items (products or processes) that satisfy all these criteria:"Stirrups, whipped cream, cowpox as a vaccine for smallpox, penicillin, Arabic numerals, the abacus, sterile technique, distillation, the printing press, the scientific method, pasteurization, the horseshoe, the toothbrush, the compass, the wheelbarrow, glass lenses, gunpowder, soap, and horse plow collars" have been commonly suggested, but some of them don't meet all the criteria. The abacus is out because the Romans had it.
They were unknown to people in ancient Rome circa 150 B.C.
They could be manufactured with then-existing technology and then-available raw materials.
They would be at least modestly useful in that era.
Even a nontechnically minded person today -- say, a smart 12-year-old -- would know how to make and use them. This is particularly important, and one on which many suggestions seem to founder.
Their absence would be pretty clearly visible.
If you don't mind the spoilers, Cliopatria's Tim Burke has a critically appreciative review of"The Return of the King" at Easily Distracted.
Twenty-five years after I invented the A-bomb .... Well, ah, it wasn't exactly me who did it and he didn't actually invent it, but John Aristotle Phillips got an A on his Princeton term paper for his figuring out how to make one and life's been downhill ever since. You end up indiscriminately being a fund-raiser for Bush, Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott, and Joe Lieberman.
And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
The article, by Timothy Noah, comments on what I consider one of the most interesting aspects of American diplomatic history, namely the tensions between the consistent expansionism of the United States and the persistent strand of anti-imperialism in American political culture.
My first two books examined Senate anti-imperialists—figures such as Ernest Gruening, Robert La Follette, or George Norris, dissenters who would make the anti-war stance of someone like Howard Dean look tame—and I always ask my classes to consider not only the question of why the United States has embraced empire throughout its history but why its doing so has so consistently stirred domestic opposition.
That said, I agree with Noah that Cheney’s celebration of empire is rare among American policymakers, especially since 1900.
Instead his Remarks to the Commonwealth Club show him to less an advocate of science and more of a second-rate Ann Coulter or Michael Moore.
The points that he really made were these: (1) most environmentalists are religious airheads, just like Christians, and (2) most people, including most members of the Commonwealth Club, are dumber than Michael Crichton.
The way he made those points was easy. He made scores of unsubstantiated claims. If he had followed his own advice and used science scrupulously to make his points he would have had problems.
For example, the one issue he discusses at length is DDT. He argues that its banning is one example of environmental-religious blindness in that it did not harm animals. But the only"evidence" he gives for this is asserting that it was falsely labeled a carcinogen. That may or may not have been true, I don't know the regulatory history/ But I do know the studies that indicated DDT caused harm concluded that it did so by impairing reproduction, not by causing cancer.
I might not be writing this if he had given even one authority to show that it did not hurt animals. That would have been consistent with his call for a scientific environmentalism. But he doesn't.
Someone reading this might reasonably say,"But in a speech, does he have time to do that? Maybe there is a good study out there that refutes clearly the previous findings on DDT."
Maybe there is. And if any readers know of one I will be happy to post information on it here. I do believe in using science honestly, even when it reveals that I have been wrong.
For the moment, however, Crichton's own words will do for a response. This long excerpt will show his real attitude toward scientific debate and for giving sources. (It will also document my comment about his ego).
I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.
I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous [sic] science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependant [sic] on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.
He does have time. He knows it. He chooses not to because he does not respect his audience. He says so himself.
So why have some pretty intelligent people latched onto this speech? I think it's the same reason Coulter and Moore are popular. They pick targets that their audiences hate and caricature them. Crichton chooses those environmentalists who tend to have an Eden-like view of nature, caricatures them, and then implicitly connects them with everybody concerned about the environment, except for himself or course.
Some readers I think saw the caricature, liked it, and didn't look carefully at what followed. It's a mistake I've made.
The sad thing here is that Crichton's a smart man and a rich man. If he truly wants to support good environmental science, he can do much good. But if this is any indication, good science is the last thing on his mind.
PS Here's the link to Science. Crichton is right that it is good. Put Global Warming and CO2 into the internal search engine and ask yourself if he's read it lately.
Readers of my postings in Cliopatria might wonder why I seem so concerned with what might loosely be labeled excessive political correctness in both personnel and curricular matters. Partly, of course, my approach to these matters arises out of my tenure case: when an institution tries to fire you for advocating merit rather than gender quotas in hiring and criticizing a college-sponsored educational event on Middle East international affairs that had no supporters of either the US or Israel, you become sensitive to how ideologues can abuse the personnel process. And, as a glance through the cases handled by FIRE suggests, it seems that in the academy today, the threat to academic freedom more often comes from an extremist “left” than from the right.
But I also am so interested in such curricular matters because of the situation on my own campus, Brooklyn College. It never seemed to me a question that the job of a professor was to teach students about academic content rather than behavioral skills or what to think about political “values.” At Brooklyn, now, however, that question is very much up for debate, partly due to the apparent attitude of the campus administration. I’m a believer in Alan Charles Kors’ argument that sunlight—public exposure—is the best way to combat such ideas.
Over at Easily Distracted, Tim Burke expands on his thoughts about"The Return of the King" with a second essay about genre and the problem of what I would call"disciplinary discipleship." Odd that I'd never thought how those two words had the same root. Followers of the same discipline would be disciples, but Burke sees the problem in thinking and working that way. Sure, we need to learn from the learned in apprenticeship, but a follower cannot transcend the achievement of the leader. That's the problem of derivative scholarship and derivative literature. No wonder that the Swiss theologian Karl Barth denied that he was a"Barthian." Lately, I have to kick myself and say:"Don't try to be a Burkean or a Johnsonian. They'll always be better Tim Burkes and KC Johnsons than you can ever hope to be."
Fortunately, my own apprenticeship as a historian was an easy mantle. My dissertation director allowed, even encouraged, me to disagree with him -- to"revise" him, if you will. So, on the one hand, I've never experienced the horror stories of those who ran afoul of rigid taskmasters and, on the other, I've never understood the cry against"revision," as if it were ipso facto distortion. In many, if not most, cases, to do worthy history is necessarily to"revise." Nor do I understand the umbrage some historians take at being challenged. To be challenged, after all, means that the good Lord or fate or happenstance has allowed you to live so long that some reasonably intelligent historian thought that you had once said something that was worthy of debate and has finally gotten the challenge into print. Many historians never have the pleasure of having lived long enough to see themselves"revised." What's wrong with that?
At Atlanta's recent AAR convention, I introduced myself to Oberlin's A. G. Miller. On hearing my name, he smiled and referred obliquely to his new biography, Elevating the Race: Theophilous G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 1865-1924. I first encountered T. G. Steward's legacy forty years ago, when I was interning as an assistant pastor for the summer of Macon, Georgia's First Baptist Church, an African American congregation. Just up Cotton Avenue from us was Steward Chapel A. M. E. Church. In that building named for its early pastor, I heard Martin Luther King, Sr., raise some righteous hell with Macon's white folks. Years later, I wrote a bit about T. G. Steward in The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885-1912.
Miller was kind enough to send me a copy of his fine new book and, behold, I was revised. The larger context for his disagreement with me is this. I surveyed a spectrum of white attitudes in race relations at the turn of the century and identified spokesmen for each position: radical assimilationism (Josiah Strong), conservative assimilationism (Josiah Royce), conservative separatism (Edgar Gardner Murphy), and radical separatism (Thomas Dixon). Based on a definition of what"racism" is, I said that only the separatists, Murphy and Dixon, might rightly be called racists. That definition held that"racism is a pattern of thought that relates mind to matter by making culture a function of physiology." Racial separatists held that people of African descent could not and should not try fully to exemplify high culture as defined by the canons of western civilization. Racial assimilationists held that people of African descent both could and should expect to do so.
My friend, A. G. Miller, challenges my argument that a radical assimilationist, such as Josiah Strong, is not rightly understood as a racist. He and many others by now and by implication would argue that my definition of racism is inadequate. For one thing, it allows for the possibility that some African Americans are racists. If"true culture" is rooted in an Africanist frame, those who reify biological descent would say that we white folk are just out of luck or, at best, in a separate sphere. I cannot fully appreciate the blues, for example, because I am not an African American. Secondly, and by extension, I think Miller would argue that my definition of racism is inadequate because it takes no account of power or structural relationships. Only when racial prejudice wields power is it truly racist. Racial prejudice lacking power is no significant threat.
These are significant issues, I think."Racism" and"racist" continue to be bandied about. We need to understand what people mean by them when they use the words. I still disagree with Miller because I think one must give definitional precision to them, lest they lose all utility. Like the Mother Hubbard dress of yesterday's modesty, they could cover everything, but touch on nothing. Miller does convince me that the problems of a" cultural assimilationist" position are as real as the problems of a" cultural separatist" one, but I still would like to hear a definition from him of what"racism" is. In any case, I am grateful for having lived long enough to witness having been revised.
For the moment, however, this revised historian needs to get to bed and deal with those tangled Christmas lights in the morning.
I'm a life-long science fiction and fantasy fan, with a preference for short stories, and for novels that take exeptionally long historical perspectives. This is an exciting time for an F/SF fan, because the technology now exists to depict on the screen anything that can be pictured in the mind. The reason nobody's made a really good version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings until now (though I still have a fondness for the old animated version, which is a little more whimsical but no less rich) is that the technological hurdles were too great. The final frontier in movie/TV, though, is not smell-o-rama (though I wouldn't be surprised to see USB-ready aroma peripherals in a few years) but really good emotional and historical and philosophical background/context. Perhaps the DVD, with it's hypertext-like flexibility and supplements, is the format in which the novel will truly be realized on screen.
One of the reasons I still enjoy F/SF is its experimental nature. Not so much as a literary form (I'm pretty conventional when it comes to the writing I like) but as an emotional and historical test-bench."What if" is a far more fundamental question in history than we like to admit (though I'm ironically leery of large-scale alternative history) and futurism is a powerful tool for thinking through the implications of ideas and processes, alternative visions, and the human potential under different circumstances. Plus, why should our imaginations always be limited by convention and reality?
OK, just to give people something to complain about, here's my off-hand, very incomplete list of favorite authors and works: Frank Herbert (Dune series of course, though White Plague is frighteningly, increasingly plausible); Isaac Asimov; some Robert Heinlein (especially his future history series); Harlan Ellison (Deathbird Stories is my candidate for single-author short-story collection of the century); Olaf Stapledon (deep and rich stuff); Ursula LeGuin (Left Hand of Darkness is a mind-bending experience); Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams for humor (also Asimov); Ray Bradbury (indescribably powerful ideas and writing); Neil Gaiman (probably the finest fantasist at work today, and one of the best word-on-paper writers since Bradbury); Henry Kuttner (energetic writing and ideas that will trouble you for days, if not years) and C.L. Moore, his wife and collaborator and a fine writer in her own right (I'm particularly fond of her Jirel of Joiry stories, which look like pulp fantasy but are much deeper meditations on humanity). I'm a current subscriber to Fantasy and Science Fiction. I'm sure I've left stuff off the list.
OK, back to the grading. Next time, some history, or politics, I promise! Happy Hanukah, everyone!
But, finally, we know why almost any stranger on the streets in Edgefield might be mistaken for one of Strom Thurmond's relatives. There are simply a whole lot more of them than the family ever acknowledged. About 30 years ago, I first heard the rumor that he had a daughter of color and had little reason to doubt it. I didn't comment on Essie Mae Washington-Williams's belated acknowledgment that she is the daughter of ol' Strom Thurmond, but this widely reprinted piece in the New York Times about the reactions of the old man's white relatives summons me.
According to"Miss T," my wife's look-alike, Ms. Washington-Williams's announcement was"was like a blight on the family."
"I went to a church meeting the other day and all these people came up to me and you could tell they didn't know what to say," Ms. Freeman said."For the first time in my life, I felt shame."Really, my dear, both you and I have known about this for years. Years of knowing it -- years of Strom's winking and nudging you in the ribs with his elbow -- should have prepared you with something more gracious than this. What astonished me then and astonishes me now is, by contrast, the quiet dignity of Strom Thurmond's oldest daughter. She had deferred to her father's public career for nearly 80 years. Only after his death did she tell their secret. Whether the other Thurmond relatives acknowledge her or not is a matter of some indifference to Ms. Washington-Williams. She knows that she was there first.
Ms. Freeman also said that had the secret daughter been white,"it would be a whole other situation," because public criticism would not have been as harsh.
"Strom rose to such stature, you just wonder how in the world this could have gone on," said Ms. Freeman, 64, a retired teacher in Lugoff, S.C."My family always had help around the house. But it just seems Strom would have been above that."
Recommended Reading: the interesting discussions of this story, hosted by Kieran Healey and John Quiggin at Crooked Timber, the thoughtful editorial column by Cynthia Tucker in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and this fascinating story of detective work in the Washington Post.
Not because of any personal animus towards Richard Nixon--my only personal beef with the President at the time was that Watergate hearings used to interrupt my favorite cartoons in the afternoon. I am of course like many unhappy about its legacies: there is no question that late 20th Century American antipathy towards government and politics finds its deepest and most wounding origins in the career of Richard Nixon and the traumas he visited upon his office and his society. Even Nixon's curiously moderate record has to be stacked up against the kinds of political careers he helped set in motion, more than a few of which have come back to haunt us in the current Administration.
My gratitude has to do with the composite impact of the tape transcripts which continue to be made available: 240 more hours were made available to the public this month. That has obvious specific relevance to scholars working on the Nixon Administration, on the US government in the early 1970s, on the history of the Presidency, and so on. But I think it has a deeper relevance, one that has still gone largely unappreciated.
The tape transcripts, taken as a whole, show us an unintended, relatively unmediated view of the interior culture of political power, something that ordinarily historians know almost nothing about whether we're dealing with ancient or recent cases, Western or non-Western societies. Most of the people who have listened to the tapes released in recent years come away with rather ordinary, even banal, revelations about Nixon's character and worldview, more or less confirming things that we already guessed or knew anyway, that Nixon was an anti-Semite, or disliked Kissinger, or that he hated the Eastern Establishment.
What I think is more useful is to begin to think about Nixon not as the atypical, psychologically curious figure that he undoubtedly was, but also to see him and his conversations with aides and visitors as a revelation of what the typical business of political decision-making and information-gathering may look like in its general outlines. Yes, certainly, there is a Nixonian particularity to the more recent transcripts that have been released--it is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton having quite the same loopily off-the-cuff, awkwardly polite locker room discussions with aides about Greek homosexuality and the character of political enemies and so on. But what I strongly suspect is quite typical about the transcripts is the decidely non-Olympian, non-omniscent perspective they display. The later, non-Watergate tapes tend to show that while Nixon and his aides knew more than the average citizen or the average pundit or the average Congressman about national and international affairs, and had far more ability to move events and institutions in a direction that he desired--that's what power is, in the end--his knowledge and influence were also finite, sometimes strikingly so. I have argued this before, but it seems to me that the total body of tapes offers a fairly striking rebuke to ideas about historical causality that require power to always do that which it ought to do, and to always have a transparent command of the social and cultural landscape it inhabits. The tapes reveal that there were numerous conspiracies within the Nixon White House--but they also tend to undercut a conspiratorial conception of history.
You say it happened in the 14th century? Oh Lord, there goes my hockey stick. Reactions to Michael Crichton's Commonwealth Club address led to extended discussions on Cliopatria's comment boards (scroll down). There, Jerome Sternstein recommends this article in Technology Review and its supporting links. Good science proceeds slowly, it argues: on the one hand, but on the other ....
The Economist has an interesting piece which compares the internet to 17th and 18th century European coffee houses. I've thought it more comparable to a library. Mildly Malevolent is skeptical about the coffee house analogy, but like him, I find the Economist piece's point about coffee as the anti-alcohol interesting. Give me a fresh pot of coffee, a little stack of cookies, my keyboard, and I'm ready to get at it. I don't know whether I'm in a coffee house or a library, but it seems like where I ought to be.
It didn't end in 1865. It doesn't happen only in Africa's heart of darkness or Islam's lesser realms. It isn't just Walmart on the sly. It is slavery and it's right down here in the heart of Limbaughland. The Palm Beach Post has a three part series on slavery in 21st century Florida. Isn't this where my generation came in? Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame," Michael Harrington's The Other America, and all that?
So, this veteran of the civil rights and anti-Viet Nam War movements bequeaths problems more complex than his generation's to that of his much loved, many pierced, tattooed, punk, Green, and post-Goth #2 daughter who works at Brooklyn's Soft Skull Press. She is home for Christmas and, briefly, we are whole again. We are so much alike that there are some things that we simply cannot discuss. One of them is this. Don't tell her I sent you, but as we say here in the South:"Vote early and vote often." And, frankly, my dear, Mort Sahl and Rv. Agnos agree with me that "Al Franken is objectively less funny than Al Haig."
I am used to mean-spirited exchanges among the usual suspects on History News Network's comment boards, but when Christopher Hitchens's interview by Jamie Glazov for David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine was re-published on HNN, it provoked a harsh rebuke by Sean Wilentz and a bitter series of comments by Hitchens, Wilentz, Todd Gitlin, Irfan Kawaja, Richard Wolin, and others. The left intellectuals believe that Hitchens is a turncoat and he rubbed his erstwhile comrades' noses in it by appearing in Horowitz's netrag. The closest parallel I can recall to this is when Garry Wills seemed to abandon his colleagues on the Right at National Review 35 years ago and found a broader audience by appearing to be on the Left. William Buckley then wrote of it more in sorrow than in anger, however, and, truth be told, Wills is still more deeply conservative than Buckley ever was. That could be a warning to Hitchens's critics. He may yet be more radical than thou.
Update: Take heart, the offerings are more gracious elsewhere. At Informed Comment, his indispensable blog about Middle Eastern affairs, Juan Cole has an introduction to the little known history of Christianity in Iraq. If you don't know about Nestorians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians, he can tell you about them.
At Liberty and Power, David Beito looks at the election of 1900 and wonders about options for libertarians and anti-war conservatives in 2004. The choices don't look very encouraging.
Kieran Healey at Crooked Timber knows where the defense planning screw ups occurred.
By the way, I see that political correctness won't keep the AHA from giving Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia its inaugural Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service and Jim McPherson will hold his nose long enough to do the honors. Sure, the Senate's King of Pork has ground some sausage in History's direction, but Perspectives doesn't remind its readers that Byrd is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who was still using the word"nigger" on national television without a wince as recently as two years ago. For more on Byrd's klansmanship, see here. For once, I think I'll out"pc" the AHA and boycott the session.
The British Library is releasing a series of CDs,"Spoken Word," which offers the recorded voices of major Anglo-American writers. The New York Times' Caryn James reviews the series here:
One of the great surprises is finding which writers actually do voices and which don't. When A. A. Milne reads from"Winnie-the-Pooh," his creations sound like Victorian gents — soothing, paternal Victorian gents reading a bedtime story, it's true, but rather Victorian nonetheless.You can order the CDs at the British Library website.
"He gave a little squeak of excitement," Milne reads about Piglet spotting a paw print, yet sounding not very excited at all.
He goes on:" `Oh, Pooh! Do you think it's a — a — a Woozle?'
" `It may be,' said Pooh. `Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.'" With Milne pronouncing it tis and t'isn't, Pooh's very proper voice in this 1929 recording is far from the high-pitched sweetness Sterling Holloway later gave him in so many Disney cartoons.
The best of the discs is the"Writers" volume, recorded mostly in the 20's and 30's. There you can hear Tolkien again, speaking Elvish from"The Lord of the Rings." But the happiest surprise must be Joyce, as cerebral and intimidating a literary genius as the world has ever known, and by all accounts not an easygoing guy. Who would have guessed he'd play a washerwoman so convincingly? He actually becomes two washerwomen with lilting Irish brogues who chat while doing laundry by the river."Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper!" one says to the other as he reads from the"Anna Livia Plurabelle" section of"Finnegans Wake." In language that is always lyrical, and usually more complicated than that, his voice flows like the river whose rhythm he said he was imitating.
Or, if literary food is more to your taste than literary sound at the holidays, try one of the recipe" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||recipe|AA1VDw">recipes Simon Fanshawe culls from English literature for the Guardian. Their names,"Little Balls of Tripe a Man Might Eat For Ever,""Cold Crubeens,""Figgy-Dowdy,""Boiled Baby," and"Syllabub" don't sound too appealing, but we're talking food here, not sound, remember? I recommend Joyce's offering of sound, but not taste. Charles Dickens recommends the cheesecake; and Ian Fleming's James Bond, of course, the scrambled eggs. Thanks to Moby Lives for both tips.
If you love books, read Andre Bernard's"Fear of Book Assassination Haunts Bibliophile's Musings" in the New York Observer.
An article from Wired News, "Will Global Warming Cool Europe" reminded me of one of the many reasons that Europeans take global warming far more seriously than we do.
Read the article, but the gist is that if warming continues, Europe will move toward the tropical. Then, as the ice cap continues to melt the cold water released will deflect the path of the Gulf Stream to the south. When this happens, the temperatures in Europe will plummet to well below their current climate.
However, while the US leadership for the last decade has been abominable on this issue (and gets worse daily), this article gives too free a pass to European leaders.
Consider the outcome of the recent steel subsidies controversy. When countries are willing to go to the mat with the US on economic issues, they sometimes get their way, or at least a better compromise.
Yes, the WTO made that much easier here, but the same principle still applies. It would be a better world if the US government, and the American people, accepted that Global Warming is serious. But, if other countries started treating it as a life-and-death matter--or even as seriously as they did the price of steel--then it would a lot more likely that Americans would learn.
Two of my favorite Lutherans, David Beito and Allen Brill, may have to agree to disagree about whether Martin Luther is an Ayn"Randian hero." Beito replies to Brill here. [Editor: Pretend that you were not a Methodist agent provocateur and that it was not you who"nearly gagged" at David's suggestion.]
Update: Chris Matthew Sciabarra at Liberty and Power has a further response to Brill.
Robert David Sullivan analyzes prospects in next year's presidential election for CommonWealth. Forget reds and blues, he says. The United States is 10 regions and the results will be decided by and within them. Lots of interesting and odd details in this analysis. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.
According to this report in the Guardian, England's National Heritage memorial fund will give Oxford's Bodleian Library a gift" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="http://search.targetwords.com/u.search?x=5977|1||||gifts|AA1VDw">gift sufficient to purchase the Abinger Papers, preventing an auction's dispersing them. The papers include Mary Shelley's autograph manuscript of"Frankenstein," letters and papers of her parents, 32 volumes of William Godwin's journal, and correspondence with William Hazelit, Thomas Malthus, and Percy Shelley.
How did the word"idiot," which originally meant"an independent person with ideas of his own," come to mean a person with deficient intellect? Stephen Bayley writes in celebration of opinions against" conventional wisdom".
The Horowitz article recalls one of the more disturbing incidents in academe recently, namely the controversy over a Cal-Berkeley course called"The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," in which the instructor, activist for a group called Students for Justice in Palestine, put together a blatantly anti-Israel course that also advised conservative students not to enroll. In response, the Berkeley Faculty Senate did not rebuke the instructor for bringing anti-Israel politics in the classroom, but instead changed the university’s policy on academic freedom to protect the rights of politically engaged instructors.
One more reminder why we should try to avoid overt politicking in the classroom.
It is, I think, not so much ironic, as it is an instance of what Garry Wills identified 30 years ago in a brilliant critique of American liberalism, Nixon Agonistes: the legacy of liberalism's metaphor of the race. We are caught between wanting the equality of the starting line and the meritorious result of the finishing line and, so, keep demanding that the race start all over again. We are caught between"freedom," which rewards merit, and"equality," which insists that all are meritorious. We can maximize equality by minimizing freedom, as in a prison; or we can maximize freedom by minimizing equality, as in a meritocracy.
I was reminded of that issue again in the thoughtful post by my colleague, KC Johnson, three days ago. I have no trouble agreeing with him that merit should be decisive in hiring, so long as we are rather deeply introspective about what we mean by merit. In my first full time teaching position, I was hired by a chairman who made no bones about the fact that he hired no one but a white, culturally Protestant, native-born, straight American male. In retrospect, I've sometimes thought that I should have resigned as soon as I knew that to be true. I didn't. Nor, of course, did any of my other, externally uniform, liberal colleagues, but I was reminded of it again when my other colleague, Tim Burke, wrote over on Invisible Adjunct that
the horizons of graduate school shrink down to a very short and narrow perspective, and disallow the very ideas and explorations that many people regard (properly) as the essence of intellectual inquiry. This will not happen in any obvious way: no ogre will appear to forbid you anything. It will happen invidiously, slowly, pervasively: no one will actually do it to you, and never will you be able to put your finger on exactly how and when it is being done. Slowly but surely, however, you will be cut to fit a very particular professionalized and disciplinary cloth, and become a willing participant in innumerable rituals of abjection. Slowly but surely, you'll begin to accept the intimate intertwining of your life and your work, and pernicious forms of virally spreading authority and power by numerous other people, some of them quite distant from you in social terms, over that intertwined work-life.And so, here I am, at the end of a professional life's race, blessed with wonderful virtual colleagues, but wondering at the exigencies that compromised values dearly held and wishing that I might have been heroic.
A recent, unlikely debate raged, off topic as usual, over the inclination of some professional historians to refer to ourselves as"an historian." We (I profess myself to be ambidextrous on the issue, swinging both ways as the mood strikes me) were challenged by a group of grammartocracists, who mocked our ungrammatical pretensions. Appeal to all sorts of authority would not settle the issue. As I recall, my friends, Jonathan Dresner at Hawaii and Derek Catsam at the University of Minnesota, Manketo, were most active in defending"our pretentious ans." (If you are ever in a good bar fight, by the way, do hope that Derek Catsam is on your side.) Anyway, the grammartocracists finally got the last and best laugh with this post:
Subject: Professor Catsam Stars in A PlayNB: Luker's policy on quotations from HNN comment boards: You post there anonymously and I have no obligation to get your permission to quote you. Sign your name, as Catsam does, and I ask permissions. I asked; Catsam gave permission, indicating that he thought this bit of mockery delightful.
Posted By: Grammarian Again
Date Posted: December 9, 2003, 8:58 PM
Professor Catsam is walking down the hall of a classroom building at Mankato when a student rushes toward him.
Student: Professor Catsam, I lost two of my books! I don't know what to do. I am so upset.
Professor: Gloria, now don't get too upset. Which books can't you locate?
Student: Oh Doctor Catsam, one is for economics and the other is for YOUR class.
Professor: Hmm. My class huh?
Student: And with exams coming on, and everything, I feel so abject and helpless.
Professor: Now let's see what I can do to assist you. Let's take a walk together on each of the three floors and see if we can't find them for you.
Professor: Sure, we are here to help you.
Professor Catsam and Gloria are walking up the stairs, through the halls and up the stairs again when Professor Catsam stops suddenly.
Student: Doctor, what is happening, are you ok?
Professor: In the corner, LOOK , in the corner, LOOK I can see it! There is AN history book.
Student: A Whaat?
Professor: An history book! An history book. I found it for you.
Student: You are so kind dear professor, but should it not be"a" history book?
Professor: No Gloria, according to Bill Safire, It is"an history book."
David Clay Large, Berlin. (New York: Basic Books, 2000).
David Clay Large, Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
One of the great things about teaching 15 different courses on a regular basis is that I am compelled to read more widely than may be the norm for someone in a large, highly specialized history department. It is particularly stimulating when a 20th century U.S. social historian can slip loose the bounds of his philistine training and indulge in the reading of tremendous intellectual/cultural history outside the modern American field.
I have not been exposed to German literature, history, and culture since my undergraduate years, followed by an intense period of cramming in graduate school so that I could pass my language proficiency examinations. It was, therefore, quite gratifying when I accidentally discovered David Clay Large, one of the most talented and engaging European intellectual/cultural historians I have ever read.
As I have been teaching a course on Great Depression-World War II America, I developed a strong desire to learn more about the origins of Nazi Germany. Fortunately, I stumbled across Large’s opus on Munich. Blending the tales of Marxist and fascist politics, visceral anti-Semitism, and a lot of starving (some justly so) artists, Where Ghosts Walked was a wild romp through pre-World War II Munich.
Large’s writing is a particular joy and I am especially fond of his pithy characterization of Adolf Hitler, a young sociopath and would-be-artist in Munich who failed his physical for the Austro-Hungarian Army in February 1914: “Apparently his bohemian existence had paid off, for he had the dilapidated constitution of a coffeehouse warrior.” (p. 42)
I am presently halfway through Large’s sprawling Berlin, a fine work that particularly focuses on the era from the Franco-Prussian War to the collapse of communist East Germany. If ghosts walked in Munich surely self-destructive visionaries—the good, the bad, and the ugly—haunted a city that would serve as the capital for monarchy, democracy, Nazism, and communism.
As a cultural historian Large naturally gives much attention to the performing and visual arts, along with compelling tours of seedy cabarets. “Life is not a cabaret, old chum,” readers learn. The scenes of young boys in Weimar Germany selling themselves to sex tourists so that they could buy food are difficult to forget.
Learning that actor Conrad Veidt was a cross dressing Berlin hooker in the 1920s may not have been of life and death importance to readers’ intellect, but it is certainly going to affect the way I now watch “Casablanca” and “All Through the Night.” (After Veidt fled the Nazis—go figure—he landed in Hollywood where he was instantly typed-cast. He played the nasty Nazi officer who gets blown away by Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” and the nasty Nazi spy who gets blown away by Bogart in “All Through the Night.” (p. 180)
The photographs Large included in this book are of immense value. Looking at the pictures of German soldiers marching through Berlin in 1914 and then again in 1919 readers are witness to an almost science fiction-like evolution. The spiked helmets of 1914 give way to the German headgear that became infamous throughout Europe a generation later. Other unsettling images appearing in the photographs include swastikas on armored vehicles and on the helmets of some of the Freikorps. As if to anticipate the coming of Hitler, there are also mounting choruses of Jew-hatred that already have more than a whiff of “eliminationist” anti-Semitism in 1919 Berlin.
If you are not a specialist of modern Germany but wish to learn more, enjoy good writing, and wonder about the origins of many of our more recent problems with Europe, Large’s city books are the place to begin.