Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Eric Foner,"Forgotten Step Toward Freedom," NYT, 30 December, recalls the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and considers why it has had so much attention in Great Britain and so little in the United States.
Garry Wills,"Romney and JFK: The Difference," NYRB, 17 January, argues that there are more differences than similarities in Mitt Romney's and John F. Kennedy's statements about their candidacies and their religious commitments.
First, giving space to vlogging is a mistake. Common wisdom says that television does two things well: sports and talking heads. But, talking heads on the internet isn't ready for prime Times. Whatever their politics or however smart they are, I don't care to see Ann Althaus, Daniel Drezner, or Matt Yglesias drinking soda water or sucking down a cup of coffee while trying to carry on a conversation. In fact, I don't care to see them, at all.
Second, links are there for a reason. The Times uses them very poorly. It being the"newspaper of record," the Times restricts all of its links internally – that is to other Times documents. And it links to Times documents from some data bank, so that it's rarely obvious that the link is either important or relevant. Proof of that pudding is in David Oshinsky's"Heil, Woodrow!" NYT, 30 December, an excellent review of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Through no fault of his own, Oshinsky's reference to the National Recovery Administration (NRA) is linked to the Times files on the National Rifle Association (NRA). Hat tip.
James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott,"Indian Museum Director Spent Lavishly on Travel," Washington Post, 28 December, continues the reporters' coverage of financial scandal at the Smithsonian. The whole series is here.
Cathryn Keller,"'Exploring the Early Americas': A Sense of Continent's Direction," Washington Post, 26 December, reviews a Library of Congress exhibit that includes Martin Waldseemueller's 1507 world map on which the western continents were first called America.
Michael Dirda,"Artistic rebels and psychological explorers in music, art and literature," Washington Post, 23 December, and Lee Siegel,"The Blush of the New," NYT, 30 December, review Peter Gay's Modernism: The Lure of Heresy From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond.
Jeremy McCarter,"One-Hit Wonder," NYT, 30 December, reviews Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley, eds., Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters.
Domique Browning,"The Kitchen God's Life," NYT, 30 December, reviews Steven Gdula's The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home.
Paul Hockenos,"Left Behind: Romanticizing Germany's Red Guerillas," Boston Review, November/December, looks back at West Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF), the Baader-Meinhoff Gang. Hat tip.
Andrew Sullivan nominates our colleague, Daniel Larison, as a weekly columnist at the New York Times.
Volume X (2007) of the online Journal of Southern Religion is up. Its rich offerings include: a symposium on Colin Kidd's The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, with contributions by our colleague Rebecca Goetz and my friends, Edward Blum and Randal Jelks; Susan Ketchin's interview with Charles Frazier, the author of Cold Mountain; Curtis Evans's"Booker T. Washington and the Quest for an Industrialized and Civilized Religion for Black Southerners," a response to David Sehat's"The civilizing mission of Booker T. Washington," JSH, May 2007; and reviews of Michael O'Brien's Henry Adams and the Southern Question, Edward Larson's The Creation-Evolution Debate, and Wallace Best's Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952.
Robert Dallek's"A Woman of Ambition, Neither Hero Nor Villain," NYT, 27 December, reviewed Elisabeth Bumiller's Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, A Biography. As Dallek noted, Bumiller isn't an aggressive writer. Her biography of Rice has an"above-the-battle tone" and doesn't"offer any decisive judgments on Ms. Rice's performance."
One passage in Dallek's review, however, tempted derision of Bumiller's book.
Ms. Bumiller says that if President Bush and Ms. Rice can produce a settlement in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians and an end to North Korea's nuclear program, it would give them claims on success that would significantly improve their historical reputations.
The blogosphere rarely resists temptations. So, Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money wrote:
And if I discover a way of powering cars entirely with oxygen, emitting a vapor that would result in the immediate killing of cockroaches and paralysis in the hands of every Hollywood producer about to sign a contract with Joel Schumacher and Uwe Boll, my reputation as a world-class scientist would be greatly enhanced.
Matt Yglesias replied similarly:
By the same token, if earth's yellow sun gave me the powers of a kryptonian, I'd be a super hero. If my blog had Endgadget's traffic, I'd be the most popular political blogger. If George Bush could breath underwater, he'd be a fish.
Last week some time, my eyes popped open in the middle of the night and I realized that it's been quite a while since I blogged. I was too tired to get up and rectify the situation, but, of course, that didn't stop me from lying there half-awake and thinking about blogging. My mind turned to the fact that I've been even more remiss about cross-posting to Cliopatria from time to time. I imagined that some Cliopatrians (O.K., Ralph E. Luker) were probably posting more than a hundred times for each one time that I managed to.
From there I got to thinking about the students in my digital history grad class. They have to blog as the written component of their coursework. Although I'm very explicit about my preference for quality over quantity, you'd think that they would be motivated to produce approximately the same amount of written work as one another. Nevertheless, I had a sense that there could easily be an order of magnitude difference in output between the most and least-frequent posters. I tried to visualize what the distributions would look like: probably a power law. Since that night, I've had a chance to check. The figure below shows the number of times that various members of Cliopatria and of my grad class posted between the beginning of September and now.
I think most academics, including my students, quickly learn that they have strong preferences for some kinds of writing rather than others. One person likes to write abstruse monographs, one popular books, one carefully-crafted essays. Some of us have found that we're able to blog and some people seem to be especially good at it. There's an ecology of scholarly production, and we all have to find our niche.
So I was lying there thinking about blogs and I realized that it reminded me of something, what was it? Oh yeah, frog communication. (It was the middle of the night.) Many years ago I read an utterly charming paper on the subject in Scientific American, and it's stuck with me (Peter M. Narins,"Frog Communication," Sci Am, Aug 1995, 78-83). In its efforts to attract females, the male coqui, a tiny Puerto Rican frog, makes a chirping call that is louder than a jackhammer. This raises many questions, not the least of which is"how [does] such a small creature protect itself from its own racket?" The answer turns out to be a fascinating lesson in evolution and engineering, so be sure to read the paper. What's interesting from the point of view of blogging, or scholarly production more generally, is that the frogs also have a special neural mechanism that follows the periodic calls made by other creatures, predicts windows of relative silence, and allows them to blast their own calls into the gaps.
Now based on my own experience to date, I rarely blog in response to external factors. Instead, I blog when I can get up the gumption to do so. Like many scholars, I've grown used to the idea that when you write something, you're adding it to a body of knowledge that is growing, if not monotonically, at least pretty steadily. On that view, the relative timing of different contributions doesn't matter so much, unless you're in a race for the Nobel prize or something. As historians, we can usually afford to take the long view.
Frogs, however, don't take the long view. As Charles F. Hockett argued in another classic Scientific American article, human language is apparently unique among animal communication systems because it allows us"to talk about things that are remote in space or time (or both) from where the talking goes on" ("The Origin of Speech," Sci Am, Sep 1960, 89-96). For the frog, there's right here, right now, give or take a few hundred milliseconds to squeeze in the call where it is most likely to be heard.
Thinking about blogging as a contribution to an infinite archive pushes us a bit too close to the frog's view of the world for comfort. Imagine having to squeeze your post in right here, right now, the only place where it has a hope of making any difference for anybody. The history blogosphere is already too vibrant, too far-flung for most people to monitor effectively. As more voices are added to the cacophony it's going to become harder and harder to be heard. How can we hope to get it right? Here's where we have a real advantage over the frog. We have the ability to create machines which simulate neural and evolutionary processes. Imagine the blogger of the future, augmented by an artificial system that monitors discourse, predicts gaps and pops in your contribution when and where it's most likely to be cited. Over time, the system learns what you are capable of, and becomes more effective at getting your message out. Does that sound crazy? Ribbit!
Tags: blogs | Cliopatria | Eleutherodactylus coqui | findability | machine learning
Anyone who thinks they can predict the consequences of a political assassination is a damn fool.
-- Eric Rauchway,
in Neely Tucker,"Another in the Long Volley of Shots Heard 'Round the World," Washington Post, 28 December.
John Fitzpatrick,"Don't Mention the War," Spiked Review of Books, December, reviews Geoffrey Robertson's presentation of The Levellers: The Putney Debates.
Kenneth T. Jackson,"A Colony with a Conscience," NYT, 27 December, celebrates the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance.
Kathryn Shattock,"Long Before Video Cameras, a French Artist Brought Motion to His Images," NYT, 27 December, previews Laurence Chatel de Brancion's Carmontelle's Landscape Transparencies: Cinema of the Enlightenment.
Paul Kennedy,"The Face of Empire," NY Sun, 19 December, reviews Piers Brendon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997.
Niall Ferguson,"Different Strokes," Financial Times, 15 December, and Owen Harries,"Anglo-Saxon Attitudes," Foreign Affairs, January/February, review Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. Hat tip.
Robert Dallek,"A Woman of Ambition, Neither Hero Nor Villain," NYT, 27 December, reviews Elisabeth Bumiller's Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, A Biography. But, see also: Scott Lemieux's comment on the review at Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
The first restriction against the concept came in 1917. Just days before the end of the congressional session, Woodrow Wilson introduced a measure to allow the government to arm U.S. merchant ships, to protect them against German submarines. The House easily passed the"armed ship bill," but it floundered in the Senate. Around 15 left-wing senators opposed the measure, on the grounds that it would invariably drag the United States into the European conflict. Organized by Robert La Follette, George Norris, and Foreign Relations Committee chairman William Stone, they decided to filibuster the bill until the session ended, which would effectively kill the measure.
The bill's supporters weren't exactly well-organized—they wound up consuming more time in debate than did the critics. Wilson, however, fumed that"a little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible. (The President than armed the ships by executive order.) A public outcry led the Senate to adopt Rule 22, which allowed cloture by a vote of two-thirds.
After the Wilson years, cloture would not again be imposed until 1962—and then to terminate a liberal filibuster against John Kennedy's commercial satellite proposal (which created a public-private partnership with AT&T). But Southerners' ability to weaken or kill civil rights measures through filibuster came to an end in 1964, when the Senate successfully imposed cloture on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Through the 1960s, filibusters were just that: talk-a-thons on the Senate floor. But after the Senate changed its rules in the early 1970s to allow cloture with 60 rather than 67 votes, the threat of a filibuster became a parliamentary tactic—used by the minority to demand a supermajority before significant bills would pass.
In the last 15 years, the use of the filibuster expanded dramatically: a turning point was the 1993-1994 Congress, when the Bob Dole-led Republicans used the tactic liberally, requiring 47 cloture votes (as opposed to just 24 in the previous Congress). When the Democrats fell back into the minority after 1994, they imitated Dole's tactics, and the threat of filibusters remained stable throughout the 1990s.
A recent chart prepared by the left-leaning Campaign for America's Future, however, indicates a stunning change in the current Congress: through December 18, more cloture votes have occurred in this Senate session than in any full congressional session in U.S. history. The projected total of cloture votes for the full session, at the current rate, is 134. The previous high was 61.
This change amounts to a constitutional amendment by parliamentary tactic: Senate Republicans effectively have required a supermajority for virtually any contested bill. (Senate Republicans two years ago called for eliminating the filibuster, but only on judicial nominees.) It's hard to motivate people behind a"good-government" cause. But if members of both parties feel that a super-majority should be required to pass any Senate measure, they should be forthright about it, and propose a constitutional amendment. In the interim, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, if the GOP reclaims the majority in 2008) should at the very least return to the pre-1974 practice, and force those intent on filibustering to actually consume time on the floor actually filibustering.
"Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity" is an exhibit at Harvard's Sackler Museum through January. It previously appeared in Munich, Rome, and Istanbul, and will leave Harvard for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles."Top Ten Color Classical Reproductions," ListUniverse, 24 December, shows ten of the classical artifacts beside the replicas done in color. They are astonishingly gaudy. Gilded Athena from Nashville, Tennesee's Parthenon is a more speculative coloration. Mary Beard is skeptical.
George Weigel,"Refighting the Wars of Religion," Commentary, November, is a thoughtful review of Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West.
Michael Isikoff,"Challenging Cheney," Newsweek, 24 December, interviews J. William Leonard,"the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government," according to Allen Weinstein, the national archivist. Leonard is retiring after challenging the claim that the Vice President is a legislative, rather than an executive, official and, thus, exempt from federal regulations governing classified information. Hat tip to Steve Beinen at Political Animal and Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy.
Strauss and Howe wrote two major works of American history: Generations, The History of America’s Future(1991) and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (1996). I reviewed the latter book for the Boston Globe and posted the review yesterday on historyunfolding.com. As they explained to me many years ago, when they began Generations, they simply wanted to identify the various generations in American history and talk about their contributions to American life. In the midst of their research, however, they had an extraordinary epiphany. It began, Bill once told me, when they noticed the similarity between two sets of the generations to which they were giving names: the Republicans (Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Marshall), Compromisers (Clay, Webster, Buchanan) and Transcendentals (Garrison, Jefferson Davis, Sumner and Lincoln), on the one hand, and the GIs (JFK, Nixon, Reagan), Silents (John McCain, Colin Powell, Michael Dukakis) and Boomers (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Grover Norquist) on the other. Pursuing that lead, they discovered, and elaborated, a recurring 80-year pattern of generations and eras in American history. (My review, linked above, summarizes it.) More importantly, they predicted, first in Generations and more definitely in The Fourth Turning, that the United States would by 2010 or so at the latest find itself in the midst of a national crisis comparable to the civil war or the Great Depression and Second World War. Influenced by them, I repeated that warning at the end of my own American Tragedy, published in early 2000, and virtually everything that has happened since has confirmed, to me, that they were right.
In my opinion, those books were the most truly original and valuable historical works produced by the Boom generation (born 1943-1960 according to their definition, which is based on life experience rather than simple demographics.) Only amateurs, I am sorry to say, could have written it. Strauss had a law degree and a masters in public policy (and was also a founder of the comedy troop the Capitol Steps), and Howe had (perhaps wisely) quit graduate school before finishing his dissertation. They read widely to write their books, but were not deterred, as almost any professional would be, by the enormity of what they were trying to do. Their analyses are often impressionistic, and, like most Boomers, they could be quite dogmatic. They insisted on strict chronological boundaries between generations, and I have always felt that some of those boundaries were probably wrong. These are the kinds of rough edges that could eventually be smoothed out by more research and analysis, and they do not, for me, detract from the brilliance of their achievement. When I started reading Generations I disagreed with many things, but I was too excited to get a good night’s sleep for the better part of a week. Their books changed the way I viewed the world, and history, permanently, and many things that had puzzled me suddenly became clear.
Their reception both in the mainstream media and in academia has been disappointing. My own review was, I think, the only one they ever got that really understood what they were doing. Meanwhile, only two professional historians, as far as I know, have ever discussed their work at all. One is David Krein, an historian of 19th-century Britain, now retired, who wrote a fine article in The Journal of the Historical Society showing quantitatively that generational difference was a better predictor of voting behavior than party difference in the House of Commons during the 1840s. The other, of course, is myself. Strauss and Howe’s analysis of the GI (or “greatest”) generation found its way into American Tragedy, and helped explain a great deal about the way in which the veterans of the Second World War had assumed that they could replay it in Southeast Asia in the midst of a completely different era. More recently, I published an article in the journal the Monist, “Neither Marxist nor Whig: The Great Atlantic Crises, 1774-1962,” which showed how the theory could be applied across the whole Atlantic world, and not merely to the United States, with very striking results.
I have also found the theory to be a very powerful teaching tool. In 1998 I started an elective, “Generations in Film,” at the Naval War College, using movies, as well as one of their books, to look at the differences among generations in various different contexts from the 1930s to the present. It has been a consistent hit, and two alumni have arranged for me to speak about it elsewhere subsequently. Last year, as a visiting professor at Williams College, I got to try the course there, and the results were extraordinarily gratifying. Students love it because it allows them to place their generational archetype (Strauss and Howe identified four recurring ones) within other periods of history, and to understand more about the differences between them and their parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, it seems quite likely that that will be the only time such a course is given at an American college or university.
I also tried, and eventually succeeded, in convening a conference panel on the subject. I originally proposed it to the AHA in, I believe, 1998. Between them the four panelists (including Strauss and Howe) had written about 15 books, but the AHA refused the panel, claiming paradoxically that it was striving for a variety of topics. That was the last straw in my long and difficult relationship with that body, and I quit. But the Historical Association did host the panel in 2004, and it was quite successful. (Neil Howe presented a paper along with David Krein and myself, and Anne Rose commented. Bill Strauss was getting over a cancer treatment and could not make it.)
The Strauss-Howe books are, in my opinion, a sad commentary on the state of the historical profession—because no professional would ever even have attempted them. It would be difficult indeed to find a working professional historian with the kind of knowledge they showed of the whole sweep of American history going back to colonial times, and it would be impossible to find one, I think, who would dare to look for, and succeed in finding, the 80-year pattern. Professional historians are trained to lock themselves within narrow specialties, and those who break those rules pay a heavy price. I, like Strauss and Howe, have always felt that some historians should try to use the information that accumulates year after year in monographs to draw more profound conclusions. When in 1977—after my first year of teaching—I made that argument in a departmental retreat, a senior faculty member asked me if we should return to the days of “Frisky Merriman” at Harvard, who concluded his western civilization course by holding out his watch chain, letting the watch swing like a pendulum, and explaining that it represented the regular alternation of liberty and authority. That of course got a laugh, but I commented to another junior faculty member at a break that in my opinion, accumulated research should indeed allow us to do what Merriman did—only better. I eventually tried to do just that in Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler—a book that immediately became a main selection of the History Book Club, but which my fellow professionals have almost completely ignored. Yet I am not sorry to have spent the better part of a decade uncovering four different patterns of European conflict extending across four centuries of history. As Strauss and Howe also proved, broader patterns are there to be discovered if we take the time and show the enterprise to look for them.
Strauss and Howe discovered that their ideas have considerable resonance in the business and political worlds, where dollars and votes can depend on a proper understanding of different generations. Al Gore read Generations and I feel pretty sure that Karl Rove looked at The Fourth Turning at some point or another. A few secondary school teachers also use their ideas, and a few hundred amateurs debate them on the web site they established. My article in The Monist shows how they could be used to teach the modern history of the Atlantic World. I do not, however, see how their ideas will ever catch on at all widely in contemporary academia, where professionalization and ideology have left no room for truly original and far-ranging thought. My thanks go out to them, not only for letting me see the world and its history in a new way, but for proving that such work can still be done. Younger generations, I am sure, will read them with pleasure and profit in years to come.
Matthew Cobb,"Buffon, the Enlightenment sensation," TLS, 19 December, reviews Stéphane Schmitt and Cédric Crémière, eds., Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Oeuvres and Schmitt and Crémière, eds., Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Oeuvres Completes, I Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy – Tome I (1749)."The finest pen of his age," says Cobb,"a giant of natural history, geometry and art, Buffon deserves to be restored." Hat tip to Morgan Meis at 3 Quarks Daily and David Mazella at The Long Eighteenth.
Joseph Ellis,"What Would George Do?" Washington Post, 23 December, suggests how his own expertise on George Washington and the Founding Fathers has affected his thinking about the situation in Iraq. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Edward Rothstein,"A Rabbi of His Time, With a Charisma That Transcends It," NYT, 24 December, is an essay after reading Edward K. Kaplan's Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972. This is the second of Kaplan's two volume Heschel biography. There's a terrific vignette at the beginning of Rothstein's essay about Heschel's experience at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March. He was, undoubtedly, a major figure, but I think Rothstein's claim that"no modern Jewish thinker has had as profound an effect on other faiths as Heschel has" is mistaken. That honor, it seems to me, still goes to Martin Buber.
Finally, thanks to Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory for naming Cliopatria the best blog in its Best of 2007 competition. Stay tuned for the announcement the winners of The Cliopatria Awards, 2007 (for which Cliopatria is ineligible) on or about 5 January.
Winter seemed an appropriate time to buckle down to Robert Edric's The Broken Lands: A Novel of Arctic Disaster (1992; rpt. 2003) and Dan Simmons' The Terror (2007). Both novels speculate about the still unsolved fate of the Franklin expedition, with some overlap that derives from their shared sources; in particular, Edric and Simmons agree that the men died at least in part from leadpoisoning and/or food poisoning. Genre-wise, however, the novels are quite different: The Broken Lands is a historical novel in the realist mode, while The Terror is historical Gothic (cf. Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor). Unfortunately, neither novel proved particularly satisfying...
Told in the third person, The Broken Lands features sparse dialog and large quantities of exposition. The narrative proceeds in linear fashion, from the ships' departure to the expedition's eventual fatal attempt to walk to safety; it opens and concludes with the Erebus' James Fitzjames , who provides the novel's dominant POV. Atop the Fitzjames "loop" is a more ironic reversal: the contrast between the celebratory dinner that marks the expedition's departure (23) and the starvation that marks its end. Not surprisingly, the novel focuses on the primal battle against both the elements and the crews' own bodies. This is not a philosophical novel, and Edric spends little time meditating on the expedition's significance, historical, ideological, or otherwise--although Dr. Goodsir angrily exclaims, "What have we done but pitted our strength against the ice, barging and blasting our way into this miserable dead-end?" (293) Goodsir's frustration permeates the narrative, as the characters find themselves faced with pointless orders and rapidly-decaying food. Juxtaposed against the expedition's failure to thrive are the Eskimos, whose near-total indifference to the Europeans personifies nature's equal lack of concern; on the novel's penultimate page, one hunter studies Fitzjames and his companion, then "stare[s] with greater interest at the contents of the cabin all around them" (368). The crew find themselves either actively repulsed by their surroundings or simply absorbed into them. In this novel, the expedition constitutes not so much a heroic failure as a tragedy of pointlessness.
I've now read three of Edric's novels, and all of them are narrated in the same flat, affectless, rather stilted prose. Here, Edric frequently strips emotion from the dialog and inserts it into description--e.g., "Crozier was the first to his feet. 'But surely navigable by us along a good deal of its length,' he said, masking his anger at the realization that his own opinion had not been sought in advance of Franklin announcing his decision" (60). The characters are not well-differentiated by voice, and often seem interchangeable. Franklin, in particular, is a cipher. Much of the text aspires to a kind of documentary tone, largely free of figurative language or any other sort of rhetorical flourish (a rare exception occurs near the end, when Fitzjames studies some photographs in a series of anaphoristic, parallel sentences); while this approach has its benefits during the gorier scenes, like an early amputation or various descriptions of scurvy, it ultimately drains the narrative of urgency. For a novel about impending death by cold and starvation, The Broken Lands is surprisingly free from tension.
By contrast, The Terror is decidedly overstuffed--and not just because it's over 760 pages long, perilously close to one of Stephen King's clunkier doorstops (think It). Besides the usual run of ice, starvation, and scurvy, Simmons includes murder, cannibalism, second sight, and Inuit folklore (including Sedna). Written from multiple POVs, the narrative tracks the expedition's simultaneous struggles against Arctic cold and a very unpleasant carnivorous beastie, dubbed "the Terror" (to go along with The Terror), which turns out to be the primeval result of a battle between the gods. This is very much imperial Gothic: the European explorer or colonizer, floundering about in unfamiliar lands with their own deep history, finds himself under siege by a supernatural Other whose behavior cannot be controlled by "normal" (Western, Christian, whatever) methods. (Kipling's "The Mark of the Beast" is a famous example.) In this case, both the Arctic and the Tuunbaq destroy those who want to appropriate the ice for their own purposes. Simmons makes no attempt to conceal the political allegory involved:
The sixam ieua knew through their forward-thoughts that when the Tuunbaq's domain was finally invaded by the pale people--the kabloona--it would be the beginning of the End of Times. Poisoned by the kabloonas' pale souls, the Tuunbaq would sicken and die. The Real People would forget their ways and their language. Their homes would be filled with drunkenness and despair. Men would forget their kindness and beat their wives. The inua of the children would become confused, and the Real People would lose their good dreams. (710)
The Tuunbaq is thus a double-edged sword, but one which can be controlled by a chosen few who relinquish their tongues (literally) in order to worship it. Those few are also gifted with second sight, which is not confined to the Inuit; the one officer who survives the novel does so by relinquishing his European identity (ultimately symbolized by his destruction of the remaining ship), marrying an Inuit, and giving up his tongue to the Tuunbaq, in a moment explicitly associated with that most conventionally Gothic religion, Roman Catholicism. (In a sense, the officer's embrace of the Tuunbaq atones for his childhood anxiety about taking communion in a Catholic church.) Cultural assimilation becomes the route to both physical and spiritual survival, healing the wounds left by European national and class prejudices.
While Simmons' prose style is undeniably livelier than Edric's, salted with idiom and profanity, the book suffers from two key problems. First, while I'm always anxious about suggesting that a novel might have profited from better editing...really, The Terror might have profited from better editing. Several set-pieces--Crozier's hallucinations during DTs, an elaborate carnival sequence, one man's escape from the Tuunbaq--begin tautly, then slowly run out of steam as they continue for far too long. At other times, Simmons repeats himself unnecessarily. Overall, the story feels padded--and here's where our second problem arises. The novel doesn't need the Tuunbaq. Between the Arctic and the canned food, the men are already in terrible danger; the demon feels superfluous. Nor, for some reason, is the Tuunbaq especially frightening, perhaps because it comes across as the love child of Harold, the yeti who hangs out in the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Armus, the evil oil slick that did in Tasha Yar . Although I can see what Simmons was attempting to do with the Tuunbaq, he never really justifies its presence as a plot element. There's a much tighter narrative in here, screaming to be let out.[X-posted from The Little Professor.]
Professor Forthcomings do find other things to do to fill the time. Creating a site like The Truth about KC Johnson may be one of them. You have to hope that Duke's Professor Forthcoming isn't responsible for this one, though. A Duke faculty member with tenure would surely have the courage to publish these attacks in his or her own name. It's no longer, as KC had it, down-the-rabbit hole with Alice in Wonderland. We're down-the-Yellow Brick Road, now, with Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion. If tenure gives them no courage, nothing will. A Duke faculty member undertaking such a big endeavor would surely know the difference between National Journal, a highly respected publication for which Stuart Taylor writes, and National Review, a respected, if much more partisan, journal. You'd want to think that a Duke faculty member would know the research subject's story well enough to know the difference between appearance and reality. At this late date, there's no excuse for saying that KC was"apparently" almost denied tenure.
And, surely, no Duke faculty member would want to commit libel, by archiving the most vicious e-mail received by Duke faculty members in the Duke lacrosse case (scroll down), on a site bearing KC Johnson's name. Well, that's not actually true. Duke's Bill Chafe accused KC of responsibility for those e-mails in an interview with the Duke Chronicle six months ago, only to back down from the charge when asked to offer evidence. Duke's Charles Piot repeated the libel three months later in"KC's World." Some of the folk at Duke seem to think that if you repeat a libel often enough, it will be accepted everywhere as established fact. But you might not have noticed it in Piot's work, because he topped it out by associating KC with the head of the American Nazi Party. I've reported KC to the Blogmeister Kommandante over at American Nazi Party for disloyalty to the cause of A White, Heterosexual Amerikka! Get a life, Professor Forthcoming. Do something constructive to earn your keep and justify your tenure.
Civil Liberties: Tim Weiner,"Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950," NYT, 23 December, cites a newly released document for J. Edgar Hoover's plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.
Civil Rights: Mitt Romney's story that he watched his father, then Michigan governor, George Romney, march with Martin Luther King, continues to draw attention. The Boston Phoenix stands by its story, but there's increasing evidence that the elder Romney did march with King. The larger historical issue is of considerable importance for late twentieth century American politics. Had George Romney, rather than Richard Nixon, been the Republican nominee for President in 1968, the massive transfer of Dixiecrats from the Democratic to the Republican Party, led by Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, might never have happened; and the public faces of our two national political parties might be much different than they now are.
Modernism: Michael Dirda,"Artistic rebels and psychological explorers in music, art and literature," Washington Post, 23 December, reviews Peter Gay's Modernism: The Lure of Heresy From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond; and David Leavitt,"A Beast in the Jungle," NYT, 23 December, reviews Sheldon Novick's Henry James: The Mature Master.
Patricia Cohen,"Scholars and the Military Share a Foxhole, Uneasily," NYT, 22 December, looks again at the controversial collaboration of academic personnel and military authorities.
Finally, Joel Achenbach,"Programmed for Love," Washington Post, 23 December, reviews David Levy's Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships.
Tim Burke has posted his third syllabus for next semester at Swarthmore, History 8C From Leopold to Kabila: The Bad Twentieth Century in Central Africa. For all his effort, Tim's course doesn't make Family Security Matters' list of the Ten Most Dangerous College Courses of 2007."Imperialism in American History" at UC, Irvine, clocks in at #3. I'm guessing that's Emily Rosenberg's course, but I'm not certain.
Stephen McClarence reviews Gavin Stamp's Britain's Lost Cities for the London Times, 14 December. Much of what the Luftwaffe didn't destroy was leveled by urban renewal.
Sean Wilentz,"The Delusional Style in American Punditry," TNR, 19 December, tackles the pundits' celebration of Barack Obama. Obama's like – well, he's like William Jennings Bryan or GWB. Hat tip to Christopher Miller at History and Education. Elsewhere on the campaign scene, look who's a fascist now!
Finally, Classic Television ShowBiz has a trove of Christmas episodes of old TV and radio shows: Addams Family, Beverly Hillbillies, Dragnet, Milton Berle, Howdy Doody, Brady Bunch, Honeymooners, Munsters, Three's Company, and over twenty Christmas episodes of the Jack Benny radio show. Hat tip to WFMU's Beware the Blog via Another History Blog.
Josh Harkinson,"A Timeline of Libertarian Thought," Mother Jones, 17 December, from John Locke to Ron Paul.
Michael Schudson,"Lippman and the News," The Nation, 13 December, reviews the new edition of Walter Lippman's Liberty and the News. It's the most recent addition to Princeton University Press's James Madison Library in American Politics. Sean Wilentz is the general editor of the series. Hat tip.
Gil Troy,"The Mudslingers," NYT, 16 March, reviews Edward J. Larson's A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. Welcome, btw, Professor Troy's new blog to the community of HNN bloggers. Although he thinks we've all crossed an unacceptable line, Historians for Obama continues to grow. Ed Linenthal, the editor of the Journal of American History, is among the historians to join us most recently. See also: Kevin Matson,"Why Obama Matters," Guardian, 19 December.
The Nonist has a fine illustrated essay,"The Relics of Temperance." Oh, yes. My great aunt Ella was the head of Louisville's branch of the WCTU. Whenever she visited her son's house, she'd head straight for the kitchen and empty every liquor or beer bottle she found down his sink. (She was also cousin Hunter Thompson's aunt, if you can imagine that.) Even my mom, bless her, had me sit in church on Temperance Sunday and, until I'd signed the pledge, it was clear there'd be no Sunday dinner for little Ralph.
Todd McCarthy,"The Great Debaters," Variety, 18 December, previews the film produced by Oprah Winfrey and starring Denzel Washington. It's about Melvin Tolson, the brilliant English professor/football coach/debate coach at Wiley College in the depression era. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren has more about the controversial Tolson.
On a related front, David S. Bernstein,"Was it all a dream?" The Phoenix, 19 December, disputes Mitt Romney's repeated claim that he watched his father, Michigan's then governor, George Romney, march with Martin Luther King in the 1960's. The dispute pits Mitt Romney and David Broder against David Bernstein and a Grosse Pointe, Michigan, local historian. I sent links to the controversy to David Garrow, who knows more of the details about these things than anyone else. Garrow replies that he'd bet on the factual accuracy of David Broder *any time.*
Update: See Ed Schmitt's comment at Cliopatria this morning; and"Romney Joins Marchers in Grosse Pointe Protest," NYT, 30 June 1963. Bernstein updates to admit that he overstated the case. Literalists will still claim that Mitt Romney"lied."
There really isn't anything to say besides mockery, is there? I'd call it butchery of the English language AND of the discipline of history, but that would imply that Goldberg actually scores wounds on both rather than just hacking into his own flesh.
This might be a better test of where the boundaries of political mania lie than voting for Alan Keyes in the last Illinois Senate race: who will try to argue that there's "something to Goldberg's argument"?
I used to think that we all ought to simply ignore this kind of thing, to act as if it's beneath us. Certainly trying to muster a serious response in which two generations of historical and philosophical writing about fascism in 20th Century Europe are part of the response seems beside the point. But I've learned that the shamelessness of a number of commenters out there doesn't have any limits, and that Olympian disdain just allows more rot to fester and eat away at whatever decency and honesty is left in American public culture.