I don’t know for sure that Palo Alto, CA, the home of the venture capital industry and next door to Stanford U., is really the highest IQ town in America. The highest test score public schools in America are in Lexington, MA, a suburb preferred by Boston area college professors. And I imagine tiny, rich municipalities like Atherton, CA might have higher average IQ residents than sprawling Palo Alto with its pretty middle class housing stock.
But still … the average home price in Palo Alto is $2.5 million, which is kind of a lot considering the average home is a nothing special ranch style house. Palo Alto houses average $1,471 per square foot, so a 3,000 square foot house would cost $4.4 million.
So if you took the average IQ of the people who live in Palo Alto and the people who work in Palo Alto, it would be awfully high.
Historically, that’s not a coincidence. As I pointed out in Taki’s Magazine in 2012, Palo Alto has been as central to the story of IQ science in America as it has been to the story of electronics in America. Just before WWI, Lee de Forrest invented an important version of the vacuum tube in Palo Alto, while Stanford professor Lewis Terman published America’s first major IQ test, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales in 1916.
As I wrote in my history of Silicon Valley’s ongoing obsession with intelligence:
In 1921, Terman began his landmark study of gifted children with IQs of 135 and above, which continues even today to track its dwindling band of aged subjects. (Ironically, the young William Shockley was nominated for inclusion in Lewis Terman’s study, but his test score fell just short of the cutoff.) To the public’s surprise, “Terman’s Termites” showed that highly intelligent children were not particularly likely to grow up to be misfits like the much publicized prodigy/bad example William James Sidis. Indeed, the higher the IQ, the better the outcome. Terman’s study was an early landmark in Nerd Liberation, one of the 20th century’s most important social developments.
Hewlett, Packard, F. Terman
Lewis’s son Fred Terman, dean of engineering at Stanford, pretty much invented the distinctive aspects of the Silicon Valley educational-industrial complex, such as by encouraging his students Hewlett & Packard to go into business for themselves.
The other main candidate for Father of Silicon Valley, William Shockley, was a good friend of Terman’s. During WWII, they’d been in charge of mirror image R&D projects for the military in terms of electronic warfare over Germany. Stanford missed out on the federal lucre during WWII, and Terman resolved for Stanford to be ready when the Cold War cranked up. (See Steve Blank’s lecture Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret History of Silicon Valley for the fascinating back story.)
But Palo Alto wants to stay at the forefront of the growing fad for damnatio memoriae, by rewriting its history to eliminate the names of its now politically inappropriate founding fathers.
One trustee worries renaming will distract from deeper issues
by Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly
Uploaded: Wed, Mar 8, 2017, 9:15 am
A majority of the school board agreed on Tuesday that two of the school district’s middle schools should be renamed in light of their namesakes’ leadership roles in the eugenics movement.
Recognizing an opposing view in the community — that to rename these schools would be to sever generations of alumni’s ties to tradition and history — most board members said that in a public school district in 2017, however, schools cannot carry the names of men who actively advocated for policies grounded in a belief that people of certain races and disabilities were inferior to others.
All five trustees said they support a majority recommendation from a district committee, convened last year to study and make recommendations on the renaming issue, to give David Starr Jordan Middle School a new name, and a majority said they also believe Terman Middle School should be renamed.
David Starr Jordan was the first president of Stanford U. He was an anti-imperialist who wrote a famous anti-war treatise pointing out that war was dysgenic: the morally best young men would get gunned down in vast numbers, while the sleazier would be more likely to avoid such a fate.
Terman’s fate is slightly more complicated given its naming history, trustees said Tuesday. Terman was first named after Lewis Terman, a prominent Stanford University psychologist, when the school opened in 1958. When the school later closed and then reopened in 2001, it was named to honor both Lewis and his son, Frederick, an accomplished Stanford electrical engineer. There is no clear evidence, committee members said Tuesday, that Frederick played an active role in or supported the eugenics movement, as Lewis did.
His son inherited Lewis’s biases: Fred Terman’s wife of 47 years, who had been one of his father’s grad students, said he only became serious about courting her after he went to the Psych Department and looked up her IQ score.
Back to the Palo Alto Weekly:
One committee member recommended retaining the Terman name, but making clear that it honors the son, not the father. A majority of the committee recommended against this, arguing that “retaining the surname will not effectively disconnect the school from Lewis and does not effectively disavow his eugenics legacy,” committee member and parent Sara Armstrong said Tuesday.
It’s almost as if the anti-eugenics witch-hunters believe that Fred Terman, the primary founder of Silicon Valley, inherited the sins of the father, IQ scientist Lewis Terman, via ideological Corruption of Blood.
Ofelia Prado said as a Mexican mother of a Jordan seventh-grader, it was “negative and shameful and degrading” to hear that her child’s school was named after a eugenicist. (In Jordan’s writings, he called Mexicans “ignorant, superstitious, with little self control and no conception of industry or thrift” and also wrote that “to say that one race is superior to another is merely to confirm the common observation of every intelligent citizen.”)
They should rename Jordan the Angelo Mozilo School, because at least Angelo didn’t believe the wrong things. Angelo put your money where his mouth was when it came to believing that Mexican were good bets to pay back their mortgages.
… Some board members said the estimated cost of renaming — about $200,000 to cover both schools — is a secondary consideration that would not stop them from voting in support. …
The board will vote on the renaming proposals at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 14. …
Many parents urged the board Tuesday night to seize the opportunity to take a visible stand for the values it so often cites: equality, diversity and inclusion.
After all, there’s nothing that screams equality, diversity, and inclusion than Palo Alto’s NIMBY policies that keep the average house selling for $2.5 million.
By the way, Stanford is running a project to make school district average test scores comparable across the country. As I pointed out in Taki’s Magazine last spring, the worst white-black test score gap in the country was found in violently liberal Berkeley, CA. The next four least equal school districts were Chapel Hill-Carrboro, NC; Shaker Heights, OH; Asheville, NC; and Evanston, IL.
Other liberal college towns with massive white-black gaps include Madison (U. of Wisconsin), Iowa City (U. of Iowa), Charlottesville (U. of Virginia), Austin (U. of Texas), Bernie Sanders’ Burlington (U. of Vermont), Durham (Duke U.), and Ann Arbor (U. of Michigan). Palo Alto, next door to Stanford U., the sponsor of this research project, also has an intense white-black gap, but not enough blacks can afford to live in Palo Alto for it to make my sample-size cutoff for reliability.
Now that’s what I call equality, diversity and inclusion!
By the way, I’m reminded of this conversation between Russ Roberts and Yale psychologist Paul Bloom:
I’ve met Pinker and Murray, and they really are noticeably smarter than I am.
Back in 2010 it occurred to me that I ought to write about a book explaining why it isn’t the end of the world that some people are smarter than other people. That would be my great contribution if I could explain why, just as it’s not a global crisis that all the medalists in the next Olympic men’s 100m dash will be black, the fact that some races tend to be smarter than others doesn’t mean we should dig up Hitler’s DNA and elect him President.
But, you’ll notice, I haven’t written that book yet.
Berlin — WHAT is America’s largest national ethnic group? If you said English, Italian or Mexican, you’re wrong. Today some 46 million Americans can claim German ancestry. The difference is, very few of them do.
1913 Goethe Memorial, Chicago
By the way, some of these Census Bureau ancestry figures, where respondents are asked to identify with a single European nationality, rise and fall due to fashion. Choosing “German” has been rising and “English” has been falling, but I doubt if the underlying genetics are changing very fast. A term like “Old Stock American” would probably be more useful in describing all those Smiths and Millers, Earnhardts and Heinleins of predominantly mixed Northwest European ancestry. But “old stock” is out of fashion — the PM of Canada recently got in trouble for referring to “old stock Canadians.”
Indeed, aside from Oktoberfest, German culture has largely disappeared from the American landscape. What happened?
At the turn of the last century, Germans were the predominant ethnic group in the United States — some eight million people, out of a population of 76 million. New York City had one of the world’s largest German-speaking populations, trailing only Berlin and Vienna, with about a quarter of its 3.4 million people conversing auf Deutsch.
“Trump” is one of the remaining New York City German names.
Entire communities, spreading from northern Wisconsin to rural Texas, consisted almost exclusively of German immigrants and their children.
As they spread through the country, they founded church denominations, singing societies, even whole industries — pre-Prohibition brewing was dominated by Germans, whose names live on in brands like Pabst, Busch and Miller. Their numbers shaped the media — there were 488 German-language daily and weekly newspapers around 1900 keeping the language and culture alive — and politics: Midwestern German-Americans were a backbone of the early Republican Party.
The enormous number of German-Americans was also a factor in keeping the United States out of World War I for so long — activists lobbied against intervening on the Allies’ side, while politicians worried about losing a sizable voting bloc.
It’s also that German-Americans tended to be less militaristic. The U.S. got a large proportion of Germans in Amish or Quaker-like quietist sects, liberal 1848ers, and other Nice Germans, leaving Germany with a higher proportion of Not Nice Germans.
Partly for that reason, when the United States did enter the war, German-Americans came under intense, and often violent, scrutiny, especially after the revelation of an ill-conceived German plan for Mexico to invade the United States.
There had long been doubts about the loyalty of German-Americans, especially in the myriad pockets of the Midwest where they were particularly dominant. Many had hoped to stave off assimilation by clinging to their language and dual loyalties — but that commitment to their culture suddenly became a vulnerability.
In what is a largely forgotten chapter of American history, during the roughly 18 months of American involvement in the war, people with German roots were falsely accused of being spies or saboteurs; hundreds were interned or convicted of sedition on trumped-up charges, or for offenses as trivial as making critical comments about the war. More than 30 were killed by vigilantes and anti-German mobs; hundreds of others were beaten or tarred and feathered.
Even the German music of Beethoven and Brahms, which had been assumed to be immune to the hysteria, came under attack. …
Not surprisingly, those who could hid their Germanic roots; some switched their names; many others canceled their subscriptions to German newspapers, which virtually disappeared. Whatever vestige of German America remained after the 1910s was wiped out by similar pressures during World War II, not to mention the shame that came with German identity after it.
Erik Kirschbaum is the author of “Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States During World War I.”
I’d add that German v. Anglo cultural struggle didn’t go wholly underground after WWI, since America’s dominant man of letters during the 1920s, H.L. Mencken, was extremely German-American. He denounced the Wilson Administration’s anti-German-American policies with endless invention.
After the stock market crashed in 1929 and artists and writers subsequently moved to the Left, history got retconned to imply that it was always that way. Typically, however, cultural intellectuals tended to be on the right, especially in the 1920s, and/or the animating disputes of the time don’t map well to 1930s Left-Right typologies.
The big cultural struggle in the 1920s was bohemians versus small town Protestant ministers / Protestant women. The wits of the era saw Prohibition and Feminism as a two-headed monster. The New Yorker magazine was founded in 1925 to be “not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.” Wilfrid Sheed wrote of the early New Yorker,
Thurber’s world cannot remotely be understood without understanding Prohibition, or the locker-room version of it: a plot brewed up by women and Protestant ministers while our soldiers were overseas, in order to end America’s men-only culture and bring the boys all the way home, not just as far as the nearest saloon.
The crushing of German-American pride in 1917 made possible both Prohibition and Suffragism, since the big German-American brewers were the main funders of the resistance to letting women vote, since everybody assumed that votes for women meant Prohibition.
Much of 1920s culture was a reaction to the triumph of Progressive WASPism during the second Wilson Administration.
Although German-Americans made up a high proportion of small town (and big city) Americans in the 1920s, German culture was seen in the 1920s by bohemians as less puritanical and fanatical than American Protestantism. Germans seemed to have worked out a healthy, reasonable relationship with alcohol, while British-Americans tended to swing between alcoholism and Prohibitionism.
Moreover, German-Americans could be Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, or some combination (which appealed to people tired of sectarianism.
And German-Americans, who were well-educated on average, often had more connection to the glamorous artistic (e.g., Wagner) and intellectual currents (e.g., Nietzsche) of Europe.
For example, many of the culture wars of the 1920s in America were fought over the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche (the subject of Mencken’s first book), especially the Leopold and Loeb trial of 1924 and the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which Mencken used to permanently tar the reputation of the left-of-center champion of small town values, William Jennings Bryan.
The superstar defense attorney in both media circuses was Clarence Darrow. He first pulled off the amazing feat of saving Leopold and Loeb’s necks by constructing a Nietzschean defense by blaming their heinous murder of a boy on Nietzsche: Leopold had no free will because he was under the influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.
Hey, it worked.
The Nietzsche connection helped lure Bryan into being guest prosecutor in the ACLU’s set-piece Scopes Monkey Trial. Bryan, a pacifist, had resigned as Wilson’s Secretary of State in 1915 on the (correct) grounds that Wilson’s policies would eventually entangle America into war with Germany. But Bryan was a genuine pacifist and was horrified by Imperial Germany issuing extracts from Nietzsche’s works to its soldiers on the front to motivate them. In the wake of Darrow’s vastly publicized triumph in the Leopold and Loeb trial, Bryan saw the Monkey Trial as a chance to take a stand again Nietzscheanism.
Academic historians dislike the concept that history is often made by groups of individuals plotting together in confidence, even though one obvious way to get big things done is to make plans with your friends and allies while keeping your rivals in the dark as long as possible.
Decades later Bill Clinton was an undergrad student of Quigley (he got a B from him). In Clinton’s 1992 acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, he cited Quigley as an inspiration.
In reality, Quigley’s book, which wasn’t published until much later, was only very tangentially related to American institutions such as the Council of Foreign Relations. It actually focused on one group of British establishmentarians, the progressive imperialists who set up the British equivalent of the CFR, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (a.k.a., Chatham House), edited The Times of London for most of the first four decades of the 20th Century, and largely controlled the peculiarly influential All Souls College at Oxford.
Quigley calls them the Milner Group after Alfred Milner (1854-1925), an eminence grise who more or less started the Boer War of 1899-1902, then mentored “Milner’s Kindergarten” of bright young men in running South Africa, and finally popped up again in Lloyd George’s five-man war cabinet in 1917. But Milner mostly served behind the scenes.
Quigley traces the Milner Group back to the far more colorful Cecil Rhodes’ desire to start a “Secret Society” to promote Angl0-American unity and global domination. In the first five wills written by the mining tycoon of southern Africa, Rhodes (1853-1902) called for his estate to fund a secret society to reunify America with Britain and promote Anglo settlement of the world. For example, Rhodes wrote in his first will that he was leaving his fortune:
To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible and promote the best interests of humanity.
Rhodes hoped his Secret Society would act as the Jesuits of the British Empire:
I look into history and I read the story of the Jesuits I see what they were able to do in a bad cause and I might say under bad leaders.
At the present day I become a member of the Masonic order I see the wealth and power they possess the influence they hold and I think over their ceremonies and I wonder that a large body of men can devote themselves to what at times appear the most ridiculous and absurd rites without an object and without an end.
The idea gleaming and dancing before ones eyes like a will-of-the-wisp at last frames itself into a plan. Why should we not form a secret society with but one object the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule for the recovery of the United States for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire. …
To forward such a scheme what a splendid help a secret society would be a society not openly acknowledged but who would work in secret for such an object.
I contend that there are at the present moment numbers of the ablest men in the world who would devote their whole lives to it. … There are men now living with I know no other term the [Greek term] of Aristotle but there are not ways for enabling them to serve their Country. They live and die unused unemployed. What has the main cause of the success of the Romish Church? The fact that every enthusiast, call it if you like every madman finds employment in it. Let us form the same kind of society a Church for the extension of the British Empire. A society which should have members in every part of the British Empire working with one object and one idea we should have its members placed at our universities and our schools and should watch the English youth passing through their hands just one perhaps in every thousand would have the mind and feelings for such an object, he should be tried in every way, he should be tested whether he is endurant, possessed of eloquence, disregardful of the petty details of life, and if found to be such, then elected and bound by oath to serve for the rest of his life in his County. He should then be supported if without means by the Society and sent to that part of the Empire where it was felt he was needed. …
Take one more case of the younger son with high thoughts, high aspirations, endowed by nature with all the faculties to make a great man, and with the sole wish in life to serve his Country but he lacks two things the means and the opportunity, ever troubled by a sort of inward deity urging him on to high and noble deeds, he is compelled to pass his time in some occupation which furnishes him with mere existence, he lives unhappily and dies miserably. Such men as these the Society should search out and use for the furtherance of their object.
(In every Colonial legislature the Society should attempt to have its members prepared at all times to vote or speak and advocate the closer union of England and the colonies, to crush all disloyalty and every movement for the severance of our Empire. The Society should inspire and even own portions of the press for the press rules the mind of the people. The Society should always be searching for members who might by their position in the world by their energies or character forward the object but the ballot and test for admittance should be severe)
Once make it common and it fails. Take a man of great wealth who is bereft of his children perhaps having his mind soured by some bitter disappointment who shuts himself up separate from his neighbours and makes up his mind to a miserable existence. To such men as these the society should go gradually disclose the greatness of their scheme and entreat him to throw in his life and property with them for this object. I think that there are thousands now existing who would eagerly grasp at the opportunity. Such are the heads of my scheme.
For fear that death might cut me off before the time for attempting its development I leave all my worldly goods in trust to S. G. Shippard and the Secretary for the Colonies at the time of my death to try to form such a Society with such an object.
In his sixth and seventh wills, Rhodes switched from calling for a Secret Society to the Rhodes Scholarships to promote Anglosphere unity. (Probably the most famous living Rhodes Scholar is Quigley’s old student Bill Clinton.) Wills are legal documents, so it’s hard to keep your Secret Society secret if you put it in your will.
In the early versions of Rhodes’ Secret Society in the 1890s, the finances were to be controlled by Lord Rothschild while the propaganda was to be handled by the titanic newspaper editor William T. Stea d (1849-1912, last seen bobbing alongside John Jacob Astor IV amidst the wreckage of the Titanic). But Stead opposed the Boer War of 1899 and was replaced in Rhodes affections by Milner.
A stumbling block to Rhodes’ plan for an English Cape-to-Cairo railroad through East Africa were the Boer Republics of Afrikaners who had fled the English takeover of Cape Town and established their own countries, where gold had now been discovered. In late 1895, Rhodes and his business partner in De Beers, Alfred Beit, financed (with the foreknowledge of British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain) the Jameson Raid out of Rhodesia into the independent Transvaal. The English immigrant miners working there were supposed to violently rise up against the Dutch-speaking government, but largely failed to do so. Rhodes was embarrassed, but attention was distracted from his defeat when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany sent a telegram to the Boer leader:
I express to you my sincere congratulations that you and your people, without appealing to the help of friendly powers, have succeeded, by your own energetic action against the armed bands which invaded your country as disturbers of the peace, in restoring peace and in maintaining the independence of the country against attack from without.
The Kaiser’s opinion caused enormous indignation in Britain, where Southern Africa was considered to be part of Britain’s sphere of influence. The Jameson Raid / Kruger Telegram are often seen as key early steps in the deterioration of the generally chummy British-German relationships of the 19th Century toward the series of unfortunate events in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
Milner, a career government official, was sent out from London in 1897 to run South Africa. He soon engineered the Boer War of 1899, which Britain eventually, after a much harder fight than expected, won in 1902, taking control of the vast mineral deposits that Rhodes and Chamberlain had tried to seize in Jameson’s Raid.
The South African careers of Rhodes and Milner are reminiscent of the Marcher Lord theory propounded recently by Peter Turchin, in which the metropolitan center declines into soft decadence while power shifts to the hard men of the frontiers.
The South African connection is also reminiscent of the large but now largely ignored Jewish role in British Empire politics. Neither Rhodes nor Milner were Jewish, but their allies such as Beit often were. (Current Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, who was born in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia in 1943, is a late example of the Jewish role in southern Africa.)
Milner recruited a variety of competent and idealistic young Brits, such as John Buchan (future author of the famous suspense novel The 39 Steps and Governor-General of Canada) and Geoffrey Dawson (editor of The Times during most of 1912-1941) to serve in Milner’s Kindergarten in South Africa.
British culture of a century ago looked to Periclean Athens for role models (see, for example, Plato’s Symposium), so it was extremely good at inducing warm relations between older men and the most brilliant younger men.
As far as I can tell, Milner was straight, but that wasn’t the kind of thing that was worried about all that much in youth-worshipping Edwardian England.
As the banker father sings in Mary Poppins:
It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910
King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men
A culture of male self-admiration tended to elicit high male achievement. (In contrast, in today’s culture of male denigration, males tend to live down to society’s expectations.)
Around 1910, most of Milner’s Kindergarten returned to Britain where they played important roles in foreign policy up through the unfortunate events of 1940, and even beyond.
Quigley claims, for example, that Milner actually drafted the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter from the British government to Lord Rothschild approving Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people . (A more recent author claims it was actually written by Milner’s dynamic protege Leo Amery.)
According to Quigley, Milner’s young men were the low-key, centrist embodiment of the Secret Society dreamed up by Rhodes. They largely took over the Cecil Bloc of Tories assembled in the 19th Century by the masterful Prime Minister Salisbury and then dissipated in the 20th Century by his nephew Prime Minister Balfour, who was too oriented toward philosophy and golf to run a faction.
Quigley wasn’t too perturbed by the Milner Group, although he was annoyed by it’s influence on historiography via its control of many of the best jobs in the history professor business:
I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its papers and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies, but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known.
Did the Milner Group really exist?
Quigley claims that although its existence went unsaid among the upper classes, the reality of the Milner Group as a coherent body can be documented from the sentimental obituaries younger members wrote for deceased members in media institutions they controlled such as the Dictionary of National Biography.
Reading them, I’d say he has a point.
Still, we know a huge amount about the private lives of the British toffs of a century ago, and the lack of follow-up to Quigley’s hypothesis suggests that not much more evidence has surfaced.
But whether you’d call it the Milner Group with a capital G or just a clique or coterie seems to be one of those glass part full or part empty questions. It’s likely that no-drama Milner dispensed with the romantic Mason-inspired silliness that the young Rhodes had come up with in favor of a simple strategy of like-minded friends quietly coordinating for maximum public effectiveness.
As for secrecy, consider the famous Chatham House Rule: if you are invited to a meeting at Chatham House where, say, John Kerry explains the Iran deal, you are allowed to discuss what you learned but not mention the name of whoever you heard it from. That’s a clever way to cut the Gordian Knot of wanting to propagandize without being seen to propagandize.
British institutions such as The Economist continue to utilize anonymity, pseudonyms, and initials to inflate credibility. If, for example, Will Wilkinson signed his names to his columns in The Economist, you’d say, “Oh, that’s just Will Wilkinson’s opinion.” But if he’s identified in The Economist only as W.W. it’s easy to imagine he is some authority.
On the other hand, practically everybody in the British ruling class had social connections to everybody else. The Chamberlain family alone (Joseph, Austen, and Neville) is difficult to disentangle.
In Quigley’s 1949 book, it’s amusing to see 21st Century journalists such as Matt Ridley and Polly Toynbee prefigured by their 19th century kinsman, such as Salisbury’s protege M.W. Ridley, first Viscount Ridley. For example, Milner’s best friend at Oxford and intellectual inspiration was progressive economist Arnold Toynbee (uncle of the once famous historian Arnold J. Toynbee). Margot Asquith, Balfour’s friend in the high brow high society clique of the 1880s, The Souls, was the step-great-grandmother of actress Helena Bonham Carter, whose grandmother Viola, the daughter of PM Asquith, was much disappointed when Winston Churchill didn’t marry her.
(And British all-male institutions tended to create cliques. I’m reading another British history book, Children of the Sun: A Narrative of Decadence in England after 1918. It focuses upon two British literary cliques of young men that emerged after the Great War, the first led by Brian Howard and Harold Acton, whose most famous member proved to be Evelyn Waugh (his memorable gay characters Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited and Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags are a combination of Acton’s good characteristics and Howard’s abundant bad ones); the second clique was a few years younger and led by W.H. Auden and included Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender.
George Orwell, who was at Eton with Cyril Connolly, but couldn’t afford Oxford, often felt oppressed by these backscratching coteries. Orwell particularly despised the pervasive influence of the rich, American, gay, Jewish, and pro-Stalin Brian Howard. The only way Orwell could have hated Howard more were if Howard had also somehow been Irish Catholic.
Were these Oxford literary cliques conspiracies? Well, if you were off in Burma shooting elephants while your peers were bonding over luncheons and teas at Oxford, they could seem like them.)
And it’s not hugely clear that the Milner Group had tremendous ideological influence, since, via their mouthpiece at The Times, their voice was that of the British Establishment and it’s not that obvious what the British Establishment would have done all that differently if other personnel had been at key chokepoints.
The Establishment’s undeniable massive screw-up was appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. Lord Astor became the main financier of Milner Group interests, buying The Times in 1922, and he went along with Milner’s view that the time had come to be nice to Germany. Waugh’s Communist cousin Claude Cockburn (father of numerous journalist Cockburns and grandfather of actress Olivia Wilde) deemed Lady Astor’s friends the purportedly treasonous Cliveden Set.
But Quigley emphasizes that the center of gravity of the Milner Group was somewhat less pro-appeasement than Neville Chamberlain’s inner circle. And Quigley underplays how strongly Milner’s most impressive protege Amery (who was half-Jewish) sided with Churchill for rearmament in the 1930s, being the second most important anti-Appeasement voice in the Tories after the death of Austen Chamberlain in 1937. If Churchill hadn’t lived, I can imagine Amery becoming the fierce wartime Prime Minister.
As the Rhodes-Milner faction became less closely associated with South Africa in the 20th Century, it became less Jewish, although Quigley asserts that Isaiah Berlin was a late addition to the outer circle of the Milner Group.
In any case, Quigley’s explanation of the how the Milner Group coordinated Establishment opinion is relevant in the U.S. today:
The Times was to be a paper for the people who are influential, and not for the masses. … By the interaction of these various branches on one another, under the pretense that each branch was an autonomous power, the influence of each branch was increased through a process of mutual reinforcement. The unanimity among the various branches was believed by the outside world to be the result of the influence of a single Truth, while really it was result of a single group. Thus, a statesman (a member of the Group) announces a policy. About the same time, the Royal Institute of International Affairs publishes a study on the subject, and an Oxford don, a Fellow of All Souls (and a member of the Group) also publishes a volume on the subject (probably through a publishing house, like G. Bell and Sons or Faber and Faber, allied to the Group). The statesman’s policy is subjected to critical analysis and final approval in a “leader” in T he Times, while the two books are reviewed (in a single review) in The Times Literary Supplement. Both the “leader” and the review are anonymous but are written by members of the Group. And finally, at about the same time, an anonymous article in The Round Table strongly advocates the same policy. The cumulative effect of such tactics as this, even if each tactical move influences only a small number of important people, is bound to be great. If necessary, the strategy can be carried further, by arranging for the secretary to the Rhodes Trustees to go to America for a series of “informal discussions” with former Rhodes Scholars, while a prominent retired statesman (possibly a former Viceroy of India) is persuaded to say a few words at the unveiling of a plaque in All Souls or New College in honor of some deceased Warden. By a curious coincidence, both the “informal discussions” in America and the unveiling speech at Oxford touch on the same topical subject. …
There is no effort here to contend that the Milner Group ever falsified or even concealed evidence (although this charge could be made against The Times). Rather it propagated its point point of view by interpretation and selection of evidence. In this fashion it directed policy ways that were sometimes disastrous. The Group as a whole was made up of intelligent men who believed sincerely, and usually intensely, in what they advocated, and who knew that their writings were intended for a small minority as intelligent as themselves. In such conditions there could be no value in distorting or concealing evidence. To do so would discredit the instruments they controlled. By giving the facts as they stood, and as completely as could be done in consistency with the interpretation desired, a picture could be construed that would remain convincing for a long time.
… On Wednesday in the journal Nature, two teams of scientists — one based at the University of Copenhagen and one based at Harvard University — presented the largest studies to date of ancient European DNA, extracted from 170 skeletons found in countries from Spain to Russia. Both studies indicate that today’s Europeans descend from three groups who moved into Europe at different stages of history.
The first were hunter-gatherers who arrived some 45,000 years ago in Europe.
Then came farmers who arrived from the Near East about 8,000 years ago.
Finally, a group of nomadic sheepherders from western Russia called the Yamnaya arrived about 4,500 years ago. The authors of the new studies also suggest that the Yamnaya language may have given rise to many of the languages spoken in Europe today.
In other words, with “the Yamnaya” we’re likely talking about more or less the people also known as the Proto-Indo-Europeans, who used to be called the Aryans.
… Until about 9,000 years ago, Europe was home to a genetically distinct population of hunter-gatherers, the researchers found. Then, between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago, the genetic profiles of the inhabitants in some parts of Europe abruptly changed, acquiring DNA from Near Eastern populations.
Archaeologists have long known that farming practices spread into Europe at the time from Turkey. But the new evidence shows that it wasn’t just the ideas that spread — the farmers did, too.
The hunter-gatherers didn’t disappear, however. They managed to survive in pockets across Europe between the farming communities.
“It’s an amazing cultural process,” said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who led the university’s team. “You have groups which are as genetically distinct as Europeans and East Asians. And they’re living side by side for thousands of years.”
Between 7,000 and 5,000 years ago, however, hunter-gatherer DNA began turning up in the genes of European farmers. “There’s a breakdown of these cultural barriers, and they mix,” said Dr. Reich.
Perhaps like the breakdown of the cultural barriers between the Roman men and the Sabine women?
About 4,500 years ago, the final piece of Europe’s genetic puzzle fell into place. A new infusion of DNA arrived — one that is still very common in living Europeans, especially in central and northern Europe.
The closest match to this new DNA, both teams of scientists found, comes from skeletons found in Yamnaya graves in western Russia and Ukraine.
Archaeologists have long been fascinated by the Yamnaya, who left behind artifacts on the steppes of western Russia and Ukraine dating from 5,300 to 4,600 years ago. The Yamnaya used horses to manage huge herds of sheep, and followed their livestock across the steppes with wagons full of food and water.
It was an immensely successful way of life, allowing the Yamnaya to build huge funeral mounds for their dead, which they filled with jewelry, weapons and even entire chariots.
David W. Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College and a co-author on the Harvard study, said it was likely that the expansion of Yamnaya into Europe was relatively peaceful. “It wasn’t Attila the Hun coming in and killing everybody,” he said.
It’s a stereotype that the Eurasian Steppe tends to be violent, so therefore it can’t be true. The real reason Eastern Europe is called The Bloodlands is because of the beautiful red sunsets. Everybody knows that.
Instead, Dr. Anthony thought the most likely scenario was that the Yamnaya “entered into some kind of stable opposition” with the resident Europeans that lasted for a few centuries. But then gradually the barriers between the cultures eroded.
For a dissenting view of the values and predilections of Eurasian steppe peoples:
On the other hand, Dr. Anthony cogently rebutted:
The Copenhagen team’s study suggests that the Yamnaya didn’t just expand west into Europe, however. The scientists examined DNA from 4,700-year-old skeletons from a Siberian culture called the Afanasievo. It turns out that they inherited Yamnaya DNA, too.
Dr. Anthony was surprised by the possibility that Yamnaya pushed out over a range of about 4,000 miles.
What with them being so peaceful and all.
“I myself have a hard time wrapping my head around explanations for that,” he said.
I bet you do.
The two studies also add new fuel to a debate about how languages spread across Europe and Asia. Most European tongues belong to the Indo-European family, which also incudes languages in southern and Central Asia.
For decades, linguists have debated how Indo-European got to Europe. Some favor the idea that the original farmers brought Indo-European into Europe from Turkey. Others think the language came from the Russian steppes thousands of years later.
The new genetic results won’t settle the debate, said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at Copenhagen University who led the Danish team. But he did think the results were consistent with the idea that the Yamnaya brought Indo-European from the steppes to Europe. …
“We can just say that the expansion fits very well with the geographical spread of the Indo-European language,” said Dr. Willerslev.
The surrender of Japan in the late summer of 1945 remains one of the more argued-over events in history, even though it happened in the absolute full glare of world attention and it made complete sense. It’s worth going over the various causes once again, in part because it shows how hard it is to figure out why anybody does anything, even something as sensible as not getting atom bombed, invaded, and divided up with the Soviets.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa – a highly respected historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara – has marshaled compelling evidence that it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan’s surrender.
I’ve always assumed it was all three that finally broke the will of the Japanese leadership. They had a truly bad week (Hiroshima August 6, Soviet invasion of Manchuria early August 9, Nagasaki midday August 9). And it still took them several more days, plus a giant American conventional bombing raid a few days after Nagasaki, to come to a consensus. And then there was a failed military coup that seized the Imperial Palace for a night. The surrender wasn’t announced until August 15 in Japan (although that was August 14 in Times Square).
The Japanese were nuts in WWII. The rulers had largely risen up through a system in which the non-nuts were assassinated, so their grip on reality was shaky. Their strategic planning boiled down to asserting that the bravery of Japanese soldiers would make Japan win in the end.
The Japanese could still inflict heavy casualties on any invader, and they hoped to convince the Soviet Union, still neutral in the Asian theater, to mediate a settlement with the Americans. Stalin, they calculated, might negotiate more favorable terms in exchange for territory in Asia. It was a long shot, but it made strategic sense.
As opposed to Stalin just taking Japanese-held territory in northeast Asia with the world’s strongest army? The Japanese had been beaten bad up in the Manchuria-Mongolia-Russia border region by Gen. Zhukov way back in August 1939, and six years later, there was no evidence that a second Soviet-Japanese war would be less of a drubbing. So, what was in it for Stalin to step in on the side of Japan?
The Japanese high command was living in cloud-cuckoo land. And why, exactly, would you want to get Stalin involved in a war you are losing? In contrast, during the last weeks of the war in Europe, everybody in Germany with half-a-brain (e.g., Werner von Braun) had been climbing in their Mercedes and driving west as fast as they could to surrender to Americans or Brits rather than to the Soviets.
On Aug. 6, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped its payload on Hiroshima, leaving the signature mushroom cloud and devastation on the ground, including something on the order of 100,000 killed. (The figures remain disputed, and depend on how the fatalities are counted.)
As Hasegawa writes in his book “Racing the Enemy,” the Japanese leadership reacted with concern, but not panic. On Aug. 7, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo sent an urgent coded telegram to his ambassador in Moscow, asking him to press for a response to the Japanese request for mediation, which the Soviets had yet to provide. The bombing added a “sense of urgency,” Hasegawa says, but the plan remained the same.
Very late the next night, however, something happened that did change the plan. The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. In that instant, Japan’s strategy was ruined. Stalin would not be extracting concessions from the Americans. And the approaching Red Army brought new concerns: The military position was more dire, and it was hard to imagine occupying communists allowing Japan’s traditional imperial system to continue. Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow.
By the morning of Aug. 9, the Japanese Supreme War Council was meeting to discuss the terms of surrender. (During the meeting, the second atomic bomb killed tens of thousands at Nagasaki.) On Aug. 15, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. …
“Meeting to discuss the terms of surrender” is misleading. The Japanese had long been willing to discuss “surrender” on highly favorable terms. They didn’t get serious about surrendering until after the Nagasaki bombing.
How is it possible that the Japanese leadership did not react more strongly to many tens of thousands of its citizens being obliterated?
One answer is that the Japanese leaders were not greatly troubled by civilian causalities. As the Allies loomed, the Japanese people were instructed to sharpen bamboo sticks and prepare to meet the Marines at the beach.
Yet it was more than callousness. The bomb – horrific as it was – was not as special as Americans have always imagined. In early March, several hundred B-29 Super Fortress bombers dropped incendiary bombs on downtown Tokyo. Some argue that more died in the resulting firestorm than at Hiroshima. People were boiled in the canals. The photos of charred Tokyo and charred Hiroshima are indistinguishable.
In fact, more than 60 of Japan’s cities had been substantially destroyed by the time of the Hiroshima attack, according to a 2007 International Security article by Wilson, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. In the three weeks before Hiroshima, Wilson writes, 25 cities were heavily bombed.
To us, then, Hiroshima was unique, and the move to atomic weaponry was a great leap, military and moral. But Hasegawa argues the change was incremental. “Once we had accepted strategic bombing as an acceptable weapon of war, the atomic bomb was a very small step,” he says. To Japan’s leaders, Hiroshima was yet another population center leveled, albeit in a novel way. If they didn’t surrender after Tokyo, they weren’t going to after Hiroshima.
Cook is missing the point that it was not the Hiroshima bomb but the Nagasaki bomb that demonstrated that the U.S. could now vaporize cities at will. This isn’t a post-hoc rationalization. The American strategists had assumed that the Japanese militarists would reassure themselves that, well, sure, the Americans had one atomic bomb, but who can afford more than one? Indeed, a Japanese official made just that argument the day after Hiroshima. Thus, the U.S. planned to use two in one week to get the message across that the U.S. could afford as many as it felt like.
I don’t think the story of P-51 pilot and POW Lt. Marcus McDilda is essential to understanding the Japanese surrender, but it is interesting and I hadn’t heard it before:
From “War in the Pacific” by Marine Brig. Gen. Jerome Hagen:
On the evening of August 8, 1945, in Osaka, Japan, several kempei tai (Japanese secret police) were questioning an American flyer wh
o had been shot down earlier in the day. … The questioning intensified as did the beatings. What did he know of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima two days earlier? Absolutely nothing, McDilda responded.
Believing that they were on to something, the kempei tai brought in a general officer just before midnight to break McDilda. The general demanded that McDilda tell him about the atomic bomb. When McDilda said nothing, the general drew his sword and held it before McDilda’s face. Then he jabbed forward, cutting through McDilda’s lip. Blood streamed down the pilot’s chin and flight suit. The general screamed, “If you don’t tell me about the bomb, I’ll personally cut off your head.” … According to author William Craig, McDilda embarked upon a lie worthy of the best storyteller:
“As you know …, when atoms are split, there are a lot of pluses and minuses released. Well, we’ve taken these and put them in a huge container and separated them from each other with a lead shield. When the box is dropped out of a plane, we melt the lead shield and the pluses and minuses come together. When that happens, it causes a tremendous bolt of lightning and all the atmosphere over a city is pushed back! Then when the atmosphere rolls back, it brings about a tremendous thunderclap, which knocks down everything beneath it.”
When pushed to further describe the bomb, McDilda added that it was about 36 feet long and 24 feet wide. The interrogators were delighted but needed to know one thing more. Where was the next target for the new weapon? McDilda chose the two Japanese cities he could think of and responded, “Kyoto and Tokyo. Tokyo is supposed to be bombed in the next few days.” [In fact, the third atomic bomb was scheduled for August 19, and, yes, Tokyo may well have been the target.] … One of the interrogators left the room and put through a call to the headquarters of the secret police in Tokyo.
The next morning, McDilda was flown from Osaka to Tokyo where he became a “very important person” to the Japanese secret police. McDilda’s questioner in Tokyo was a civilian who wore a pinstripe suit. “I am a graduate of CCNY College,” he told McDilda, “and most interested in your story about the atomic bomb.” McDilda repeated his story again. After several minutes, the official knew that McDilda was a fake who knew nothing about nuclear fission. When asked why he was telling such a lie, McDilda responded that he had tried, without success, to tell his interrogators that he knew nothing about the bomb but had to invent the lie to stay alive. The Japanese official laughed. McDilda was taken to a cell, given some food, and waited for the unknown.
McDilda, at the time, had no idea that his lie had saved his life. Shortly after the emperor had broadcast the news of defeat, more than 50 American prisoners at the Osaka secret police headquarters were beheaded by vengeful Japanese soldiers.
The other point that I hadn’t realized until now was that the Soviet agreement to fight the Japanese after defeating the Germans — first made in 1943 and reiterated at Yalta in early 1945, with a specific timeframe of three months after German surrender, which Stalin kept to to the day — was kept secret. The Soviet declaration of war came as a huge surprise to the Japanese regime.
In the summer of 1945, the Red Army was the reigning world heavyweight champion of armies. But nobody told the Japanese that they were in the Soviet crosshairs. It would seem like the logic of Hasegawa’s argument would be that the big missed opportunity to save lives in 1945 would have been to demoralize the Japanese by publishing the Yalta agreement on Soviet entry into the war against Japan in, say, May 1945. But, that hasn’t been a topic of much discussion, as far as I can tell.
Why keep it secret?
I don’t know. I can make a few guesses, but I’m just guessing.
In fact, the Soviets had signed a five year non-aggression pact with the Japanese in 1941. In early 1945, they had given the official one year notice that it would not be renewed in 1946. Molotov had reassured the Japanese envoy that the nonaggression pact would be in effect until April 1946.
Presumably, the Soviets kept the Yalta agreement a secret because they wanted to preserve their freedom to maneuver. (The Soviet attack about 36 hours after Hiroshima wasn’t an opportunist post-Hiroshima improvisation. They’d been moving supplies and men for months.)
Also, the Soviets wanted to stage a sneak attack. Indeed, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria might be the all time most effective sneak attack. (Here’s the War Nerd’s appraisal of the terrific performance by the Red Army.) The Soviets violated their treaty with Japan, but nobody cares. The Japanese were losers.
What was America’s incentive to keep the Soviet promise a secret, besides the Soviets wanted it that way? I don’t know. Perhaps the idea was to end the war with the A-bombs before the Soviets got in on the action?
Finally, Truman had apparently amended FDR’s demand of “unconditional surrender” by Japan at the Potsdam Conference on July 26, 1945 to “unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces,” which left the door open to the Emperor staying on as a figurehead. But, it’s not clear that anybody in power in Japan other than a few diplomats picked up on this hint.
In summary, I suspect the atom bombs came as kind of a fortuitous surprise to the Japanese. Honor demanded that they fight the Americans on the beaches and on the landing grounds, but now the Americans had a new superweapon, so it wasn’t as shameful to surrender.
Plus, they got to surrender intact as a country to the U.S. rather than wait and get divided up between the U.S. and the Soviets like Korea and Germany. Considering how close the division of Korea, a minor player relative to Japan, came to causing WWIII in 1951 and how the division of Germany was the cause of the scariest standoff in world history, well, we should all be happy the end came soon.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Robert Redford’s courtroom drama The Conspirator castigates the 1865 trial by a military tribunal of Confederate partisan Mary Surratt for her murky role in John Wilkes Booth’s plot to murder Abraham Lincoln. Redford obviously intends his movie as a parable denouncing George W. Bush’s employment of military tribunals instead of jury trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
… Still, The Conspirator is of considerable interest, both for its cast’s quality and because the 74-year-old Redford seems to have no idea how unfashionable his view of post-Civil War history has become since he arrived on the New York stage in the late 1950s. The Conspirator reflects the anti-Republican prejudice endemic in history textbooks when Redford was in school. To imply that 21st-century Republicans are deluded by Islamophobia, Redford argues that 1865’s Republicans were crazed by Confederophobia. …
Everyone says history is written by the victors, but it’s actually written by the historiographers. For the first century after 1865, white Southerners wrote most Civil War histories and almost all the accounts of the subsequent Reconstruction. Their anger over the postwar military occupation was transmitted in two vastly popular movies: 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and 1939’s Gone with the Wind. After FDR’s 1932 victory, white Southerners made up a large fraction of the New Deal coalition. Hence, the liberal Democrats who wrote most mid-century history books pandered to the South’s view of Reconstruction as a grave injustice.
Only with the rise of blacks in the late 1960s did Reconstruction come under scrutiny. Redford’s movie, set entirely in Washington, DC in 1865, features only one line spoken by an African-American.
Here are excerpts from my new VDARE.com column. It’s a long one.
The Texas Board of Education has voted to include in the state’s history textbooks facts more favorable to conservatives. Needless to say, this has provoked condemnations from the national Main Stream Media. That’s because any challenge to the Left’s post-1960s dominion over the past is going to arouse real passion.
OK, I know it’s not clear how many students actually read their history textbooks. But the Texans are showing more enterprise than is common among conservatives. These have fecklessly permitted their ideological enemies to define what gets called history.
Theoretically, history is about learning how the world works so you don’t repeat old mistakes. What most people want to know, however, is: Who does society laud? Who is respectable and who is not? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? …
Why have the Sixties People proven so enduring in molding young people’s minds? My theory: The Sixties mindset—aggrieved, resentful, and unrealistic—is perfectly attuned to appeal permanently to the worst instincts of adolescents.
And yet, young people do have a finer side—their hunger for heroes—that history books once tried to fulfill rather than exploit. For example, I was galvanized in 1975 when I read Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s tribute in his Oxford History of the American People to Orville and Wilbur Wright:
“Few things in our history are more admirable than the skill, the pluck, the quiet self-confidence, the alertness to reject fixed ideas and to work out new ones, and the absence of pose and publicity, with which these Wright brothers made the dream of ages—man’s conquest of the air—come true.”
But the Wright brothers aren’t the kind of heroes we like anymore. In our Age of Oprah, rather than Heroes of Accomplishment, we are addicted to Heroes of Suffering. …
This Heroes of Suffering fetish is exacerbated in modern history textbooks by the “diversity” imperative.
Take, for example, one US history textbook widely used in high school Advanced Placement courses and in college courses: Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic (McGraw-Hill, Fourth Edition). …
The need to include a huge amount of material celebrating each politically organized diversity group has bloated the textbook to 1277 oversized pages. It costs $108.78 on Amazon, and weighs in at a vertebrae-compressing 5.4 pounds. …
Celebrating diversity just takes a lot of space, so there isn’t room in all 1277 pages to mention…the Wright brothers. …
This kind of feminized, multiculturalized social history is boring to young people—especially to boys.
… Of course, leaving out so many annoying white male Heroes of Accomplishment from the textbook doesn’t mean that the historians have managed to dig up comparable diverse Heroes of Accomplishment.
Instead, the space mostly gets filled with Heroes of Suffering.
And who made them suffer?
You get one guess.
At one point, I went looking in this textbook’s index for the Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, colonel of the XXth Maine Volunteers. By repelling repeated assaults on the crucial Little Round Top hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain may have saved the Union. (He’s played by Jeff Daniels in Ron Maxwell’s movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.)
I suspect teenage boys might find him, you know, interesting. Maybe?
Well, needless to say, “Chamberlain, Joshua” isn’t in the Nation of Nations’ index. When looking for him, I did find, however:
Chanax, Juan, 1096—1098, 1103, 1124, 1125
Who, exactly, is Chanax and why does he appear on six pages when Chamberlain can’t be squeezed in anywhere?
It turns out Chanax is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who works in a supermarket in Houston. This hero’s accomplishment is that he brought in 1,000 other illegal aliens from his home village.
The thinking, apparently: featuring an illegal alien so disproportionately will boost the self-esteem of the illegal alien students reading the book—which will then raise their test scores!
But how many are going to read all the way to p. 1096? And how many won’t find it patronizing and depressing that the biggest hero these industrious historians could dig up for their edification and emulation was Chanax?
But the truth is that the Left pays no real attention to illegal immigrants. Their value is primarily in their colossal numbers—e.g., the 1000 neighbors recruited by Chanax—making them the notional Reserve Army of the Left, justifying whatever changes in America life more elite members of the Left want.
Want a sinecure as a diversity consultant for a textbook company? Nominate yourself as the ethnic representative of Juan Chanax and friends.
They won’t notice.
Maybe you just don’t much like American history: all those Wrights and Chamberlains accomplishing great things get on your nerves. Then rewrite it, in the name of Juan Chanax and company!
It’s not like Juan and his pals down at the supermarket are paying close attention or have a strong, informed opinion on what should go into American history textbooks. You can get away with anything by claiming to be on their side, the side of goodness and the future—the winning side.
As I’ve been rereading Professor Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s three-volume Oxford History of the American People from 1964, I’ve been thinking about the old Protestant Establishment.
Morison (1887-1976) was himself a leading member of the Protestant Establishment (liberal Boston Brahmin wing). His extraordinary career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian (for his biography Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, for which he had organized a research expedition by sailing ship from Spain to the New World) turned middle-aged fighting naval officer exemplifies how an old-fashioned Establishment that self-confidently viewed itself as holding its country in trust for its posterity felt it ought to behave.
Of course, you aren’t supposed to think like that anymore. Hence, the top people now treat America like a short-term transaction rather than a long-term investment.
I was reminded of Morison when I read neoconservative David Brooks’s thoughtful February 18th New York Times column, The Power Elite, about the historic shift in clout from what he calls the “inbred” Protestant Establishment to what he somewhat euphemistically designates as the new “meritocratic” elite:
“Sixty years ago, the upper echelons were dominated by what E. Digby Baltzell called The Protestant Establishment and C. Wright Mills called The Power Elite. … Since then, we have opened up opportunities for women, African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Poles, Hispanics and members of many other groups.”
On a leafy hilltop, dozens of busts of once-famous men stare mournfully at an empty walkway, their unfamiliar names chiseled in grand letters, their feats now obscure.
Josiah W. Gibbs? Augustus Saint-Gaudens?
Saint-Gaudens was the greatest American sculptor of the late 19th Century. Gibbs was a phenomenally accomplished physicist, chemist, and mathematician.
In general, the honorees reflects the tastes of the high-brow electors. For example, the first cohort of 29 elected in 1900 includes botanist Asa Gray, to whom Darwin addressed the 1857 letter that established Darwin’s precedence over Alfred Russel Wallace in developing the theory of natural selection.
When it was founded in 1900, it was the first Hall of Fame in the nation, local historians say, and the elections to induct members were covered by the national press. …
But when the hall’s host, New York University, sold its Bronx campus in 1973, the collection languished. The 98 busts tarnished, soot gathered, and the Hall of Fame slowly slipped into irrelevance. An election has not been held since 1976.
Today, the colonnaded hall sits high above the city as an awkward appendage to the campus of Bronx Community College. To history buffs, it is a forgotten gem; to nearly everyone else, it is just forgotten.
While the college faculty has sought to integrate the Hall of Fame into the school’s curriculum, the disconnect between the honorees and the student body has grown only wider, leaving even the hall’s few defenders to acknowledge that it is in desperate need of a face-lift. More than half of the college’s students are Hispanic; the Hall of Fame, however, honors few women and even fewer minorities.
Actually, the number of women seems about right: I come up with 11% female. If you made up a list today of the 100 most distinguished Americans who have been dead over 25 years, would it be much more than 11% female? What about among living Americans? The first name that springs to my mind among living Americans as a worthy honoree would be Edward O. Wilson for accomplishments as a scientific specialist (ants), scientific generalist (sociobiology), writer, and conservationist. James D. Watson would rank up there, too. Noam Chomsky, as well. How many living women approach the Wilson-Watson level?
In this Hall of Fame, I count two blacks (Booker T. Washington and George W. Carver), no American Indians, and no Hispanics. Two American Indians were nominated (Chief Joseph and Sacajawea), but didn’t make it to enshrinement.
In general, I suspect that in the future, the lists of famous Americans of the 20th Century will reflect the tastes of the current students of Bronx Community College, so the recent equivalents of Josiah Willard Gibbs and Asa Gray will be even more forgotten than their predecessors.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Let’s party like it’s 1989 with songs about the Berlin Wall:
David Bowie: Heroes, 1977: Video / Lyrics (and here’s a terrific live version video, supposedly from a show in Berlin in 2002; it doesn’t have as much of the great Robert Fripp wall-of-sound of the studio version, but Bowie looks like a million bucks at age 55, kind of like how Cary Grant reached his peak at the same age in North by Northwest).
Sex Pistols: Holidays in the Sun, 1977: Video / Lyrics (“It’s guys like me they’d shoot first”)
I’m rereading Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s Oxford History of the American People. The second volume was fairly dull until the democratic age arrives with Andrew Jackson, after which it’s consistently comic. For example, here’s a bit on the 1836 campaign by Vice President Richard Johnson, whose supporters chanted in answer to William Henry Harrison’s claim to be the Hero of Tippecanoe:
Rumpsey dumpsey, rumpsey dumpsey Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh!
But this slogan, never surpassed for electioneering imbecility, failed to give him a majority in the Electoral College.
Morison’s description of Andrew Jackson, entering office at age 62, is striking:
Six feet one in height and weighing 145 pounds, slim and straight as a ramrod, his lean, strong face lit up by hawk-like eyes and surmounted a mane of thick gray hair.
That’s really skinny for a 62-year-old. Boxer Tommy “Hit Man” Hearn s, who was famous for his long reach, was also 6’1″. He won the 147 pound welterweight championship, but he typically fought at heavier weights. Of course, Hearns was packing more muscle, but still 145 pounds? My freshman year in college I was 6’4″ and 168 pounds, and I looked like a sapling.
In The Birth of the Modern, Paul Johnson finds Jackson’s failure to put on weight as he aged alarming, comparing him to Simon Bolivar as the kind of successful but unsatisfied man who maintains a dangerously lean and hungry look as he gets old. I never know how much credence to give to these body-shape-drives-personality theories associated with William Sheldon.
Morison points out that although Jackson is often thought of today as a sort of Jethro Bodine of American history, a purely American sort, his right-hand man Martin Van Buren, when ambassador to Britain, “found Jackson’s likeness in the ‘Iron Duke,’ Wellington.”
I was once showing my nephew around the Art Institute of Chicago. I got to four early 19th Century English portraits of important aristocrats. The first was fat, the second was fat and alcoholic-looking, the third fat, alcoholic-looking, and gouty, and the fourth … the fourth was a raptor, the most hawk-like visage I’d ever seen. Of course, it was the Duke of Wellington, the Northern Irishman Britain needed.
I wonder if Jackson’s rather brawl-filled Presidency had anything to do with him still carrying two slugs in his body from his duels. Was he suffering from lead-poisoning, which tends to lower inhibitions?
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
I’m reading H.W. Brands’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, The First American. Franklin’s life has a comic aspect (in both the Shakespearean sense of turning out happily and in the absurdist sense of the improbability of it all) in that he’s successful at practically all the multitudinous projects he turns his hand to. Franklin figured out as an adolescent that he was superior to practically everybody he met, so he’d better be as funny, modest, and nice to people as possible or they’d get mad at him for being better than them.
I’m up to age 75 in the book, and Franklin still has yet to negotiate the treaty that ends the War of Independence on very good terms for the new United States, invent bifocals, and sponsor the key compromise that made the Constitution politically possible.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
In traditional Western cultures, below the rank of aristocrats, romantic and sexual impulsiveness was a major threat to social standing. The punishment in terms of class standing for out-of-wedlock births was so harsh that the illegitimacy rate among women in England in 1200-1800 was stable at around 3-4%, even though women didn’t marry on average until age 24 to 26.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s, which hit home in the 1970s, disrupted this traditional system of social sanctions. You can see its power in the spread of the term “single mother,” which is now used as a self-description not only by mothers who have never been married, but also by divorced mothers, and even by widows with orphans! My wife knew a Korean lady with two young daughters whose husband had been killed in a car crash. Being old-fashioned, I assumed she would describe herself with that honorable term “widow.” But, being a newcomer to America, she had realized what I hadn’t noticed yet: “widow” was out of fashion, “single mother” was in.
And yet … the old logic that children need two parents to have the best chance to succeed in life still plays out even though we aren’t supposed to mention it. What I’ve noticed in socializing with financially successful families whose children are on the academic fast-track is that they follow the old rules implicitly. Divorce is relatively rare, illegitimacy even rarer, mothers who aren’t highly-paid executives are typically housewives, and so forth.
So, by removing social indoctrination of the masses, the post-Sexual Revolution system selects even more than the earlier system for social success by individuals who are intelligent and cold-blooded. In contrast, people of impulsive temperaments and less ability to foresee the consequences of giving into their impulses are now much more on their own with far less guidance from the culture.
Thus, the people in the upper reaches of society are increasingly of what you might call a Swedish or Swiss personality (or are Asian immigrants whose families never took seriously the 1960s).
But nobody is supposed to notice that publicly. So, the top level of our society continues to argue for the breaking down of old restrictions, whether on the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman or that their should be limits on debt and interest rates. After all, individualistic self-determination works fine for the upper middle class.
From this perspective, the 1960s cultural revolution look like an Elites Liberation movement, in which Unitarians, Congregationalists, Jews, Episcopalians, Christian Scientists, and similar products of centuries of bourgeois culture decided that they, personally, could get by without the old rules, which, indeed, many of them could. Moreover, they were tired of being expected to be role models of starchy behavior for the proles.
But the tenor of the times demanded that this Elites Lib movement be cloaked in egalitarian and civil rights rhetoric and policies (such as refocusing AFDC from Roosevelt’s aim of supporting widows to supporting single mothers, because we wouldn’t want to discriminate against blacks), with disastrous effects on people toward the bottom of society, especially blacks.
By the way, that reminds me that perhaps nothing I’ve ever written has outraged people more than my defense of America’s average African-Americans that I wrote during the Hurricane Katrina anarchy. I pointed out that the New Orleans blacks who were misbehaving so conspicuously on TV aren’t representative of the national black average:
Judging from their economic and educational statistics, New Orleans’ blacks are not even an above-average group of African-Americans, such as you find in Atlanta or Seattle, but more like Miami’s or Milwaukee’s. About half are below the poverty line. With the national black average IQ around 85, New Orleans’ mean black IQ would probably be in the lower 80s or upper 70s.
I argued that New Orleans’ African-Americans had long been notorious for worse behavior than the national black average, and that New Orleans’ libertine Latin / tourist trap morals are one cause:
The unofficial state motto is “Laissez les bons temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll.” Compare that to New Hampshire’s official motto of “Live free or die,” which display a rather different understanding of freedom. Louisiana’s reigning philosophy is freedom from responsibility.
It’s a general rule that the tastier the indigenous cuisine, the lousier the government. Its culture has provided America with jazz, A Street Car Named Desire, and the great American comic novel of the 20th Century, A Confederacy of Dunces.New Orleans is a nice place to visit. But you wouldn’t want to raise your kids there.
All this is now common parlance, more or less. What you won’t hear, except from me, is that “Let the good times roll” is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.
The berserk denunciations this observation of mine elicited were partly the usual Pavlovian Emperor’s New Clothes response to examples of Blacks Behaving Badly. When the most prominent black professor in the country throws a two-year-old’s tantrum, the President of the United States insists upon a national conversation about white racism. When six black high school football stars batter a single unconscious white youth in Jena, then the future President of the United States denounces white racism.
As Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox said about Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, the psychology of the story suddenly goes all wrong at the end. As you’ll recall, the two “weavers” contend that only intelligent people worthy of holding their jobs can see the new clothes. So, just because one little brat is saying “The emperor has no clothes,” the mob isn’t going to suddenly agree with the kid. They are instead going to get very angry at this obviously stupid child who, clearly, isn’t even worthy of holding his job of street urchin, unlike all of the respectable people who deserve their positions of authority, who are all smart enough to see that the Emperor is wearing a … uh … new, higher form of clothing.
>I suspect, however, that I had also sinned by tangentially calling into question one of the sacred myths of our age, repeated endlessly by PBS: that the 1960s cultural revolution was for the benefit of blacks, when, in truth, it was for the benefit of upper middle class whites, and was very much at the expense of people farther down the social scale.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Over on Taki’s Magazine, my Wednesday column is up about the upcoming PBS documentary by Ken Burns, who created the superb The Civil War in 1990:
The publicity machine is now gearing up for documentarian Ken Burns’s twelve-hour extravaganza, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, which will run for six straight nights on PBS starting September 27.
This being a Ken Burns series, the predominant theme of The National Parks will be “diversity.” So, if you go camping in a national park this month, check out the diversity of your fellow visitors. You’ll likely notice tourists from all over the world, including busloads of punctual Germans and amenable Japanese.
But, foreign tourists aren’t the right kind of diversity for Burns.
Although Burns has spent his career explaining stuff, he’s never quite figured himself out. That’s why, judging from his documentary’s preview materials, The National Parks is shaping up, after six years of work, as Ken Burns’ Worst Idea.
One important finding in Charles Murray’s 2003 book Human Accomplishment is that during the rise of the West from 1500 onward, most major civilizations outside the West were stagnating culturally — even in categories where they only compete against themselves (e.g., Arabic Literature, Chinese Literature, Indian Literature, Chinese Painting, Indian Philosophy, and Chinese Philosophy).
Only the Japanese seemed to be making steady progress on broad fronts. Not as fast as Europe, but during their isolationist period from 1601-1853, the Japanese were developing many of the features of modern Japan (geisha culture, sumo wrestling, etc.) and continued to progress in the arts. This forward movement may explain why they responded more impressively to the Western challenge when it finally arrived in 1853.
I think there may be a general historical pattern in which a culture goes through a growth phase, classics emerge, and then subsequent generations settle down to memorizing the classic books, which slowly leaches the dynamism from a society.
For example, during the competition of the Warring States era, the Chinese developed lots of ideas about politics and behavior. Subsequent generations judged Confucius, reasonably enough, to be the most sensible of the early Chinese thinkers. They then erected a meritocratic system for choosing government officials based more or less on who can memorize the most Confucius. This worked pretty well for a long time, but by, say, 1800, the Chinese have coasted about as far as they can go on Confucius and aren’t prepared for the modern world. (Substitute Mohamed, Plato and Aristotle, Buddha, Aquinas, etc. for other civilizations.)
The invention of the printing press in the 1450s liberated Europe from the tyranny of memorization by making books cheap.
Here’s my question about Japan: What are the classics that have dominated Japanese thought? Do they have many? Did they just pay lip service to Confucius. Is this relative lack of classics a key to their continued progress? In Modern Times, Paul Johnson says, “In a sense, the Japanese had always been modern-minded people.”
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
One of the odder figures in 20th Century American history was Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel, Roy Cohn, whose infatuation with another McCarthy staffer, handsome young G. David Schine, was used by Dwight Eisenhower to destroy McCarthy in 1954. Cohn went on to become a prominent NYC shady attorney before dying of AIDS in 1986 and then becoming a character in various gay Broadway plays, such as Angels in America. In 1988, shortly after publishing Bonfire of the Vanities, which is largely set in the Bronx County Courthouse where Cohn got his education, Tom Wolfe reviewed two biographies of Cohn. I will quote Wolfe at length for no particular reasons other than the pleasures of finding fugitive Wolfeiana and the inherent interest of the subject.
”I went to work for Joe McCarthy in January 1953,” Roy Cohn told Sidney Zion, ”and was gone by the fall of ’54.”
Less than two years. But a lifetime was packed into it, and more if obituaries tell the tale. “Does anybody doubt how mine will open? ‘Roy M. Cohn, who served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy . . .’ Which is exactly how I want it to read.” He got his wish. That was exactly how it did read, all over America, when he died of AIDS in August of 1986 at the age of 59. But now the post-mortems have begun, and the picture we get is stranger by far than that of a baby-faced 26-year-old anti-Communist who somehow managed to dominate the front pages in the 1950′s.
If Mr. Zion’s ”Autobiography of Roy Cohn” and Nicholas von Hoffman’s ”Citizen Cohn” have it right, Roy Cohn was one of the most curious child prodigies ever born. Moreover, he was trapped throughout his life inside his own early precociousness. Many others were trapped with him along the way. One of them was Joe McCarthy. McCarthy never knew what he was dealing with. He didn’t destroy himself, as it is so often put. He was unable to survive Cohn’s prodigious obsessions….
Most child prodigies are pint-sized musicians, artists, poets, dancers, mathematicians or chess players. Their talents, however dazzling, have no direct effect on the lives of their fellow citizens. But Cohn was a child political prodigy. His talent was not for political science, either. It was politics as practiced in the Bronx County Courthouse, in the 1930′s, where the rules of the Favor Bank, with its i.o.u.’s and ”contracts,” were the only rules that applied.
By his own account, as well as Mr. von Hoffman’s, Cohn had no boyhood. He was raised as a miniature adult. His father, Albert Cohn, was a judge in the Bronx and a big makher, a very big deal, in the Bronx Democratic organization, which in turn, under the famous Edward J. (Boss) Flynn, had a pivotal position in the national Democratic Party. Cohn grew up in an apartment on Walton Avenue, just down the street from the courthouse, near the crest of the Grand Concourse, watching big makhers coming and going through the living room, transacting heavy business with his father….
Cohn says he was 15 when he pulled off his first major piece of power brokerage. Using his uncle Bernie Marcus’s connections, he acted as intermediary in the purchase of radio station WHOM by Generoso Pope, father of one of Cohn’s schoolmates. According to Cohn, Pope gave him a $10,000 commission, and Cohn kicked back a portion of it to a lawyer for the Federal Communications Commission – an F.C.C. kickback at age 15. By age 16 or 17, according to Mr. von Hoffman, Cohn thought nothing of calling a police precinct to fix a speeding ticket for one of his high school teachers.
Using speed-up programs designed for veterans, Cohn got both his undergraduate and law degrees at Columbia in three years. He was not yet 20. The day he got word he had passed the bar examination [his 21st birthday], he was sworn in as an Assistant United States Attorney. …
In the United States Attorney’s office the little prince moved in on major cases immediately. He played a bit part in the prosecution of Alger Hiss and developed his crusader’s concern with the issue of Communist infiltration of the United States Government. As Cohn told Sidney Zion, this was by no means a right-wing tack at the time. Anti-Communism and its obverse, loyalty, were causes first championed after the Second World War not by Joseph McCarthy but by the Truman Administration.
By age 23 Cohn was at center stage for the so-called Trial of the Century, the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for delivering atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. For a start, says Cohn, at the age of 21 he had taken part in a complicated piece of Favor Banking, involving Tammany Hall and one of its men’s auxiliaries, the mob, to get Irving Saypol his job as United States Attorney. Saypol became the prosecutor in the Rosenberg case and made Cohn his first lieutenant. Next, says Cohn, he did some Favor Banking for an old family friend, Irving Kaufman. Al Cohn had played a big part in getting Judge Kaufman a Federal judgeship. Now Judge Kaufman was dying to preside at the Trial of the Century. Cohn says he went straight to the clerk in charge of assigning judges to criminal cases, pulled the right strings, and Judge Kaufman was in….
It was the sons of two established Democratic Party families who vied for the position of chief counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. One was Roy Cohn. The other was Bobby Kennedy. Cohn won out because, among other considerations, he had, at age 26, vastly more experience as a prosecutor. Kennedy signed on as an assistant counsel, and Cohn treated him like a gofer, making him go out for sweet rolls and coffee refills, earning his eternal hatred. What did McCarthy in was his attack on the United States Army. It was Dwight Eisenhower’s Army, and by now, 1953, Eisenhower was President of the United States. And who got McCarthy into his last, ruinous tarball battle with the Army? The little prince.
Cohn had brought aboard the McCarthy team, as an unpaid special investigator, one G. David Schine, the rich young handsome blond son of a hotel-chain operator. Mr. Schine’s only qualification for the job was that he had written an amateurish tract entitled ”Definition of Communism” and published it with his own money. Not even McCarthy knew why he was there. He only kept him on to make Cohn happy. McCarthy seemed to think that Cohn, in addition to being bright and energetic, was highly organized, tightly wound, cool and disciplined as well.
He wasn’t. What baby autocrat would live like that? Cohn and Mr. Schine proceeded to become a pair of bold-faced characters in the gossip columns, two boys out on the town, throwing a party that stretched from the Stork Club in New York to various dives, high and low, in Paris – where they arrived during a disastrous European tour, supposedly to monitor the work of United States Government libraries abroad. The European press mocked them unmercifully, depicting them as a pair of nitwit children.
What did Cohn see in Mr. Schine? Almost immediately there were rumors that they were lovers and even that McCarthy himself was in on the game. Cohn’s obsession with Mr. Schine, in light of what became known about Cohn in the 1980′s, is one thing. But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away when the Army-McCarthy hearings, the denouement of Joe McCarthy’s career, got under way in 1954.
McCarthy’s investigation of the Army’s security procedures had taken place the year before. Now Eisenhower loyalists on McCarthy’s subcom-mittee joined with Democrats to conduct hearings on the subject of – Roy Cohn.
David Schine was draft age. He had been classified 4-F becau
se of a slipped disk, but now the highly publicized hard-partying lad was re-examined and reclassified 1-A. Cohn went to work. He tried to get the Army to give Mr. Schine an instant commission and a desk on the East Coast from which he could continue to serve the subcommittee and the Dionysian gods of the Stork Club and other boites.
Cohn made calls to everyone from Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens on down. He made small talk, he made big talk, he tried to make deals, he tendered i.o.u.’s, he screamed, and he screamed some more, he spoke of grim consequences. When all of this blew up in the form of a detailed log leaked to the press, Cohn was genuinely shocked. What had he done that any high official of the Favor Bank, any self-respecting makher, wouldn’t have done for a friend? All he had done was try to advance a few markers, make a few contracts, and scare the pants off a few bureaucrats who were so lame as not to have an account at the Favor Bank in the first place.
But he was no longer dealing with the courthouse crowd in the Bronx or even lower Manhattan. He didn’t know it, but he was dealing with Ike, and Ike had had enough. The thrust of the Army-McCarthy hearings was that McCarthy’s attack on the Army had been nothing but an insidious attempt to get favored treatment for Cohn’s friend Mr. Schine.
So what? Cohn remained confident that he could win against any odds. But, as he would later admit to Mr. Zion, he was no match for the Army’s counsel, the veteran Boston trial lawyer Joseph Welch. The hearings became a television drama that stopped America cold. The entire nation seemed to take time out to watch. The hearings had two famous punch lines, and Welch delivered them both….
But that was not the line that got under Cohn’s skin. That one came in an exchange concerning a picture of Mr. Schine and Army Secretary Stevens that Cohn had put into evidence. It turned out that the photograph had been cropped. Welch began going after one of McCarthy’s staffers about the source of the altered picture: ”Did you think it came from a pixie?”
McCarthy interrupted: ”Will the counsel for my benefit define – I think he might be an expert on that -what a pixie is?”
Welch said, ”Yes, I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative to a fairy. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?” To Roy Cohn this was not funny.
By the way, in 1957, G. David Schine married the Swedish Miss Universe and they had six children. He never spoke publicly about McCarthy or Cohn again.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
And here are excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s 2001 two volume work on Russians and Jews, Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995. Only a 20 page excerpt in an earlier ISI book has ever been published in the U.S.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Razib at GNXP offers a useful summary-review of Peter Turchin’s ambitious “War and Peace and War,” in which Turchin offers three theories to explain much of human history. I offer my thoughts in the GNXP comments.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
… is not its reliability, which isn’t bad. Instead, in its obsession with being trustworthy, it is determined to lack style, to wage a relentless war against insight and panache. In other words, it’s boring.
Obviously, Wikipedia doesn’t pay writers, so it typically gets what it pays for in terms of quality writing. Worse is its institutional focused on exterminating whatever bits of good prose get into Wikipedia in the first place. For example, a few years ago I was researching the long-running Mike Judge animated sit-com King of the Hill. In the middle of Wikipedia’s informative but ho-hum posting was a 900 word essay on the social themes of the show that stood out for its grace, wit, and acumen. About halfway through it, I realized this part had undoubtedly been written by Kevin Michael Grace, The Ambler.
Tonight, I checked back to see how badly the self-appointed editors had sucked the life out of Kevin’s essay, only to find it was completely gone. Typical.
In contrast, for the last week I’ve been reading my 1971 Encyclopedia Britannica’s enormous article on “World Wars.” Individual sections are written by authors identified only by their initials, such as “B.H.L.H.” The corporate style is fairly terse and stodgy; still, it’s an exciting read, in part because of the creativity of authors. For example, B.H.L.H. commented on the British forces’ capture of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in late 1917, after starting in Egypt a long year before:
“As a moral success the feat was valuable, but from the strategic point of view it seemed a long way round to the goal. If Turkey be pictured as a bent old man, the British, after missing their blow at his head (Istanbul) and omitting to strike at his heart (Alexandretta), had now resigned themselves to swallowing him from the feet upward, like a python dragging its endless length across the desert.”
B.H.L.H. is of course Capt. Basil H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970), one of the best known and most controversial of military historians and innovators, who contributed to the development of tank warfare. In its clunking style, Wikipedia explains:
I especially like the “great commanders who, he thought, were great” part. I would bet that one man can’t write that badly himself — he needs editors looking over his shoulder to stick in the “he thought” part to keep it all neutral and reliable.
Is B.H.L.H. a completely reliable guide to events in which he played a minor role and later played a major role in interpreting? Of course not. Still, his writing is interesting and memorable, unlike Wikipedia’s.
In case you are wondering, I have no first hand experience with writing or editing anything for Wikipedia. My closest experience is watching my 12-year-old son write half of one long Wikipedia article.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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