Friday, March 31, 2006

A few more interesting things

Via Natalie Bennett's weekly Ten Female Bloggers roundup (and a hearty congratulations on hitting half a millenium!), I found two interesting pieces: Tammy Duckworth for Congress (a veteran of the Iraq war, and old-fashioned progressive, in an important state) and Whiny Christians after being told that "separation of Church and State" includes Christianity.

Really Good Historians Should Be In Charge

Caleb McDaniel says:
if you want to protect a person's human rights, you had best argue, not for the irrelevance of national citizenship altogether, but rather for an expanded and flexible definition of the national community that finds a place for illegal immigrants under the legal umbrella of the United States.
He goes on to argue that the liberal abandonment of the "nation-state" concept has led to the current situation where nationalism and anti-liberalism are more or less synonymous and that liberals need to redefine and reclaim nationalism in such a way as to not only preclude the delegitimation of liberals by conservatives (that's more my interpolation than his, though he does have a bit of defensive language, too) but also to achieve what we want with regard to expanding human rights within the nation-state.

Tim Burke says, with regard to the Duke Lacrosse Rape story:
I would be willing to wager a good deal [ed: never bet against Tim Burke] that if the sick little punk who said those words ["Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt"] was sitting in a course on American history at Duke and was asked to stand up and provide a narrative of the history of slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, he would profess ignorance, or provide a kind of respectable potted Cliff Notes version sufficient to pass the US History AP but no more. [ed: AP? I don't think so] Maybe his professed ignorance would be relatively genuine, or maybe it would be the suppression of the story he thinks he knows but also knows he cannot tell, because it’s not real or accurate history, only a shambles of racist tropes.
He goes on to point out that historians have a responsibility to deconstruct and reconstruct our ingrained memories, our unspoken shame, in such a way that it becomes visible and, if we have the good will, alterable.

Because Newspapers Always Get Stuff Wrong...

You can go to You Died [via] and write your own obituary. It can be present, future, or fantastical. As the site says, it's a bit scary. Think of it as a goal-setting exercise, perhaps?

Or, if you think you'll live that long, there's the fifty year digital time capsule project. I love this line: "The International Time Capsule Society estimates that there are about 10,000 time capsules scattered around the globe, most of them lost." There's a Society!

In less entertaining news (worse than DIY obituaries? Yes), The Smithsonian archives are subtly, but unquestionably, privatizing their collection. I'm sympathetic to their need for revenue: they do good work and it's not cheap. But if I had donated historical materials to the Smithsonian with the expectation that it would be curated and archived and accessible, I'd be really ticked right about now. Expect some cemetary-based temblors, as former Smithsonian trustees and donors spin in their graves....

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Funny Stuff? We'll see.

The Carnival of Comedy and the Carnival of Satire are up.

One thing that they share is links to The Limerick Savant, which is pretty relentlessly funny throughout.

Also, the Skeptics' Circle, and, for further skeptical fun, The Pigasus Awards by James "the Amazing" Randi.

Good News, even if it doesn't make sense

Jill Carroll is free! I first noted her kidnapping here and linked to the recent PSA calling for her release. As Brian Ulrich notes, Carroll herself doesn't have any idea why she was kidnapped or released; that the release came just after the CPT team release might mean that something interesting is happening. Or it might not. Still, since I didn't think the kidnapping was going to accomplish anything positive for the insurgents or other Iraqis, I'm glad to see that it didn't end badly.

Conflating Absurdity with Profundity

In the ongoing conflation of absurdity with profundity, an aborted attempt to spend a week at a 24-hour Wal-mart by a college sophomore with nothing better to do for spring break has turned into a national media sensation. [via] I don't care who you are, there's something about this story you will find disturbingly dumb
  • the original idea, because nothing inspires young writers like long exposure to cheap housewares
  • the fact that his advisor, a tenured professor of English, "just intuitively thought, 'This is brilliant!' I wasn't quite sure why, but it just sounded like a really good idea."
  • the fact that his advisor informed local media that the stunt was underway before it was even two days in
  • the fact that nobody at Wal-mart seems to have noticed something was amiss until the second day, and then did nothing about it (though there's a reference in the Des Moines Register article to a frozen debit account; can they do that?)
  • the fact that the guy was "hallucinating" from exhaustion after only 41 hours -- with catnaps! -- and decided to go home
  • the fact that local news media went ahead with the story anyway and that national news services picked it up and even investigated further
  • the fact that the guy now considers his adventure to be a success because of all the attention
  • the fact that we're going to hear more about this non-event because "He also talked with a book agent, has been contacted by New Line Cinema about a movie concept..."
Man, I'm working way too hard for my money. I need a gimmick. And a press agent....

Non Sequitur: They're doing what?
Apparently, some people have been inhaling vaporized alcohol with oxygen, for fun. Six states, the article says, have banned the required equipment, and thirteen more are considering it. Something about alcohol poisoning.... Fun.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Reading Chris Bray's latest post (a worthwhile and vigorous revisit to the theme of rhetorically diminishing our enemies to mere savages), I clicked through to one of Victor Davis Hanson's pieces (I don't like Hanson; Bray doesn't like Hanson: VDH is a hack who's turned a classical education and testosterone poisoning into a "career" in right-wing punditry) and found the following alleged sentence:
Many of our challenges, then, are not the war in Iraq per se, but the entire paradox of postmodern war in general in a globally televised world.
A rough translation, for the euphemistically impaired: We didn't fuck up, so much as the situation is fucked up. He then continues his panglossian -- we live in the best of all possible worlds, by the good grace of our Dear Leader, despite all evidence to the contrary -- revisionism, even going so far as to note without irony that "Nothing in this war is much different from those of the past" without ever considering the value of learning from past mistakes before making them again. The difference between Hanson and Ferguson is erudition, not theme: both think that we are on God's own mysterious path and all will work out if we only have faith in the goodness of our hearts no matter what kind of dirty shit -- slavery, imperialism, whatever -- we have to do on the way.

Carnivals, Liberal and otherwise

The ninth Carnival of the Liberals is a mostly religion edition, and since it's hosted at an atheism site, the results are pretty predictable. Much to my surprise, there's a Mark Rayner satire there that isn't really political at all, though it is a nice little piece. There's also satire on Genesis which is good. The rest of it's pretty predictable if you've been reading Skeptics Circle or God/Not God or Butterflies and Wheels, etc.

This, on the other hand, is not satire: it's full bore self-reflection and repentence. For the record, I'm not one of those people who "supported the invasion or insufficiently challenged the administration as it schemed [or are] currently making the evasive "incompetence" argument": I was standing on a street corner with a peace sign on the day the invasion started and have never stopped saying that "the administration is incompetent, but even more essentially, it is corrupt and dangerously wrong in its fundamental philosophy of governing."

You know, I think it's time to update the Impeachment Index....

Science! The fiftieth Tangled Bank science blog roundup is a blast!

For example: The angle at which a confession is videotaped dramatically affects jurors' outcomes, so the question then becomes: knowing this, will (and should) police alter their interrogation videotaping behavior? I think I'm going to have to add Cognitive Daily to my reading lists: Ever since I read this Harvard Magazine overview of behavioral economics, I've been considerably less sanguine about the neutrality of my own thought processes....

Also: A Scientific American blogger has created a taxonomy of Global Warming Skeptics, with seven major categories by primary objection. This is like the homework for an entire semester of environmental science: how do you convince these people?

This dialogue is both politically and scientifically devastating (and really belongs in the Carnival of Satire, as well). This rock is way cool. And tea might be the answer, especially since "research suggests that there is no noticeable difference in how alert one feels after drinking a cup of tea versus a cup of coffee, even though they contain different amounts of caffeine" which is just mindblowing to an organic black-coffee filtration mechanism like myself.....

I am only one-eighth evil

You Are 12% Evil
You are good. So good, that you make evil people squirm. Just remember, you may need to turn to the dark side to get what you want!
Squirm, evil people! Squirm! Seven-Eighths of me is beyond your reach!

Fox, Henhouse.... again

Sam, proprietor of Disability Law, notes that the Bush administration has nominated a corporate anti-EEO lawyer as general counsel of the EEOC. He cites from Ronald Cooper's bio but doesn't really note the completely one-sided nature of Cooper's career. I'm going to quote the whole thing here, because it's really striking:
Litigation Defense
Mr. Cooper has defended employers in federal courts throughout the country in employment discrimination actions brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These cases include major class actions under Title VII, as well as large government enforcement actions and private group actions under the ADEA. He has also represented employers in employment contract disputes and wrongful termination cases brought under state law. Mr. Cooper has represented defendants at the trial (including bench and jury trials) and appellate level and participated in a number of significant US Supreme Court cases.

Administrative Investigations
Mr. Cooper also defends employers who are subject to administrative investigations and proceedings including Commissioner Charge investigations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Compliance Reviews by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). These proceedings have included "Glass Ceiling Investigations" of the utilization of women in senior management positions.

Congressional Representations
Mr. Cooper was a leader of the employers' lobbying efforts that resulted in the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) amendments to the ADEA. These amendments preserved the right of employers to use voluntary early retirement incentives as part of force reduction programs.

Mr. Cooper testified on behalf of employers in the US House of Representatives in opposition to the retroactivity features of the Civil Rights Act of 1990. The Civil Rights Act of 1991, as finally enacted, did not include these provisions.

Employee Benefits
A particular focus of Mr. Cooper's practice has involved the application of employment discrimination laws to employee benefits in various forms. He litigated some of the principal cases involving challenges under Title VII and the ADEA to the design and administration of employee health, disability and retirement plans.

Recently he has defended employers and insurers against claims that limitations on benefits for mental/nervous conditions in long-term disability plans violated Title I (employment) and Title III (public accommodations) of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Employees Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He successfully represented defendants in district court litigation in the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Columbia. He also represented either a party or an amicus curiae in the DC, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits and in opposition to petitions for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

Executive Compensation
Mr. Cooper has represented employers in litigation concerning the compensation of highly paid employees. Included are claims for unvested stock options by terminated employees based in countries where the local employment laws defer the effective date of termination for otherwise at-will employees. In a recent case, he obtained a declaratory judgment, affirmed on appeal, that a foreign employee ceased to be eligible for stock option vesting under the applicable plan when he ceased performing services for the employer. The courts concluded that the compensation committee, in making a vesting eligibility determination, was not obliged to give effect to local law restrictions on termination. Oracle v. Falotti, 319 F.3d 1106 (9th Cir.),cert. denied, 540 US 875 (2003). He supervised successful parallel litigation in Europe brought by the same former employee. Mr. Cooper expands upon this case in the paper, "Foreign Law Complications for US Stock Option Plans," presented at the Fourth Annual International Labor and Employment Law Conference, October 1, 2003, in Dallas, Texas, sponsored by the Center for American and International Law and the ABA’s Sections of Labor and Employment Law and International Law and Practice.

Trade Secret/Non-Competition Agreements
Mr. Cooper has represented employers in both defending and prosecuting claims of trade secret misappropriation and breach of contractual restrictions on competitive employment. Recently, he successfully concluded the defense of such claims brought against employees of our client by a former employer in the US District Court for the District of Maryland.

Force Reductions
Mr. Cooper has defended employers in major force reduction cases brought by private parties and the government. He regularly advises clients in the design and implementation of such programs, including early retirement incentive programs, to minimize the prospect of successful challenge.

He recently supervised an international force reduction for a US-based employer which involved the retention and supervision of local employment counsel in 20 foreign jurisdictions.

Labor Standards
Mr. Cooper directs the firm's practice in the area of labor standards. He has defended both private and public employers in government and private actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In 1995, he was appointed Special Master in a complex FLSA case by the US District Court for the District of Maryland.
In other words, he has done everything within his power as a lawyer to ensure that employers are not encumbered by either domestic or foreign law. He has participated in mass firings, broken contracts, stripped pensions, rolled back worker protections, lobbied Congress and otherwise done his clients great service.

I know, I know: he was a lawyer working for his clients and it doesn't mean that he's biased, blah, blah, blah. Really? His entire career, as near as I can tell, has been on one side of an issue: do we really believe that he's being appointed because of his ability to "see both sides?" No, I don't.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Kind of Uncanny...

You Are The Chariot
You represent a difficult battle, and a well-deserved victory. You tend to struggle to get what you want, both internally and externally. You excel at controlling opposing forces, getting down the same path. In the end, you bring glory and success - using pure will to move forward.

Your fortune:
There is great conflict in your life right now, either with yourself or others. You must find a solution to this conflict, which is likely to be a "middle road" between the two forces. You posses the skills to triumph over these struggles, as long as your will is strong. You are transforming your inner self, building a better foundation for future successes.

For a quiz that only requests your name, it's not bad. This result is actually closer to the truth than the one I got with my non-pseudonym, but not as good as the card I got with an actual quiz.

Saddam's Delusions; Our Delusions

Foreign Affairs has published a substantial chunk [thanks!] of the formal review of Iraqi intelligence and strategy, trying to figure out what Saddam Hussein thought and why. Interesting reading (which I'll have to get back to later), but it's an interesting parallel to the raging debate about fantasies and strategies on our side.

Sovereignty, personal and territorial

Apparently, the Oglala Sioux -- a sovereign Native nation -- are offering to create and maintain legal clinics which offer safe abortions within South Dakota borders. The political, legal, and cultural ramifications of this are remarkable, actually.... I don't even want to think about what's going to happen when the Christian right realizes that the reservations -- which they've been missionizing relentlessly for as long as they've been in existence -- are reservoirs of both gambling and abortion, and the only ways around that are going to be either promoting hard-core religious movements on the reservations or breaking down the sovereignty of the First Nations.

Monday, March 27, 2006


While flinging poo at a Kansas "Science" FAQ, Matt uncovered the following sentence which is supposed to explain something about the evolution debate:
It is scientifically controversial because it is an historical science, and therefore very subjective.
I hardly know where to begin. Maybe I'll just stop there for now.

Our Criminal Past; Our Self-Deluded Future

Sometimes you just quote:
Mark Brady
Bombing Civilians—Then and Now

Go here to read British philosopher A. C. Grayling's discussion of the deliberate mass bombing of civilians. Go here to read more about Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?, his new book on the Allied bombing of Germany and Japan. And go here to read John Charmley's review of the book.
From the first link, by Grayling
Compared to the weight and ferocity of RAF and US bombing, the Nazi "blitz" and its V-rocket attacks of 1944 were small beer. Yet it was not allied civilian bombing that won the second world war, any more than did "shock and awe" in Iraq in 2003. What both show is that bombing civilians is not only immoral, but ineffective. It takes nuclear weapons, delivering absolutely massive civilian extermination, to have the desired effect of reducing a people to submission; but employing such a tactic today would be self-defeating, for all it offers is victory over a radioactive wasteland.
Not to mention that the elements which make wide-area bombing immoral to begin with are even more present with regard to nuclear weapons; the only virtue they have is ruthless effectiveness, and the moral arguments which support using them are the same ones that lead to police states, forced eugenics and slavery.

I'm one-fourth blog and OS X

25 %

My weblog owns 25 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?
Via Orac who seems to be less tied to his blog than I am to mine. Odd. Mabye not so odd.

You are OS X. You tend to be fashionable and clever despite being a bit transparent.  Now that you've reached some stability you're expecting greater popularity.
Which OS are You?

That's actually a much better description of my blog than me....

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Theocratic Impulse

As an American Jew, I find this article about Rabbinic dicta in the Israeli election [via] deeply disturbing. It highlights ethnic and cultural divisions which still exist in Judaism, particularly in Israel. That's bad enough, but pseudo-prophetic pronouncements make me nervous: I expect greater humility from religious leaders, and I'm routinely disappointed. I've often said that there is within liberalism (the modern kind) a Stalinist impulse, the desire to control someone "for their own benefit"; it's also true that there is within religion a Theocratic impulse, the desire to speak for God in political arenas.

What He Said; What She Said

No, this isn't one of those "he-said-she-said" conundrums; I'm just agreeing with people because I don't have time to say it all myself.

One of the bad hangovers from high school composition has to be the error of mistaking a thesis statement for a thesis sentence. I can't write like that, even if I try. Not without nested parentheses....

The only thing wrong with Caleb's analysis of Cal Thomas' anti-CPT diatribe is that Caleb is taking Thomas way too seriously by thinking that his problem is with pacifism per se. Thomas, like Klinghoffer, etc., are instrumentalists who don't believe that a good aim (and whether we have one or not in Iraq is open to question, too) excuses any and all bad behavior, so anyone criticizing "us" must be collaborating with "them." Bullshit: Thomas and his ilk do "us" more harm in a day than all the Christian Pacifists in the world do in a generation.

Then there's Anne Zook, who blogs in fits and starts these days (as do I) and who's got a keen eye for the threads of the big story. She's asking for help, too: "What is that word that means a government by corporations?" Bourgeois democracy under monopoly capital? Hmm...

A Carnival Almost as Good as the Real Thing!

I've found a new carnival to fall in love with. I was going to post something last week, but had a bit of a computer problem at the time, and lost the URL, etc. So, without further ado, I refer you to the third edition of the Carnival of Kid Comedy! It's currently got a bit of a homeschool overrepresentation, but the stories are still funny! This one is my favorite of the batch (I know, you're not supposed to have favorites...) because it just epitomizes the relentless and shameless nature of extreme youth. (Yes, I know that's a pretentious sentence, but go read the post anyway).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Four Learners and teachers

Mishnah 5:15 and Rabbi David Rosenfeld's commentary:
"There are four types of students. One who is quick to understand and quick to forget -- his gain is outweighed by his loss. One who is slow to understand and slow to forget -- his loss is outweighed by his gain. One who is quick to understand and slow to forget -- this is a good portion. One who is slow to understand and quick to forget -- this is a bad portion."...
This is a longer excerpt from the Pirkei Avot teaching than I usually post, but there is such an interesting educational as well as religious message here that I couldn't resist. At the same time, I didn't want to force you to read all the way through to get a clue as to what I was thinking about, so I'm going to do a little commentary here first. There are three things that I find interesting about this commentary. First is the way in which our grading tends to reward those students who are quick to learn, whether they retain it or not, and I'm wondering if there's a way to build in greater rewards for those who are slow but who retain material long-term.

Second, I'm struck by the end of the article: traditionally we value scholars not because of their skills, but because of their devotion to that which is intrinsically honorable. I think the current environment is one in which teachers, particularly university scholars, are supposed to be self-rewarding, and self-honoring, and I think that misses the point a bit.
People who are quick to understand but quick to forget lose more than they gain. Their initial comprehension is outweighed by their forgetfulness -- leaving them little better off than when they started.

Conversely, someone who is slow to understand but retains well gains more in the long run than he loses. In addition, as R. Samson Raphael Hirsch adds, often the very quality of being slow to absorb will aid in a person's retention. He will be satisfied with a subject only after he has fully thought it through and absorbed its significance. .... In contrast, the person who spends little effort in the initial comprehension will have put little investment into the material. As a result, it will be lost as quickly as it was acquired.

Finally, one who is slow to understand and quick to forget has a "bad portion", while one who is quick to understand and slow to forget has a good one. The commentators (Maimonides, Rabbeinu Yonah) point out that as opposed to the other mishnas of this series, this mishna does not characterize such people as pious or wicked. Obviously, we are dealing with natural, G-d given abilities rather than human accomplishment. One who is not as intellectually capable or inclined as his fellow is obviously not an inferior person -- nor is someone born smart automatically righteous. Even so, it will be more difficult for the less scholarly to achieve in many of the important tasks of life, and for this our mishna states that his portion is inferior.
Thus, it is within our ability to be infinitely good or wicked, and to forge a relationship with G-d regardless of intellectual capability, personal background, or any other extraneous factor. This in fact is the true meaning of "all men are created equal" (I've heard R. Noach Weinberg explain it such.) We are certainly not equal when it comes to talents, predilections, or natural abilities. But in this one regard we are all equal: we all possess souls. We have the potential to develop ourselves, whether in goodness or wickedness, and we possess the free will to determine which path we will follow. Goodness and closeness to G-d are not reserved for the intellectual, the scholarly, or the well-pedigreed. It is the inherent right of all mankind and the simple fact of our humanity.
One who cleaves to G-d while working with his hands, raising children, or acting with honesty and integrity in the workplace is fulfilling a unique function within the world and is bringing his own little corner of the universe to its fulfillment. He is sanctifying and devoting to G-d a life which might otherwise be devoid of religious content. If such worldly involvement is the task this person is cut out for -- if this is his or her personal mission to the world -- then he too is fulfilling his purpose and achieving his perfection -- and is following his own special path to G-d.

At the same time, such a person has a more difficult portion. In a way, his job is tougher than that of the scholar. He must infuse sanctity into the otherwise mundane. And this requires a much more conscious and concerted effort. In addition, he is less equipped with knowledge of the Torah to guide him (although, of course, regular daily Torah study sessions are a must wherever one's life mission leads him). His path is longer and more perilous. It involves temptations and pitfalls, whether in patience, workplace ethics, involvement with others less believing, etc. -- which one would not be exposed to within the four cubits of the study hall. But if followed properly and honorably, it is an equally great act of G-dly service and in a way, does even more towards sanctifying the world and bringing it to its fulfillment.

So, why do we accord greater honor to the scholar? Aren't we -- or can't we all become -- equally precious servants of G-d? The answer is that we do so not so much because of an inherent superiority, but because of what such people represent. Showing respect to a scholar is our way of honoring the Torah. The scholar speaks and represents G-d's word in this world. When we honor him we express our allegiance to the Torah and all it stands for.

But that is in this world alone. The World to Come will be a place not only of reward and punishment but of truth as well. In the World to Come all of G-d's true servants will be equally close to Him, and all those whose lives were ones of sanctity and dedication to G-d will come forward and receive their due.
Of course, there's very little that we can do in the classroom for those whose ethical behavior and honest labor will be life-long glories. Except, perhaps, to remember them, to hold them up and honor them from our own honored position.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Sour Duck just came back from a blogging conference, and has lots of things to say, positive and negative. Excellent commentary and some good issues. And I say that as someone who has a pretty low tolerance for metablogging...

Kierkegaard Lives

With Eric Muller taking a bit of a breather, and since I can't stand the Volokh crew for more than twelve seconds a week, I've been a bit low on good legal blogging lately. Domestic, anyway; Exploring International Law's still going strong.

Synchronicity! I've been getting lately a few more messages (two) than I used to (zero), noting that I'd been mentioned in a blog and "would I like to exchange links?" I have this thing, though: I don't blogroll someone unless I actually read them and want to acknowledge that I read them; it's not an endorsement, as such, but it does make a public statement. There are definitely a few blogs in my RSS reader that aren't listed here, because I just don't get enough out of them or I read them more to monitor than to learn/enjoy; blogs like that will sometimes get linked in posts, but I wouldn't blogroll them. I'm picky, what can I say? It's my blog.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to get a note from I. M. Kierkegaard that I'd been mentioned favorably and blogrolled. Naturally, I went to check it out, and found that -- in addition to being named after one of the few theological philosophers who could actually write worth a damn -- he's got a nice little legal blog going, with a good stream of articles about decisions and events. I was particularly interested in the DNA testing exoneration and the "Anticipatory warrant" decision.

So I think it's time to add him (and Chainik Hocker, below) to the sidebar.

Spade calling

“Islamophobia”: Edward Cline is in favor of it, and proud of it. He's trying to reclaim "phobia" for fear rather than loathing, but he's pretty much anti-religion anyway on general principles. It's not like he's making an exception for Islam. No, I'm not endorsing, but it's one of the more interesting things I've read recently.

Much better than the Democrats are agents of Satan (a.k.a. God has a Plan and I'm not Telling You About It) stuff that's floating around.

However, for an actual endorsement of political commentary that is both true, only a little unfair (to everyone!) and funny to boot, Chainik Hocker's analysis of the various rhetorical/political positions around the Danish Cartoon issues (and a few others!) is really worth reading.

Also, though nobody here's really surprised, Democracy doesn't always produce allies. Whose fault is that?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thursday Lyric: Song of the Candle

This has always been one of my favorite Stan Rogers songs, particularly since college: it's the best writer's block song ever written. (actually, as near as I can tell, it's the only one, but I'd be curious if anyone can think of others)

(1972) - Stan Rogers

I took up my pen tonight, I couldn't seem to write
It's like I got religion, and then I lost the light
An old woman once told me, she'd always felt that way...
She said "Taken from the mold, while it still can run
a candle might not keep you from the cold.
But buy another candle son, it's not too much to pay.
For one more try." And I had to smile before I walked away

Coffee houses bother me, I cannot tell you why
But it never seems "hello" sounds as sweet as "goodbye"
And the waitresses in passing, remember all your names...
They say "Look around and try to meet a single eye."
And "Empty cups will mock me if I stay, but
buy another coffee Stan, it's not too much to pay
and we will try to raise your smile
before you walk away."
Tonight in a room full of candles, another cup of ashes drains away
And at times it gets so hard to handle
Knowing one more simple song has swiftly taken wing
And I'm left alone to hear the song a lonely candle sings
The priest I found was nervous. He cleared his throat a lot
But framed in stained glass windows, his eyes were lost in thought
And I said "Father can you tell me, is some happiness my right?"
He said "Rather seek you joy, the blessings of your God
and Happiness from worship in His sight.
And buy another candle son, before you start to pray,
and don't forget to cross your breast before you walk away."
Tonight in a room full of candles, another cup of madness drains away
And at times it gets so hard to handle
Knowing one more simple song has swiftly taken wing
And I'm left alone to hear the song a lonely candle sings
One too many cigarettes, slowly burning down
And the final cup of coffee was cold and full of grounds
And maybe one last pipeful might send the words around
Still underneath my hand, this night has slipped away
And leaves me as empty as this page
One more candle flickers out, the night is turning grey
And I just can't watch the dying flame
I have to walk away

Tonight I have burned all my candles
Leaving only ashes in their wake...
And at times I get so hard to handle
'Cause simple songs leave me behind, they all have taken wing
And I'm left alone to hear the song a lonely candle sings.

See other lyrics and poetry, some original, posted here

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Carnivals, Vain and Feminist

Carnival of Feminists XI is a rich collection

Carnival of the Vanities is up, too.

Best thing I've seen in my initial scan through the posts is Bush's Secret Plan to Win the War, by losing, with style.

That post also made the Carnival of Comedy and the Carnival of Satire this week. I think the editors of those two carnivals, in particular, need to work out some kind of "exclusivity" agreement; for a while now, it seems like the best posts in the Comedy carnival have been also featured in the Satire one. Perhaps it's just that my tastes run to satire....

My extension has changed

Which File Extension are You?

I used to be ".tar".... I still don't know exactly what it means, but the description's not bad, this time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Real Questions; canned answers

The Cunning Realist notes that this is the first press conference in a while that didn't seem like a sham PR exercise.

Apparently, he used the word "kerfuffle." More details after I have a chance to do more than skim, but my first impression is that neither the friendly or unfriendly questions got answered directly: either he focused on one part of the issue, skipped to a related issue he wanted to talk about, or talked around it.

In other bizarre public appearance news, David Horowitz and Ward Churchill will debate, at least in the presidential sense: they will appear in the same place at the same time, with agendas and talking points in hand, and noise will be made. On the topic of the debate -- "Can Politics Be Taken Out Of The Classroom, and Should It Be?" -- odds are pretty good that I agree with Horowitz in principle and Churchill in practice, but don't tell either of them that.

Glowing memories....

IAMB's HS AP Chem recollections brought back memories for me to. Not so much about HS AP Chemistry, which was one of the dullest classes this side of Driver's Ed (sorry, Mom), but his little teaser about sodium brought back to mind a humor piece I remember from Usenet days: the Songs of Cesium, "ancient" odes to that most volatile of elements. A sample

I had Cesium with which to play.
Now all my fingers have been blown away.
And silence reigns since yesterday.

I'm just half the man I used to be.
I have no eyes with which to see.
My legs have parted company.

Why she had to blow,
I don't know,
I can only say.
Something went awful wrong,
In the waterbed where we lay.

Her sky blue path seemed such an easy way.
Now I know there is a price to pay.
Oh, I believed just yesterday.

---Songs of Cesium #117(b)
Fair warning: They're all that bad.

Cory Maye Update: Radley Balko On-Site

Radley Balko, who's been one of the foremost bloggers breaking and pressing the Cory Maye case, spent some time in Mississippi recently, investigating. Lots of interesting results all of which reinforces the fact that Maye should not be in jail, much less under a death sentence. Start with this jury interview and think about what level of attention and concern you'd want if someone were sitting in judgement on you for a capital crime.

Don't think it matters if you care? Cory Maye disagrees. [via comments, where Balko points out that liberal/left activists/arguments are not as likely to persuade Mississipian powerholders as much as rightist ones. Interesting.]

I read OK.

According to this test, my silent reading speed is 350-400 words per minute, and my vocalized reading speed (which is how they tested me in elementary school) is 200-250 (which the test says is "average"). [via]

Ironically, the text I read the second time (it seems to change) was the Kennedy Inaugural:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ranting and Raving

Two new carnivals:

Carnival of the Rant which, like Vanities, Comedy, etc., is dominated by hard-core (they're ranting, aren't they?) conservatives. I know we on the left can rant with the best of them....

On the other hand, the Radical Progressive Carnival is thoroughly, and appropriately, dominated by the left. It's a small carnival, but if you're being radical and progressive in the next two weeks, you can get in the next one!


Having taken the time to write a rebuttal to Rumsfeld's pseudo-historical rhetoric, I sent it to a few folks and the responses have been interesting. Ralph Luker added me to the list of responders, which I always appreciate. Sepoy sent me back his experience at an anti-war/anti-Bush rally in Chicago yesterday (with pictures: I think some anti-war organization should send a few hundred thousand of the "Don't Shoot Me, Dick!" t-shirts to Iraq and Iran, or maybe just to a few US bases.) which included a link to his friend pcds' recollections and comments on Rumsfeld's piece, which addresses some of the other slippery rhetoric.

The Cunning Realist also has some history, quotations from the Administration over the last few years about Nazi comparisons (apparently they can dish it out, but they can't take it) and History's Judgement. Juan Cole's got the Top Ten Disasters of the Third Year, to boot.

I also got in the mail, quite out of the blue an historical reminder of the search for Pancho Villa 88 years ago, which wasn't any more successful than the hunt for Osama.

Ahistoricality Alert: Rumsfeld's Progress

Rumsfeld says that we've done well in Iraq and must stay the course to be vindicated by history.
Consider that if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum -- and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis. It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination because it was too hard or too tough or we didn't have the patience to work with them as they built free countries.
Ralph Luker, Manan Ahmed and Hiram Hover have all noted this as a bad historical analogy, and I quite agree. But they haven't gone far enough. They haven't actually said why.

Let's start with the Nazis, shall we? I'll ignore, for the moment, the fact that we pretty much did hand postwar Japan back to the people who ran the war against us, leaving the Emperor in place, turning anti-nationalist reform laws into anti-communist purges and turning a blind eye while conservative parties and leaders retook control. I'll let pass the Nazis who we found useful enough to import to the US or allowed to escape to Latin America, etc. I'll even ignore -- in the ironic rhetorical way in which I draw attention to it -- that we allowed East Germany to go straight from Nazi to Soviet control; not happily, of course, but because we clearly didn't have the "will to fight" that war at that point. What did we do with West Germany? We conquered it, purged it, and stayed; not because it was good for Germans but because Germany was now the front line in the Cold War and it was to our benefit to stay and very much to our benefit to protect our weakened allies.

And how about that post-Soviet thing, eh? Did we fight a war to free the Warsaw Pact nations and I missed it? No, we never invaded Russia, nor even sent troops to its former satellites/colonies until well after they'd arranged their own affairs (with considerable aid from the EU, those baguette-twirling technocrats) and were stable enough to be considered reliable allies (despite the frequency with which former Communist parties and party leaders get votes and hold positions of responsibility, something we'd never allow in Iraq). How hard have we worked to keep former Soviet Republics from being under Russian domination? Some of them went back voluntarily; some have become their own insular totalities; others are wasteland war zones; for none of them have we done a damned thing worth emulating anywhere else in the world.

Rumsfeld concludes
What we need to understand is that the vast majority of the Iraqi people want ... better futures for themselves and their families. They do not want the extremists to win. And they are risking their lives every day to secure their country.
What's in that ellipsis? "...the coalition to succeed. They want..." If you take that out, it's much closer to the complicated, uncomfortable truth.

Limericks! Just for the fun of it

John Patrick declared a San Patricio Limerick eFestival! and the winner from the 80 comment entries (and who knows how many e-mails) will be announced here shortly. My entry (I was in a hurry, the winner's going to be announced soon) was
There once was a blogger named John
Who didn't much care if the song
had more than one verse
or meaningful words
but it had to be just five lines long.
I'm hoping to catch word of his haiku contest with a bit more lead time....

Ouch! Images.

High heeled shoes. Pointy-toed, Thin-Soled, High Heel Girl Shoes, as the Chenille Sisters sing it. Think they can't get any worse? Ouch.

Fortune Cookies. Mostly tasteless, with cheap wisdom instead of actual fortunes, not-Chinese excuse for lousy humor and crumbs all over your pants. Wanna shoot one? Bang. (More damage-inflicting photos -- very pretty ones, actually -- here)

M.C.Escher. Elegant, mindbending images, n-dimensional thinking projected in two grayscale dimensions. Think it can't be done for real? Think again! (and if you think that's bad, wait till you see what they do when they go beyond Escher, into hex nuts, toruses, mogen davids....)

Secret Bathtub Graveyard. No, I'm not kidding. It's a nice picture.

Never rains, but...: Orac went to an exhibit of plastinated medical exhibits... aka polymer preserved cadavers and specimens. Fascinating technology, really, though the pictures are a bit raw...

Non Sequitur: I've done a little sidebar maintenance, with a bit more to come, mostly catching my blogroll up with my rss reading.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Imperiled Souls

The Vatican's chief exorcist(!) is afraid of the effect of Harry Potter [via]. Surely, this will be one of the most quoted lines in the blogosphere in short order: "There is no doubt that the signature of the Prince of Darkness is clearly within these books." I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks that belongs on the dust-jacket of the next volume, or box set.

You can call Harry satanic, but you can't call him a superhero [via] if Marvel and DC get their trademark approved. Doctorow is right: this is an abomination of intellectual property law if it's approved. Hey: let's all file for trademarks on our blog names, and sue the bejeezus out of any company that uses the same words we do, until they reform the law....

I'm a Generous Thinker

According to this
You are a Thinker
Your cautiousness, appreciation of functionality, and imagination combine to make you a THINKER.
You have a vivid capacity for imagery that allows you to see beyond your present circumstances. You like to be sure of yourself before voicing your opinion. A lot of your time is spent at home, or with the people you care about. Although you may dream often, you're very aware of how things work, and you value things that work well. You take comfort in the familiar, and value predictability -- and others value those things in you. Accordingly, you prefer a set routine, and although you often imagine how things can be different, you're hesitant to take risks to change things. Sometimes you doubt whether you have the ability to face certain challenges, but your practical focus helps you solve most problems. Because of this, you tend to be more reactive than proactive, thinking thoroughly about the challenges that you face. You have a broad-based, theoretical understanding of the world that allows you to understand its workings. You prefer to have time to plan for things, feeling better with a schedule than with keeping plans up in the air until the last minute. You do your own thing when it comes to clothing, guided more by practical concerns than by other people's notions of style. You tend to believe that things happen for a reason, and that not everything is under our control.

You are Generous
Your awareness of those around you, along with your nuanced perceptions of the world at large, makes you the GENEROUS person that you are.
You value time to yourself and understand how rich your private world can be—you know that you don't have to go wild to have a good time. You are excited and energized by ideas and often enjoy things more through observation than through experience. This tendency gives you an appreciation for different perspectives and opinions about the world. Being as aware of others as you are doesn't mean you find it easy to trust them immediately -- this is something that happens more slowly for you. Despite this, you are aware of the complexities of many situations and are reluctant to pass judgments on others. Although you have fewer friendships than some people, those that you have are meaningful and are important to you. You value spending time alone -- it is while reflecting on the world around you that you often learn something new about yourself or begin to understand something that's been bothering you.
That's really quite good. Though it also suggests some areas for improvement....

via and via (via)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cultural Rorshach Test

Orac posted this humorous Evidence for Global Warming series: Women's bathing suits from 1930 (full-body coverage) to 2005 (stringy things). Obviously, in the context of global warming, it's a satire. But it's an interesting bit of cultural history, at the same time, and I was struck by the multitude of ways in which it could be cast as progress towards a better society -- greater freedom, particularly for women, etc. -- as well as evidence of cultural decline -- hyper-sexualization, lack of restraint -- and it's worth noting that men's swimwear follows more or less the same trajectory at more or less the same time so it's not just about women. Though, of course, gender does matter...

Anyway, something to think about over the weekend. I've got sleep and yard work to do, carnivals to read....

Baking Cakes while Rome Burns...

Chris Bray's comment on our current offensive in Iraq: "An air assault answers the tactical climate in Iraq the way that baking a cake fixes a house fire." (Speaking of fires, here's a report from Iraq about smoldering embers) In between computer crashes, he's also administering a little History 101 to a major historical partisan. (update: Is Operation Swarmer a bust or a sham? [via])

And also in the "baking a cake" category, Kevin Phillips (the lastest in the Fukuyama-Bartlett chain of former supporters of the Bush regime Administration) has done an extensive historical review of declining empires and is worried
In analyzing the fates of Rome, Hapsburg Spain, the Dutch Republic, Britain and the United States, he comes up with five symptoms of "a power already at its peak and starting to decline": 1) "widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay," along with social polarization and a widening gap between rich and poor; 2) "growing religious fervor" manifested in a close state-church relationship and escalating missionary zeal; 3) "a rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a corollary downplaying of science"; 4) "considerable popular anticipation of a millennial time frame" and 5) "hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach" in pursuit of "abstract international missions that the nation can no longer afford, economically or politically." Added to these symptoms, he writes, is a sixth one, almost too obvious to state: high debt, which can become "crippling in its own right."
Obviously, this is not new, but it's good to be reminded that it's not all the fault of the Bush Administration, though it's also very much the case that they epitomize these trends rather than resist them.... Don't Panic, as they say. Be aware and be aggressive.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Uphold This!

This is running around the 'net so fast that Snopes has a fact-check on it. This is from a Maryland State legislature hearing in respose to a judge (activist, of course) who ruled an gay-marriage-ban bill unconstitional
"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God — that is my belief," [Jacobs] said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals."

Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.

Some in the room applauded, which led committee chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County, to call for order. "This isn't a football game," he said.
Emphasis added, of course. You have to wonder (OK, I have to wonder): is this a line he'd been waiting to use? Something he's been saying for years now, but never got noticed before?

It's a great shorthand, but the true secularists among us will note that the "hand on Bible" thing is still kind of iffy....

Carnivals I don't have time to read now but will come back to

Carnival of the Vanities, whose host this week breaks with recent practice to actually engage with some of the content, and quote from the entries so that you can tell what they are about and whether you might find them worthwhile before you click through. Very unusual for CoV, and most welcome.

Tangled Bank, the general science carnival I don't get to often enough. But it's an education every time, so I'm going to make time. Soon.

Skeptic's Circle presented in an unusually (for SC) straightforward style. The content looks like the usual very high-quality entertainment and enlightenment, too.

Grand Rounds, the carnival that makes me nervous about hospitals and doctors, but also less likely to make mistakes when I do need them. The host actually tracked how much time she spent putting it together: 4 hours. That's about a third what I usually spend on a carnival, not counting post-publication promotion and tracking.... Like I said, I don't have time to read these now, but this post just dragged me in and ought to get a lot of thoughtful attention from not just doctors, but college administrators, professors, feminists, libertarians, and cultural commentators of all stripes.

New (because I still don't have time to read them): The Teaching Carnival. There's one meme I'd like to get to one of these days....

Curious about how Carnival Hosting can affect your blog traffic? Here's my StatCounter summary:
The other peaks in the last month -- the ones that indicate about 200 visitors in a day -- come from inclusion in big traffic carnivals and links from high-traffic link-collecting bloggers -- were my highest days ever. Until now. This carnival has now brought a thousand visitors and counting: almost 10% of my total visitor count has happened in the last three days. Most of them don't read anything but the carnival itself, though, so it's not like I'm going to get a lot of new long-term readers out of this. I'm thrilled, though, because I really do think the CoBH is a great institution.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lessons from History: Fear for the Future

Jerry Monaco writes
One of my conclusions from my study of the Roman Republic and of its historical memory during the imperial period is the following: The lingering memory of Roman Republican electoral politics, the identification of the Roman multitude with the Emperor, acted as justification for imperial sovereignty and warning against the loss of such sovereignty.
This is an interesting finding, and one which resonates with my own concerns about electoral politicals and the Imperial-manque presidency: the more that people dissassociate from "dirty politics" -- both the mass of voters disappointed with the options and the social/economic elites disappointed with the voters -- the more the "unitary executive" becomes a plausible alternative. It's considered somewhat trite to compare Rome and the US, but one of the most disturbing features of the transition to Imperial rule, for me, was the retention of Republican institutions to maintain the veneer of participation and democracy. It was not a revolutionary movement, but an evolutionary (not all evolution is improvement, just adaptation, after all) decision...

Jerry Monaco also writes
There was an old Firesign Theater joke from the late sixties that the Fascists won World War II but nobody noticed. We should never forget that great powers never fight wars to bring peace, democracy, and civilization to the poor and benighted. They never fight wars to end atrocities. Great powers fight wars to extend the power of the narrow domestic interests of those who run the state and own society. If the other side is evil, as the Nazi's certainly were, they will use the atrocities committed by the current enemy to justify their war and cover-up their own atrocities.
I would qualify that somewhat: "peace, democracy and civilization" are sometimes of sufficient value to those elites -- war, dictatorship and chaos often being bad for business or dangerous neighbors -- that they are in fact something close to the real reasons for war. But his larger point about atrocities and the tendency of states to find people who commit atrocities more useful than atrocious is well taken.


Thanks to Alun, I've learned a new word: extelligence
Extelligence is a term coined by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen in their 1997 book Figments of Reality. They define it as all the cultural capital that is available to us in the form of tribal legends, folklore, nursery rhymes, books, videotapes, CD-ROMs, etc.
One in a long line of attempts to narrowly define the term "culture" or "civilization" in such a way as to be a useful heuristic and analytical concept. Now I have to decide if it's a useful concept: it's not just that it's still a relatively new word and rather obscure, but I'm not sure that it's sufficiently distinct from "culture" or "cultural capital" or "tradition+pop culture" to be worth explaining myself (or not: Alun doesn't) everytime I use it. Gives me the mulligrubs to think of it.

(Yes, I'm reading the latest History Carnival and Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesque today, why?)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind. Again.

Chris Floyd writes:
It was, by all reports, the most heinous terrorist act in history. A ruthless gang of religious extremists, driven by an insatiable hatred for Western civilization, killed multitudes of innocent people in a surprise attack that struck without warning, without mercy. The perpetrators – who posed as ordinary citizens, members of a law-abiding ethnic minority going about their daily business – took advantage of the burgeoning global economy to move easily across borders as they brought their vast conspiracy to its poisonous fruition.

But Western leaders, though they did sleep, finally roused themselves to action. One by one, terrorist operatives fell into their hands. In the face of such an unprecedented threat, the "gloves came off": captives were subjected to strenuous interrogation as officials worked feverishly to forestall any further attacks. Soon the hard evidence of guilt emerged: the words of the conspirators themselves, set down in black and white, confessing all, in copious detail, irrefutable.

That's how 14th-century Europe "learned" that the Black Death – the rat-borne plague that killed 25 million people across the continent in just four years – had been "caused" by the Jews. Vague rumor and ancient prejudice were "confirmed" by evidence extracted from captured Jews who had been "put to the question" – the medieval spin-word for "torture." The story that emerged was full of concrete detail, like a pre-war New York Times report on Saddam Hussein's WMD: names of the terrorist leaders, the elaborate methods used to poison wells, specific locations, the composition of the various toxins, etc.

Armed with such official reports – earnestly delivered by the Colin Powells of the day, trusted officials oozing gravitas and sincerity – Europe embarked on a frenzy of pogroms. In city after city, country after country, the Jews were rounded up, burned alive, beheaded, beaten to death, slaughtered in every way imaginable, man, woman and child. All of it justified in the name of security – and all of it based on lies, on desperate nightmares wrung from innocent people tormented into madness. The plague pogroms marked a watershed in European anti-Semitism, notes author John Kelly in his sweeping history, The Great Mortality: a new element of outright eliminationism entered into the traditional religious disputes and cultural frictions. The seeds of the Holocaust were sown by the inhumanity of sanctioned torture.

Who knows what seeds of future horror are being sown this very day in the vast, sprawling hive of torture that George W. Bush and his chief minions, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, have spread across the planet?
He goes on to condemn the use of torture, to cite Amnesty International reports, to condemn military and civilian judges who won't exclude torture-extracted testimony and evidence. [via]

As Tim Burke says
What’s happening now, if you read the emergent structures of argument within the blogging world pretty widely, is that the realist parasite within neoconservatism has pretty much burst through the chest of its host and is grinning with sharp alien teeth at onlookers.
I wish I could get away with lines like that! He continues later:
about the worst possible combination of policy frameworks for advancing any coherent objectives is a genuinely idealistic neoconservative mask over a brutalist face. That combination leaves behind it broken and bitter local elites who actually trusted in the idealism and put their lives and futures at stake on its behalf, it serves as a license to brutalism everywhere, it feeds the ideological credibility of radical Islamism.
Adam Kotsko's got a visual representation of the 9/11-Christian Right-Nationalist-Republican nexus which is not to be missed, either. In case the above was too subtle. Mr. Kotsko and I are having an interesting discussion of humor, satire and resonances in the comments section.

Carnivals of GOOD History

Alun actually beat me by a half day, but I didn't have time to link to him, but the Women's History Month edition of the Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesque is rich stuff and peppered with great quotations, which I heartily approve of. And the History Carnival, Liberal Carnival and Teaching Carnival are all just around the corner!

The Carnival of Bad History below is attracting great traffic: thanks to Another Damned Medievalist, Grant Jones (who remains unconvinced), Orac, Ralph Luker, The Neural Gourmet (also here), Hiram Hover, Coturnix, Alun, Pooh and Sharon Howard (so far) for links and support. Additional links: Thanks also to Miland , HNN (my site stats show an uptick in links from e-mail hosts, which comes from being included in the HNN newsletter), Elfin Ethicist, Sour Duck.

Actual Carnivals
  • History Carnival 33 (that's me, not Rob) is up, and it's very impressive. His description of the CBH below is "thoughtful and gloriously masochistic." Yeah, that's me!
  • Carnivalesque, as I said, was up before. I'm reading it now and having a blast.
  • Carnival of the Liberals is up, and it's got not only interesting posts, but Haiku and posters for each one!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Carnival of Bad History #5: Who's the Baddest Of Them All?

Welcome to the Fifth Bad History Carnival, the best of the worst! In honor of the "award season," this carnival will be highlighting only the very best. . . .

Lifetime Achievement
Nobody has done more to advance bad history, or to raise its public profile, than David Irving, now enjoying a three year Austrian vacation... For the award citation, I'll cite Deborah Lipstadt, well known from the libel case Irving filed against her:
Censorship laws are not efficacious, especially when, as is clearly the case with Holocaust denial, the fight can be won with history, evidence, and the truth. During Mr. Irving's libel suit against me, his Holocaust denial claims collapsed when we tracked his sources and found all of them predicated on lies and fabrications.
David Irving knew there was a warrant for his arrest. Yet he went to Austria anyway, announcing his visit on the Internet. According to his wife, Mr. Irving thought it would "be a bit of fun, to provoke a little bit." He assumed that, if the Austrians arrested him they would release him with a slap on the wrist. He had even booked a first-class ticket home for Monday night, the day of the trial. Spectators report that he looked "stunned" when his little prank resulted in a three-year sentence. Given that this was a lark designed to provoke the Austrian authorities, and that he could have voiced his protest without entering that country, I am not sure why serious people should feel compelled to make a principled defense of him.

I have repeatedly criticized the notion of Holocaust denial laws, but I have no intention of defending someone who is not only an anti-Semite and a racist, but who goes out of his way to get himself in trouble.
Irving's trial featured a fascinating double volte face in which he sorta repudiated, then reconfirmed, his holocaust denial credential. Orac also has a slightly stronger position on the free speech aspects, but no less contempt for Irving as an historian. As Nic_C says
Perhaps real historians have a duty to challenge damagingly-bad history more publicly and more frequently than they (or some of them) currently do.
Given the relative lack of interest on the part of historical bloggers in this carnival, we've got a way to go...*

Holocaust Denial
The competition in this category is intense, even with Irving out of the running. Though Holocaust deniers and minimizers love to appeal to "reason" and "logic" and "proof," they do so with the same disingenuousness and hype as pseudo-scientific quacks touting "alternative" medicines. However, in spite of the brazen attempt to silence the The Holocaust History Project with a firebomb attack (they are neither surprised nor diminished though some of their archived artifacts were lost), US Holocaust deniers cannot compete with the resources of Iran, which has recently thrown the full weight of its government and academy into the fray. The Tom and Jerry argument gives you some idea of what we're up against...

New Zombie Error
Zombie Errors are those myths that Will. Not. Die. no matter how often you cite the actual facts. In a fascinating case of double zombie, the winner in this category is Upton Sinclair. First, there's the new evidence about Sinclair's belief in the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti... except that it's not new as eb points out, and doesn't really change anything (though it might come as a bit of a surprise to open-minded lefties who grew up with a firm belief in the absolute innocence of those particular anarchists). Second, there's the question of the connection between Sinclair's muckraking The Jungle and federal regulation of meatpacking: the unfortunate tendency to take Sinclair's novel as truth and the obscuring of industry promotion of federal regulation as a way of promoting themselves.

Honorable mention in this category to the Associated Press, which perpetuates their own error on US responses to Mad Cow Disease.

Late entry: Rick Shenkman recycles a Clinton-era debunking of Congressional censure zombies.

Told You So
This being the three-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, there'll be lots of 20/20 hindsight going on. dcat (or is it DCAT?) is a reasonably good starting place for some of the arguments. Not all of them, though.

Accidental Historical Fictions
Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code came under fire recently for ... well, for making money. The historians who wrote the boring bits sued for royalties, but it turns out that Dan Brown's mistakes may be his salvation so to speak.

However, I think the prize has to go to "The Lost Millenium," and here I'll simply copy (again) Rob MacDougall's History Carnival entry
A handful of blogs and indeed the mainstream Canadian press discussed The Lost Millenium: History’s Timetables Under Siege. This new book by mathematician Florin Diacu contends the Middle Ages didn’t happen, the Peloponnesian Wars are fifteen centuries more recent than we think, and today’s date is
March 13th, 964 A.D. On A.D./C.E. thing, by the way, be forewarned that the "War on Christmas" has morphed into the "War on Christian Dating"....

Deliberate Historical Fictions
Never let it be said that historical novelists are humorless: Sarah Cuthbertson recently resurrected some satirical "Rules for Historical Fiction" [via]which prompted a whole new round of entries:There are specific rules for various subgenres of historical fiction For those of you who like your historical fiction a bit shorter than novel-length, here's a short history of WWII as an Instant Message exchange.

Presentism: Religion
Obviously, there's too many different attempts to abuse history to justify and/or rationalize one's own position for them all to fit under a single category. I don't know who's doing the bad history here -- it might be everyone -- but the current controversy of the history of female clergy in the Catholic Church has people lined up in pretty predictable ways. This was kicked off, apparently, by an article at Sojourners, and taken up by Paul Gregory Alms and William J. Tighe, Ph.D., among others.

Presentism: Politics
Donald Rumsfeld says that successful wartime presidents are always unpopular and, neatly and fallaciously inverting the syllogism, therefore Bush's unpopularity means he must be doing well....

Runner-up goes to the argument that the cost of the war is actually pretty low relative to its scale and importance, as compared with previous US conflicts. Where's a statistician when you need her?

Mistaking Coincidence for Causation or Conspiracy
The idea that the July 4th deaths of Jefferson and Adams were suicides (followed by several others) has to rank as one of the sillier unfalsifiable theses offered in the last quarter. But for sheer bravado and scale, the award has to go to the environmental scientists who can't tell the Black Death from an Ice Age.

Fraud or Stupidity? You Decide
This also could go in the category of "how 'balanced' journalism perpetuates bad history" because the unveiling of a Chinese world map which claims to be an 18th century copy of a 15th century map (that's 1700s and 1400s, for those of you frustrated by century conversions) has produced a whole spate of articles about them most of which spend most of the time recounting Gavin Menzies' "Zheng He discovered America" fantasy without pointing out that the date on this map is actually several years prior to that purported event. Menzies himself has moved on, actually, to the idea that the Mongols, not the Ming, did the actual discovery.... The fact that the whole argument's been debunked in great detail (by Robert Finlay, among others) gets mentioned "below the fold" if at all.

Miscellaneous Honorable MentionsThat's it for this edition of the Bad History Carnival! Thanks to John McKay for creating the carnival and giving me the chance to host! Thanks to Sharon Howard, Ralph Luker, and everyone else who posted announcements and submitted material.* Most of the errors in this carnival are other people's mistakes and misunderstandings, but for anything which I'm responsible for, feel free to drop me an e-mail or leave a comment and I'll correct what I can....

The next edition is scheduled for June: volunteers for Host for that or for future editions are welcome! And please don't forget to submit articles as you write them, or see them.

* - Yes, I'm complaining: the number of independent submissions from the historical blogosphere was pitiful, in spite of the publicity I got from some of the best-read bloggers in the 'sphere. Given the educational potential, political abuses and cultural damage of bad history, I would have thought that they'd be lining up to host and flooding the inbox with submissions. Nope.

Quotations #080 - In honor of the Bad History Carnival

"History is a set of lies agreed upon." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

"The only people who remain misunderstood are those who either do not know what they want or are not worth understanding." -- Ivan Turgenev, Rudin (1856)

"So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable." -- Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (1937)

"Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors." T. H. Huxley, "The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species" (1881)

"What beastly incidents our memories insist on cherishing! ... the ugly and disgusting ... the beautiful things we have to keep diaries to remember!" -- Eugene O'Neill, Strange Interludes (1928)

"Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on." -- Samuel Butler, 27 February 1895

"If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by a spectacular error." -- John Kenneth Galbraith, attributed.

"Generally speaking, contemporary historians do not look favorably on the idea of historical accident. Like most modern people, they like to think they live in a world in which the reasons for things are discoverable by reason. Everything, we say, can be explained by something; we just have to find out what. As comforting and useful as this opinion is, it is false. In the course of human events, sometimes things happen just by accident. There is no way to explain them other than by the sheer operation of unpredictable fate. --Marshall Poe, The Russian Moment in World History, 38

Sunday, March 12, 2006

CFP: Carnival of Bad History Deadline is Sunday

The Bad History Carnival will be here Monday! Send me your myths, your idiots, your scheming charlatans yearning to be exposed....
[this post will be at the top of the blog until the deadline for submission passes on Sunday]

It's Here!

Because I don't have any better ideas, either

As Brian Ulrich says,
Natasha Hynes notes that the Committee to Protect Bloggers is asking all bloggers to link to this PSA calling for the release of Jill Carroll in Iraq.
The PSAs are better explained here and there is a nice roundup of Iraqi bloggers support for Jill Carroll here.

Better ideas always welcome.

I like Krispy Kreme. I like Bacon Cheesburgers. But...

...the thought of eating a bacon cheesburger on a krispy kreme bun makes me uncomfortable. It's not that it's "excessive" -- you can as much damage to yourself with a good Eggs Benedict or Corned Beef Hash with pancakes on the side (and I do!) -- but that it's bad food design.

Krispy Kreme donuts are, honestly, pretty greasy already, plus you've got the sugar glaze; the virtue of the traditional hamburger design is the bun's ability to serve as a neat, juice-absorbent platform for the fillings. Krispy Kremes barely stand up to a light dunking, much less the manhandling involved in corralling a burger with trimmings.

(In the grand "Dunkin' Donuts v. Krispy Kreme" debate, I am a fence-sitter, entirely comfortable with plain Krispy Kremes and the honey-glazed chocolate Dunkin' Donut as coequal favorites which fill different needs)

I've got nothing against experiments, of course, but this falls more in the category of performance art than cuisine: its "in your face" absurdity is intended to be shocking, rather than good. (Of course, this is a minor-league baseball team we're talking about here: attention-getting stunts are par for the course) In this case, I think something more like a Portuguese sweetbread or even -- being Illinois -- perhaps a hearty raisin bread? That might be interesting.... and excessive, of course.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Weird but friendly? Mysterious and successful? Stressed!

You Are Teal Green
You are a one of a kind, original person. There's no one even close to being like you. Expressive and creative, you have a knack for making the impossible possible. While you are a bit offbeat, you don't scare people away with your quirks. Your warm personality nicely counteracts any strange habits you may have.
To put it another way: "You are truly weird, and everyone knows it, but not in any disgusting or off-putting ways, and your neuroses have useful social or professional functions. You're also friendly, mostly because you aren't part of the inner circles in which interesting and difficult interpersonal issues come up."

I'm still waiting the quiz which comes back "You are baby-shit green. You are slimy, but easily contained, and people tolerate you as a byproduct of a necessary process." I might have to get into this quiz-writing thing myself, though, to make it happen.

Here's another color quiz [via] result
Which Color Are You?...

Your color is BLACK, mysterious and successful. Black symbolizes power and achievement. You are strong of character and able to attain your goals undauntedly. Your ambition and polished style exude a sophistication and grace that are unparalleled. These qualities are impressive to all, and intimidating to some.
I think teal is closer.... OK, though: there are a lot of self-tests on that site. Let's find an easy one... Generic Stress!
The results [ed: 83%] indicate that you may be under significant stress. Stop for a moment to reevaluate your situation. Time management may be an issue worth deliberation. Try to reorganize your time by focusing on priorities first. Don't get bogged down with frivilous things. Concentrate on what is really important and get that done. This should help free up your time and give you a handle on things. Remember that balance is key to any situation.
Well, can't argue with that, can I?