Author Archives: David Silbey

March 8, 2014, 1:27 am

Update on the Ukraine

1. Yes, Russia wants to annex the Crimea. Were we genuinely thinking something else?

2. No, there isn’t going to be another Cold War, whether Russia can afford it or not. Russia isn’t the Soviet Union, isn’t going to dominate eastern Europe, split Germany in half, and threaten the west. The United States, for its part (and despite John McCain), isn’t interested in another 50 year existential struggle with a near economic and military equal in Europe.

3. How about we learn another language to describe the situation, one that doesn’t rely on cold war terminology.

March 6, 2014, 2:44 pm

In Russia, Map Annex YOU!

Note the map behind the presenter on Russia Today:


The Crimea, now part of Russia.

(h/t: @davekeating)

March 5, 2014, 6:04 pm

Baghdad Bob, Redux

Russian troops in Crimea? Don’t be silly:

The defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, dismissed visual evidence — including numerous photographs and video clips taken by foreign correspondents and residents of the region — as “an act of provocation,” the state news agency Itar-Tass reported. Asked about viral video said to show soldiers on the Crimean side of the Kerch Strait, at the peninsula’s closest point to southern Russia, admitting that they were Russian, the minister said anyone who made such a claim was uttering “complete nonsense.”

Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam’s minister of information – aka “Baghdad Bob” – from 2003:

The Iraqi information minister stands in front of the cameras, a grim smile on his face, a military beret on his head, and declares forcefully, “There are no American troops in Baghdad!” Meanwhile, black smoke rises in the distance behind him, weapons fire can be…

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March 4, 2014, 1:22 am

The Leading Edge: Charles McKinney on the Rhodes College Civil Rights Conference

This is a slightly different kind of Leading Edge. Charles McKinney, a fellow Duke alum, helped organize and run a conference on civil rights at Rhodes College in Memphis. During the conference, he posted regular Facebook updates on the speakers. I thought a retrospective gathering of them would be a wonderful stream of consciousness account of the conference, and Chuck agreed. Headings are my words, the rest are Chuck’s.

From Civil War to Civil Rights: Race, Region and the Making of Public Memory

The conference schedule is here.

Rhodes Jazz Ensemble kicking off the conference! Copyright Charles McKinney 2014
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First up is Professor Kate Masur’s plenary lecture:

Masur: “Birth of a Nation” and “Lincoln” have the same narrative line regarding the caricature of Black/Republican politics. BOOM.

Masur: We should confront the tenuous nature of black life in the South. Have NEVER…

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March 2, 2014, 8:07 pm

The Ukraine

Random lessons to help you understand the situation in the Ukraine:

[UPDATED! See below at #11]

1. Apparently, it stopped being “the Ukraine” around 1991. Now, it’s just “Ukraine.”

2. If the person you’re reading mentions these historical analogies, they know nothing: The Crimean War, 1914, the Sudetenland, Munich, Benghazi, the Cold War, and Syria.

3. On the other hand, if they mention this historical analogy, then they know entirely too much: Yalta.

4. The Crimean War was no fun for anyone.

5. No, Obama changing direction on Syria did not give Putin free license in Ukraine. This meme is impressively bad, because it requires ignoring that the Bush administration invasion of Iraq over (claimed) weapons of mass destruction did not stop Putin from invading Georgia in 2008 while insisting that if Obama had invaded Syria, it would have backed Putin off Ukraine. Well, no.

6. …

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February 27, 2014, 10:11 pm

Excitement at the Supreme Court

I was at the oral arguments for the Supreme Court yesterday with a group of students and we were lucky enough to catch someone standing up to protest the Citizens United decision. He was well-dressed, in a suit and a tie. The court artist caught it:

SSC140226 protester1

He had apparently smuggled in a video camera as well, and has now posted a clip of the experience:

The guards whisked him out pretty quickly, and the Justices went right on with their next case. Needless to say in a room full of reporters, the protest made the news.

February 25, 2014, 1:44 pm

The Leading Edge: Dan Royles on African American AIDS Activism

Welcome back to the Leading Edge! Today, Dan Royles of the University of Angers talks about African American activism during the AIDS crisis. Dan’s is the last Leading Edge I have scheduled, so send your projects and ideas in, or I might have to put up a big blank space next week. Link to form and process here.

Photo by Kaytee Riek
Screen shot 2013 02 13 at 10 52 33 am

AIDS is killing African Americans. In 2011, African American men were diagnosed with HIV at a rate almost eight times that of white men, while the rate of HIV diagnosis among black woman was twenty times that of their white counterparts. [1] Despite the widespread notion, propagated by early media coverage of the disease, that AIDS primarily affects white gay men, the disease has disproportionately affected African Americans since doctors first identified it in 1981. However, scholars of AIDS politics have almost entirely ignored any organized response from…

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February 21, 2014, 8:26 pm

Refinding Heroism

President Obama will retroactively award Medals of Honor to 24 servicemen passed over in earlier wars because of their race or creed:

The unusual presentation will culminate a 12-year Pentagon review ordered by Congress into past discrimination in the ranks, and will hold a particular poignancy hosted by the nation’s first African-American president. Although the review predates Obama’s tenure, he has made addressing discrimination in the military ranks — including ending the ban on gay and lesbian service members — a priority as commander in chief. The recipients, which the White House will announce Friday afternoon, served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Collectively their award ceremony will mark the single largest batch of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II, when more than two dozen service members were honored in the conflict’s last days. Just three of those to be …

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February 20, 2014, 10:52 pm

The Future Is Unevenly Distributed

This map:


reminded me of this map:


The first is US economic output split 50/50, showing how concentrated much of the US economy is. The second map is the concentration of British population pre- and post-Industrial Revolution. The 1911 part of it, seen on the right, illustrates how concentrated the British people (and as a proxy, their economic activity) became as a result of the revolution. The William Gibson quote applies extremely well: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

It’s an obvious point, but the economy that those in the northeast megalopolis or southern California or the Miami axis experience is a completely different one than most of the rest of the United States. This is just as true as the point that the economy of those who lived in London or Liverpool/Manchester in 1890 was completely different than that of the rest of Great…

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February 18, 2014, 10:22 am

The Leading Edge: Noah Shusterman on Religion, Gender, and the French Revolution, 1789-1799

Noah Shusterman joins us this week on the Leading Edge to talk about the French Revolution, the subject of a book he just published. Noah writes from Hong Kong, where he works at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This makes him the most distant Leading Edge author yet, an early but still crucial record.

NCSBookCoverCertain events from the French Revolution stand out, and rightly so. The storming of the Bastille in July 1789, commemorated now every 14 July, showed the role that the people of Paris would play in the Revolution. The execution of Louis XVI in 1793 was another dramatic turning point, a burning of the bridges with France’s monarchical past. The execution of Maximilian Robespierre and his allies in July 1794 signaled an end to the Reign of Terror that had been going on for the past 10 months.

The assassination of Jean-Paul Marat in July 1793 might not have been the turning point…

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February 13, 2014, 10:17 pm

My Kingdom For A Copy Editor

“Tean USA”? From Sports Illustrated:


In honor of this (4 year old) post.

February 11, 2014, 7:37 am

Leading Edge: Francesca Tronchin on Elvis and Roman Architecture

Graceland villa 1My first visit to Graceland was during what Memphis folks and Elvis fans call “Death Week” without the slightest sense of the macabre or even irony, as this is high season for Elvis tourism, even in torrid mid-August. I only saw Graceland from the outside, as my destination, like that of so many other visitors this particular week, was the Meditation Garden where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried. I was surprised but then moved to see mourners praying at the gravesite, openly crying. I was even more fascinated by the large, elaborate flower arrangements sent from Elvis fan clubs all over the world. What to me was going to be a cheeky glimpse into my new home’s local hero turned into something more profound. I not only felt an emotional twinge, but also an intellectual one, seeing some connections between annual pilgrimage to Elvis’ residence and funerary monument…

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February 10, 2014, 8:17 pm

This Month In Military History, February 1945 Edition

February 6, 2014, 7:56 am

Are Entitled To Against Every Government On Earth

I have some suggestions for Constitutional amendments:

The 28th Amendment:

The right of the people to move freely about the United States shall not be abridged by the federal government or the states.


The 29th Amendment:

The people shall have full ownership and control of their own personal information.

Why. Also why.

The 30th Amendment:

The right of an adult to vote shall not be abridged for any reason.


The 31st Amendment:

Corporations are not people and shall not be treated as such, especially by the ^$*&^^%$&%& SUPREME COURT!.


The 32nd Amendment:

The President of the United States shall be elected by direct vote of the people of all the states [updated!] and areas over which the United States has jurisdiction.*


Call them a mini-Bill-of-Rights, one for the 21st century.

(The title is part of a Jefferson quote about the original Bill of Rights.)


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February 4, 2014, 2:44 pm

Leading Edge: Patrick Rael on the Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865

Today’s Leading Edge takes up the issue of slavery. Patrick Rael, a historian at Bowdoin, tells us that the end of slavery is a bit more complicated than the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, and Daniel Day-Lewis Abraham Lincoln.

Produced after the Civil War, this map effectively depicted the national “house divided” that in 1858 Republican Abraham Lincoln warned could not stand. Courtesy Library of Congress.

When we think of the ending of slavery in the United States, what comes to mind? Perhaps images of victorious Union armies, of Lincoln promulgating the Emancipation Proclamation, or — as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film — of Congress’ fateful 1865 vote to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery. The desperate violence of the Civil War dominates the story of the end of slavery. But that’s not quite the way it happened.

We seldom remember that the Civil War…

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