As I returned to my file drawer of unpublished writings after a day in New York having meetings at Columbia, I came across an extended discussion, written I know not how many decades ago, about the epistemological questions posed by the writing of historiographical narratives. I had quite forgotten that I had written this, but as I read through it, I reflected that these are issues in which I have been interested for sixty years. Over the next day or two, I am going to reconstruct some of my thoughts in one or two extended posts. Meanwhile, I await the reports of the voting now going on in Alabama. This could be big.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
For some years, there has been a fairly lengthy artiucle about me on Wikipedia. When I looked at it today, I found it had been reduced to a single sentence. It would appear that on October 2nd last, someone decided I had passed my sell by date. sic transit gloria mundi.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
The Dozens is an African-American verbal competition in which men trade insults, each one more outrageous and exaggerated than the last, until one of the competitors gets off an insult so brilliant and over the top that the rest collapse in laughter and confess themselves beaten. It is one example of the verbal imaginativeness and mastery of the Black community [other examples are Signifying, Loud Talking and of course Rap, as well as the musical variation, jazz riffing.] But skill at spontaneous verbal competition is not restricted to African-Americans. Here is a lovely British example I just came across on YouTube, courtesy of Monty Python.
Columbia University Professor of Graeco-Roman History, William Harris, 79, credibly accused of sexual harrassment of female graduate students over a thirty year period, has been severely punished by the University. Columbia has reduced his teaching load. That will teach him! Here is the story in today's NY TIMES.
Friday, December 8, 2017
A recent poll reveals that 71% of Alabama Republicans do not believe the many women who have accused Roy Moore of molesting them when they were girls. This has been taken by cable news commentators as a sign of (1) excessive tribalism (2) inside the bubble thinking or (3) sheer stupidity. I should like to offer an alternative explanation for this and many other instances of seemingly incomprehensible opinion poll results.
I begin by assuming that people generally are neither so stupid nor so ignorant as to be unable to negotiate everyday life. Most Americans may not know quite where Syria is or what the nuclear triad is or what the difference is between a Sunni Muslim and a Shi’a Muslim, but they do know how to find their way to the grocery store and they may even be able to make spot repairs on an automotive vehicle.
So what is up? Well, here is my thought. It is not strictly true that 71% of Alabama Republicans think Roy Moore’s accusers are lying. What is true is that 71% of the Alabama Republicans who agreed to respond to a pollster answered “no” when asked whether they believe Roy Moore’s accusers. So what is the difference? you ask. Quite a bit, I suggest. [I am here drawing on a very interesting journal article written sixty years ago or more by David Riesman at the dawn of public opinion polling.] When a Roy Moore supporter is asked that question by a pollster, he or she understands immediately and intuitively that what is really being asked is “Whom do you support? Moore or Jones?” If, as is quite possible, that person believes the women but supports Moore anyway, he or she will be perfectly well aware that saying so opens the way to accusations of sexism, immorality, a failure of religious faith, or – worst of all – being a backwoods know-nothing Southern yahoo. The answer that springs most immediately to mind in that situation is f**k you! But being polite, as Southerners tend to be, he or she just says “no.”
Just a thought.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
I have written here in the past about the jigsaw puzzles that I have become addicted to since Susie and I moved to Carolina Meadows. When we arrived almost six months ago, the maven of the jigsaw table was Mary Anne Clarkson, who has sadly passed away. This morning, Susie and I finally completed our greatest challenge, an extremely difficult 1008 piece puzzle depicting the twelve signs of the Zodiak. Here is the picture I took when we finished.
If you look very closely, you will see that one piece is missing. This is not a Zen thing. It just got lost.