Another day, another story about Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker's (R) history with abortions. He is, of course, running as a staunch anti-choice candidate. And, of course, the news broke earlier this week that he allegedly paid a past paramour to get an abortion. Yesterday, that same woman told The New York Times that Walker tried to persuade her to get a second abortion, but she chose to have the child instead. Walker's accuser remains anonymous, in order to protect that child from undue attention, though her name is known to the Times.
At this point, the overwhelming presumption has to be that the story is true. The Daily Beast, which reported the original story, is occasionally a little lax in its journalistic standards. But the Times would not run with this unless they had dotted every "i" and crossed every "t." Further, Walker's response has been to downplay rather than to deny. It very much reads as the response of someone who knows they've been caught, and is trying to minimize the fallout.
Indeed, it's worth remembering that Walker's initial response was "I have no idea who this woman is." That's most certainly not a denial (a denial would be "This never happened with ANY woman"), but it was a pretty sneaky attempt to imply that the woman was making it up. Obviously, Walker actually knows the woman full well, since she is the mother of one of his children. If she is telling the truth—and again, we believe she is—then it leaves only two possibilities: (1) Walker was lying when he said he did not know the woman who was making the accusation, or (2) there is more than one woman who might plausibly accuse him of paying for their abortion, and he wasn't yet sure which one it was.
In any event, we continue to await fresh polling to see if this has changed the trajectory of the race at all. There haven't been any Georgia polls released since the news broke, and there probably won't be any this weekend. But we would be shocked if the Atlanta Journal-Constitution doesn't have one sometimes next week. (Z)
Another week with a lot of history questions. We hope those are to readers' liking.
J.M.R. in Chappaqua, NY, asks: In reading your item "OPEC+ Goes There," it occurred to me that even if oil ceases to be a primary world energy source someday soon, the Saudis may be well-positioned to become major producers of solar power. After all, sunlight and wide open spaces are both abundant in Saudi Arabia. For that matter, the same is true for all of the countries in or near the Sahara. My question is: Might the world soon have a major reliance on the Middle East for a different kind of energy?
V & Z answer: Doubtful. First, it is not nearly as easy to store and transmit solar energy over long distances as it is to store and transport oil over long distances. Second, the world's deposits of oil are somewhat limited. The list of places where solar energy might be produced, by contrast, is much greater in number. And indeed, there is even work being done right now om solar-energy collecting satellites, which would be largely unencumbered by local geography.
M.W. in Northbrook, IL, asks: I am not surprised that: (1) Herschel Walker is going with deny, deny, deny and (2) more evidence that he is lying has appeared. I'm wondering if he should have taken the tack of "I absolutely did not support this abortion and wish it was illegal so my child would be alive today. Ultimately, I could not prevent it and did reimburse my partner, because contrary of what you have heard, I owned my part in this pregnancy." Seems like it would give him an option to emphasize both pro-life and family values (sort of). Do I have a future in political advising?
V & Z answer: Walker himself has shown little in the way of political savvy, but he's certainly got savvy people working for him. And those folks clearly decided that the spin you propose was not viable. The first problem, we would imagine, is that for those who oppose abortions, it doesn't matter why someone paid for one. Whatever their story is, they supported it. The second (potential) problem is that, as we speculate above, there may be more than one woman out there who has a tale like this to tell. If Walker asserts that this was all a fluke, and he was only backdoored into it out of chivalry, and then a second abortion comes to light (as one basically did yesterday), he'd look very bad.
R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Can Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) appoint himself to fill the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) will vacate?
V & Z answer: The relevant Nebraska law, Statute 32-565, says: "When a vacancy occurs in the representation of the State of Nebraska in the Senate of the United States, the office shall be filled by the Governor. The Governor shall appoint a suitable person possessing the qualifications necessary for senator to fill such vacancy."
So, assuming that Ricketts believes he is qualified, then yes, he can. The Governor is term-limited, and will be out of office as of January 8 of next year, so he just might choose himself.
C.S. in Newport, Wales, UK, asks: I don't understand why the Department of Justice is sending letters to Donald Trump's lawyers instead of searching Trump Tower, Bedminster and other Trumpy places such as Stephen Miller's freezer. They know something has been stolen, they know who has the stolen goods (or had them and passed them on). Isn't that normally good enough for a search warrant? I mean, if I steal something valuable from a shop and then the police search my flat, don't find it, but learn that I also have a garage, the police are not going to send me a letter asking me to check my garage and return the stolen goods, are they?
V & Z answer: The bar for a judge to sign off on a no-knock warrant is very high, and requires compelling evidence that the premises to be searched actually have illegal materials within. Even the DoJ is not allowed to go on fishing expeditions.
It's also possible that the DoJ has decided that the softball play is the better tactical choice at this point. Let us imagine that the feds think Trump has 50 more classified documents, spread over multiple locations. If they vaguely warn Trump, as they have, he can't be sure what the DoJ does and does not know. And so, to be safe, he'd have to surrender them all. If the DoJ has to play hardball, which would still be on the table if the softball approach doesn't work, it could mean multiple court hearings, multiple warrants, and multiple searches. That's very time consuming.
D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: You have pointed out how Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) lacks the power to pardon Donald Trump should Fulton County DA Fani Willis obtain a conviction. However, what's stopping the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles from doing so? Isn't there a good chance there's three or more Trumpistas in that body?
V & Z answer: There may well be three pro-Trump folks on that body. But even if that is the case, that is not sufficient on its own. The former president would need three corrupt pro-Trump folks. Those tend to be in shorter supply, particularly when it comes to the various courts and other legal organs. Recall how poorly Trump's election-related lawsuits went, even before judges he himself appointed.
J.S. in Greendale, WI, asks: I have been reading your site from for a long time and you have had a version of your latest item, "2024 Looks Grim for Senate Democrats," many, many times over the years. It could probably be automated as "[even number calendar year] Looks Grim for Senate Democrats." You write that "This year's Senate map is the Democrats' dream map," but if I had the time to search your past postings, I could probably find an item from a couple years back when you stated this wasn't going to be a good year either. When are the Democrats ever going to have a good cycle? Is it impossible until there is some change to elections and gerrymandering?
V & Z answer: To start with, Senate races are not affected by gerrymandering because they are all statewide. Honest elections are, on the whole, a good thing for the Democrats. But if they are ever to return to the dominance of 50 years ago, the Party needs to find a way to make a lot of these smallish, red states much bluer.
As to your main observation, we can assure you that we have been saying for 2-3 years that 2022 was a good map for the Democrats, and we never wrote an item "2022 Looks Grim for Senate Democrats." There are only 20 or so Senate seats that might reasonably switch parties on a semi-regular basis, plus the occasional oddball situation (like Doug Jones in Alabama). It's not too hard to look and see which party holds more of those seats in any given election cycle, and thus is in the position of playing defense. And because Senate seats very rarely switch parties mid-term, the calculus is not likely to change, year-by-year. As soon as the 2022 returns are in, we can judge with reasonable certainty which party will be favored by the 2028 map.
J.S. in Burbank, CA, asks: You have the Indiana U.S. Senate seat as solid red, with no poll data beyond the last election. However, 538 has two polls listed where Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) is ahead by only a single point.
Now I do not, for a split-second, think Indiana will flip blue, but I find it curious you are not tracking what could be a shocking upset if it happens.
V & Z answer: In the interest of accuracy, we must point out that Young was up 2 points in one of those polls and 3 points in the other.
As to your question, we do not include those polls in our database because they are partisan polls, one from a Democratic firm and one from a Republican firm. We'll only use polls from partisan firms if a Republican house and a Democratic house worked together.
S.S. in Dallas, TX, asks: I'm only able to see the Senate. Is there an equivalent page for House races?
V & Z answer: No. We've tried it in the past, but: (1) most House races aren't polled, (2) it's hard enough for our small operation to keep on top of the Senate races, and (3) it would be impossible to actually create an equivalent map, since many House districts cover a very small geographic area, making them impossible to distinguish visually.
N.O.D. in Chicago, IL, asks: If a Trumplican election denier wins a gubernatorial election, what could be the possible effects of his/her administration's interaction with the federal government, in particular the executive branch?
V & Z answer: Well, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is pretty much a Trumplican election denier and is already in office, so he's probably set the template. And what we see from him is: (1) flexing his muscles as much as possible to keep himself and other Republicans in power, (2) using his powers to "own the libs" and/or embarrass Joe Biden whenever possible, and (3) cooperating fully with the federal government when he needs something, like FEMA money.
H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Throughout his political career, Franklin Roosevelt went to great lengths to keep the public from seeing him walking with canes, and he never used a wheelchair in public. In her final days, Queen Elizabeth II didn't use a wheelchair or walker in public. Perhaps they (or their advisors) thought it was a bad image that made them look like weak or diminished leaders. And yet, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has no problems letting the public see him in his wheelchair, even sitting next to other politicians on their feet. I can understand that America 80 years ago was less enlightened, but how is it that modern day Texas is more broad-minded and accepting than the United Kingdom?
V & Z answer: We cannot know exactly what the mindset of the Queen and her advisers was. Maybe they felt it would be too much for Britons and other citizens of the Commonwealth to see the symbol of national strength in a wheelchair. Or maybe they thought the juxtaposition between the hale and hearty Elizabeth of the 1950s through the 2010s, which the Queen's subjects had grown accustomed to, and the weakened and dying Elizabeth of the 2020s was just too disheartening.
In any event, we can point out this: Both FDR and Elizabeth were mobile enough that they did not absolutely have to use a wheelchair in public; there were plausible alternatives (FDR's leg braces, Elizabeth's cane). Abbott is not mobile enough; either he uses the chair in public or he (largely) stays behind closed doors.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: I am hoping you can explain what seems to me a political paradox. There is a popular narrative that the election of a Black president in 2008 created a white backlash that Donald Trump harnessed, and is in fact the genesis for the reactionary swing to the extreme right by many white, (mostly) rural voters. In this regard, David Graham writes in The Atlantic: "As the political scientist Ashley Jardina has noted, the election of Barack Obama, the first Black president, helped birth a wave of what she calls 'white identity politics.' Trump, in turn, harnessed that wave to sweep himself into office."
The reason I see this as a paradox (though perhaps that is not exactly the right word) is that Obama won re-election in 2012 fairly easily. So, if there was such a great backlash that it swept Trump to power, why did that backlash take 8 years to coalesce? How is that Obama was re-elected? Was it that Mitt Romney was such a "blah" candidate? Would Trump and his MAGA rabble-rousing have had a chance of beating Obama in 2012?
V & Z answer: Trump, largely by dumb luck, put together a political base that was just barely enough to win an election against a weak Democratic candidate. However, Obama was not a weak candidate. He was a bit vulnerable entering 2012, but righted the ship, ran a strong campaign, and crushed Romney, winning 5 million more popular votes and, more importantly, 126 more electoral votes. Obama would also have crushed Trump in 2012. Even if you award Romney (or some other Republican) the three states that Obama won by less than 5% of the vote (Florida, Ohio and Virginia), Obama still would have won the Electoral College 276-264.
D.K. in Miami, FL, asks: Could Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg plausibly run/win the potential open U.S. Senate seat or open governorship in Indiana in 2024 if Joe Biden runs for a second term?
V & Z answer: It is improbable that Buttigieg will run. He's a savvy politician, and knows that losing elections is not good for his brand.
If Buttigieg does run, it is improbable that he will win. Indiana is very red and very evangelical, and that does not bode well for a candidate who is very blue and very gay.
R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: You wrote: "Sixth, in polling, by a 6-1 margin, progressives love RCV and by the same margin conservatives hate it. Progressives love it because it eliminates fringe candidates. Conservatives hate it because it eliminates fringe candidates. Conservatives would greatly prefer partisan primaries because then an extreme right-winger could get the GOP nomination and make it to the general election as the only Republican. RCV prevents this. They see this as a bug, not a feature."
Is someone who wants an extreme right-winger as a nominee actually conservative? Doesn't being conservative by definition mean one does not take extreme positions? The Republican Party now seems to be full of people who have extreme views and take extreme positions. Does the conservative party remain conservative? Has the definition of conservative changed? Is up now down? Is down now up? Do Republicans say "Hello" when they leave and "Good-bye" when they arrive?
V & Z answer: There are plenty of conservatives who took/take extreme positions. John C. Calhoun. The various incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan. The John Birch Society. The Tea Party.
The question is whether (some of)) today's Republicans have gone so far right that they've left conservatism in the rear-view mirror and have entered the realm of fascism. Though actually, fascists are still technically conservatives, they just aren't usually described that way.
B.B. in Somerville, MA, asks: I am hoping you can assist with a point of confusion I've had forever. This week, you had an item regarding Ron DeSantis's top donors with amounts in the millions of dollars and then, only a day later, an item with the sentence "a millionaire fat cat can only give a few thousand dollars to a U.S. Senate candidate."
I admit I've only vaguely paid attention to the rules but would you be able to clear this up for us? When is there a limit, and when isn't there? Are DeSantis's totals due to PACs? Is the difference between a governor's race and a Senate race?
V & Z answer: We should have been more precise, though you have identified the two issues in play here.
To start, all federal campaigns are subject to contribution limits ($2,900 per election), per federal law. Since a primary is one election, the general is a second, and a runoff is a third, it is theoretically possible for a candidate to collect up to $8,700 in one cycle.
At the state level, the situation varies. Some states have very low limits—in Alaska, for example, it's just $500. Some states have limits similar to the federal one. Some states have high limits for some (or all) offices. For example, you can give gubernatorial candidates in New Mexico up to $10,000 per election (so, up to $20,000 per cycle, since New Mexico doesn't have runoffs). Some states have no limits at all. Should you care to look up any particular states, there is a comprehensive list here.
Florida is one of the states with limits similar to the federal limits (specifically, $3,000 per election for statewide candidates; $1,000 for legislative candidates). So, the big donations to DeSantis are actually going to an affiliated PAC, specifically Friends of Ron DeSantis.
G.T. in Cincinnati, OH, asks: You did a great job answering my last question about campaigns and their war chests. Now, is there any way of finding out if a campaign is investing in ground game face-to-face contacts, getting people to the polls, etc., versus running those ads that everyone (except the consultants) hate, especially late in the game?
V & Z answer: No, not really. Sometimes, by looking at the FEC filings, you can gain a few insights. Like, if a campaign reports that they paid $100,000 to Digital Advertising, Inc., then you know they spent $100,000 on online ads. But in general, the campaigns generally don't want outsiders to know too much about where they are putting their money because that information is, in effect, a trade secret.
Further, even if you had a perfect accounting of exactly how, say, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is spending her campaign money, you still wouldn't have the full picture. The actual campaigns get steeply discounted rates on TV ads, so it is the campaigns themselves that pay for most of the commercials. Ground game, get-out-the-vote operations, etc., are often funded by the national parties, or by the national campaign committees (e.g., the DCCC), or by PACs.
C.V. in Chadron, NE, asks: I am always thinking of ways to put trust into our system so that the general public will have more trust in our elections and their outcomes. I wonder if there is a way that each ballot could have a "unique serial number," so that when you are in the voting booth, you take note of the ballot's serial number. When the election is over, election results would eventually be made publicly available (probably on a dedicated website) with which ballots were cast for every item on the ballot, from president all the way down to local elections and ballot initiatives.
All you would have to do is access the website, and through a series of tabs and drop downs, easily find any race in the country and all the ballots' unique serial numbers will be listed as a vote for any and every candidate, in numerical order so the person can easily find their ballot. With this system, any voter could verify that their votes were counted correctly on everything they voted for on their ballot. Do you think such a verification system could be implemented in our election system?
V & Z answer: This proposal would make printing the ballots slightly more complicated, since each one would be different and for security reasons the numbers would have to be random (not sequential). One of us (V) developed a scheme that makes voting secure and also prevents secretaries of state, county officials, and poll workers from tampering with ballots. A paper describing the method was published in a major journal in 2009. It is somewhat technical, but anyone with a math, engineering, or science background should be able to understand most of it. A more detailed version can be found here.
In addition, there is a vast literature of other proposals for making voting trustworthy. The Website Verified Voting has many resources on the subject. Other places to look are here, here, here, and here.
There are even conferences on secure voting. Many schemes besides ours have been proposed. If Congress wanted to make voting secure, all it would have to do is ask the National Academy of Engineering to come up with a specific plan on how to do it. In a year, it would have a plan.
The problem of making voting secure is not technical. Hundreds of schemes have been proposed, each aimed at some different aspect of the voting process. The problems are threefold:
- Getting Congress to act when the Republicans don't want secure, provably tamperproof voting
- Convincing the states to give up some power and implement a voting scheme devised by the federal government
- Making the system solid enough to work yet simple enough for voters to understand
Many of the proposals tackle a multitude of problems. Here is just one. Imagine a scheme in which, post-election, the secretary of state's website has a list of (random number on the ballot, political office, candidate chosen) triples, so a voter then knows his or her vote counted and can also compute the total for each candidate and compare it to the official results. But this also means people can sell their votes and prove to the buyer that they voted as instructed (by giving the buyer a photo of the ballot with the random number). So there are tradeoffs relating to security in terms of accuracy, verifiability, anonymity, usability, and speed, with different schemes having different properties. Ultimately, the bottom line is that there are much better systems possible than what we have now, but the problem is political, not technical.
S.S-L. in Norman, OK, asks: What will it take to heal the political divide in this country?
V & Z answer: First, we must dispense with the notion that there's ever been a time when the country was not divided. There have always been fissures in American society. And, to be blunt, the South is more often than not the instigator of those fissures.
That said, there have been times when the pendulum swung in the direction of greater unity. Generally, it takes at least one of these three things: (1) a unifying leader, like Franklin D. Roosevelt; (2) a national crisis, like World War I; and/or (3) economic prosperity.
T.B. in Bozeman, MT, asks: I have been intrigued by the story of the crystal flute given to James Madison by the French government. It was recently brought out and very creditably played by the pop star Lizzo at an event. Did James Madison play the flute? How many U.S. presidents were accomplished instrument-playing musicians?
V & Z answer: It is unknown whether Madison played that flute, or any other.
However, there are a handful of verified musical presidents, including two who were virtuoso-level. The first virtuoso won't surprise you; it was Thomas Jefferson, who was basically good at everything he tried. His main instrument was the violin, but he also played others, including an instrument of his own devising called a verrillon. The verrillon was a form of harp where the tones were produced by striking glasses filled with different amounts of water.
The other virtuoso is more of a surprise. It's... Warren Harding, who could play nearly every instrument, and who even played the tuba at the 1920 Republican National Convention to celebrate his nomination for president. And you thought that Donald Trump was the only president who tooted his own horn.
The other musical presidents largely confined themselves to one instrument. John Quincy Adams was a serious flautist, John Tyler could play the violin, and both Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon were known as passable piano players. And Bill Clinton, of course, plays the saxophone.
J.B. in Hutto, TX, asks: I was very surprised to see that Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, and the subsequent American victories at Trenton and Princeton, did not make the cut for your 25 most important events in American history between 1492 and 1877. This was the crucial moment of the Revolutionary War. In December of 1776, the U.S. army had been all but destroyed, the few remaining troops were due to go home on New Year's Day, New York City, New Jersey, and Rhode Island had fallen to the enemy, Loyalists were emerging to regain control, and most knowledgeable observers thought the war was already lost. The dramatic events between the crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day and the Battle of Princeton on January 3 (sometimes called the "Ten Crucial Days") saved the Revolution and, therefore, saved the United States of America.
For that matter, I can't help but notice that no event of the Revolutionary War—not Bunker Hill, not Saratoga, not Yorktown—earned a mention, whereas no less than four military events of the Civil War got top billing.
Care to explain your reasoning?
V & Z answer: Remember that both lists were layered on top of an existing class, which means they highlighted only events that the class covers.
(Z) has taught on 10- and 15-week schedules, and on both, the time flies by. Even with 15 weeks, there are roughly 3 weeks for the colonial period (Natives/Columbus/Jamestown/etc.); 3 weeks for the Declaration, Revolution, and Constitution; 3 weeks for the early Republic (Second Great Awakening/Jacksonian Democracy/War of 1812/etc.); 3 weeks for the antebellum era (women's rights/Native Americans and Trail of Tears/road to Civil War); and 3 weeks for the Civil War and Reconstruction.
When you have 4-5 lectures for a war (i.e., the Civil War), you can get into some of the specific military engagements. When you have only 1-2 lectures (i.e., the Revolutionary War), you can only cover the grand strategic picture.
S.I. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: Maybe I'm just unusually ignorant, but I didn't know who Samuel Slater (#8 in your top 25 for the first half of U.S. history) was and had to look him up. So now I know that he played a major role at the beginning the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. (Oh, yeah, Slater's Mill. But I couldn't have told you what it was or why it mattered.)
Given your discussion of how you selected the top 25, his arrival might be there mostly because the Industrial Revolution itself was important but too spread out to fit the criteria of the list, and so you chose a significant "chain link" to stand for the whole. But surely the Industrial Revolution would have eventually come to the U.S. one way or another. Did you consider that his personal contribution kick-started or sped up the revolution here to the extent that subsequent history would have been substantially different without him?
And how come he is now so much less famous than, say, Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or, indeed, Eli Whitney? Just passage of time? The subsequent decline of his industry? (Or is it only me?)
V & Z answer: Anytime you make a list like those, you want to include a few things that most people don't already know. And Slater is definitely someone that most people won't have heard of.
That is not to say he's not supremely important, however. He was an industrial spy who literally risked his life to smuggle the secrets of British industry into America. Thanks to the mercantile system, American manufacturing was 50-75 years behind British manufacturing when independence came. Slater helped make up for much of that gap, in one fell swoop. The U.S. probably would have industrialized eventually, but it might have been years or decades later without Slater's stolen information. And if industrialization begins 10-20 years later, who knows how other, subsequent events are affected. Maybe, without its already considerable industrial might, the U.S. loses the War of 1812 and is re-absorbed by the British.
As to Slater being forgotten, there's only so much time in any history class, and many teachers have decided he doesn't make the cut. Usually, the Lowell Mills are covered instead, because that's also early manufacturing, but it's also women's history. So, it's a two-fer.
D.D. in Portland, OR, asks: Really enjoyed the added detail and context you gave on your top 25 list in the Q&A. I appreciate that the event has to be not just memorable but transformative, hence D-Day is lower than the Battle of Midway, and the Bataan Death March isn't listed. Of course, I know it would be silly to quibble one item's placement over another, just as you wouldn't dare critique how I flip burgers. That said, I'm stumped! Why did you exclude the Marshall Plan? (Though I'd love it if you said, "(Z) just Googled the Marshall Plan, and by golly, you're absolutely right! (Z) will be sure to discuss this topic in future lectures." Alas, I don't think that'll happen.)
V & Z answer: Sorry, (Z) knows very well about the Marshall Plan. If he was just making a list of key events, without having to worry about teaching a class, it would make the cut. But one of the hardest things to communicate to students is the nuances of diplomacy and/or government policy. People, battles, court cases, important books and elections, among other subjects, are all pretty easy. But because diplomacy/policy are more abstract, they are way harder (the same holds for economic concepts). And in that particular lecture, it's necessary to mention Yalta, NATO, the Berlin Airlift, containment and domino theory in close order. Not to mention "communism" and "Cold War," That's already enough to make students' heads spin, and if the Marshall Plan were to be added in, it would be too much.
You could argue that if one thing has to go, it should be NATO or the Berlin Airlift and not the Marshall Plan. But NATO and the Airlift are important to understanding how the Cold War was a slowly emerging state of affairs, as opposed to an overnight development.
K.E. in Newport, RI, asks: This summer, on the Fourth of July weekend, my girlfriend and I visited Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. There were two controversial issues we encountered during our visit that the park staff was either unwilling or unable to address to our satisfaction. We were very surprised by the presence of Confederate monuments in the park. I do not understand why the federal government chooses to memorialize Confederate forces at a federal park. For one, the Confederates sought to dissolve the United States federal government and maintain slavery, which had already been abolished by executive order prior to Gettysburg. Secondly, it is undisputed that Confederate forces attacked Pennsylvania. The park staff said the reason why these monuments exist is to create a climate of reconciliation. We found this answer dubious. Can you imagine the outrage if monuments to Japanese forces were built at Pearl Harbor or a monument to al-Qaeda was built in Manhattan? Why are these monuments there at all?
The other issue we heard about during our trip was the ecological status of the park. There is debate, both inside and outside the local community, about preserving the park in the condition it was in when the battle took place. Much of the area was clear cut by American settlers in the decades prior to the war. The park service wants to keep the battlefield as clear as possible, which means preserving fields and preventing naturally occurring changes to take place. However, I see no problem with letting Mother Nature take her course and letting the park evolve back to its naturally wooded state. People will still be able to enjoy and use the park even if it doesn't resemble the condition it was in when the battle occurred. It would benefit the wildlife of the region for this to happen. What do you think?
V & Z answer: The federal government does not choose to memorialize Confederates at Gettysburg. Every monument there was paid for by... someone else. Often, a state government or a regiment would raise funds to build a monument to themselves. Sometimes, an interest group like the Daughters of the Confederacy, or the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, or the Grand Army of the Republic would do so. The relatively small number of Confederate monuments are nearly all of recent vintage, and were all paid for by private donations. That includes the notorious and godawful James Longstreet monument.
The National Park Service (NPS) allows the monuments to be placed—assuming they are not offensive—because there are First Amendment issues in play here. If the NPS were to forbid Confederate monuments, they would be sued, and they would probably lose. There's also a pretty good argument that the monuments—again, assuming they are not offensive—offer teachable moments for visitors.
As to keeping the battlefield clear, (Z) has no real opinion, because having an opinion isn't going to change anything. There are a lot of people who are pretty fanatical about keeping the battlefield as close to July 1863 as is possible, and those people always get what they want. There used to be an observation deck that gave a stellar view of the whole battlefield, but that was an eyesore for anyone standing at ground level. And so, it was torn down, and the Civil War fans rejoiced greatly.
If (Z) was to have an opinion, it would probably be this: There are millions of square miles in the U.S. that can be allowed to exist in, or return to, their natural state. There are only 20 or so square miles that can be preserved as a time capsule for one of the pivotal events of American history (and one that actually gets people interested in the past). So, he has no problem with trying to freeze the battlefield in time.
A.C. in Aachen, Germany, asks: Last Saturday, in response to a question from D.C. from South Elgin, you addressed the issue of the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As part of your answer you described Franklin D. Roosevelt's isolationist policy as "lip service."
Because this assessment leads to the conclusion that Roosevelt was looking for a way to enter the war, there have always been rumors that the U.S. administration knew in advance about the Japanese attack—and tolarated it in order to have a rationale for entering World War II. Among some other indicators, it is often mentioned that the most important part of the U.S. fleet has been moved out of Pearl Harbor.
As (Z) is familiar with conspiracy theories, could you say a few words about the elements of this conspiracy theory and why it is indeed a conspiracy theory?
V & Z answer: You have pointed out two of the three main bases for the conspiracy theory: that FDR was maneuvering the U.S. toward entering the war and that the U.S. carriers were not in port that day. The third thing that is often brought up is that the U.S. had intercepted Japanese messages that revealed the imminent attack, and yet did not act upon them.
However, two of these three things are easily explained. It is Naval Warfare 101 to make certain that you don't have all your ships in port at the same time, just in case, you know, the enemy shows up and starts firing away. So, of course the battleships and carriers weren't all there on December 7, because they were never all there at the same time. As to the intercepted messages, it's true the U.S. had that intelligence. However, those messages were written in classical Japanese and then encoded. So, it took time to decode them. Which meant that the incriminating messages were not deciphered until several days after the attack.
These things being the case, the only real evidence for the conspiracy is that FDR was preparing to enter the war. However, any attack on the U.S. would have done the job, not just an attack where the U.S. Navy was caught with its pants down. So, if FDR really knew what was about to happen, there was no good reason for him not to warn Pearl Harbor.
And as to the Navy being caught unprepared, there is a considerably better answer for that than a Machiavellian conspiracy. And that answer is... racism (or, at very least, white paternalism). The U.S. knew that Japanese planes in the 1910s and 1920s had a range of 300 miles, and did not imagine that the Japanese might improve their planes (to their 1940s range of 500 miles). In addition, the U.S. thought the Japanese would choose an easier target, and would never dare to hit the mightiest U.S. naval base in the Pacific (i.e., Pearl Harbor). So, the U.S. Navy was keeping its eyes open, at a range of 300-350 miles, and particularly around bases like Midway and Manila. They just weren't watching carefully at 500 miles/Pearl Harbor.
H.M in San Dimas, CA, asks: I'm a week late on this, since his 98th birthday was last weekend, but I was wondering how you assess the presidency of Jimmy Carter. I've read books where he was called one of the worst ever and books where is called very underrated. And I've read books where the presidents after him hated dealing with him, especially when he wanted to go to a country to help with negotiations for hostage release or some other matter. Just curious as to your thoughts. Thank you,
V & Z answer: He is, by all indications, a genuinely good guy. And he's had the most successful post-presidency of, quite probably, any president (it's really between him and Donald Trump, right?). These are exactly the kinds of things that will make people look back on his actual presidency more fondly than while he was actually in office.
This is not to say that Carter has no presidential feathers in his cap. With things he was able to do on his own, like executive orders and diplomacy, he achieved some important successes, most obviously the Camp David Accords. He also had the good fortune to preside over a dramatic expansion of the judiciary, and so was able to diversify the judicial ranks, which had previously been 95%+ white and male.
However, Carter did not play well with others. He micromanaged his staff, driving them to distraction. And he had an awful time getting along with Congress, including members of his own party. So, he did not achieve much legislatively, despite having the trifecta. He had the bad luck to be in office during a time of economic turmoil, which he proved to be unable to do anything to tame. And he just wasn't an inspiring leader, at least not while he was in the White House.
So, it's a mixed bag. Looking solely at his presidency (and not the post-White House stuff), he's middle-of-the-pack, which is about where historians rank him, usually.
D.M. in McLean, VA, asks: Having read many, many history related questions from the last Q&A, I'm left with a question from my own experience. Over 30 years ago, when I left high school to start university and study Computer Science (Hi, (V)!) I had a bit of an epiphany. History is interesting (Hi, (Z)!). The way I've always summarized it is that in high school (and before), we were taught names and dates. In college, we were taught cause and effect. To me, seeing how things fit together gave it relevance. These days, I often spend my lunchtime reading through a Wikipedia article about some event or individual, many times based on a citation on E-V.com, that I'm curious to learn more about.
Now, as my own child is moving through school, I'm left with a question: How should history be taught to the next generation to make it more engaging than just facts and figures? My child shouldn't have to wait until college to find out that history is interesting. It also leaves me recalling one of my favorite quotes, or perhaps a paraphrase of a quote, "those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
And sorry, but I will be unavailable to attend the cocaine (due to my employment) and hookers (due to my spouse) party this year.
V & Z answer: Your last note implies you'll be able to attend next year. Are you planning to get rid of the job, the spouse, or both?
As to the teaching of history, you have the right of it, in (Z)'s view. Making students memorize names and dates and obscure things like the Platt Amendment is a damn waste of time. Even at a fairly young age, students should learn about cause and effect and other big-picture questions. They should also be exposed to the practice of history. Even fourth- and fifth-grade students can be given age-appropriate research projects to do.
The big problem (or the dirty secret, if you prefer) is that many of the people teaching history in high school and elementary school don't really know the subject, or what the practice of history really means. In 2000 or so, the American Historical Association did a study, and learned that 70% of high school history teachers had never taken a college course in history (much less majored in the subject). That is because history is where schools tended to stick the football coaches, so they would have a job. Presumably, the ratio isn't that bad today, but undoubtedly there are still some history teachers who have no business teaching the subject.
D.W. in Benbrook, TX, asks: You wrote: "That said, the students have a strong argument, too. The grades in Jones' classes became laughably bad, even by o-chem standards. The mean grade was around 30%. Many students scored in the single digits, and some of them recorded zeroes. When you have a grade curve like that, something is clearly going wrong, and it's not all on the students."
How can you draw the conclusion it's not all on the students? Haven't we seen many articles in recent years about the deteriorating quality of education in the United States? When you have a deteriorating situation, it will be the most demanding courses that show the effects first. Organic chemistry has always been a hard course.
Isn't it possible that at that university, the effects of deteriorating education among American students has crossed a threshold where the traditional standards of the most demanding courses can't be met?
V & Z answer: Another personal anecdote, in a week that's been full of them: (Z) knows not a damn thing about calculus. And that is not just because he's a historian. It is because when he was a junior in high school, he took trigonometry and pre-calculus with a new and inexperienced teacher. And so he, and the other 58 students in the class, did not get the foundation they needed for calculus.
Senior year, the woman who had taught calculus at the school for 40 years unexpectedly quit 2 weeks before school started. To replace her at that late date, the school arranged for the local community college to offer a section of calculus to meet at the high school. They got a retired engineer, who was also the father of one of the high schoolers, to teach the class. And since none of the 59 students were properly prepared, everyone was lost from day one. The confusion got worse and worse, and the professor/father took the attitude that it wasn't his problem, and that it was on the students to teach themselves that which they did not know or understand. Ultimately, students started dropping the class left and right, with the result that the enrollment by the end of the semester was down to... one person (the professor's kid). At least half of those 59 students went on to get advanced degrees, including several who got Ph.Ds in scientific fields from either MIT or CalTech.
So, was there a problem with the students in that class? Yes, they were unprepared for it. But it's not like they were all stupid and lazy. It is (Z)'s view, as someone who is now a professor himself, that the guy teaching the class should have adapted. But he didn't, with the result that every student he wasn't related to felt the need to bail out. What, ultimately, was the point of that exercise? And what, ultimately, is the point of writing o-chem tests that nobody can pass? The university system is still going to produce [X] number of doctors, and [Y] number of biologists, and [Z] number of chemists. If the undergrads aren't able to learn something about o-chem in their intro classes, then either they'll have to go back and do it again later (wasting time and energy), or the system will decide that o-chem actually isn't all that important.
And for the record, we've both failed plenty of students in our time. But when the curve goes off a cliff, it's up to everyone involved to take a look and try to figure out how to do better.
S.O. in Chicago, IL, asks: I have a degree in chemical engineering, and took many of the "weeder" classes such as o-chem. We had multiple classes where a 50% earned an A, and the mean was more like 30-40 %. None of these classes were remotely close to the conditions chemical engineers actually work in. No one is ever going to hold you up in a dark alley demanding you draw the structure of Cysteine. This is essentially what the "memorize everything" classes teach. Generally, the folks who do really well in these theoretical classes stink in industry. I would fix the system by having all the tests be open-book and open-note, along with giving everyone a verbal exam at the end of the year to ensure they know their stuff. How would you fix it?
(By the way, I've been in the renewable and low-carbon field for the last 5 years. All the technologies that work require loads of low skill labor, and take place in either heavy industrial areas, or heavy agricultural areas. Could be a good way to regain blue collar workers and rural people on the Democratic side. Just a thought.)
V & Z answer: All right, one more personal anecdote. At the end of the first year of grad school, (Z) had to take a written exam, in which all of the U.S. history grad students were expected to write three 10-page historical essays (one broad, one narrow, one historiographic) in 9 hours. Students were allowed to work at home, in their offices, etc., but looking things up on a computer or in books was absolutely forbidden.
(Z) passed the test, of course, but what exactly was the point of the no-looking-things-up bit? He has never again been in a position where he couldn't look things up if he needed to. UCLA only did it that way because that's the way it had always been done, even if it never really made sense.
All of this is to say that neither of us has ever taught o-chem, or anything close to it, but your proposal is surely on the right track. Why pretend that we live in world without computers and the Internet? If you know a piece of information of the top of your head, or if you know how to get that piece of information quickly, doesn't that produce the same result in the real world? Indeed, human brains are already getting so accustomed to being able to look things up on the Internet that scholars have coined the term Google effect to describe the observed tendency to more easily forget things that are easily found online.
F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: You wrote that Mark Bauerlein (who is an emeritus professor) thinks that "free speech must be reestablished at universities and elsewhere, so that views that don't agree with small, but extremely loud, groups can be expressed." Is he right? Can you personally express your views freely?
V & Z answer: There is certainly a problem, particularly at some universities and in some disciplines, where there is a party line to be followed, and those who act otherwise do so at their own peril. That said, this issue should not be overstated, either. It's mostly an annoyance for faculty members when they deal with their colleagues, and does not spill into the classroom all that often.
As to our experience, we've never been particularly constrained in what we say. One of us, of course, does not teach in the United States. And the other has taught many classes at left-leaning public universities in California without issue. Part of the reason is that there are certain things neither of us would say, because we personally don't think those things are apropos. For example, regardless of university policy, neither of us would use our lecture podium to expound on our political views. And part of the reason is that there are less likely to be ruffled feathers if it's made clear that all points of view are welcome, and that students should bring up any concerns if they feel they or their views have been disrespected.
E.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Why is so much of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown spent on Snoopy's World War I fighter pilot bit? Your guess as to what point Charles Schulz was trying to make is much appreciated.
V & Z answer: You should not assume Schulz had some deep, philosophical motivation behind his choices. There is a somewhat famous story about the time he was asked why he made Snoopy a beagle and not a dachshund or a poodle or a chihuahua. And Schultz explained that he made that choice because "beagle" sounds funnier.
As to It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the World War I fighter bit had appeared in the comic strip a few times, but it wasn't a signature bit before the cartoon was made. So, focusing on Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel allowed Schultz (and the other creatives, most obviously Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson) to do something that was apropos to the subject (Snoopy is in costume, after all), something that was rooted in the comic strip without being old hat, and something that set up the payoff in Act III.
C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: After reading your item "Keystone Kandidates," I have to ask, is that a Keystone Kops reference? If so, hilarious! Additionally, what's the most obscure reference you've made that a reader managed to catch?
V & Z answer: It was indeed a Keystone Kops reference; one that worked out very fortuitously.
It's hard to know which references readers do, and do not, catch, since such references only occasionally lead to e-mails. For example, will anyone get that the allusion to the Platt Amendment (above) is a reference to the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High? In that movie, every time the boring history teacher (Ray Walston, RIP) is shown lecturing, it's always about the Platt Amendment.
Similarly, (Z) has an encyclopedic knowledge of the show M*A*S*H, but doubts that too many people (if any) catch it when he borrows from that show. And did anyone recognize that the bit about cocaine and hookers was a reference to the movies Scarface and The Wolf of Wall Street? Dunno. (Z) also expected a few e-mails about a line from a Lindsey Graham story a couple of weeks ago, but there were none. Did it pass over people's heads, or did people just not e-mail? (For reference, the line was: "we've thought about what Graham is doing, from top to bottom...".)
People do usually catch the marijuana references, and the Star Trek references, and the Beatles references, though, and write in to tell us about it.
Mike Franken had a sexual harassment scandal this week, so if his bacon wasn't cooked before, it certainly is now. (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Iowa||Michael Franken||38%||Chuck Grassley*||49%||Oct 02||Oct 04||Emerson Coll.|