From The GOS Weekly Review ... This is from last week, enjoy :)
We all studied History at school. My school was in England, where we learned about Kings and Queens, wars that we had won and some we lost. The ones we lost, we lost gloriously and probably because the other side cheated.
It is likely that if you went to school in America, you learned about Presidents, wars you had won, and very little about any wars in which you might not have been victorious. The added complication in America is that to create the country we now know, the indigenous people had to be conquered first. Teaching on this point is, at best, sketchy, and at worst it is either ignored or downright revisionist.
Should there be any doubt that some in authority over US Public Schools do not understand, then take a look at what Janet Baresi, State Superintendent, Oklahoma Public Schools, said as recently as May 2011:
“We want to work with councils, with each of you, to look at ways that we can infuse the rich culture of our Native American heritage within curriculum, across curricula, and ways we can infuse that within what is taught within our classrooms.”So far, so good, but then she spoils it with a total failure to understand that Native American history IS American History, and indivisible from the events following the arrival of the settlers.
“Just as it’s important to teach U.S. history within our schools and have students understand our current form of government … it’s also important for Oklahoma kids to understand the culture that made Oklahoma what it is, made it great.”Kudos to Superintendent Baresi for talking up her State, but the casual separation of Native American history, from American history is as shocking as it is shockingly commonplace.
Whatever, the common perception of us all is that history was based upon facts. times, dates, places and people. These were the things that happened and we committed them to memory. We later, much later sometimes, learned that these “facts” might be nothing of the sort, and that even facts are open to interpretation. Traditionally the interpretations have come from Historians and therein lies the problem. As a species we seem to have trouble interpreting even the facts of modern life, when the evidence is all around us. Throw in a few decades, or generations or, indeed, millennia, and the problem is magnified.
Historians also bring their own prejudices and political leanings to the party. Take the example below:
In a 2011 interview for The Guardian, Niall Ferguson made the following statement:
"I think it's hard to make the case, which implicitly the left makes, that somehow the world would have been better off if the Europeans had stayed home. It certainly doesn't work for North America, that's for sure. I mean, I'm sure the Apache and the Navajo had all sorts of admirable traits. In the absence of literacy we don't know what they were because they didn't write them down. We do know they killed a hell of a lot of bison. But had they been left to their own devices, I don't think we'd have anything remotely resembling the civilisation we've had in North America."The rampant racism that is still alive and well in North America, and the obvious and heartbreaking suffering of the poor does lead one to question whether or not “civilization” has been achieved in the US. Certainly it does not justify the clear and obvious racism in the above comment. In the quote, Ferguson departs wildly from any authentic attempts at rational or academic interpretation of history, and jumps feet first into a partisan, political view of modern society.
One has to wonder at what point a well-known historian, author of many books and holder of academic positions finally jumps the shark into naked political hackery. Was it when he accepted a role as advisor to the McCain/Palin Campaign? Or did the final conversion take place when he wrote the cover story for Newsweek? In the piece Ferguson suggests that it is time for Barack Obama to go, based upon his many broken promises.
That article, tastefully billed as “Hit the road, Barack” brought a stinging rebuttal from Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times:
“More than that: by its very nature, health reform that expands coverage requires that lower-income families receive subsidies to make coverage affordable. So of course reform comes with a positive number for subsidies — finding that this number is indeed positive says nothing at all about the impact on the deficit unless you ask whether and how the subsidies are paid for. Ferguson has to know this (unless he’s completely ignorant about the whole subject, which I guess has to be considered as a possibility). But he goes for the cheap shot anyway.”Daily Kos users were equally outraged, pollwatcher taking him to task:
“Of course most people of Newsweek who read what he actually said, would come away believing the ACA will create an additional $1.2T in deficits, which I believe is exactly what Mr. Ferguson intended. This approach to explaining President Obama's economic policies, seems remarkably similar to the way the Romney/Ryan crew explains them.”In the comment section, Retroactive Genius makes the following observation, and helpfully directs us to an equally scathing piece by Ezra Klein
“Ferguson is a twit Serious historians have known this for years and there have been various smackdowns of his work that haven't had much play, owing, primarily, to their rather specialized nature and their appearance in rather obscure publications.Ezra Klein’s takedown is detailed, and specific:
But when the egregious Ferguson starts lying in the service of a nullity like Ryan and spouting nonsense about a field he clearly has no grasp of (economics) then it does, happily, get much wider play, especially in an election year.”
“Almost since the crisis began, Ferguson has pushed a very specific theory with a very specific prediction: The bond markets, he has said, are going to revolt against American debt. And if that doesn’t happen, inflation is going to run amok.While Krugman and Klein do an excellent job of “fact-checking” Niall Ferguson, on Daily Kos the commenters are minded to raise the point that Newsweek signally failed in any attempts at similar diligence.
As Joe Weisenthal details, back in September 2009, Ferguson was warning that “long-term rates have risen by 167 basis points in the space of five months,” which “settled a rather public argument” Ferguson had been conducting with Paul Krugman, in which Ferguson argued the markets were turning on our debt and Krugman argued that they were not. So who was right? Well, the interest rate on 10-year Treasuries was 3.73 percent when Ferguson wrote that column. Today, they’re 1.81 percent. Point, Krugman“
Indeed, several people bemoan the current situation where journals place the emphasis on the writers to fact-check their own work.
The problems identified are simply that writers become too close to their piece to reliably understand where they might be in error, and that also means that a biased columnist or author can simply “make stuff up” and have it printed, because no one is checking.
Mimikatz opens up a fascinating discussion with this comment:
“It is astounding they don't have fact checkers any more. A friend of mine started as a fact checker for TIME. The reporters would put "000" and they were supposed to fill in the blanks. Now it looks like they can just make stuff up.”What follows is a discussion that sheds a good deal of light on the current process, summed up at the end by Subterranean:
“Most news organizations confine the fact checkers to their own department. Apparently the bleeding edge now is to get rid of those pesky nerds altogether.”Writing in The Atlantic, Matthew O’Brian does what Newsweek so clearly failed to do, he fact-checked the claims by Niall Ferguson. Given that Mr Ferguson is first an historian, a man who has presumably dedicated his working life to a pursuit of historical facts, whatever interpretation he may chose to place upon them; the conclusion by O’Brian is damning:
“In the world as Ferguson describes it, Obama is a big-spending, weak-kneed liberal who can't get the economy turned around. Think Jimmy Carter on steroids. But the world is not as Ferguson describes it. A fact-checked version of the world Ferguson describes reveals a completely different narrative -- a muddy picture of the past four years, where Obama has sometimes cast himself as a stimulator, a deficit hawk, a health care liberal and conservative reformer all at once. And it's a world where the economy is getting better, albeit slowly.It gets worse though, because Mr Ferguson’s central theme is that the deficit will be the catalyst for a complete economic collapse, despite Ezra Klein pointing to evidence suggesting that actually, it probably will not. Fergusson is arguing that Obama must go because he hasn’t fulfilled his promise, hasn’t delivered more prosperity and a reduced deficit, and the Bond Markets will trigger financial collapse if the deficit is not reduced.
It would have been worthwhile for Ferguson to explain why Obama doesn't deserve re-election in the real world we actually live in. Instead, we got an exercise in Ferguson's specialty -- counterfactual history.”
Even if one holds any of this to be true, and Ferguson certainly believes it to be, what he doesn’t explain is why he supports Paul Ryan and John McCain before him. If deficits are the root of all evil, then why hasn’t this Historian figured out what caused the deficit, who was in power at the time, and which side of the debate is promising to double-down on the past policies? At the very least the academic integrity of a Harvard Professor would surely demand at least this much.
Historians play a vital role in society. It is often said that we need to learn the lessons of history that we may inform our present, and build a better future. For that role to be fulfilled in a meaningful, rather than unhelpful way, it really matters that historians who venture opinion do so based upon verifiable facts. There is some room here for the occasional leap of logic, as there are gaps in our knowledge of history, but any historian basing their view on facts (sic) that are demonstrably untrue surely cedes any pretense at objectivity, and demotes their role to that of partisan political commentator. Guys like Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are very good at that, do we need another?
The Application in the Apple Store
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This Diary is mine :) It appears here not in exactly the same way as in the App, because that version is edited to tighten the writing by someone who is, quite frankly, better than me at that kind of thing! It's close though.