Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cult of Personality

I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality
Look into my eyes, what do you see?

Cult of personality

I know your anger, I know your dreams
I’ve been everything you want to be

I’m the cult of personality


Faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me. I don't have to wake up every day wondering, "What do I need to believe."

Let us never sacrifice our principles for any body's politics. Not now. Not ever ... We believe in some things. We stand by those things. We live or die by those things. ~ Mike Huckabee campaign commercial "Believe"


I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... I'm asking you to believe in yours. ~ Barack Obama Campaign Website

[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards. ~ Mike Huckabee
Stopping by a packed Barack Obama rally last night in Rochester, New Hampshire, God-o-Meter noticed that fans standing behind the candidate on stage waved homemade poster board signs proclaiming “In Obama We Trust” and “Believe.” The local activist who introduced Obama said, “What I really like is his ability to uplift people.” And Obama opened his stump speech this way: “Over the next 20 minutes or so, you’re going to see a light shine down the from the ceiling… you’re going to have an epiphany.

By the end of the evening, many of the rally’s estimated 1,000 attendees did, according to an informal God-o-Meter’s survey. “He’s incredibly exciting and charismatic,” said Elizabeth Brooks, 57. “I believe in what he’s saying.

“We heard Hillary yesterday, and she has the same message,” said Anton Becker, 67, leaving the event with his wife. “But Obama is much more inspirational.”

~ God-o-Meter blog, 1/8/2008~

Like Job after losing his camels and acquiring boils, the conservative movement is in distress. Mike Huckabee shreds the compact that has held the movement's two tendencies in sometimes uneasy equipoise. Social conservatives, many of whom share Huckabee's desire to "take back this nation for Christ," have collaborated with limited-government, market-oriented, capitalism-defending conservatives who want to take back the nation for James Madison. Under the doctrine that conservatives call "fusion," each faction has respected the other's agenda. Huckabee aggressively repudiates the Madisonians. ~ George Will
Obama's victory seemed almost otherworldly -- as if the laws of space and time had been suspended, and a quality as evanescent and fragile as hope had suddenly become real. I am not a religious person, but it was hard not to feel that his triumph vindicated the essence of what I think of as the secular essence of religion, something even nonbelievers can believe in: the possibility of inner transformation. A transformation at once personal and national. ~ Gary Kamiya, Salon
I think that a better approach ... would be to show more clearly the parallels between the quasi-religious views that lie behind today's progressive agenda and the thinking behind past mistakes. In my view, they are linked by faith in unproven scientific fads, faith in technocratic elites, and faith that those who share progressive ideology have superior wisdom and moral standing that justifies ruling over others. I believe that the best way to insulate oneself against romanticizing the state is to recognize these faiths and their dangers.

Arnold Kling critiques Jonah Goldberg's approach in Goldberg's Liberal Fascism

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Britain's Atlantis

I can't help it, I'm a sucker for "lost cities". I'd never heard of Dunwich or that it was once considered a rival to London. Anyway (link updated~thanks Loren)...
Visit Dunwich today and you will encounter a quiet Suffolk coastal village with steeply sloping shingle beaches. From time to time the waves move the pebbles to expose the great black sea defences which lie amid the stones like great beached whales, designed to slow the longshore drift of the beach into the oblivion to which the once great city has been consigned. Today the real Dunwich lies out there beneath the cold grey waters, 50 feet down and perhaps a mile out.

This British Atlantis – with its eight churches, five houses of religious orders, three chapels and two hospitals – is now about to be exposed to human gaze for the first time since the first of a series of great storms and sea surges hit the East Anglian coast in 1286 and began the process of coastal erosion which led to the city's disappearance. For the past 30 years one man, Stuart Bacon, a marine archaeologist and director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, has dedicated himself to discovering what lies beneath the waves. He has made more than 1,000 dives on the medieval site since 1971 but with limited success. High silt levels in the water mean that visibility is limited to just a few centimetres.

"You can't see," he says. "The water is black because of the sediment in suspension. On very rare occasions visibility can be one to two metres but more usually it is one or two centimetres. You can't read your watch with a lamp on some occasions."

He has explored by touch, with the aid of a map drawn in 1587, which has proved remarkably accurate. But, from May, Mr Bacon will be teaming up with Professor David Sear, of the University of Southampton, and they will bring to bear the latest underwater acoustic imaging technology to reveal the secrets of the past.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Review: Microtrends

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne

“Many of the biggest movements in America today are small—generally hidden from all but the most careful observe.

Microtrends is based on the idea that the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow right before us.”

It is this philosophy that Mark Penn is currently putting to use as he consults Senator Hillary Clinton during her current presidential campaign. Overall, the trends he spots—and the way he frames them—are interesting, if sometimes to be taken with a grain of salt.

Penn focuses on a variety of groups—single women, “working retired”, lefthanders, vegan children—that run the gamut. Throughout, he explains what he believes businesses (current and potential) and politicians can do with the data he has provided so that they can serve these near invisible, or underserved, populations.

One is tempted to take the trends he writes about and extrapolate (or infer) potential Clinton political tactics during the ongoing Presidential campaign. And Penn’s penchant for referring to President and Senator Clinton throughout the book only adds to this temptation (not to mention the endorsement by the former President).

He also can’t help but let his partisanship show every now and then. In his chapter on “Ardent Amazons”—women who are working in “traditionally” male occupations (firefighters, construction, etc.)—Penn cites a study that shows that women police officers are “substantially less likely than their male counterparts to use, or to be accused of using, excessive force.” In essence, he believes women make these professions kinder and gentler and that is a net “good.” But then he can’t help himself:

Of course, I wouldn’t generalize women’s strengths any more than I would their weaknesses. Sure, it was under America’s first female attorney general, Janet Reno, that the nation’s police forces became focused on “community policing” and preventing crime before it started. On the other hand, the first female national security adviser (and later secretary of state), Condoleeza Rice, helped pave our path to war in Iraq. And first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher deployed the British military more aggressively than any predecessor had in years.
That Penn uses a Democratic Attorney General (Janet Reno) as an example of the “good” and a Republican and a Conservative as the “bad” is one example of his partisanship. For instance, the same point could have been made—and perhaps more concisely--by showing the good and bad in one individual: Janet Reno. After all, wasn’t it she who showed (arguably) excessive force when she ordered the storming of the Branch Davidian compound?

But Penn isn’t always so partisan and there is a lot of data (he provides many of his sources, too) that is useful to anyone of every political or commercial persuasion. In fact, here is a partial list of some of Penn's more compelling points:

- Most parents think they are more strict than other parents. According to Penn, “they have at minimum redefined what strict is, and turned it from a belt on the behind to a swift chat on the chin.”

- “America’s elite—the wealthiest and best educated of our society—have become less interested in America’s economic and strategic challenges than they are in candidate’s personalities….today’s elites are so far removed from the mainstream concerns like health care, college affordability, job loss, and child care that most Americans face….While today’s elites are reading Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, the rest of America is living it. Just as college students have always had views that change when they get out and have life experiences, so today’s elites are like perpetual college students, far removed from the experiences and struggles shaping everyday American life. And so it is a lot easier to spin America’s elites than it is to spin the voters.”

- “While learning disabled kids span the spectrum of family incomes, it is practically a fad in the upper middle class. (Who else, after all, would spend serious time and money to find out why their kids are merely average?)…While regular folks may still see a stigma in kids’ disabilities related in any way to the brain, the affluent wear them like a badge of honor, aggressively explaining why their children undercompete.”

- “Unlike Mr. Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver, who got great respect, today’s Dad gets none. It is almost as though marketers see today’s society as an Amazon tribe, where women make all the decisions and men just go along for the ride….Men are spending more time with the kids, but neither Madison Avenue nor the media has picked up on it, and the potential of Daddy-and-me relationships remains untapped.”

- Grown ups are playing more video games and watching more cartoons.

- While the stereotype is that most home-schoolers are fundamentalist Christians, that is changing.

- More people are attending college—and more are dropping out, which is a waste of both current financial resources and potential earnings.

There is a lot more about which Penn has interesting and important things to say. Whether you ultimately agree with him or not, he gets the conversation started. Just remember, he's currently flacking for Senator Hillary Clinton, so have your salt shaker with you.

One reason why I left the AHA

Michael Bowen:
As a national organization and the most powerful entity in the historical job market, the AHA has done surprisingly little to help the newest members of their profession. On the whole, historians pride themselves on their concern for social justice. In 2005, for example, the Organization of American Historians uprooted its annual conference and moved it to another city in a show of solidarity with hotel workers. When it comes to the plight of the discipline’s own working class, the unemployed job seeker, this compassion and concern is absent. In its place is an annual report from the AHA talking about how good it is for some. For others, there isn’t much the AHA can do. I find this lack of action, especially when compared to what is normally shown for the less fortunate, disheartening.
Or they waste time passing meaningless and ideologically driven resolutions about the Iraq war and such. Anyway, if you're a job-seeking historian, read the rest.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Review: A Slave No More

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight

A Slave No More is many books in one. The heart and soul of the work are the never-before-published emancipation narratives written by Wallace Turnage and John Washington. Blight provides historical context by matching their individual stories to the Civil War time line an compares them to other emancipation narratives. In essence, Blight provides the historical body for the Turnage and Washington stories.

In the first two chapters, he provides the historical context and his analysis of Washington and Turnage narratives, respectively. His discussion of the different nature, tone and goals of antebellum and post-bellum emancipation narratives is important.
Antebellum slave narratives tended to conform to certain structures and conventions. Given the depth of racism in the era, rooted in assumptions of black illiteracy and deviance, pre-1860 ex-slave autobiographers had to demonstrate their humanity and veracity. They had to prove their identity and their reliability as first-person witnesses among a people so often defined outside the human family of letters….Most narratives were cast as contests between good and evil, moving through countless examples of cruelty toward slaves and ending in a story of escape. Many are essentially spiritual autobiographies, journeys from sinfulness and ignorance to righteousness and knowledge. On one level, antebellum slave narratives were effective abolitionist propaganda, condemnations of slavery in story form.

Post-emancipation slave narratives, however, changed in content and form. They still tend to be spiritual autobiographies, often by former bondsmen turned clergymen, and they were written in the mode of “from slave cabin to the pulpit.” But postslavery narratives are more practical and less romantic, more about a rise to success for the individual and progress for the race as a whole….It is not so much the memory of slavery that matters in the bulk of the postwar genre, but how slavery was overcome by a narrator who competed and won his place in an ever-evolving and more hopeful present. Slavery is now a useable past in the age of Progress and Capital….Antebellum narratives are saturated with the oppressive nature of slavery and a world shadowed by the past. Postbellum narratives reflect backward only enough to cast off the past, exalt the present and forge a future.
According to Blight, the Washington and Turnage narratives are unique because they exhibit qualities of both ante- and postbellum types.

In the third chapter, Blight describes how used various resources rediscover Washington and Turnage’s past. It is a good object lesson to future historians as to the twists and turns—some frustrating, some unexpected--that research can take. In chapter four, Blight tackles the larger historiographical question of emancipation and whether it was bottom-up or top-down. It was both:
Emancipation in America was a revolution from the bottom up that required power and authority from the top down to give it public gravity and make it secure. Freedom, as Lincoln said, was something given and preserved, but it also, as he himself well understood had to be taken and endured. And it ultimately was fostered by war and engineered by armies.
In this chapter, he also charts the origin of the “faithful slave” myth and the important part it played in the “Lost Cause” narrative that arose in the postbellum south.

The final two chapters are the emancipation narratives themselves. Both writers apologized for their poor writing skills, yet, while they did write simply, they also wrote engaging and sometimes eloquent prose. In addition for having a talent for description, both were skilled at using humor (sometimes dry) and irony to make their point. For instance, Turnage, in explaining--upon overhearing that he was due a whipping from an overseer--decided not to wait around, so he “got over the fence to see what would be the result.” That’s one way of explaining that he ran away!

In sum, whereas Blight--as he describes--may believe that he was simply in the right place at the right time to have had these works fall into his lap, he has done a magnificent job of presenting the Turnage and Washington stories within their proper historical context. This is a valuable work of history.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mmmmm, Nothing Better Than Medieval Sugar Chicken

File under *yech*:
What is most striking about Medieval cooking instructions is the often massive use of sugar in what seems to be otherwise savory dishes. An example from Le Ménagier de Paris, French recipes from the 14th century reads, “Take capons or chickens killed the appropriate length of time before…cook them in pork fat with water and wine. When they are through cooking take them out. Take almonds, peel and pound them and add some of the cooking stock from the chicken…Strain the almond stock mixture. Then take pared or peeled white ginger and grains of paradise moistened as above, and put the mixture through a fine strainer. Mix with the almond milk. And if it is not thick enough, add starch or boiled rice. Add a little verjuice and put in a great deal of white sugar…”

While a modern-day cook might easily accept almond as a typical Medieval means of thickening sauces, the “great deal of sugar” might cause some hesitation. In Libro di Cucina from the 14th century Italy, a recipe that uses four chickens calls for a pound and a half of sugar, and in Viandier de Guillaume Tirel from the 15th century France, a dish with one suckling pig requires a pound of sugar. Sugar was used not only as an ingredient to be melted within a dish—it was often also sprinkled on top of the finished dish. A 16th century French court physician remarked that they use at least as much sugar as salt. Plantina in late 15th century Italy declared that sugar could spoil no dish.

Persians learned about sugar cane and sugar-making technology from Indians in the sixth century. Using sugar in dishes was considered a great sign of wealth and prestige. Arabs, who conquered Persia in the seventh century, spread sugar cane as they conquered Northern Africa, Sicily, and Spain. Western Europeans were introduced to sugar through the Venetian sugar trade. It was used to coat bitter medicine in order to make swallowing easier. Indeed, sugar was considered medicinal in its own right, as well.

Physicians followed the teachings of Galienus (2nd century CE), who thought of one’s health in terms of the balance of the four humors: hot, cold, dry, and wet. Food was one means to achieve the balance, and different foods were thought to have some of these four qualities. Sugar was considered to encourage warmth and moisture in the body, the ideal Gallenic state, and was therefore highly regarded. On a more practical level, a sweet taste was necessary to counter the strong acidity of verjus (juice of unripe grapes), another common ingredient of the Medieval period.

While the amount of sugar in Medieval dishes surely strikes a modern cook (or diner) as excessive, it may be worth noting that at this time in early history (and well into the 17th century), the distinctions between “savory” and “sweet”, and that between “main course” and “dessert”, were non-existent.

OK, so I understand why they did it...but this just about kills the "authenticity" of the food at the local "Renaissance Fair" or the Medieval Times banquet, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

2007 Cliopatria Awards for History Blogging

The 2007 Cliopatria Award winners have been announced:

Best Group Blog: In the Middle

Best Individual Blog: Civil War Memory

Best New Blog: Religion in American History

Best Post: Timothy Burke, "Knowledge is Inconvenient," Cliopatria, 27 September

Best Series of Posts: Errol Morris, "Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?" Zoom, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, 25 September, 4 October, and 23 October.

Best Writer: Caleb Crain, Steamboats are Ruining Everything