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 (∞)
Kent State's Julio Pino is at it again.
Colin Dickey, "Quack Prophet," Lapham's Quarterly, 30 October, re-assesses the long career of Nostradamus in western history.
Tim Black, "Why Malthus is back in fashion," spiked review of books, October, looks again at Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population.
Richard Beeman, "James Madison, ‘the Father of Politics'," NYT, 28 October, reviews Richard Brookhiser's James Madison.
Kevin Boyle, "On the Road to Harpers Ferry," NYT, 28 October, reviews Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War.
Eric Banks, "Wars They Have Seen," CHE, reviews Barbara Will's Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma and Antoine Compagnon's Le Cas Bernard Faÿ: Du Collège de France à l'indignité nationale. Benjamin Ivry, "Samuel Beckett's Letters Reveal Roots of Resistance," Jewish Daily Forward, 27 October, draws on The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1956, 2 volumes, and Samuel Beckett's German Diaries, 1936–1937.
Frank Rich, "Roaring at the Screen With Pauline Kael," NYT, 27 October, reviews Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark and Sanford Schwartz, ed., The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael.
Marshall Poe, "Meme Weaver," Atlantic, October, tells how his proposal for a "big idea" book was born – and died.
[Cross-posted at Airminded.]
I have a favour to ask of you. Would you mind please having a look at this and telling me what's wrong with it? Thank you.
To be somewhat less cryptic, it's an article for peer-review which I am having no luck getting accepted anywhere, and I don't really know why. I've had some bad luck. I wrote the first version about a year before I finished my PhD, in the hope that it would be on my CV by the time I entered the job market; in the event the journal I submitted it to took well over a year to reject it. But I've made some bad choices too. In its original form it was too ambitious and far too long; after three rejections I decided to cut it in two and rewrite each piece as a standalone article. As it (or at least the first part) was now shorter and sharper, I was again hopeful that I could find a home for it. But I've now received a second rejection for this version. This last rejection was helpful in that the reviewer provided detailed criticism, but while much of it is well taken, some of it is not suggests that the point of my article did not get across. That's my fault as a writer; it might also be that I've been sending it to the wrong journals. But as I say, I'm not really why it's so difficult to place; it doesn't seem to me to be any worse than my first or even my second peer-reviwed articles.
So I'm taking a leaf out of Katrina Gulliver's book (though not her actual book!) by putting the most-recently-rejected version of the article up on Google Docs and requesting feedback from anyone who has the patience to wade through it. You can comment on the article itself, either anonymously (if you don't want to be mentioned in the acknowledgements) or using your Google account; or you can send me an email. (No comments here though, please, unless they're about the crowdsourcing itself.) I'll take it down after a week or so.
How can I improve the article? What am I doing wrong? Where should I send it? Or should I just accept that this one is a dud and forget about it? It's up to you! Well, it's still up to me, but I'll be grateful for any and all suggestions.
Holland Cotter, "A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty," NYT, 27 October, previews the opening of the Metropolitan Museum's redesigned Islamic exhibition space.
Lili Loofbourow, "The Golden Age Of Dirty Talk," The Awl, 25 October, argues an earlier age had more imaginative language.
Adam Kirsch, "Red Rosa," Jewish Review of Books, Fall, reviews Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annalies Laschitza, eds., The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg.
Denis Donoghue, "Samuel Beckett's Midgame," NYT, 28 October, reviews George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck, eds., The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol II, 1941-1956.
The twenty-ninth edition of the Military History Carnival will take place here on December 1. Please submit the best recent military history (broadly conceived) on the web for consideration for posting. Deadline is November 28.
Nominations can be submitted here.
Alec Ash interviews "Norman Davies on Europe's Vanished States," The Browser, 27 October for his recommendation of five essential books on the subject.
Vladislav Davidzon, "Odessa Story," The Book, 27 October, reviews Charles King's Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams.
Alexander Rose, "Bounteous Misperceptions," WSJ, 25 October, reviews Anne Salmond's Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas.
James Longenbach, "This Is Just to Say: On William Carlos Williams," Nation, 25 October, reviews Herbert Leibowitz's "Something Urgent I Have to Say to You" The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams.
Andrew J. Bacevich, "Solving for X: On George F. Kennan," Nation, 25 October, reviews John Lewis Gaddis's George F. Kennan: An American Life.
Janet Maslin, "The ‘70s, as Dramatic as a Movie," NYT, 26 October, reviews Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark and James Wolcott's Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York. Frank Rich, "Roaring at the Screen with Pauline Kael," NYT, 27 October, reviews Kellow's Pauline Kael and Sanford Schwartz, ed., The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael.
Miriam Elder, "Tsar quality: Bolshoi theatre reopens after six-year overhaul," Guardian, 27 October, previews the reopening of Moscow's Bolshoi.
Pankaj Mishra, "Watch This Man," LRB, 3 November, reviews Niall Ferguson's Civilisation: The West and the Rest.
Theodore K. Rabb, "Love letter to a painting," TLS, 26 October, reviews Carola Hicks's Girl in a Green Gown: The history and mystery of the Arnolfini portrait.
John Markoff, "How Revolutionary Tools Cracked a 1700s Code," NYT, 24 October: "a team of Swedish and American linguists has applied statistics-based translation techniques to crack one of the most stubborn of codes: the Copiale Cipher, a hand-lettered 105-page manuscript that appears to date from the late 18th century."
Alan Wolfe, "One Right," The Book, 27 October, reviews Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.
Jay Merrick, "Russia's aesthetic revolution: How Soviet building still influences today's architects," Independent, 21 October, reviews "Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-35," an exhibit at London's Royal Academy of Arts.
The NYT's "Room for Debate" asks: "Do Good Debaters Make Good Presidents?" There are answers from H. W. Brands, Robert Dallek, David Gergen, Alonzo Hamby, Joan Hoff, Kathleen Hall Jameson, Jon Meacham, and Richard Reeves.
Rory Stewart, "Cool Under Fire," intelligent life, Sept/Oct, revisits Afghanistan's National Kabul Museum and its treasures.
Isaac Chotiner, "What Did It Look Like?" The Book, 25 October, reviews Ashley Jackson's and David Tomkins's Illustrating Empire: A Visual History of British Imperialism.
Jack Rakove, "The Inventor of Our Politics," The Book, 26 October, reviews Richard Brookhiser's James Madison.
James K. Gailbreath, "Dumbing Down Darwin," Washington Monthly, Nov/Dec, reviews Robert H. Frank's The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good.
Vivian Gornick, "Love and Anarchy," CHE, 23 October, is adapted from Gornick's new book, Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life.
Roger Atwood, "The real lessons of Easter Island," TLS, 19 October, reviews Terry L. Hunt's and Carl Lipo's The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the mystery of Easter Island.
David S. Reynolds, "An Angry Prophet," WSJ, 22 October, reviews Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War.
Michiko Kakutani, "Two-Sided Man Gets Two New Biographies," NYT, 24 October, reviews Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist and Claire Tomlin's Charles Dickens.
Fred Siegel, "Lyrical Leftist, Dogged Idealist," WSJ, 24 October, reviews Vivian Gornick's Emma Goldman.
On the eve of the opening of Steven Spielberg's new film, The Adventures of Tintin, Simon Kuper's "Tintin and the war," FT Magazine, 21 October, re-examines charges against the Belgian cartoonist/collaborationist, Georges Remi, whose pen name was Hergé.
Fang Lizhi, "The Real Deng," NYRB, 10 November, reviews Ezra F. Vogel's Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.
TLS editor Sir Peter Stothard first published a very critical assessment of Robert Hughes's Rome on 19 June. Ten days later, Mary Beard's review for the Guardian found so many "howlers" in the book that she told readers to skip its first 200 pages. Stothard returned to the attack in September's Australian Book Review: "In his lengthy account of the history of Rome, Robert Hughes is doubly, gloriously, and disgracefully careless." The full-throated attack is reprinted here, where Stothard seems to demand that Hughes reply.
Charles C. Mann, "How the Potato Changed the World," Smithsonian, November, is adapted from Mann's 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. M. J., "The benefits of early money-laundering," Economist, 21 October, reviews "Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities," an exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. David Wooten, "Revolution in the heavens," TLS, 19 October, reviews Steven Shapin's and Simon Schaffer's Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the experimental life (new edition); and Robert S. Westman's The Copernican Question: Prognostication, skepticism, and celestial order.
Colin Jones and Emily Richardson, "Madame de Pompadour: The Other Cheek," History Today, November, explore obscene cartoons of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's favourite mistress. Paula Young Lee, "Vivent Les Animaux," Slate, 21 October, compares "the animal panic of 18th-century Paris with Zanesville, Ohio."
James Fenton, "Everywhere Man," Atlantic, November, reviews Laird M. Easton, ed. and trans., Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918. Mike Dash, "The Battle of Broken Hill," Past Imperfect, 20 October, recounts an attack, early in World War I, by Afghan workmen who rallied under the flag of Turkey on a train of vacationing Australian picnickers.
James J. Sheehan, "Hitler's Last Gasp," NYT, 21 October, reviews Ian Kershaw's The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-45.
Jonathan Lopez, "A Stranger to Himself," WSJ, 15 October, Roberta Silman for the Boston Globe, 17 October, and Michiko Kakutani, "The Persona and the Palette," NYT, 20 October, review Steven Naifeh's and Gregory White Smith's Van Gogh: The Life. Ariella Budick, "Portrait of Decline," Slate, 25 September, and Barry Schwabsky, "Vacant, Limpid, Angelic: On Willem de Kooning," Nation, 18 October, review "de Kooning: A Retrospective," an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Alonzo Hamby, "When Ike Took Charge," WSJ, 20 October, reviews Jim Newton's Eisenhower: The White House Years. Eric A. Posner, "Casual with the Court," The Book, 24 October, reviews Kevin J. McMahon's Nixon's Court: His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences.
David Barboza, "The Man Who Took Modernity to China," NYT, 21 October, reviews Ezra F. Vogel's Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.
Jacob Silverman, "Free Radical," Tablet, 19 October, reviews the new documentary film, Paul Goodman Changed My Life. Matt Labash, "Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride," WSJ, 15 October, reviews Jann Wenner, ed., Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson.
Dwight Garner, "Peering Beyond a Monologist's Stage Presence Into His Uncensored Mind," NYT, 17 October, reviews Nell Casey, ed., The Journals of Spalding Gray. Raymond Beauchemin reviews Robert J Wiersema's Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen for The National, 21 October. Janet Maslin, "Making the iBio for Apple's Genius," NYT, 21 October, and WSJ Staff for the WSJ's Speakeasy, 23 October, review Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs.
"For nearly 21 minutes, the camera moves gently around Winslow in a recording studio as he impersonates the noises of 32 typewriters. Inter-titles announce the dates of the respective machines' manufacture, their brand and model number. It is an absorbing feat of mimicry. From the frantic clucking and strenuous creaking of his ‘1895 Barlock Mod. 4', through to the ping-pong sounds of the ‘1954 Hermes Mod. Baby', and concluding with the ‘1983 Olympia Monika Deluxe', Winslow produces a percussive tour de force that could take its place alongside the Dada sound poetry of Raoul Hausmann or Kurt Schwitters and the cartoon exuberance of voice actor Mel Blanc. Although not apparent in the film itself, Uriarte filmed The History of the Typewriter … in the Berlin studio of the industrial noise band Einstürzende Neubauten, who pioneered the use of customized instruments and machinery in the early 1980s.
"Winslow performs with precision and concentration, as if executing a particularly torturous piece of chamber music punctuated by moments of impish irreverence. His performance conjures images of a secretary trotting out a dictated letter on 1932's cutting-edge technology (the inappropriately named Remington Noiseless Portable), or a hack bashing out copy on his newsroom Triumph. (In fact, Uriarte recorded Winslow's imitations of vintage machines from collections in Germany and Switzerland as they were being used to type out the title of the film.) The techniques Winslow uses to achieve the ‘lost' noises are fascinating to observe: by grasping the two microphones like twin pan pipes, gnawing them like corncobs, or grappling, swiping and variously pushing them against his teeth and lips, he produces a glorious vocabulary of fricative letter-hammering, space-bar thuds, platen-knob twisting and carriage-return shunts that seems to encompass chicken-pecking, machete-slashing, strangulation, tap-dancing and QWERTY beat-boxing." Max Andrews, "Ignacio Uriarte," frieze, April 2010. Hat tip.
"Winged words," Economist, 15 October, reviews The Iliad of Homer, trans. by Richmond Lattimore, The Iliad, trans. by Anthony Verity, The Iliad, trans. by Stephen Mitchell, and Alice Oswald's Memorial. Alec Ash interviews "Norman Stone on Turkish History," The Browser, 20 October, for his recommendation of five essential books about it.
Alex Knapp, "Yes, Shakespeare Really Did Write Shakespeare," Forbes, 19 October, attempts to settle the issue.
Frank Viviano, "The Eunuch Admiral," California, Fall, about Zheng He, a 15th-century Chinese admiral; and Sterling Lord, "When Kerouac Met Kesey," American Scholar, Autumn, by their literary agent, are The Browser's leading candidates for favorite article of the month. You can vote among the top 10 here.
The new Common-Place is up, with new work in ante-bellum American history by Jennifer Brady, Kevin Butterfield, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and others. Every generation seems to discover Herman Melville's Moby Dick anew for itself. For this one, see, for example: Matt Kish's One Drawing for Every Page of Moby Dick, Jamie L. Jones, "Blogging Moby Dick," Common-Place, October, Todd Gitlin, "The Grand Programme," The Book, 19 October, a review of Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick?, and Philbrick, "The Road to Melville," Vanity Fair, November, an adaptation from the book.
Michael Bernhard, "The Leadership Secrets of Bismarck: Imperial Germany and Competative Authoritarianism," Foreign Affairs, 16 October, reviews Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck: A Life.
Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith, "Who Killed Che?" Guernica, October, draws on documents published in Ratner's and Smith's Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away with Murder to illuminate the question.
"Liberalism and Occupy Wall Street," TNR, 17 October, is an on-going TNR symposium, featuring Paul Berman, Todd Gitlin, David Greenberg, Michael Kazin, and others.
This clip comes from a recently-released 1 March 1973 meeting between Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Simcha Dinitz about Middle Eastern affairs. In this section, the President functions as an amateur diplomatic historian, offering his perspective on the tension between realism and idealism in US foreign policy, and how that pattern applied to Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles Treaty.
(A note: the overall quality of the recording sometimes isn’t that great.)
President Nixon: Well, we work toward the ideal, but we have to work for it pragmatically. That’s really what it comes down to.
President Nixon: Woodrow Wilson, you know . . . He was probably the most religious, idealistic man ever to ever sit in this office. But before it all, when it finally came down to it—he had great impact. He brought us into the war, the Fourteen Points—again, when he goes over to the Versailles Conference, the pragmatists of Europe gobbled him up in about two bites.
Prime Minister Golda Meir: Yes.
President Nixon: And the world was very unsafe as a result, correct?
As a matter of fact, I think if the Versailles Treaty had come out differently, that you’d never [have] had a Hitler. You know? You really look what produced that fella—it had to start with Versailles. It had to start with Versailles. You can’t take a . . .
If, for example, the attitude toward the Germans after World War I had been the attitude that we took after World War II, there might have been a different situation.
Henry Kissinger: But I think Versailles was either too soft or too tough. [Unclear cross-talk.]
President Nixon: I thought it was too tough, actually.
Kissinger: But it was . . . It . . . It created the possibility of humiliating the Germans, while not [unclear] them enough.
President Nixon: You can’t do that. If you’re going to humiliate somebody, you must destroy him. Otherwise, he’s going to be able to destroy you. You never strike the king unless you kill him.
Kissinger: That’s true. [Unclear] France, which had been demoralized by the war, because Russia couldn’t come to . . . So Versailles was a disaster.
President Nixon: That’s right.
"Lately, Mr. Cain has risen in the polls, buoyed by Tea Party populism, which is curious because when the word 'populism' was coined, in 1890, it meant opposition to a monopoly on wealth held by businessmen and bankers."
No, no, no, no, no, and wrong on both ends. A Harvard historian and the editors of the New York Times op-ed pages don't know any history between them? The Populists weren't simply opposed to wealth, or to a monopoly on wealth, or to businessmen, or to bankers. You can read the Omaha Platform yourself. You have to read all the way to the second sentence of the preamble for this: "Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench." Weird that people who just hated rich people used their first formal political statement to talk about political corruption, yeah? It's almost like they were angry at the government, which, you know, hold on a minute, I'm sensing the presence of a theme that I've heard somewhere else.
The Populists didn't simply hate wealth; they hated their (accurate) sense that the fix was in, that private wealth was derived from, and served by, public corruption. They hated crony capitalism. Agrarian populism wasn't proletarian -- it was substantially a movement of the rural petit bourgeoisie, smallholders who wanted to thrive as profit-seeking property owners. Here's the last sentence of the first paragraph of the preamble: "From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires."
The Populists were concerned with "governmental injustice" and the wealth it produced, not with wealth itself. Keep going through the Omaha Platform (emphasis added):
"The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bondholders; a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people....the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry....We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, every issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires."
And so on. The Populists liked industry and enterprise -- see the statement above about the enslavement of those positive things. They hated dishonest enterprise, industry that made money as clients of state power. They hated the way that a "vast public debt" served the interests of private wealth. This should all be sounding familiar, and please do notice what organization's logo appears on the website where you log in to manage your foodstamp benefits. All your base are belong to us -- more poverty makes more wealth for Wall Street.
Going back to the Omaha Platform, move past the preamble and look at the platform: "Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civic labor are the same; their enemies are identical."
So here we have people who thought that "wealth belongs to him who creates it," and who were horrified by the enslavement of industry and enterprise. And Jill Lepore tells you that "populism" meant "opposition to a monopoly on wealth held by businessmen." No it didn't, and in many ways, the Tea Party expresses the populist sentiment of the actual Populists.
This is most certainly not to say that the Tea Party are the Populists reborn. Again, from the preamble to the Omaha Platform: "We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land."
That's not Tea party politics. But the Tea Party's sense that the fix is in, that dirty government serves private wealth, is entirely comparable to Populist views of the relationship between corrupt political parties and private wealth. It's not even slightly "curious" to use the term "populist" to describe people who oppose government bailouts of private corporations.
The reductive coding of political movements as "left" or "right" overdetermines our conclusions about them. Try to notice what people are saying, then analyze it on its own terms, without the weight of a facile label.
Mary Carole McCauley, "Walters researchers decode the secrets of the Archimedes Palimpsest," Baltimore Sun, 14 October, and Edward Rothstein, "Finding Archimedes in the Shadows," NYT, 16 October, feature the Archimedes Palimpsest, on exhibit now in "Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes" at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum.
Scott McLemee, "Mad – or Just Angry?" IHE, 19 October, reviews Aloys Winterling's Caligula: A Biography.
Jill Lepore, "Forget 9-9-9. Here's a Simple Plan: 1," NYT, 15 October, recalls Henry George, the original man with a plan.
Richard Pipes, "Trotsky the Jew," Tablet, 17 October, reviews Joshua Rubenstein's Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life.
Philip Hensher reviews Max Hastings's All Hell Let Loose: The World at War, 1939-1945 for the Guardian, 13 October. John Gooch, "Mussolini's diaries and the ‘treasure of Dongo'," TLS, 17 October, reviews Mimmo Franzinelli's Autopsia di un Falso: I diari di Mussolini e la manipolazione della storia, I Diari di Mussolini, 1939, Veri o presunti, and Claretta Petacci's Verso il Disastro: Mussolini in guerra, diari, 1939-1940, Mimmo Franzinelli, ed.
Nathan Heller, "What She Said," New Yorker, 24 October, reviews Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark and Sanford Schwartz, ed., The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael.
When Matt Yglesias thought he found a Straussian in David Brooks, Ben Alpers was skeptical and Andrew Sullivan took notice. "I know Straussians," Sullivan wrote. "Straussians are friends of mine. David Brooks is not a Straussian."
Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens, "The Evangelical Rejection of Reason," NYT, 17 October, challenges the anti-intellectual positions of fellow evangelicals. The argument draws on work in their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.
Finally, congratulations to Stephanie McCurry, who has won the Gilder Lehrman Center's Frederick Douglass Prize for her book, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South.
The Giant's Shoulders #40, the history of science carnival, is up at Gurdur's Stranger In An Even Stranger Land.
Dan Ephron, "Blood in the Holy City," Daily Beast, 17 October, reviews Simon Sebag Montefiori's Jerusalem: The Biography.
Michael Maiello, "The Optimistic Science," Daily Beast, 14 October, reviews Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius.
Steven Sherwood, "Science controversies past and present," Physics Today, October, argues that controversy over global warming follows a course similar to those of other "inconvenient truths" from physics.
Adam Kirsch, "Seeing Double," Tablet, 11 October, reviews Samantha Baskind's and Larry Silver's Jewish Art: A Modern History.
Jordan Smith, "The Philosopher of the Post-9/11 Era," Slate, 17 October, reviews John Patrick Diggins's Why Niebuhr Now?
Haleh Esfandiari, "The End of Illusion," The Book, 17 October, reviews Arash Hejazi's The Gaze of the Gazelle: The Story of a Generation, the story of the Iranian regime's failure to convince a new generation of its people.
Finally, over on Tumblr, you may have missed "Presidential Pickup Lines".
Thirty-five years ago, Robert Gross published a remarkable social history of Concord, Massachusetts in the Revolutionary era. Minutely examining local records, Gross built a rich and precise social picture of the town, showing how local relationships worked and how people understood their world. On a foundation of a great deal of carefully examined evidence, Gross described a group of people who intended only one kind of revolution, and didn't mean to make corresponding social, economic, or cultural changes, hoping and expecting to go on living the way their parents had lived. Here's his conclusion about the nature of the violent revolution that the people of Concord helped to make:
"The men of 1775 had not gone to war to promote change but to stop it. Most would have preferred to ignore events in distant London -- to pay loyalty to their king while going about their own squabbling business. But the outside world would not leave them alone. Boston kept sounding the tocsin, the British threat kept pressing closer and closer to home. Always in the background there was the town's downward slide, heightening the inhabitants' fears of the future and undermining their old, cherished ways -- even a father's hold over his sons. Finally, they were forced to act if they wished to retain their traditional life. Indeed, they did. They rose in fury against the assault on their autonomy, and at the peak of the Revolutionary movement they were attached more strongly than ever to the ideals and values of the past. They would restore order to their lives by clinging to custom -- and making revolution."
That paragraph makes me feel joy in my bones. Radically, violently, people made a revolution to preserve the past, to cling to the old ways, to restore a fading order. Human action was complex, ambiguous, giving and taking, advancing and receding, revolutionary and reactionary. Change and preservation tangled into one another, in a fluid mix of shifting intentions.
"A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.
"We are going to battle once again...
"Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward."
This couldn't be more of a cartoon if Elmer Fudd ran through it waving a shotgun. This is what a public intellectual looks like in the 21st century United States? What an embarrassment.
In the November issue of Vanity Fair -- the magazine that was the Huffington Post before the Huffington Post was the Huffington Post -- James Kwak and Simon Johnson ("K+J") build a case against the Tea Party as anti-Hamiltonian, and therefore as an enemy of order and progress. William Hogeland does a nice job with the mess of K+J's narrative, so I won't spend much time discussing the foolishness of their premise and the lazy dishonesty of their technique. What interests me is the why.
Johnson and Kwak make a case for government debt as the foundation of stability, order, and progress; when governments borrow and spend, nations grow. Government borrowing and spending is progressive; opposition to government borrowing and spending is regressive. End of story.
So here's James Kwak at K+J's blog, just two weeks ago: "There was a time when the main purpose of this blog was to explain just how some government policy or other official action was designed to benefit some large bank under the cover of the public interest. In a bit of nostalgia, I wrote this week’s Atlantic column on the Freddie Mac–Bank of America story reported on by Gretchen Morgenson. It’s clear that Bank of America got a sweetheart deal from Freddie. The question is why...It’s amazing that after three full years of our government trying to give Bank of America money at every possible opportunity, it’s still a basket case."
So, 1.) people who oppose the metastasization of debt-funded federal spending are foolish atavists who hate America and oppose progress, and 2.) many federal policies and actions are designed to benefit private corporations "under the cover of the public interest." You cannot believe both of those things without performing extraordinary gymnastics to trick your own mind. James Kwak sees the corporatist oligarchy, knows what it is, and thinks you're unpatriotic and dumb if you want to take away its credit card. Oh, that thing is there to rip you off -- wait, why are you trying to stop it?
In a similar feat of narrative dissonance, Barack Obama tells a story about America in which we must reduce wealth inequality, restore fairness for the middle class, and restrain the rapid expansion of exceptional private wealth. One way to do that, he argues, is to use federal borrowing to fund infrastructure programs that will put people to work. In recent speeches, Obama has revealed his model for this restoration of income equality through redistributive federal spending: the Transcontinental Railroad. if that juxtaposition doesn't make you burst into laughter, read this and try again.
My growing sense is that this failure of perception -- building an idea of government as an agent of order and fairness on a foundation of a reality in which government serves and has always served the creation and maintenance of great private wealth and class privilege -- emerges from the need of a status group to display symbols of it own identity. What's the matter with Kansas? Oh, reader, it's not like us. Backwards red state morons are against progress, and thank goodness we're smarter than that. See also.
The fundamental political premise of liberal intellectuals is that greater federal intervention in the economy will produce greater order and decency; a greater centralization of economic power will produce a broader diffusion of fairness. This is like believing that gasoline will extinguish fire. It is, simply, crazy. And they know it, on some level: James Kwak tells you that the federal government serves private interest under the cover of public interest, and Barack Obama tells you that his model for redistributive infrastructure spending is a nineteenth century boondoggle that poured endless slop into the trough of private wealth. He should give his next "pass this jobs bill" speech at Leland Stanford's mansion.
How do smart people convince themselves to believe deeply and incontrovertibly insane things? I think they do it by a need to define themselves, particularly in the context of institutional decline and personal status anxiety. Academia is imploding; an army of young scholars marches toward a future of corporatized multiversities that measure the effectiveness of their growing pool of adjunct lecturers by comparing their cost to their output. The need to become distinguished, smarter than, grows with the collapse of the model at the center of intellectual life. James Kloppenberg told a roomful of historians than Barack Obama is a towering intellectual figure of great sophistication, and therefore a great deal like us; the room burst into applause.
The emergence of a distinct status group of intellectuals in the twentieth century United States, Christopher Lasch wrote, was "part of a much more general development: the decline of the sense of community, the tendency of the mass society to break down into its component parts, each having its own autonomous culture and maintaining only the most tenuous connections with the general life of the society -- which as a consequence has almost ceased to exist."
The performance of intellectual status -- the setting off, the ostentatious performance of horror at the Tea Party, the laughable Vanity Fair essay about how concern about growing debt and four trillion dollars a year in federal spending is an anti-American assault on the Founding Fathers -- feeds its own origins and causes. Intellectuals are isolated from the larger society, and so more urgently signal their isolation from the larger society, and so are more isolated from the larger society.
Lasch again: "Once you reject the view of historical progress that means so much to people on the left, their sense of themselves as the party of the future, together with their fear of being overwhelmed by America's backward culture, becomes an object of historical curiosity, not the axiomatic premise from which political understanding necessarily proceeds."
There is no intellectual class, and no fundamental conflict between it and a middle American habit of anti-intellectualism. History is not a story of a struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of regression. Intellectuals are not uniquely the forces of progress. People on both sides of that purported divide recognize that our federal government is a deeply corrupt oligarchy. James Kwak sees what the Tea Party sees. And he should let himself realize it.
ADDED LATER: Precisely on time, here comes Robert Reich. You cannot find a more crude and facile argument about historical progress than this one.
Robert Kagan, "Nation-Building, Our National Pastime," NYT, 14 October, reviews Jeremi Suri's Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building From the Founders to Obama.
Simon Johnson and James Kwak, "Debt and Dumb," Vanity Fair, November, v. William Hogeland, "Hamiltonians in ‘Vanity Fair' Get Whiskey Rebellion, Tea Party, Hamilton Himself Way Wrong; Or: How Liberalist Consensus Fails Both History and Politics," Hysteriography, 11 October, and Hogeland, "All I'm Trying to Say Here," ibid., 14 October. Thanks to Chris Bray for the tip.
Christopher Benfey, "A Keats Brother on the American Frontier," NYT, 14 October, reviews Denise Gigante's The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George.
Joseph Epstein, "Dynasts of the Daily Press," NYT, 13 October, reviews Megan McKinney's The Magnificent Medills: America's Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor and Amanda Smith's Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson.
Martha C. Nussbaum, "Gandhi and South Africa," Nation, 12 October, reviews Joseph Lyleveld's Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.
Michael Hiltzik, "What the New Deal Accomplished," Slate, 13 October, is excerpted from Hiltzik's new book, The New Deal: A Modern History.
Holly Case, "Innocents Lost: On Postwar Orphans," Nation, 11 October, reviews Tara Zahra's The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War II.
Saul Austerlitz reviews Gershom Gorenberg's The Unmaking of Israel for The National, 14 October.
Matt Taibbi, "My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters," Rolling Stone, 12 October, offers the protest movement a five plank platform.
[Cross-posted at Airminded.]
On 29 March 1939, Croydon airport was the site of an extraordinary scene, as the Daily Express reported:
NEARLY 400 Jewish refugees streamed into Croydon in a succession of air liners yesterday -- the biggest influx the airport had ever experienced.
They came from Danzig, the Polish Corridor, Cologne, Berlin, Vienna, Switzerland -- all over Europe.
Most of them were allowed to enter the country [...]1
For example, David Herbst was allowed to stay when his wife Leishi, a former Austrian tennis star, showed up and was able to prove that Herbst 'had money in English Banks'.
[...] when some were told they would have to go back to the Continent in the morning they burst into piteous cries.
One man from Cologne dropped to his knees and pleaded, in tears, with the immigration authorities.
Wailing, he fell on his face and broke his nose. Afterwards he threatened to commit suicide.
He said his father had been taken away manacled and then shot and he believed he would be dealt with in the same way if he returned to Germany.2
Herbst's travelling companions were in the same situation. The thirteen of them had chartered a Danish tri-motor for £600 to fly them out of Warsaw (one source says Cracow). Herbst got to go home with his wife; but the other twelve were detained by the police overnight.
"Nobody knows who the people are. They are a mystery crowd," it was stated by an official. "Many had little money and could not give satisfactory reasons why they should be allowed to land in England."3
I assume the official was talking about legal reasons why the refugees should be allowed to land, rather than just being utterly dense; the reasons why they were fleeing were quite clear. Two weeks earlier, after threatening to bomb Prague off the map, German troops had been allowed to march in, occupying the Czech portions of Czechoslovakia which remained afterthe cession of the Sudetenland the previous year. Germany ended Czechoslovakia, taking Bohemia and Moravia for itself; Hungary took Carpatho-Ukraine and Slovakia became independent. This meant that suddenly Czech Jews (and those, like Herbst, who had fled from Austria after the Anschluss a year earlier) were subject to Nazi racial discrimination.
There were (possibly?) conflicting stories about why there was a flood of refugees right now, though: that from 1 April a new visa system would apply to Czechs entering Britain, or that from that date Czechs would be treated as Germans, or that they would need permission from Germany to leave. But whatever the reason, the last aeroplanes did land on 31 March, carrying, among others, 91 year old Frau Krampflicek, a 'Czech Jewess' whose family lived in Manchester.4 About 150 refugees arrived that day, with 3 being detained. The day before there had been 241, with 20 detained; on the first day 257, 10 detained.5
The problem was that refugees qua refugees had no automatic right of entry to Britain. In keeping with poor law principles, refugees would only be allowed to stay if it could be shown they would not be a burden to the public purse. If they could show they had funds to support themselves, that was enough. In the cases of Herr Herbst and Frau Krampflicek they had family already in Britain. Many of the other refugees had sponsors of one sort or another, who would ultimately be responsible for their welfare. Those who were told to leave had little money left, and no family or sponsors in Britain; they were just desperate people.
Like the people on the flight from Warsaw. Hilde Marchant (late war correspondent in Spain) reported for the Express that they resisted being put back on the aeroplane back to Copenhagen, where they had already been refused entry and would presumably be deported again:
The men refused and cried: "We will be shot."
One asked for the Czech Consul. Another offered money, but they all had to be dragged out of the hall on to the tarmac.
One man was carried into the plane.6
Another man escaped the airport entirely 'across the Purley-way, over the grounds of the swimming pool and through some factories', but was picked up by a police car.7 A third man, by the name of Vorosov, was pulled off the seat he was clinging onto by two policemen when he got a reprieve: 'an official from the Immigration Department came rushing through the door and said, "There is a permit for Vorosov."'8 So he was allowed to stay. The others were taken back on board the trimotor.
The refugees then began to beat the sides of the plane and hammered at the windows, breaking one of them.
The Danish pilot refused to take them. "They are crazy," he said to the police sergeant. Later he told me he was afraid they would commit suicide by throwing themselves out of the door of the plane.9
Instead of flying out they were taken to a police station again, this time in handcuffs, with the intention that they would be put on a boat to Denmark in the morning.
In this particular story, there was a happy ending. As its name implied, the German Jewish Aid Committee dealt only with helping German Jews. Nevertheless it decided 'as a special measure to provide the necessary guarantees' for the eleven Jewish Czech refugees in question.10 They were given three month visas; I don't know what happened to them after that. But this was just luck, a fortunate consequence of the publicity they had received. The Manchester Guardian thought there must be a fairer and more humane way to handle such refugees:
it is surely unworthy of this country that anyone coming to these shores for the first time should receive such treatment. Even if papers are not in order it might be thought that the Government could set up an independent tribunal which could consider claims to enter on grounds of equity and real need, thereby tempering the strict and inelastic rules of the Home Office. Expulsion, if decided on then, could at least be attempted in a manner more delicate.11
This was not done. Nobody could have known exactly what was in store for those who were sent back to Germany or the late Czechoslovakia, but then that's the point. In 1951, after the Second World War had created many more refugees, a United Nations conference drew up a Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Britain was one of the original signatories. It defines who is a legitimate refugee and who is not; absolves refugees from criminal charges for not following immigration procedures; and, crucially, protects refugees from being forcibly expelled to a country where they would be in danger.
Australia was also one of the original signatories to the Convention. In the last decade, as increasing numbers of people flee wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, refugees have become an incredibly toxic issue in Australian politics. Both major parties have done everything they can to dodge meeting our obligations under international law, from effectively declaring that Australian migration law no longer applies to certain areas where refugees arrive, to sending refugees to other countries while their claims are processed (most recently, the so-called Malaysian solution). The point of all this is deterrence, though the tiny numbers of people involved and the fact that the vast majority of them do turn out to be genuine refugees ought to have given someone, somewhere pause. As might the suicides and riots of refugees locked up in detention centres for years on end. Bizarrely, all the refugees that have got Australians so worked up come by boat. Nobody worries about the ones which come by plane, even though about six times as many come that way, or even about the even more numerous non-refugees who overstay their visa. Perhaps the boat people are too brown. One of the stupider political slogans of the 2010 federal election was 'stop the boats'; at least no one in 1939 Britain -- at least to my knowledge -- wanted to 'stop the planes'.
But the High Court of Australia recently put an end to offshore processing; the Government attempted to overturn this by introducing new legislation, but due to its minority position in the lower House needed the support of the Opposition. Even though the Opposition supports offshore processing, for political reasons it refused; and so the bill never came to a vote. As a result, yesterday the Government decided to re-introduce onshore processing after all. Hopefully this will in time lead to a way of treating refugees in a way that is worthy of this country.
WILL SHE FIND REFUGE HERE?
While efforts to deport refugees by air failed at Croydon yesterday, this young refugee, clutching her doll, arrived at the airport from Cologne.12
Image sources: Wikipedia; Daily Express, 31 March 1939, p. 13.
1 Daily Express, 30 March 1939, p. 1.
4 Ibid., 1 April 1939, p. 11.
5 Manchester Guardian, 1 April 1939, p. 13. These numbers conflict slightly with others reported.
6 Daily Express, 31 March 1939, p. 13.
10 Manchester Guardian, 1 April 1939, p. 13.
11 Ibid., p. 12.
12 Daily Express, 31 March 1939, p. 13.