Archive for May 5, 2013

Gettysburg Revisited

May 5, 2013 Leave a comment


I’m still reading Amanda Foreman‘s mammoth history, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, despite interruptions since starting in late March to fit in three other books (Andrew Delbanco’s reflections on college education and Harvey Jackson’s short histories of the Florida-Alabama Gulf Coast and of Alabama). This morning I reached the five-eighths point and, at last, the Battle of Gettysburg.

As I mentioned last week, A World on Fire has “a Stoppardian Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead quality, with major events such as the Battle of Chancellorsville told through the eyes of minor characters, typically British observers or participants.” All the more so with the Battle of Gettysburg. I loved reading her account—can one imagine an account that is anything less than spellbinding?—but it isn’t the first place to turn for the basics. Nor does she intend it to be.

We visited Gettysburg three years ago this week, following stops in Harper’s Ferry and at Antietam. (See my entirely inadequate reports on the trip here and here.) Foreman’s overview of the battle, brief though it is, brought back the drama of those extraordinary three days a century and a half ago as well as the powerful hold our visit had on us. I wished as I read the book that I could walk and drive the battleground anew.

What we had as guide three years ago was James McPherson’s slim Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg. Our first day, we visited the museum, then toured the grounds with a licensed battlefield guides. (The guide commandeers your car and drives you around for two hours, taking you through the battle day by day.) The next day, we retraced the steps on our own, reading passages from McPherson as we stopped along the way.

View from Little Round Top to Devil's Den, Gettysburg Battlefield

View from Little Round Top to Devil’s Den, Gettysburg Battlefield

Prior to our battleground visits, on the evening of the day that we arrived, after we had eaten dinner in town, we stopped at the downtown Friendly’s for takeout dessert. I pulled out of the parking lot, made a turn that I thought would get us back to our bed and breakfast, and soon we were driving in darkness down an unlit country road. After five miles, I made a U-turn and we went back into town.

Only the next day did I realize that the road we were mistakenly on cuts right through the battlefield, over the site where the Confederate troops lined up for Pickett’s Charge. And later still, I realized that one can stand at a point above, looking out over the ground, and see Friendly’s just to the right. The north end of the battlefield merges with today’s downtown commercial strip.

This morning, as I read of the charge, I couldn’t stop myself from picturing the Friendly’s and wanting a strawberry Fribble. From the sacred to the profane. That’s how it is, the two intertwined in my memory.


Categories: Books, History, Travel

The Ultimate Cloud Service

May 5, 2013 Leave a comment

[Tom Tomorrow, May 25, 2011]

It’s not news that our government is keeping track of us. I have written about this many times, perhaps most recently four months ago in a post on Obama’s signing of a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin explained years ago, we are “witnessing a normalization of the National Surveillance State and its basic policies.”

My view … is that Obama has played the same role with respect to the National Surveillance State that Eisenhower played with respect to the New Deal and the administrative state, and Nixon played with respect to the Great Society and the welfare state. Each President established a bi-partisan consensus and gave bi-partisan legitimation to certain features of national state building.

After the Obama presidency, opponents of a vigorous national surveillance state will be outliers in American politics; they will have no home in either major political party. Their views will be, to use one of my favorite theoretical terms, “off the wall.”

Glenn Greenwald, in his Guardian column yesterday, brings us the latest news, confirming that surveillance is universal.

The real capabilities and behavior of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counterterrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgment of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.


On Wednesday night, [CNN’s Erin] Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two [Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife Katherine Russell]. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

“All of that stuff” – meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant – “is being captured as we speak”.

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored:

Let’s repeat that last part: “no digital communication is secure”, by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications – meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like – are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.

Cool, huh? Since reading this, I’ve been wondering: Why doesn’t the government get into the cloud service business?

Isn’t it great to know they’re backing up all our email? And phone conversations too? If I’m careful with my hourly backups to my external hard drive and my use of various email services, I can recover email in an emergency. But something could go wrong. And my phone conversations? I don’t know how I would begin to back them up. Can I even do that legally, unless I ask permission every time I talk to someone? No problem for our government, though, thanks to FISA.

Why don’t they offer to charge us a fee for access to old data? How many times do Gail and I disagree about whether I told her something or not? Now we can settle such debates, assuming the disputed conversation took place on the phone or by email. Then again, maybe they’re recording even our regular conversations, whether in the house, the car, or on walks. Even better, for in that case they could settle any dispute. Just charge a small fee for each individual request, or a larger monthly charge for, say 100 requests, and a still larger charge for unlimited usage.

I would pay for this. Wouldn’t you?

Categories: Law, Politics

We’re All Southerners

May 5, 2013 Leave a comment


I finished Harvey Jackson’s Inside Alabama: A Personal History of My State yesterday. I wrote about it a week ago and followed up a couple of days later with a post quoting some passages about Dixon Hall Lewis, an Alabama state legislator, congressman, and senator in the 1820s-1840s.

Here, before I set the book aside, I would like to quote one more passage. We jump to the 1960s and perhaps the most famous of all Alabama politicians, George Wallace. What made Wallace so popular in Alabama anyway? And, ultimately, in the country?

Jackson devotes much of the latter part of the book to an explanation, with an illuminating passage that I quote (the essential portion of which is evidently due to Douglas Kiker). Jackson is discussing the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery—the state capitol—led by Martin Luther King. He writes:

One can even imagine Wallace, looking out at the sea of faces stretching down Dexter Avenue, and not really seeing them. One can imagine his mind drifting off to his upcoming trip to New York and appearance on the Today show. Or maybe thinking about all those letters piling up in the mail room, letters from around the nation praising his stand against the subversive forces that were surely behind the march and the movement. Or maybe he was recalling his reception in the North when he made a tentative run for the presidency the year before. And one can imagine, as journalist Douglas Kiker imagined, after the governor’s warm greeting up there, how he lay asleep and was “awakened by a white, blinding vision” that explained why so many Yankees wanted to be his friend. “They all hate black people,” the vision revealed. “All of them. They’re all afraid, all of them.” And that is when it came to Wallace. “Great God! That’s it. They’re all Southern! The whole United States is Southern!”

Realizing this, Wallace also realized, or believed, or at least hoped, that he could become president of that United States, a nation of southerners, so he took to running.

Three years later, Wallace would win 13.5% of the popular vote, 5 states, and 46 electoral votes. Perhaps greater success would have followed if not for the attempt on his life in 1972.

Categories: Books, History, Politics