President Wilhelm II

Recently I’ve been re-reading Lamar Cecil’s highly enjoyable two-volume biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II. I picked up the complete biography shortly after the final volume came out in 1996 and have read it through a few times since.  Vol. I runs from his birth through 1900, and Vol. II takes him up through his death in 1941 a few days before Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

[Aside: I cannot fathom people who cannot understand re-reading a book. I’ve yet to meet anyone – and certainly I myself am not such – who is so perceptive that he picks up every last detail, every nuance, every interpretive shading, every careless conclusion, every challenge to his established thinking, on the first read-through. Just as you can never set foot in the same stream twice, because the water continuously flows and your second step is in different water, so you can never read a book as the same person twice. I would have first read Wilhelm II five or so years before my oldest child was born. I can tell you to a certainty that today I read the chapters on his troubled relationship with his parents, Uncle Bertie, and Granny Victoria through eyes that are substantively different than the eyes which first read those books. Similarly I have since 1996 read no small number of other books treating of the same times, personalities, and events. I think I would be fool indeed if nothing of what I have learned and seen and thought in the interval provided any deeper color, or more helpful perspective, on Wilhelm.]

At the risk of a plot-spoiler, Cecil’s summing-up comes down to this, in the final paragraph of Vol. II:

“What debts do Germans of today owe to their last kaiser? * * * Unhappily, there are none. It would seem that the last of the kaisers deserves, for his own time and place in history, the brutal envoi that the Duke of Wellington paid to King George IV, an inglorious king who had ruled England long before his kinsman Wilhelm was born. He was a sovereign, the Iron Duke regretfully concluded, who lived and died without having been able to assert so much as a single claim on the gratitude of posterity.”

In his preface Cecil observes that he’s spent some 30 years with Wilhelm; presumably that condemnation is the fruit of all those years’ acquaintance.

Wilhelm still fascinates, though. Seldom has a ruler come to a throne with such enormous capital in goodwill, youth, energy, and native intelligence. Seldom has a ruler come to a throne to rule over a people offering the scope of potential which late 19th Century Germany offered. Seldom has a ruler with such a people and such resources hit an historical sweet spot so squarely as Wilhelm II did. The Imperial Germany of 1889 to the crown of which Wilhelm succeeded was incontestably the most vibrant, most powerful nation in the most vigorous, prosperous, admired continent in the world.  To borrow a naval metaphor, Germany was hurtling down the catapult, afterburners fully lit off, and with nothing but clear sky off the bow and above.  By a freak of pathology — his father’s cancer — Wilhelm was able to hop into the cockpit and strap in before it cleared the flight deck.

As headily as Germany was advancing in 1889, in terms of learning, industry, the sciences, the arts, and general human advancement, the Germany of 1889 was just getting started. Britain, getting first off the mark of industrialization in the late 1700s, had hit and was beginning to pass her peak by then. France never would really get there. Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were decrepit, mis-ruled societies still mired in centuries’ worth of inertia, corruption, and political stasis. The Netherlands and Belgium were making the run, but they were tiny, their influence on the larger course of the world negligible. Only Britain with her titanic empire and her absolute mastery of the seas which bound it together could seriously dispute Germany’s rise had she chosen.  She did not choose to; German merchants were winning ever-greater market share wherever they went . . . and thanks to a merchant marine that was expanding exponentially, they went wherever they pleased, the Royal Navy bearing the burden of protecting their trade as well. The United States, still hobbled by the lingering effects of the Panic of 1873 and with an entire region of the country – the South – still devastated from the Civil War, was only slowing beginning to see its way to becoming the behemoth it did. Think not? In 1889, American trains rolled on seamless tires manufactured in Essen by Krupp.

Had Wilhelm had the vision and strength of character to seize his world-historical opportunity – to repeat: the confluence of favorable circumstances at his accession was nearly unique in all history – even today the Wilhelmine Era might be looked back upon as not a gilded (as that time in the U.S. has become known) but a Golden Age.

And Wilhelm pissed it away. All of it. All the way down to his very throne itself. Not only did he wreck his army, the beautiful army to which he addressed his very first message as kaiser, but by the end of the war hundreds of thousands of civilians had been starved to death by the punishing blockade imposed by the Royal Navy.  That would be the same navy which at one time had benignly stood guard over the trade routes German merchants followed to bring untold wealth back home. Wilhelm put to plow, disked, raked, and fertilized the soil from which Hitler’s monstrosities grew. In 1914 Germany was the most over-educated, flourishing society in Europe, and in fact in most of the world. It was well on the way towards the society which, by the time Hitler came along, held more Nobel prizes in the sciences than everyone else put together.  In terms of the acid question of how ordinary people lived, only certain regions of the United States even came close to it (and in what is called the Life of the Mind, America had adopted entire chunks of the German Way of Doing Things, such as its university system; large portion of the “Progressive” creed sweeping the nation in the hand of people like T. Roosevelt and Wilson had similarly been taken over wholesale from German political thought). If Serious Learning can in fact be a safeguard against the societal expression of the darkest of human nature, then in Germany if anywhere that proposition should have held. But it wasn’t even fifteen years since Wilhelm slipped over the border into the Netherlands that Germans went to the polls and elected the Nazis, and only eighteen years and six months – just barely enough time for a child to be born and grow to majority age – between August, 1914 and January 30, 1933. Talk about “fundamental transformation.”

As repeatedly observed and illustrated by Cecil, the defective monarch who presided over this wastage of human potential was someone who had been told all his life long how clever he was, how infallible his judgments, how extraordinary, how central to a world-historical phenomenon he was. He surrounded himself with sycophants and charlatans, people whose sole function was to breathe reassurance into his ears, who shielded him from all information which might disturb his self-image of a figure of massive importance, keen insight, and unlimited talents. He kept these playthings about him until he tired of them or their presence became awkward to him or they failed somehow to live up (down?) to his standard of boot-licking, at which time they were cast aside with nary a further thought. No matter what he mucked up, it was always someone else’s fault – the Jews, Lord Salisbury, his Uncle Bertie (later Edward VII), the Catholics, or his servants who were just insufficiently loyal to the Hohenzollern crown and its cosmic destiny.

He fancied himself august beyond approach, the arbiter of sophistication, taste, and learning. In fact his intelligence, which was not mean at all (even those who fully appreciated his character flaws confessed themselves very impressed by the speed with which he could grasp issues and by his phenomenal memory, the latter a trait he shared with his grandmother), was nonetheless dilettantish, spanning a broad range but very, very little if anything penetrated to any depth. His judgments were snap and superficial, usually formed in terms of how an external stimulus had affected or reflected on him, and how his response to it would emphasize or might diminish his importance and dominance. He scrupulously screened those whom he permitted into his court for pedigree and function. If you weren’t of ancient nobility, or among the very highest governmental officials, or a military officer, then by and large you were simply not hoffähig (presentable). Of course, at his disportments – and he spent a phenomenal amount of time on vacation, hunting in the fall and winter, sailing in the summer, and betwixt and between flitting about the place, inviting himself to his fellow sovereigns and his wealthier nobles – you were perfectly fine as long as you were filthy rich enough. It was on the water, for example, that he hung out with American (and a few English) plutocrats. The Krupps, Thyssens, Stumms, Henckels, and so forth were very much to his taste – outside Berlin. And to repeat: He spent as little time in Berlin as he could get away with doing.  Everyone who ever knew him, from his childhood on, remarked at how little work he was willing to do, how little the hard work of mastering the governing process interested him, how willingly he cast his duties aside to play dress-up soldier.

Through it all, he never, ever learned. Anything. Even at Doorn, as a lonely, bitter old man, he was convinced that he had been right all along, that it was them, all those other people, who had ruined him.

And then it hit me: Our current Dear Leader is neither more nor less than Wilhelm II transcribed for 21st Century America, like Bach’s setting Vivaldi’s A minor violin concerto for organ (except instead of a masterpiece Dear Leader’s delivered up an excrescence). He’s spent his entire life being told how wonderfully clever he is, how infallible his judgments are, how destined (dare we say it? predestined) he is to play a fundamentally transformative role not only in his own country but on a world stage. Wilhelm’s acknowledged intelligence somehow never produced any noteworthy scholarly or mental achievement; we’ve been assured for seven years now how Dear Leader is just so brilliant that governing us contemptible roobs just bores him to death . . . and yet we have yet to see so much as an elementary school report card by way of actual documentation. Dear Leader’s books apparently were ghost-written; so were Wilhelm’s. Like the kaiser, Dear Leader too surrounds himself with groveling, fawning, truckling courtiers who vie for his attention by finding amusements for him and singing hosannas of praise of him, to him.  And like the Kaiser, Dear Leader is notorious for throwing his people under the bus, as soon as it becomes expedient to do so.

Dear Leader, like Wilhelm, fancies himself a consummate diplomat and statesman; like Wilhelm, his peers the world over view him with a mixture of pity and contempt, and more or less with impunity defy his wishes. Wilhelm could seldom utter six sentences in a row without telling an outright fable or offending someone who meant him well. Dear Leader, when prized away from his Telepromptr, is renowned for his ability to say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong people. When Wilhelm let his guard down, as in the Daily Telegraph interview, out came gushing a torrent of falsehood, confusion, illogic, petulance, and self-pity.  When Dear Leader gets off-script and speaks his mind, we get treated to . . . well, to the same bizarre mixture of lies about himself and his actions, self-pity that no one will do as he instructs, and glimpses into an understanding of the world which conforms to exactly no observable data at all.  No one, absolutely no one with anything more than bare walking-around sense, believes a word coming from Dear Leader’s pie-hole, exactly as Wilhelm’s bloviating was treated by his contemporaries both within German government and abroad.

Wilhelm’s capacity for empty rhetoric and bombast (remember it was the dear ol’ kaiser who exhorted his troops to behave like Huns when he sent them to China to suppress the Boxers; how’d that work out for you, sport?) was limitless. In our own time we have a candidate for office the mere nomination of whom by his party causes the planet to cool and the seas to recede (paging King Cnut! King Cnut!!), “red lines” that suddenly aren’t, high-flown gobbledy-gook about post-partisan healing matched with relentless race- and class-baiting, ceaseless tripe about the “one percent” all while siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from precisely the plutocrats about whom he gasses on to us, and on whose Martha’s Vineyard estates he relaxes from his next-most-recent vacation.

Speaking of which, like Wilhelm, Dear Leader views his time at his government desk as so much tedium between vacations.  Like the kaiser, our latter-day Wilhelm always, always travels in high state, with fleets of flunkeys, retainers, and of course boorish-but-wealthy louts and hangers-on to lend a tinselly air of glamor to it all.

Wilhelm by virtue of having been born to his throne knew nearly nothing of the country he was destined to rule, and in fact even managed to avoid learning anything during his brief time in school and at the university. Dear Leader, born (according to his own statements made over the course of decades) abroad and raised in luxury in the fairy-tale atmosphere of Hawaii, makes a point of flaunting his ignorance of us little people out in fly-over country, commiserating with His People about how stupid we are in our clinging to our God and our guns.

Most striking of all is the absolute, immune-to-all-data conviction observable in both Wilhelm and Dear Leader of their own sublime magnificence, their all-encompassing infallibility in everything on which they choose to bestow the grace of their attention. Kool Aid didn’t exist in Wilhelmine Germany, but if it had, the kaiser would have drained his own pitcher, repeatedly and with a smirk on his face. And no one in modern American life appears more eager to believe his own bullshit than Dear Leader.

I could go on. Of course no historical parallel is ever perfect, and that’s no less true in the comparison of Wilhelm II and Dear Leader. But Jesus Christ and General Jackson! the resemblance is strong, disturbingly strong.

There is, of course, one significant point of distinction between the two:  Wilhelm actually desired the prosperity and security of his country; however boorish he might have been about it, he was unapologetically German.  Dear Leader is, at his warmest, profoundly ambivalent about the United States, and from everything he has said or done, both before taking office and since, genuinely believes that the world would be a better place with a less-powerful, less-prosperous, less-imitated America.

Wilhelm found a flourishing garden and left it a charnel house the toxins of which leach into the air and water of world society to this day. Where will we find ourselves, fifteen years after Dear Leader departs?

Christmas 1914

I’d meant to blog this in time for Christmas Eve, but what with a great deal of family turmoil (father-in-law 1,500 miles away dying, and wife has disappeared for ten days and counting to take it all in) it just didn’t work out that way. These things sometimes happen.

Christmas Eve this year was the centenary of one of the most amazing occurrences in the history of nations. Beginning on December 24, 1914, and continuing over the course of a few days, several thousand British, French, and German soldiers on the Western Front spontaneously and collectively said, “Enough,” and downed arms.

It started with Christmas carols. The troops sang – had been singing since the beginning of the war – amongst themselves, in the manner of soldiers since Caesar stood road guard.

In this connection I’d observe that soldiers and sailors can be among the most soppy of sentimentalists. Maybe it’s something about the rawness of combat, seeing one’s friends and comrades shredded to bits of meat, or dying slowly of fevers, the flux, or gangrene (for those who survived their wounds initially), which opens the mind to the essence of human feeling. Combat troops can’t afford the oh-so-sophisticated detachment we civilians like to wear as a sign of our world-weary, weight-of-the-universe-on-our-shoulders mental and moral elevation above the rabble. For them the whole point of human existence can within seconds be reduced to the question of whether you’re going to get it or am I. Or in the first-person lyrics of “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden“: Eine Kugel kam geflogen; gilt sie mir oder gilt sie dir?

For centuries about all the troops had to amuse themselves, whether on the march or in camp – other than alcohol and whores of course, and the occasional sack of a city such as Magdeburg or Badajoz (for those who survived storming the walls) – was music. Simple tunes which could be played on penny whistles, harmonica, or fiddle. Songs which lent themselves to keys reachable by musically untutored men singing in groups. Quite a number of those tunes and songs have lasted to this day: “Soldier’s Joy” dates to the 1600s; “Muß i’ denn,” the unofficial song of the gunners, was used by Elvis. Back in 1965 or so, Columbia Records released two collections of Civil War music, one for the Confederacy and one for the Union; in the 1990s a soundtrack for Ken Burns’s The Civil War came out (unfortunately the Burns soundtrack is solely instrumental; the Columbia recordings have the words and excellent, very extensive liner notes). Still later the popularity of the movie dramatization of Master and Commander spawned a momentary revival of interest in sailors’ songs and tunes.

The Germans, especially those from the Protestant tradition, engaged in group singing with particular zest, even by the standards of the time and place. This isn’t exactly scientifically established fact, but it strikes me that going all the way back to Luther, the communal singing of the great chorales was part of daily life in the areas which became Germany. Listen to them – “Nun danket alle Gott” (from 1636, in the darkest days of the Thirty Years’ War); “Lobe den Herren“; “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (among the very earliest Protestant songs, from 1524); “Lob Gott getrost mit Singen” (from 1544) – and you realize that you’re listening to the national music of a people. During the Great War the German troops frequently sang on the march. According to the myth of First Ypres (what the Germans recall as the Kindermord bei Ypern – the Slaughter of the Innocents at Ypres), the nearly-raw recruits shoved into combat sang “Deutschland über alles” as they marched onto the Old Contemptibles’ gunsights. Large numbers of them were August 1914 enlistees and were for all intents untrained when they were hurled against some of the best marksmen in the war.

A final off-topic observation: Among the most heart-rending passages in all the James Herriot books – it’s in the last one, The Lord God Made Them All – is his relation of hearing Russian troops singing one evening. They’d been liberated from slave labor in Germany at the end of World War II, and since it was impossible to maintain them where they were found, thousands of them were brought back to rural England. It must have seemed like paradise to them, green, fertile, with houses and village un-blasted by artillery or bombs, the air smelling neither of putrefying human bodies nor the smoke from corpses. One evening Herriot overheard them singing among themselves, songs which of course he couldn’t understand, not knowing Russian, but obviously songs of longing, loss, and heartache. The Russians, in their Orthodox church, had a similarly rich tradition of massed choral singing; after a few centuries of it you sort of get, as a culture, the hang of it. It nearly moved Herriot to tears. He couldn’t have known it at the time, but those prisoners, who had somehow managed to cheat the reaper who had massacred so many millions of their comrades, whether by starvation, labor, disease, or ordinary bullets, were in the process of being sold down the river by Churchill and Roosevelt. They were all compulsorily returned to the Soviet Union, where nearly to a man they were either shot out of hand or forwarded on to the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn, who met hundreds if not thousands of them over his time in the camps, points out that they were branded “traitors of the Motherland” rather than traitors “to” her, as would have been the normal usage. He also wonders, pointedly, how it was that in neither the Napoleonic invasion nor the charnel house of World War I did any Russians in any discernible numbers betray their Motherland, while after over twenty years of liberation of the proletarian and the peasant . . . they were declared to have betrayed her literally by the million.

In any event, Christmas 1914 started with the troops’ singing of carols. In many places the trenches were close enough that each side could hear the other plainly.  In many places the Germans had decorated their parapets with tiny Christmas trees, adorned in part with tiny candles. [Aside:  The institution of the Christmas tree is entirely German in origin, and wasn’t introduced to the Anglosphere until George III’s wife Charlotte came along and wanted something to remind her of home. George, being almost touchingly uxorious, obliged her with trees sprinkled about the royal palaces, and from there it spread to the aristocracy and eventually further on down the social scale. The tradition received added impetus from Victoria and her German husband Albert (Victoria grew up speaking German at home and she, Albert, and all their children spoke it in the family, which is why Edward VII never quite got over a slight guttural undertone in his English).]

At some point during Christmas Eve 1914 something clicked, and the troops began to mount their parapets and venture into no-man’s-land. It’s hard to track exactly who initiated it, and how, and in what order, although according to some reports it was the Germans who took the first steps. Not all the troops joined in. On the German side the Prussians by and large held back; it was the Saxons, the Bavarians, and the smaller contingents who participated. It was all, of course, entirely against orders, and without the knowledge of the higher-ups. In some cases it appears that shelling was laid on to discourage the fraternization. But for the most part, where the troops were willing the spirit ruled.

On Christmas Day there was, in the affected sectors, a general truce. The men buried their dead, cleaned up their turf, swapped chocolate, cigarettes, headgear, and insignia. Being Europeans, someone had a soccer ball and several impromptu matches were held among the shell holes. Letters got passed to be mailed to acquaintances in the other countries; many Germans, especially, had worked in England before the war, and so not only spoke good English but had formed friendships with the locals. The war had not yet obliterated the affection from their hearts.

Things carried on for the day, and in some sectors for a day or two after Christmas. By the New Year life and death were back to normal along the front, and the men who had proudly showed off pictures of wives, children, and girlfriends were blasting away at each other once again. The brass was of course livid, and where they could identify “ringleaders” it came down like a ton of bricks. I’ve never read that anyone was actually shot for fraternizing with the enemy, but I’d be very surprised if more than a few junior officers didn’t have their careers ruined because they either failed to stop their men or had joined in themselves. On the other hand, one has to wonder precisely how much you can ruin a man’s “career” when it’s pretty much a statistical certainty that he’s going to get killed in any event (the highest percentage casualties on all sides was among exactly those junior officers; they were the ones who went over the top with the troops, who lead their men into hostile trenches, whose job it was to show themselves physically contemptuous of certain death).

It happened again in 1915, to a smaller extent. This time the high commands were ready, and specifically directed shelling along those sectors where they feared the contours of the front lent themselves to such goings-on.

It never happened again during the war, and I’ve not heard of it happening during the 1939-45 war. Verdun beginning in February 1916 and the Somme in July put paid to the notion of we’re all in this together, only on opposite sides. The mountains of corpses not only contained many of the men who had looked about and taken the message of Christmas so earnestly in 1914 and 1915. Those same dead, and their maimed brothers, beckoned the survivors to revenge, not reconciliation; to savagery, not gentleness; to the war as its own purpose, calling, and unity, not to the message of glad tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all nations.

The Christmas truce of 1914 has been the subject of at least one quite readable book — Silent Night — as well as a tri-national film from 2005, Joyeux Noël. The latter was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film, and I highly recommend it. It’s set among the ruins of a farm in France (the farm cat has somehow made it thus far, and among the French soldiers is a man from that village who knows the cat and his name – Nestor – and he gets into a gentle dispute when he undertakes to correct a German private who calls him Felix).  The protagonists are companies of Scots, French, and Germans. There are a few ironic twists; the German lieutenant is Jewish, for example. [This is not Hollywood invention, either; there really were Jewish officers in the German army: The major who recommended one A. Hitler for the Iron Cross was Jewish, and among the very few German Jews initially spared the oppressions of the Nuremberg Laws were decorated veterans from the war.]  Some of the plot features are of course dramatic inventions – the German private who in civilian life is an opera star sneaking his opera-star wife into the trenches for a private concert, for example. But a great deal of the specific events depicted did actually happen at one place or another along the front – church services, burial parties, swapping of food and booze, the soccer matches of course, and so forth.

There are moments of tremendous sentimentality in the movie. The reason that the opera star wife is at the front in the first place is that she’s used her connections with the Kaiser to arrange a Christmas concert at the headquarters of his son, the Crown Prince. Of course she’s just got to have her husband to sing, and gets him detached for the evening to appear with her. They perform “Bist du bei mir,” arranged to Bach’s melody (the actual song is apparently older than Bach) from the Anna Magdalena Notebook. Watching them sing – if you know German at least – you realize it’s a love song, the narrator comforting himself at his death with his love’s presence: Ach how pleasurable were my end, if your beautiful hands were to close my faithful eyes (“Ach wie vergnügt, wäre so mein Ende; es drückten deine schönen Hände mir die getreuen Augen zu.”). For a brief moment the camera cuts to the ancient French couple whose house has been commandeered for HQ, and who’ve been exiled to the basement; they can hear the singing and the husband gently lays his hand across his wife’s.  Another such moment is when, back at the front (he turns down a night in the sack with her, in order to go back to his comrades), the Scottish chaplain, who also (of course) plays the pipes, first joins in “Stille Nacht,” then by way of request plays the first bars of “Adeste, fideles,” and opera singer mounts the parapet, grabs a Christmas tree, and strides into no-man’s-land, singing as he goes. O Come, All Ye Faithful. And they come, the other pipers joining in.

If you look the movie up on and check out the reviews, you get a good illustration of how reviews not infrequently reveal as much about the reviewer as about his subject. Several of the reviews – e.g. this one from The New York Times – take the movie to task for being too sentimental, too “vague,” insufficiently sophisticated (the NYT, entirely predictably, confuses cynicism with sophistication . . . they’re not at all the same thing). As if. Oddly enough, it’s Roger Ebert who gets it right: “Its sentimentality is muted by the thought that this moment of peace actually did take place, among men who were punished for it, and who mostly died soon enough afterward. But on one Christmas, they were able to express what has been called, perhaps too optimistically, the brotherhood of man.”  These things actually happened. Real people made the actual decision to forego enmity, bloodshed, and hardness of heart to embrace, for a few hours, the fundamental, astounding message of Christ’s coming: Glad tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all nations.

Now compare the NYT‘s gripe:  “Another reason [why the movie “feel[s] as squishy and vague as a handsome greeting card declaring peace on earth”] is that the movie’s cross-section of soldiers from France, Scotland and Germany are so scrupulously depicted as equal-opportunity peacemakers that they never come fully to life as individuals. All are well-spoken mouthpieces for cut-and-dried perspectives that vary somewhat, according to rank, background and war experience. As ferociously as they may fight, these soldiers are civilized good guys underneath their uniforms. When they go at one another, they’re only following orders.”  Gosh, maybe it’s shown that way because, you know . . . that’s the way it actually was?  Those soldiers did all come from something they would have understood and recognized as a common European cultural tradition, with common assumptions about themselves and their world, common assumptions (up until August 1914) about the future, a common religious tradition.  For the benefit of the NYT‘s reviewer, who seems to be utterly ignorant of history, what made the Great War so horrific for its participants was that it tore to ribbons 400 years of how Europe had understood itself.  Even the scale of the Napoleonic wars could be fit into the pattern of dynastic feuds, territorial ambitions, shell-and-pea alliance systems.  There was great slaughter between 1792-1815, but it was not beyond human comprehension.  The Great War was like nothing anyone had ever seen or imagined.  The characters in this movie are not just individuals who are marked to die; they are the carriers of a doomed heritage, and we the viewers are trusted to be sophisticated enough to understand that . . . although that trust turned out to be misplaced with the NYT‘s reviewer.

If the movie seems too much like a greeting card declaring “peace on earth,” I suggest that Gentle Reader might contemplate whether that’s because we have so debased the very notion of Christmas and its meaning that to state it in plain Saxon seems . . . well, “squishy.”  You see, the truly subversive aspect of Christianity, the genuinely transgressive part, is exactly “peace on earth.” Other religions might have placed emphasis on being nice to one’s fellows, but all those were tribal gods, and the fellows to whom one was supposed to be nice were other members of the tribe. In the crucible of combat it’s hard enough to maintain the humanity of one’s own comrades in mind; to embrace within that notion the guys pointing their guns at you is taking the confession of our commonality to a level unknown to civilian life (it’s certainly beyond the ken of that NYT reviewer). The Christmas truce was in fact – and not just in the fetid imagination of some Hollywood scriptwriter – a physical manifestation of the essence of Christmas. And of course, in watching the movie, we the viewers know What Comes Next: After the events depicted were over, these real men really went back to killing each other. By November, 1918, most of those real men were dead or maimed for life in body or soul. Gee whiz; let’s think of how can we taint this with our own cynicism, so as to let all Those in the Know get it that we’re so much better than those men who chose, for a few brief hours, actually to embrace the message brought to us all those centuries ago?

True heroism is seldom sophisticated; it hasn’t the time for it. True heroism always touches upon the deepest, simplest, most noble human attributes. These things don’t lend themselves to all this bullshit about on-the-other-hand and it’s-complicated and you-wouldn’t-understand and fully-developed-as-individuals. It’s about the kind of stuff you find . . . well, you find a lot of it in the Bible: Greater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friend, just to pick one off the top of the head. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life. Paul going to Rome, knowing full well what awaits him there. The real men who actually laid down their arms were men who could say words like “hero,” “honor,” and “manhood” without smirking or winking.  If that’s not sufficiently worldly-wise for some dim-bulb movie reviewer from New York . . . well, that tells you about all you need to know about that reviewer, and the publication which gives him air.

And so now, in this 21st Century, a full hundred years after those men went Over the Top, not with fear in their mouths and death in their hearts, but in comradeship and – dare we say it? – love, let us contemplate what those men knew, that we have forgot. Do we, can we hear an echo within us of the Glad Tidings of Great Joy? And can we reject the tarted up “sophistication” so beloved of the NYT to embrace the simple humanity of the soldiers who, a century ago, said, “Enough”?

Joyeux Noël.

[P.S.  Reason has a nice piece on the truce as well, here.]

When it’s all About the Ideology

You can tell that you’re in the cloud-cuckoo land of ideology when you are obliged to do stupid things in its name, even though everyone with even bare walking-around sense knows better.  For instance, after the Nazis kicked the Jews out of all university and school faculties (speaking as an American and therefore a beneficiary of all that human capital flooding to our country, I can’t help but observe that it was so much the better for us, here in the “decadent” Anglosphere), it was decreed that only “Aryan” mathematics and science be taught.  Somewhere (it’s quoted in Solzhenitsyn, but I can’t recall which volume) there’s a quotation from whatever party organization was in charge of ruining Soviet education, to the effect that “we stand for the principles of Marxism-Leninism in physics,” or something along those lines.  Really happened.  Can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, the communists were very explicit that for them, ideology in fact did trump everything, even abstract notions of truth and justice.  In the Gulag, it was the true believers who most vehemently denied that the objective fact of their own innocence was at all an indictment of the system that put them inside for a “ten-ruble bill” or a “quarter.”  There was the Party Line, and only the Party Line.  Whatever the Party Line was at the moment was truth and to be defended unto death.  Until it wasn’t the Party Line any more.  The Germans used to sigh, when someone they knew got raked in and worked over by the Gestapo or Kripo, because he’d had the temerity to say the wrong thing around the water cooler one morning, “If only the Führer knew!”

The communists and the Nazis were both political parties and movements.  Politics necessarily tends towards subordinating reality to ideology.  So while you can snicker about “Marxism-Leninism in physics,” you can at least acknowledge where they’re coming from.

On the other hand, a movement that is supposedly about truth, about justice, about fairness, about each of us being validated as a fully-equal human . . . that sort of movement is not supposed to have a “party line.”  The litmus test is then whether X, when X is some condition, or circumstance, or practice, or rule of existence, does or does not tend towards truth, justice, fairness, equality, or what have you.  If it does, then you embrace it; if it doesn’t, then you reject it.

Over at The Federalist we have a brief article by someone name of Heather Wilhelm (which is a cool name, by the way; have to wonder if her friends have nicknamed her “Bill” or the “Kaiserin”).  Mme Wilhelm explains her reasons for distancing herself from the self-description of “feminist.”  I get the vibe from most of the article that she’s not interested in being something that requires her to endorse any of the several things which she describes.

I only want to comment on one part of her article, “Today’s ‘Feminists’ Give Terrible Advice About Safety.”  Which they do.  As she points out (correctly):

“Now, most modern feminists would get upset about the very existence of a sorority self-defense seminar—’teach muggers not to mug!’ and all that—but I was happy to be there. . . .’This false idea, that women’s behavior is the real reason they are victimized,’ wrote Katie McDonough at Salon, ‘is regularly used to blame sexual violence on the “problem” of young women today.’  Well, no. We all know where the blame lies: with the perpetrator. The goal is to encourage women to protect themselves, with reality being what it is. It almost leads one to wonder: Do feminists really care about women’s safety at all?”

The answer to her rhetorical question is that feminists do care, but only to the extent that doing so does not conflict with the tenets of their ideology.  They stand for the principles of gyno-centrism in physics, in other words.

I served right at four years in the combat fleet, on a guided missile destroyer.  It was the twilight of — well, not even the Old Navy, but rather — the navy in which it was anticipated that sailors would behave like sailors, rather than Boy Scouts.  It was taken for granted that when we put into a foreign port, crew members would seek out the whores and tattoo parlors. [Aside:  Sailors may wear tattoos.  It’s part of being a sailor.  South Seas Islanders may also wear them; it’s part of who they are as well.  Anyone else wearing a tattoo who’s didn’t receive it involuntarily from the Nazis in a concentration camp is tacky and conformist.  Sorry if this offends.  No, actually, I’m not.]  It was taken for granted they’d drink too much.  It was taken for granted they’d go around gawping like the tourists we were.  It was taken for granted that they’d blow their money on cheap touristy-trinkets.  There would be a box of condoms on the quarterdeck, and whoever wanted however many he wanted took what he thought he was going to need.

Here’s the tie-in to Mme Wilhelm’s article:  Part of the in-brief, and part of the pre-liberty call speech at each and every last stinkin’ port call was Where to Stay Away From, and earnest reminders of the buddy system.  We did a port visit in Ocho Rios once.  We were told that if we went out in groups of less than ten, we might get rolled.  If we went out in groups of less than five, we would get rolled.  In fact we had members of the United States Navy get mugged almost literally within sight of the ship.  Why did we put that word out to the men, each and every time?  Because it was good damned advice, and if you cared about your men’s health and safety, you told them what they needed to know.  To hell with it if someone was offended; I just wanted my sailors back on the ship in one piece.

Safety advice that is appropriate to members of the United States Armed Forces is advice that is certainly not inappropriate to a college co-ed.  I’ll just state that as an absolute principle.

Thank God we didn’t have to deal with a feminist theory of naval gunfire support, is all I can say, or non-phallo-centric anti-air warfare.

But seriously, today’s feminist insistence on unreality, in matters of safety advice and others (such as those pointed out in the linked article), is the give-away that we’re not dealing with a human rights movement but rather a political movement.  More to the point, it’s a political movement which insists that “the personal is political,” which is why an 18-year-old freshman’s not knowing the basics of physical self-defense (and going unarmed) is something properly addressed through the filter of ideology rather than ordinary common sense.  It’s not a stupid personal choice, but rather a political statement, to be defenseless.

I’ll close by observing that this insistence that the personal is political is a very dangerous position.  The “political” is something which is properly the subject of debate and collective action in and through the polis — and that includes me and everyone else.  If you elide the distinction between the personal and the political what you do is create a world in which everything that you do and are, every decision you make — and yes, this includes abortion as well, Dorothy — is properly the subject for a collective decision that’s not your own, and the implementation of that decision through the physical coercion of the state.  Modern feminism’s staking out its position on that line makes the dangerous assumption that their side is always going to come out the winner.  That’s not true; if nothing else the 20th Century should have cured us of the illusion that the “right” side always ends up with its hands on the levers of coercive power.

And what’s really distressing is that the lefties have no inkling that their conflation of the personal with the political is anything but “progressive.”  It’s as retrogressive as it could possibly be; see, for example, medieval sumptuary laws, or religious tests, or the Inquisition.  The whole Anglospheric conception of human liberty rests upon neither more nor less than the assertion that the personal is most definitely not political, and the willingness to defend that distinction at gun-point.

Excuse Me While I Drown Myself

I’m pretty sure that’s the intended response to this screed in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Amerika, du hast es schlechter” (“America, You’ve Got it Worse”).  The author is a boy — a German — name of Stephan Richter.  He co-founded The Globalist, an on-line magazine (homepage here).

A quick scan through several of the articles on this morning’s (04 Dec 14) page shows some common sense (“How to Deal With the Return of Hard Power Politics in Europe“: We’re not going to put Putin back in his sandbox without both diplomacy and the acknowledged ability and willingness to fight with both arms free).  That’s combined with some touching if perhaps starry-eyed hope-over-expectation (same article: “Hence, the third track in dealing with Russia now is one on which a competition of values is presented. It is a track that has always existed and has become stronger and stronger with the rise of the kind of technology that allows individuals to connect across borders — and without governmental regulation.  This third track, then, is maximizing the interconnections among people.”).

We also have some breath-of-fresh-air offerings (“How African-Americans and African Immigrants Differ“), which I wish had been co-authored.  The author is an immigrant from Sierra Leone; I wish he’d found a West Indian immigrant to pitch in, since we have a not-inconsiderable contingent from there (judging by their accented English a family of them was my back-yard-fence neighbors in Charleston in the 1990s).  I also wish the article had been longer, since its central idea is the comparison of how the two groups’ differing histories (the one descendants, by and large, of slavery, and the other frequently survivors of civil war, murderous domestic tyranny, and poverty the likes of which has never been seen on these shores since the days of the earliest European settlements) lead them to interact with and participate (or not) in the predominating “white” society and culture.  Thomas Sowell has touched on this notion as well, here and there (he may be among the deeper students of immigration and integration, worldwide, that we’ve got in the U.S.).  It deserves much more extensive examination than The Globalist offers space.  Interesting observations, though:

“When they come to the United States, it has been my experience that Africans can easily identify with white Americans because they understand each other. Before migrating to the United States, the majority of Africans have had little to no direct negative experiences with whites. They simply do not hate them.

* * * *

“Most African immigrants to the United States often live in mixed neighborhoods instead of black neighborhoods and they easily integrate. African immigrants know who they are. They are not easily offended when someone tries to put them down. They know where they come from and why they are here.”

I’d like to see this author explore the psychological intricacies of that last sentence.  He needs an essay-length format, at the least.

We also have the first installment of an entirely predictable That Awful South screed (and surprise! it’s from Comrade Richter): “America’s Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection“; the author seems to be mostly thankful that he’s not a Southerner.  The feeling is mutual, buddy.  He trots out the usual nonsense about how the rest of the country is “subsidizing” the South through the “spreading” of defense facilities “and production” through the South.  Oh dear.  It’s as if he’s never set foot outside the beltway.  Or worn a uniform (he’s German, and of an age that he would have had either to be drafted or done his “Zivildienst,” so that blind spot is hard to understand).  Let me explain it to him:  Where defense installations are placed is a function in North America (which has a continental climate and a very non-uniformly-dispersed population), overwhelmingly, of (i) weather; (ii) population density, and (iii) land values.

To illustrate:  Across most of the northern tier of the country, for a large portion of the year the weather is simply too brutal for infantry to train without massive health issues arising.  By all means, do cold-weather training, but only a dip-stick or someone with no other options would willingly base his ground forces where for weeks at a pop the high temperature will reliably be 15º F.  You can’t get around the fact that most of the South, most of the time, in most years, is well-suited for year-round outdoor training.

Population density:  Geez, do we put the Minuteman program and the B-52s in the Northeast Corridor, where something like a quarter of the U.S. population lives, so that when the Soviets (or now the Chinese) pickle off an alpha strike, they wipe out the centers of commerce, finance, and government?  Or do we scatter them over the Dakotas and Montana, where we can minimize the number of, you know, dead civilians?

Land value:  When the U.S. military went from pretty damned tiny to among the world’s largest, land was cheap in the South, not well-suited for agriculture, and in many areas not even very much used.  Hey:  Let’s buy up enough land to put Fort Hood in Westchester County, or maybe in Livonia, Michigan, or even Cincinnati.  Or we could put it out in the dried-up Texas landscape.  Well, Comrade Richter might reply, we could have put that up in the Dakotas, too.  See my comments about weather, above.  See also a map of the damned country.  It costs a boat-load of money to move stuff around an area as large as the United States; do you put major enterprises where you can get things to them relatively easily, or where you’re going to have to build all those networks from scratch? [In 1986 someone did a study of West Germany’s energy consumption:  They found that fully a third of their use was just moving people and things around the place.  Like the Victorian statesmen, Brer Richter’s been looking at the wrong-scale map.]

The South is also penetrated by a great deal of navigable water, from the Mississippi to the Ohio to the Tennessee to the Red to several others.  In the East you’ve got the fall line jammed up against the coast (except in, you know, Virginia and the Carolinas).  Additionally, across a huge chunk of the Upper South (Tennessee and northern Alabama) there was the TVA to provide cheap power, which had been building since 1933.  That program was most definitely not started as a government largesse operation, but rather as a pilot project for the destruction of the private electrical utility industry (Amity Schlaes tells the whole sordid story in The Forgotten Man).  The war intervened and the TVA become a one-off, but that had not been the design.  The Tennessee Valley was selected for the opening moves in the attack because of its cheap land (take a look at the lands those lakes flooded before the TVA came), its relative political backwardness, and its poverty, which made resistance less likely.

So let’s see:  Cheap land, easy access, useful climate.  No, no, no:  Let’s take our army and build its 102,000-acre (Ft. Campbell, Kentucky), 214,000-acre (Ft. Hood, Texas), or 100,646-acre (Ft. Riley, Kansas), and 160,000-acre (Ft. Bragg, North Carolina) facilities right outside Springfield, Massachusetts.  Or in Pennsylvania somewhere.  When we need someplace to put a brand-new 16,000-acre naval base for our Ohio-class submarines (too big to fit elsewhere), let’s buy up Newport, Rhode Island and do it there.  Or an even better idea:  Let’s take the naval installations at Norfolk, Virginia (which are historical outgrowths of maritime industry dating back before the Revolution, I’ll remind our dim-bulb author), shut them down, and go replicate them . . . oh . . . I don’t know, maybe in Oregon.  Because that’s such a better use of money.

Comrade Richter also seems to ignore the extent to which Southern California’s modern economy was pretty much built on the defense dollar.  Pull federal activities (military and otherwise) out of Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, and what exactly do you have left, except for hard-rock mining?  As for manufacturing, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, General Dynamics, Northrop-Grumman, General Motors, and Colt acquire new home addresses in Richter-land.  The steel mills which produce the HY-80 that’s in all those submarine hulls?  Those are in Arkansas, it seems.  Hanford is now in South Carolina.  USS Kennedy (CV-67) was kept in the fleet and put through a SLEP to keep not the Philadelphia but rather the Dothan, Alabama Naval Shipyard in business.  And let’s not forget the submarine fleet built by General Dynamics in Baton Rouge.

None of the above is to deny that Congresscritters of all stripes fight to pump money into their home districts.  It’s why Oak Ridge is in Tennessee.  But there were and remain very legitimate reasons why it was completely logical to build enormous bases for specific kinds of military activities (e.g. Edwards Air Force Base, which is not in Cobb County, Georgia) where the military built them.

Richter is also much exercised about Southern states’ reluctance to accept federal money to expand Medicaid programs, or as he says, “Washington sends money to help these regions to overcome wide-spread poverty, which is – 150 years after the end of the Civil War – often still race-based.  However, the South — as based largely on the wishes of its republicans governors — doesn’t want to have a huge chunk of it!”  For starts, coach, poverty is not “race-based”; it may be racially-correlated, but so is murder.  No one goes around enrolling blacks to be poor, nor does anyone check your skin color before you go broke.  [By the way, Richter’s own article’s last sub-heading is “Poverty is blind to race”.  Well, jackass, which is it?  You can’t have it both race-based and race-blind.  Pick your asinine position and stick with it, at least.]

More importantly, Richter ignores the principal reason why the expansion of Medicaid was resisted:  The federal money was time-limited.  Three years, but the program expansions would have been permanent.  We all got to see what happened in Tennessee, which did pretty much exactly what Richter demanded, starting in 1994, and almost bankrupted itself.  At one point something over a quarter of the state’s total population (including people making $60,000-plus per year, this back in the 1990s) was on the public dime.  The average patient had 19 active prescriptions.  It took the state more than a decade worth of litigation to prune the program back.  So no, dear ol’ Stephan, this refused offer of “federal money” for a limited time to blow up your state’s budget forever and ever was not some perverse desire to keep the darkies down, but rather a prudent refusal of a poisoned chalice.

But hist! it’s not all federal money that Them Awful Southerners don’t like.  “Contrary to their ideological opposition to Medicaid, Republican governors and legislatures in the South accept two types of federal funds: Farm subsidies and defense contract money.”  Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, the Central Valley, and the Cadillac Desert are not Southern institutions, ol’ sport.  That’s not to say that the sugar industry does not have its hand in the till (it was the principal shareholder in the largest U.S. sugar company who was on the telephone with Wm. J. Clinton while the latter was getting his knob polished by a 20-year-old intern named Lewinsky), or that hogs and chicken don’t see to it their share comes their way.  But the Big Dollars go to the Midwest and Plains states.  And by the way, farm subsidies and defense contract dollars don’t go to states or state legislatures, but rather to individuals and private businesses.  So there’s simply nothing there for “Republican governors and legislatures in the South” to accept, nitwit.

But what allows Them Awful Southerners to suck so hard at the public tit?  Why of course, it’s that they’re all a bunch of <pass the smelling salts, please> Republicans.  O!  The horror!  Yes, Southerners make up over half the Republican House majority.  This enables the South, which accounts for 37% of the population and 34.2% of the economy (what a mismatch!! takes your breath away, doesn’t it?), to force the rest of the 435 House members to shovel money all over the place.  Or something.

The Republican South dates from the 1980s, at the earliest.  The defense facilities which Richter deplores having been built in the South were built during the — not year, not decades, but — generations when Democrats controlled, and not by wafer-thin margins, both houses of Congress.  The Soviet-style American agricultural system was a brain-child not of Newt Gingrich, but of FDR’s Soviet-inspired “planners.”

Yes, “The rest of the world is perplexed by the anti-government attitude and/or gross negligence toward the people by the governors and legislatures in the American South.”  What Richter really means by “the rest of the world” is the dozen or twenty or so people who’ll speak with him (if he’s as tiresome and ill-informed in person as he is in print).  He might ask the Chechens, the Uighurs, the Marsh Arabs, the Crimean Tatars (if any are still alive), the Volga Germans, the surviving Russian or Polish or Hungarian Jews, the Hmong, the Kurds, the Yezidis, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, or the Armenians about their understanding of “anti-government attitudes,” particularly their attitudes about powerful, centralized government.  How about the immigrant from Sierra Leone who’s got an article in his own damned magazine; did Richter ask whether he is “perplexed” by the notion that government (especially Great Big Government) ain’t your friend?  Or he might just take a look at where the floods of immigrants over the centuries came from and went to.  I’ll give you a hint so you needn’t pull your head out:  They didn’t go to Tsarist Russia, or Bismarck’s Prussia, or to Spain, or to dirigisme France.  For that matter, he might take a look at where the internal migration in the United States is headed.  It’s no accident that the IRS no longer reports it, but you can find the numbers if you try.  They’re flooding South, ol’ boy, and they’re not leaving.  Individuals might goof and guess wrong about where they need to be living, but millions of people over the course of several decades now can’t be explained away as some sort of latter-day Flagellant movement.

This article in The Globalist is, in other words, just another installment in a long line of Them Awful Southerners pot-boilers (of which it’s not the first I’ve exploded).  I’m only mildly surprised he didn’t work the word “protocols” into the title.

There’s more from Brer Richter:  “Take the Money and Run,” in which he recites the by-now-tired data (genuine enough, to be sure), that for every dollar a “taxpayer” in, say, Mississippi pays, he “receives” $3.07 in “benefits,” and 45% of Mississippi’s economy “comes from federal funding.”  Of course, data like that remind one of the old joke in response to the data point that “everyone three minutes, someone is robbed”: Doesn’t he get tired of it?  Given that roughly 40% of the American population pays no federal income taxes at all, one can be forgiven for posing the aggregation issue to Comrade Richter.  I’d be interested to see whether in fact the average Mississippi resident who is a net payer of federal income taxes is doled out $3.07 in direct or indirect transfer payments.   Because if the complaint is that for every tax dollar coming out of Mississippi there are $3.07 being paid to residents of Mississippi, I’d like to know who’s paying and who’s receiving.  Are they in fact the same people?  And what unspecified “federal funding” is Richter talking about?  If he’s talking about payments to or for the benefit of poor people . . . well, yes, you would expect states with poorer populations to receive more federal dollars, in the aggregate, than places with fewer poorer people, or places with more and wealthier people to skew the averages.  If he’s got a point to make, let him cough up some data that actually say something.

For Part III of his I Don’t Like Southerners and Neither Should You, our learned mentor explains to us “How the South Really Operates.”  I was truly looking forward to this read, because after spending over 40 of my 50 years living in the South, and paying attention to what happens and who makes it happen, I confessed myself flummoxed.  Richter to the Rescue!  He enumerates four aspects in which he informs us how the South really operates.  First come agricultural hand-outs, in which he recites several prominent Republican politicians who happen to be Southerners and who suck at the public tit of agricultural hand-outs.  See my comments above re: where the agri-business money is actually, you know, at.  And by the way, just as a counter-example, I believe it’s Dianne Feinstein (it may be Pelosi, but it’s definitely one of the California Congressional delegation) whose husband owns a good chunk of a company that processes some sort of seafood or fishery product in, I believe it is, Guam (possibly Samoa; I’ve slept since I read about this).  Guess which American overseas possession is uniquely exempted from minimum wage laws that apply to the others?

Second comes that awful ol’ Congressional power.  The South which accounts for 37% of the population overall has just over half of the Republican House caucus, and therefore — you really have to envy Richter his simple-mindedness — 53% of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, and 55% of the subcommittee on homeland security.  God save the mark.  Well, you know, numbskull, if Congressional committee assignments were to be handed out based on state population instead of party affiliation, where would the majority party come up with committee members from states which decline to elect members of that party?  But the litany of horrors does not stop there:  Oh noes: Fully 63% of the committee on military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee come from the South.  Maybe Comrade Richter would care to examine where the all-volunteer force comes from and where American veterans live?  Don’t worry, ol’ sport:  I’ll do the math for you.

The Veterans Administration has a nice state-by-state interactive map showing each state’s veteran population data as of September 30, 2014.  Out of their estimated 21,999,108 living veterans, 8,208,679 lived in the states of the old confederacy (plus West Virginia and Kentucky), or almost exactly 37% of the total.  I don’t know which states Richter includes to get to his 37% of the U.S. overall population living in the South, so you can’t really draw a great deal of meaning from those numbers.  The U.S. Census Bureau has a convenient estimate of each state’s population as of July 1, 2013.  Let’s see what percentage of each state’s gross population consists of veterans.  In the states of the former confederacy (plus Kentucky and West Virginia) we range from a high of 9.46% for Virginia (which you really can’t treat as a meaningful number since so much of Virginia is actually South District of Columbia, but there it is) to 9.03% for West Virginia to a low of 6.35% for Texas.  Throw out the high and low and you get an average of 8.00%.  Only two of the states other than Texas are even below 7.5%: Louisiana and Mississippi.  Just for giggles I ran the same numbers for several large northern states, and Washington State as well (there’s HUGE defense industry and installations up there, which Comrade Richter seems to have forgot about).  Here are some numbers:  California: 4.83%; Michigan: 6.65%; New York: 4.54%; Massachusetts: 5.67%; Illinois: 5.60%; Washington: 8.66%.

The VA site also has a spreadsheet that breaks down each state’s population by era of service.  So you could theoretically strip out the all-volunteer veterans from the draftees.  You could strip out the dwindling World War II contingent and the Korean War contingent.  You could strip out the Vietnam contingent (reckon which states saw the most student draft deferments: those with large or with small college enrollment among the overall population).  I don’t have the time or energy to do so.

Gee, what would someone who believes in, you know, representative democracy think?  Reckon he might figure that for House members from those states with a higher percentage of their voters being veterans (veterans vote disproportionately to their numbers, recall), getting on the veterans affairs subcommittee might be . . . you know, maybe . . . representing his goddam voters?  Anyone want to bet which states’ representatives scramble to get on the maritime affairs committees?  Wyoming, perhaps?  Maybe in Richter-land.

Then Richter recycles his shop-worn defense spending as a welcome stimulus.  This part of the article is more than a bit incomprehensible, since what he talks about is salary caps for CEOs of defense contractors and salaries of management relative to engineer or worker, and then recites the average CEO pay for the five largest defense contractors.  Only one, Lockheed-Martin, is headquartered anywhere near the South, and that’s Bethesda, Maryland (which I categorically deny to be Southern in any meaningful sense).  In fact, in not a single sentence of that section of the article does he even mention the South.

The final section of How the South Really Operates is a diatribe against Georgia and its decision not to get on the Medicaid expansion bandwagon.  Again, the program expansions, which would have been permanent, were going to be funded by the federal government . . . for three years.  You wouldn’t let your 16-year-old budget for his first motor-scooter on that basis.  Richter’s pretending that a state can do so is just irresponsible.  He of course recites all the ills of the current system (all true enough), but he doesn’t answer Question No. 1:  Where is the damned money going to come from?  If he thinks that any governmental entity, state or local, which exists in a polity in which there is free movement of money, people, and economic activity across borders can budget on a nice-to-have basis, he’s just stupid.  Period.  There’s no other way to describe that outlook.  In a free society people won’t stand still and let you skin them.  They’ll leave, and then what you’re left with is Mississippi.

You know, I’d actually intended this little post to be a take-down of his comically ill-informed anti-American splenetic in the FAZ (he does, however, manage to work into even that one an accusation that the South is still Fighting the War; I’d really like to know from which data he draws that conclusion since I’ve not noticed it in anyone of above-average intelligence in over 40 years; even when we were kids playing army, we fought not the Yankees or even the dinks or gooks, but rather the Germans (which was hilarious because one of my best buddies had a grandfather who’d been a machine-gunner . . . for the Kaiser)).  I’d not thought I’d spend the whole thing exposing his English-language fatuities.  But I can never resist an easy target, and boy howdy! Stephan Richter’s incomprehension of the American South is a stationary target at point-blank range.

Someone hand me a cigarette.  I feel all aglow.

Update [08 Dec 14]:  In the context of why the national Democrat party seems to have such problems running successful candidates in the South, Moe Lane drives the ten-ring:  “It’s not demographics, and it’s certainly not gerrymandering, and shoot, it’s not even Barack Obama. It’s that the people who run the Democratic party [expletive deleted] hate the South.”  Brer Richter’s thoughts merely express openly what the Democrats’ national-level leadership mutually congratulates itself on believing.

The gently ironic part of it is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  In my semi-rural county, which voted for Geo. W. Bush twice, for McCain, and for Romney, all by enormous margins, and which by a similar margin in a recent Republican primary swamped the Establishment incumbent in favor of a Tea Party insurgent . . . all three of our trial judges are Democrats; our sheriff is a Democrat, most of our elected county-wide officials are Democrats, and a good number of elected officials at the municipal level are Democrats.

Among the bunch of people I regularly find myself working (and drinking beer) with are people who range all the way from caricatures of far-right reaction to cartoonish lefties who actually think Dear Leader’s got it all figured out.  No.  Really.  There are people — and not dummies, either — who truly think that way.  We all work together, we all pitch in together, and together we’re making our county a better place to live, where each year’s crop of high school graduates has something to look forward to other than an entire lifetime trapped behind a cash register at the stop-n-rob.  Not that “politics” doesn’t get discussed, and heatedly sometimes, but here, for the moment, we can accept our differences as being good-faith disagreement.  Among the most cartoonish of my leftish friends is a fellow who got there by way of his religious convictions . . . and the fact that for a period when he was younger, if his family had meat on the table it was because he’d gone out and shot it in the middle of the night.  I think he’s wrong on the merits, but I can accept his thinking as coming from somewhere honorable.

At the national level, that assumption is simply denied to Republicans.

So Moe Lane’s right:  When you spend a half-century insisting that everyone who lives in a particular place is for that reason inherently evil, and that everything they think, believe, and hope for is necessarily an outgrowth of that evil and need not be engaged with for that reason . . . Well, exactly what did you expect in terms of electoral outcomes?

What’s a Little Confirmation Bias Among Friends?

A number of years ago an author, Stephen Glass, worked for The New Republic.  He also wrote for a number of other publications, including George.  He wrote a number of stories, most of them well-received.  He was well-regarded by his readers and employers.  He turned out to have only one slight problem.  He made stuff up.  As in, a lot of stuff.  As in, story after story containing completely invented quotations, events that never occurred, sources that didn’t exist.  Over the course of several years he completely snookered his editors.

Eventually, of course, he was caught and fired.

His most immediate victims (if you discount the people and institutions about whom or which he lied, and the readers to whom he lied) were his editors, at the publications whose reputations he disgraced.   Being an editor at anything that aspires to reportage exceeding the who-won-the-junior-pro-football-game-last-weekend fare of the usual small-town weekly paper must be a nerve-wracking experience.  You can’t replicate your reporters’ work before it’s published, at least not to a statistical extent that would provide you any reasonable comfort level.  About all you’ve got, in fact, are review of your reporter’s own work product (which can be just as made up as anything else), ex post confirmations of your boy’s work, either by your competitors (assuming you’ve got the scoop), and admissions by the subject(s) of the stories themselves.  But how many times do “confirmations” turn out to be no more reliable than the original reporting?  In fact you’ve really got only your reporters’ reputation for honesty and diligence.  And strong drink to steady your nerves.

Well, you do have the articles themselves.  Taken on their faces, do they hold up?  Bearing in mind that there’s a first time for just about everything, is what an article describes plausible?  Possible?  Does it describe reasonable actions and reactions of the people mentioned in it?  Are its statements capable of being falsified (as Popper showed, it’s much easier to prove that something is false than that it is true)?

Among the folks who had the pleasure of editing Comrade Glass’ work was a boy name of Richard Bradley.  He was an editor at George.  He still bears the emotional and professional scars of that experience, and as someone who got so publicly euchred by a rogue reporter he brings a rare perspective to the contemplation of reported matter.

Bradley has turned his attention to the subject of the (in)famous University of Virginia gang rape case.  Very briefly, a woman, “Jackie” (the victim’s real first name, apparently) has alleged that roughly two years ago she was held captive in a “pitch black” room at a UVa fraternity party and gang-raped over the course of three or so hours.  Repeatedly.  She was lying on her back amidst a sea of broken glass this whole time (which necessarily means her attackers were kneeling or lying in it as well, by the way).  She counted seven separate attackers, who were egged on by two others, including the boy who had invited her to the party in the first place.  The attack is presented as a rite of passage in this fraternity (the seventh attacker, whom she claims to have recognized, has trouble getting it up and, when he’s asked whether he wants to be a brother in the fraternity or not, finally gives up and penetrates Jackie with a beer bottle); we are invited to conclude that it’s common in the Greek system generally.  That’s horrific enough.  It is also alleged, however, that her own friends discouraged her from reporting it to the police, or even going to the hospital (this despite the wounds from the glass shards that had dug — no, must have been deeply ground — into her back repeatedly over the course of three hours).  This conversation is presented as having occurred within minutes after Jackie has come to her senses and walked through the crowd at the (still-going-strong) party.  She would have — must have — been covered in blood across her entire shoulders, back, buttocks, head, and likely large areas of her arms as well (they’ve been held down, according to the story).  She would, in short, have looked like hamburger over much of her body, and her dress that she’s pictured as having so carefully selected for her date would have looked like something salvaged from an army field hospital after an unsuccessful battle.  She would very likely bear scars on those areas of her body to this day.

The university itself, when presented with the allegations, did nothing.

The attack is the subject of an article in Rolling Stone by a reporter named Sabrina Rubin Erdely.  Her narrative of the attack covers the first several paragraphs, but the bulk of the pretty substantial article deals with Jackie’s  experiences when, months later, she finally did tell someone at the university about what she says happened to her.  At the risk of over-simplifying things, the article describes a pretty classical institutional shuck-n-jive.  According to Jackie and several other victims or alleged victims of sexual violence at UVa, they pretty much blew off her allegations and they routinely do others as well.

I’d point out that the Rolling Stone article does contain a number of very specifically named other victims of other assaults, and even shows photographs of more than one of them.  Their experiences are in part related and they all experienced or claim to have experienced the same sort of dismissive attitude.

Overall the article paints an alarming picture of a school so much more caught up in its reputation, its donors, its culture of alcohol-sodden depravity, and its oh-so-helpfully-Southern ethos that it’s willing to suppress reports of sexual violence that are matched only by the tales out of Rotherham, England (you’ll need to scroll to the end of that post to see the point).  That’s the Big Picture, and apparently it’s exactly the picture the article was intended by its author to convey.  From The Washington Post’s story:

“Erdely declined to address specific questions about her reporting when contacted on Sunday and Monday.  ‘I could address many of [the questions] individually . . . but by dwelling on this, you’re getting sidetracked,’ she wrote in an e-mail response to The Post’s inquiry. ‘As I’ve already told you, the gang-rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie — a person whom I found to be credible — told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way — i.e., the overarching point of the article. THAT is the story: the culture that greeted her and so many other UVA women I interviewed, who came forward with allegations, only to be met with indifference.’”

Erdely is coming in for some pretty stout criticism of her reporting.  She’s been busted for not naming the attackers, even though the victim claims to have recognized two of them (one being of course the boy who’d asked her to the party).  The article gives information from which those two can winnowed down to one or a tiny group of potential perpetrators, as Megan McArdle points out.  Over at Just One Minute, there’s what purports to be a quotation from some gal name of Claire Kaplan, program director of UVa’s “Gender Violence and Social Change,” (no, really, there is such an outfit and such a person) on an unfortunately not-linked Facebook thread:

“This is what Claire Kaplin [Kaplan – TM], a faculty member at the Women’s Center whose title is Program Director of Gender Violence and Social Change, had to say on a Facebook thread:

‘I’ve learned from some of the students involved or interviewed that the reporter actually made some of that up. The scene about whether or not to go to the hospital never happened, and that when they wanted to take her to the police, she didn’t want to go. That jibes with what I heard from administrators.’

Then, in a second post, responding to another person in the thread, she wrote:

‘Cora[:] what I understand is that she [Jackie, the alleged victim] had much more support than the reporter stated. That some of the comments by friends were not said at all (the whole conversation telling her not to report). Both survivors were devastated when she called them to clear quotes. They learned that their “off the record” comments were not off the record. Also she really got the students riled up when she characterized them as passive, conservative, and not “radical” enough. You and I both recall some pretty creative protests from years past.'”

Let’s call things by their correct names.  If this quotation from Kaplan is genuine, then this person whose bio on the program’s website describes her as being “a feminist social justice activist for longer than she’d like to admit” is point-blank accusing Erdely of lying and fabricating quotations.  These are not trivial accusations.  Those are the sorts of carryings-on which will pass current at The New York Times or CNN, but which will get your country ass fired from any other reporting job.

So it seems that Erdely could run down witnesses and other acquaintances from two years ago and interview them, but couldn’t run down the perps to get their side of things.  From the WaPo story linked above:

“’I reached out to [the accused] in multiple ways,’ Erdely said in the Slate interview. ‘They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking . . . I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an e-mail, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.’

Sean Woods, who edited the Rolling Stone story, said in an interview that Erdely did not talk to the alleged assailants. ‘We did not talk to them. We could not reach them,’ he said in an interview.  However, he said, ‘we verified their existence,’ in part by talking to Jackie’s friends. ‘I’m satisfied that these guys exist and are real. We knew who they were.’”

OK, now I’m really puzzled.  Rolling Stone “knew who they were,” and the whole point of the story is that nothing has happened to these people, but no one has given those names to the police?  Or perhaps the Rolling Stone editor has it wrong?  Again, from the very same WaPo story:

“Erdely declined to say whether she knows the names of the alleged perpetrators, including ‘Drew.’  ‘I can’t answer that,’ she said. ‘This was a topic that made Jackie extremely uncomfortable.’”

The reporter (as opposed to her editor) who allegedly made all manner of attempts to “reach out to” [N.b.  “Reach out” is an expression that makes me throw up a little in my mouth.] the perps won’t even say whether she knows their names.  It would seem to me that if you want someone to take the initiative to turn himself in, on the theory that there will be exactly one and only one plea-bargain cut from those nine, you publicly observe that you know who they are.  And besides, we have an on-the-record quotation from Jackie’s suite-mate, Rachel Soltis:  “‘At the beginning of the year, she seemed like a normal, happy girl, always with friends. Then her door was closed all the time. We just figured she was out.’ Soltis is also quoted this way: ‘The university ignores the problem to make itself look better. They should have done something in Jackie’s case. Me and several other people know exactly who did this to her. But they want to protect even the people who are doing these horrible things’.”  (emphasis added)  I’ll observe that if she knows “exactly” who did this, but she didn’t go to the police during all those months, shouldn’t she have used the first person pronoun in her last sentence?  Further, how do you square the exactitude of her knowledge of who the rapists are with her “we just figured” statement?  I mean, if you’re so obtuse that you can’t connect a young girl’s obvious emotional trauma with a horrific sexual crime of which she’s the victim, are you really smart enough to be in college in the first place?

Jonah Goldberg at Los Angeles Times takes issue with the overall believability of Erdely’s story.  Erik Wemple, also at the WaPo, notes that Erdely herself is going squishy on her own story-framing narrative:  “She told Slate, ‘The degree of her trauma — there’s no doubt in my mind that something happened to her that night. What exactly happened, you know, I wasn’t in that room. I don’t know and I do tell it from her point of view.’”  Bradley relates his chief lesson learned from his scorching by Glass:

“The lesson I learned: One must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe. So when, say, the Duke lacrosse scandal erupted, I applied that lesson. The story was so sensational! Believing it required indulging one’s biases: A southern school…rich white preppy boys…a privileged sports team…lower class African-American women…rape. It read like a Tom Wolfe novel.

“And of course it never happened.

“Which brings me to a magazine article that is causing an enormous furor in Virginia and around the country; it’s inescapable on social media.”

When at a large Midwestern school in the mid-1980s I went Greek.  The Greek system overall wasn’t too strong at that school, and my fraternity, although very prominent nationally, was most definitely the un-Greek fraternity of the tribe.  In fact, the year before I pledged, during Greek Week our house put on a Turk Week.  Most of my house was engineers; I was among the very few innumerate actives.  I can say that I neither saw nor heard of anything during my years as an active in that chapter, during two of which I lived in the house, which even approximates a rape as defined by criminal law.  In fact, I never saw or heard of anything which would classify as a sexual assault, not myself and not anyone else.  Drunks gettin’ busy?  Certainly.  Am I willing to swear that no co-ed, ever, got naked with one of us under circumstances she later on wished she hadn’t?  Of course not.

I also never heard rumors of any such goings-on at any other house, although in truth there’s no reason I necessarily would have heard such rumors even had those sorts of things been common occurrences.  But even on a campus that size, behavior that common and that egregious simply cannot be hidden.  Someone is going to talk.  Not everyone is Greek, and not everyone who attends those parties is Greek.  At UVa, according to the picture Erdely paints, it’s an accepted fact of life for such sexual crimes to occur.  And over all these years, no one has ever publicly blown the whistle until now?  No little freshman co-ed has ever shared with her mother over Thanksgiving break what goes on in those houses, and had Momma grab Washington-Beltway-Power-Broker Daddy by the short-and-curlies and demanded he go slash and burn?  Never once?  That’s a degree of omerta that the mob itself has difficulty maintaining.

On the other hand . . . I have a very dear friend who survived the Greek system at Alabama, home of The Machine (link is to an article that appeared in Esquire in 1992).  My friend has kindly steered me, over the years, to several accounts of what has gone on in that system.  As the Blogfather would say, read the whole thing.  But especially the footnote at the very end of the article:

Note: The following year, Minda Riley, daughter of current Governor Bob Riley, was assaulted in her home by representatives of Theta Nu Epsilon. Miss Riley, a member of Phi Mu sorority, had decided to run for the office of SGA President, against the wishes of The Machine. The resulting fallout and national attention caused the University of Alabama administration to abolish the SGA until 1996. Miss Riley has publicly stated that she has no intention of ever returning to Tuscaloosa.” 

So can I believe that Jackie’s story might be true?  I can’t help but accept that, however horrific, her story could be true in all particulars.  On the other hand, I really have a problem when the person who allegedly did the spade work won’t even come out and state, in plain Saxon, whether — yes or no — she knows the names of the attackers.  I mean, if Jackie’s truly scared because they’re all still on campus (and according to the article they are . . . and by the way, given how small a school UVa is, just how hard could it have been to track these boys down if that’s what Erdely really wanted?), she really hasn’t protected herself very well at all, has she?  The date of the attack is alleged to have been September 28, 2012.  Precisely how many fraternity pledges could have participated in a seven-way gang rape on that particular night, including one involving a beer bottle, at that particular fraternity house?  Can those people think their names are not going to get into the police’s hands?  Can Jackie really think that a story in Rolling Stone is not going to be read and talked about all over campus?  And this reporter won’t even say, “Yes, we know exactly who those two are.”

Now, getting back to Erdely’s larger point about how the university is alleged to have (not) responded to the allegations . . . .  I have no trouble accepting that the system is precisely as broken as it’s presented to be.

One question does occur to me:  Was this fraternity house on UVa’s campus or on property belonging to UVa?  If the answer is no, then beyond kicking them off campus — prohibiting them from participating in on-campus events, putting up flyers, recruiting new pledges, and so forth — I’m not sure what the university as such could have done.  Erdely points out that nearly 200 students have been kicked out of school in the past two decades or so for honors violations, but no one for sexual assault.  But those “honors violations” are peculiarly academic infractions like cheating or plagiarism, over which the university of course has jurisdiction.  What authority does a public institution have to eject a student who is in academic good standing, current in his tuition and fees, and attends class with sufficient regularity, but who is accused of an off-campus offense of which he’s not been convicted?  Remember that ol’ 14th Amendment?  It applies to public universities and their student relations.  Kick someone out of school because of something that happened off-campus and of which he is — legally, at least — presumptively innocent, and you just landed a helluva civil rights lawsuit.

Part of me wants this story not to be true.  I’d hate to think that there are well-regarded institutions of this nature which are this callous.  I’d hate to think that a bunch of people with the smarts and skills necessary to get into and stay enrolled in a school like that would come up with something that wicked.

On the other hand, part of me wants it to be true.  Because if it’s not true, then what is happening at UVa as a reaction to a bullshit article containing fabulous accusations which the reporter made no serious attempt to confirm or refute can happen anywhere and to anyone.  Anyone can be publicly accused and held guilty, just because one lying emotionally unstable girl has decided she’d like some attention.  It means that my three boys, when they get to that age, are completely unprotected by mere innocence.  It means that what Solzhenitsyn describes as the Soviet Union’s national sewer system has been built in this country, and is up and running.  “Teaching boys not to rape” is an exercise in futility if it doesn’t matter whether they’re rapists or not.  If their lives can be ruined — and make no mistake, bullshit accusations of sexual crime ruin the accused’s life and can even cost him his life — whether they’ve done anything or not, then what is the point of “teaching them not to rape”?  Either they will or they won’t, and no matter which they have no protection from destruction.

Erdely has either done a signal service, or she is morally indistinguishable from the German generals who thought it would be real swell thing to smuggle Lenin through Germany and into Russia in 1917.  I suppose time will tell which it is.  Although if it’s the latter, those boys she’s accusing are pretty much “for it,” as the British say.  The victims of the bogus Duke Lacrosse gang-rape hoax had their lives devastated.  And their school, which merrily joined in stoking the fires, has yet to apologize to them.  The Gang of 88 has yet to issue a retraction.

Update [05 Dec 14]:  The Washington Post reports on its having done the fact-checking that Rolling Stone claims to have done, but obviously did not.

“A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but also have come to doubt her account.  They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days.”

“A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them [the assault awareness advocates] for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.  (emphasis added) Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

“The fraternity also said that it has reviewed the roster of employees at the university’s Aquatic and Fitness Center for 2012 and found that it does not list a member of the fraternity — a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Washington Post — and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account. The statement also said that the house does not have pledges during the fall semester.”

“The Washington Post has interviewed Jackie several times during the past week and has worked to corroborate her version of events, contacting dozens of current and former members of the fraternity, the fraternity’s faculty adviser, Jackie’s friends and former roommates, and others on campus.”

“Earlier this week, Jackie revealed to friends for the first time the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone. (emphasis added)  But after looking into that person’s background, the group that had been among her closest supporters quickly began to raise suspicions about her account. The friends determined that the student that Jackie had named was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier about her perpetrator.”

“Jackie’s former roommate, Rachel Soltis, said that she noticed emotional and physical changes to her friend during the fall semester of 2012, when the two shared a suite on campus. ‘She was withdrawn, depressed and couldn’t wake up in the mornings,’ said Soltis, who told the Post that she was convinced that Jackie was sexually assaulted. Soltis said that Jackie did not tell her about the alleged sexual assault until January 2013. Soltis said that she did not notice any apparent wounds on Jackie’s body at the time that might have indicated a brutal attack.”

OK.  That’s enough.  I won’t copy-and-paste the entire article.  But a couple of points emerge:

1.    The WaPo was able in a matter of days (today is December 5; the Rolling Stone article came out only the latter half of November) to verify fraternity member rolls and check to see if the fraternity in question had actually had a social function on the date alleged.  The fraternity claims to have been able to verify university employment rolls to determine none of them worked at the facility claimed.  The WaPo was able to contact and interview “dozens” of current and former fraternity members, multiple friends and former friends of Jackie’s, and others on campus.  Erdely appears to have done none of this, or if she did it, to have suppressed their statements.  This is a firing offense.

2.    Until this past week Jackie had not told anyone the name of her alleged attacker (the one whose name she alleges she knew, presumably her date).  The whole article’s premise is the story of a self-interested, callous institution disregarding a report of not just an unwanted grope, or even an outright rape, but a horrific gang rape of the kind that would put multiple people behind bars until they’re too old to get it up any more.  The disappointed reader will ask precisely what the university was supposed to do if she would not name the person against whom it was to proceed.  We’ve not heard details about the university’s attempts (if any) to verify the information she gave them; for that matter it’s not been fully disclosed what information she did give them.  But if they did what the WaPo and the fraternity have done and concluded that she was bringing them a bill of goods, their decision not to move forward becomes much more defensible.

3.    A little data point:  The one person on campus who must have seen Jackie largely unclothed if not bare-ass naked multiple times that year — her roommate — reported never having seen any of the kinds of cuts or bruises which she must inevitably had if she had been attacked as she described.  The Rolling Stone article described Jackie as being bloody from pretty much head to toe immediately after the attack.  Either Erdely never asked the question, or she asked it and suppressed the answer.  Either is also a firing offense.

4.   How do you square the quotation attributed to Soltis by Erdely that she and several others knew “exactly” who did this to Jackie with the statements in the WaPo that Jackie never told anyone the name of her known attacker until last week?   Somebody’s lying here (either the WaPo, or Jackie’s assault awareness advocates, or Soltis, or Erdely, or some combination of them), and if Erdely was given that kind of major conflicting information but suppressed it from her article, that’s likewise a firing offense.

Something traumatic happened to Jackie during her freshman year.  When it happened or what it was, we likely will never know.  What we do know is that Jackie herself is not to be trusted on the subject.  At all.  Anyone who will fabricate an accusation which can cost another person an entire life in a maximum-security prison, where sexual offenders are known to be targets for death or mutilation, is not entitled to be believed as to any matter on which she cannot produce indisputably unaltered videographic evidence.  Which is a shame, because she just might have been assaulted.

Erdely needs to be shown the door, however.  Whatever her capabilities as an advocate may be, she’s plainly not to be trusted as a reporter.

Cooking Chitlins

. . . Or “chitterlings,” as the gut snobs might insist.  This past Saturday I undertook an experiment which I’d long contemplated but hadn’t the equipment for.  Having acquired that equipment I have now done so and am pleased to report absolute and unqualified success.  I will now share the fruits of my labors with my reader.  Thus, without further ado, I offer my chitlin recipe and lessons learned.

1.    I purchased two ten-pound buckets of the frozen product.  They were Tyson’s.  I have heard of chitlins sold in a plastic bag, but have never seen them.  Around here, if you’re not killing your own hogs or don’t have an in with a slaughterhouse, you’re going to be buying them in that red plastic bucket.

2.    You will buy them frozen.  In the event you don’t thaw and cook them immediately, but rather put them in your own freezer, thawing them out can take a while.  I’d had mine in a stand-alone freezer at 4º Fahrenheit for about ten or so days.  I put them in my refrigerator late on Wednesday evening.  When I took them out at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, they’d thawed just enough to slide out of the bucket in a solid, otherwise-completely-frozen mass.  All I’d done is turn my refrigerator into an old-fashioned icebox for just over two full days.  Lesson:  If they’re that deeply frozen, put them out overnight to thaw.  They won’t go bad; in fact, depending on how you set your thermostat (mine is set at 50º in the winter) they still might not be fully thawed.  But that’s OK.

3.    It’s OK if they’re not completely thawed because you will finish thawing no later than the cleaning process.

4.    They come out of that plastic bucket pretty clean in any event.  Out of twenty pounds of chitlins I didn’t find anything that was not identifiably part of the pig rather than part of its last meal.

5.    YOU STILL HAVE TO CLEAN YOUR CHITLINS.  This means you have physically to inspect every last square centimeter of both sides of every last piece, however small.  The big worry of course is e-coli; on the other hand, e-coli is a strictly surface contaminant which is killed when you heat whatever it is to 165º F.  And you’re going to be keeping your chitlins at over 200º for hours on end.  But e-coli is not the only thing that could have got into that pig’s guts, and that’s just the strictly health concern.  There’s always the question of what might make your chitlins taste funny. No.  Seriously.  Chitlins either taste right or they don’t.

6.    In cleaning your chitlins, it helps somewhat to steep them in very hot to boiling water for a few minutes before cleaning.  (H/T  This will make things like visceral fat deposits and residual undesirable membranes separate a bit more easily from the chitlin.

7.    Many people recommend wearing gloves of some sort while cleaning, mostly to keep your hands from smelling like chitlins for the rest of the day.  I’ll leave that up to the individual; on the other hand, I don’t know how I could have got a good enough grip on the smallest stuff I was stripping with gloves, even surgical gloves.  And honestly I didn’t notice that my hands stunk much at all afterwards.

8.    The chitlins come out of the bucket cut into pieces, and flat.  No tubes, in other words.  Cleaning chitlins involves stretching them out (they’re very wrinkled, and the size of the chitlin in your hand when you first pick it up is a very imperfect guide to how much surface area you’re dealing with) so you can view every last square centimeter of both sides of the chitlin.  I found that using the partition between the two basins of my kitchen sink worked admirably for the purpose.  I suppose you could use a cutting board, but why ruin a perfectly good cutting board with chitlin essence?  Your kitchen sink will be ceramic or steel and it won’t take 45 seconds to clean it when you’re done.

9.    I’d bought (and sterilized in boiling water) a standard kitchen brush, with the thought that I’d use it to dig out any stubborn residuum of undesirable material.  I used it almost not at all.  A couple of times when I simply couldn’t get a sufficient grip on what appeared to be traces of discolored (sort of a green-black color) membrane I used the brush to scrape it off.  But most of that particular sort of membrane I was able to scratch with fingernails and pull off manually.

10.    Larger pieces are harder to clean.  The chitlins are sufficiently tender that you can pull them into smaller pieces, which you’ll want to do prior to cooking anyway.

11.    As mentioned, I used my ordinary double-basin kitchen sink for cleaning.  In one basin I had the chitlins as they came out of the bucket, with a small but steady stream of hot water running.  As you pick up each piece you’ll run it under the water to make sure you’ve got any loose material off, then you’ll strip off any further undesirable material, membranes, visceral fat, etc. and then run it back under the water to rinse the remnants of that off.  I used the second basin to hold the strippings, and just dumped the clean chitlins into the 22-quart pot I had on the counter beside the sink.

12.    So what are you cleaning off?  As mentioned, there were traces — and I do mean tiny traces — of what appeared to be an internal membrane from the intestine.  Since I didn’t have a veterinarian there to explain to me what it was and whether it presented a concern, I removed it.  I also removed identifiable deposits of visceral fat.  The chitlins are going to turn out greasy enough as it is.  Then there’s the question of the dingle-berry looking things.  I assume there is a recognized anatomical expression for those.  They didn’t appear to be attached to the intestine wall, but rather to be associated with material that I could not identify as being either fat or a distinct membrane of the chitlin.  Since they add nothing that I’ve ever been able to identify to the chitlin-eating experience, I removed those as well.  Out of twenty pounds I probably removed somewhere between 1.5 and 2 pounds of . . . well, stuff.

13.    Including the time I spent getting my two blocks of frozen chitlins thawed enough to clean them, I spent three hours cleaning twenty pounds of chitlins.  Had they been thawed properly at the outset I’m guessing I might have cut that by thirty minutes.  If you have a stool of appropriate height, you might consider using it to sit on while you work.  I hadn’t any such, and after three hours of working partially bent over at the waist (I’m 6’4″), I felt like I was fixing to come apart at the midsection.

14.    As mentioned, I used a 22-quart pot to cook my chitlins.  It had ample room for the chitlins and plenty of water to cover them.  And you can’t let them boil down to the point they’re exposed.  The pot also had a glass cover, which was very helpful for checking the water level and boiling status without having to let heat escape.  I could easily have added at least one and maybe as much as two more buckets’ worth to the pot without running out of room.  I added maybe two quarts of water during the cooking process.

15.    COOK THEM OUTSIDE.  I used the stand and burner of a turkey-frying rig an uncle gave me this fall.  Worked perfectly.  I started with a completely full 20-pound LP gas tank and had more than enough fuel for the entire process inclusive of the thawing.  If you cook them inside you must reckon that their smell — irrespective of whether it bothers you or not (and it doesn’t bother me; in fact I really couldn’t tell that they smelled all that strongly coming straight out of the bucket) — will get into fabric, carpets, clothing, and everything else in your house.  Where it will reside for the indefinite future.

16.    I cooked mine for five hours at a low boil.  About every 20-25 minutes I gave them a good stir with a large steel spoon.  They came out with a nearly perfect texture.  Tender but still firm.  Whether they might have come out equally well with less time on the boil I don’t know.  All I know is that five hours produced a magnificent chitlin.

17.    So . . . how do you season them?  At the link above there are several suggestions which all look very intriguing, and which I might well try some day.  I started with a “recipe” (yes, I know using that word in connection with boiled intestine is questionable, but suggest to me a better word and I’ll use it) I’d got from a place which used to have a monthly chitlin supper around here.  For my chitlins I used (i) two heaping tablespoons of salt; (ii) one large white onion, quartered; (iii) maybe the equivalent of two or three tablespoons of crushed red pepper; and (iv) about seven or eight small granny smith apples, quartered (and with the cores cut out).  The chitlins came out . . . well, about as close to perfect as I imagine they could be.  Seriously.  I’m something of a touring pro on the chitlin circuit around here (the regular suppers see me walk in and they don’t even both with trimmings; they just bring me a massive plate of stewed chitlins) and I can honestly say, even if this is blowing my own horn, that I have never, ever, anywhere had chitlins better than what I made, and seldom their equal.  One day I’m going to substitute Cajun seasoning for the crushed red pepper; I’ve re-heated chitlins that way and they come out pretty good.

18.    Twenty pounds of chitlins, cleaned and stripped, makes right at five quarts of fully-cooked guts.  What do you do if you’re the only person among your circle of close acquaintance who eats them?  Well, Ziploc makes a one-quart storage container with a screw-on lid which works just about perfectly.  Last spring, at the final supper of the season, I bought about four pounds (you know, that’s assuming that the correct unit of measurement is one of weight and not length . . .), which broke out into almost exactly four quarts.  I then rationed them out over the course of the summer and they kept marvelously in that 4º F freezer.

And there you have my Lessons Learned from my first chitlin experience.  I can now say that I make my own miso soup, my own kim-chi, my own sushi, and my own chitlins.  Not too shabby for an ol’ redneck boy.

[In which latter-most connection, I’ll observe, not that it matters a hill of beans one way or the other nowadays, that I don’t fully agree with stayingalivemoma at the above link that chitlins were necessarily “soul food” or peculiarly associated with slavery or slaves.  Chitlins were food that desperately poor people ate, people who simply could not afford to forego any last source of protein or calories they had available to them.  This behavior is not peculiar to any ethnic group, time, or place (cf. Solzhenitsyn:  The very first paragraphs of The Gulag Archipelago describe a group of zeks devouring, raw, a prehistoric salamander they’d just hacked out of an ancient ice lens . . . it would have been thousands of years dead, and the zeks ate it “with relish”).  It’s quite true, of course, that slaves were given the chitlins — as well as other offal — as “scraps” by their owners.  It’s equally true that pretty much the entire rural population, most of which was (outside the large landowners) pretty poor by any standards, and which kept and slaughtered their own hogs, likewise ate chitlins.  Because they could.  This is just one tiny aspect of the curious respect in which the habits of the slaves and their closest white analogues — the rural “white trash” (an expression, by the way, which originated in the slave quarters and was used to describe those rural whites whose physical circumstances of existence frequently were even more disgusting than the slaves’ own) — converged.  Eugene D. Genovese covers such dynamics very well in his classic Roll Jordan Roll:  The World the Slaves Made.  So I wouldn’t suggest that one eat chitlins, or any other food, out of feelings of sentimentality or solidarity with one’s own or anyone else’s ancestors, but rather because they’re great food and, given how few people nowadays will even contemplate eating them, something of a cultural in-group phenomenon in their own right.  I mean, I run into the same people at suppers all over the area, and we trade tips about who’s found the sweet spot and where you need to avoid.]