You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.

Assistant DA [oops] AG Andrew Shirvell takes to AC360 to defend his interest in UMichigan student government president Chris Armstrong. Shirvell’s not-at-all obsessive blog.

Shirvell has published blog posts that accuse Armstrong of…sexually seducing and influencing “a previously conservative [male] student” so much so that the student, according to Shirvell, “morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda;”

Is anyone else reminded of that scene in Rocky Horror where Frank shows up in Brad’s room?


So you’ve seen the Pew survey, that shows that, among other things, atheists and agnostics tend to know a lot about religious doctrines and practices.  Of particular interest to me in the ensuing discussions was Larison’s distinction between academic religious knowledge and lived religious experience.  It’s simply not all that surprising that a religious believer who grew up with her faith culturally would not have high-level academic knowledge of the particulars of it.  High-level academic knowledge is for Jesuits and converts.  (Mutatis mutandis, natch.)

But it also speaks to a broader puzzle, especially regarding the recent games in the press and in blogs concerning Islam.  Any fool can Google up a copy of a religious text and pull out verses to prove almost anything; the connection between disinterested academic discourse about the interpretation of a passage, breezy bloggy interpretations, and the experiences and beliefs of the average believer will wildly diverge (and may be indistinguishable from other cultural practices.)

In any case, it’s unfair to talk about the Pew results without offering an explanation of why atheists and agnostics tend to be well-informed about religion.  My ex recto position: atheists tend to be highly educated; highly educated people tend to run into courses on world religions; and, it is also, in my experience, a common trait among the highly educated to have extraordinarily good memories for trivia.  My knowledge of the Noble Eightfold Path is tucked somewhere between the book of Daniel and the Star Trek episode where Picard has to communicate in literary metaphors.   And indeed, the results mention educational attainment as one thing that correlates with better academic religious knowledge; but apparently with that held constant, atheists still retain more religious knowledge.

Revised theory: the trivia gene eats God.

From Der Spiegel:

Germany will make its last reparations payment for World War I on Oct. 3, settling its outstanding debt from the 1919 Versailles Treaty and quietly closing the final chapter of the conflict that shaped the 20th century. Oct. 3, the 20th anniversary of German unification, will also mark the completion of the final chapter of World War I with the end of reparations payments 92 years after the country’s defeat.

I wonder if they’ll have a mortgage-burning party?

P.S. The original reparations, according to the article, were the equivalent of 96,000 tons of gold, which works out at today’s price (math NOT guaranteed) to be about $4 trillion. Ouch.

The National Research Council’s 2010 rankings of research-doctorate programs arrived today. (There is, or was, a webcast.) It is the first version of the rankings compiled since 1995 and relies on data collected in 2005-2006. already has the new data on their site, so you can punch up rankings—or rather, ranges of rankings; they won’t, or can’t, provide a singular rank—based on your own criteria. Here, for the sake of fun and games, is the ranking of history departments based on an overall quality measure.

I half-remember an anecdote about an English MP a philosopher (graciously identified by ben below) who, when asked if he read novels, replied, “Oh yes. All six of them, every year.” For me, in recent years, the equivalent has become the annual re-reading of Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream.

Read the rest of this entry »

Theodore Roosevelt wanted to get elected President of the United States in 1912, but he had to settle for serving as President of the American Historical Association. Two days after Christmas that year (and only two and a half months after getting shot) he delivered his presidential address on “History as Literature.” Here, in the use of a couple clever metaphors, Roosevelt goes beyond a mere defense of the idea that history ought to have a literary quality to an explanation of what the relation is between a more literary history and the normal work of the historical profession, and why a profession without room for literary history is failing itself and civilization.

Read the rest of this entry »

As much as I like Colbert, I am pretty sure that this means we are probably about due for some Visigoths to sack Washington.

But at least it’s funny.

It would be really nice if this topic were discussed by someone who had paid for her degree. Sorry, this talk of cutting funding for BAs because some people wind up with lots of loans burns me up.  They ain’t in better shape with *more* loans, pretend economist, and whatever merits the critique of mindless credentialism has it doesn’t go away by paying only for engineers.  (And to think that engineers don’t benefit from social signaling of degree-granting institutions is unbelievably  naive. )

James Fallows posts about a minor UK scandal over restaurants serving halal meat to unsuspecting customers. Since halal meat is basically kosher meat, here’s a time where substituting another religion’s parallel term is a useful heuristic.

(I once read that a lot more meat is slaughtered kosher than is sold as kosher; if so, then if you eat meat regularly you’ve eaten a bunch of kosher-slaughtered meat. Sneaky Jews!)

Of course, this is just another example of picking out some commonplace activity, calling it by its Arabic name, and holding up the result as an example of the inscrutable Muslim form of life. Another nice example is the fuss over taqiyya, which certainly is utterly alien to Christian thought and also to ordinary moral reasoning.

“Air hair lair.”
“Sir, good news! One of our men has discovered that semen is an excellent invisible ink.”
“Who the devil is responsible for this?”
“Cumming, sir. Mansfield Cumming.”

Seriously, Newsweek picked up Kausfiles?

Todd Henderson, the University of Chicago professor who inspired the mild-mannered James Fallows to mockery (at least by quotation) by whining about the pain of poverty at six figures, who inspired Brad DeLong to patient and sympathetic vivisection, has now apparently done the one thing that is more obviously ill-advised than writing his post in the first place: deleted it.

But Google has it cached.

If you really need a historian’s homiletic here, well: if you commit a bad idea to paper, it’s even worse if you show a guilty conscience about it. Just ask James G. Blaine, who had the bad judgment to write “burn this letter” across the bottom of one of his missives.

UPDATED to add, in the time I’ve taken to write this post, Brad has also discovered the Google cache. Oh well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ole Miss senior Levi West on his school’s unofficial mascot:

“There’s no more of a noble cause than continuing the tradition of Colonel Reb,” said Mr. West, standing in the baking Mississippi heat in a giant stuffed mask and foam shoes. “Everyone loves the guy.”

It’s only Monday but Mr West has set the bar high.

David Bell reviews Mark Taylor’s new book in TNR.

Mark C. Taylor’s unbelievably misguided book provides an almost textbook example. In April, 2009, he published an incendiary New York Times op-ed entitled “End the University as We Know It,” which denounced graduate education as the “Detroit of higher learning,” demanded the abolition of tenure, and called for the replacement of traditional academic departments by flexible, short-lived “problem-focused programs.” Widely criticized (by me, too, in this magazine), the piece stayed at the top of the Times’s “most e-mailed” list for a cyber-eternity of four days. Enter Alfred A. Knopf.

It gets worse. Via Leiter.

Whoopi Goldberg’s reaction on first seeing Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. Apparently Nichols almost left the show because she had a Broadway offer, until a chance encounter with a fan changed her mind.

That fan was Martin Luther King Jr. Nichols recalls their conversation:

One of the organizers came up to me and said that there was someone who wants to meet you; and he says that he’s you’re best, biggest fan and I’m thinking it’s a Trekkie! [laughs] and so I said certainly and I got up and turned around and maybe 10 or 15 feet coming towards me I see Dr. Martin Luther King and I remember thinking whoever that little fan is, he’s going to have to wait, because here’s Dr. King, who walks straight up to me with this big, magnificent smile on his face and says, “I’m the fan!” because I’m sort of looking around for someone else, and he says, “I am your best fan, I am your biggest fan!” and I… I was at a loss for words, and if you know me, I am never at a loss for words.

…and so I told him I would be leaving the show, because; and that was as far as he let me go, and he said, “STOP! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing?! You are the first non-stereotypical role in television! Of intelligence, and of a woman and a woman of color?! That you are playing a role that is not about your color! That this role could be played by anyone? This is not a black role. This is not a female role! A blue eyed blond or a pointed ear green person could take this role!” And I am looking at him and looking at him and buzzing, and he said, “Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, people who don’t look like us, from all over the world, for the first time, the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be!

Our debt grows ever greater.

Oprah picks Franzen for her Book Club. Again, despite the last time.

Lots of discussion of these images of South Carolina Senate President Glenn McConnell dressed as a Confederate Navy officer posing with black people dressed “in antebellum attire.” Apparently the black man and woman are “members of a Gullah-Geechee cultural group, which travels around bringing to life the Lowcountry African-American experience during the mid-1800s, including their dress, music and singing.” They were paid for their appearance.

It’s a weird picture. Since there are no actual historians here, and certainly none with an interest in the Civil War or the politics of memory, I’ll muse as follows:

(i) watching members of a Gullah preservation group would probably be pretty interesting;
(ii) it wouldn’t make the gathering less creepy if they were absent;
(iii) this makes me think that whatever badness there is here is present in a powerful white guy dressing up like a Confederate officer, rather than in the addition of Frank and Sharon Murray, the Gullah representatives;
(iv) but it’s more salient or more easily noticed when the addition of actual black people reminds us of what the Confederate Navy was for;
(v) not knowing much about Glenn McConnell except for his obsession with things Confederate, I can imagine– imagine! not endorse as true!– that he kind of lost track of all of these nuances a while back and just decided it would be neat to have some Gullah culture at the event.

As always, it’s important to remember that Ari is the real racist.

By Mark D. Fefer of the Seattle Weekly:

You may have noticed that Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.

The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, “going ghost”: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She will no longer be publishing cartoons in our paper or in City Arts magazine, where she has been a regular contributor. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program—except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab. It’s all because of the appalling fatwa issued against her this summer, following her infamous “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” cartoon.

Norris views the situation with her customary sense of the world’s complexity, and absurdity. When FBI agents, on a recent visit, instructed her to always keep watch for anyone following her, she responded, “Well, at least it’ll keep me from being so self-involved!” It was, she says, the first time the agents managed a smile. She likens the situation to cancer—it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.

We’re hoping the religious bigots go into full and immediate remission, and we wish her the best.

This makes me sick.

It is no more or less awful because the cartoon was whimsical and fun, rather than spiteful, but it does add to the sadness.

So it’s poster, instead:


It’s so complicated that the back is a multi-thousand word explanation of the front.

Thankfully, everyone can have their own, as the poster is available for purchase.

via Danger Room

The NYT discussion forum asks “why are colleges so selective?” Dean Dad moves in for the kill:

I couldn’t really expect them to acknowledge the existence of community colleges. There are only 1100 or so of them in the U.S., enrolling just under half of the entire undergraduate population of the country.

Hard not to sympathize with the vitriol.

Honestly, sometimes reading the Times I channel my inner Lou Ferrigno. “HULK SMASH PUNY RECORDING SECRETARY OF RULING CLASS!” What’s the difference between the New York Times and David Hasselhoff? One is a pathetic joke, and the other is David Hasselhoff.

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...."