30 December 2008


When I posted "Ice Volcano" two weeks ago, we knew there was air to the surface of our pond. Since then, until today, this air hole has been buried under snow. The small hole at the bottom of a depression in the deep snow covering the pond confirms that our aerator still works.

The pond is hard to find.

Officially, we have received 59.8 inches of snow in December, but due to compacting and some melting from sunshine and rain, I was able to measure a mere 29 inches. The previous record snowfall was set in January 1950.

The gate that was buried, then clear, became buried again. But having had the foresight to open it before the latest round of snow, travel remains a possibility. It was necessary to move the garbage cans through this space, as there will be "no alley pick-up until further notice" the City of Spokane informed residents. The garbage trucks did not make it to our neighborhood last week, so we have quite a bit to haul to the front.

In the street, it is clear who must go to work, and who gets to stay home. Or, rather, it is clear which cars are worth trying to move, and which are not.

21 December 2008

The Kids

The kids got to the gate ...

and one built a snowman.

19 December 2008

Historic Storm: More Photos

My brother in Virginia asked for more photos of eastern Washington's winter storm.

At 4:00pm yesterday, it had temporary stopped snowing after coming down for more than thirty hours. With my trusty "scientific" measuring tape, I found almost 22", just under the 23" reported on the television.

We had this much snow last winter. The quantity is not significant, but how fast it fell. Last year's storm was substantial and lasted a week. As much snow fell in a day this year. Last year's storm created inconveniences, and called for mammoth snow removal efforts by city and county governments, and many private contractors. This year, the storm shut down many activities.

Our morning paper never arrived yesterday, and today's was delivered in the afternoon. The mail carrier has not been to our house since Wednesday. Many businesses have closed early, and others did not open yesterday or today.

More snow is falling, and we may get quite a bit this weekend. The snow is very dry--perfect for skiers. Because it is dry, it creates greater snow depth, but will pack down over time.

Up the street across a busy arterial, upon which there was no traffic yesterday, but plenty today, a neighbor was creating paths in the street. It may be days before the snow plows come down the residential streets. This extra time helps us move much of the snow so cars on the street don't get plowed in.

As I was typing this entry, I got the call to meet an associate in a nearby parking lot so he wouldn't need to risk my street to deliver some goods. Once I got away from the curb, I ran some other errands, and took along my camera.

Division and Buckeye at 4:30pm

A Car Parked at the Bank

Equipment for those Without Four-Wheel Drive

More from Yesterday

The Gate

X-mas Tree

Our Street

18 December 2008

Record Snowfall

The weather service recorded 17 inches of snow at Spokane International Airport in the 24 hours that ended at 4 a.m., 4 inches more than the record of 13 inches set in 1984. Records have been kept since 1881.
"Record snow fall paralyzing Spokane," Seattle Times, 18 December 2008
Records have been kept at the airport since 1881?

As I wrote yesterday, the official snowfall at the airport generally runs a few inches less than in my back yard. Some of my neighbors have convinced the local news that 23" have fallen in north Spokane. My measurements give us something close to 21" in the 24 hours from 8:00am yesterday until the same time this morning, and the snow continues to fall almost five hours later.

Meanwhile, the city of Las Vegas also is shut down with a record snowfall of a bit over 3 1/2".

The Pond

Two Benches

17 December 2008

And then it Snowed

...and it's still coming down with the bulk expected tomorrow. The TV weather guy just announced that the official seven inches at the airport set a record for this day in Spokane. It looks like more than that next to the pond in my backyard.

My wife spent ninety minutes making the less than three mile drive home from downtown, while my trip home from twenty miles north took me less than an hour, and I had a rider that needed dropped off along the way. My Jeep is a bit more snow worthy than her Scion, but I also had better roads and a lot less traffic.

One local high school reportedly told the kids to walk home because with all the neighborhood's roads closed, the buses could not get to school.

Historic storm! Unseasonable cold, followed by more than the usual amount of snow.

8:00pm update

The TV news just reported that chains are required on Spokane's South Hill. Only two arterials north and two south are currently open. I do not recall ever needing chains anywhere other than a mountain pass (except for one parking lot in an apartment complex in graduate school when the plows encased my car behind snow banks).

8:50pm update

The official weather station at the airport gives us our snowfall. They have eight inches. I always get a different measure in my backyard, and it's even deeper north of town.

5:30am update

The snow accumulation totals this morning, as reported on the television news, include 13 inches in north Spokane, and 17 inches south. Usually, more falls to the north. The television has most schools closed today, but a few to the north are running two hours late.

5:52am update

Just got the phone call from Deer Park School District--fifteen miles north of Spokane. No school there today. They were listed at two hours late twenty minutes ago.

Thursday Morning

My science of snow measurement: hold tape measure in left hand, stick into snow until the end reaches the top of the bench upon which the snow is undisturbed. Hold camera in right hand. Depress shutter several times to account for blurs due to shivering from cold.

16 December 2008

Ice Volcano

In order to maintain our koi through the winter, we have an aerator in the pond. The bubbling air assures that throughout most of the winter there will be a hole in the ice that forms on the surface. This hole helps maintain the oxygen required by the fish.

However, when the temperatures drop and reamain below 10°F for a few days, the hole in the ice may close, as it did for a few days last January. As a consequence of this year's early freeze, we have watched the hole slowly shrink since Sunday. This morning a small hole remains at the apex of an ice formation that resembles a small volcano.

02 December 2008

Note to Students and Parents

In the spring I will be offering a new class for the students at Deer Park Home Link. This post augments information in the course description.

Home Link Historians is a writing class designed for students that read history as part of their curriculum. Students will keep a journal of their reading in the form of a blog (short for web log). Instead of writing for an imagined audience, as in most writing classes, students will write for readers that will be able to leave comments.

I will use several writing prompts to offer structure and stimulate thought about issues central to the study of history. It does not matter what era, nation, culture, or special topic the student is studying: the writing prompts will be flexible.

The first prompt: What are you reading? Why are you reading it? What do you expect to learn?

The student blog will be located at Home Link Historians. It will be single blog with many authors writing under pseudonyms to protect their individual privacy.

Sample entries in Patriots and Peoples

For students and parents coming here to get a sense of how keeping a blog as a history reading journal might work, these samples might be of interest. For regular readers of this blog, this listing highlights some of my better entries over the past year.

Thinking Historically

On keeping a journal: “Spiral Notebooks

Primary Source focus: “Lee Resolution

A topical blog entry concerning a common myth: “Columbus and the Flat Earth

Another popular myth: “The Burning of the Boats

Investigating a text’s footnotes: “Depopulation: Ubelaker’s Low Estimate

Comparison of two texts on a limited subordinate topic: “Sixteenth Century Spain: Contrasting Images

Current events connection: “Booker T Washington’s White House Dinner

Now that you're already looking at my online writing, you might also find my Chess Skills blog of interest.

12 November 2008

Trippin' Through Amerika

On a recent road trip, one of those distinctly American activities, I put an old CD in the player. It's a compilation of songs that are good driving songs, and that tell a story of sorts about the United States--past and present. I created the compilation when someone else asked me to put together some music that might facilitate conversation. It was the first in a series I titled Trippin' Through Amerika. Volume one has twenty tracks.

1. Cream, "Crossroads (Live at Winterland)," from The Cream of Clapton

Recorded at the Winterland Auditorium in San Francisco, 10 March 1968 as part of the British band Cream's second US tour. The Cream of Clapton is a 1995 compilation album that includes Eric Clapton's solo work and music from several bands.

2. Dizzy Gillespie, "Salt Peanuts," Jazz Biography

This Bebop standard emerged from Gillespie's play with the Lucky Millinder Band in 1942.

3. Cher, "Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves," The Way of Love

Cher's first number one chart song reached the Billboard Hot 100 #1 on 6 November 1971. This episode from 1971 television--the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour--has been preserved on YouTube.

4. James Taylor, "Line 'Em Up," Hourglass

This song, which calls to memory the day President Nixon resigned, bridges Cher's fiction and James Brown's critique.

5. James Brown, "Funky President (People It's Bad)," James Brown: Greatest Hits

Although this song makes me think of Nixon, James Brown stated in James Brown: The Godfather of Soul (1986) that it concerns Gerald Ford. In any case, a funky President is always worth contemplating.

6. Elvis Presley, "Big Boss Man [Alternate Take 9]," Today, Tomorrow, & Forever

When I was compiling this CD, I wanted to include Koko Taylor's version of "Big Boss Man," but had it only on an old cassette tape. In the world of digital, I had to settle for Elvis. The song was recorded in 1967.

7. Gene Autry, "Back in the Saddle Again," The Roots of Country

This classic, first released on the eve of the Second World War, is one of very few five star Country Songs. It sometimes makes me think of the Eighties.

8. Glen Campbell, "Rhinestone Cowboy," Glen Campbell: 20 Greatest Hits

A song about superficiality and compromise on the road to fame, ironically became one of the best known songs and top hits released by Glen Campbell.

9. The Byrds, "Citizen Kane," Byrdmaniax

The Byrdmaniax album was released in 1971 to a poor reception amid some controversy. Nevertheless, I think this song, based on a movie, cuts to the heart of many contradictions in American culture.

10. Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band," Workingman's Dead

The world's greatest jug band's signature song. It is neither their best song, not the best recording. But it is true Americana and everyone should know it well.

This video is a Halloween performance in 1980 at Radio City Music Hall.

11. Fruteland Jackson, "Goin' Down to King Biscuit," I Claim Nothing But the Blues

Fruteland Jackson is a relatively young man (b. 1953) devoted to acoustic blues from the Delta and Piedmont. This song presents American history that never appears in textbooks, but is every bit as significant as work within the beltway.

12. Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit," The Very Best of Billie Holiday

Now that we've headed into the South, it's time to remember John McCain's statement, "We never hide from history. We make history." Of course, he hadn't yet said that when I put this compilation together.

13. Cisco Houston, "This Land in Your Land," This Land is Your Land: Songs of Freedom

There are few listeners that properly appreciate Woody Guthrie's voice singing America's all time number one song, but Cisco Houston's sweet voice pleases many. It's not my favorite version--I prefer Odetta, Arlo Guthrie, Will Geer, and others on A Tribute to Woody Guthrie,--but space is an issue when packing twenty songs into one CD.

14. Joan Baez, "Joe Hill," Best of Joan Baez

John McCutcheon's Live at Wolf Trap album includes this song with a heartwarming story about Paul Robeson in Australia, but Joan Baez has such an alluring voice that it's difficult not to prefer her version.

Phil Ochs sang another piece about Joe Hill worthy of attention, although not as well known as the "I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill" song sung by Baez.

15. Miles Davis, "John McLaughlin," Bitches Brew

John McLaughlin played the guitar for Miles Davis, and earned the rare distinction of having a song named for him on one of the most important Jazz albums of all time.

16. John Lee Hooker, "This Land Is Nobody's Land," The Real Folk Blues / More Real Folk Blues

After Woody's classic, Baez singing America's number one labor protest song, and an instrumental song celebrating a musician in the band that performs it, the Blues' chords strike deep. Hooker may be well known for a drinking song covered by George Thorogood, but this song deserves more airtime.

17. Judy Collins, "Get Together," This Land is Your Land: Songs of Freedom

This anthems of the 1960s, written by Chet Powers in the early decade, and sung in many elementary schools by the end of the decade. Judy Collins recorded it in 1966 at Newport.

18. The Blind Boys of Alabama, with Tom Waits, "Go Tell It On the Mountain," Go Tell It On the Mountain

This Christmas song doesn't sound out of place in the spring and summer.

19. Louis Armstrong, "We Shall Overcome," Louis Armstrong and His Friends

This version of "We Shall Overcome" last nearly seven minutes was recorded in May 1970.

20. Leonard Cohen, "Closing Time," The Essential Leonard Cohen

YouTube has an interesting video of this compelling song.

10 November 2008

Poetry: Joy Harjo

Most poetry in the world isn't on the page.
Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo speaks about her new CD, Winding Through the Milky Way.

I've been reading and enjoying Harjo's poems since the late 1980s, and met her in 1991 when she did a reading where I was in graduate school. Her grace and charm made a deep and lasting impressions upon me. I've long enjoyed the way she plays the saxophone during her readings as an integral element in her poetry. Her comments in this video respond to those that see music as separate and distinct from the lines she writes and reads.

From her website:
Start with a voice. Let it fly free. Bring in a saxophone to touch those places the words can't reach.

05 November 2008

Booker T Washington's White House Dinner

John McCain's Concession Speech

In his warm and honorable concession speech, Presidential candidate John McCain highlighted the historic significance of Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 election. In a nation where many citizens once considered it scandalous for an African American to dine with the President, the President-elect is now an African American.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
Senator John McCain, Concession Speech
Booker T. Washington joined President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House for dinner on 16 October 1901. In Theodore Rex (2001), Edmund Morris notes that dinner "proceeded behind closed doors, under the disapproving gaze of a Negro butler" (52). Southern politics was the central topic of conversation.

News of the dinner traveled along the Associated Press wire throughout the night, and the morning newspapers were generally positive. But the next afternoon, the Memphis Scimitar called the event a "damnable outrage," and Morris notes, used a term that "had not been seen in print for years ... [and now] had the force of an obscenity" (55). Morris quotes the Memphis Scimitar at length:
The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.
The newspaper went on to criticize Roosevelt's claims that his mother was "a Southern woman," and to assert that Southern women can no longer accept invitations to the White House "with proper self-respect," nor is President Roosevelt welcome in Southern homes.

One week later reports circulated that Washington and Roosevelt were expected to dine together again, this time at Yale University. Security was tightened, the Secret Service did not permit the President to work the crowds (President McKinley had been assassinated the previous month, elevating Vice President Roosevelt to his present office), and Washington was seated far from Roosevelt during the event. There was no mention of dinner.

Booker T. Washington visited Roosevelt's White House again, but only in the morning during regular business hours. Dinner invitations became impossible for both men.

John McCain praised the United States and its people: "We never hide from history. We make history."

Patriots and Peoples

The controversy that erupted in the wake of President Theodore Roosevelt's historic dinner hosting Booker T. Washington occupies the whole of the second chapter in Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex, the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979). The dinner gets only passing mention by Howard Zinn in A People's History of the United States. In a discussion of post-Civil War racism, Zinn writes:
In this atmosphere it was no wonder that those Negro leaders most accepted in white society, like the educator Booker T. Washington, a one-time White House guest of Theodore Roosevelt, urged Negro political passivity.
This note about the 1901 dinner leads a paragraph that focuses upon Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address, which was soundly criticized by W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks (1903).

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offer a full paragraph concerning Washington's dinner and the resulting controversy in A Patriot's History of the United States. They state that "the event showed both how far America had come, and how far it had to go" (483). In the next paragraph, however, they discuss African American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas in 1906 "shooting up the town, killing a civilian, then managing to return to the base unobserved" (483). Roosevelt discharged the soldiers , and they were denied their pensions. Schweikart and Allen note that these soldiers' military honors were restored by Congress in 1972.

The abrupt transition from a dinner regarded as scandalous by some to the narrative concerning African American violence--mistreatment of the soldiers by Brownsville residents is mentioned, but without any detail--hits me with the sort of force effected by the Memphis Scimitar's choice of words. I become immediately suspicious of their intent. This passage is not the only place I have observed an abrupt transition to depredations perpetrated by the victims of racial injustice within the pages of A Patriot's History.

02 November 2008

The End of Google

I found my own blog this morning through an unusual route. That is, I found another blog based upon Patriots and Peoples, but without my input, nor my explicit consent. It was not up-to-date, nor complete, and it contained alterations that I dislike and oppose. The blog in question is a sample Mobiforumz blog (I will not provide the link--Google them if you want). It is called Journey of James Stripes and consists of posts I wrote 18 April - 2 August, 2008. It has all the appearances of having been created by some webcrawling robot. Each of my posts is attributed to "hidayath," who may or may not be a real person.

Theft might be the right word.

I was ego-surfing as part of the process of helping a young man just out of his teenage years understand how a potential employer might look at his MySpace or Facebook page, or use Google, to supplement his self-disclosure in a job application. I've been ego-surfing longer than I've known the term, and am well aware of what comes up when my name is fed into search engines. This practice of checking up on myself was part of how I evaluated when someone owning a few shares in the company was touting it. It returned a lot of unrelated junk a year ago. It does better now, but still lacks Google's ability to find what it should.

Because I have an uncommon name, a search for me finds mostly stuff I've written. Many of the hits that are unrelated to me connect to "St. James Infirmary Blues" by the White Stripes, or Jack White attending a James Bond premier, or articles in the Stars and Stripes newspaper with photos by Stephanie James.

If articles I've written for scholarly journals are not returned in the first few pages by a search engine, it's not worth using. My article on Russell Means, for example, should be found easily. If one plumbs the depths, my contribution concerning "blind swine" to Edward Winter's enterprise should appear.

Most often Patriots and Peoples is the top hit. It seems as though Google thinks that this blog is my most important work.

When I found a Mobiforumz blog with my name in the title in the first page of hits, I was curious. My first glance at the site brought to memory many frustrating Google searches for specific information. Often I use the web to quickly find a credible source of real information--a book or website that I recall dimly. For years, Amazon has filtered its way to the top of most searches. In the past few years Wikipedia has risen to a place of preeminence. As the universal encyclopedia written equally by the ignorant and the knowledgeable improves, Google's tendency becomes less fatal.

More and more, however, it seems that searches through Google turn up information that originates with Wikipedia or Amazon, but was cannibalized from there for another site. Some cannibals add a service, Pickii, for instance sells books too. Many of these other sites contribute no original data, but exist solely to offer an abundance of the advertisements absent from the originating sites. These Para-Sites are an inevitable product of late-capitalism, and its tendency to nurture marketing saavy more than quality product development. They are the "fast food" of an information diet. They produce information bloat akin to what one would expect from a steady diet of Big Macs.

Copyright Issues

Patriots and Peoples carries a Creative Commons license. Today I changed this license as a consequence of my ego-surfing misadventure. Previously I had encouraged derivative work, thinking of the sort of use that was called "fair use" before lawyers and the free market went after the work of honest people.
In K-12, higher education, and after-school programs and workshops, teachers face conflicting information about their rights, and their students’ rights, to quote copyrighted material. They also confront complex, restrictive copyright policies in their own institutions. As a result, teachers use less effective teaching techniques, teach and transmit erroneous copyright information, fail to share innovative instructional approaches, and do not take advantage of new digital platforms.
The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy (2007)
When I added my CC license, I chose "Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States." After witnessing derivative work with advertising hyperlinks thrown randomly into the text, dating site marketing, and other changes, I had to reconsider. This work now carries the "Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States" license. I understood before I wrote my first Amazon review that once something is in cyberspace, the author loses control. Socrates said the same thing about printing speeches in the Phaedrus, but the global internet kills authors with a relish unknown in ancient Greece.

Presenting one's corpus to cannibals is another matter.

Derivative Work

Chesstiger's "Two rook pawns with an extra pawn on the opposite side" builds on something I posted as "Fox in the Chicken Coop." Although I created the diagram found there, it almost certainly has been independently created by others. Nevertheless, Chesstiger mentioned my Chess Skills blog when he posted the diagram with his own extended analysis. Scholarship is the usual term for building on the work of others, and it should not require explicit authorization by the copyright holder. Still, the Creative Commons license seemed to connote a world where knowledge is freely shared for everyone's benefit. That was my intent. The license change should not affect responsible extensions of this sort.

My writing is also replicated by Reuters and similar services with full attribution (see Lee Resolution). That derivative work does no harm, and may confer benefits both to me and to readers. Reuters also has explicit permission. Alas, Google does not pick up these syndicated articles often, at least not any of mine.

Google seems to be finding too easily this new Para-Site containing my words in an alien context hostile to my intent. As it crowds its way onto the search pages with others that mine Wikipedia, Google loses its value. Google's recent drop in stock value has been part of the painful economic correction afflicting all markets; however, if the search engine can be hijacked so easily, it may be still overpriced.

22 October 2008

Chess, Checkers, Ping-Pong

Was Richard Nixon a chess player? That's one of many insignificant questions that will join the significant inquiries as I read through Rick Perlstein's Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008). The subtitle provokes the first significant question: How did the political ascendancy of Richard Nixon stimulate internal cultural conflict?

This question will wait until I read the text.

Chess was important for a brief moment before the world knew about Watergate, but after some of the crimes had been committed. A lone American had taken on the Soviet Empire in a battle over sixty-four squares. This American, Robert J. "Bobby" Fischer, had a lot of pecularities and was in danger of forfeiting the World Chess Championship match with Boris Spassky. Henry Kissinger called the chess player.
This is the worst player in the world calling the best player in the world.
Kissinger to Fischer*
A glance through the index of Nixonland turns up no evidence that Fischer's chess exploits and Nixon's interest in them is narrated in its more than seven hundred pages. There are nearly a dozen references to checkers, on the other hand, and there is a chapter entitled "Ping-Pong".

Checkers was a dog, and Nixon's Checker's Speech was one of the greatest political speeches in the twentieth century.

Nixon played the pivotal role in the opening of communist China to American enterprise. Someone dubbed it Ping-Pong Diplomacy and the name stuck. American ping-pong players traveled to China for a match in which they got schooled by superior players, but the United States thanked the players for their sacrifice.

I'm paying a lot of attention to chess these days, and logging my dogged support of a Russian player--Vladimir Kramnik--who appears on the verge of a devastating loss to an Indian--Viswanathan Anand. The battle is taking place in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany that also served as capital of a reunited Germany until the government was tranferred back to Berlin in 1998-1999.

Bobby Fischer died in January. But his spirit has a way of inserting itself into contemporary chess events. Can Nixon be far behind?

*Quoted in David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How a Lone American Star Defeated the Soviet Chess Machine (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 143.

15 October 2008

Creative Anachronism

Alexis de Tocqueville was sent to the United States by the French government in 1831 and spent nine months traveling through the young nation. Upon his return to France, he offered his observations in De la démocratie en Amerique (Democracy in America) published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. It is a rare American historian that never finds reason to quote from this seminal work. His observations and insights regarding Jacksonian America often seem to transcend time. His quest for irony led to such passages as the observation that vis-à-vis Europe women in America experience both more and less liberty.
In America the independence of woman is irrecoverably lost in the bonds of matrimony. If an unmarried woman is less constrained there than elsewhere, a wife is subjected to stricter obligations. The former makes her father's house an abode of freedom and of pleasure; the latter lives in the home of her husband as if it were a cloister.
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, 212.*
If mid-twentieth century readers found insight in his observations on equality of the sexes, perhaps also his discussion of the arts in a democracy offers enduring insights. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen think so.

Defining “Americanness”

Near the beginning of “Colonial Adolescence, 1707-63,” the second chapter of A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), Schweikart and Allen offer this synopsis.
The “intermingling of classes and constant rising and sinking” of individuals in an egalitarian society, Tocqueville wrote, had a detrimental effect on the arts: painting, literature, music, theater, and education. In place of high or refined mores, Tocqueville concluded, Americans had built a democratic culture that was highly accessible but ultimately lacking in the brilliance that characterized European art forms.
Schweikart and Allen, A Patriot’s History, 39.
This anachronistic introduction of Tocqueville into the future United States a full century before his historic visit provides a segue to discussion of the tendency of American colonials to imitate Europeans in the arts, as well as eighteenth century American colleges, colonial drama and music, and some of the achievements of Benjamin Franklin.

“In What Spirit the Americans Cultivate the Arts”

In the second volume, eleventh chapter, Tocqueville observes that in a democracy people “will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful be useful” (50). Where “men are forever rising or sinking on the social scale,” Tocqueville suggests, “desires grow much faster than their fortunes” and short cuts are sought (51). Those whose “wants are above their means” accept “imperfect satisfaction; the resulting market forces induce artisans “to produce with great rapidity many imperfect commodities” produced by craftsmen “in a state of accomplished mediocrity” (52). Not only does the quality of work suffer due to efforts to put products in the hands of the many, but exertions are made to make these works appear better than they are. Tocqueville used the term “hypocrisy of luxury” to refer to facile qualities and fakes, citing the easy manufacture of fake diamonds. Some classic architecture in New York provided this memorable experience.
When I arrived for the first time at New York, by that part of the Atlantic Ocean which is called the East River, I was surprised to perceive along the shore, at some distance from the city, a number of little palaces of white marble, several of which were of classic architecture. When I went the next day to inspect more closely one which had particularly attracted my notice, I found that its walls were of whitewashed brick, and its columns of painted wood. All the edifices that I had admired the night before were of the same kind.
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, 54.
It takes very little imagination for cynics to apply phrases like “accomplished mediocrity” to the work of well-trained authors from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop when the writing of one is indistinguishable from another, or to the latest run of Hollywood films and the American lust for pyrotechnics and other special effects, or to our everyday cuisine—there is certainly plenty of hypocrisy in the “photos” of fast food burgers that hang in American “restaurants” all over the world.

In Tocqueville’s analysis this mediocrity is tied to social democracy—people rising and sinking in status. Were these conditions present before the American Revolution?

*Edition cited:
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 volumes, edited by Phillips Bradley (New York: Vintage Books, 1945).

The entire text of Democracy in America is available by link from, a site put up by C-SPAN, to the University of Virginia’s Crossroads Project. The C-SPAN site has useful supplemental information. It is also available at Project Gutenberg—Volume 1 and Volume 2.

13 October 2008

Lee Resolution

The Lee Resolution is the first of “100 Milestone Documents” presented online by the National Archives and Records Administration. This site offers an image of each original document and brief historical notes regarding its significance.

Approved by the Continental Congress, 2 July 1776
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Lee Resolution showing congressional vote, July 2, 1776; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives.
Richard Henry Lee penned these words per instructions “to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to or dependence upon the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain” (as quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison, “Prelude to Independence: The Virginia Resolutions of May 15, 1776,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series 8 [1951], 488). Lee introduced his resolution 7 June, which was seconded by John Adams, and Congress adopted the resolution 2 July 1776.

The Virginia Resolutions were read in the Continental Congress 27 June, a Committee formed for drafting the Declaration reported the next day, and the Declaration of Independence itself was adopted 4 July.

Efforts to assess the significance of the Lee Resolution have included assertions that “Independence Day was properly the day on which Congress passed the resolution which actually established our independence; and that day was July 2” (Charles Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series 2 [1945], 238). A similar spin was put forth in “July 4, 1776, An Imagi-Holiday” at the blog History Is Elementary. She suggests pedagogy of discovery:
Is elementaryhistoryteacher calling for a change in the date for our independence celebrations? No, I’m not. What I am calling for is greater effort on the part of those who teach social studies to know their content concerning myth versus fact and share that information with students. Throw out some teasers to students, provide them with the materials, and let them discover how we decided the 4th instead of the 2nd would be our “Epoch” or Independence Day.
She also provides a link to the History News Network’s “Top 5 Myths about the Fourth of July.” Myth #1 is that the United States declared its independence on July 4. The HNN staff writers explain, “America's independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776.”

A reader of History Is Elementary offered a cautionary note regarding claims that the “wrong” day is celebrated every summer, highlighting the crux of Independence:
Liberty, self-determination, the franchise and the founding of a glorious Republic. That, at least, is what I celebrate on the fourth day of July.
pbuxton, “comment

Patriots and Peoples

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offers John Adams’ language that “Congress has passed the most important resolution … ever taken in America” (ellipses in original, Schweikart and Allen, 80). The footnote identifies their source for Adams’ words as a secondary source: Page Smith, John Adams, 1735-1784, vol 1 (1962). The previous paragraph mentions that delegates to the Continental Congress were instructed to support independence; it highlights the leadership role of Virginia through the colony establishing a republican government in June.

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States does not specifically mention the Lee Resolution. There is an allusion to the action where he notes, the Continental Congress “organized a committee to draw up the Declaration of Independence . . . It was adopted by the Congress on July 2, and officially proclaimed on July 4, 1776” (Zinn, 71). The next paragraph discusses precedents in resolutions adopted in North Carolina two months earlier, and quotes from one adopted by Malden, Massachusetts.

Voices of a People’s History, edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove offers that “[a]t least ninety state and local declarations of independence” were issued in the months leading up to July 1776. This information is part of the headnote to “New York Mechanics Declaration of Independence” proclaimed 29 May 1776 (86-87).

The narrative focus through this section in both A Patriot’s History and A People’s History moves from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to the Declaration of Independence.

12 October 2008

A Literary Artifact

A literary artifact in honor of Columbus Day. In this passage from a Brazilian novel of a century ago, the protagonist reflects on the memory of his first kiss.
Even now I have the echo of it in my ears. The satisfaction I felt was tremendous. Columbus felt no greater when he discovered America, and pardon the banality in consideration of the aptness: every adolescent has within him an undiscovered world, an admiral and an October dawn. I made other discoveries later; none so dazzled me.
Machado de Assis, (trans. Helen Caldwell), Dom Casmurro, 71-72.
Dom Casmurro was published in Brazil in 1900; the English translation appeared in the United States in 1953. It is a tremendous book.

23 September 2008

Spurious Quotations

Historians are dull people; they can kill a conversation with a fact.
Robert Littlewood
It is impossible to verify the quotation above. Bob Littlewood said something along these lines when I was in his office for one of our periodic meetings. We were discussing the possibilities and pitfalls of interdisciplinary research. Many of our conversations worked their way through the perceptions of scholars in one academic discipline about the methodologies of another. I was working in literature, anthropology, and history.

Under Littlewood’s tutelage in anthropological theory I read The Sacred Canopy (1967) by Peter Berger; Eric Wolf’s seminal essay, “The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol,” Journal of American Folklore (1958); Talal Asad’s “Anthropological Conceptions of Religion: Reflections on Geertz,” Man (1983); and much more. I outlined a research program focused on the study of patriotism as civil religion with attention towards Texas v. Johnson 491 U.S. 397 (1989), the Nez Perce flag dance, the rise of the Religious Right in the Seventies and Eighties. Because I mentioned in passing Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization (1987) by Hans Peter Duerr, he read it and demanded some accountability from my perusal. Dreamtime is a fantastic book with a mere 125 pages of main text and many hundreds of pages of footnotes. Once Littlewood looked at the book, I could no longer afford to neglect the footnotes, which were “the most interesting part,” he said.

Dreamtime is a book that I stumbled upon in the bookstore. While I was looking at it, a colleague came by and we discussed the book. I showed her the extensive footnotes and bibliography amounting to more than three quarters of the volume. This colleague, who was pursuing a Ph.D. in composition and rhetoric, told me I should spurn the book simply out of principle in opposition to writers that draft long discursive footnotes. I listened to her dissertation on principles, on writing, and upon the consumer behavior of bibliophiles. I bought the book because it reflected principles of scholarship important to me. I value footnotes.

I read Dreamtime the day I bought it, but forgetting my principles, neglected the footnotes until Littlewood drove me back towards them.

I’ll be having this really interesting conversation with James, and then he’ll start speaking in footnotes.
Sherman Alexie
Readers of Sherman Alexie’s poetry and fiction will have seen statements where he disparages certain aspects of academic practice and perhaps also his use of footnotes as a trope for detail obsessed scholars. His statement above, if it was ever spoken, was reported to me through a third party to whom he spoke about me. Nearly a decade after this alleged utterance, he admitted to me that he probably said something along these lines.

Novelists are in the business of making up conversations to carry along a story, including often credible accounts of another era. Part of the business of historians is creation of stories from verifiable fragments of conversations in other eras. Footnotes offer the records of verification, and often the adventure of the quest or alternate plots lines for the story. In the case of bad history—fabrication, falsification, plagiarism—the footnotes (or their absence) often tell the story. These facts may end interesting conversations, but they also provoke new and vital discussions.

Footnotes are integral to reliable texts.

04 September 2008

Energy Policy

Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines ... build more nuclear plants ... create jobs with clean coal ... and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.
Sarah Palin, RNC Acceptance Speech
Despite a multitude of temptations, Patriots and Peoples shall not become a blog about current politics. Patriots and Peoples concerns history, albeit the spin given to history when ideology drives the research. But that’s quite different than dissecting convention speeches, opinion polls, campaign strategies, and voter despair. Often it is difficult to resist commenting on the executive experience gained bringing a Fred Meyer to Wasilla, Alaska, or the lack of accomplishments by a Presidential candidate who co-sponsored the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act (McCain signed on as an additional sponsor).

Plenty of bloggers write continuously about the drama of American politics. I read them. I read such things as Brad DeLong’s obituary for trickle-down economics, Doghouse Riley’s screeds against self-important, overpaid pundits, Prerna’s exposés, fact checking by the Reality-Based Community: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” Victor Davis Hanson's Pajamas Media column, and many others. I seek a breadth of perspectives and return to those that write well.

In politics I seek the balance that I demand in history. Of course I have my views, but they are not dogma.

"She said she'd like to support McCain but felt she couldn't at this particular time because of his stand on ANWR," said the governor's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow.
Anchorage Daily News, 3 February 2008
Indeed, it was the prospect that an Alaska Governor on the Republican ticket, and her prospects of shifting John McCain’s previous position against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that sent me to the Jimmy Carter Library where I was able to reread his 1980 State of the Union Address.

Clear and Present Danger

President Jimmy Carter called for a comprehensive energy policy that focused on conservation and a diverse portfolio. I think it’s fair to say that he failed to get his ideas implemented.

The crises in Iran and Afghanistan have dramatized a very important lesson: Our excessive dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our Nation's security. The need has never been more urgent. At long last, we must have a clear, comprehensive energy policy for the United States.

As you well know, I have been working with the Congress in a concentrated and persistent way over the past 3 years to meet this need. We have made progress together. But Congress must act promptly now to complete final action on this vital energy legislation. Our Nation will then have a major conservation effort, important initiatives to develop solar power, realistic pricing based on the true value of oil, strong incentives for the production of coal and other fossil fuels in the United States, and our Nation's most massive peacetime investment in the development of synthetic fuels.

The American people are making progress in energy conservation. Last year we reduced overall petroleum consumption by 8 percent and gasoline consumption by 5 percent below what it was the year before. Now we must do more.

After consultation with the Governors, we will set gasoline conservation goals for each of the 50 States, and I will make them mandatory if these goals are not met.

I've established an import ceiling for 1980 of 8.2 million barrels a day—well below the level of foreign oil purchases in 1977. I expect our imports to be much lower than this, but the ceiling will be enforced by an oil import fee if necessary. I'm prepared to lower these imports still further if the other oil-consuming countries will join us in a fair and mutual reduction. If we have a serious shortage, I will not hesitate to impose mandatory gasoline rationing immediately.

The single biggest factor in the inflation rate last year, the increase in the inflation rate last year, was from one cause: the skyrocketing prices of OPEC oil. We must take whatever actions are necessary to reduce our dependence on foreign oil—and at the same time reduce inflation.

As individuals and as families, few of us can produce energy by ourselves. But all of us can conserve energy—every one of us, every day of our lives. Tonight I call on you—in fact, all the people of America—to help our Nation. Conserve energy. Eliminate waste. Make 1980 indeed a year of energy conservation.
Jimmy Carter, State of the Union Address 1980, 23 January 1980
It was hard to get behind Carter in 1980, and not much easier today. Never the less, I wonder how his policy ideas might have helped avert some of our present struggles.

28 August 2008


The Grateful Dead in concert at Radio City Music Hall, 23 October 1980. Concert audio is available at the Internet Archive as well as YouTube.

26 August 2008

Importing Theory: Europeans and Indians

In her classic bestseller, Patterns in Culture (1946 [1934]), Ruth Benedict draws upon Greek myth to construct two categories of cultural practice. She states,
Like most of the American Indians, except those of the Southwest puebloes, the tribes of the Northwest Coast were Dionysian. In their religious ceremonies the final thing they strove for was ecstasy. The chief dancer, at least at the high point of his performance, should lose normal control of himself and be rapt into another state of existence. He should froth at the mouth, tremble violently and abnormally, do deeds which would be terrible in a normal state. (158)
In her chapter on the Pueblos, which she calls Apollonian, Benedict explains that these contrasting approaches to "the value of human existence" were "named and described by [Frederich] Nietzsche in his studies of Greek tragedy" (79).

She summarizes Nietzsche's analysis,
The desire of the Dionysian, in personal experience or in ritual, is to press through it toward a certain psychological state, to achieve excess. The closest anaology to the emotions he seeks is drunkenness, and he values the illuminations of frenzy. With [William] Blake, he believes "the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." The Apollonian distrusts all this, and has often little idea of the nature of such experiences. He finds means to outlaw them from his conscious life. He "knows but one law, measure in the Hellenic sense." He keeps the middle of the road, stays within the known map, does not meddle with disruptive psychological states. (79)
This scheme for analyzing the rituals and spiritual practices of American indigenes, and perhaps also their secular practices, might suggest interesting research questions. But it might also get in the way of perception. This scheme may well filter out all observations that undermine the effort to apply an alien theory of existence to cultural study.

Benedict's expression of these categories has always provoked frustration--indeed I experience a passionate, negative emotional response, even thinking of tossing the book towards the garbage--each time I encounter them. Although I've been reading Patterns in Culture since the late 1980s, I cannot state with any assurance that I've read the whole book.

My resistance to Benedict's categories for analysis of North American tribal cultures stems from the sense that it is an inappropriate importation of alien culture theory, rather than the effort to discover and articulate indigenous theory. It violates a cardinal principle of the historian, and of the anthropologist, that peoples must be understood first on their own terms. Then, and only then, can we make comparisons to other peoples.

Benedict's scheme causes me to think of one of the clearest and most insightful statements I have heard from Russell Means: "Marxism is as alien to my culture as capitalism and Christianity" (Means, "The Same Old Song," 33).* In this essay, Means makes his case against Marxism.
Revolutionary Marxism, as with industrial society in other forms, seeks to "rationalize" all people in relation to industry, maximum industry, maximum production. It is a meterialist doctrine which despises the American Indian spiritual tradition, our cultures, our lifeways. Marx himself called us "precapitalists" and "primitive". Precapitalist simply means that, in his view, we would eventually discover capitalism and become capitalists; we have always been economically retarded in Marxist terms. (26)
Means argues that Marxism is steeped in European industrial values, and its revolutionary vision is rooted in an understanding of the needs of Europe. For an Oglala Lakota patriot, as Means describes himself, the importation of Marxist revoltionary theory does not offer relief from the destruction of Native lands by American industrial capitalism. Marxism wishes only to change the ownership of the industry, not embrace a more spiritual way of being.

Whether the theory stems from Nietzsche's analysis of Greek myth, or the economic analysis of capitalism by Marx an Engels, it represents the importation of alien ways of thinking. It produces bias that might interfere with perception.

*Russell Means, "The Same Old Song," in Marxism and Native Americans, edited by Ward Churchill, 19-33 (Boston: South End Press, 1983).

22 August 2008

Thinking Historically

Some notes from part of a history lecture:

What is history?
Why study it?

The past helps us understand how we came to be the way we are.

The past shows us alternative ways of living to contrast our own.
• The cost of petroleum was of no interest to Captain James Cook.
Scurvy, which Cook reduced among his crew, is not a significant health problem today.*

Historians . . .
Respect our subjects
o Avoid thinking of people in the past as backward and ignorant because they didn’t understand vitamin C or the relative differences between T-mobile and Verizon.

Carefully limit our generalizations
o Avoid putting all people of a particular place and time into a single box. For instance, consider the statement, “Seventeenth century sailors were horny and spread syphilis.” Even though that statement contains a kernel of truth, it does more to create and perpetuate stereotypes than to shed light on the lifestyles, culture, and health risks of seventeenth century sailors.

Avoid anachronisms
o McCoy on Star Trek (set a few centuries in the future) called twentieth century surgeons “butchers” because they used scalpels; likewise eighteenth century bloodletting was often condemned by these same butchers. These criticisms assess behaviors of historic individuals by standards unknown to them.

Are aware of our own biases
o We attempt to judge people in the past by their own terms, not ours.
o We might go on to note, and even celebrate, the changes in mores, but we begin by considering people according to the standards of their time.

Work from evidence
o Our statements about the past must be supported through artifacts (usually primary texts) from the past.

Focus on
o Continuity and change
o Cause and effect
o Significance

*“Recurring nutritional deficiency diseases, including rickets, scurvy, beri-beri, and pellagra were thought to be infectious diseases. By 1900, biochemists and physiologists had identified protein, fat, and carbohydrates as the basic nutrients in food.” “Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (October 15, 1999), 906.

02 August 2008

My Journey to Medieval Spain

When I began reading A Patriot’s History of the United States eight months ago, perusing the footnotes quickly carried me astray. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that a long footnote embedded as a two and one-half page sidebar was the critical prompt the motivated my purchase of this text and the beginning of this blogging project (See especially “Patriot’s and People’s Histories” and “Depopulation and Demography”). Footnotes are central to my focus, but the text itself also beckons. I’ve been neglecting the text during my blogging holiday, but have been reading.

This morning’s coffee went down with a narrative lauding the intellectual contributions of Moses Maimonides, Ibn Tufayl, and Ibn Rushd (known in European literature as Averroes). Wikipedia describes Ibn Rushd as “the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe.” I’m reading a celebration of the development of Western secular thought in a book written by a former Jesuit seminarian whose book on Medieval Spain has much of prescriptive value for the twenty-first century: Chris Lowney, A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Earlier in this book Lowney delves into two classic European texts, Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland) c.1100 and Poema de Mio Cid (Poem of My Cid, or commonly called El Cid) c.1201-1207. Lowney writes, “the confrontation between Christianity and Islam forms a overriding preoccupation of both these semi-legendary tales” (119). His narrative offers brief summaries of these texts, including discussion of how their legends square with history. His chief concern through this section, however, highlights the complexity of El Cid in contrast to the simplistic ideology of Roland.
Roland painted a global struggle between Christian right and Muslim wrong as Charlemagne squared off against Baligant, emir of Babylon. Roland’s universal struggle between good and evil contrasts with El Cid’s personalized study of the noble person. What makes the Cid, or anyone, honorable is neither station in life nor religious beliefs but deeds. … In Roland, honor includes religious creed. Some of Roland’s Christian characters may fail the standards expected of honorable men, but all Muslims fail the same standard simply by virtue of their pagan beliefs. … El Cid’s very different outlook is personified in the Muslim Abengalbón, El Cid’s vassal and friend. In a remarkable gesture, the Cid confides his daughters to this Muslim’s care as they journey through Spain’s frontier. Abengalbón serves the Cid’s family “for the love he bore to the Campeador.” In the Cid’s world, so profound a bond as love can even bind Muslim to Christian.
Lowney, A Vanished World, 137.
The more nuanced relationship between Christians and Muslims in El Cid, Lowney argues, reflects the realities of multicultural Spain. But he warns against oversimplification of this point.
It is gross oversimplification to pluck Barbastro and Toledo from the Reconquest’s long history as Exhibit A demonstrating that El Cid offers a more enlightened vision of a multifaith Spain because its authors hailed from Spain, whereas Roland reflects the outsider’s harsher viewpoint. A century separates the epics and three centuries the historical events on which they are based; both bear many authorial fingerprints, from chroniclers determined to advance particular religious or political views to entertainers determined only to tell a good story.
Lowney, A Vanished World, 141.
He goes on to note some practical realities of our world today vis-à-vis Charlemagne’s perspective as depicted in Roland. The notion of a Frankish king invading Spain, driving out the Muslims, and then returning home “is an elegantly simple worldview,” but not one embraced by twelfth- or thirteenth century Spanish monarchs. Yet, “Ferdinand and Isabella’s counselors would goad them into just such a policy and devise ways to make it eminently (if tragically) practical by banishing Jews and Muslims who refused to embrace Christianity” (141).
One is tempted to think that Lowney had the current American adventures in Iraq in mind as he crafted those sentences, and this presumption is borne out on the next page.
[One cannot] forcibly reorder another community’s lives and affairs, then assume, as Charlemagne did, that it will be possible to separate oneself from the consequences and repercussions. To assume the posture of the outsider is as naïve as to imagine that Muslims, Christians, and Jews can today carve out completely separate futures in a world that will continue to grow smaller with each passing generation.
Lowney, A Vanished World, 142.

The Route to Spain from A Patriot’s History

Schweikart and Allen’s A Patriot’s History relies upon Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture for its account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. Hanson’s depiction of Cortés’s Spain as exemplar of Western Reason was the source for Schweikart and Allen’s image of Spanish proto-republicans. Their views caught me by surprise, which led to my preliminary assessment in “Sixteenth Century Spain: Contrasting Images.” There I noted that my own knowledge of Spanish history was shamefully deficient, and I alleged that such deficiency was characteristic of Americanist historians as a group with a handful of exceptions. A Patriot’s History drove me to Hanson; Hanson drove me to Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old Mexico and other texts, including Lowney’s A Vanished World. I’ve mentioned a few tidbits from Thomas, including his demythologizing of the story that Cortés burned his boats. Lowney adds a piece of information that further contextualizes this legend. The Muslim conqueror of Spain in 711, Tariq ibn Ziyad, allegedly burned his boats after landing at Gibraltar—a rock named for him, Jabal Tariq, Tariq’s Mountain.
Chroniclers credit Tariq with the gutsy gesture of burning his ships on the spot and weaving his soldiers’ resulting dilemma into a stirring oratorical exhortation: “Whither can you fly,—the enemy is in your front, the sea at your back. By Allah! There is no salvation for you but in your courage and perseverance.”
Lowney, A Vanished World, 30.

The legend of Cortés in Mexico reveals his debt to legends of the Muslim conquest of his native Spain eight centuries earlier. This legacy is not surprising when we contemplate the degree to which Renaissance Europe, and all that is civilized on that continent, to the extent that it can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Romans, also must be traced through Muslim civilization. During the so-called Dark Ages of Europe, science and reason continued its development in Muslim society. It may be simplistic to assert that Europe’s Crusaders that sought to wrest the Holy Land from Muslims brought home the seeds of the Renaissance, but it is far closer to the truth than to assert that Petrarch reinvented classic learning from sources wholly European.

Roland’s Patriots

In response to my “The Sixties: A Patriot’s History,” Historiann quipped regarding Schweikart and Allen, “They want to mislead their readers into believing that Democrats are all bad, and Republicans are all (or mostly) good (if they are "true conservatives," anyway.)” As she understands A Patriot’s History—and I suspect she’s close to the mark, if not right on,—Schweikart and Allen’s narrative resembles a modern day Chanson de Roland. Paraphrasing Lowney, some of Schweikart and Allen’s Republican characters may fail the standards expected of honorable men, but all Democrats fail the same standard simply by virtue of their misguided beliefs. Their simplistic moral tale that distinguishes the true Republicans—Reagan and Bush—from the fallen ones—Nixon and McCain, and all Republicans from Democrats, who can never be right is less nuanced than even that of some of their ideologically driven sources. Hanson, for example, was once a Democrat, and may still be so on paper.
All I can tell you is I'm still a registered Democrat. I have a liberal twin brother who disagrees with everything I write. And I have a far more liberal older brother who not only disagrees with what I write, but I imagine is really bothered by it. I had two conservative Democratic parents who were in the Populist tradition of farmers, sort of William Jennings Bryan types.
Interview with Victor Davis Hanson, The Naval Institute: Proceedings

I will show in blog entries still to come how some of the nuances of Hanson’s history in Carnage and Culture morph into something far more simplistic in the hands of Schweikart and Allen.

30 June 2008

Blogging Holiday

Just a not to say that I've neither died nor forgotten about Patriots and Peoples. Rather, I've been much too busy with Pacific Northwest history and my chess activities (not to mention a little yard work) to maintain my effort in working through A Patriots History of the United States and A Peoples History of the United States. But I will be at it again by mid-July.

I'm still chipping away at two more essays regarding Carnage and Culture: a detailed examination of the Conquest of Tenochtitlán and my assessment of the Use of Hanson in A Patriot’s History. I'm also beginning to get a sense of the skewed views of the colonial period and the causes of the American Revolution by Howard Zinn, on the one hand, and Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, on the other. Although both perspectives have some merit, it is difficult to embrace either without throwing out a good deal of excellent secondary scholarship.

05 May 2008

Meme Chain

Matthew K. Tabor said some kind words about Patriots and Peoples when he tagged me with this meme.

The rules:

  1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
  2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
  3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
  4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

Got it.

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?

Ten years ago I resumed fly fishing after having given it up in my youth. I knew, when I resumed fishing after graduate school, that bait chucking would lead to fly casting, and that casting a long rod would lead to fly tying. John Gierach puts it well: “Tying our own flies is where many of us go off the deep end with fly fishing. … I was sort of looking for the deep end” (Good Flies, 1). Ten years ago I sentenced myself to a life of obsessive idleness.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

  1. grade papers
  2. review lecture notes for evening class
  3. set-up meeting of executive team for 2009 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship
  4. work on preliminary budget for 2009 WSECC
  5. blog

3) Snacks I enjoy:

Italian salame, Dublin cheddar, Kentucky bourbon

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

  1. Cast flies for trout in Patagonia
  2. Drink mojitos in Havana
  3. Play golf with Bill Gates

5) Three of my bad habits:

  1. speed chess
  2. watching television
  3. driving fast to get somewhere
  4. letting an occasional week go by without writing

6) 5 places I have lived:

  1. Baudette, Minnesota
  2. Klamath Falls, Oregon
  3. Clovis, New Mexico
  4. Moscow, Idaho
  5. Lenoir City, Tennessee

7) 5 jobs I have had:

  1. Pizza delivery driver, Dominos
  2. Convenience store clerk, graveyard shift
  3. Janitor, Northtown Mall
  4. Adjunct professor at alma mater
  5. Private chess tutor

8) 6 peeps I wanna know more about:

  1. Ed Darrell at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub looks for truth (and finds errors) in history, science, and education.
  2. Ortho’s Baudrillard’s Bastard always offers something to think about.
  3. Miguel Antonio Guzmán does not appear focused upon Frank Zappa at Jazz from Hell.
  4. Historian Larry Cebula intimidates me with his content rich Northwest History. I’m using his Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power as a text in my Pacific Northwest history course this summer.
  5. Historiann keeps readers engaged with issues affecting higher education, contemporary politics, and gender history.
  6. Brian Tubbs shares his passion for the American Revolution & Founding Era.

24 April 2008

Education for Virtue

My evening history class ends at 10:00pm. After the short drive home, I need to read for a few minutes before I can fall asleep. Last night, I read from Plato's Laws. In this ancient text (perhaps 350 B.C.), Plato discusses the nature of virtue and the purpose of education.

Virtue is this general concord of reason and emotion. But there is one element you could isolate in any account you give, and this is the correct formation of our feelings of pleasure and pain, which makes us hate what we ought to hate from first to last, and love what we ought to love. Call this "education," and I, at any rate, think you would be giving it its proper name.
Plato, Laws, 653b-c

This passage immediately reminded me of a text that I had planned to review in preparation for my upcoming lecture next week regarding the development of Indian boarding schools in the late-nineteenth century. The language in Plato appears to be reflected in a speech given by Thomas Jefferson Morgan when he was Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1889-1893). Morgan's speech is called "Plea for the Papoose"; he attempts to imagine the needs and interests of Native American Indian babies, and to speak for them.

Early in "Plea for the Papoose," Morgan speaks out against the racial ideology of his day with a statement that all children have the same possibilities for personal growth, limited only by culture, not some inherent racial defect (as some argued).

All human babies inherit human natures, and the development of these inherent powers is a matter of culture, subject to the conditions of environment. The pretty, innocent papoose has in itself the potency of a painted savage, prowling like a beast of prey, or the possibilities of a sweet and gentle womanhood or a noble and useful manhood.
Morgan, "Plea for the Papoose," in Americanizing the American Indians, edited by Francis Paul Prucha, 242.

Planning "Rescue"

Later in the speech, Morgan presents a plan for rescuing Indian children from what he portrays as the debilitating effects of Indian culture. Some critics have used the term legally sanctioned kidnapping to describe the policies that he advocated—the development of federal Indian boarding schools was a central component. In this section, his language echoes Plato's Laws.

If they grow up on Indian reservations removed from civilization, without advantages of any kind, surrounded by barbarians, trained from childhood to love the unlovely and to rejoice in the unclean; associating all their highest ideals of manhood and womanhood with fathers who are degraded and mothers who are debased, their ideas of human life will, of necessity, be deformed, their characters be warped, and their lives distorted. They can no more avoid this than the leopard can change his spots or the Ethiopian his skin. The only possible way in which they can be saved from the awful doom that hangs over them is for the strong arm of the Nation to reach out, take them in their infancy and place them in its fostering schools; surrounding them with an atmosphere of civilization, maturing them in all that is good, and developing them into men and women instead of allowing them to grow up as barbarians and savages.
Morgan, in Prucha, 243.

From our vantage point more than a century later, it is easy to judge Morgan's language as racist. Such judgment, however, anticipates questions regarding how commonsense notions in our day will be judged by our descendants a century from now. Some of those that did not share Morgan's views believed that Indian children were incapable of education. He stood against these contemporaries as an advocate for Indian equality. He was part of a group of Christian reformers who sought to render United States laws and policies more humanizing than they had been.

Full citations
Plato. The Laws. Translated by Trevor J. Saunders. London: Penguin Books, 1970.
Prucha, Francis Paul, editor. Americanizing the American Indian: Writings by the "Friends of the Indian" 1880-1900. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978 [1973].

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