A Student of History

November 26, 2007

Goin’ to Mass: hookers in the company of playboys

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 3:05 pm

A great article (from the New Oxford Review) on how people go to Mass these days, and how it shows extraordinary disrespect for the Church.  It also points to the need for parents to model proper behavior, rather than trying to become primarily friends with our kids.  It starts:

Ten minutes before she must leave to avoid being late, Cherrie grabs her jeans from the hot dryer and tugs them on in a twisting, gyrating wriggle. She turns her back to the bathroom mirror and peers over her shoulder to check derrière — yes, the heat of the clothes dryer did it again: the jeans are fantastically tight. Now, a layered top, skin-tight and cut low in front, big hoop earrings and a long chain necklace, a matching bracelet, a check of the mascara and eye shadow applied an hour ago, and she’s almost ready. She slips into heelless, toeless spikes and, flipping back her long straight hair, steps into the hall and calls to her daughter, “Molly, it’s time; we can’t be late again!”Molly comes out of her bedroom dressed just like Cherrie, but with more mascara and eye shadow. The two look like hookers, bawdy types, about to take their regular positions on a street corner across town. Except that it’s Saturday afternoon and Cherrie and Molly are headed for Mass at the Catholic church just two miles away.

Before they climb into the van, Cherrie calls to her son shooting baskets in the driveway, “Let’s go, Sean, no time left; Dad will meet us at Mass.” Dad has been gone since early morning, as always on a warm and sunny Saturday, cruising with his motorcycle friends. Occasionally he manages to meet up with the family in the church parking lot; he’s there today. And so this somewhat typical American Catholic family walks up to the church looking like two hookers in the company of a couple of playboys of the Peter Pan variety, men who refuse to grow up and boys who don’t know how.

Ethical Consumption?

Filed under: Simple Living — John Maass @ 1:26 pm

An unlikely new trend is elbowing its way into the luxury market and it’s not gem-encrusted, fur-lined or limited edition: It’s ethical.

Article, here, is worth reading but I am still skeptical.

November 25, 2007

Only “nutters” talk religion in UK

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 2:24 pm

Tony Blair has sparked controversy by claiming that people who speak about their religious faith can be viewed by society as “nutters”.

Mr Blair complained that he had been unable to follow the example of US politicians, such as President George W. Bush, in being open about his faith because people in Britain regarded religion with suspicion.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, said: “Mr Blair’s comments highlight the need for greater recognition to be given to the role faith has played in shaping our country. Those secularists who would dismiss faith as nothing more than a private affair are profoundly mistaken in their understanding of faith.”

The rest of this Telegraph article is here.

November 23, 2007

History of Augusta

Filed under: Early America,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 4:46 pm

New Website Showcases History of Augusta, Ga.

City Selected for Ongoing NPS “Discover Our Shared Heritage” Itinerary Series

(Washington, D.C.) – The rich history of Augusta, Georgia can now be explored on-line at the new National Park Service website http:www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/augusta.

The on-line travel itinerary highlights 39 sites in Augusta listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The website provides descriptions, maps, photographs, visitor information, and links for each place. There are also essays which chronicle the city’s history, historic preservation, African American community, and religious institutions.

The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services, Historic Augusta, Inc., and the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area produced the itinerary in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. A tourism grant from the City of Augusta and the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau provided part of the funding to produce the itinerary.

Augusta is the 45th itinerary featured in the ongoing Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary Series. The series was developed by the National Park Service to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places.

Top Books

Filed under: Great books,New books — John Maass @ 4:35 pm

Below are the non-fiction selections in the “Top 100 Books” list from the NYT Book Review:

AGENT ZIGZAG: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal. By Ben Macintyre. (Harmony, $25.95.) The exploits of Eddie Chapman, a British criminal who became a double agent in World War II.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE: A Life. By Hugh Brogan. (Yale University, $35.) Brogan’s combative biography takes issue with Tocqueville’s misgivings about democracy.

ALICE: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. By Stacy A. Cordery. (Viking, $32.95.) A biography of Theodore Roosevelt’s shrewd, tart-tongued older daughter.

AMERICAN CREATION: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. By Joseph J. Ellis. (Knopf, $26.95.) This history explores an underappreciated point: that this country was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them.

THE ARGUMENT: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. By Matt Bai. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) An exhaustive account of the Democrats’ transformative efforts, by a political reporter for The New York Times Magazine.

ARSENALS OF FOLLY: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. By Richard Rhodes. (Knopf, $28.95.) This artful history focuses on the events leading up to the pivotal 1986 Reykjavik summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER: Who Killed the Bishop? By Francisco Goldman. (Grove, $25.) The novelist returns to Guatemala, a major inspiration for his fiction, to try to solve the real-life killing of a Roman Catholic bishop.

BROTHER, I’M DYING. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $23.95.) Danticat’s cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an undercurrent of melancholy in this memoir of her Haitian family.

CIRCLING MY MOTHER. By Mary Gordon. (Pantheon, $24.) Gordon’s deeply personal memoir focuses on the engaged and lively Catholicism of her mother, a glamorous career woman who was also an alcoholic with a body afflicted by polio.

CLEOPATRA’S NOSE: 39 Varieties of Desire. By Judith Thurman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.95.) These surgically analytic essays of cultural criticism showcase themes of loss, hunger and motherhood.

CULTURAL AMNESIA: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts. By Clive James. (Norton, $35.) Essays on 20th-century luminaries by one of Britain’s leading public intellectuals.

THE DAY OF BATTLE: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy. By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $35.) A celebration of the American experience in these campaigns.

THE DIANA CHRONICLES. By Tina Brown. (Doubleday, $27.50.) The former New Yorker editor details the sordid domestic drama that pitted the Princess of Wales against Britain’s royal family.

THE DISCOVERY OF FRANCE: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War. By Graham Robb. (Norton, $27.95.) Robb presents France as a group of diverse regions, each with its own long history, intricate belief systems and singular customs.

DOWN THE NILE: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff. By Rosemary Mahoney. (Little, Brown, $23.99.) Mahoney juxtaposes her solo rowing journey with encounters with the Egyptians she met.

DRIVEN OUT: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. By Jean Pfaelzer. (Random House, $27.95.) How the Chinese were brutalized and demonized in the 19th-century American West — and how they fought back.

DUE CONSIDERATIONS: Essays and Criticism. By John Updike. (Knopf, $40.) Updike’s first nonfiction collection in eight years displays breathtaking scope as well as the author’s seeming inability to write badly.

EASTER EVERYWHERE: A Memoir. By Darcey Steinke. (Bloomsbury, $24.95.) A minister’s daughter confronts her own spiritual rootlessness.

EDITH WHARTON. By Hermione Lee. (Knopf, $35.) This meticulous biography shows Wharton’s significance as a designer, decorator, gardener and traveler, as well as a writer.

THE FATHER OF ALL THINGS: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. By Tom Bissell. (Pantheon, $25.) Bissell mixes rigorous narrative accounts of the war and emotionally powerful scenes of the distress it brought his own family.

THE FLORIST’S DAUGHTER. By Patricia Hampl. (Harcourt, $24.) In her fifth and most powerful memoir, Hampl looks hard at her relationship to her Midwestern roots as her mother lies dying in the hospital.

FORESKIN’S LAMENT: A Memoir. By Shalom Auslander. (Riverhead, $24.95.) With scathing humor and bitter irony, Auslander wrestles with his Jewish Orthodox roots.

GOMORRAH: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System. By Roberto Saviano. Translated by Virginia Jewiss. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) This powerful work of reportage started a national conversation in Italy when it was published there last year. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE BUILT: With a Little Help From Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty. By Wilfrid Sheed. (Random House, $29.95.) A rich homage to Gershwin, Berlin and other masters of the swinging jazz song.

HOW DOCTORS THINK. By Jerome Groopman. (Houghton Mifflin, $26.) Groopman takes a tough-minded look at the ways in which doctors and patients interact, and at the profound problems facing modern medicine.

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. By James L. Kugel. (Free Press, $35.) In this tour through the Jewish scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament, more or less), a former professor of Hebrew seeks to reclaim the Bible from the literalists and the skeptics.

HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ. By Pierre Bayard.Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. (Bloomsbury, $19.95.) A French literature professor wants to assuage our guilt over the ways we actually read and discuss books.

IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. By Rajiv Chandrasekaran. (Knopf, $25.95.) The author, a Washington Post journalist, catalogs the arrogance and ineptitude that marked America’s governance of Iraq.

THE INVISIBLE CURE: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS. By Helen Epstein. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Rigorous reporting unearths new findings among the old issues.

LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA. By Tim Weiner. (Doubleday, $27.95.) A comprehensive chronicle of the American intelligence agency, from the days of the Iron Curtain to Iraq, by a reporter for The New York Times.

LENI: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. By Steven Bach. (Knopf, $30.) How Hitler’s favorite director made “Triumph of the Will” and convinced posterity that she didn’t know what the Nazis were up to.

LEONARD WOOLF: A Biography. By Victoria Glendinning. (Free Press, $30.) Glendinning shows Virginia Woolf’s accomplished husband as passionate, reserved and, above all, stoical.

A LIFE OF PICASSO: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. By John Richardson. (Knopf, $40.) The third, penultimate installment in Richardson’s biography spans a dauntingly complicated time in Picasso’s life and in European history.

LITTLE HEATHENS: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. By Mildred Armstrong Kalish. (Bantam, $22.) Kalish’s soaring love for her childhood memories saturates this memoir, which coaxes the reader into joy, wonder and even envy.

LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. By Ishmael Beah. (Sarah Crichton/-Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22.) A former child warrior gives literary voice to the violence and killings he both witnessed and perpetrated during the Sierra Leone civil war.

THE NINE: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. By Jeffrey Toobin. (Doubleday, $27.95.) An erudite outsider’s account of the cloistered court’s inner workings.

THE ORDEAL OF ELIZABETH MARSH: A Woman in World History. By Linda Colley. (Pantheon, $27.50.) Colley tracks the “compulsively itinerant” Marsh across the 18th century and several continents.

PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece. By Joan Breton Connelly. (Princeton University, $39.50.) A scholar finds that religion meant power for Greek women.

RALPH ELLISON: A Biography. By Arnold Rampersad. (Knopf, $35.) Ellison was seemingly cursed by his failure to follow up “Invisible Man.”

THE REST IS NOISE: Listening to the Twentieth Century. By Alex Ross. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) In his own feat of orchestration, The New Yorker’s music critic presents a history of the last century as refracted through its classical music.

SCHULZ AND PEANUTS: A Biography. By David Michaelis. (Harper/ Harper-Collins, $34.95.) Actual “Peanuts” cartoons movingly illustrate this portrait of the strip’s creator, presented here as a profoundly lonely and unhappy man.

SERVICE INCLUDED: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. By Phoebe Damrosch. (Morrow, $24.95.) A memoir about waiting tables at the acclaimed Manhattan restaurant Per Se.

SOLDIER’S HEART: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. By Elizabeth D. Samet. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) A civilian teacher at the Military Academy offers a significant perspective on a crucial social and political force: honor.

STANLEY: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer. By Tim Jeal. (Yale University, $38.) Of the many biographies of Henry Morton Stanley, Jeal’s, which profits from his access to an immense new trove of material, is the most complete and readable.

THE STILLBORN GOD: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. By Mark Lilla. (Knopf, $26.) With nuance and complexity, Lilla examines how we managed to separate, in a fashion, church and state.

THOMAS HARDY. By Claire Tomalin. (Penguin Press, $35.) Tomalin presents Hardy as a fascinating case study in mid-Victorian literary sociology.

TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton. By Sara Wheeler. (Random House, $27.95.) The story of the man immortalized in “Out of Africa.”

TWO LIVES: Gertrude and Alice. By Janet Malcolm. (Yale University, $25.) Sharp criticism meets playful, absorbing biography in this study of Stein and Toklas.

THE WHISPERERS: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. By Orlando Figes. (Metropolitan, $35.) An extraordinary look at the gulag’s impact on desperate individuals and families struggling to survive. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. By Saul Friedländer. (HarperCollins, $39.95.) Individual testimony and broader events are skillfully interwoven.

“What Would Jesus Buy?”

Filed under: Simple Living — John Maass @ 2:35 pm

“We’ve been convinced that the way to show your love for someone is by what you buy them, by what the price tag is, by what is represented on the receipt. And that’s the wrong message to send out.”  So says Morgan Spurlock, who produced a new film called “What Would Jesus Buy?”.  Spurlock’s credits include 2004’s “Super Size Me,” a great book I read a few years ago.

For more in the WashPost, click here.

New War Video Game Controversial

Filed under: The past that is still with us,Wars — John Maass @ 1:09 pm


From the IHT:

A new video game that invites players to rewrite the course of Spain’s devastating civil war has touched a nerve in a country that is often reluctant to revisit its past, let alone play with it.

Shadows of War” bills itself as the first video game based on the 1936-39 war, which erupted after right-wing forces loyal to Francisco Franco staged a coup against the elected Republican government. It went on sale in Spain on Thursday in the midst of a bitter debate about how to deal with the country’s past, prompted by a new law that would authorize reparations to civil war victims and ban monuments to Franco.

Even before it hit the stores, the game drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum as a divisive trivialization of a war whose wounds, for many Spaniards, have yet to heal.

More here…..

The game description per a gaming review on-line is:

Europe, 1936. The Old Continent is still recovering from the wounds inflicted on its territories by the worst armed conflict Humanity has ever witnessed. In the meantime, a new shadow is rising to threaten the newly-established balance of power. Should nobody stop it, the consequences could change the path of history for ever…

Rely on five heroes of different nationalities, each of them with their own background and agenda, and with a future which depends upon your abilities as strategist. Thanks to the unique skills of your commanders, you will be able to decide the fate of the German and Italian armies or the vast Russian troops, among others.

You are Europe’s only shadow of hope. Don’t let the World be engulfed by the Shadows of War!

The NPS and Slavery

Filed under: Early America,Historic Places — John Maass @ 1:04 pm

At the AHA’s website is an interesting article (Nov. 2007) on how the National Park Service approaches its role in educating the public in the field fo history, particularly its interpretation of the American Civil War.  The piece traces how the NPS dealt with the matter of slavery and the war, and how this approach has changed over time.

The writer concludes:

Conversations about slavery in today’s society are contentious precisely because understanding the role slavery played in American history is important to understanding today’s society. If talking about slavery is difficult, we need to talk about it more, not less. Attending to the public’s knowledge of slavery is a shared responsibility. Public historical agencies and scholars alike have parts to play in sharing with the public their excitement about the past and the seductive, and never-ending, pursuit of historical truth. Federal historians and academic scholars should aggressively seek opportunities to speak to public audiences. Addressing various publics is not only exciting, it makes us better historians. Hostile audiences force us to hone our speaking skills and choose our words even more carefully. Public history is not just for public historians. Academic historians, as Joyce Appleby and James McPherson have noted, also can feel the rush of being active in the public sphere.

Images Mixed Up on Book Covers

Filed under: Early America — John Maass @ 1:04 pm

Osprey Publishing has a series of book son key campaigns in military history, such as one onthe 1781 battle of Guilford Courthouse, N.C.  The cover is below.

The problem?  The image on the cover of the book is actually that of the battle of Eutaw Springs, fought about six months later.  But, lest you think the eagle eyes at Osprey (get it?) were forgetting something, have no fear.  They used a Guilford image on a book about the battle for New York in 1776!

New York 1776 (Campaign)

Salvation or the Bottom Line?

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 1:04 pm

An analysis by The New York Times of the online public records of just more than 1,300 of Mega-churches shows that their business interests are as varied as basketball schools, aviation subsidiaries, investment partnerships and a limousine service.

At least 10 own and operate shopping centers, and some financially formidable congregations are adding residential developments to their holdings. In one such elaborate project, LifeBridge Christian Church, near Longmont, Colorado, plans a 313-acre, or 127-hectare, development of upscale homes, retail and office space, a sports arena, housing for the elderly and church buildings.

Is this good?

More here.  See also a Forbes Magazine piece on this issue from Sept. 2007, which begins:

Maybe churches aren’t so different from corporations. World Changers Ministries, for instance, operates a music studio, publishing house, computer graphic design suite and owns its own record label. The Potter’s House also has a record label as well as a daily talk show, a prison satellite network that broadcasts in 260 prisons and a twice-a-week Webcast. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has a chief operating officer and a special effects 3-D Web site that offers videos-on-demand. It publishes a magazine and holds Cashflow 101 Game Nights. And Lakewood Church, which recently leased the Compaq Center, former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, has a four-record deal and spends $12 million annually on television airtime.

Welcome to the megabusiness of megachurches, where pastors often act as chief executives and use business tactics to grow their congregations. This entrepreneurial approach has contributed to the explosive growth of megachurches–defined as non-Catholic churches with at least 2,000 members–in the U.S. Indeed, Lakewood, New Birth, The Potter’s House and World Changers, four of the biggest, have all experienced membership gains of late.

November 21, 2007

A Defeat of Historical Proportions

Filed under: The strange place called the South,What is History? — John Maass @ 5:12 pm

At a recent news conference, a defeated commander described his side’s loss by trying to place it within the outline of history.

“Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event,” he said. “It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event.”

What was this debacle the leader refered to?  

The University of Alabama’s loss to the University of Louisiana-Monroe on the football field last weekend.   To be accurate, Alabama Coach Nick Saban didn’t compare the embarrassing 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe to those events, but picked those historical references to illustrate that this could be a pivotal week for the Crimson Tide.  Nevertheless, it goes to show us that a little knowledge is dangerous, and that some folks have lost all perspective.

Mind you, Saban is the highest paid coach in NCAA football, and his team has lost 4 games.

Where’s my Professor?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 1:18 pm

The NYT has an article that should come as no surprise at all to those who go to or work at a large university:  “Professors with tenure or who are on a tenure track are now a distinct minority on the country’s campuses, as the ranks of part-time instructors and professors hired on a contract have swelled.”  The column goes on to note that “The shift from a tenured faculty results from financial pressures, administrators’ desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings, and the growth of community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching basics and preparing students for jobs.”  Many state university presidents say tight budgets have made it inevitable that they turn to adjuncts to save money.

Thirty years ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, but now they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private.  Wow.  when I went to Washington and Lee University in the early to mid-80’s, I had only oneprofessor in four years who was not tenured or tenure-track, and all had Ph.D’s.  Quite a change now.

This of course leads to problems, as demonstrated by the example of Florida International University: it has “has 2,400 undergraduate majors but only 19 tenured or tenure-track professors who teach, according to a department self-assessment. It is possible for a psychology major to graduate without taking a course with a full-time faculty member.”

One thing that this article fails to point out is how many courses are also taught by teaching assistants, or TA’s.  These are common at large universities.  Most times, TAs are actually graduate students who get paid to teach part time (or grade, or research) in exchange for free or reduced tuition and a stipend.  When I left Ohio State my stipend was about $1800 per month, but out of this came some of my health insurance costs, as well as a number of deductions for services at the university I did not even use.  Thousands of students are taught each quarter at OSU, and other campuses across the land, by TAs, who do not have Ph.Ds.  Thus, students and parents are paying lots of money to send their kids to schools with great reputations but the faculty members who give the schools these reputations are usually not the ones teaching in the classroom, at least to undergrads.  Additionally, TAs are not that well “regulated” or controlled.  I taught US history at Ohio State for a dozen quarters, and only had a faculty member or departmental representative come in to observe me one time.  Once. 

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