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The Edge of the American West, in conjunction with H-War, will be hosting the next Military History Carnival, on April 17, 2010. Carnivals are an ancient and hoary Internet tradition, bringing together the best submitted work on a particular topic from around the web:

A blog carnival is like a roving journal, a rotating showcase of interesting writing from around the blogosphere within a particular discipline. Individual bloggers volunteer to host a carnival on their personal blog, acting as chief editor for that edition. It falls to them to collect noteworthy items, and to sort through suggestions from the community, many of which are direct submissions from authors. On the appointed date (carnivals generally keep to a regular schedule) the carnival gets published and the community is treated to a richly annotated feast of new writing in the field.

Submit potential entries via email. The deadline is April 15th.


So, the centerpiece of any even-slightly-traditional Seder is a detailed recounting of the Exodus story. But, as I understand it, Biblical archaeologists have complicated things lately by insisting that the Jews weren’t in Egypt for any lengthy period of time during the era in question.* “Hold on, Mr. PhD in Archaeology Smartypants, how do we know this for sure?” asks the obnoxious Jew.** Because the Egyptians were excellent record keepers, even taking detailed note of the many peoples they brutally subjugated. Which is all well and good, at least from the perspective of someone interested in the intersection of history and memory. In other words, it’s not unusual for discrepancies, rooted in methodological, epistemological, or political differences, over how the past is recalled to crop up from time to time.

But then there’s this: why would the long-ago Jews have invented this history of oppression, history that features the enslavement of their people across generations? And why would they have memorialized this history in a story that isn’t, if you look away from the super-cool burning bush and pay attention to the other plot points, really all that flattering*** to their forbears? The tempting answer, I guess, is that today, when out groups sometimes play misery poker, trying to climb to the top of a hierarchy of victimization, it might make some sense to concoct such a tale. But! In addition to being totally presentist, and thus unsatisfying as an answer to a historical question, I also can’t think of another case, at least not off the top of my head, in which a race has made a spurious and enduring claim about the past like this one.

I suppose the problem is that it’s likely impossible to know the context in which the Exodus story was invented. And absent that context, it’s impossible to know why the story was invented, what purpose it served, how, in short, it was used to screw the Palestinians out of land. Or maybe it wasn’t invented at all. Maybe the relevant archive burned down or collapsed during an earthquake and hasn’t been excavated.

Also, matzo with butter and salt is delicious for the first few days. Happy Passover.

* Nope, no link. I’m a bad blogger. And a bad Jew. Actually, I’m just repeating snippets of a conversation I overheard involving my co-conspirators colleagues.

** Yes, “obnoxious Jew” is redundant. Whatevs. Eat your gefilte fish and shut up.

*** Except, I mean, for the whole “chosen people” part of the story. But even including that, the Jews still come off looking like small-minded jerks, craven douchebags, and flat-out cowards during significant parts of the narrative.

Do you think that following the suicide bombing of the Moscow subway that anyone writing articles will bother explaining some of the history concerning Chechnya, or will it all get swept under the heading of monolithic radical Islamic extremism?  (Those damn Caucasian Arabs ….!  What about Iran!)*

/annoyed with reporting

*Note for the slow and tendentious:  I am not saying that the suicide bombing is justified.  Killing people is wrong.  It is a source of frustration that a suicide bombing in Moscow by Chechen terrorists is attributed to nothing more than radical Islam, which is apparently the only monolithic religion on the planet.  By parity of reasoning we should respond to the Catholic sex scandals by investigating the Baptist ministers.

Why is Obama being so mean to Netanyahu? One possibility is that with the Biden flap, “Netanyahu’s government made Obama look bad, undermining the effort against Iran.” But there’s another possibility, as the Instapundit points out:

Possibly Obama just hates Israel and hates Jews. That’s plausible — certainly nothing in his actions suggests otherwise, really.

The President’s deep personal animosity toward Jews is on fine display in this interesting NYT article:

The day had been long, the hour was late, and the young men had not been home in months. So they had cadged some matzo and Manischewitz wine, hoping to create some semblance of the holiday.

Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. “Hey, is this the Seder?” Barack Obama asked, entering the room.

So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.

I can’t decide: is he undermining their traditions from within? Or is he just gathering an awful lot of Jews around him before he detonates?

John McCain, throwing caution to the wind with a gambler’s recklessness, made Sarah Palin a national name by choosing her as his Vice-Presidential candidate. Now, she’s making him:

Senator John McCain and Sarah Palin embraced on stage here on Friday as they made their first joint campaign appearance since their presidential race, with Ms. Palin assuring Republicans in Arizona that Mr. McCain should not be dispatched from office by a conservative challenger.

Their rally drew “one of the largest crowds” McCain has had since the 2008 presidential run; a crowd McCain is apparently unable to draw by himself.

Kevin Levin has been having some fun with Larry Schweikart’s recently published — and oddly titled — 48 Liberal Lies About American History. (I mean, only 48? Seriously? He couldn’t find two more? Clearly, he hasn’t reviewed the latest scholarship on George Washington’s ursine sex fetishes and contributions to the early cocaine trade, to say nothing of his extra testicles and his callous disregard for the British children.)

Anyhow, Schweikart — last seen writing a book that should have embarrassed his mother — has discovered some remarkable untruths that are, he claims, standard leftist issue in US History texts.  Among them:

  • “John F. Kennedy was Killed by LBJ and a Secret Team to Prevent Him from Getting Us Out of Vietnam”
  • “Ronald Reagan Knew ‘Star Wars’ Wouldn’t Work but Wanted to Provoke a War with the USSR.”
  • “September 11 Was Not the Work of Terrorists.  It Was a Government Conspiracy.”

It hardly needs mentioning that none of these claims are even remotely endorsed by any current US history textbooks — or at least those that haven’t been self-published by unmedicated crazy people — and that Larry Schweikart must be confusing “liberal US history textbooks” with “amateur videos I found on YouTube.”  None of that will matter to the Texas School Board, for whom I’d guess Schweikart is eagerly preparing a high school version of his Patriot’s History, complete with its reassurances that the men who died at the Alamo were “freedom fighters” and that Mexico’s finest soldiers ran from San Jacinto like screaming children.

But since Schweikart seems particularly concerned about the alleged presence of delusional conspiracy theories in American history texts, perhaps it’s worth reviewing his and Michael Allen’s treatment of the Oklahoma City bombing for a point of comparison.  From pp. 785-786 of A Patriot’s History of the United States, the authors treat us to this:

[I]n his haste to lay the blame on antigovernment extremists, Clinton and the entire U.S. intelligence community missed several troubling clues that perhaps McVeigh and Nichols had not acted alone. Nichols, for example, was in the same part of the Philippines — and at the same time — as Al Qadea [sic] bomb maker Ramzi Yousef. Moreover, numerous witnesses testified that McVeigh and Nichols lacked sufficient bomb-making skills, but that their bomb was a near-perfect replica of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb devised by Yousef.

The footnotes to this section lead us to a handful of books published by the distinguished Regan Press and — the phrase “no shit” comes to mind here — World Net Daily’s publishing house. All of which makes me wonder if the University of Dayton’s history department allows Larry Schweikart to teach its undergraduate methods seminar. At any rate, the “Third Terrorist” theory has long been a staple of right-wing mythology and was promoted vigorously in 2001 and 2002 by such totally credible experts as Bill O’Reilly, Frank “Sharia” Gaffney and Larry “Whitey Tape” Johnson. The fact that the theory has no basis in evidence hardly disqualifies it from inclusion in Schweikart’s book; apparently, its top-shelf wingnuttery more than compensates for its actual flaws. It’s an impressive trick, though, to follow up this sort of insane conspiracy-peddling by publishing a book that indicts “liberal” historians for circulating conspiracy theories they’ve actually done nothing to promote.

A year ago a judge ordered the FDA to reconsider its behind-the-counter classification of emergency contraception. Nothing has happened, and these talking bunnies are (rightly) pissed off about it.

Apart from the added embarrassment of asking an old guy in a lab coat for that pill you take after having sex, there’s the additional risk that the pharmacist will refuse to hand over the goods on the grounds that actually giving you safe and legal medication violates his conscience, which, in my professional opinion, is totally dildos.

It’s irritating for two different reasons: first, the safe and legal part, as well as the idea that it’s part of a pharmacist’s job to hand over those sorts of medications; second, EC is not actually an abortifacient. In some cases it can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, but that’s not the only way it can be effective, so what the pharmacist objects to is a role in a causal chain producing a chance at the prevention of implantation, which is not an abortion. Pharmacists can have moral scruples about this, of course, but that leads me to a broader point, namely, oversight of “conscientious objector” status. It’s bothersome to me that objecting to military service requires a lot of evidence of sincere commitment to pacifism (rather than moral objections to particular wars, as if these would be somehow less weighty) as well as other costs to the objector, while some pharmacists seem to be asserting the right to cost-free and scrutiny-free CO status. In general I like professional protections for people’s claims of conscience, but it’s a balancing act.

One easy fix: put the pills on the shelf.

Obama_NapoleonRegalRegalia500.jpgHealth care reform wasn’t President Obama’s Waterloo, it was his Borodino! William Kristol explains:

Barack Obama was able to muscle his health care plan through, and therefore avoided a legislative defeat that Sen. Jim DeMint had said would be his Waterloo. But Waterloo was always an imperfect analogy. Leaving aside the injustice to Napoleon of comparing Obama to him, the better analogy is Borodino.

“But,” you say, “Borodino? Um, huh? What’s that?”

Kristol elucidates:

Napoleon invaded Russia in June of 1812. On September 7 of that year, the Grande Armée under Napoleon’s command attacked the Russian army near the village of Borodino. Napoleon won the battle, the greatest of the Russian campaign, but at a terrible cost–about a third of his soldiers were killed or wounded. The Russian army was not destroyed, and while Napoleon occupied an abandoned Moscow a week later, the French army was never the same. It soon had to begin its disastrous winter retreat from Russia, and Napoleon finally did meet his Waterloo almost three years later.

Credit to the man to reaching back past the political standard issue historical analogies–Pearl Harbor, Munich, Hanoi Jane–but it’s probably a good rule of thumb that if your comparison requires substantial explanation, briefing, and (possibly) footnotes, then it’s not a solid one. Having said that, the Obama-as-Napoleon meme is quite widespread on the right, and is taking shape as the same sort of secret code that the Dred Scott case was for President Bush. The comparison is, at least explicitly, non-racial, and makes Obama aloof, imperial, and above all, French. We should probably not mention that Napoleon, despite his eventual exile, did succeed in remaking French society in numerous way, an influence that has lasted to this day.

I’ve been saying for many months that if healthcare reform passes, I believe that Obama, for all of his myriad flaws, will be the best President of my lifetime and one of the ten best in the nation’s history. And before you ask, sure, I know that “one of the ten best Presidents” is not an especially august honor (I mean, I think Taft and Fillmore are on that list), and also that Obama has plenty of time to do enough atrocious things to make him one of the ten worst as well. Which reminds me, Eric, Kathy, and I were recently musing that LBJ is both the fifth best and fifth worst President in American history. But that’s a story for another day.

What I really want to talk about today is Nancy Pelosi. I have the sense that she’s wildly underappreciated: both as a powerful symbol — she’s the first female Speaker of the House, after all — and for her effectiveness. I don’t actually know enough about the history of Congress to say for sure, but I wonder if, before she’s done (let’s hope that’s not after the upcoming mid-term elections), she’ll be considered one of the best Speakers in history. This article certainly suggests that if healthcare reform passes she’ll deserve an immense amount of credit.

In a recent article in The Nation, Jon Wiener of UC Irvine writes about historians who have worked as expert witnesses or researchers on behalf of Big Tobacco. It’s an interesting piece, I think, not least because it suggests that souls don’t come cheap the expert-witnessing business is lucrative: Kenneth Ludmerer, a historian of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, apparently made more than $500,000 working for tobacco companies. That’s real money!

But there’s a catch (there always is, right?): it’s a contentious business. Ludmerer and other scholars who have worked on Big Tobacco’s side during litigation claim that they’ve been harassed because of their efforts. Ludmerer asks:

Where is civility in this country? These ad hominem attacks are injurious. I had coronary artery bypass surgery in 2005. I’m sure a lot of the disease came from tension from the comments people made about my testimony. I’ve never done anything other than serve the public interest.

Ludmerer then insists that he can have his cake and it too although he worked for the tobacco industry, he really hoped the corporations would lose. So “why”, Wiener asks, “did he testify for the industry?” Because Ludmerer “considered it honorable to stand up for doing history properly.” Heroic!

Read the rest of this entry »

My colleagues and I were discussing the craziest Nixonian moments the other day, and we decided to come up with a top ten list.  Here it is.  Add your own favorites in the comments.  (Alternatively, you could do the things the Disney folks did to Lincoln, and pick quotes from a variety of different moments to create a special Nixonian pastiche.)  Some questions to ponder:

— was Nixon really our craziest president, or would they all sound crazy if they’d installed voice-activated taping systems?

— who did Nixon admit to having a crush on (see the 14-second beep in item 10)?

1.  On thinking big (April 25, 1972)

Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?

Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no, I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes. Read the rest of this entry »

Five?  Five??  Five?!?!? As in, I spent more on a bagel and coffee this morning five the hell what now??



This is actually an interesting article on newish research into the complexity of obesity, but the word “obesogen” is making me laugh.   Obesogens make you obese!  This sleeping pill is chock full of the dormitive virtue!

We need a tag for lame Scholastic jokes.

Two stories caught my eye last week, both thanks to Ralph Luker. They concern the practice of history, though in disparate ways. The first is about how Paul Krugman, my favorite economist, came to the study of economics:

With Hari Seldon in mind, Krugman went to Yale, in 1970, intending to study history, but he felt that history was too much about what and not enough about why, so he ended up in economics. Economics, he found, examined the same infinitely complicated social reality that history did but, instead of elucidating its complexity, looked for patterns and rules that made the complexity seem simple. Why did some societies have serfs or slaves and others not? You could talk about culture and national character and climate and changing mores and heroes and revolts and the history of agriculture and the Romans and the Christians and the Middle Ages and all the rest of it; or, like Krugman’s economics teacher Evsey Domar, you could argue that if peasants are barely surviving there’s no point in enslaving them, because they have nothing to give you, but if good new land becomes available it makes sense to enslave them, because you can skim off the difference between their output and what it takes to keep them alive. Suddenly, a simple story made sense of a huge and baffling swath of reality, and Krugman found that enormously satisfying.

I think Historiann’s comment here is the best one: “You know that old joke about economists: ‘Sure it works in reality, but will it work in theory?‘”

The second was Jon Wiener’s article in the Nation about tobacco companies using historians as expert witnesses:

In these cases, history has become a key component in the tobacco attorneys’ defense strategy. In the past, when smokers with cancer sued for damages, the companies said they shouldn’t have to pay, because there was a “scientific controversy” about whether smoking causes cancer. But in recent years they have given up that argument and now argue something like the opposite: “everybody knew” smoking causes cancer. So if you got cancer from smoking, it’s your own fault.
To persuade juries, they need historians–experts who, for example, can testify that newspapers in the plaintiff’s hometown ran articles about the health hazards of smoking in the 1940s or ’50s or ’60s, when he or she started. So Big Tobacco has been spending a lot of money hiring historians…

The historian who particularly caught my eye was Stephen Ambrose, a famous military historian best known for Band of Brothers, as well as some serious methodological issues. In a particular irony, Ambrose died in 2003 of lung cancer caused by smoking.

But my point is not quite to pick on Krugman or Ambrose. Read the rest of this entry »

The early photographs of our planet as seen from space are supposed to have fueled the ecological awareness of the early 1970s, as suddenly everyone could see how small, fragile, and together were all were on the lonely, gemlike earth set in the hostile vacuum. Now NASA has put together a high resolution animation of the earth rotating in space from satellite images.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Oh sure, now Ari’s going to say Lincoln was the greatest president because he killed vampires.

But I ask you, cui bono? Come on, sheeple. We all know why Lincoln killed vampires.

Read the rest of this entry »

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