The folks at Pajamas Media are proud of their coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, and have put out a press release to get the word out. As regular readers know, I have very little interest in the conflict, but given the possibilities for spillover into the Iraq conflict, I have been reading up on this particular engagement. PJM's coverage really has been good, and they deserve the pat on the back (even if it is self-inflicted).
JarHeadDad wants you to know about Pat Dollard's interviews. "Just WOW!" he writes, which is a pretty good endorsement -- I've noticed you can measure how well he likes something by looking at how few words he uses to describe it. Two words? Pretty great. Five thousand words? He hates it, has written all his congressmen, and is still mad about it.
So anyway, this is a two-word site. Go see the thing.
A few links that turned up in my email box this morning.
Reader JW sends a link to an editorial that explains US behavior according to computer science models.
CC sends a WizBang piece called "Tell it to the Marines."
MilBlogging.com writes in their weekly newsletter, "I used to think Chuck Norris was a pretty cool guy, but that was before I featured Jack Army." Jack's deploying. Go see why he's cooler than Chuck Norris.
In my continued thinking about history and historical sources (and following up on Grim's excellent comments below about Mexico and colonial history), I am continually returning to the issue of trust. My thoughts about trust involve both history and current events.
Historians trust certain sources. Other sources are considered cum grano salis, as the Romans would say.
Most of this trust can be defended on analytical grounds. Along the lines of what Grim said about colonial Spain and plague in Mexico, a careful review of the data can show which sources are trustworthy.
The same was true about earlier claims that surfaced: claims about who or what was most responsible for American success during the first World War. It is quite likely that the NRA-guided training program for members of the American Expeditionary Force was influential on the battles fought by the AEF in Europe. But there is also evidence that many members the AEF was trained in the field by Sergeants and Lieutenants who saw the need for accuracy in rifle use on the field. Not to mention that America's military hadn't spent 5 years sending wave after wave of soldiers against barbed wire and machine-gun-nests.
If there is a lesson about militaries to be found here, it is that an army that is able to learn from its experience and adapt while in the field is more likely to be a winner than an army that learns from its experiences and adapts after the war is over.
If there is a lesson about reading history, it is that if the source makes some claims that can be verified, it is often wise to check up on a few of those claims. Sometimes the facts are right, but the claimed results aren't fully supported.
One thought that hovers in my mind as I write this is that similar questions are raised every day when I read news stories, browse blogs, or watch the entertainment extravaganza known as TV News. Do I trust the source to report the facts accurately? Do I trust them to report the background accurately? Do I trust them not to insert unwarranted assumptions into the story? Do I trust them to do research about what they are reporting on?
Lastly, is there any way that I can verify what the are telling me?
It is questions like these that use to filter through claims of bias. It may also help identify poor reporting, sloppy research, or dependence on a single, biased source.
A fascinating article by that title appears in Discovery's online site this issue (h/t Arts & Letters Daily). It's a good piece on how modern scientific research combines several disciplines (in this case, epidemology, botany, and history) to overturn the received wisdom of the ages. A combination of new documentary evidence, the clinical eye of an expert, and supporting evidence from other scientists can produce the need for serious revisions in the historic record, as well as advances in our understanding of medical history.
It's a very good read for those reasons, but that's not why I brought it up.
I bring it up as an ally to Karrde's recent piece on history and story-telling. It's tossed off almost as an aside in the Discovery piece, but the greatest threat to humanity coming to understand the truth is exactly what Karrde recognized it to be: humanity's unwillingness to hear it.
This raised two questions. First, were people prepared to absolve the Spanish of responsibility for one of the great evils of the colonial era? The destruction of ancient Mexico's culture by the Spanish invaders is an integral part of every Mexican's understanding of the country's history. The miseries of the plague years are taken as object lessons in the evils of colonialism. "My grandmother wrote histories, and the terrible things that the Spanish did were always a part of them," says Acuña-Soto.In fact, as the new evidence shows, the Spanish didn't bring the disease, which was instead native; the Spanish didn't try to spread it as a means of destroying the native culture. In fact the King of Spain sent his personal physician to learn what they could teach him of native medicines, and while there this Spanish doctor invested a great deal of his effort (the written notes ran to fifty volumes) in trying to understand the causes of the disease and how it might be treated.
That's the truth, at least, it seems to be truth in the scientific sense: the best-supported interpretation of the facts given the present evidence.
Yet Mexican histories need Spain to be evil. It's part of the founding myth. Indeed, it is a critical part. The evil exploitations of Spain, heroically thrown off by the Mexicans, set the stage for the evil manipulations of the Hapsburgs and especially the Yanquis, the brave Mexican resistance to which define the post-European period of Mexican history. The national myth is entirely founded on the idea of foreign exploiters, European and American, striving to oppress the Mexican raza.
Destabilizing that founding myth wasn't the intent of the research. It isn't, indeed, very interesting to the scientists themselves, who toss off a brief paragraph about it in a long article on the more fascinating questions of evidence. I wonder if they really know what they are unleashing here.
No matter. It is done. Historians, not only Mexican ones, must now contend with the data. History is unique in being both art and science: the story-telling and myth-making contend with the scientific development of the facts. Here is an earthquake, the aftershocks of which will trouble many a thinker and writer for a long time to come.
UPDATE: Another such earthquake comes in a new book just reviewed by Mark Steyn.
Noel was right. This is just the sort of piece that I think should be more widely read.
My reader will recall there were dragons in those days, and the lair of one was in a marsh near Selena in Lydia. It required human sacrifices. Cleodolinda, daughter of the king, drew the lot and was escorted to the marsh in bridal garments. St George, a tribune in the Roman army, happened to ride by. Making the sign of the Cross, he confronted the dragon. Pinning it to earth with his lance, he slew it with his sword. Having converted the Lydian king, and all witnesses, he then rode on to Palestine, where he died a martyr under the same Roman persecution that claimed St Alban.We should always honor the dragonslayers. As Greyhawk said in his letter to his children, "Some must go to fight the Dragons. And if you think such things don't exist then it must be I read you the wrong sorts of stories when you were young." And then he went -- a man, like St. George was a man, who felt that he was called to it by something above his duty as a soldier.
This fanciful story from out of the Golden Legend (13th century) only adds to his mystique. But it was not part of the legend of St George, when he appeared before the Crusaders as a herald of victory. Or became an honoured and holy figure in Muslim legend, too, under the name Jirgis Baqiya....