*Common-place* is Looking for a New Editor

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Common-place, the online quarterly magazine of early American history and culture hosted at the American Antiquarian Society, is seeking a new editor or editors to guide this unique online resource of accessible, lively scholarship. This position is not a paid employee in the traditional sense. We are looking to partner with a university or college where the editor is employed. That institution supports the partnership by providing time, generally in the form of course relief for the editor (or editors) so that they can devote time to Common-place. We are also looking for this institution to supply an editorial assistant, either in the form of a paid employee or a graduate student.

The editor(s) of Common-place should have a record of writing and scholarly activity in a field consistent with the purview of Common-place (pre-1900 American history, literature, and culture as well as a Ph.D. or equivalent). The editor should also possess strong organizational and editorial skills and be comfortable working collaboratively with an excellent group of column editors. Perhaps most importantly, the editor must possess an interest in presenting American history to a broad public, and an instinct for how to do so in a compelling way.

In addition, the editor’s home institution would need to be understanding of the commitment involved in taking on the editorship, and be willing to support the editor in performing this work. We seek an institutional partner that is able to support the editor through release time from teaching; graduate research assistance; and other forms of support. Of particular interest is an institution with an interest in and capacity for work in public history and/or the digital humanities. A partnership with Common-place would provide ideal opportunities to give students hands-on experience in working with an established online venue for high-level humanities scholarship.

Interested candidates should contact James David Moran, Vice President for Programs and Outreach, American Antiquarian Society by phone at 508 471-2131 or by e-mail at jmoran@mwa.org.

“The Impending Crisis”

Hinton_Rowan_Helper_(1829-1909)Over at Time, National Book Award winner and historian Ibram X. Kendi introduces us to Hinton Rowan Helper, the author of The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857). Kendi compares the influence of Helper’s book to Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Helper pierced the heart of slaveholding society in The Impending Crisis of the South. He knew that the small group of enslavers of four million people depended on the loyalty of the roughly five million non-slaveholding whites to keep their system going. Helper tried to mobilize these poor and humble white people against this small slaveholding aristocracy.

Helper was no antiracist. He did “not believe in the unity of the races,” and he called for black people to be sent back to Africa. But Helper was an abolitionist. Slavery shackles industrialization, he argued, holding back economic progress and the opportunities of non-slaveholding whites.

Horace Greeley, the nation’s most powerful editor, promoted the book in the nation’s leading newspaper, the New York Tribune. On March 20, 1858, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts cited the book in a Senate debate on slavery. Energized, Helper and Greeley partnered in soliciting funds and Republican endorsements to produce a smaller, inexpensive version to distribute during the political campaign of 1860. Published in July 1859, the mass-market version became an instant bestseller in antislavery circles and an instant dartboard in proslavery circles, polarizing the nation as have few books in American history.

By December 1859, the New York Tribune, the main distributor of The Impending Crisis, was mailing off 500 copies a day. Some of those copies reached southern towns where the book became like an illicit drug. Southerners were arrested and jailed for possessing a copy. Southern Congressmen spent the winter of 1859-1860 denying Ohio Representative John Sherman the Speaker of the House position because he had endorsed the “insurrectionist and hostile” book.

The Impending Crisis gave secessionists the proof they needed to argue that the Republican Party, which had branded itself as the party of free white soil, was on its way to forming “an Abolition Party in the South of Southern men,” as the Charleston Mercury feared. If that happened, “The contest for slavery will no longer be one between the North and the South. It will be in the South, between the people of the South.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Declining Vocation of the Social Critic

BafflerTom Whyman explores the decline of the social critic in the recent issue of The Baffler. He starts his piece by decrying much of what today passes for social criticism.  Warning: Whyman pulls no punches:

AS THE INTERNET AGE OF AUSTERITY continues to accelerate, few of us could be blamed for barely holding on, living paycheck-to-paycheck at our humiliating, precarious gig-jobs. Still, if there’s one group of people who really need to tug hard on their bootstraps—if only to find an anchor as the shitstorm of Progress rages from the heavens—it’s people like me, and a lot of the rest of us who write for this magazine: “cultural critics,” if that label doesn’t sound too grand—book-learned nonconformists who have made it our business to understand, see through, and perhaps even transform society and culture. As Theodor Adorno puts it in his essay “Cultural Criticism and Society,” our unsolicited charge is to help the mind identify and “tear at its bonds.” If this is indeed our vocation, just look at how badly we’re failing to honor it. In the face of historical cataclysms like Brexit and Trump, our positive contribution is pathetically marginal, our insight vanishingly small.

Maybe it’s just that the pool of ideas has become supersaturated, a dank swamp. Our public discourse is dominated by peppy TED talkers, cheerleading for the Three Horsemen of technological barbarity: AI, Automation, and Neuroscience. Dull-as-dishwater professional atheists like Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett pose as swashbuckling freethinkers as they pedantically reduce everything that matters about human experience to dead, grey matter. Our most prominent political commentators are greasy petty-fascists and dogmatic party hacks; the left’s loudest voices in the media contribute little more than morale-boosting for causes that we know to be already lost. Our best known “public philosophers” seem determined to conceal whatever wisdom they might conceivably possess behind blithering idiocy, from the empty platitudes of Alain de Botton, to the edgy nonsense of Slavoj Žižek.

Who knows? Perhaps this only seems like a problem because of my epistemological position. Perhaps there are effective cultural critics working today—it’s just hard for me to see what impact their work is making because, you know, ideas work slowly and I’m living through their development, day-to-day. Perhaps if I were living in the 1830s, reading The Edinburgh Review, I’d be lamenting the crassness of Carlyle and wondering why he couldn’t be more like Coleridge. Perhaps come 2117, when all news is filtered through Snapchat, my future-equivalent will be looking back on the early days of the internet as some sort of hallowed golden age. Perhaps all of this is just projected self-loathing: a sign that I need to stop writing, get off my computer, and take to the barricades (although frankly, even our most industrious activists seem unlikely to achieve anything beyond the physical expression of their own defiance). But I’m not so sure about that. Rather, it strikes me that today there are identifiable reasons that cultural criticism might find itself in crisis.

Read the rest here.

Catherine Allgor is the New President of the Massachusetts Historical Society

AllgorHere is the press release:

The Trustees of the Massachusetts Historical Society announced today the appointment of Catherine Allgor, Ph.D. as the next President of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Allgor will assume her position in early October 2017. The announcement comes after an exhaustive national search led by a committee co-chaired by MHS Trustees Lisa Nurme and Olly Ames. She succeeds Dennis A. Fiori, who is retiring as President.

Paul Sandman, Chair of the Board of Trustees said, “In Catherine, the MHS has found a charismatic leader, an accomplished scholar, and a captivating spokeswoman. She will bring not only creativity and vision to fulfilling the Society’s mission but also a track record of successful execution.”  He continued, “She is a perfect fit for the MHS and we are excited by her commitment to propelling the Society forward.” 

Allgor is currently the Nadine and Robert A. Skotheim Director of Education and Volunteers at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, where she has served since 2013. As she prepares to take the helm at the MHS, Catherine acknowledged her admiration of the MHS, its dedicated staff, and its commitment to making history accessible to all. “I am honored that the Trustees have entrusted me with leading the MHS. American history is a wonderfully diverse continuum of experiences that we all share. The MHS provides a forum to share insights and learn about the long, unfolding human story in which we all participate. There are so many wonderful opportunities and I can’t wait to get started.”

In her current role, Allgor is responsible for the Huntington’s education programs ranging from school tours and teacher training to school partnerships with Title One schools in Pasadena, Los Angeles, and surrounding communities. These programs serve a broad audience and provide enrichment for members, visitors, teachers, and children. As well, she supports and furthers the work of Advancement and provides funding opportunities for the donor community. She manages a staff of 20 full- and part-time employees and oversees an eleven hundred-member volunteer corps.

Allgor previously held an appointment as Professor of History and UC Presidential Chair at the University of California, Riverside.  She is a leading historian and has created and taught numerous courses in women’s history, American history, history of race, slavery, and political history at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. She is known for her scholarly work on Dolley Madison and Louisa Catherine Adams, among others. Her political biography, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Henry Holt, 2006), was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize. In 2012, she published Dolley Madison: The Problem of National Unity (Westview Press) and The Queen of America: Mary Cutts’s Life of Dolley Madison (University of Virginia Press). President Obama appointed Allgor to a presidential commission, The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation.

Allgor has also taught at Claremont McKenna College, Harvard University, and Simmons College.

Allgor holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Mt. Holyoke College, and two master’s degrees and a doctorate in history from Yale University. 

Political commentator, author, and MHS Overseer Cokie Roberts expressed her enthusiasm for Allgor, “She is not only a first rate historian but she is a true public spokesperson for the institution she serves as well as for the profession of history.” She continued, “In addition to her scholarship and public speaking abilities, Catherine is a prodigious fundraiser and an excellent teacher as her years at the Huntington have amply demonstrated. In short, I can’t think of a better fit for the job of taking MHS into the future than Catherine Allgor.”

Dennis Fiori has led the MHS since January 2006. Under his leadership, the outreach efforts of the MHS have expanded with enhanced public programming, rotating exhibitions, and the establishment of the Center for the Teaching of History. As he prepares for his retirement, Fiori couldn’t be happier with the choice of his successor. “The MHS will certainly be in capable hands with Catherine Allgor. As I hand off the reins, I trust that the MHS will continue to soar under her leadership,” he said.

Did Jay Sekulow Urge Poor People to Give Money to His Christian Non-Profit So He Could Pay Millions of Dollars to Family Members?

This news on Trump lawyer and Court Evangelical Jay Sekulow is disturbing.  According to The Guardian, the document posted below is an instruction sheet for telemarketers raising money in 2009 for Sekulow’s nonprofit Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE).

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The Guardian reports:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

Sekulow, 61, is the president of Case and the chief counsel of its sister organization, the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ). He has become one of Trump’s most vocal defenders since joining the team of attorneys representing the president amid investigations into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.

Sekulow did not respond to a series of detailed questions from the Guardian.

Read the entire piece here.  I am sure Sekulow will have his own spin on all of this.

Bruce Springsteen’s Harry Potter Song

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Springsteen wrote a song for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It did not make it into the movie.

Alessandra Maldonado reports at Salon:

Last October, Bruce Springsteen revealed he had written a song for the first installment of the Harry Potter film franchise, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. Although his song didn’t make it into the film, fans are now remembering the ballad on the book series’s 20th anniversary.

Springsteen’s song “I’ll Stand By You Always” had a short-lived spot on SoundCloud when it was leaked in February, but was later removed after a few short hours. Though Salon cannot confirm this is indeed the original track, you can take a listen to what it might have sounded like here.

 

 

More on Historians as Pundits

WoodwardToday we published two posts on a small debate raging over how historians should engage in public discourse.   After Moshik Temkin published a piece at The New York Times titled “Historians Should Not Be Pundits,” Julian Zelizer and Morton Keller responded at The Atlantic.  Earlier today I discussed these issues with historian and author Amy Bass on her New York radio show (WVOX) “Conversations with Amy Bass.”

Joe Adelman, an American history who teaches at Framingham State University in Massachusetts, has also weighed-in with a helpful critique of Temkin’s piece.  It is published (with permission) below:

Like many historians, I awoke this morning and recoiled when I opened Twitter and stumbled into an New York Times op-ed piece entitled, “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits.” The author, a historian at the Harvard Kennedy School, argues that he is concerned by what he believes is “the rapid-fire, superficial way history is being presented, as if it’s mostly a matter of drawing historical analogies.” He then offers examples of such analogies, and suggests that instead historians should address a variety of “historical processes” that led to the current day. I found the essay frustrating (and judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I’m not alone in that feeling among historians), but set it aside to go about my day.

But the essay has stuck with me for three reasons, so here I am to respond. First, the headline (which was almost certainly not written by the column’s author), which is delightfully ironic in placing the construction “X Shouldn’t Be Pundits” at the corner of Main Street and Broadway in Punditville, USA (i.e., the New York Times opinion page). Second, the essay employs a series of straw men. Somewhere out there, the author assures us, are historians making “facile analogies” between the politics and personalities of 2017 and Adolf Hitler, Richard Nixon, and Huey Long. Sure, I’ve seen a few of those pieces, and so have you, but they are far from the majority of work that historians have done in the past six months. Even when I have seen essays that employed analogy, they were rarely “facile.”

It’s particularly useful here to note that Temkin is wrong in one of his examples, in which he claims that C. Vann Woodward avoided analogy in his classic study, The Strange Career of Jim Crow. One scholar quickly found evidence that Woodward had specifically said that he did use analogies, and in direct reference to Strange Career.

So historians are using analogies, but there’s a very good reason for that: analogies are in the air. I hesitate to generalize broadly at the risk of committing the same sin I just condemned, but anecdotally I can offer from the classroom and public talks in the community that one of the more common frames people use to ask questions is, “so is X like Y?” Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, but it’s an impulse that seems common (at least among my own students and the audiences I encounter). In my own case, I demur on questions too much about the late twentieth century, since it’s far outside my research specialty. However, I will engage on most analogies that deal with the Civil War or earlier, and use what’s offered in the question to work towards an effective answer. As Woodward notes in the tweeted quotation, analogies aren’t meant to capture direct comparison, but rather a way to set something familiar side by side with something less so.

Prof. Temkin wants historians to engage the public and offer factual and nuanced portraits of the past. I agree. But especially when speaking outside the profession, whether in an essay for a news publication, at a public talk, or in the classroom, that means we need to start with where our audience is and work from there. And many of them are working from analogy.

Welcome New Readers (Again!)

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Welcome to the blog!

Last week we had a major surge in readership at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that brought about 250,000 readers to the site.  At that moment I wrote a post titled “Welcome New Readers” to give our new visitors a sense of what we do here.

In the last day or two we have had a similar surge in readership centering on a couple of different posts.  I may be wrong, but I think that these visitors are not the same as the ones who came to the blog last week.

So once again, I want to welcome you to The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Please look around and consider making the blog a part of your regular online reading ritual.

What you will find here:

  • Daily news headlines every morning
  • Links to thoughtful posts on American history, American religion, politics, the humanities, and education.
  • Weekly interviews with the authors of some of the best new books in American history and American religious history
  • Weekly roundups of the best links in these areas (“Sunday Night Odds and Ends“)
  • Commentary on a host of issues
  • A regular podcast devoted to American history and historical thinking
  • And much, much more…!

Thanks for visiting.  You can learn more about John Fea, the host of this blog, here.

John Boles Reassesses Thomas Jefferson

BolesOver at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Parry interviews John Boles, author of the recent Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty.  Reviewers are calling Boles’s book the best one-volume history of Jefferson in nearly fifty years.

Here is a taste of the interview:

What’s your position on the Sally Hemings debate ?

I believe that they had a long-term essentially consensual affair, and that in a different world they may have gotten married. She was technically, legally a slave. There was a law in Virginia that said that a free man could not marry a slave. She also was the half sister of his wife. There also was a law in Virginia that said that a man could not marry the sister of his deceased wife. So even if Sally Hemings were white and free, Jefferson could not have legally married her. He also had promised his wife he’d never remarry.

I don’t know if I want to say it’s absolute love, but it comes pretty close to that. After all, she looked very much like his wife. A lot of people just say offhand, he’s a powerful white man, she’s a black woman, it’s rape. Annette Gordon-Reed says, while that may be usually true, it’s not always true. And if we say that of every single situation like that, then we’re depriving everybody of any sense of agency.

Gordon Wood wrote that you sometimes allow your sympathy for Jefferson to get the better of you in your treatment of race and slavery. Another reviewer accused you of introducing “bizarre semi-justifications and rationalizations to soften the brutal reality of Jefferson’s callous racism.”

I don’t think what I’m saying is a bizarre rationalization. What I’m trying to do is to try to explain, if I can, why Jefferson acted and believed the way he did. One way is to say he’s a white racist, end of story. I’m trying to say there’s more to the story. And I’m disappointed that he doesn’t come down the way I would have. But he’s not living in 2017.

We’re living at a time when protesters at Jefferson’s alma mater, the College of William & Mary, and elsewhere have covered statues of him with sticky-notes calling him a “racist” and “rapist.” At a recent conference, the slavery scholar Hilary Beckles, head of the University of the West Indies, suggested that we should take down statues of Jefferson, just as we took down statues of King George after the Revolution. What’s your response?

That’s a very ungenerous way of looking at the past. And, actually, a lot of the things Jefferson says about liberty and freedom is the language that eventually is employed by those later on who do end up addressing the racial problems. In a lot of ways, he’s surprisingly modern. The Statute for Religious Freedom is one of really the great events in Western history. So things like that we just shouldn’t remember? No.

Read the entire interview and the introduction here

Zelizer and Keller Respond to Moshik Temkin

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Earlier today we posted on Moshik Temkin’s New York Times piece “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits.”  Over at The Atlantic, historians Julian Zelizer and Morton Keller have also responded to Temkin’s piece.  Here is a taste of Zelizer’s response:

As he suggests toward the end of his piece, historians are particularly well positioned to place current events in longer time frames and to offer more perspective on the origins of a certain situation (another point that May and Neustadt made in their classic work). For my own part, I have spent much of my time on CNN and here in The Atlantic trying to explain how the Donald Trump presidency can only be understood within the context of the strengthened role of partisanship in Washington since the 1970s and the transformation of the news media. In other words, I have tried to show that President Trump is not a cause of our current political environment but a product of changes that have been building for years.Sometimes comparisons with the past, even if imperfect, are very useful. Most of the good historical work in the media does not claim that Trump is President Nixon. Rather, the point is that the institution of the presidency creates certain incentives and opportunities for abusing power and that some people who have held these positions have done just that. That is crucial to remember, just like the ways that the institutional fragmentation of our political system perpetually creates huge amounts of friction between the president and Congress, as well as between the parties, despite the endless nostalgia about how things worked better in the past.

Historians have an important role in unpacking key elements of the ways that institutions operate over time to make sense of big trends and broader forces that move beyond the particular moment within which we live. We can’t become so blinded by our concern for particularity and specificity and nuance that we lose site of the big picture—something my friends in political science always remind me of. Claiming that we can’t look at these kind of continuities and similarities is in many ways moving in the opposite direction of what historians do. Some of the best books in American history, such as J.G.A. Pocock’s classic book on the history of Republican ideology, look over decades and even across national-lines to explain how history unfolds. It is possible for historians to take the long view and provide this kind of useful analysis in 800 words or even a five-minute television discussion. It has to be short, it has be to the point, but it can be as insightful and on point as anything said in the classroom.

Read the entire piece here.

Where Are Our Public Intellectuals?

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Martha Nussbam delivered the 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture.  She is often listed as one of our leading public intellectuals

Elizabeth Mitchell asks this question in the July 2017 issue of Smithsonian.  Her piece includes a very helpful graphic that divides today’s public intellectuals into feminists, leftists, specialists, “rising stars,” science experts, “explainers,” and right-wingers. Her list of public intellectuals include Judith Butler, Katha Pollitt, Al Gore, Frank Rich, Martha Nussbaum, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Malcom Gladwell, Andrew Sullivan, Sean Wilentz, Bill McKibben, Krista Tippett, Paul Krugman, Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris_Perry, Ross Douthat, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Bill Nye, George Will, William Bennett, David Brooks, and Robert George.

Here is a taste:

Sure enough, in 2017, we are not uninformed; we are over-informed. Scanning our packed feeds, we seek out the trigger topics and views that bolster our perspective.

That’s why we might take a different view of all the fierce arguing online and elsewhere. It is indeed a kind of tribalism, which is marked by a belligerent insistence on cohesion. According to sociologists, humans typically resort to bullying and moral castigation to keep the social unit whole. Maybe our cable-news wars and Facebook scuffles aren’t the death throes of intelligent discourse after all but, rather, signs that this national tribe is furiously attempting to knit itself together.

The potential market for intelligent discussion is greater than ever. Over a third of the adult U.S. population holds four-year degrees—an all-time high. And because the number of graduates who are women or African-American or Hispanic has increased dramatically, today’s public intellectuals look different from the old days. It’s no accident that some of our fastest-rising intellectual powerhouses are people of color, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay.

If we look back at our history, public intellectuals always emerged when the country was sharply divided: during the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the fights for civil rights and women’s rights. This moment of deep ideological division will likely see the return, right when we need them, of the thinkers and talkers who can bridge the emotional divide. But this time they will likely be holding online forums and stirring up podcasts.

Read the entire piece here.

What Should Historians Be Doing in the “Age of Trump?”

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Moshik Temkin, a historian at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is not a big fan of historical analogies.  These analogies are never perfect and they often say more about the politics of the historian making them than they do about his or her expertise in historical thinking.

So what should historians be doing in the so-called age of Trump?  Temkin attempts an answer to this question in yesterday’s New York Times.

Here is a taste:

Ultimately, the most important thing historians can do is to leave the analogies to the pundits, and instead provide a critical, uncomfortable account of how we arrived at our seemingly incomprehensible current moment (many do just that, though not in the media spotlight).

This isn’t a radical idea; in fact, it’s something that the best politically engaged historians have always done.

In 1955, the Southern historian C. Vann Woodward published “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” a masterfully concise history of the origins of post-Civil War segregation. He did not seek analogies from the past, but instead demonstrated that, contrary to the perception of many Southerners, Jim Crow laws were not a tradition from time immemorial but a more recent product of the heightened racism of the late 19th century.

By showing social and political change over time — really the meat and potatoes of the historian’s craft — the book made clear that progress was possible. Woodward did not speak in sound bites or pundit-friendly analogies. And yet his work had an enormous impact on postwar racial politics: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to “Strange Career” as “the historical bible of the civil rights movement.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Health Bill Is in Peril as G.O.P. Support Wanes After Report”

Washington Post: “CBO analysis could make it harder for Senate GOP to secure votes for health bill “

Wall Street Journal: “Ahead of Senate Health Vote, CBO Says 22 Million More to Be Uninsured”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Beyond salaries, taxpayers also paid $2.4M to feed, house lawmakers over a year”

BBC: “Google hit with record $2.7bn EU fine”

CNN: “Secret video reveals weakened ISIS”

FOX: “TRUMP WARNS ASSAD White House says Syria potentially prepping another chemical attack”

When Woody Guthrie Wrote A Song About “Old Man Trump”

My earlier post on the decision by the leadership of First Baptist Church–Dallas to sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at its “Freedom Sunday” prompted several readers to remind me that Guthrie also wrote a song about his landlord, Fred Trump.

Here are the lyrics:

I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project

Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

I’m calling out my welcome to you and your man both
Welcoming you here to Beach Haven
To love in any way you please and to have some kind of a decent place
To have your kids raised up in.
   
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

Get some historical context here.

 

Why Did First Baptist Church of Dallas Have “Freedom Sunday” on June 25?

Perhaps it had its worship America Sunday morning service this weekend because Court Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress will be busy on 4th of July weekend:

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DALLAS—President Donald Trump will join Pastor Robert Jeffress to honor our veterans at the “Celebrate Freedom” Concert at 8 p.m. July 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which is being co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Salem Media, will be a night of hope, celebration and commemoration. President Trump will deliver a powerful address honoring our veterans, hundreds of whom will be coming from D.C. area to attend the event, including patients from the Walter Reed Medical Center.

“The Kennedy Center, known for presenting the greatest performers and performances from across America and around the world, is the perfect location for an unforgettable patriotic evening that honors our veterans, celebrates our country, and proclaims a message of hope,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress. “We are honored the president of the United States will be joining us, but we are not surprised. We have in President Donald J. Trump one of the great patriots of our modern era and a president who cherishes the sacrifice and service of those in our armed forces.”

Stirring patriotic music will come from the renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Doran Bugg. The First Baptist Dallas Choir & Orchestra is no stranger to our nation’s most prestigious concert halls, having been the first church music ministry invited to perform at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and host of the radio and television program “Pathway to Victory,” seen in 195 countries, will also bring a message of hope and encouragement.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance by going to http://www.ptv.org/washington.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert rally will be the capstone of a weeklong series of events Pastor Robert Jeffress will host through the nation’s capital including speaking at a Bible study for Congressional staffers in the Capitol, a tour of Washington highlighting our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, and personal visits with various others numbered among our nation’s leadership.

“I’m grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capital,” said Pastor Jeffress.

Congressional Budget Office: 22 Million People Will Lose Healthcare By 2026

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The Washington Post reports on this.

A few quick thoughts:

  1. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act believe that the free market is the answer to all of our problems.  They are free to believe this.  But they also have to sleep at night realizing that 22 million people will lose health insurance as a result of this bill. It is very difficult to pull a social safety net out from under people once they already have it.  Ideas have consequences.
  2. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will inevitably argue that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is wrong in its conclusions.  OK, let’s grant this point. Let’s just say that the CBO is off by 10 million people.  The GOP defenders of this new bill will have to go to sleep at night realizing that 12 million souls will lose healthcare by 2026.
  3. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in American society, including seniors and the poor. The GOP defenders of this new bill–many of them say that they value the life of vulnerable members of society–will have to sleep at night.

“Made By History”

King

“Instead of making history, we are made by history.”

Made by History” is a new blog that the Washington Post launched today.  Here is a taste of the press release:

The Washington Post today launched Made by History, a new blog in The Post’s Outlook section that will explore parallels between today’s political climate and history.

“Outlook often publishes posts that draw from history to contextualize current events, and we’re excited to have created a home in our section for this type of analysis,” said Mike Madden, deputy editor of Outlook. “Through the deep historical knowledge of our contributors, Made in History will broaden readers’ views of this political moment and introduce them to diverse scholarly perspectives on the latest news.”

The blog will feature commentary from 75 historians from nationally renowned universities and institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and more.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of The Post,” said Brian Rosenwald, historian at UPenn and Made by History’s Editor-in-Chief. “We believe that our contributors will add a unique level of insight and expertise to the ongoing political discussion that many of The Post’s pieces currently generate.”

I am glad that the folks at “Made by History” are writing for a public audience.  This has the potential to be a great blog.  I know that I will read it and comment on it regularly here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

The editors write: “The blog will feature commentary from 75 historians from nationally renowned universities and institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and more.”  Not sure what to make of this sentence.  I just hope the writers don’t end up preaching to the choir.

Read a “welcome” post by the editors here.

 

The “Stairway to Heaven” Backmasking Controversy

Barack_Obama_speaks_to_Led_Zeppelin

Barack Obama chats with surviving members of Led Zeppelin in 2012 during Kennedy Center Honors event (Wikipedia Commons)

Some evangelicals in the 1980s were obsessed with backmasking.  This was the practice of placing secret messages on records that could only be heard when the record was played backwards.  Perhaps the most famous case of backmasking was the Beatles’ White Album in which the words “Paul’s a dead man” was apparently heard when one of the songs was played backwards.

I joined the evangelical fold as a high school student in the mid-1980s and quickly “learned” that “secular” rock bands often used backmasking to pass along Satanic messages.  The classic example was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”  This news was a shock to me since before my conversion I had been in a band (we only practiced, never played a gig) that played a lot of Zeppelin, including the iconic “Stairway.”  I took my new evangelical faith (as I understood it back then) very seriously.  I quit the band and stopped listening to Zeppelin for a while.

I thought about all this again when I read Erik Davis’s piece at Salon, “What exactly lurks within the backward grooves of ‘Stairway to Heaven?

Here is a taste:

The darkest supernatural myth about Zeppelin’s most mythic song is that if you play the recording backwards, you will hear Satanic messages encoded in Plant’s vocals. The idea that some rock records contain “backmasked” messages goes back to the Beatles’ “Revolution 9,” which was rumored to contain the reversed announcement that “Paul’s a dead man.” As far as I can tell, Christian anti-rock crusaders got into the act in 1981, when a Michigan minister named Michael Mills hit Christian radio with the news that phrases like “master Satan,” “serve me,” and “there’s no escaping it” were hidden in the grooves of the Zeppelin hit. Noting wryly that words “certainly do have two meanings,” Mills argued on one program that the “subconscious mind” could hear these phrases, which is why sinful rock musicians put them there in the first place. Soon backmasking became the Satanic panic du jour, giving paranoid Christians technological proof that rock bands like Queen, Kiss, and Styx (!) did indeed play the devil’s music. While most people, Christian or otherwise, found all this rather silly, these fears did reflect more pervasive fears that the media had become a subliminal master of puppets—fears that would themselves come to inspire some 1980s metal.

In retrospect, what stands out most in the backmasking controversy is the marvelous image of all these preachers screwing around with turntables. Though one doubts that Minister Mills was chillin’ with Grandmaster Flash or DJ Kool Herc, rap musicians and Christian evangelicals both recognized that popular music is a material inscription, one that can be physically manipulated in order to open up new vectors of sense and expression. For both evangelicals and rap DJs, the vinyl LP was not a transparent vehicle of an originally live performance, but a source of musical meaning itself, a material site of potential codes, messages, and deformations of time. Alongside the more kinetic and rhythmic innovations introduced by scratch artists like DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, we must also speak of a “Christian turntablism”: slow, profoundly unfunky, obsessed with linguistic “messages.” Some evangelical TV broadcasts from the early 80s even include top-down shots of the minister’s DJ decks so that viewers can admire the technique of squeezing sense from sound. However, while rap and all the sampled music that follows it treats the vinyl LP as an open form capable of multiple meanings and uses, Christian turntablists remained literalists, convinced that they were revealing a single “fundamental” message intentionally implanted in the grooves by a diabolical author. Unfortunately, when it came to “Stairway to Heaven,” these DJs for Jesus could not agree on the exact wording of Led Zeppelin’s insidious messages. Once again, ambiguity trumps.

Read the rest here.

Here’s a non-backmasked (I think) Zeppelin tune: