Fraysters pass judgment on Deep Throat.

Fraysters pass judgment on Deep Throat.

Fraysters pass judgment on Deep Throat.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
June 1 2005 8:22 PM

Felt Up

Fraysters pass judgment on Deep Throat.

Learning Deep Throat's identity is a bit like watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. Fleeting euphoria gives way to an anticlimactic hangover after you realize that all the intrigue has been extinguished. What's left?

Many fraysters aren't at ease endowing Felt with the hero label. For The_Bell, here, Mark Felt "is a complicated figure who strikes me as more Clark Kent than Superman – professional and competent but also a little cold and unlikable":

That Deep Throat would wind up being a highly placed official largely buried in bureaucratic anonymity is not especially surprising in retrospect. Anybody of true high profile would have been too easy to spot; too easy to connect with leaked information. Clark was well positioned within the Bureau to know where bodies were buried – he had buried more than a few himself – but his motivations to speak out about Watergate were a lot more complex than simple patriotism or personal integrity.

Why did Felt decide to turn on the Nixon administration?

Two likely reasons for Felt's motivation to help uncover the Watergate conspiracy are talked about extensively in most papers reporting his unmasking. Felt considered himself personally betrayed/slighted by Nixon after being passed over for the top job at the FBI when Hoover died. Moreover, Felt was appalled by the extent his usurper – Patrick Gray, a Nixon loyalist – was undermining the Bureau's independence/authority by his willingness to cooperate and share information with the Administration…

Felt did more regarding Watergate than a lot of other people who were equally positioned to know what he knew. He deserves our admiration and thanks for that. I just get the funny feeling that the more we learn about him and the more we pick at his brain, the more uncomfortable we will get with the man sitting upon the pedestal we have constructed for him. The sense of unease looking at the now-decrepit figure will not go away when we uncover more about what was really going on underneath his once dashing silver locks. After the initial excitement dies down that Clark Kent is really Superman, we are going to have to face the grim fact that Superman is really that prim little prick, Clark Kent.

For davegunn, here, "Felt is no hero":

He is a coward because, as Assistant Director of the FBI, he should have been openly arresting those who were guilty, or, if need be, he should have resigned his position and then told his story publicly. Instead, he hid in the dark and whispered.

He is a small man because he did what he did, not for the sake of justice or because of what was right, but because he was passed over for a promotion. As it turns out, he was much too small for the position he held, much less that of F.B.I. Director.

Richard Nixon forfeited his privilege to be our president by committing obstruction of justice. Mark Felt forfeited his privilege to be our hero for the reasons I have given.

Here, ShriekingViolet "suspect[s] that the historical consensus on Watergate will be rather different":

Woodward and Bernstein were good reporters. They performed a valuable public service by connecting the dots, using their sources wisely, uncovering a particularly brazen wrongdoing by the Nixon Administration, and providing the impetus for an official investigation that ultimately brought down Nixon. But in doing so, they used the only consistently available source of political information outside of the officially-dispensed, carefully-packaged spin and propaganda: a public official who is willing to anonymously bad-mouth another public official…

For every Daniel Ellsberg who blows the whistle in the public interest, and every Mark Felt who serves the public interest in addition to his own, there are a far greater number of leakers whose purpose is to harm a rival or mislead the public...

SV concludes that:

In the proper context, Watergate should not be seen as an example of how aggressive reporting serves the public interest. It should be seen as a sterling example of how aggressive reporting can serve the public interest if reporters are extremely cautious in their use of anonymous sources. Because Woodward and Bernstein didn't really bring down Nixon. Mark Felt and several White House sources did. The accuracy of the scoop and the good intentions of the leaker were little more than luck of the draw.

Finally, fozzy speculates what might have happened "if J. Edgar Hoover had been alive and well through Watergate?" while, here, Betty_the_Crow "wonder[s] if Felt read [Hunter S.] Thompson's Nixon obit" … KA 5:20 p.m.


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Fray's reaction to the Deep Throat reveal hasn't yet taken shape, though randy-khan publishes the first post, floating some objections to Timothy Noah's assessment in Chatterbox.

That Was Until…: Upon reading in Liza Mundy's "Out of the Freezer, Into the Family" that Snowflakes director, Lori Maze, was "your basic pro-choice career gal until she found herself infertile, at which point—and this is not uncommon—she began to view every aborted baby as one she herself could have adopted, and her views on the abortion issue did a 180," andkathleen writes:

…Guess what....most aborted fetuses would not be put up for adoption in any case. They would stay with their (probably) single, (probably) poor-ish, (probably) teenaged mothers and possibly end up at some point in the foster-care system…

So her conversion is basically situational. I wonder how many of the pro-lifers undergo a similar change of heart when faced with an unwanted pregnancy?

In any case, the owners of embryos ought to be able to do as they like with their own property. Just as it is illegal to sell organs for transplant purposes, it should be illegal to accept money for embryos. It should also be illegal to pass legislation preventing said owners from donating their property to research laboratories…

RachelCA1 responds, "My thought was, 'Oh, I see. Now I'm supposed to be forced to have this baby so that you can decide if you want to adopt it. Or not.'" And on the issue of what to do with "the nation's half-million frozen embryos that are left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures," Trebuchet_ suggests:

Why not simply allow couples that have "left over" blastocytes donate them to an ESCR unit of their choice. This eliminates any lingering doubt about the morality of the process, since the couple donating the potential stem cells will have made a choice between research, donation to another couple … or having the blastocytes destroyed.

Suddenly that whole moral decision rests on the shoulders of those that created the blastocytes in the first place, not the Federal Government.

A Man Who — When He Smells Flowers — Looks Around for a Coffin: That sums up bookteckie, here, on Fox News' slant:

…mass media is a BUSINESS. They exist to make money and that they provide a service (selling news) is no different than Kroger (selling groceries). I see the issue of bias as a matter of product marketing. Fox is catering to what was an underserved market and it's profitable. Fox will tailor news coverage to reflect the biases of their target audience but if the "bias" change, I'd bet Fox News will too. Media Capitalism should not be confused with media ethics (if there is such as thing).

The H.L. Mencken Award honorable mention goes to SeattleJack, here.

The BOTF Files: MaryAnn, referencing Stephen D. Biddle's assessment at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, steps out of Poems Fray to initiate a broad thread on Iraq. Fritz_Gerlich feels that "the United States can't simply dump the Iraq problem without thinking about the consequences, while IOZ continues to be BOTF's leading voice for immediate withdrawal.

Splendid_IRENY  hates Anthopologie:

It's a concept store. Its concept is of a world traveler, picking up shawls, macramé accessories and bric-a-brac to take back to an attic apartment that looks like it was decorated by Rhoda Morgenstern.

Who Brought the Matches?: So  that's what's been keeping Herb London busy. For those keeping score at home, London has been promoted by the dungeonmaster to the title of "social critic" … KA 5:45 p.m.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

In response to William Saletan's Human Nature on President Bush's opposition to the expansion of federally funded human embryonic stem-cell research, Demosthenes2 shares his personal testimony on the matter:

Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.
--Eric Hoffer

Yesterday, in the wake of the compromise cut by the Senate moderates and the Minority leader that curiously cut out majority leader Frist, the House passed legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Bush, for his part, has threatened to veto any such legislation should it pass, though he may find himself to be the next Dr. Frist (both in terms of competency and marginalization) should he do so as a majority (57%) of Republicans support embryonic stem cell research and achieving override may be easier than anticipated.

This is an issue that I have both some experience in and a vested interest in, so I'm going to address this from several perspectives because the administration makes it a point of pride to display its disdain for both science and metaphysics more complex than a first grade Sunday school primer.

As it happens, I have adopted one of those frozen embryos in a fertility clinic that this debate whirls around. My son—my six month old baby boy—is the blessing of embryonic adoption and that has without question transformed my life. It is troubling to hear so many talk about the disposition of these embryos when so few actually have any exposure to the process. So, having actually done more than talk about those frozen entities and done something about it, I'd like to take the opportunity to inform those who insist on meddling in the very private matters of those of us involved in these processes.

Tom DeLay stated that those who vote in favor of this measure: "vote to fund with taxpayer dollars the dismemberment of living distinct human beings for the purposes of medical experimentation." Apparently DeLay shares Bush's disdain for science and metaphysics. Therefore a few points for both officials are in order.

First, 'conception', 'life' and 'living distinct beings' are not the same thing as 'fertilization', no matter how much it serves one's purposes to make it so. Fertilization and the creation of blastocysts is an unremarkable event that takes place daily. If that embryo doesn't implant, there is no conception, no life, no pregnancy. Every day millions of women have 'embryos' floating around in their uteri, flush them during menses and nobody bats an eye. These embryos that have not implanted and sunk a vein and begun the process of advancement are not, even by the most conservative of standards, life. Nobody posits funerals or mourns for the millions of these that are, with no awareness, flushed every day. Give a woman as many pregnancy tests with an embryo inside her that has not implanted as many times as you like—there will be no positive result, pee on as many EPT sticks as you like, no plus sign. This is why after an IVF transfer (the two week wait) people so anxiously wait—they are hoping—desperately—that they have CONCEIVED. It hasn't happened yet.

That embryo may or may not implant and create a conception, a pregnancy, but one thing is for certain—those women who get their period without ever knowing there was a fertilized egg that failed to implant are not flushing 'living distinct human beings.' There is the potential for a conception—nothing more. So, ladies—suck it up and deal—Bush and DeLay need you to stop menstruating post haste—just cross your legs and get thee to a an OB-GYN every 28 days. You see, we need to blood test you and ultrasound the hell out of your uterus in case you absent mindedly were about to flush a 'living distinct human being', because we're all about a 'culture of life'—just not yours. You're an incubator. We need to stem the flow of blood in this culture of death, and apparently that means your menstrual flow.

Secondly, these frozen embryos are so incredibly valuable to the administration that they cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research… because they need to be… THROWN OUT! What they fail to understand is that the disposition of these embryos, like banked chord blood or donated blood or tissue donation, lies with the donor. When you participate in an IVF cycle you sing a form that determines what happens to any leftover fertilized eggs. The choices are cryogenic preservation for: adoption, stem cell research, later transfer to the originating parent, medical research or destruction. DeLay, Bush and his cohorts are saving nothing. It's not as though these embryos in cryogenic willed for research are know suddenly going to be adopted or implanted. They won't—our 'culture of life' perversely demands that they be thrown into the garbage—that's how precious they are, and that's how much we value them. We must destroy life, according to the administration, to AVOID preserving life! Go back and re-read that sentence.

I love my son, profoundly, deeply, more than I ever though possible, but my son became my son when he grew in that womb and survived the transfer. There were four embryos transferred that day—and nobody mourned those other three that simply flowed out naturally, no more my son than the other hoped for pregnancies that were unsuccessful as we hoped each month and waited and prayed that this month the test would be positive.

The key to understanding this intellectual schizophrenia the administration subscribes to is understanding that the point is not to save those embryos—if that were the concern, they'd be scrambling to adopt them like I did—no, this is about the agenda of throwing a bone to their ill informed and zealous base.

The problem is they do a grave disservice to that base, to you, to embryonic adoptive parents like me, to the ill, to EVERYONE in confusing prophylactic measures (the prevention of implantation) with abortificents. It's not the case, and no amount of obfuscation will make it so.

The obfuscation and misdirection is important because it reveals both the real agenda here the actual consequences of these actions and the hypocrisy of the Bush standard: 'No destruction of life to save life.' Indeed. The problem is we're not doing that. We're preserving tissue rather than destroying it so we can throw it out as if the administration has some perverse new garbage disposal regulation (and that would be the first evidence of environmental concern form them!), and designating the sick and elderly as unworthy of not only our efforts but unworthy of even taking the time to make these distinctions.

The administration's actions give lie to their words. It is mind boggling to watch an administration that talks about a 'culture of life' or not 'destroying life to save life' and then blithely proceeds to slaughter tens of thousands to 'save lives and bring democracy' or that has no qualms about executing everyone from the incompetent to juveniles not for vengeance or for deterrence, but to destroy lives to save lives. It is astonishing to watch an administration that would willingly come meddle in your lives to dictate to when your life begins and ends in your hospital bed, in your bedroom, in your doctors office, and at the pharmacy but it is despicable to watch them continue in this vein so ill informed, with actions so ill considered and so triumphal in their ignorance.

That ringing in your ears is the cognitive dissonance from listening to the administration and the noise they make as they come to tell you what you will do, and why—in your bedroom… in the hospital… with your doctor, with your very life—and they'll define that for you, thanks very much. Because they'll preserve what they want and destroy what they want for different reasons and in different ways because they can't be bothered to make the distinctions—and they like it that way. And apparently, so do we.

So while we're stemming flows, of blood, of ignorance, of death, and abandoning any pretense of 'compassionate conservatism' how about stemming the flow of hypocrisy?

The zeal which begins with hypocrisy must conclude in treachery; at first it deceives, at last it betrays
--Francis Bacon


Monday, May 23, 2005

Thank You For Smoking: If Fray Editor could be anywhere right now, he'd be holing up in David Plotz's duffel, traversing the nation's barbecue meccas in search of the perfect small end. Judging from his post, MonsterDog eagerly awaits Plotz's next installment, though it sounds as if he gets his fill every Labor Day at the "John Ascuaga's Nugget Best in the West Rib Cook-off" in Sparks, Nev. MD rhapsodizes:

Finally, something on the Internet that qualifies as a must-read.

Restaurants are good. Traveling from town to town, soaking up the South's official religion, throwing down enough meat that per Brillat-Savarin you're either oinkin' or mooin' as you roll down the road to the next destination---surely this is the stuff of good living and stories to tell the grandkids.

SteveH refers us to yesterday's Washington Post where Manuel Roig-Franzia delves into North Carolina's regional skirmish between vinegar-based Easterners and saucy Westerners. (Fray Editor weighs in here.) SteveH takes issue with where Roig Franzia draws the border:

I don't agree with the map they published in the print edition, the East extends further west than Route 1. Stameys isn't a typical western style barbecue in the Lexington tradition. If you forced me to choose, I'd have to go with Eastern style, but the great thing is you don't have to choose. BBQ is made to be enjoyed.

"Are men genetically disposed to BBQ excellence?" asksmeridiantoo:

Careful reflection on this question surely takes us back to the nights of long ago when manly-men rubbed ocher and soot over our naked bodies and danced around the fire. Sparks flew ever upward into the darkness of our world as we circled round and round the flames. Night grew late and still we carried on, poking our spears at the stars while we chanted the sacred words, "Ugga, Ugga, Ugga, Pfft!". We were men, we knew no better. What can you say?

Then, with the dawn of then new day, we staggered forth to kill the Wooley Mammoth.

With victorious glee and surging levels of testosterone we pulled the beast home to the beloved Wifey Poo (WP), who with barely a glance, shook her head and said, "If you think I'm going to cook that thing after what I've had to put up with all day long, you're hairier than you look!"

With crushed manhood, we did all we could do, we built a fire and charred the beast. Then, placing the now succulent 89 pound rack of ribs at the alter of the beloved WP, we uttered the (now famous) words designed to turn the disposition of the most critical female to putty, "Would you like some sauce on that, Dear?"

Today, meridiantoo returns with barbecue as iambic pentameter. And the Fray eagerly awaits comment from Splendid_IREny on Plotz's Kansas City observations.

Solar Eclipse: Don't count CaptainRonVoyage, here, among those buying into Mike D'Antoni's organized chaos in Phoenix:

They remind of a bad Xerox of the '93 Sonics. Granted, that team should have made the Finals, might have beaten the Bulls, and got shafted by the worst ref-job in NBA history in Game 7, but today's Suns don't compare: Nash is no Payton, Stoudemire is no pre-Orca Kemp, Johnson is no Derrick McKey, etc. etc.. To their credit, D'Antoni is a better coach than George Karl; then again, because George Karl could probably be out-coached by Chick Hearn's corpse.

More from CRV on the '93 Sonics-'05 Suns parallel here.

The BOTF Files: Publius breaks down the Senate compromise on filibusters here, while Thrasymachus initiates a busy thread on the subject here, concluding:

it now looks like 14 moderate Senators are running the joint. If maybe 30 Representatives could similarly join forces in the House, the moderates could actually end up running Congress. A radical center indeed!

Meanwhile, The_Bell churns out another stellar daily briefing hereKA1:40 p.m. 


Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Fray had an active week, sustained by a slew of History Book Blitz articles that launched dozens of busy threads. Meanwhile, BOTF redefines feminism and, hitting its stride following an election hiatus, DP Fray fave My Two Cents lauds the wonders of Internet dating:

…Particularly interesting to me was a phrase MaryAnn coined: "Androgynous middle ground." This, to me, implies that feminism has already died and, with the advent of the Metrosexual, both sexes will meld into a collective who recognizes each's defined and subtle differences. Is this where we're heading? If so, is that where feminism is heading, i.e., humanism? And, even humanism may be a misnomer, considering the Bright Movement's recognition of a "naturalistic worldview."

Literally speaking, implants and sprays are not natural. Neither is giving into corporate messages fed to us daily and with such increasing sophistication that our minds have ceased rebelling. A quick search on "feminism" brought up this site, which is a little Stepford right down to white dresses. How is this image any less radical than conspiracy lore fanatics or survivalists?

"Is feminism dead" wasn't really the question I was after, because, I suspect, that what we collectively define as feminism was a historical movement. As such, it needs to be redefined, especially if some house frau's maintaining a blog against it between such activities as keeping a home free of dirt and evolutionary science, teaching her daughter abstinence, and discreetly taking it from behind by her husband while scrubbing that stubborn mildew stain. Oops, I guess I've compromised my objectivity again.

I want to know: Who still considers herself a feminist? And why? And what is the goal of feminism if we are on the verge of becoming – Lady Lydias, et al aside – an androgynous nation, an amorphous entity of men and women whose differences are miniscule, if still biologically elemental?...

—Splendid_IREny, here, building off this exchange with MaryAnn.

…If there is one force on earth capable of helping humans achieve universal contentment and happiness, it is internet generated dating. Before internet dating, most people just made do—made do with whomever they met at their local meat market, workplace, laundry room, school, church or recovery group.

That's a mighty narrow range of selection, more or less randomly thrown together, to hope to find a truly compatible and fun mate. Usually, Old Man Time and the clutter of failed relationships turns the hunt desperate and we end up latching on to someone out of little more than despair, really. Oh sure, you convince yourself that it's love, but that delusion comes apart when you wake up, look over at the snoring, farting man you "fell for" because he could knock down seven gin and tonics and still ride that bull with one hand for 37 seconds, and say, "My God, what have I done!"

Internet dating restores rationalism into mate selection-- just like arranged marriages used to. Except instead of the family patriarch determining whether to trade your pretty little butt in exchange for a few goats and a salt block to an eighty year old pervert, you get to choose your own pervert.

And the selection! Why, you can now troll virtually the entire earth to find that special someone that shares your passion for psychic surgery and auto-erotic asphyxiation. If internet dating (which, naturally, leads to internet mating) lasts for a few more generations, we just might finally achieve that great, utopian vision of the Prophet Gene Roddenberry. You know—to explore space in a ship full of sexy, long legged mini-skirt wearing chicks…

doodahman, here, hijacking Prudence and pitching in his two cents on Internet dating

Oh shit, Metcalf, put the cultural critics down and just read the damn book!

It doesn't really matter how "good" Uncle Tom's Cabin is, because we will never be able to ignore it. There are some books that may not be all that wonderful in themselves, but are still indispensible for getting the feel of a time and place. The Song of Roland is a ridiculous piece of shit, but if you want to get some idea of the Middle Ages you'd better read it. Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done? is not exactly scintillating reading, but if you ignore it you're flying blind on Dostoevsky and his period. So it is with Uncle Tom's Cabin. I defy anyone to get close to the feelings of that era, which were soon to produce America's most destructive war, without forming a personal acquaintance with Stowe's novel.

But, as it happens, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a well-told tale. No, it isn't Emerson or Melville; Stowe never compared herself to them. But her book richly repays the reading. Sentimental? Yes; have you read Little Dorrit lately? Melodramatic? Yes; have you read Les Miserables? Embarrassingly condescending to one group? Yes; have you read Ivanhoe? The book's faults were those of its period. Doubtless James Baldwin, and even--dare we think it?--the incomparable Ann Douglas, will doubtless someday be seen to have had their own limitations…

Fritz_Gerlich, here, begging Stephen Metcalf to grasp the larger purpose of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

…Why write this? The unexamined experience is not worth sharing. I learned nothing. The average raw newbie to this debate (white American female taking a 'World Religions' seminar, say) would be dangerously misguided by this series. This series, for all the obvious effort that went into it, belongs in letters home from a study-abroad student or in a campus newspaper perhaps. Not on Slate.

…the choice of the English phrase 'Monkey God' as a translation for 'Hanuman' is rather unfortunate. Hanuman in India is a heroic figure. Americans think 'Curious George' when they hear 'Monkey'. I remember, growing up, being scared of the dark and being told by my dad to think of Hanuman. It used to work: there is a gentleness, protectiveness and strength in the mythos of Hanuman that is rather like Santa Claus and Batman rolled into one, for Indian kids. While the naughty, comical and mildly ridiculous aspects of the monkey as a symbol in human culture do exist in India, they are relatively minor and never attach to Hanuman. Hanuman is never the joke that the Western 'monkey' invariably is. Sticking to the name itself, "Hanuman," would have helped. The repeated use of the phrase 'Monkey God' only distracts Indian readers from whatever substance there is in the narrative and gives non-Indians the wrong idea of what he means in Indian culture…

Again, I am not being sensitive; you are entirely free to reconstruct Hanuman in English as you please. I love America primarily because Jesus, Krishna and Buddha, among others, can be lampooned on South Park and struggle against David Blaine, who I revere rather more than these hand-me-down Gods. But if it is NOT your intent to exoticize, set up a revered figure for ridicule, attract straw-man attacks, or do PR for southern baptists, a more thoughtful translation of a difficult mythological character is in order…

vdr, here, giving Eliza Griswold a tutorial in Hinduism.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Slate's History Book Blitz feature has been a boon to the Fray this week. Bookish fraysters have crowded into HBB Fray to comment on the likes of David Greenberg, Diane Ravitch, and Jon Weiner.

Striking a Balance: On matters pedagogical, a host of Fray educators piped in on the Ravitch-Weiner dialogue. MatthewGarth asserts that teachers need to approach each issue situationally—whether you're teaching secondary school or at a schamntzy liberal arts college:

I have found that there no single way of approaching an issue is definitive--sometimes immersive debate-based study makes the most sense, sometimes they need to hear the story of a concept, sometimes an account of the limits of a vision from the inside out. This is at the university level.

Earlier on, a similar toolkit approach also works better than a dogmatic line. Teaching a kid to read--whole language or phonics? Well, I don't know, what mistake did she just make? Is the kid good with letters but bad with words or does she have a great story sense? Mixing it up is essential to good teaching.


In answering Ravitch's concern that "students don't have a basic grasp of the events and ideas, the scaffolding of American history"—the "central narrative," as it were—MG turns to Fernand Braudel:

The point of the Annales school was to get us to rethink the notion of the event, to break us from a single scale of chronology (election by election) and push us into longer terms (the subjugation of the West, the transformation of the prairie or the inland waterways). At a certain point--eighth grade?--we don't need A Central Narrative, we need the complex of stories. And we'll need great teachers to get those stories to mesh.

Above all, MG maintains that

to imagine the solution is a product of a choice we make once and forever is to imagine that, well, history has stopped. In place of a single model, I'd have a group of questions: How did we do last time? What can we do better this time? How does the process cumulate? When can students best learn certain kinds of things? (Dates are easy in your twenties, causal chains first emerge in your teens.) It's in questions like these--questions Jon and Gerald ask, that Diane avoids--that we see good faith efforts to do something very difficult.


PMooney replies to MG in Ravtich's defense:

I think you underestimate the importance of context.

Wouldn't a student better understand a slave's perspective if he or she first had a sense of when slavery took place?

Wouldn't McCarthyism make more sense if a student first had a basic sense of the progression of U.S. politics from World War II to the Cold War to Vietnam?

I don't think context is merely a mechanical march from election to election. It can be the transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. It can be slavery to Jim Crow. It can be isolationism to burgeoning empire.

Others come to debunk Ravitch. Take a peek at colbyn's exegesis here. Meanwhile, EducatorDan, who is currently teaching world history to sixth graders, shakes his head, rolls his eyes, and asks, "What planet are you people on?"

I teach history in a district poor enough to be considered "impoverished" by the federal government. I personally concentrate on a conflict-oriented model of history. Meaning presenting life as always having been a struggle, between civilizations, between people, between types of government, between religions, you name it.

The biggest problem I have is the lack of background knowledge that student arrive with. No Child Left Behind only truly gives a damn about testing students' knowledge of reading, writing, and math. That's the only scores the feds care about. I have personally talked to elementary teachers who are spending 10 minuets per week on Social Studies. Not 10 minuets a day but 10 per week!


German frayster Juergen_Hubert offers a perspective from the deutsche classroom, while private tutor Gouge explicates on his methodology here. ShriekingViolet contends that part of the problem is that we treat school kids "like idiots." Finally, Haupthistoriker—a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toledo (Go Rockets!)—writes that he's "surprised that two sensible historians like Diane Ravitch and Jon Wiener are engaged in this debate." How come? Check out his post here.

Pop Vulture: Popular historian Maureenogle, who has written both a monograph on mid-19th-century American household plumbing and a history of Key West, enters the Fray to weigh in on the academic vs. popular history debate. Ogle prescribes three things that academic historians should keep in mind as they write for a popular audience: 

First, understand that buried amongst all those facts and all your hours of research is a damn good story. Find it. Then build your book around that "story," what editors call the "narrative arc." (The narrative arc is like the plot of a novel. Understand that, and you're on your way to writing good popular history.)

Second, root that story in solid, professional, substantive research. Do that, and I guarantee that the provocative analysis and new insights will follow.

Third, tell your tale in lively, engaging language. (This, I think, is far the hardest part of the project.)

Back to SV, who thinks that

The Barnes and Noble problem isn't going to be solved until the academic community tears down the walls. Tenure brings the freedom to write for an intelligent lay audience and access to university presses who are unlikely to pressure authors into dumbing down their work to the Fox News lowest common denominator. Don't be peer-pressured into using dense jargon and scrounging up new, mundane details that interest five people in the world. The proper response to academic snobbery is, "I'm tenured, bitch!" So they won't make you department chair. Boo freakin' hoo. Book royalties will salve your pain.

Sassafrass' post will make any academic purist's skin crawl. Filé writes:

Any young author seeking widespread readership (i.e. commercial success) should ignore pedagogical obligations; the young author should just tell an interesting or exciting story. Sell the tale, not the details … Some audiences have more developed imaginations, but some need the story laid out for them. The young author should write the best story he's capable of, ignore his colleagues' criticism and listen to his publisher, and her audience will find her.

And lily99 feels that Greenberg may be missing the larger picture:

The bottom line is need to know how to walk before you can run and books by David McCullough and other so called "popular chroniclers" allow the reader to take a nice stroll before they run a marathon.

Givemesomecredit splits the difference:

as someone who has one foot in "dowdy academics" and the other in "pure literary enjoyment," I can say that I sense a change on the horizon. Little by little, the granite balastrades that separate "they" from "those" is slowly eroding.

Among two observations, she cites Stendhal and Derrida as evidence. Go figure.

Big Ben: In response to Rachel Cohen's piece on Ben Franklin, Utek1 sings Franklin's praises as diplomat and public intellectual … KA11:10 a.m.