CRF Blog

Proust and Dreyfus

by Bill Hayes

In Proust and Dreyfus, Tablet magazine has published an excerpt from Gaslight by Joachim Kalka, showing the great influence of the Dreyfus affair.

The Dreyfus affair was an event with European, indeed global resonance. Chekhov and Mark Twain wrote about it. In the Swabian backwater of Hemmingen, Baroness Spitzemberg, the widow of Württemberg’s envoy to Berlin, noted in her famous diary after Dreyfus’s second conviction in 1899: “It is incredible how the question has whipped up feelings even in the lowest classes: Often the farmers come to the post office late in the evening to pick up the local papers and read the news of the trial, rather than waiting to get them in the morning.” The discussions in Germany and Austria were a complex subject unto themselves. The astonishing spectacle of Wilhelm Liebknecht, doyen of German social democracy, publishing a series of harsh anti-Dreyfusard articles in young Karl Kraus’s journal Die Fackel can be put down to a mistrust of the liberal press and the fear that the German Reich might use the affair as an excuse to take a hard line toward a discredited France.

A little book published in 1935 still gives what may be the best sense of what the Dreyfus affair was and how it felt. It is called Souvenirs Sur L’Affaire, and its author is Léon Blum. Readers may know him as the great French statesman who succeeded Jean Jaurès as one of the leading figures of French socialism, a man whose name is now associated chiefly with the Popular Front governments between 1936 and 1938. The front populaire achieved several epochal social reforms, introducing such things as paid vacations. An elderly worker once wrote to Blum to thank him for the opportunity to see the sea once in his life.

After France was defeated during World War II, Blum openly opposed right-wing collaborationists and called on the socialists to respond with resistance; when the Vichy regime tried him in February 1942, he and his co-defendants pulled off such an impressive and elegant defense that the trial was ultimately called off—strikingly echoing the acquittal of the Communist Dimitroff in the Reichstag fire trial. Blum’s life was spared because he and several other prominent figures were kept as hostages until the end of the war to be used as security in the event of negotiations with the Allies.

Born in 1872, Blum experienced the Dreyfus affair as a young lawyer and writer; the drama seems to have played a crucial role in politicizing him …. [more]

CRF has a free Bill of Rights in Action online lesson titled The Dreyfus Affair and the Press. It is part of CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

How to Become a Famous Media Scholar

by Bill Hayes

In How to Become a Famous Media Scholar for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jefferson Pooley profiles Marshall McLuhan.

WHEN MARSHALL MCLUHAN published Understanding Media in 1964, the Cambridge-trained literary scholar was not well known, even inside the academy. By 1967, he was on the covers of Newsweek and the Saturday Review, and the subject of an hourlong NBC documentary, all in the same month. Over three manic years, McLuhan had shot from scholarly obscurity to klieg-lit fame.

Like most celebrity ascensions, McLuhan’s was the product of a conscious publicity campaign. Handlers, press agents, and impresarios worked together to make “McLuhan” a household name. He was packaged and promoted like a promising starlet, with multimedia gusto. Understanding Media garnered a few mainstream print reviews upon publication, but McLuhan’s break came in early 1965, when a pair of San Francisco prospectors — one, Gerald Feigen, a physician, the other, Howard Gossage, an ad-agency executive — “discovered” McLuhan and promptly arranged to visit the Canadian in Toronto. Feigen and Gossage were self-fashioned avant-gardists, using profits from their business consulting firm for “genius scouting”; the doctor read Understanding Media and alerted his partner. Together they plotted a full-fledged publicity rollout, starting with cocktail parties in New York City with media and publishing figures. The pair staged a weeklong “McLuhan Festival” that summer, with nightly parties and a rotating cast of ad executives, newspaper editors, mayoral aides, and business leaders in attendance.

Tom Wolfe, not yet famous as a prophet of the New Journalism, was there too, on assignment for the New York Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine New York. He soon published a feverish profile (“What If He’s Right?”): “Suppose he is what he sounds like, the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and Pavlov?” Wolfe’s lead paragraph centered on McLuhan’s business appeal: “One of the big American corporations has offered him $5000 to present a closed-circuit — ours! — television lecture on — oracle! — the ways the products in its industry will be used in the future. Even before all this, IBM, General Electric, Bell Telephone were flying McLuhan in from Toronto to New York, Pittsburgh, God knows where else, to talk to their hierarchs about … well, about whatever this unseen world of electronic environments that only he sees fully is all about.”

In late 1965, the same month that Wolfe’s piece appeared, Harper’s ran its own spread on “Canada’s Intellectual Comet.” The media sluice gates had opened. Over the next two years, extended profiles of McLuhan were published by Fortune, MacLean’s, the Saturday Review, Esquire, Newsweek, and the New York Times Magazine. McLuhan himself wrote articles for, or sat for interviews with, TV Guide, Family Circle, Mademoiselle, Look, Vogue, McCall’s, and Glamour. He appeared for lengthy segments on the BBC, NBC, CBC, NPR, and the Voice of America. The New Yorker ran its first cartoon on him (“You see, Dad, Professor McLuhan says …”), and a version of McLuhan’s new book, The Medium is the Massage, was released as an audio LP by CBS Records, the same month (March 1967) as the Newsweek cover and NBC documentary. McLuhan was famous. [more]

America’s democracy has become illiberal

by David De La Torre

In America’s democracy has become illiberal for the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria worries about an illiberal trend in the U.S.

Two decades ago, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs that described an unusual and worrying trend: the rise of illiberal democracy. Around the world, dictators were being deposed and elections were proliferating. But in many of the places where ballots were being counted, the rule of law, respect for minorities, freedom of the press and other such traditions were being ignored or abused. Today, I worry that we might be watching the rise of illiberal democracy in the United States — something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic. [more]

Politics And Prose

by Bill Hayes

In Politics And Prose for the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg reviews Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary.

Throughout his adult life, Pat Moynihan was part of so many different and opposing worlds that having it both ways was almost a way of life for him, for good and for ill. He was a streetwise Irish lad shining shoes for dimes in Times Square who adopted the vocabulary (“perforce,” “at all events,” “of a sudden”) and tweedy wardrobe of a dandified Oxford don. He was an occasionally observant if less than pious Catholic who became part of that circle of secular, mostly Jewish New York intellectuals whose style of thought and expression, if not their current politics, was rooted in the polemics of the kind of exotic Marxist radicalisms that never tempted him. He was a cradle-to-grave Democrat who held his highest appointive offices in Republican administrations. Within the Democratic Party, he had the id of a regular and the superego of a reformer. He was a conservative among liberals and a liberal among conservatives. He was a social scientist who did politics and a politician who did social science. He craved the quiet security of academic life but repeatedly abandoned it for the risks and tumults of public office. It’s not that he was neither here nor there; it’s that he was both.

These tensions and crosscuttings make for a stimulating book, just as they made for an adventurous mind and an eventful life. The tensions were more often creative than crippling. Moynihan’s doubleness was a powerful spur to the originality that marked his thinking on public policy. It was the bedrock of his genuine independence, intellectual and political. He was commonly called a centrist and had no particular objection to the label. But he was no mere splitter of differences. He did not discover his ideas by averaging the distance between the ideas of others. He was more apt to take a leap outside the existing spectrum of choices. “I find myself once more in that pitiable role of the meliorist,” he observed dryly in a 1990 letter to a journalist friend. But, of course, Moynihan’s meliorism had a Moynihan twist. The letter was about his ingenious effort to re-start the stalled debate on gun control by shifting the focus to what comes out of the barrel. “Guns don’t kill people, bullets do” was his summary — the sort of tart coinage he was famous for (“defining deviancy down”; “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts”). His most dizzying leaps had a way of falling short of a safe landing. His audacious Family Assistance Plan of 1969, which would have guaranteed a cash income to the poor as a matter of right, persuaded a Republican President but not a Democratic Congress. In the Senate, his largeness of vision produced no grand piece of landmark legislation; there is no Moynihan equivalent of the Wagner Act. With guns, though, he had a modest success with a modest idea, guiding to passage a ban on so-called cop-killer bullets — “the first law ever to outlaw a round of ammunition,” he noted with satisfaction.

Originality and independence were one side of Moynihan’s doubleness; the other was the way it invited mistrust and misunderstanding, the consequences of which, to judge from the letters, preoccupied him increasingly over time. A volatile, Jekyll-Hyde dynamic lights up “A Portrait in Letters” like the poles of a battery. Especially when two phenomena — Nixon and, later, neoconservatism — enter the picture, the sparks fly.

The Nixon years were Moynihan’s apotheosis as a flatterer. In 1968, he campaigned for Robert Kennedy and endorsed Hubert Humphrey, but he began to “reach out” (a phrase he would have despised) to their nemesis months before the nominating conventions. With the election a week away — and three weeks after admonishing a top aide to President Johnson to “have no fear” that he would accept a job with the enemy — he writes a Heepish letter. “Dear Mr. Nixon: I was greatly impressed by your radio address on the subject of employment. . . .” Once ensconced in the victor’s White House as Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, he unleashed a stream of memorandums that played his new boss — whose aspirational insecurities, base resentments, and longing to flummox the critics he well understood — like a Stradivarius. [more]

Teaching Humility in an Age of Arrogance

by Bill Hayes

In Teaching Humility in an Age of Arrogance for the Chronicle of Higher Education, philosophy professor Michael Patrick Lynch argues that our democracy requires greater humility among citizens.

Fueling this trend of know-it-all arrogance is the oft-cited polarization of the American people, encouraged by our use of technology. The internet didn’t create this polarization, but it does speed it up. That’s partly because the analytics that drive the internet don’t just get us more information; they get us more of the information we want.

Everything from the ads we read to the political news in our Facebook feed is tailored to our preferences. That’s incredibly useful for buying shoes and finding good restaurants. It is easier than ever to get and share information, but the information we get often reflects ourselves as much as it does anything else. Less noticed is that this has an effect not only on how we regard others, but on how we regard ourselves. [more]

20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Swamps

by David De La Torre

Discover magazine looks at 20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Swamps.

7. There’s been a lot of political talk of “draining the swamp,” but environmentally speaking, that’s a very      bad idea. Wetlands perform crucial functions, including inland flood control and coastal storm buffers.

8. Swamps are also stars when it comes to carbon sequestration. Although wetlands comprise 5 to 8 percent of the planet’s land surface, they’re holding up to 30 percent of Earth’s stored carbon. [more]

Paul Theroux’s 6 favorite books

by Bill Hayes

For The Week, author Paul Theroux lists his 6 favorite books.

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti …. This is one of those books that explain everything — in this case, the way humans gather in groups, how they seize power, and the symbols they value. It is a study in tyranny and in other forms of domination — among them, a mother serving food. Canetti put 30 years into writing it, and he deserved the Nobel Prize in literature he won decades later. [more]

Remembering Childhood Trauma That Never Happened

by Bill Hayes

In Remembering Childhood Trauma That Never Happened, the New York Times’ Science of Us examines false memories.

Daniel Schacter was one of the first scientists to look seriously at the nature of false memories, but the person who brought them into the global spotlight was University of California, Irvine, psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. Her research over the past three and a half decades has upended everything we thought we knew about this phenomenon.

After graduating from Stanford in 1974, Loftus began working for the U.S. Department of Transportation, examining eyewitness accounts of accidents. She noticed that when estimating the speed of cars involved in crashes, witnesses answered differently depending on how the question was phrased. The highest estimates went to those trying to guess the speeds of two cars that “smashed” into each other. Second highest were for cars that “hit” each other, and the lowest were for the ones that “made contact” with each other. Loftus began to wonder how deep this “memory contamination,” as she calls it, goes.

In the mid-1970s, this led to one of her most famous sets of experiments. People viewed slides of a red Datsun passing a stop sign and then smacking a pedestrian. The experimenters asked the subjects a number of questions, some of which are a little misleading, like, “Did another car pass the red Datsun while it was stopped at the yield sign?” The subject thinks for a moment and then says to herself, No, I definitely didn’t see any other cars next to that yield sign. And voilà, the sign has changed in their minds.

You see, as the subjects are trying to make sense of what is happening in front of them, they are falling back on the frameworks in their brains, built over the course of their whole lives. And it turns out that sometimes the observed reality is more fluid than the preconceived story. Was that a yield sign? Yeah, yeah — I think it was. Many people think of memory as some kind of video, one that you can simply rewind to see what happened. It’s a nice idea, but such hidden memories, if they exist, are extremely rare. More often, when you try to go back in time, your mind simply fills in the blanks with something that seems right, given the story it’s trying to construct. We all have memories like this — things we’re sure about and that we can see with our eyes closed — that just aren’t true.

After her traffic accident research, Loftus began focusing all her attention on this kind of corrupted memory. Over the years, she has managed to implant dozens of scenarios from people’s childhoods that never actually happened. In one, she convinced a healthy segment of her subjects that they had once gotten lost in a mall as a child and their parents had been panicked until a kindly man in a jean jacket found them and returned them. To get the memory to stick, she used all her suggestive prowess (as with the yield sign), and added a new element by bringing in trusted family members to testify to the accuracy of the lost-kid narrative. Within weeks, about a quarter of her subjects remembered the event as real. [more]

Charlie Rose Interviews Michael Morell

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA.

Special Report on the Arab World

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report on the Arab World features the following articles:

The Arab world looks at the clash within a civilization.

Unintended consequences examines the division of Arab territories following World War I and the consequences.

Mamluks and maliks explores why monarchies have proven more successful than republics in the Arab world.

Black gold, white gold reports on economic problems.

The new strife looks at divisions within Islam.

Which Islam? summarizes five strands of Muslim politics.

From Beirut to Baghdad looks at foreign intervention in the area.

What is the Arabic for democracy? examines the prospects for a better future.

As Venezuela Declines, So Does Its Latin American Influence

by Bill Hayes

In As Venezuela Declines, So Does Its Latin American Influence for Bloomberg Businessweek, Tim Padgett looks at the decline of Venezuela.

“I have never seen a country going down so fast,” Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), recently told the Miami Herald/WLRN News. “At every level: politically, economically, socially.” Almagro, Uruguay’s former foreign minister, is a self-described leftist but is arguably Maduro’s harshest antagonist outside Venezuela. In April he persuaded the OAS’s Permanent Council to issue a resolution essentially declaring Venezuela’s democracy dead. The reason: A desperate Maduro, his approval rating down to 20 percent, has neutered the legislative and judicial branches, called off elections, muzzled independent media, and locked up more than 100 opposition figures.

The OAS resolution was an unusual sign that the rest of Latin America — for once — isn’t shamelessly apologizing for a disastrous and dictatorial left-wing regime. The region has a long and hypocritical history of decrying U.S. imperialismo while defending repressive socialismo. Communist Cuba is Exhibit A, but that country retains a romantic symbolism — standing up to U.S. hegemony and social inequality — that much of Latin America still wants to cling to. Venezuela no longer does, if it ever did, so it’s not getting the usual pass. [more]

The Rule of History

by Bill Hayes

In The Rule of History for the New Yorker, Jill Lepore reflects on the meaning of the Magna Carta.

The reign of King John was in all ways unlikely and, in most, dreadful. He was born in 1166 or 1167, the youngest of Henry II’s five sons, his ascension to the throne being, by the fingers on one hand, so implausible that he was not named after a king and, as a matter of history, suffers both the indignity of the possibility that he may have been named after his sister Joan and the certain fate of having proved so unredeemable a ruler that no king of England has ever taken his name. He was spiteful and he was weak, although, frankly, so were the medieval historians who chronicled his reign, which can make it hard to know quite how horrible it really was. In any case, the worst king of England is best remembered for an act of capitulation: in 1215, he pledged to his barons that he would obey “the law of the land” when he affixed his seal to a charter that came to be called Magna Carta. He then promptly asked the Pope to nullify the agreement; the Pope obliged. The King died not long afterward, of dysentery. “Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John,” it was said. This year, Magna Carta is eight hundred years old, and King John is seven hundred and ninety-nine years dead. Few men have been less mourned, few legal documents more adored.

Magna Carta has been taken as foundational to the rule of law, chiefly because in it King John promised that he would stop throwing people into dungeons whenever he wished, a provision that lies behind what is now known as due process of law and is understood not as a promise made by a king but as a right possessed by the people. Due process is a bulwark against injustice, but it wasn’t put in place in 1215; it is a wall built stone by stone, defended, and attacked, year after year. Much of the rest of Magna Carta, weathered by time and for centuries forgotten, has long since crumbled, an abandoned castle, a romantic ruin.

Magna Carta is written in Latin. The King and the barons spoke French. “Par les denz Dieu!” the King liked to swear, invoking the teeth of God. The peasants, who were illiterate, spoke English. Most of the charter concerns feudal financial arrangements (socage, burgage, and scutage), obsolete measures and descriptions of land and of husbandry (wapentakes and wainages), and obscure instruments for the seizure and inheritance of estates (disseisin and mort d’ancestor). [more]

The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More

by Bill Hayes

In The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More, Smithsonian magazine looks back at the 1864 massacre and reports on the opening of the national historic site.

When hundreds of blue-clad cavalrymen suddenly appeared at dawn on November 29, a Cheyenne chief raised the Stars and Stripes above his lodge. Others in the village waved white flags. The troops replied by opening fire with carbines and cannon, killing at least 150 Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly. Before departing, the troops burned the village and mutilated the dead, carrying off body parts as trophies.

There were many such atrocities in the American West. But the slaughter at Sand Creek stands out because of the impact it had at the time and the way it has been remembered. Or rather, lost and then rediscovered. Sand Creek was the My Lai of its day, a war crime exposed by soldiers and condemned by the U.S. government. It fueled decades of war on the Great Plains. And yet, over time, the massacre receded from white memory, to the point where even locals were unaware of what had happened in their own backyard.

That’s now changed, with the opening of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. “We’re the only unit in the National Park Service that has ‘massacre’ in its name,” says the site’s superintendent, Alexa Roberts. Usually, she notes, signs for national historic sites lead to a presidential birthplace or patriotic monument. “So a lot of people are startled by what they find here.”

Visitors are also surprised to learn that the massacre occurred during the Civil War, which most Americans associate with Eastern battles between blue and gray, not cavalry killing Indians on the Western plains. But the two conflicts were closely related, says Ari Kelman, a historian at Penn State University and author of A Misplaced Massacre, a Bancroft Prize-winning book about Sand Creek.

The Civil War, he observes, was rooted in westward expansion and strife over whether new territories would join the nation as free states or slave states. Slavery, however, wasn’t the only obstacle to free white settlement of the West; another was Plains Indians, many of whom staunchly resisted encroachment on their lands. [more]

Government Research & Development on Renewable Energy

Infographic: The Race for Renewable Energy Domination | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

The Major Blind Spots in Macroeconomics

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New York Times Magazine,  John Lanchester discusses what he thinks are The Major Blind Spots in Macroeconomics.

Economic forecasts on the eve of the credit crunch and the Great Recession were, he [ Andy Haldane, the chief economist for the Bank of England] says, “not just wrong but spectacularly so.” The overall trajectory of precrisis forecasts was upward; the reality was a brutally deep capital V.

The reason this poses a deep intellectual crisis for macroeconomics is that the entire point of the field, as it has developed since the work of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, is to prevent just this sort of severe downturn. Keynes once spoke of a future in which economists would be “humble, competent people on a level with dentists,” while the brilliant up-and-coming French economist Esther Duflo recently gave an admired I.M.F. lecture called “The Economist as Plumber.” It seems to me, though, that what macroeconomists do is really most like bomb disposal. Uniquely in the social sciences and humanities, macroeconomics was developed with a specific, real-world purpose, and a negative purpose to boot: to stop anything like the Great Depression from ever happening again. Given this goal — to avert systemic crises and downturns — the credit crunch and the Great Recession were, for macroeconomics, an intellectual disaster. [more]

For a free classroom lesson on economist John Maynard Keynes, see John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.