The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

US history textbooks fantasise over World War 2

All those jokes that the poor old Japs have had to put up with about the fairy-stories in their history textbooks would, in an ideal world, fuel a considerable blowback for Uncle Sam...

Via the excellent Tongue Tied [1], a piece from the Palm Beach Post (undated!) places a WW2 veteran and literature professor Dr Porter Crow in front of a pile of history textbooks to check his experience with what the books say: he's not impressed.

For instance,
"All shared equally the risks of battle," it says of blacks and whites in the "A World Conflict" chapter of the Prentice Hall textbook used by Palm Beach County's 11th-grade honors students.

It's a flat lie, of course - the US fighting forces were segregated like to Mississippi standard, and combat casualties were vastly disproportionately suffered by whites. The fact that Crow was - well, Jim Crowed didn't stop him getting into action when the Japs came to call, but his job was minding the fuel dump.

Textbooks are also, it seems, unwilling to suggest that the attack on Pearl Harbor was in any way unsporting:
One text used in high schools says that on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan "declared war" on the United States.

Well up to Enron standard.

If this is what they do to WW2, how do the textbooks tackle slavery and the Civil War? Cold Mountain can manage silently to exculpate the South by fantasy off-screen manumission; but how do you tell the story of slavery without mentioning the disagreeable practice of - well, slavery?

African-Americans all work on the Mississippi
as Oscar Hammerstein most assuredly did not write [2]!

  1. Find on war - no permalinks, for some unknown reason.

  2. It was
    Niggers all work on the Mississippi
    of course. Not sung that way since well before the afore-mentioned World War 2, I suspect.

    According to an article Frank Sinatra and the American Presidency in Popular Music and Society

    On stage and in the recording studio, he changed the opening lines of "Old Man River" from "Niggers all work on the Mississippi" (or even "Darkies all work," which lyricist Oscar Hammerstein had substituted) to "Here we all work".
    There's a Yale Law Review piece from 1999 (PDF) which considers this sort of monkeying around with artistic texts more generally, in order to make points about interpreting the US Constitution.


The Yale Law Review piece (p2n) has further intelligence on Old Man River:

Paul Robeson, one of whose signature songs was “Ol’ Man River,” changed the lyrics in significant ways. When Robeson first began to perform Hammerstein’s and Kern’s Showboat in 1928, he sang the lyrics as written, including the line “Niggers all work on the Mississippi.” By the early 1930s, he changed the key word to “Darkies,” and, when he filmed the movie in 1935, he substituted “There’s an ol’ man called the Mississippi; that’s the ol’ man I don’t like to be.” He also changed the line “I’m tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’” to “I must keep fightin’ until I’m dyin’.” See MARTIN BAUML DUBERMAN, PAUL ROBESON 604-05 n.14 (1988).

Apparently, Showboat’s original lyricist was not amused. “In regard to Robeson’s changes in his lyrics,” Duberman writes, “Oscar Hammerstein II is quoted as saying, ‘As the author of these words, I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest that Paul write his own songs and leave mine alone’.” Id. (quoting NEW YORK AGE, June 18, 1949). Nevertheless, Robeson has become so identified with the song over the years that one might well ask whether a truly “authentic” performance of “Ol’ Man River” is one using Robeson’s lyrics or Hammerstein’s. As we explain in this essay, it all depends on what one means by authenticity.

Interestingly, one of Robeson’s attempts at making Hammerstein’s lyrics less overtly racist backfired when he performed it in London; and it demonstrates how important audience response is to the political meaning of lyrics, whatever the author’s asserted intentions. Robeson changed the line “You get a little drunk and you land in jail,” which played to racist stereotypes, to the more defiant “You show a little spunk and you land in jail.” In New York, this line had been greeted with great applause, but it was met with “dead silence” in London. As Duberman reports, “Robeson later learned that to the English ‘spunk’ meant semen, and promptly changed the line again, substituting ‘grit’.” Id.

There are three movie versions of Show Boat: the 1929 was a silent with added musical scenes - apparently, Jules Bledsoe singing Old Man River is lost. Robeson appeared in the 1936 version - quite what lyrics were sung, I have no idea.

Among the PC alterations made, and not made, that are discussed in the Yale Law Review piece (all with the purpose of providing analogies for legal interpretation) are
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (Ko-Ko's nigger serenader and the Mikado's lady who dyes a chemical yellow [who] Is blacked like a nigger/With permanent walnut juice.) - both bowdlerised, at the very least;

  • the hymn Lord of the Dance (supposedly antisemitic, but left untouched);

  • the Bach St John Passion (ditto and ditto); and

  • a motet by Antoine Busnoys, a musician at the court of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy. Included in the text is
    Credendum est magis soli Marie veraci
    quam Judeorum turbe fallaci
    which translates as
    More trust is to be put in honest Mary alone than in the lying crowd of Jews
    (sung as written).

In order to escape bowdlerisation, it seems, text had better be
  • in a dead language; or, failing that,

  • in a language foreign to most listeners; and

  • in a work by a serious artist, rather than a mere entertainment.

But what about, say, To Kill A Mockingbird - the Columbus East High School (December 5) stage production was cancelled (a replacement staged reading is still on for late January, last time I looked), but the piece is regularly performed on stage. Scarcely in the Bach league, artistically; and including several uses of the most conniption-inducing word in the (so-called) Land of the Free.

If Harper Lee gets to keep her niggers, why not WS Gilbert? The 'Bird uses the word in a context of racial hostility (pondering who is, what is a nigger-lover, exactly) whereas The Mikado certainly doesn't.

nigger serenader
is almost certainly white - beneath the burnt cork - though Negroes certainly performed in blackface [1]. And, in context, the reference to
the others of his race
means other serenaders.)

Of course, I'm not looking for logic in such a tricky business, just trying to tease out some of the motivations.

  1. The writer-performer of one of the most popular of the coon songs - All Coons Look Alike To Me was a Negro, Ernest Hogan. I have in mind - no source! - that Hogan was one of the first writers of any race to insist on taking a royalty from the song, rather than selling it outright, and thereby made a mint out of it...


The Operation Rockingham saga gets a spin-off!

Now, you don't need to go very far in the blogospherical emporium to see British journalism royally slagged off - a less than wholehearted defence (December 15) in response to one such piece focussed more on examining the state of the American journalistic glasshouse!

And, in the case of Con Coughlin, of the Telegraph stable, only yesterday was I doing yet more slagging off of my own.

But a story by Nicholas Rufford (aka Nick Rufford [1]) in the London Sunday Times over Christmas - that I'd been happy to sacrifice to the Festive Season - has, it seems, found some willing to give it credence (over at Road to Surfdom, to be precise). We are back in the area of HGM dirty tricks with Iraqi WMD intelligence:
The Secret Intelligence Service has run an operation to gain public support for sanctions and the use of military force in Iraq. The government yesterday confirmed that MI6 had organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The fit with the supposed Operation Rockingham - last mentioned here on November 29 [2] - is striking.

Rockingham was characterised thus by the ubiquitous Scott Ritter:
In an interview in the Scottish Sunday Herald in June, Ritter said: "Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."

Mass Appeal, then, took intelligence from sources like Rockingham and spoonfed the media with it. And Ritter - the main prop of the Sunday Times piece, as well - says that, when an UNSCOM inspector, he met MI6 operatives and assisted with their work.

Is this a scoop? No: according to a BBC piece (November 21),
He told reporters in the House of Commons...
all about it [3].

And, that time,
A spokesman for MI6 said the allegations were "unfounded".

So what on earth can be going on?

The Rockingham story spiked twice: once in June with a Ritter-driven piece in the Glasgow Sunday Herald and again in November with the Meacher piece in the Guardian - it's what I believe what stock analysts [4] call a dead cat bounce: nothing remotely like a press pack developed on either occasion. Even the Samaritan passed by on the other side of this one!

And now, after denying the Mass Appeal allegations in November, HMG are confessing in December. Just two weeks or so before the Hutton Inquiry reports, when - in theory, at least - Tony Blair's nuts will be in the blender over (amongst other things) the handling of Iraqi WMD intelligence.

If true, Christmas or no Christmas, you'd expect a press pack (even if only a British one) - some parts of the British press would dearly love to stick it to Tony about the war - and they all might like a teaser for Hutton. Yet there's no sign of it that I can detect: the Sunday Times story is twisting in the wind - five stories on Google News - including dud Al Jazeera and Pravda links!

Is this Not Invented Here pouting? Or do they just not think it's kosher? Answers on a postcard...

  1. Rufford was the hack who doorstepped David Kelly on July 9 2003, the day the MOD released his name to the media as the source of Andrew Gilligan's 45 minute claim (as discussed at length during the Hutton Inquiry.)

  2. Links to several earlier pieces here, and to related material elsewhere, can be got by working back from this piece.

  3. When? It doesn't say; and gives no information which yields by inference the date of the press briefing. More than a month before the Sunday Times piece, though!

  4. I like the analogy between tracing media take up and chartism.


The Sir Derek Plumbly referred to in the Sunday Times piece is kosher. To the extent that there is one, and he is British Ambassador to Egypt.

The more you look at the Sunday Times piece, the less sense it makes. For instance, the piece mentions Plumbly and says he
worked closely with MI6 to help to promote Britain's Middle East policy.

The next sentence reads
The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion.

Which you might infer was a reference to British public opinion.

But no. It goes on
Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the British and US position on sanctions.

Now, speaking as an utter layman in these matters, I'd need some persuading that sweet-talking the non-aligned was much of a priority. Even though Poland was a UN Security Council member at the time.

[We're talking about the run-up to Desert Fox in 1998: what was the state of play in the UNSC at the time? Were the US and UK short of votes? Research may become necessary. But, as Saint Augustine once said, not yet.]

The piece goes on to refer to Ritter's dealings with the MI6 people, one of whom
asked Ritter for information on Iraq that could be planted in newspapers in India, Poland and South Africa from where it would “feed back” to Britain and America.

I've heard of food miles, but this is surely ridiculous: that a tale about Iraqi WMD would gain credibility by being routed via the Daily Forked Stick of Timbuktu?

And weren't we looking to influence those key non-aligned powers two seconds ago?

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Strom, Essie Mae, Cold Mountain and the epidemic of Magnolia Madness

For instance, one Eric Deggans the
TV/Media Critic
of the St Petersburg Times [1] takes a (very small) load off (December 28):
Weeks after news of her existence was finally acknowledged in the mainstream press, I'm still trying to decide how I feel about Strom Thurmond's secret black daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams.

The world awaits with bated breath...
I want to believe she's a heroine; someone long disadvantaged by a ruthless, powerful, hypocritical politician now getting her due. But isn't the essence of heroism doing things that don't necessarily advantage you or your family, but may help others?

Has Essie Mae invited anyone to consider her a heroine? Not that I can recall [2]. Deggans is disappointed that she fails to match his fantasy.

He quotes her saying
I had no reason to do anything before now. It would not have been an advantage to him or to me to say anything about our relationship.

The problem is, she's a grown-up in the real world of the 1950s and 1960s, with a lawyer husband and children to look after; and Deggans is throwing his toys out of his play-pen.

She realises that going public on her parentage might hurt Strom Thurmond [3], but would do nothing to affect the lingering death of Jim Crow, at the cost of major hurt for those for whose welfare she had direct responsibility.

And Deggans says as much:
...criticizing a 78-year-old woman for not upending her life and destroying her father's career by going public with such a scandal 30 or 40 years ago is a near-nonsensical proposition.


It's the fact that Essie Mae has, by her common sense, deprived him of an auto-erotic historical fantasy figure that really seems to piss him off. Pack of Pampers for Master Eric, stat!

[Not that the myth-makers will allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. Already, one sees the word rape bandied about to describe Strom's relationship with Carrie Butler (on the basis of no evidence that has so far been revealed). The fantasy spun around the role of Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott I mentioned most recently on October 9 may be a model for straightening the curves of Essie Mae's story.]

By happy chance, the Strom-Essie Mae farrago has played out in parallel to the release of Nicole Kidman's latest effort, Cold Mountain [4].

A puzzle is the fact that, before the film starts, the Kidman character is supposed to have freed her slaves. How likely is that? I know we're looking at the mountains, where things were done differently from the Delta, but even so [5].

The flick somehow got me thinking about Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family - that I have long been meaning to read, but never had the inspiration.

The good people at Atlantic Monthly have kept online a 1998 interview with Ball - which has sapped any inspiration that Essie Mae and Cold Mountain might have generated!

I've just skimmed the 4,000 word piece, but got the cringemaking impression of a cringing Yankee aghast at discovering that his family's Margaret Mitchell-ised tales of plantation life were not, strictly speaking, accurate. The guy is a journalist by profession: should one have expected more savvy? Or is this a yokel act for the benefit of his nice, liberal paying public? Answers on a postcard...

A sample:
Another taboo in Ball-family lore was discussion of sexual abuse. The Ball tradition is, or was, that the Ball slave owners did not have sex with their slaves. That was something that other slave owners did. If you ask any descendant of slave owners they will tell you the same thing, "My family didn't separate families, and our men did not sleep with the slave women." I knew that I would find some evidence to the contrary, but I didn't think I would find much. In fact I found a considerable amount of evidence that in each generation going back two hundred years at least one of the Ball men had a mulatto family...

At least one?

I quoted on December 18 Mary Chesnut's well-known comment on the matter - from 1861 - and gave a few of the many examples in history and art where miscegenation (ante- and post-bellum) has been to the fore.

Ball had to be faking, surely?

Damn this Magnolia Madness!

  1. The photo-byline is helpful in context; the fact that the rag thinks the photo needs a separate caption is puzzling.

  2. To what extent is she responsible for the media spin on the point? It was reasonably foreseeable; but unavoidable.

  3. On Thurmond's role - or lack of it - as a bulwark of segregation, my piece of December 23.

  4. Touched on here on December 23. I've not seen it, so no review!

  5. The movie's historical veracity I'm not concerned with - I assume it to be zero. But the freeing slaves question stands independently of the movie.


Worthy of mention is prolific Irish playwright Dion Boucicault's 1859 The Octoroon. The online text I have is of the American version: Zoe is the daughter of the late plantation-owner and a quadroon slave, and treated - to judge from a skim of the text - pretty much like a legitimate daughter by the family. Except, of course, that she is doomed by her parentage never to marry. She finds herself bound by some lien to be sold by her father's creditors; and the whole thing ends with pretty much every character killed in a steam-boat explosion.

The version that was played at the Adelphi Theatre in London allowed Zoe and her white lover to escape to married bliss. But - let it be noted - the happy ending was substituted in response to public demand, rather than offered first, in recognition of a less bigoted racial climate in the Mother Country:
"The Octoroon narrowly escaped entire failure from a singular cause--namely, the death, instead of the triumph, of the heroine. This shows a sympathy in the audience, at which Mr. Boucicault, in a published letter, affects surprise. But the English do not like to see their heroines sacrificed" (Athenaeum, 23 November)...In less than a month, Boucicault changed the ending. Even so, The Octoroon never attained sufficient popularity to be the main attraction.

The tragic version played in New York - four years before the Draft Riots, scarcely an oasis of racial tolerance, in no small measure owing to the deluge of Irishmen it had lately received! - this paper (PDF) on The Harlem and Irish Renaissances (p11) says that one
New York theater critic...pronounced the play abolitionist propaganda and Zoe an impossible creation.

In accordance with the tragic mulatto trope, the girl dies - but, since the white folks are also killed, the sting of the racial curse is negated. Call it abolitionism lite.

A collection of pieces The Politics of Antebellum Melodrama includes a page on The Octoroon:
In 1859 the runaway success of the New York Christmas theatrical season was Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon, despite strident condemnation by Bennet's New York Herald, which maintained that "it is certainly disgraceful that the people of this metropolis--and they are conservative and sound in their hearts--cannot even go to the theatre without having the almighty nigger thrust under their noses." Bouciacult's play, which starred his wife Agnes Robertson in the title role, ran until late January 1860 and then was immediately picked up by not one but two theatres, then other theatres throughout the north, becoming the second most frequently performed anti-slavery play, after George Aiken's adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. But as Bennet's editorial response indicates, The Octoroon was cursed with living in interesting times: John Brown had been hanged three days before the play opened, and on the day of its opening a a bitterly divisive New York mayoral election resulted in the election of the pro-State's Rights candidate, Fernando Wood.

Wood, from memory, was the guy who proposed that New York City secede from New York in 1861!

(Boucicault bios here and here.)


Where's, Lt-Col al-Dabbagh?

The aptly named Con Coughlin - more conned than conning, perhaps? - is still churning out stuff for the Telegraph (last Sunday's gobbet) on matters Iraq and Al Qaeda without the remotest acknowledgement that his previous efforts - revealing the afore-mentioned Dabbagh as the source of the famous 45 minutes WMD intelligence (December 10) and the Mohamed Atta-Iraq connection (December 19) - have proved holier than Swiss cheese.

Needless to say, the interest in the grown-up media to keep the story (about Coughlin's lack of story) going is limited.

Meanwhile, according to Google News, al-Dabbagh has had his fifteen minutes and stolen away to obscurity - on a camel, perhaps, to match the implausibility of his Boswell's tale - nothing on dabbagh colonel since December 16.

And we await with interest the Con-Man's next contribution to the sum of human knowledge.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Pentagon gunning for WaPo journo Tom Ricks

One for future reference - via Romanesko:

Ricks is a veteran on the defence beat - previously with the Wall Street Journal - but only now, according to the Washingtonian (November 29) does the DOD - in the form of
Defense Department spokesman Larry DiRita
complain about him.

The whole story is unsatisfactory - guesswork on the possible grounds for complaint, for instance [1]; and the WaPo suits are defending their man to the hilt (as they were bound to do, if they wanted to have any decent journalists left on the staff this time next year!).

Ricks hasn't, it seems, been completely with the program on the war. But he's surely not alone in that amongst defence journos.

So, let's open a Tom Ricks file, and see what turns up...

  1. The piece says that
    The Pentagon’s letter of complaint to Post executive editor Leonard Downie had language charging that Ricks casts his net as widely as possible and e-mails many people.
    Wow! I'm no expert, but that sounds remarkably like - well, journalism...


Tom Ricks is, I see, strangely absent from any piece Google News is spidering right now: thomas ricks pulls up December 17 reprints of a WaPo piece - co-authored with pin-up of the blog, Dana Priest - on the CIA and Saddam's grilling.

'Tis the season, I suppose.

A flavour of Ricks' reputation lower down the military food chain from a 1997 review in Parameters by one Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters of his book Making The Corps, described thus:
Tom Ricks, the Wall Street Journal's splendid defense reporter, has written the best non-fiction account of basic training you will ever read.


Objective journalism: the defence is made

Jeff Jarvis has a couple of pieces (here and here) on a piece by Tim Rutten in the LA Times (December 27) which strives to make the case for objective journalism.

It's a concept to which I have a visceral aversion - last unleashed on December 15 - on grounds that can be accommodated, most of them, under the headings of
  1. no such animal; and

  2. dire moral hazard.

Contempt oozes from virtually every sentence of Rutten's:
Liberal and conservative intellectuals who have sipped more Kool-Aid than they realize from the post-modern punch bowl insist that because pure objectivity does not exist, only pure subjectivity remains. According to this view, because not every form of prejudice and predisposition can be eradicated, every piece of "fair and honest" journalism must contain a confession of the inevitable reportorial bias...

There is a certain kind of bright but brittle mind that loves this sort of either/or thinking. What such minds cannot accept is the common-sensical notion that real life - including that of the press - is lived mostly in the pragmatic middle. There, experience has demonstrated that intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline enable journalists to gather and report facts with an impartiality that - though sometimes imperfect - is good enough to serve the public's interest in the generality of cases.

The Times building must be quite the fire risk, with all the straw men that Rutten's got lined up on his altar to the great god Manichaeus [1].

After mentioning such luminaries as Al Franken and Ann Coulter, he concludes that
Our nonfiction literature, in other words, is today a shouting match.

The idea, it seems, that Rutter is waving at us from the pragmatic middle - an area from which opinion has been duly extracted, as by the systems that keep Intel's factories dust-free: he quotes
CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who is also a leading scholar of public opinion
as suggesting that
It's certainly true that we are now two Americas...Partisanship has grown much harsher in recent years, no question. There is also a more bitter atmosphere in the country generally because our politics have come to involve issues of values and religion in a way they did not 30 years ago."

This is a fault line that ruptured in the 1960s...

Objective journalism, of course, was what allowed free rein to the Red Terror authorised by genial Harry Truman and gleefully taken up by Joseph McCarthy and friends; not to mention the lack of real challenge to the escalation in Vietnam at any time when it might have been reversed. Schneider, with Rutter approving, seems to be holding out this as - not, perhaps a golden era of journalism, but certainly better than today's.

There are more sophomorically dumb false dichotomies - as, for example (from Schneider)
Both poles in our increasingly polarized society now want news as seen by people who see the world as they see it.

And what I would suggest with all due humility is a lame Civil analogy (emphasis mine):
On the eve of the Civil War, Americans were per capita the greatest readers of newspapers in the world....Every single one of those publications was passionately - in fact, bitterly - partisan. A very good case could be made that the free press of that period, though vigorous, not only failed to arrest the nation's slide into civil strife but also played a major role in provoking it. Nobody is arguing that our current divisions remotely approach those of 1863. But it, too, was an era of value-laden politics in which popular sentiment demanded that the press take sides. A partisan press, though free and open about its bias, simply propelled its readers into the abyss.

The sentence in bold involves an evasion well up to the standard of the accursed ranters Coulter and Franken: making a tendentious comparison for dramatic effect, and then admitting that the attention-grabbing element of the comparison is, in fact, false!

[And - I'm the lay-est of men on the Civil War, but wasn't
the eve
of the War in 1861?]

Jarvis is critical of the piece, but lets it off too easily. For instance, in relation to the controversy about New York Times coverage of pro-US demonstrations in Iraq:
From the journalists' perspective, I'd say it's damned hard to look at, say, Iraq coverage without having to parse the perspective of the source. When The Times doesn't cover anti-terrorism demonstrations but does cover anti-American demonstrations, they and we need to ask what that means.

Darn tootin'! But he seems to suggest that Iraq coverage is in some way exceptional. You need your parser on for any news story from anywhere, surely?

Turning up the Podunk Prognosticator site, you see the rag boosting some new road and industrial development. The first thing, surely, to cross your mind is what connection the Prognosticator has with the promoters and financiers of that development - and what politicians have taken benefits of one sort or another from them, or from groups opposing the scheme: the existence of honest graft (in the George Washington Plunkitt sense) or of its relations, close and distant.

The homey quality of the story is no guarantee that the journalism isn't slanted - or even downright crooked!

[Not to say that there aren't, with most stories, matters on where reasonable men struggle to differ - the identity of the current President of the United States, for instance. And, for others, the margin for appreciation is limited - a forecast of a 1932-deep depression in the US next year would fall handily outside the margin, I suspect!

But all sorts of matters other than the text of a story affect its meaning and require parsing: its location in the paper, what stories it's placed next to, sidebars and follow-ups, etc, etc.

There is no story - however apparently judgement-free it looks - which does not have some sort of affective or meta-news value, apart from its objective news content. The fact a story is included at all is such a value.]

Jarvis is right, surely, to suggest that the net, blogs, etc, have opened the news process up to some sort of dialogue with readers, where previously there was none - an infinite improvement, therefore!

But the mechanism for dialogue is crude and cumbersome, and its content limited and rudimentary (think Edison reciting Mary had a little lamb, compared with today's recordings). What is needed is to increase vastly the demand from readers for dialogue with the news sources they use. And that won't happen unless readers expect to parse everything they read - and not rely on the Gray Lady, or CNN or the LA Times or anyone else to do their parsing for them!

  1. Figure of speech: one might suggest Manichæism (love the ligature!) as a candidate for a US state religion, if ever such a thing were to be contemplated.


The Bremer-Blair story: pro bono publico...

The saying has come down to us, Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes, as a warning against prematurity in the military context. The problem is at least as acute, if not more so, in matters political - and the same principle so very much applies.

Frankly, as far as prematurity on the war (before, during and after) is concerned - on both sides of the argument - we're swimming in the stuff. Guns have been jumped, chickens counted, horses have failed to be held - with only one or two professionally cool heads - Lord Hutton's, most notably - having their brain engaged before their mouth begins to spout.

It's Christmas, it's a Silly Season [1], and we're all contemplating the possibility (some fools are taking it as read) that Tony Blair will be anatomised by the said Hutton, and his miserable flesh stripped for biltong, in his report (expected in the next fortnight) on the death of David Kelly and related Iraqi WMD intelligence issues.

So when Reichsprotektor Paul Bremer appears flatly to contradict a statement on Iraqi WMDs made by Tony Blair - the whole place is sticky with prematurity.

There is no transcript that I can find of the Bremer interview with veteran British hack Jonathan Dimbleby [2] - so reports like that in the Guardian today will have to suffice.

I did manage to catch a snatch of the broadcast: the impression I got was that Bremer was fed up to the back teeth with all things Iraqi, and that all his experience of three decades or so as a loyal servant of the State Department was required to avoid him punching Dimbleby in the snoot and walking off.

His manner on camera and his faux pas were of a piece: as indicating that he had not the slightest interest in the minutiae of WMD intel, which will be picked over at nanometre resolution in the Hutton report.

And why should he? In the US, though there's been plenty of talk about Iraqi WMD intel, there's no sign that the issue has much traction, even amongst the media - who, evidently, can mostly take the issue or leave it, depending on other news items competing for space on the day.

In the UK, it's clearly an issue: but, for all the coverage of the Hutton proceedings - embarrassing for HMG, to put it mildly - so far, it hasn't done any lasting damage to Tony Blair. Hutton's 1,000 pages are in a league of their own: there's nothing else in sight which might provide the detonator to make Blair's WMD disinformation fiasco into something terminally explosive.

A squint at Google News on the issue [3] suggests that the world's media is underwhelmed by the Bremer-Blair affair: I can't trace any AP piece, and there looks to be just the one from Reuters. No sign that any of the big US media names have run with the story.

And, in this case, I'm inclined to agree with them: Circulez, y'a rien à voir! Yet.

  1. In the UK, the summer - August, in particular - is acknowledged in political and media circles as such: Tony Blair and the rest of the grown-ups (ha!) in government are in whatever Italian province is The New Tuscany, and John Prescott - the man who is dyslexic in ordinary conversation - is in charge of the country. There is no diary news (95% of any newspaper is reactive to some bugger making a speech or issuing a press release) so desperate editors are not fussy about the material with which they fill their columns.

  2. Son of British broadcasting legend Richard Dimbleby, the guy who first suggested the rudiments of broadcast news (at a time when William Shirer and HV Kaltenborn were doing it, and the BBC had squat), and whose commentary on the funeral of Winston Churchill can, fortunately, can be compared with advantage to the Elton John-ised happy-clappy nonsense which accompanied Princess Diana's squirmworthy send-off.

    Jonathan Dimbleby's is an ITV show - but there's no site, according to the ITV site drop-down menu. Nothing on the CPA site transcript page, either.

  3. There's something here not unlike the technique of the stock market chartists: trying to evaluate the worth of a story from the patterns of coverage by various news outlets.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Last post before the festivities

A merry Christmas to all Plawg readers: and a toast to all those pols and hacks getting the strength up right now to supply us all with another year's bumper harvest of humbug!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Essie Mae: my very first personal attack!

Moseying over to Backcountry Conservative - who has a collection of links to various pieces on the matter from the grownup media and blogosphere, I find that, amongst others, I have been criticised in a piece on Blogcritics, under the head
Bigots defend Thurmond, dis' daughter

After referring to a piece at Dean Esmay's which I noted on December 17, the writer goes on:
John Smith at Lincoln Plawg genuflects to Esmay and goes on to prove himself an insensitive and ignorant clod.

Insensitive? Moi? The notion that adults have some kind of right not to be offended by what they read and hear I find, as a general principle, utterly loathsome, as regular readers will be aware: its purpose is to chill speech, and there's quite enough of that going on worldwide.

There's then a quote of the bit of the December 17 piece that's unimpressed by an intervention by Andrew Sullivan on the subject, followed by the comparator I offered of a wealthy Northern young man getting a white maid pregnant in 1925.

After which the floodgates open:
Have you ever? Short of a brain and heart transplant, Smith is hopeless.

[One might comment that the idiom is either Did you ever? or Have you ever heard the like? But that would be a trifle heartless, perhaps.]

It goes on
Still, I will answer some of his foolishness, the 'Nawthunners do it, too' evasion Southern bigots often use to evade responsibility for their actions.

[Ridiculing one's opponents' speech patterns is a trifle hopeless itself, surely? Not to mention, bigoted. Heigh ho...]

And suggests that
Thurmond was responsible for the stifling of millions of African-American lives and helped create the climate in which some were killed. But for his actions in the 1940s, it would not have taken until the 1960s for civil rights legislation to pass.

Those are very big claims for which no evidence is adduced.

How, exactly, was Thurmond
responsible for the stifling of millions of African-American lives
for instance? He didn't invent the system of Jim Crow - which was well on the way towards being perfected when he was born in 1902.

And what
actions in the 1940s
might have held up the passage of civil rights legislation?

If the writer is referring to his abortive Presidential campaign, I'd suggest that that was symptomatic of a sharpening in racial feeling amongst Southern whites, rather than much of a cause of it. Thurmond only won four Confederate states, after all (AL, LA, MS, SC); in six more (AR, FL, NC, TN, TX, VA), he ran behind that carpetbagger Dewey [1]!

I'm lacking the information to make any definite statement on the point: but my hypothesis, based on what I do have, is that Strom's presidential bid was viewed unfavourably amongst Southern Democrats generally, as being good only for demonstrating Southern un-regularity and signalling to the GOP that the Al Smith bolt in 1928 was not necessarily a one-off; and that, whatever his standing as a leader in the Democratic party before 1948 [2], it was pretty much trashed after it.

As I mentioned on December 14, the good people of the Palmetto State showed their gratitude for his 1948 actions by defeating him in the US Senate primary in 1950.

Insofar as there was a political leadership of the South, it was, I suspect, to be found in Congress, particularly in the Senate. Strom's continuous term there only started on November 7 1956.

(The most notable achievement attributed to Thurmond in his early years in and out of the Senate is the Southern Manifesto of March 12 1956 - the South's reply to the Brown schools segregation case and its feared sequelae. The Keith Finley thesis (p4ff of Chapter 4) shows Thurmond as a force for hardening up, rather than toning down, the Manifesto; but, as a very junior freshman, his voice is only one of several - many much more senior - that shaped the text.

My impression from the thesis, and also from my recollections of Robert Caro's Master of the Senate, is that Thurmond was not high in the leadership of the Southern Caucus in his early years, at least: his 24 hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Bill on August 28/29 1957, which casual observers might have thought would have been lauded as a second Pickett's Charge, succeeded mostly in getting up the noses of his colleagues:
...Thurmond's actions produced some criticism against other Southern senators from their southern constituents who questioned their decision not to join the South Carolinian.

There's no pleasing some people...)

So, Thurmond's leadership of Jim Crow forces seems, on the evidence I have, mythical.

There's not much more of the Blogcritics screed:
The impregnation of, let's say, an Irish maid in Boston, would not be remotely equivalent because there is no similar history of slavery, segregation and continuing discrimination for a politician to have built his career on. This a no-brainer, in my opinion.

Surely a no-brainer is a question not open to differing opinions!

The comparison was precisely that: a means of bringing out differences, of testing how Jim Crow-specific the complaint really was - in particular, from the point of view of the mother.

And finally:
I suppose, Smith, a Brit, might use his nationality as an excuse. But, he states this nonsense authoritatively, as if he knows what he is talking about. He doesn't.

Anyone who takes as fact anything he reads here on the strength of the brand-name wants his head examining! I assume - the main reason for the links and references included in the pieces - that those interested will want to check the material here for themselves. Isn't that part of the fun? And if it's not fun, why bother reading?

Only this year, we have the example of the New York Times - an infinitely more authoritative brand than this - to prove the point that only suckers take what they read on trust, no matter what the source.

Which is not to say that I don't strive to eliminate error and ground opinion in fact. But if the Gray Lady with all her editors can screw up so right royally and so often - goodnight Katharine Sergava, wherever you are! - this humble blogger is lucky to do as well as he does.

  1. In Georgia, he got 20.3% of the votes as against Dewey's 18.3%.

  2. He rates one mention in John Gunther's 1947 Inside USA (p726) - a distinct liberal - with no indication of any national profile at all. The page also reminds us that, in 1944, Senator Harry Byrd (D-VA) had been a candidate for the presidential nomination. He got 89 votes in the Convention (p708) - and Gunther calls him
    the obvious hero and candidate of the Bourbon South


The Rather awful Essie Mae interview

Belatedly, I've read the transcript. And what an uncomfortable experience - the vid must be purgatorial!

Dan Rather, in a gentle but repulsively lounge-lizardly way, treats Essie Mae as a hostile witness.

Time and again, he comes back to questions like Strom's monetary help, and his views on segregation, and re-asks essentially the same question. To which Essie Mae has already given a clear and comprehensive answer, going as far as she wants to go. Which she then dutifully repeats, more or less.

And which evidently never goes far enough for Rather! Quite what he expected when he poled up to do the interview, I don't know. I suspect he thought a little auger work would produce a gusher of Sharptonesque bile. It never materialised.

Not that Essie Mae is Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah about the Jim Crow South - no Magnolia Madness discernible. But, unlike certain commentators, she doesn't blame Strom for the ghastly system either.

The effect is like Sherlock Holmes' dog: the very absence of the knee-jerk diatribe about Thurmond currently to be found wrapping fish up and down the land itself speaks volumes.

And seems to piss Rather off no end.

He has, I think, a reputation as an old lefty - the site plies its chisel on the point. But it's unnerving to hear him in the mind's ear working on Essie Mae, almost like a detective trying to trip up a suspect to get a confession.

Maybe on a second read, it'll be different. But, first time round - distinctly creepy.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Essie Mae WaPo writer trips up on detail?

There's a rather breathless how I got the scoop piece by the reporter who got the story, Marilyn Thompson (December 21) which has me somewhat puzzled.

A few grafs down, we get the following:
When Essie was born, her 16-year-old mother could not afford to feed or clothe her. At 6 months old, she was whisked out of town to live with a maternal aunt in a Pennsylvania steel town. As a teenager, she watched silently from afar as her father rose through the ranks of South Carolina politics, becoming a school superintendent, a circuit judge, a state lawmaker, a decorated D-Day hero, the state's youngest governor, the nation's oldest and longest-serving U.S. senator, at one time third in line in succession to the presidency.

Now, taken at face value, the last sentence is clearly bollocks: Essie Mae was born on October 12 1925 (as stated in the original WaPo story). She therefore ceased to be a teenager before Thurmond was elected Governor in 1946! And was nearly 30 when he first became US Senator on December 24 1954.

But, leaving that aside, it's clear from her interview with Dan Rather that she didn't realise who Thurmond was until she met him:
Dan Rather:
Did your mother tell you that it was Strom Thurman [sic] and that he was white? Or did you first realize that when you actually came in his presence?

Essie Mae Williams:
She did not mention anything about his color. And when I met him, I was surprised because she'd never mentioned that he was white.

Now, quite what Essie Mae's mother had told her about her father isn't clear - but, given how things were in South Carolina, if she'd have told Essie Mae that Thurmond was a judge, Essie Mae would surely have realised he was white.

So, since she says - and repeats - that she did not realise he was white, it's hard to see how she could have watched silently from afar - at least, until their meeting in 1941.

It's not that the strange paragraph casts serious doubt on the Essie Mae story - all there really is is a piece of copy that should have been edited, but clearly wasn't.

But it's a point to mark for future reference, perhaps, just in case.


Not more Thurmond family miscegenation?

I tripped over the story in the Wilmington Journal (December 22):

However, the Baltimore Afro-American newspapers reported in 1948, the same year South Carolina's then-Gov. James Strom Thurmond was the presidential nominee of the segregationist Dixiecrat Party, that he had several Black relatives, including an uncle and two cousins.

The AFRO initially reported in the edition dated Aug. 17, 1948, that a man named Robert Thurmond, from Morristown, N.J., was Strom Thurmond's first cousin.

It explains that
Edgefield was the home of Strom Thurmond and his father, James E. ''Snip'' Thurmond, and, according to AFRO reporter Douglas Hall, Edgefield was the home to several other Thurmonds, many of whom were Black.

...In the Aug. 24, 1948, edition of the AFRO, he reported the existence of the Rev. James R. Thurmond, a half-cousin of Strom Thurmond, Eva Thurmond Smith, another cousin, and Thomas Thurmond, Strom Thurmond's uncle.

The reporter back in 1948 summed up thus:

''It seems like everybody up there [Edgefield, S.C.] are Thurmonds. They are of all colors. Some are so White that you cannot tell them from the original Thurmonds. The only thing that surprises Colored Thurmonds is, why is it so important that they are related to the White Thurmonds? It is an old story and 'everybody in these parts knows it.'''.

Whether this cornucopia of less-than-lily-white Thurmonds is such a drug on the market as to affect the bidding for the Essie Mae book, miniseries, merchandising and what-not, I have no idea.

It is, however, surprising that it's taken quite this long for the story of the extra Thurmonds to surface.


Another triumph of fact-checking from the grownup US media

From Romanesko, another tale of a fake story on a spoof site getting picked up as fact by the people with Nexis and paychecks: in this case, by the San Diego Union Tribune, amongst others.

And the moral is...


The Texas-wide holes in the Strom moral crusade

The deafening sound of chisels at work may distract from one or two glaring chasms in the moralising over Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler, parents of Essie Mae Washington.

Consider just a couple of points:

Firstly, what about the moral standing of those bulwarks of the Jim Crow South who did not, so far as I know, father any bastards on family servants or anyone else? Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, for instance, who saw the Southern Caucus through many a tricky moment in defence of the South's second Peculiar Institution [1].

Russell was a very different type to the nigger-baiters of an earlier generation (though, of course, Theodore Bilbo and Ellison D Smith ('Cotton Ed' Smith to his admirers) survived to the late 1940s as colleagues in the US Senate): he really did speak quietly and carry a big stick (procedurally speaking). But, I think it's fair to say, he pretty much did all that was to be done in keeping the legislative forces of desegregation at bay - and was far more responsible than Strom Thurmond for the temporary successes that the South had in preserving Jim Crow during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Surely Russell is as morally tainted as Thurmond, if not more so? Liberals aren't suggesting that the latter's sexual licence should make his a worse sin, are they?

Secondly, there are the ordinary people of the South. Many white Southern men [2], like Strom, will have miscegenated and got away with it. As I've pointed out before (December 16), based on Calvin Hernton's book, the practice, though far from universal, was pretty much commonplace.

Why aren't these men - the ones that miscegenated and the ones that didn't - blamed as much as Strom? These salt-of-the-earth Southerners were what kept Jim Crow going, gave it its daily nourishment of hate and loathing. No Northern state would have elected Strom on the platform on which South Carolinians saw him to Columbia, and then to the Capitol: it was the Palmetto State's solid citizens who raised Strom to what he became.

Of countries with odious regimes that came under US control, in Germany, we had de-Nazification; in Japan, a similar process, mutatis mutandis. Why no re-education for the evil Southerners and their bizarre, cruel cult of race?

Because of the experience with Radical Reconstruction, of course. But also, because a Nazi was a Nazi, but that guy who turned up to one or two lynchings and maybe beat a Negro for looking at his girl - that guy was Uncle Jim from Meridian. Or Granddad from Greenville. He was misguided, certainly. But he was family. Or, in a good many cases, still is.

Strom is, in the classic meaning of the term, a scapegoat:
one that bears the blame for others

And the sex-race myth lives on: in a nasty little piece in the New York Times (December 21), the old, old story is told once more. One
Valinda Littlefield, a professor of African-American history at the University of South Carolina
is quoted as saying
White men were king. She was basically a child. He can do with her what he wants. She's more or less the family's slave.

The picture is a sort of race-reversal of Renegade Gus and little Mae Marsh just before she throws herself off the cliff to avoid a fate worse than death!

The hack evidently feels he needs to row back from this charming image:
No one is saying that Mr. Thurmond forced the teenager to have sex.

Actually, readers may recall Alvin Poussaint quoted as raising exactly that question (December 19).

The thought that 16 year old Carrie Butler may have been consumed with lust for this young (good-looking?) white man is evidently too horrible to contemplate. Or that she may have thought that Strom might have liked her enough to set her up as his concubine in a nice little house, away from the drudgery of domestic service. That spoils her essential victim status, too. Carrie must be helpless and asexual to fit the 2003 notion of victimhood. So much for feminism!

The hack then says that Littlefield suggested that
many black families who sent their daughters off to work as maids equipped them with straight razors...

What's the quantitative evidence on this? What methods did she employ to arrive at her conclusion? Was it peer-reviewed? Or, if Strom's on the menu, don't these little things matter? Did the hack even ask, or was he too excited at the way the razor image would play in his piece to want to risk spoiling his story?

And he quotes Edward Ball, the guy who found - shock horror! - that his relations were not all entirely lily-white, and made a bundle writing about it, as saying that
There was this uncontrollable, unconscious attraction to the otherness of black people...

Proof, surely, that Magnolia Madness is an equal opportunity affliction! Is Ball shilling for a remake of one of those overwrought plantation movies of the 70s, perhaps?

Again, the quantitative questions keep coming: what proportion of white men in the Jim Crow South had sex with a Negro woman at least once? If the attraction really was
presumably the answer would be, All of those who could get it up!

Why can people like get away unchallenged with lies like these? 'Tis the season...

  1. Figuring much in the Keith Finley thesis which is more or less a staple on these matters here.

  2. The tendency is to assume that Southern white woman of all classes were deterred from interracial sex by the fear of pregnancy. And the Southern sex-race myth is, of course, centered on the supposed chastisty of the white woman, before and after marriage. A point to reserve for further consideration, I think.


On the Filmsite site (which has pretty full synopses of important films), the description of the cliff scene in Birth Of A Nation is interesting: Gus (promoted to Captain in the Union Army, under Radical Reconstruction) attempts to make friends with the lovely Mae Marsh (or rather her character, Flora Cameron) who is on an errand to fetch water. Her brother, Ben, is following to check on her safety:
After a long and exciting pursuit sequence (involving all three characters: Ben, Flora, and Gus), Flora scrambles higher and higher up a rocky cliff. As Gus approaches closer toward her and gestures for her to come down, she turns and repeatedly threatens him: "Stay away or I'll jump." With arms outstretched, Flora appears to lose her balance and fall off the cliff - seen from a long shot. [It could be interpreted that she committed suicide by jumping or leaping off the cliff to her tragic death, to avoid being raped and suffer dishonor, but it is more likely that her death is merely an accident.]

Now, it's some time since I watched the Birth but I'm sure the movie invited one to believe that the leap was suicide. Why is the comment kept in square brackets, I wonder?

I note from the text of Thomas Dixon's The Clansman on the UNC Chapel Hill Documenting the American South site that Flora was not in the book; and Gus was shot by Ben's father (p228) for entering his house with a group of Negro soldiers (in the film, Gus is lynched - apparently, castration scenes were cut in response to public reaction, though from what region these objectors came is not revealed).


Lady Black of Crossharbour, aka Barbara Amiel - who Hollinger investors might have thought would have her attention on matters closer to home - has weighed in with her entry in the Strom Memorial Stakes. I infer that she does not take well to editing.

She starts as she means to go on:
When he was 21 and the 20th century was nearly 25 years old, Strom Thurmond, scion of a South Carolina family, made love to a young black maid who worked in his parents' home. Did she respond willingly to the pale young man, who was taking a degree in horticulture at Clemson College? The maid was no slave. Her sexual desires were her own to satisfy, if she had any.

Engage brain before opening mouth is no motto for the fabulously wealthy, of course, though, in the light of current events...

Continue - if your treacle-wading boots are up to it - past
Strom and Carrie had sexual congress.
and you will find the following historical elucidation:
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrah and segregation forever, "thundered Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas to the damn liberals up North...

Now, Faubus may have uttered those words. But the guy who is referenced as having so done by Mr Google is George Wallace of Alabama - as in these useful-looking notes, for instance.

But then - as few if any of the commentariat have done - she contemplates, albeit in her Mills & Boon gush, that the Strom-Carrie relationship might not have been the sort of agitprop tale of exploitation that passes for common wisdom on the matter:
To be surprised by the loving relationship between Essie Mae and her segregationist father is to misunderstand the South. There could be great intimacy without equality between the races. It was like the relationship between liege lords and serfs, colonial masters and subjects. The further into the 20th century we got, the rarer such relationships became, but they were not rare historically and human nature was not formed in the 20th century. Essie Mae was loved and supported by Thurmond almost all her life, as was her mother. The conviction that they were not equals was acute in Strom's mind and it existed side by side with his affection for her. Though his public political stance softened during his life, in his soul he was probably a segregationist till the day he died.

Now, admitting that most of that is Amiel's supposition or fantasy, to give the woman her due, she at least opens her mind; recognises the possibility; makes the hypothesis.

Amiel was noted here long ago for her part in helping start without the slightest justification the meme that Britain was a hotbed of salon antisemitism. On Strom, though, she is worth reading. So long as you can abide the style and are sure to check the facts.


A case study in hypocrisy on Jim Crow

A piece at Lean Left draws me back to Strom. Under the head
Why the Hypocrisy of Thurmond Supporters Matter
it proclaims that
Strom Thurmond was an evil man who did evil things, and excusing that evil as "complicated" perpetuates it.

The suggestion is, I think, that we tick the box and move on.

Because, the more one looks at the history of the politics of Jim Crow, the more shades of grey one has to recognise. Most especially, the responsibility of Northern politicians for the continuance of the odious system in general; and the enormous political benefits extracted from it by Northern Democrats in particular.

The system that was in place during the 1940s and 1950s was essentially that established after the failure of Radical Reconstruction and the 1877 settlement: the North had tried and failed to crush the Southern will on the race issue, and the opportunity to end the whole business came as a blessed relief to Northerners and Southerners alike.

As a result of history, the Solid South was born [1]: I'm not clear whether Congressional Northern Democrats ever thought of declining Southern colleagues' membership of the Congressional party, and the committee memberships and other privileges that followed. My guess is, No. (Having the Southern Democrats as a third party would have ensured national GOP rule indefinitely.)

Skipping ahead, a nice little illustration of the Northern Democracy in action - from Chapter 3 of Keith Finley's thesis, mentioned here several times before: the 1948 election brought the Democrats control of the Senate once more, with 54 seats to the GOP's 42. With this new mandate, an amendment to the cloture rule (Rule XXII) was to be tried (p19a):
On 17 February 1949, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration favorably reported S. Res. 15, a bipartisan resolution designed to close the loophole in Rule XXII that exempted procedural motions from cloture.

Assuming that, some way down the line, there would be a substantive vote on the resolution (in theory, they could look to bar the way with a filibuster on just the sort of procedural motion to which the rule change was meant to apply Rule 22!), the Southerners needed Northern support.

They argued (p21) that the real intention of the Democratic leadership was eventually to reduce the majority required under Rule 22 to a simple one; they had no concrete evidence of this - until Truman confirmed that it was his preference (p24); the filibuster that followed was, I think, on a motion to bring up SRes 15 - and therefore, supposedly, cloture-free.

Then Vice President Alben Barkley, in the chair, ruled that, after all, Rule 22 applied to motions (p25). The vote on approving his ruling was lost by 46 to 41:
Among those voting against the new interpretation was, of course, the entire southern delegation, minus Claude Pepper and Estes Kefauver. In addition, twenty-three Republicans joined forces with the southerners; only sixteen sided with the twenty-five Democrats in favor.

Now, supposing that all 96 members were available to vote (this was only March 11 1949), that makes nine who didn't: three Republicans and six Democrats - only five of the six voting for the ruling would have been needed to enable Barkley to have exercised his vote to carry the motion [2].

Unfortunately, Finley doesn't supply the roll call: the Confederate delegation was, of course, Solid, apart from Pepper and Kefauver - I'm not clear where the other three Dem votes against the ruling came from (the Union slave state delegations were Democratic, 6-2). Perhaps some of the non-voting Dems were paired. Were Pepper and Kefauver among the six Dem non-voters? If so, couldn't they have been persuaded to vote for the ruling on the as well to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb principle?

The suspicion is that Northern Dems weren't exactly pulling out all the stops to pass the ruling. (And was that Truman presser really a snafu?)

The context was that the Dems had, on the face of it, easily contained the Dixiecrat bolt, but the threat remained that, one day soon, action in the courts would force the Democratic Party to deal with the screaming contradictions within it.

(The experience of the Eisenhower years was a drift of the Negro vote to the Republicans (from a pretty low base) - for which Democratic antics in the Senate might well be thought in part responsible.)

Finley also, in Chapter 4, describes the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 - an initiative of the Eisenhower Administration steered through the Senate by Lyndon Johnson. The Hells Canyon Dam incident (p31ff) illustrates just what a frail thing Northern Dem commitment to civil rights really was: even the fact that the damned dam was never going to pass the House in a month of Sundays wasn't enough to dissuade the Hells Canyon boys from parting with their regulation thirty pieces on civil rights to secure a Senate victory on the dam that they could parade before their voters.

Was that evil of them? Or just a bit naughty? What would the sanctimonious finger-waggers of 2003 have had them do?

Franklin Roosevelt (to name but one) secured his electoral successes with the help of crooks - and he's a hero to millions - not to mention Conrad Black. Dem pols nationally acquiesced in the support of those, like Strom Thurmond, whose electoral crookedness was sanctioned by law.

If Strom is evil, then those Northern Dem pols were aiding and abetting. Or guilty in the second degree. They were all part of one, big, crooked machine - including the Southern one-party states, like South Carolina, and the Northern machine states [3].

They went along, took the Jim Crow votes (and the nigger-baiters - and the later, more subtle, practitioners of hate - who came with them) and had the best Dem years in national politics since the Civil War during Essie Mae Washington's first few decades.

Think of those adults who attended the lynching at Duck Hill, MS in April 1937: they were evil by any definition, surely. And the - perhaps 95% of - registered Mississippians who would have voted as jurymen for their acquittal in any trial for murder: they were, if not evil, then prepared to do evil at the drop of a hat. Should FDR have allowed his name on the 1940 Mississippi ballot only to be sullied by the marks of scum like this?

An absurd question, of course. But no more absurd than the infantile whining of those evidently wishing for a 20th century politics with the moral complexity of a Lone Ranger episode.

  1. Up to a point - it took the rest of the century to solidify, and even then, not every Southern voter voted a straight Democrat ticket (if that is one's definition of Solid) - not even in the Confederacy.

    For instance, the last Republican Governor of North Carolina before the 1970s was Daniel Lindsay Russell, who left office in 1901, for instance. There continued to be Republican-voting counties in the Confederacy; a piece on Southern politics on this interesting-looking New Deal site says

    Each state, of course, has a Republican Party, made up for the most part of former postmasters, their families, and such other patronage hunters as have faith in the return of national Republicanism. In the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama, there are counties as strongly Republican as the rest of the state is Democratic. Their Republicanism is traditional, an expression of old anti-slavery and anti-rest-of-the-state feeling, but it is sliding away as new roads and federal relief come in. These small groups make no bid for statewide power. They hold their counties; the Democrats hold theirs. Between the two is often a disturbingly close cooperation. In Kentucky, the only state with an opposition party strong enough to win a statewide election, the governorship swung back and forth between the parties every four years from 1907 to 1935, as if by arrangement. All the Republican counties are ones with small Negro populations.
  2. I'm assuming he wouldn't be barred from so doing because it was his ruling that they were voting on!

  3. Were the Republicans any more moral? I doubt it - merely (in the period under consideration) less successful!


My October 3 piece, discussing the Finley thesis, amongst other things, picks up links to earlier pieces on Franklin Roosevelt's attitude to the antilynching legisation that was tried, and as often failed, during the 1930s.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Dixie frame of mind: Ralph McGill

All sorts of sub-Mason-Dixon dead-tree goodness seems to be lurking, long un- (or never) read, that tumble out with the Hari Krishna-like incantation of Strommmmm! Strommmmm!...

While my flipping has taken me barely half-way, an interim note on Ralph McGill's The South and the Southerner (2nd Ed 1963) seems warranted.

It's a memoir of the old liberal - his childhood in the historically fertile soil of Eastern Tennessee, covering the 1922 US Senate re-election bid of Kenneth McKellar [1] - tool of Edward Crump, the boss of Memphis and Shelby County - interspersed with historical notes (on the likes of James K Vardaman, Tom Watson and 'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman.)

(There's also an episode (p63ff) where he spent a summer as a student on a roofing gang under the supervision of a Negro called Charlie White; his handling in the prose is pretty Disneyfied. But I'd be loathe to jump to conclusions on its veracity merely on account of natural cynicism (and recalled nausea from seeing such relationships handled with treacle-laden sermonising on the small screen).)

On the historical side, and new to me, was the William and Mary College professor, Thomas Roderick Dew (p113), whose Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature 1831-2 is supposed to have given respectability and order to the case for slavery [2].

Around that time, there was a deal of agitation in the Old Dominion on the slavery question - the debate starting in November 1831 in the Legislature following the Nat Turner revolt at Southampton, on a petition from the Quakers for an investigation with a view to eventual emancipation; much anti-slavery sentiment was expressed, but, of course, nothing came of it.

Except that the Dew paper was the basis, it seems, on which Southerners increasingly started to argue for slavery as a positive good.

Vardaman ('The Great White Chief'), when he eventually became US Senator (by popular election, it seems, in advance of the requirement of the Seventeenth Amendment) in 1913, allowed himself to echo the childishly hubristic (but, in the circumstances, perfectly understandable) Civil War-era phrase of the Negro [4]:
The bottom rail is on top

He opposed the War, and had the misfortune to come up for re-election in 1918.

He also sketches the (evidently sad) story of Tom Watson (Thomas E Watson, nicknamed 'Tom Tom'), the Populist from Georgia whose US House seat (GA-10) was stolen from him by the Party of Treason, after a single term, in 1892, and his re-election bid so crassly cheated on that the winning candidate asked for a re-run, apparently (p124).

From a guy who canned the nigger-baiting to which the likes of fellow Populists such as Tillman were addicted, and achieved a certain amount of success in uniting the races behind a common programme - who even spoke out about lynching - those stolen elections (McGill psychoanalyses) turned Watson's head, and he became all too regular on the race issue.

It takes a little comprehending that McGill was born only four years before Strom Thurmond.

(Strom's father was Tillman's right hand man. According to McGill (p119), Tillman controlled South Carolina politics till he died in 1918.

Tillman and Strom presumably met - what other famous names are within six degrees of separation from Strom, through that line, I wonder.

McGill says of Tillman that
His state has never ceased to produce semi-reincarnations of him.
Was he thinking of Strom?)

  1. This one, not this one.

  2. For reasons passing my understanding, there seems to be no text online. There is the text of a petition headed
    A. P. Upshur et al., Northampton County, to Virginia Legislature, 1831
    among a slew of petitions from around 1830 to Southern legislatures on the slavery question reprinted here. Links to 80 odd years of such petitions (running almost up to 1864) here: the site reprints The Southern Debate over Slavery (Ed Loren Schweninger).

  3. McGill, nodding Homerically, says 1912. Apparently, some 29 states anticipated the 17th Amendment.

  4. Another Ken Burns recollection.


The Petersburg Mine Explosion and a sense of proportion

A degree of trepidation while fact-checking is always sensible, especially on a subject on which so many are so much wiser!

But I was brought up short by a review of the Nicole Kidman movie Cold Mountain in the London Observer today:
His Troy is an apparently impregnable Confederate outpost at Petersburg, Virginia, where the Union engineers dug a long, deep tunnel under the fortifications, filled it with explosives and brought about one of the greatest massacres of the war.

Now, I've watched the Ken Burns Civil War series several times (!), and while I recall a dolefulness on the level of slaughter at Antietam and Gettysburg, say, the explosion at Peterburg I didn't mentally calibrate as being of the same order.

We're talking, I surmise, of the explosion which took place at 4.44 am on Saturday, July 30 1864, and which preceded the Battle of the Crater (a 1914 account by Silas Stevenson).

According to the account, the position blown up was
known as "Elliott's Salient.", [the mine] blowing up or burying under it the debris of earth and timber, about three hundred officers and men belonging to the 18th and 22d South Carolina regiments, and Pegram's battery. This "Salient," or earthwork was a six gun battery situate about four hundred yards below the crest of Cemetery Hill.

Later, it's pointed out that
Quite a number of those who fell safely were dug out and rescued alive by the assaulting column.

Some casualty stats for comparison
The Ten Costliest Battles of the Civil War
suggest there were bloodier events.

But, I suppose, as the late Professor CEM Joad would have put it,
It all depends what you mean by massacre...

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Duck Hill strangely absent online

Duck Hill was the site of what seems to have been the last full-dress social event of the year lynching - with an undercard of torture, natch [1] - in April 1937.

Bizarrely, Mr Google produces only a dozen items for "duck hill" mississippi lynching, a number of which I've already linked [2].

There is a page on the history of Carroll County, MS, which includes a paragraph on Duck Hill:
Duck Hill is located 13 miles north of Winona, in what was once the Bogue Creek Wilds. The first house erected there was built by John A. Binford. The wild state of the place and the big game which was once found there are evidenced by the fact that a huge bear killed by Binford near his cabin was made into a rug, which practically covered the floor of his early log cabin home. Duck Hill was settled about 1834, and was originally in Carroll County. The first structures were erected between Bogue Creek and the foot of a hill known as Duck Hill. Tradition says that the hill was named for a Native American Choctaw who called himself Chief Duck, and lived on top of the hill. It was near this hill that a notorious bandit of the area, Rube Burrows, once killed the engineer and robbed the express car of the fast Illinois Central Express. In 1937, a double-lynching occurred nearby, which was given significant publicity, only because the Gavagan Anti-Lynching Bill was under consideration in the U. S. Congress. James R. Binford, son of the founder of Duck Hill, was the legislator and statesman who gave Mississippi the Jim Crow Law [3], which was later adopted by the Southern States. The Lloyd T. Binford High School at Duck Hill was named for one of the most progressive and honored citizens the town of Duck Hill has ever known.

The conniptions of the Strom-Essie Mae anachronists at the suggestion that the 1937 lynchings were
given significant publicity, only because the Gavagan Anti-Lynching Bill was under consideration in the U. S. Congress.
may be wondered at!

Not to mention the consternation that the only begetter of
the Jim Crow law
should be characterised as a

James R Binford served in the Fifteenth Mississippi Regiment, and, in 1864,
Lieut.-Col. Binford took command of the regiment.

For once, the Political Graveyard comes up empty - no political Binfords noted at all! (Binford's political career isn't noted anywhere else online, that I can see.)

Did the family later move to Detroit, I wonder...

  1. My December 2 piece discusses this iconic event, with links.

  2. This page has a deal of lynching material - lists of lynchees, for instance - the last time I looked, the Tuskegee Institute list (from 1882 onwards, from memory), which is a common reference - though it did not include the 1921 Tulsa Riots deaths (again, from memory) - was not online.

  3. Which?


From Strom to Maternity: the mini-series looms

I've been taking a breather from all things Strom - the story seems to to be spinning its wheels right now, though there's still clearly a great deal to come out - but was interested to see my December 14 prediction on the way to fruition, according to the Greenville News (December 19):
Several producers and publishers have contacted Essie Mae Washington-Williams' attorney, Frank Wheaton, including Craig Anderson, who produced a television mini-series on the romance between Thomas Jefferson and one of his slaves.

"I've heard from feature-film producers, television networks and I just completed a meeting with a book publisher," said Wheaton, an entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles.

The reference to Jefferson [1] suggests one should not expect more than the usual degree of fidelity to the historical record!

Worth making a mental note to consider the husband in the case, Julius T. Williams, as the facts become known. Apparently, they met at South Carolina State at Orangeburg, where he was one of the first to graduate as a lawyer; and also he
once was a local NAACP leader

  1. Even the Thomas Jefferson Foundation admits there is room for doubt on the matter.


While the URL is to hand, there's the 60 Minutes II interview transcript.

The anachronised, Oprah-thon continues: a piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (December 20) quotes Larry Davis, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems:
"[Strom Thurmond] fought against the well-being of African Americans while having an African-American child himself," Davis said. "You'd think you'd root for your kid."

Sometimes, Essie Mae is biracial, sometimes she's black: the debate on that point doesn't seem to have opened up yet.

But Davis has to forget what he ever learnt about American history to utter such a flabby, sentimental, Disneyfied line as
You'd think you'd root for your kid

Or is he just establishing copyright to set up a suit against the miniseries producers down the line?

And, to show that the piece really wasn't edited at all, there's this:
About 85 percent of blacks and whites in America have ancestors of the other race because of the history of slavery, said Bucknell University professor T. Joel Wade, who has conducted research on attitudes toward biracial children and interracial marriage.

Now, that number seems excessive when applied to blacks: how can he possibly get to 85% of whites with some African ancestry? Do the math: essentially, we're saying that 85% of the white population consists of the descendants of Negroes who at some stage in the last three hundred years managed to pass! (And all their descendants need to have been equally skillful or fortunate.)

The piece also makes reference to the mythical
one-drop rule

Fortunately, we have online Stetson Kennedy's 1959 Jim Crow Guide to the USA (albeit in an inconvenient format), which states the rules as they then were.

Not only did each state have its own definition of race; but different definitions applied for different purposes. Kennedy states the definitions of Negro for Mississippi thus:
Anyone having 1/8th or more Negro blood.-Anti-miscegenation law. Anyone having any "appreciable" Negro blood.-Court ruling on school segregation. Anyone having 1/8th or more Mongolian blood.

Alabama did seem to have something of a one-drop rule; Arkanas, in one statute at least, went on appearance:
"Persons in whom there is a visible and distinct admixture of African blood shall be deemed to belong to the African race; all others shall be deemed to belong to the white race. "Anti-miscegenation law.

The very variegation in these rules is what made them self-satirising: Kennedy's book is as much ridicule as rant. Unfortunately the equally self-satirising apartheid race typing of the University of Michigan did not meet a similar fate. I've mentioned it before, and I daresay I'll mention it again...


The most causal mooching produces what look like course notes on the Sociology Quantitative Research Laboratory site - motto: Reason Proposes, Research Disposes - at North Illinois University which say, in relation to the US population,
Today, depending on the region of the country, as high as an estimated 12 percent of "Whites" have some African ancestry.

That's one region (which?) maxing out at 12%, with, presumably, the national average for whites being a lot lower.

In any case, we're clearly talking about nothing approaching the 85% of
Bucknell University professor T. Joel Wade

Friday, December 19, 2003

Telegraph intelligence scoops flaking into dust

First, there was the 45 minute source supposedly unearthed by the intrepid Con Coughlin (December 10) as revealed in a piece which looked likely at any minute to collapse under the weight of its supposedly corroborative detail.

Then, Coughlin produces a piece (December 13) saying that
Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.

Needless to say, the usual suspects were up and running: William Safire and Mark Steyn for instance; and lesser hacks like David Reinhard - me, neither... - were bashing anti-war folk with the stunning news.

Except that the Atta story looks as flaky as the 45 minute one.Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball on the Newsweek site (December 17) have had a little inside information themselves - from U.S. law enforcement officials - to the effect that the FBI's timeline for Mohamed Atta's movements don't tie in with what Coughlin says his documents say. They make the story highly unlikely to be true.

While anonymous source evidence even from within USG is not exactly guaranteed reliable, a measure of the lack of credibility to be accorded the Coughlin story is the fact that Ahmed Chalabi - no mean spinner of tales himself - says the memo detailing Atta's supposed visit to Baghdad as
clearly nonsense

(Josh Marshall has more.)

There is a testy little piece (December 19) in Editor & Publisher under the head When Will Press Stop Circulating Dubious Iraq Claims? which slates the Coughlin Atta piece in particular.

And what, you might ask, has Coughlin to say for himself?

Contacted by Newsweek, The Sunday Telegraph's Con Coughlin acknowledged that he could not prove the authenticity of the document. He said that while he got the memo about Mohammed Atta and Baghdad from a "senior" member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was "genuine," he and his newspaper had "no way of verifying it. It's our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens," he said.

Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.

Hacks - dontcha love 'em...


Bloviation on Strom reaching Force Trent

In England, hundreds gather of a weekend to re-enact the battles of the Civil War (the Cromwell v King Charles one), in costume and with weapons, camp-followers and much gusto.

In the US, one has Colonial Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation.

Now, it seems, some of the temporally challenged (ie, by having been born too late for the real thing) are looking to make good a gap in their PC CV by re-fighting the civil rights struggle by tilting at the propped-up corpse of Strom Thurmond.

A new level on the Beaufort Scale of synthetic white outrage - with the assistance of quotes from a bouquet of black academics - is reached with a piece in Salon (December 18 - behind ad-wall) by Rebecca Traister [1].

Now, I'd have thought the target readership a Salon writer would have in mind would be American, pretty sophisticated and well-read, and looking for well-supported argument and insightful analysis. From Traister, one gets a gush of emotional mush.

The opening grafs start as Traister means to go on:
In 1948, while running for president of the United States on the Dixiecrat ticket, Strom Thurmond proclaimed, "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement."

But in 1925 it apparently had taken neither legislation nor bayonet to force a 16-year-old black maid named Carrie Butler into the bed of Thurmond himself, then a 22-year-old graduate of Clemson University living with his parents in Edgefield, S.C.

In target age-range, evidently, she's decided to pitch it to the lower end of junior high - an age when issues can be neatly black-and-white, and there isn't too much knowledge to get in the way of a good story.

Because, evidently, she's looking for readers to be shocked (and not in the Captain Reynaud sense) about the bayonet thing; and not to squirm at the sophomoric segue.

(The rest of us will note her use of the word force - carrying the sleazy implication that Strom raped Carrie Butler. For which there is absolutely no evidence at all.

In the next sentence she refers to their union. Go figure. [2])

We're evidently meant to be shocked despite the fact that, as she points out, the Strom/Carrie tale is
surely one of the oldest stories in America

(And she assumes as fact that Thomas Jefferson fathered bastards by Sally Hemings, which, so far as I'm aware, has yet to be proved.)

Traister's shtick is to be (professionally) amazed at her own profession:
But why is the truth of Thurmond's bloodlines only being reported widely now that Thurmond is dead? Why has the same press corps that was eager enough to expose the power-skewed sexual assignations of President Clinton held its tongue about a lawmaker whose interracial liaison might have changed the way his politics were received?

(The good old reliable C-word gives a sense of other axes being ground, perhaps.)

She volunteers a suggestion:
The most likely explanation for the mainstream news media's failure to report the story (assuming they knew about it and found it credible) is the ethics rule -- whether unspoken or explicit -- against exposing people's personal secrets or private lives, unless they are in a position of power and their personal life has a direct bearing on their official actions.

Now, my understanding [3] is that rumours of Essie Mae's existence were rife from his appearance in the official limo at her college in Orangeburg in the late 1940s; and followed him to the US Senate, around about which she was regularly seen. But her refusal to corroborate kept the story out of the press.

Besides a mainstream news outlet did report the story - if Ms Traister would condescend to admit the Washington Post to that distinction:
The Post identified Williams by her maiden name in 1992, in a lengthy account of Williams's relationship with Thurmond. The article reported that "both Thurmond and the supposed daughter have denied that he is her father, and no one has provided evidence that he is."

(She later contradicts herself again by mentioning the 1992 WaPo piece.)

And, is she suggesting that the media follow up on any salacious gossip, regardless of the position of the people affected? Even Salon hacks?

There is no shortage of bloviators ready to flutter fans of Southern-matron outrage at humming-bird speed for Traister's benefit.

Randall Kennedy of Harvard inquires ominously
I wonder why was this not raised when he was alive and powerful and this might have been worth something?

And when exactly was he powerful? And how and for whom exactly would it have been worth something? As I've pointed out several times, Strom's recklessness back in Jim Crow days implied that he didn't think his voters would mind. And, by 1992, he'd made his peace with South Carolina blacks, more or less.

It would have been great Wag the Dog action for Clinton during Monicagate, mind you...

Stephen Wainscott of Clemson U says
Basically this smacks of hush money that was paid to silence her.

Why would he pay (especially as generously as he appears to have done) if she was going to blab all over town with the story? Get this guy some fresh Pampers [4]!

And Alvin Poussaint is, as ever, not lost for words (emphasis mine):
She didn't have Strom Thurmond as a father in any tangible sense. He was the classic absent father -- the thing they like to put on black men -- and she must have felt in her heart somewhere that he didn't love her.

Anachronistic fantasy, grievance politics and a Hammond organ in the background! Depression, World War pale into insignificance as causes of childhood distress compared with the nefarious absent fatherhood of Strom.

He's only started:
And, Poussaint continued, the feelings of rejection would not have stopped at the particulars of their personal relationship. "Here was this rabid segregationist spewing hatred toward black people, a man who in every public way was saying 'You are inferior' and that on some level he despises you, in the same way that Jefferson kept his children slaves. This is beyond hypocrisy; there is something sick about this stuff."

The poor chap seems on the point of cardiac distress - he spews some mean hatred himself, does Alvin. (And again with Jefferson.)

He has one final shot in his locker:
One thing to consider is, Did he rape her? We know at that time in history that a white man could have had a black woman for the pickings ... The definition of rape down there, back then, this didn't have a definition for black women. They were close to property, totally disenfranchised and without power; there was no one to protect them.

Now, it would, I suspect, be true that not many white men would have been convicted for raping a Negro woman in South Carolina in 1925. Probably none. But Poussaint has no evidence for his smear whatsoever.

In fact, as Traister points out,
In an interview on "60 Minutes II" Wednesday night, Washington-Williams characterized the relationship between her mother and Sen. Thurmond as an "affair"...

Amazing - or perhaps not - that Poussaint finds it hard to comprehend the possibility that Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler had an affectionate relationship, whilst the erstwhile bigots of Edgefield County seem rather relaxed on the subject. (On the other hand, Poussaint is only nine years or so younger than Essie Mae, according to this - I suspect his anachronistic grandstanding may be tactical.)

Why the white high dudgeon? Because Strom is a safe bogey-man - segregationist and bad father! - and can be visited with guiltless, context-free invective.

Whereas a contemplation of the real history of Essie May Washington's lifetime would require hard work; and would have to include such unpalatable facts as the widespread neglect and institutionalisation of large numbers of children (North and South); and the conniving of generations of Northern politicians at the continuation of the system of Jim Crow - for immediate personal and political gain, and in order to avoid the horrors of a second Southern insurrection in defence of a second Peculiar Institution.

  1. Who, failing online information, I'm assuming is white.

  2. Similarly, she first refers to Essie Mae as half-black and later as
    Thurmond's black daughter
  3. For earlier Strom pieces, work back from here.

  4. Wainscott also casually states that
    People like George Wallace and Gene Talmadge may have had similar dalliances.
    No suggestion there might be any actual evidence: he just thought, it seems, that, while kicking one former segregationist, he might as well take a free swing at one or two others.

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