking fire engines and spreading fires, was gradually removed. Progressive building codes—like one proposed and rejected in Salem in 1910 that would have required noncombustible roofs—and ever-more professionalized fire-fighting helped too. If the Salem Fire was not the last of its kind, it was among the last. That at most six people died in Salem is testament to the strides made in preventing, containing and fighting fires, even when fire departments could not ultimately save property. In 1951, the National Fire Protection Association published a list of major conflagrations in the first half of the twentieth century. After 1914, only one urban fire came close to Salem’s in the number of buildings burned or the estimated dollar amount of damages: a fire in Astoria, Oregon, in 1922 that destroyed 30 city blocks and caused $10 million in damages.

Yet the decline of industrial conflagrations did not, of course, spell the end to urban disasters. Three and a half years after the Salem Fire, a ship explosion destroyed about a quarter of Halifax, N.S., killing around 2,000 people. The Halifax Explosion was an accident, but it heralded the urban destructions of the 20th century. All sides of the Second World War unleashed massive, unprecedented on cities. Geographer Ken Hewitt estimates that strategic bombing destroyed 39% of Germany’s total urban area and an astounding 50% of Japan’s. Neither these statistics nor the equally startling numbers of dead and bombed out (60,595 dead and 750,000 homeless in the U.K., 550,000 and 7,500,000, respectively in Germany, and 500,000 and 8,300,000 in Japan) adequately convey the destruction of families, communities, and institutions that came with these urban destructions. Twentieth century wars, their technology and ideology created a special brand of horror, which made their urban destructions starkly different from the industrial fires of the 19th century. When urban civilians became common targets, cities were made military symbols. It is not for nothing that terrorists have twice targeted the World Trade Center, a symbol of American urban might and culture.

If urban destruction in the 19th century was largely a result of industrial accidents and the destructions of the 20th century were from war, the 21st century may be a period of meteorological and seismological disasters. While there remains scientific disagreement about the effect of climate change on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, there is mounting evidence that global warming has contributed to a greater proportion of storms being particularly bad. Global warming also contributes to other meteorological disasters, like floods, heat-waves, and droughts. Moreover, the chronic effects of global warming, especially coastal erosion, means that cities are less able to withstand extreme storms and floods. This means that cities will be more susceptible to destruction stemming from events that global warming will not increase, like tsunamis. There is some evidence, too, that even on land seismological disasters will likely become worse this century, since urbanization—especially the growth of shanties and slums in global megacities—leads to more death and destruction when earthquakes strike. As always, the social effects of these “natural” disasters are felt most by the poor, both globally and within developed countries.

. . . BURNING SHIT DOWN, which must be why neither the Los Angeles Times nor Twitter will load.  I admit that watching the social media site come into its own in response to an international crisis makes me wonder whether I ought to be a little less cynical of the political power of new media and the political engagement of the online generati—what?

You have got to be kidding me.

Somewhere in Tehran, an Iranian protester’s desperately punching his jerry-rigged mobile device trying to figure out what the fuck happened to Twitter.

Two groups of people are annoyed that the administration collaborated with the Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney on a question about Iran: seasoned pool reporters invested in the pecking order who believe Pitney jumped the line, and partisan hacks whose concern for Iran disappears the moment an opportunity to denounce the media arrives.

As to the former, they are, to paraphrase Tim Crouse, journalistic Prufrocks who measure their lives in handouts, and Pitney had the audacity to receive more sooner than this collection of easy tools thought prudent. More significant, or at least more revelatory, is the response of those who have spent the past week full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse on the subject of Obama’s refusal to condemn Iran. They pressed Obama to use the word “condemn” itself, because any condemnation that doesn’t sets off their Neville detectors. No mere objection, they argue, no matter how strong, can rise to the level of a condemnation.

Now, in their mad rush to demonstrate the pervasiveness of liberal bias, they ignore the rather obvious symbolism the Obama administration employed here. At a moment in which the Iranian regime is doing its damnedest to prevent information about the situation on the ground from leaking, Obama grants an Iranian dissident the primacy of place in a news conference that will be broadcast the world over. Moreover, he calls attention to the fact that he’s breaking protocol in order to give voice to the very people the Iranian regime wants silenced.

With the whole world watching, Obama took a moment to humiliate Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. But because conservatives are compelled to follow their tedious argument of insidious intent to its tendentious conclusion, what should be a story about the regime being humiliated on the world stage becomes yet another media pseudo-scandal.


The blogospheric dynamic often resembles that of a particularly raucous frat party.  Someone gets the idea in their head to dance on a table.  Suddenly dancing on tables with a bottle in hand is  the best idea to occur to anyone, not dancing on tables is a sign of depravity, and the drunken boys surrounding the table chanting “Chug! Chug! Chug!” reinforce the dancer’s dubious choice.  Hours later the dancer comes to, facedown in a lampshade, and, at this particular party, wondering what on earth he could have done in his stupor to earn the plastic green beads roped around his neck.

Do not mistake my silence on Iran for a lack of interest.  Like everyone else, I’m reading the blogs and the tweets. I find the regime’s violence abhorrent.   I sympathize with the protesters.  They look like the nearby counterparts of my friends and students.  I am impressed by their courage, and I suspect that there is no force fiercer than an Iranian mother.

I’m conscious, however, of how little I know about Iran or Iranian politics, and discretion being the better part of amateur punditry, I didn’t have much to say.  Here’s the thing: neither does anyone else  know what is going on.  We have a narrative that says, truthfully, oppressive regimes that fake election results and beat up their citizens are bad, and non-violent protesters of those results are good.  The problem is with the further embellishment:  that “bad” and “good” map onto domestic American politics concerns, attitudes, and goals; that the favored protesters would, if they won, be recognized by the U.S. political establishment and chattering classes as allies; that Iranian politics is as familiar to us our own so that we can feel confident in the comparisons.

Would we trust a pundit who thought that Barack Obama was a Republican, or that in the United States, Presidents were elected by a simple majority vote?

Daniel Larison noted last week that with a slightly different spin or simply some more information, Mousavi would not look as favorable to the West.  Will Wilkinson’s latest posts on  the “vanity dressed up as elevated moral consciousness” of  Twitter avatars strike me as extremely perceptive.   Exiled Iranian filmmaker Lila Ghobady has a much harsher view of both the current regime and Mousavi as a reformer:

Let us not forget that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran in the 1980s when more than ten thousand political prisoners were executed after three-minute sham trials. He has been a part of the Iranian dictatorship system for the past 30 years. If he had not been, he would not be allowed to be a candidate in the first place. In fact in a free democratic state someone like Mousavi should have gone on trial before becoming a presidential candidate for his crimes against thousands of freedom-loving political prisoners who were killed during the time he was Iran’s Prime Minister.

Read her whole column.  At the very least, it shows how little we should be confident of understanding the situation or of the morality of breathlessly cheering it on.  I am not arguing that there is no reason for the protesters to take to the streets.   Nor am I arguing that Mousavi would be worse, or that the Iranian leadership is a force for good.

I am, however, counseling sobriety.

It is easy to get swept up in a romantic narrative of someone else’s passionate struggle from behind the safety of one’s keyboard.   Revolutions are exciting from far away, and the illusion of participation in something greater than oneself by…. making your Twitter avatar green… by bloviating about it on the Internet….changing your Facebook status… being anti-green Muppets…. protesting the irresponsible consumption of ice cream…is seductive.

It’s unclear right now what will happen.  The very real risk on our end is no matter how the Iranian political dispute is resolved, this incident will become grist for a future ill-conceived war.  The same groups rending their garments over the murder of Neda will be calling for the bombing of her relatives.

So, I think the intellectually and morally responsible thing to do is to hope quietly and read voraciously.

wheres_waldo.jpgSouth Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been tipped as one of the rising stars of the GOP, with potential presidential hopes in 2012. That makes the events of the last week all the more strange. Sanford disappeared. No one knew where he was: not his wife, not his office, not the Governor’s security detail. He was gone. The stories put out got stranger and stranger. First, his office said, he had gone off to work on some writing projects by himself. Then, he was walking the Appalachian Trail to clear his mind after the recent legislative session. The office did mention that his last call to them had been traced to a cellphone tower near Atlanta, which led immediately to the question of why his office had been tracking him via cell phone towers.

Nonetheless, everyone insisted, things were just fine. Sanford would come back on Wednesday to resume the business of government in South Carolina, which had essentially been in abeyance in his absence, as he had not handed over power to the Lt. Governor before leaving.

Then, things got even weirder. Sanford was not on the Appalachian Trail, or in Atlanta. He was in Argentina:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was in Argentina during a dayslong unexplained absence, not hiking the Appalachian Trail as his staff told the public when state leaders raised questions about his whereabouts, the governor told a newspaper

What he was doing there remains unclear. The governor claimed he was simply driving along the coast line in Argentina. The Appalachian Trail, his original destination, proved unattractive:

The Republican governor told the South Carolina newspaper he decided at the last minute to go to the South American country. The governor says he had considered hiking on the Appalachian Trail but wanted to do something “exotic.”

So he flew to Argentina to drive the coast. The problem, as the Associated Press pointed out, is that driving the coast in Argentina is not all that easy:

Trying to make such a drive could frustrate a weekend visitor to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the Avenida Costanera is the only coastal road, and it’s less than two miles long. Reaching coastal resorts to the south requires a drive of nearly four hours on an inland highway with views of endless cattle ranches. To the north is a river delta of islands reached only by boat.

The Governor did not reveal if he had seen either Waldo, or Carmen Sandiego.

Buenos Aires
He was down there, somewhere

Every newly released Nixon tape reminds us afresh how special he was. But this one has extra bonus Reagan approval of Nixon’s attempt to evade justice!

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding: “Or a rape.”

Nine months later, after Nixon precipitated the resignations of two top Justice Department officials and forced the firing of the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate affair, Ronald Reagan, who was then the governor of California and would later be president, told the White House that he heartily approved.

Reagan told the White House that the action — which would become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” — was “probably the best thing that ever happened — none of them belong where they were,” according to a Nixon aide’s notes of the private conversation.

Things began to heat up in China in late May, early June. What had been hints and ominous intimations were now transformed into a full-blown crisis. The “Boxers”–in earlier stories surrounded by quotes and explanation–became over the course of the month simply the Boxers, a name every reader should have, by then, known. Thus, on May 25th, the Times wrote “The United States Government has taken a hand in the suppression of the “Boxers,” the famous Chinese secret society which is engaged in the massacre of native Christians in China, and to which is attributed numberless outrages upon the foreign missionaries.” By June 6, the Times wrote “The murder of Mr. Norman, the missionary, was undoubtedly due to the complicity of the Chinese Government in the disturbances caused by the Boxers.” The Boxers had become part of the common parlance of educated readers and no longer required explanation.

Both China and the Boxers became front-page news in those late spring weeks. And now, they were threatening not merely missionaries or native Christians, but Beijing itself. The Chinese Army was helpless to deal with them:

The rebellion continues to grow in intensity, and the gravest fears are entertained of its ultimate extent. The foreign envoys at Peking, fearing a massacre within the capital, have decided to bring up the guards of the legations. The rebels are now massing outside of Peking, and their numbers are reported to be constantly augmenting. Fresh contingents of armed malcontents are coming up almost hourly from the north. The imperial troops who were sent to disperse the rebels found themselves hopelessly outnumbered. Several hundreds were killed, and two guns and many rifles were captured, after which the greater part of the remaining troops went over to the rebels. They are now marching side by side [1]

By nearing Beijing, of course, the Boxers neared the representatives of the foreign nations, the correspondents reporting on China, and the telegraph lines that connected China to the outside world. The threat, thus, became much more immediate and personalized for each country and the delay in reporting events dropped as well. The number of articles concerning China more than doubled in the month compared to the previous month’s total.

Who was responsible for the crisis? There seemed a notable reluctance simply to believe that this was a popular uprising. Someone more important had to be at fault. The most obvious guilty party was the Imperial Throne. If they could not control the Boxers immediately, then the Chinese government had little claim to be such: “A Government which cannot protect foreigners at its own capital, when these foreigners are there by its invitation or its permission, is not a Government which it is any longer possible for its foreign friends to uphold.” [2]

Or could it be that the government was actually supporting the Boxers? The Times found that idea plausible as well. The actions taken by the throne to deal with the movement were fake. They were “pretended mission[s]” deceptions intended to fool the western powers. The tortured logic of the paper was that the throne must have the power to suppress the Boxers. That the Dowager Empress did not was thus a sign that she, in fact, supported them: “the throne and Government have been actuated by secret sympathy with the Boxer movement, which the Government has ample power to suppress if it so desires.” [3]

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I came to political awareness (well, relatively speaking) in the late 1970s, so one of the first foreign “uprisings” I can remember following was the Danzig shipyard strike, culminating Aug. 31, 1980, in the official recognition formation of the trade union Solidarity (Solidarność). It was tremendously stirring to follow from abroad, not least because of good graphic design — in the Polish tradition, starting with the beautiful, “casual” but unmistakable Solidarity logo itself, by Jerzy (Jurek) Janiszewszki. As several have lately commented, the struggle there and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc had a certain polarity with respect to the United States: the regime(s) were broadly anti-American, the popular movements were to some degree philo-American, etc. Yet even then, vicarious participation at the level possible to me in Los Angeles seemed practically pointless.

How much more so today with the struggle in Iran! My sympathies are with the demonstrators against the theft of the election, and to the extent (not great) that I understand what’s going on, my thoughts. We are not Gary Cooper, nor were meant to be.

Call me out and name yourself after a great book, I’m more likely than not to respond.

That said, I’d rather not.

I don’t agree with this post, but instead of saying horrible things about its author, I responded by pointing out the problem with the structure of his argument.  That seems to me the better mode of engagement.

However, if you talk about its author in this thread the way you did in the other one, I’ll slam down the ban-hammer faster than you can say “motherfu—

A loyal reader writes in to say that she’s finding it a bit galling to see a young Kermit the Frog hawking wares at the top of our page while Iranian protesters are being killed. Fair enough. But the truth is that we don’t have much to say about the situation in Iran — at least, in my case, not much to say beyond some guilty musings about accidents of birth and whatnot. Given that, I’d suggest heading over to Andrew Sullivan’s or Juan Cole’s place. I often disagree with Sullivan about a range of issues, but his coverage of this event is pretty extraordinary: a pastiche of live blogging, links to other sites, and some of the best tweets coming out of Iran. It’s really worth a look. Even though I just used the word “pastiche.”* Pomo!

Finally, I’m hoping for the best for the people of Iran.

* Not to mention “tweet”. Dignity: long since gone.

Update: If you’ve found a useful source for news about Iran, please post a link in the comments. Same goes for links to especially good posts on the uprising. Wait, are we calling it an uprising? I don’t really know.

Well, what else do you need to know? Sent us by Ben Wolfson, whom we count (despite everything) as a friend of the blog.

Appears to be from Sam and Friends.

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