Luker Blog Archives 10-25-03 to 11-16-03


Glenn Reynolds and I read this piece by Jennifer Howard in the Washington Post with the same bemusement. She says we're a little"inbred." Never of us has seen any of the blogs to which she refers and they can deal with the charge that they've been keeping it"all in the family." But on my blogroll, Andrew Sullivan lives right between Eric Alterman's Altercation and Atrios and Allen Brill's Christian perspectives on the news sit side by side with Jewish perspectives at Oxbog and The Volokh Conspiracy. I know that some healthy cross fertilization is going on here. The blogosphere is like a library in which books offering competing interpretations of things sit quietly beside each other until you open them up and the dialogue begins.

Do not begrudge the print media its sniping, however. Almost a year ago, Glenn, Andrew, and a few other bloggers almost single-handedly kept the story about Trent Lott's tribute to Strom Thurmond alive. I tried to get my friend, David Garrow, to alert his contacts at the editorial desks of the New York Times and the Washington Post that there even was a story and to persuade him to write an op-ed for them. Finally, I wrote one for History News Service which appeared on History News Network and in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I actually feared that the story might die before I could get it through Joyce Appleby's and Jim Banner's fine-toothed editorial comb and into print. But Glenn gave me some quick lessons in sending links and the rest is, as they say, history. Well, almost.

Glenn, Andrew, others and I could keep the fires burning until the New York Times and the Washington Post caught a whiff of smoke, but it took another smart historian, Joe Crespino, to seal the case with the evidence that Trent Lott's tribute to Strom Thurmond wasn't an isolated event at the old man's retirement party. Joe was finishing his dissertation at Stanford on Mississippi politics over the last forty years and he could show that Trent Lott had been praising Mississippi's vote for Strom Thurmond for president in 1948 many times over many years. That sealed it. Emory University's history department was smart enough to hire Joe Crespino to teach modern Southern history.

Update: Damn. Allen Brill says that my post's references to him, Reynolds, Sullivan, Volokh and the others are just the kind of thing that Jennifer Howard was talking about. Fellahs, we gotta quit meeting like this.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EST

MILDLY WHAT? ... 11-16=03

I am always delighted to discover another great blog by a historian on the net. But my gills turned green with envy when I discovered Edward Cohn's Mildly Malevolent. I offered to arm wrestle him for his blogtitle. After all, what's a decent blog without a little harmless malice. But I'm not smart enough ever to have thought of it and he insists that he had it first. One of Tim Burke's former students at Swarthmore, Cohn is an advanced graduate student in Russian and Soviet history at the University of Chicago, but his interests are very wide ranging. So, reluctantly, I concede the right to his title, add it to my blogroll, and enthusiastically recommend that you go and spend some time with Mildly Malevolent.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EST

SHOCK AND AWE ... 11-16-03

It was"shock and awe" last week when Allen Brill's The Right Christians had 5,000 visitors in one day and for good reason. It began innocently enough with Nicholas Kristof's lazy op-ed for the New York Times about the polarization of American public opinion. Allen handed the Times' man his hat in a smart series of posts: here, here, here, and here. Against Kristof's generalizations, Brill demonstrates that:"America is not becoming more Christian but it is becoming more diverse and more secular"; that"pundits like Kristof greatly overestimate the electoral importance of conservative Christians"; and that"even conservative Christians are becoming more progressive in their views on most social issues." Kristof isn't the only reader who will be surprised by the data that Brill cites. Go look.

Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EST


Two historians were honored in quite different ways on Friday:

Louis Sako, who holds a doctorate in history and a master's degree in Islamic studies, was ordained as the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The Chaldeans are an Eastern Rite body of 700,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqi Christians in communion with Rome. They follow the Gregorian calendar and retain the Syriac language and liturgy. Here is an interesting interview with Archbishop Sako about the role of the United States and of Iraqi Christians in his country.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bush in ceremonies at the White House. She is the founding editor of The Journal of the Historical Society and founding director of the Institute for Women's Studies at Emory University, where she is the Eléonore Raoul Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History. Professor Fox-Genovese's books include Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988), a highly regarded prize winner, and her more controversial engagements with feminism, Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism (1991), "Feminism is Not the Story of My Life": How the Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch With the Real Concerns of Women (1996), and Women and the Future of the Family (2000).

Other winners of the National Humanities Medal include: oceanographer Robert Ballard, children's television advocate Joan Ganz Cooney, literary critic Midge Decter, essayist Joseph Epstein, actor Hal Holbrook, writer Edith Kurzweil, classist Frank Snowden, and novelist John Updike.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EST


Thirty years after the fact, the Toledo Blade's series tells the story of atrocities committed by"Tiger Force," an elite American fighter unit in Viet Nam. The government's suppression of this story for three decades is a good example of one reason why"revision" is an essential part of the process of writing history. Thanks for the tip to Eric Alterman, who thinks this series is certain to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

"IF" ... 11-14-03

You may be thinking of Rudyard Kipling's impossibly high-minded tribute to the noble virtues:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: ...

It goes on, of course, but I was thinking about"If you had a grandmother who committed suicide and if your mother nearly murders you with a meat cleaver, then you must be Amy Tan."

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

IT'S REAL PITIFUL ... 11-14-03

It's real pitiful when American colleges and universities themselves become party to threats to freedom of the press in the United States. Two Southern institutions made the news for it this week. Georgia Military College first invited reporters to hear and then barred reporters from hearing a speech by one of the pilots who helped to rescue Jessica Lynch. The pilot said he feared retribution if he had any contact with the media and school officials eventually called the police to make sure there was none. Also, this week, Hampton University lost a $55,000 grant from the American Society of Newspaper Editors to its journalism program because Hampton's administration had seized all copies of the student newspaper when its editors did not follow orders about placing a letter to the editor on the front page of the newspaper. How do you teach about freedom of the press in an institution where the administration violates it?

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


Don't tell Zell Miller, but Fort Ogden's got the best collection of Jeff Foxworthy's"You're a redneck if ..."s on the net. Zell'll think Howard Dean made ‘em all up. I plead guilty to a couple of ‘em, myself, but I'm not telling you which ones!

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

LET MY PEOPLE GO! ... 11-14-03

Josh Chafetz, Kevin Drum, other netters, and left coasters seem to think that Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to"let my people go!" Whatever. But, Lord, please do not lead them all to Atlanta.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

O. K., LET'S TALK ABOUT IT ... 11-13-03

When I posted yesterday on Emory's bruhaha over Carol Worthman's comparison of the status of her colleagues in anthropology to"six niggers in a woodpile," I hadn't expected to stir the pot. But posting David Salmanson's critique of Erin O'Connor's position stirred it. Comically, we waffled between suppressing other speech which offended someone and encouraging further discussion. Fortunately, Erin thoughtfully encourages the latter and posts a critique of her position at her own site.

This Currier & Ives cartoon takes us to one 19th reference for the term,"a nigger in the woodpile": the tepid anti-slavery attitude of Abraham Lincoln's politics seemed to shelter and contain the hopes of the bondsmen and women. Some sources suggest that the phrase referred to escaped slaves hiding in a woodpile on their way to freedom. We don't need to debate whether the"n word" is racist or whether it is hurtful. Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that it is. But there is another origin for the"nigger in the woodpile" expression that is more Southern and, perhaps, surprising to our Yankee readers. A"nigger in the woodpile" may refer to an unacknowledged African American ancestry somewhere on the family tree of a person who is"white." The phrase was used on the floor of the South Carolina legislature when it debated legal definitions of whiteness and blackness in the late 19th century. One legislator warned against too expansive a definition of blackness because it threatened to disfranchise a fourth of the legislature. Many of the legislators, he said, had"a nigger in their woodpile!"

Interestingly, the discredited English historian, David Irving, uses the expression in a letter protesting any attempt by the British Home Office to enforce Germany's Laws for the Suppression of Free Speech. He refers to a person giving adverse advice to the British Home Office as"the nigger in the woodpile." What is common to all these uses of the expression is that it refers to an undisclosed fact which or a person who throws an altogether different light on the whole body of evidence. Under Abe Lincoln's pile of split rails was a bondsman, hidden and contained. In the underground railroad's woodpile hid an escaped slave. In the legislators' family tree was an African American ancestor. Hidden away in the Home Office is someone advising it wrongly.

All of this is to suggest that Carol Worthman misused an old expression. Surely, this tenured professor of anthropology with an endowed chair is adequately compensated and surely she was not boasting that she and her colleagues are persons who throw an altogether different light on the whole body of evidence. She was complaining of their marginalization, not boasting of their transforming insight. I share Erin O'Connor's and Glenn Reynold's and Eugene Volokh's opposition to speech codes and sensitivity training, but I don't feel sorry for Emory's anthropologists. The next time one of them exercises their freedom of speech, I hope they know what their language says. Worthman misused it to give mistaken and truly gratuitous insult.

Update: These things just keep happening. Who is Reid McKee calling "a cow" over on Liberty and Power? Or, did he call anyone"a cow"? Or, is he just venerating India's sacred animal?

Posted by Ralph 2:00 a.m. EST


Speech codes probably do more harm than good, but occasionally there's an example of why academic communities adopt them. Erin O'Connor tells the story of a respected anthropologist at Emory whose words shocked much of a very diverse academic community. For more on the story, see the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Emory Wheel.

Will official complaints to a human relations bureaucracy and compulsory sensitivity training for everyone remedy human carelessness? Andrew Sullivan has long argued that in a liberal democracy gay people must allow space for others who might insult them. By extension, other people might well pay tribute to freedom both by avoiding deliberate insult and, occasionally, not acknowledging it when it happens.

Update: David Salmanson sends this critique of Erin O'Connor's take on the story:

There has always been something a little off to me in Erin O'Connor's thinking. Today I finally pinpointed it when she used the very literary techniques she has been deriding to conclude that Worthman's use of the phrase"nigger in the woodpile" is a strike against racism. That is delusional. Her larger argument that Emory's response will cause more racism reminds me of the old"nonviolent protesters cause violence" argument. One only wonders what Erin's response would have been if the anthropologist in question had said,"they are treating us like a bunch of drunken micks." This was a remark said at a public function for crying out loud, it wasn't in private, or even in an office. Something had to happen. Worthman is a senior professor with an endowed chair (poor helpless victim) and a PhD from Harvard. Unless she was drunk, she's got to know that folks simply cannot say the word"nigger" except in specific contexts and that this wasn't one of them. The only question in my mind is why nobody else (including the white folks in the room) didn't call her on it immediately. Why did the one black person have to complain? Because nobody else thought it was wrong or important? And doesn't that indicate that in fact, some sort of training is needed? How hard would it have been for one person in that room to have said"Carol, could you use a different phrase next time?" But they didn't and in their silence revealed there complicity. I appreciate Sullivan's point that some offenses will happen and sometimes they will be unintentional and sometimes you have to let them slide, but this incident fails my gut check.
Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


Once I had a friend who believed that the highway around Atlanta's perimeter was lined with Ku Klux Klansmen. Well, hardly, but I rarely go out there. Sometimes, my extra-perimeter neighbors make me proud, as when Christians, Jews, and Muslims at Fayetteville held a memorial service together for 9/11. There are other times, however, when you have to wonder if the folks out there don't store all the cotton Georgia used to grow in their empty heads. There are my neighbors up at Kennesaw who made the national news some years ago by requiring all heads of households in the city to own a gun. Now, there is the city commission at Gainesville which passed a resolution designating the last week in November as "Christian Heritage Week". Someone should remind them that the Lord of History reigns, with or without a popular mandate, that even Gainesville is a pluralistic community, and that its non-Christian citizens have every right not to be affronted by demagoguery. Thanks to Allen Brill for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


John Reed has an essay about George Orwell by that title over at Moby Lives. It does for Orwell what Christopher Hitchens did for Mother Theresa. Here's a bit of it:

The Orwell canonization will grant you such tidbits as—Orwell had some unresolved sexual issues, didn't do too well with women, thought poor people smelled, didn't really live down and out all that often, dramatized his journalism, and never entirely escaped his colonialist upbringing. It won't tell you that"Animal Farm" was very likely cribbed from"The Animal Riot," a story by a Russian historian, Nikolai Kostomorav, published in 1917. It won't tell you about Orwell's IRD snitch list, except to say Orwell enjoyed writing lists, like grocery lists, and playing games, like Scrabble. It won't talk about the content of Orwell's writing, much of which is so outdated as to hold appeal for none but the atavistic."Shooting An Elephant,""Down and Out in Paris and London,""The Road to Wigan Pier"—the closer you look, the worse it is. And it's not just the colonialism, but the anti–Semitism, the sexism, the homophobia, the racism, the classism, and a Papal attitude to human reproduction.
That's only for openers. Christopher Hitchens won't want you to read it or this, but we won't tell him.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


Here's a good one: how does a person with a doctorate in history become the career publicist for the Grateful Dead? Dr. Dennis McNally explains how it happened at The Door, evangelical America's humor magazine. Yes, Virginia, evangelical America laughs and it laughs best when it laughs at itself.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


I am smart enough to know that one of the smart things to do in life is to ally myself with people who are smarter than I am. So, that is what the pre-SHA convention announcement was about:"Welcome To My World ..." is big with child and about to morph or transmogrify, as Bill Buckley would put it, into a group blog with a different name. The major requirement for membership in the group is that everyone else has to be smarter and wittier than I am. That is all to the good for your reading and all to my credit as the group's parent – at least until its other members confer, decide that I am too hopelessly dimwitted to be associated with them, and toss me into the blogabyss. The core of the group is in place. We are still inviting some additional members. It's gonna be great.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


When Hollywood is seduced by academic theory, as in"The Matrix Reloaded," says Tim Burke, it fails to produce a work of the creative imagination because, too obviously, behind the curtains stands the Wizard of Oz, perhaps even Cornel West, himself.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


Reid McKee, a new member of the Liberty and Power group blog, recommends this exchange between Duke's Stanley Hauerwas and Chicago's Jean Bethge Elshtain in First Things. Don't forget your flak jacket.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


In the order of their importance, my vegan daughter and Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber recommend that you have a look at "The Meatrix".

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

REVISE THIS ... 11-10-03

Richard Henry Morgan, a persistent critic of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America finds new information about the revised 2nd edition of AA, which Soft Skull Press will publish later this month. Among the eyebrow lifters, SSP's clips a blurb from Garry Wills's positive review of AA's first edition in the New York Times, despite the fact that Wills has apparently repudiated his endorsement of the book. Among the other tidbits: 1) a glimpse at Bellesiles's opening apologia for his revision of his work; and 2) news that he has a contract for a book on violence in America with Oxford University Press which is scheduled for release in 2004.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

THIS IS SO NOT 2002 ... 11-10-03

An Emory University professor and his book are denounced by a constituency of true believers. As a result, his book is withdrawn from sale and denounced by its publisher. Sound familiar? Well, no.

Emory University's Paul B. Courtright, a professor of religious studies, has been an outspoken critic of anti-Hindu attitudes in the United States. But his book, Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings has recently been called a "pornographic affront to a key Hindu god". Some 4,500 Hindus in India and the United States signed an on-line petition demanding that Courtright apologize for his affront to the Hindu elephant god and revise passages in his book. Some of them added death threats to their signatures. Initiated by T. R. Rao, a professor at Louisiana University at LaFayette, the petition was addressed to President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Georgia's Governor Sonny Purdue, and members of the state's congressional delegation. The petition was signed by Atlanta's Morehouse College professor K. K. Vijai. Atlanta area Hindus have written both to Emory University President James Wagner and the chairperson of the university's religious studies department, Laurie Patton, expressing their disappointment both at Courtright's"lack of sensitivity" and that he" continues to teach courses on Hinduism." The Indian publisher of Courtright's book, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, withdrew it from sales this last week and denounced it.

Unlike former Emory University professor Michael Bellesiles's Arming America, Ganesha's American publisher, Oxford University Press, continues to promote the book and Emory University will surely sustain Professor Courtright's freedom of research and inquiry. I have known him for 15 years. He is a man of great professional courage and integrity. He has met with some of his critics and will meet with others who are willing to read the book with an open mind."My hope," Courtright says,"is that everyone will press ahead with a kind generosity toward each other."

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST

YOUR PAST AND MINE ... 11-10-03

Sometimes we like to claim that the past conditions the present. Sometimes, we prefer to deny it. Sometimes a cartoon captures both moods. Thanks to Josh Greenland for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


Rumors have it that"Welcome To My World ..." is big with child and that the guilty party is off hiding out somewhere in Houston. He claims to be attending the Southern Historical Association convention, preserving that Southern Heritage, don'tcha know. If you see him out there, let me hear about it. I'm leaving Atlanta, bound for Houston tonight, so I'll be out of touch with you until Sunday. If I find that son of a Gunn anywhere in Texas, I'm hauling his rear end back to Atlanta to make an honest woman of this once fair Southern damsel. We'll have to change her name to protect the, ... well ..., ... well, ah ... , the not very guilty parties. In fact, you can look forward to some big wedding announcement sometime soon. Gotta do it with dispatch, before she gets too big to get into that wedding dress.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST


Compassionate conservatives need to be encouraged in all the compassion and intelligence that they can offer. That's one reason I recommend Larry Miller's "Look for the Union Label" in the Weekly Standard on the California grocery workers' strike. Now, the American Enterprise Institute's Sally Satel's "Out of the Asylum, Into the Cell" analyzes what has happened to care of the mentally ill in the United States in the last 40 years. To our shame, the Los Angeles County Jail has become our largest residential psychiatric institution.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EST

ON THE GRID ... 11-05-03

I mentioned here the quiz which purports to place you on left/right and libertarian/authoritarian axises. Tim Lambert at Deltoid has conveniently arranged for you to enter your numbers to"place" yourself. Over 175 bloggers have done so. When Left Libertarian Chun the Unavoidable meets Right Authoritarian, the Angry Clam, things could get pretty ugly.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EST


Jill LaPore has "all things pi-ratical" over at Common-place. It's a wonder that she missed this.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EST


I don't ordinarily look to the Weekly Standard, much less to people who act like evil deans, as Larry Miller did in Eddie Murphy's"The Klumps," for moral guidance on labor issues, but do not miss Miller's"Look for the Union Label" in this weekly's Standard. Thanks to Ken Heineman for the tip.

In some ways, the strike by grocery store employees at three chains in California couldn't be further from my concerns. I live 3,000 miles away and spend most of my life doing history. But reading Miller's article brought it all back to me. For three years, I was an employee of Krogers, parent company of Ralphs (sic), one of the three California chains being struck by the union. I ran a cash register and, to keep my sanity, I'd play historical games with the totals: $18.60, sir. Abraham Lincoln was elected president that year.""$19.14, ma'm. We hadn't gone to war yet." It drew some strange looks, as you can imagine, but it helped to humanize a strange situation. You must smile at customers, even when you don't have much to smile about. They are always right, no matter how abusive they are. You stand in one place for 5 hours at a stretch, no matter how badly you need a restroom break. I don't do smiles or take abuse well. Once, after more than 5 hours, I closed down my register without permission and told the manager that I was going to the restroom, permission or not. It was in my contract. None of the other employees could afford that defiance.

More importantly, I remember all of the people that Larry Miller writes about: the dear little bag lady, who wore a wig to cover her baldness, but would do anything to help a customer; the cashier who worked two jobs to support his mother; and the stockboy, who wore a dress when he went out at night, but who never missed a day at work. For them and in defense of their contracts, do not shop at Ralphs, Vons, or Albertsons. More than that, I want to hear about some of you high-toned historians on the left coast joining those picket lines. Don't make me name names. You know who you are!

Update: See also: Kevin Drum at CalPundit and Josh Chafetz at Oxblog.

Posted by Ralph 11:00 p.m. EST


Look, as I've amply demonstrated in my illustrious career, I'm no expert in contract and property law. So, when others who know something about it, speak to the issue, I listen carefully. I listen very carefully when they are: David Bernstein, Eugene Volokh, Allen Brill (a href="">here and here), and Eric Muller. I listen especially carefully when Muller says:"Before you get apoplectic about how outrageous it is to suggest that Lochner had even a wisp of validity to it, just do this little experiment. ...." Of course, I do his experiment and, of course, the protection of private property rights is elemental in the Constitution. So, my apoplexy is contained, but just in time to read Muller's question:"Is it just me, or does this speech by Janice R. Brown seem a little, well, unhinged?"

What I know is that disproportions of power and wealth make treating a plantation owner's dealings with a tenant farmer or a corporation's dealings with an isolated laborer (think, for example, of Walmart and $2 a day wages for an illegal alien worker) something other than simple one-to-one relationships. A state which insists otherwise is bound to confirm all sorts of inequity. Beyond that, my momentary apoplexy is of little importance, in part because I'm not a nominee to the federal bench. But it is important that a nominee to the federal bench be well hinged.

Update: Do not miss Kieran Healy's take down of Janice Rogers Brown's speech:"Oh god. Ayn Rand. Fourteen year olds of the world unite! The car keys shall be yours by sheer force of will! Objectivism requires it!" Really. Tom Spencer's right. The woman is a"loon." Thanks to Allen Brill for the tip. Posted by Ralph 4:00 a.m. EST


Josh Marshall has a thoughtful post at Talking Points Memo which uses David Cannadine's book, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire to suggest a way of understanding what we are doing in Iraq. There are times when we'd just rather not look in a mirror.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST

THE BROKEN CHURCH ... 11-03-03

The consecration of Episcopal Bishop V. Eugene Robinson in New Hampshire leaves me with deeply ambivalent feelings. As the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement and these selected comments make clear, it cannot be the moment of simple celebration that his supporters assure us it is, because it threatens the unity of the whole Anglican communion.

When Bishop Theuner says to Bishop Robinson,"You will stand as a symbol of the unity of the church in a way none of the rest of us can [because you] bring into our fellowship an entire group of Christians hitherto unacknowledged in the church," I am aghast at his blind denial of the truth. Gay laity, gay priests, and indeed gay bishops have long been a vital, even acknowledged, part of the Anglican communion. Bishop Robinson is a symbol, not of the church's unity, but of its brokenness. And so, too, are those who will refuse to acknowledge Bishop Robinson's consecration. They blanch only at the public recognition of what has long been the hidden reality. The unity of the Church remains hidden in Christ and it was not made more visible by anything that happened yesterday.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST


According to this test which places you on a chart with Left/Right and Libertarian/Authoritarian axises, I am a Left Libertarian, even more Left than Libertarian. I don't think of myself as either of those things, however. See where you place on the scales. Thanks to Daniel Drezner, for whom it worked, and Chris Bertram, who was less satisfied with the test.

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST


Mark Steyn reports on rumors sweeping Khartoum. A tip of the hat to Josh Chafetz, but don't even think about me shaking hands with him.

Posted by Ralph 7:30 p.m. EST

LAW AND GOSPEL ... 11-02-03

One of the things that I admire about Allen Brill at The Right Christians is that, with a B. A. in Government from Harvard, a J. D. from the University of Virginia, and a seminary education at Concordia, he can argue with a Republican like me in politics, the libertarians in law, and the fundamentalists in theology.

This week, he challenged The Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein on the Lochner decision, which barred legislative regulation of working conditions. The question came up because of the Bush administration's nomination of California's Janice Rogers Brown to the federal bench. When New York Times and Washington Post editorials opposed her nomination, Bernstein defended her and Lochnerhere. Brill replied here and here. Endorsement of the Lochner line of reasoning would threaten both federal labor and civil rights legislation. My libertarian friends over at Liberty and Power think that would be a blessing. Indeed, it might help stem the flow of menial jobs to other countries, but at a price of re-employing American children in Bangladeshi conditions. As Allen points out, we've been there and shouldn't hope to return.

Update: Facing criticism from Atrios, Brill, Crooked Timber, Welcome to My World, and elsewhere, Bernstein replies here. Brill replies here. Thanks to Brill and Bernstein for the links.

Posted by Ralph 1:15 a.m. EST

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME? ... 11-01-03

I've never had an easy time of it with administrators. You name it: senior professors, department chairpersons, deans, presidents, chairmen of boards, or bishops. I managed to alienate a passel of ‘em and they ran me through the ringer repeatedly. I thought it was because they were just mean guys, but now I know. I was slumming over on Clayton Cramer's blog the other day and there it was:"... the homosexuals that matter -- those that run America's universities -- are remarkably intolerant of differing opinions. You will shut up, and pretend to be happy about shutting up, or there will be consequences." It was the"homosexuals that run America's universities" who I'd offended. Well, why didn't you tell me that in the first place? Had I known who was running America's universities, I've have known what the problem was. Just imagine that: American higher education is run by a bunch of closet queens and I never figured it out.

Posted by Ralph 11:30 p.m. EST


The roots of it are deep in contemporary public life, but incivility was common this past week – on HNN and elsewhere on the net. Speaking of empty suits, the threat by NRO's Donald Luskin to sue Atrios seemed almost a replay of the Fox charges against Al Franken. In both cases, a remarkably wide range of bloggers criticized legal threats by prominent conservatives against liberals. Atrios lists some of those who criticized Luskin here, but even conservative bloggers, who Atrios delights in criticizing, Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, agreed that there was little merit in Luskin's legal threat.

Atrios has a sharp wit that often skirts the edge of civility. Commentators at his site are encouraged by it to up the ante. Some time ago, Josh Chafetz at Oxblog put the issue quite well:

Are people really so sure of themselves that they simply cannot acknowledge that anyone who disagrees could be intelligent? Have they no humility whatsoever? Of course we all think we're right -- if we didn't think we were right, we'd change our opinions until we did. Maybe I'm just naive, but it really does amaze me when people claim that everyone who disagrees with them (on topics where general opinion is relatively divided -- I'm not talking about largely uncontroversial opinions like"slavery is wrong") is either malevolent, stupid, or both.
Why is it so hard to acknowledge that, on almost every issue, there are people on both sides who are both intelligent and well-meaning? That doesn't mean that neither side is right, or that you should give up arguing for your side. It just means paying the other side some respect, listening to their position, trying honestly to grapple with it. I'm not saying that there aren't malevolent and/or stupid people out there -- but they're on both sides of every issue, and on almost no issue is everyone on one side stupid and/or malevolent. It's fine to point out when someone is saying something stupid (or when someone is being malevolent). If they're malevolent and/or stupid often enough, it's fine to conclude that they, as people, are malevolent and/or stupid. But to conclude that everyone who disagrees with you is ipso facto malevolent and/or stupid ... well, I envy your certainty, but you frighten me. That kind of certainty is precisely what extremist movements of all kinds -- left and right -- are made of.
On HNN this week, we had a poster who said he didn't care about the issue being discussed, but wanted to make clear that anyone who disagreed with him was a moral degenerate. When his comment was deleted, it became proof for him that"the left" was silencing"the right." Not at all. You can come to HNN dressed as Atilah the Hun or Karl Marx. Be respectful of others and speak – even sharply – to the issue and you are welcome. Act as if you are the measure of moral and intellectual rectitude and you speak to the hand. I am opposed to speech codes. They tend to do more harm than good, but I am in favor of people behaving as if speech codes were not necessary.

Posted by Ralph 9:30 p.m. EST


I had a friend, once, who believed, quite literally, that appearances were everything. I discovered him to be a quite empty suit – a fine looking suit, to be sure – but a quite empty one. I had a dean once, who was a historian, but apparently without embarrassment, he listed on his curriculum vita a coloring book which he and his wife had published. That seemed odd to me.

What is it about historians? About six weeks ago, Jonathan Dresner suggested that HNN do a search for historian jokes. You can find the results here. The only good one is Dresner's improvement of one I found in a google search.

An historian, an economist and a statistician are duck hunting. A duck rises from the lake. The economist jerks his gun up and fires 10 feet in front of the duck."I'm sure that's where it's going" he murmurs disappointedly. The historian takes slow, careful aim, tracking the duck over a quarter of the sky, fires and misses 10 feet behind the duck."I'm quite positive that's where it was," he says dejectedly. The statistician watches the duck fly off and says quietly,"I'm reasonably certain we hit it at least once."
I thought about the search for historian jokes the other day when I was browsing over on Eric Alterman's Altercation, and found him saying that someone was going"dressed as a historian." What could that possibly mean? I wondered. Is there a public out there that knows what historians look like, are amused by, and haven't shared the joke with us? Alterman is one of us; he should let us in on the skinny.

I know what a professor looks like. A professor looks like this. I can be sitting in an airport or walking down the street and someone will come up to me and say:"You're a college professor, aren't you?" Like a deer caught in the headlights, I'm fixed."Well, I either am or I should be ...," I stumble. I even know what it is to be an"absent minded professor" is. I've been in training to be one for years and I could tell you tales of cars and even years misplaced. But when I go out on Halloween this year, I want to go"dressed as a historian."

Posted by Ralph 1:00 a.m. EST


From Moby Lives ...

Is the new Search Inside the Book feature of headed for legal trouble? In a PW Newsline report, Steven Zeitchik says the Authors Guild, for one,"is debating further action" according to the Guild's legal counsel, Kay Murray. She says,"It took a member of our staff about twenty minutes to download and print 20 percent of a book. Five college students working on different computers could download an entire book, so for Amazon to say it's no more than a few pages, that's just wrong." Penguin CEO David Shanks, meanwhile, has resisted"deepening his company's limited role in the program" until, he says, the system is"proven unfailingly safe." And literary legal expert Martin Garbus say the"absence of author permissions" in the deal is a striking element. According to Garbus,"It really makes you wonder whether they [Amazon] thought about this before they went ahead and did it."
Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST


If I were a Republican or neo-conservative governor of Georgia, I would mobilize the Georgia National Guard and invade our neighboring state to the west. You could spend a whole lifetime improving Alabama and it would still break your heart. Once we had established" control" in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile, however, there are three things I'd do right off the top: 1) reform its tax structure; 2) expropriate the Southern Poverty Law Center's $120,000,000 endowment and turn it over to the Southern Regional Council; and 3) guarantee freedom of the press, speech, and thought on Alabama campuses.

No doubt, we'd be taking terroristic attacks from the special interests, a few libertarians, and massive numbers of pinheads who are entitled to vote in Alabama, but we'd impose a fair state tax structure. We might not be able to find out where Morris Dees was hiding, but we'd put all that money he's raised to the service of the people in whose name he raised it. And we'd hope to strike alliances with the native libertarians by guaranteeing rights accorded all Americans by the Bill of Rights. We'd do that and then think of additional means of elevating Alabama. It's a heavy lift.

But there is one good thing about Alabama: it insulates Georgia from contact with Mississippi exotica. Yesterday, I was slumming over on Clayton Cramer's blog (the man lives in Idaho, for g-d sakes, which everyone knows is crawling with skin heads and other odd nativists). And he was looking down his proud gunsite at Mississippi. But he had a point. In Alabama, they enfranchise pinheads; but in Mississippi being a pinhead is a requirement for high office. Unlike Alabama, Mississippi has degrees of freedom of the press and the folks at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger actually report this stuff. Here's what Clayton found there about the Mississippi Supreme Court:

Chief Justice Ed Pittman, who wants Justice Chuck McRae suspended from the bench for alleged threats and name-calling, told another colleague McRae could"kiss my butt," according to documents.
A hearing on whether to suspend McRae — who leaves the bench in January — starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Public Service Commission hearing room inside the Woolfolk Building.
Pittman and four other justices have accused McRae of threatening to"whip" Pittman, calling Pittman a liar, promising to disrupt the court, failing to step down from cases involving family members and violating other parts of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Of course, in Alabama, it's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who's been suspended from his office. You really can't make this stuff up. It's the sort of thing that William Faulkner and Eudora Welty knew instinctively and fed their prose. Sort of makes you wonder where Flannery O'Connor and Erskine Caldwell drew their inspiration. The one good thing about Alabama is that it is a literary desert between two towers of belle lettres.

Posted by Ralph 2:15 p.m. EST


Regular readers of this blog could, by now, name some of my fellow historians for whom I have enormous respect. Apart from personal friends who I've known for many years, there are others who I know only through interaction on the net. They are among my heroes at a distance: Tim Burke, an African historian at Swarthmore; KC Johnson, an American political historian at Brooklyn College; and Jonathan Dresner, an Asian historian at the University of Hawaii. Perhaps I'll get a chance to meet them at January's AHA convention.

Tim gave me a rather thorough going over in re my critique of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross (here and here) and regularly posts thought provoking entries at Easily Distracted and elsewhere. Beyond being a remarkably productive historian, KC Johnson has become a hero to untenured and threatened historians all over the country for prevailing against the odds. Oscar Chamberlain's commentaries on articles are consistently respectful of others and thought provoking. Look at this one on the current fires in southern California:

In Science Fiction--and among some scientists and space enthusiasts--a strong interest exists in the possibilities of converting the climate of another planet (Mars is a favorite) to a sufficiently Earthlike environment to colonize.
As many of these people know, humans have been conducting--rather unconsciously--terraforming experiments on their own planet.
California is one of many examples that can be seen throughout the world.
Terraforming a planet would require rearranging its natural resources in a manner that favors the colonists and then requires dealing with the consequences in a way that supports further colonization.
In California:
Water is pumped to a dry climate from a river that is dammed to maximize capture of water from the Rocky Mountains, a thousand miles away.
That water, plus water obtained by sucking on the aquifer like a kid with a near empty milkshake glass, is used to the change the vegetation.
Colonists to this dry area build new structures and convert the landscape immediately surrounding those structures to one that supports their outside activities or aesthetic preferences.
The colonists band together to support or oppose changes to the environment near them, with their support or opposition based on their outside activities or aesthetic preferences.
When dangers arise from that environment, they call on others to aid them to suppress those dangers in the manner that least threatens their environmental preferences, as defined by their activities.
The current fires are simply a natural stage in this process.
PS. I'm typing this from a city in Wisconsin that was founded on the lumber industry, and I grew up in Dallas, where the people transform the surrounding environment with aplomb. The California colonists are not alone.

It's HNN at its best. Oscar, you should write some more articles for HNN and, in between them, History News Service would be happy to have you come on board, too.

So, there you have it, folks. The Welcome Awards winners for 2003: Tim Burke, Jonathan Dresner, KC Johnson, and Oscar Chamberlain.

Posted by Ralph 1:30 a.m. EST


The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will be holding hearings on"intellectual diversity" today. Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy, and KC Johnson, Brooklyn College's now securely tenured historian, will be testifying. You can read KC's testimony here. KC's taken notes, is naming names, and kicking some read end. You may want to see if he mentions your department. As Erin O'Connor says, it will make your hair curl. Thanks to Derek Catsam and Critical Mass for the tip.

Posted by Ralph 11:45 a.m. EST


Yesterday, Eric Alterman's Altercation linked to a post at Sivacracy which told a tale of student heroism and administrative oppression at Swarthmore. College students had posted on a college-related website memoranda from Diebold, a manufacturer of voting equipment, which revealed how readily it could be rigged. Threatened by Diebold, the Swarthmore administration removed the links from the Swarthmore server. Like the story about the White House blocking its server so it could not be searched, that story sounded not quite right. So, I sent the links to Tim Burke and today he tells us a fuller Swarthmore story at Easily Distracted. Let's hope that when Ronnie Dugger does the "enormous takeout" on the Diebold issue for The Nation that Eric promises, it is accurate about the Swarthmore dimension of the story. And, by the way, congratulations to Swarthmore students who do healthy and stealthy subversion. Do it smart. Aim for results, not martyrdom.

Update: For an update implicating students at Amherst, UBoston, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Evansville, Hampshire, Harvard, Indiana, MIT, Missouri, NCState, Penn, Purdue, Texas, UNC-Chapel Hill, and USC, see Why War?. That's a lot of cease and desist orders for Diebold's lawyers to seek; and, for the fun of it all, see Georgetown's satire.

Posted by Ralph 12:10 p.m. EST


David Adesnik recommends University of Pennsylvania sociologist Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life in the Inner City. Cornel West, George Will, Marian Wright Edelman, and William Julius Wilson also recommend it. Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom's new book, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning probably won't win endorsement from such a diverse group, but let them speak for themselves.

Posted by Ralph 3:00 a.m. EST


Invisible Adjunct hosts a discussion of renewing the academic commons, here and here. Tim Burke poses the following hypothetical:

Suppose you're the new president of a not so well-regarded research university and you're dissatisfied (probably legitimately) with the culture and outlook of your institution, and have a feeling that you're slipping even further. Suppose you have a lot of leeway and money to work with.
Suppose now you decide not to rebuild through pursuing stars, but instead by trying to build around the most mensch-like teaching faculty you can find, the people who do massive amounts of voluntary labor on behalf of their institutions, who care deeply about teaching, who are smart and productive but generalist intellectuals rather than specialists, who are supportive and giving in conversations with colleagues and students--basically the people who make the wheels turn round at most institutions.
Ok, good idea.
How are you going to find them?
I wouldn't have the faintest idea where to start.
Actually, we all know such people. I suspect that Burke and the Invisible One are such people. Look around you.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 a.m. EST

A STRAWMAN ... 10-28-03

If you wanted to set up a strawman of liberal spirituality for a couple of hardened humanists to shred with mockery, you would ask Gregg Easterbrook to write it up for Atrios and Kieran Healy to beat the very devil out of it. Do not go there without a strong stomach. This is not a pretty sight.

Memo to Easterbrook: Take a break from film criticism and theology. Your strengths lie elsewhere.

Posted by Ralph 2:30 EST


This story in the Louisville Courier-Journal has the usual suspects, Atrios, Josh Marshall, and Tom Spencer, wagging fingers and tongues at evil Republican efforts to suppress the African American vote in a closely contested Kentucky gubernatorial race.

Of course, if what Kentucky Republicans want to do is suppress the African American vote, they are mistaken, but the story cuts close to my heart because I've been both a civil rights activist and a Republican precinct captain both in Jefferson County, Kentucky, and Orange County, North Carolina. Some of the usual suspects among my fellow bloggers may not have that experience.

When I captained a bi-racial precinct in Orange County, North Carolina, I helped elect Chapel Hill's first African American mayor, Howard Lee, in a non-partisan local election. In doing so, we turned out a record breaking number of African American voters. But when it was time to further organize the precinct, it was impossible to recruit any African Americans to serve as Republican precinct officers. We had few African Americans registered as Republicans and I was determined to get one of them to work with me. Community pressure was such that none of them would do it. I'd make an appointment to meet with them and might as well have been the bill collector or an insurance man. Nobody home, don't know when she'll be here ... etc, etc, etc.

Like it or not, Republicans have a right to be represented at the polls in largely African American precincts. If African American Republicans won't risk community pressure to represent the party, it will send people into those precincts to represent it. You can demagogue the issue if you want to, but it's as simple and as complicated as that.

Posted by Ralph 5:00 p.m. EST


In 1961, when I was an undergraduate at Duke University, we had a youth branch of the NAACP on campus and joined other branches in raising some righteous hell in Durham, North Carolina. The problem for us at Duke was that the University had not yet desegregated, so our NAACP branch was de facto all white. Duke's administration then was so nervous about our activity that it required all student organizations to be" chartered" by student government. It managed to authorize all sorts outfits, including a disreputable chapter of KA, but of course the NAACP branch was not allowed a charter and, thus, could not call itself the Duke University branch of the NAACP. Too radical, too much righteous hell. You'd be surprised to know the names of some people who went along with that decision. A generation of far more radical students followed me at Duke and, today, the University would be embarrassed by this bit of institutional history.

I rehearse all that only to say that the University of Alabama seems to be rehearsing Duke's historical stupidity. The issues are different, but the same mentality seems to control the action of repressive administrations. David Beito has the scoop on the University of Alabama's attempt to deny the Alabama Scholars Association recognition as a University organization. It is a chapter in the University's history that will not make it proud.

Posted by Ralph 5:30 p.m. EST


Announcement of the traveling exhibit, "12 Black Classicists", which will open at Emory on 5 November, reminds me that there is a neat historical problem at its root. Twice, in 1888 and in 1897, the learned African American Episcopal priest, Alexander Crummell (1819-1898), published accounts of an incident in his boyhood. He was working as a messenger in the New York office of the American Antislavery Society secretary, Elizur Wright. There, he overheard a conversation among Wright and two Boston attorneys, Samuel E. Sewell and David Lee Child. Sewell and Child had recently been in Washington, where they dined with Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. According to Crummell, the Boston attorneys reported Calhoun to have said that"if he could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, he would then believe that the Negro was a human being and should be treated as a man." Crummell's two accounts of that conversation are most conveniently found in J. R. Oldfield, ed., Civilization and Black Progress: Selected Writings of Alexander Crummell on the South (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), pp. 172, 206-07.

In the circle of well educated African Americans at the end of the 19th century, Alexander Crummell was very highly respected. He founded and was the first president of the American Negro Academy in 1897 and, five years after his death, W. E. B. Du Bois devoted a moving chapter in The Souls of Black Folk to Alexander Crummell. His story is the authority for the words and sentiment attributed to John C. Calhoun and no one in his circle doubted his report. Variations of it have been recounted and are retold into the 21st century.

On the net, for example, you can find variations of Crummell's story about John C. Calhoun reported in: P. Thomas Stanford, "The Race Question in America,"in Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood Slavery Days (1909), p. 62; Fannie Jackson-Coppin Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (1913), p. 19; and "Fannie Jackson Coppin," in Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (1926), p. 123. I found it reported by my own subject, Vernon Johns, in 1961; and, my friend, Wilson Moses, gives the same report in his fine biography of Crummell, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1989), p. 20. Michelle Valerie Ronnick, the curator for"12 Black Classicists" reports the story again for us.

Alexander Crummell's account of John C. Calhoun's sentiment may be correct, but there is no surviving first hand account of it. We have only a 69 year old man's recollection of a second-hand conversation which he recalled hearing some 55 years after the fact. Calhoun may very well have said something like what Alexander Crummell reported having heard in two Boston lawyers' account of their conversation with South Carolina's John C. Calhoun in 1833. But we know that word of mouth and memory can do strange things to the historical record. It would be good for someone to look into this old story, because it lies behind the betrayed hope of African American intellectuals that a classical education was a ticket to first class citizenship in America. If John C. Calhoun said what Crummell reported, Calhoun's children shifted the goal posts and, as Wilson Moses observes, American anti-intellectualism played a major role in the shifting."In nineteenth century America, where the bookish man was often openly ridiculed," says Moses,"Ichabod Crane was even more laughable in blackface." (p. 49)

Posted by Ralph 6:45 p.m. EST

NAUGHTY ON THE NET ... 10-25-03

David Adesnik, Glenn Reynolds and Robert Tagorda are being naughty on the net.

Posted by Ralph 12:30 a.m. EST


The blognoscenti (well, at least Kevin Drum, Jacob Levy, and Eugene Volokh) have discovered the new toy at It is an on-line text search of 120,000 books in print and available for sale there.

What do we self-pre-occupied authors first do? We go here and type in"Ralph Luker". If the results aren't sufficiently ego-gratifying, we type in:"Ralph E. Luker". The first turns up 7 citations in 6 books. The second turns up 23 citations in 18 books. My recollection was that Glenda Gilmore referred to me as"Paul Luker" in this book, but I couldn't find him anywhere on Amazon's fine toy, so maybe Gloria has taken him off her list.

Anyway, both Ralph and Ralph E. Luker thank fellow authors and editors Julia Buckner Armstrong, et al., Clayborne Carson, Anthony E. Cook, Kathleen Dalton, Peter Filene, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Tim Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau, Elizabeth Elkin Grammar, June Hopkins, Paul E. Johnson, Joel S. Kahn, Martin Luther King (no kidding!) et al., David Krasner, Richard Lischer, Louis P. Masur, Roger S. Powers, Willard Sterns Randall, Vickie Ruiz and Ellen Carol Dubois, Doug and Douglas Rossinow, Bruce Schulman, John David Smith, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, and Gregory A. Wills for the mentions. May your tribe increase. As for the authors and editors of those 119,976 other books, you missed a great opportunity.

Update: There are serious and enormously useful functions for this"toy."

Posted by Ralph 12:15 a.m. EST


In November, an exhibit about"12 Black Classicists" opens at Emory University's Candler Library. It focuses on the lives of twelve African-American men and women who taught Greek and Latin at the college or university level and whose academic accomplishments helped pave the way for future generations of African-Americans in higher education. The exhibit will be at Emory from November 5 to 22, 2003. A reception and public lecture will be held at 4:00 p.m., November 5, 2003 at Candler Library. The event is free and open to the public.

The exhibit features such African-American scholars as Macon native William Sanders Scarborough, the first black member of the Modern Language Association and author of a Greek textbook (1881), Lewis Baxter Moore, who earned the first Ph.D. awarded by the University of Pennsylvania to an African-American for his work on the Greek tragedian Sophocles, Wiley Lane, the first black professor of Greek at Howard University and John Wesley Gilbert of Augusta, who was the first black to attend the American School in Athens, Greece.

Michele Valerie Ronnick, a professor of classics, Greek and Latin at Wayne State University curated the exhibit. With these twelve nineteenth century classicists, she says,"begins the serious study and teaching of philology (the study of language) by African Americans. All who study language and literature in the U.S. today, be it Italian, Swahili, Sanskrit, English or Arabic, trace the origin of their disciplines to the men and women featured in this photo installation."

Funded by the James Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard University, the exhibit premiered earlier this year at the Detroit Public Library and is currently on display at the University of Missouri, Columbia. In December, the exhibit opens at Princeton University. It will appear in other parts of the country over the next two years.

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