6/28/2012

Vampire killers are rotten

When I checked yesterday, Rotten Tomatoes had AL:VK at 42% critics and 75% audience.

Just now, it stands at 35%/62%.

By the time you click the link it will have declined further.

Meanwhile, Box Office Mojo reports a gross just over $21 million while The Numbers (citing Variety) proposes an outlay of $70 million.

Heads will roll, so to speak. There will be blood. There is no silver bullet that can save this film. But cinema has a strange afterlife, irrespective of sales.

"Lifeless eyes with no reflection / We may die but he'll go on / Nosferatu!"



OT, if you like looking at data, you may also find this generally interesting.

p.s. Remember that Cold Mountain was shot in Romania and that actors posed in front of Dracula's castle.

Harry has gone pro-helium

He did some research and went with helium.

Nevertheless, I remain pro-hydrogen and pro-coke gas. This complements my general aversion to insurance companies.

You know, I bet some of Lowe's aeronauts were smoking cigars up there, hydrogen or not.

6/22/2012

What if I were Mayor Bloomberg?

What if I declared your Civil War pop history to be a 32-oz Slurpee? Or loaded with polyunsaturated fats?

It's happened already. Problem is, I can't order anyone to arrest you.

6/21/2012

Palmer and Patton (conclusion)

In his 1932 memorandum, "The Probable Characteristics of the Next War and the Organization, Tactics, and Equipment Necessary to Meet Them," George Patton never mentioned the Palmer school of Army organization nor the Palmer/Wadsworth legislation that was in effect in 1932.

The closest Patton came to engaging Palmer's key concepts was in these statements:
The outstanding characteristic of the World War was its bloody and costly indecisiveness. This result was due to the fact that on account of the quality and size of forces involved, maneuver was at first slow and then absent. [...] Mass Armies are built up by conscription, either before or subsequent to a declaration of war. In the latter case training is hurried and inadequate – in the former it must be abbreviated to avoid crushing the nation with taxes, while at the same time depriving it of its workers.
Patton here misses Palmer's point of a mass army based on a large trained reserve.
Strength and size are not synonymous. The practice of making strength depend wholly on size is extravagant and bloody. It is the idea on which “Nations in Arms” are based. Large size and limited training make it immobile and, hence, not apt at maneuver.
This comes close to engaging the reserves argument by opening the door to the question of how much training enables maneuverability? Patton makes a second argument against reserves, albeit indirectly:
Time is necessary in order to mobilize and deploy masses of men.
It's as if Patton has obliviously backed into the March-Palmer controversies that produced the National Defense Act of 1920. On the other hand, his advocacy of a professional standing army plays into the reality of Congress not funding the reserve components called for in the NDA.

At this we leave this Patton and Palmer thread.

Note that in the quotes above, Patton blames static warfare on the competence and training of the troops ... NOT on the machine gun or modern weaponry. There is major Civil War relevance here, if the reader will pause to think.

Additionally, from Patton's framework, we can infer that Civil War armies were like those blighted "nations in Arms" of WWI boasting ill-trained masses ill-fitted for maneuver. Oh no, you say, There are so many examples of brilliant maneuver in the Civil War. I would disagree.

A new thread awaits as we apply more of Patton's ideas from this paper to the puzzling phenomena of Civil War maneuver (or the lack of it).

6/18/2012

Flying high on fakery

On the face of this, it's a feel-good story: Macy's donates scarce helium to lift a Thaddeus Lowe reproduction balloon.

And I do like the way this one is decorated, even if it detracts from the authenticity.

But authenticity has to be at the heart of this project. Lowe didn't fill his balloons with helium, he used coke gas or hydrogen. He had trouble being responsive to missions because of gas supply issues. He deployed a hydrogen generator which sometimes could not get him enough gas in the time available.

Wouldn't it be better to use a replica hydrogen generator or coke gas source to do this bit of re-enacting? Isn't science about the how rather that the whee of entertainment?

Re-enactors might cry "inauthentic," and they'd be right.

6/17/2012

How do we manage overstatement?

Book titles are under the control of marketing departments. Sometimes they align with the book content, sometimes not. We often see in titles and marketing lit that this or that battle might have won the war.

Can battles win a war? I think ACW readers are deeply invested in this fallacy, witness the Gettysburg phenomenon.

Readers are also deeply invested in the fallacy that armies could be annihilated. Mr. Lincoln led them down this false path and Mr. Lincoln was never wrong about anything, ever (so we are told).

Likewise, ACW readers are deeply invested in the Great Man of History winning THE BATTLE by annihilating whatever army wherever to conclude the war. If you have never served in the military, this serves as plausible military science.

It seems painful to me that such should be the case in 2012 (or any earlier year).

A new book has emerged, Defeating Lee: A History of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. Can a corps win a war? How does a military unit win the ACW?

If you believe in battles, you need to believe in all of them, not some of them, and thus to win the ACW, you would need to defeat MG John G. Walker in Texas, would you not? And the Second Corps had nothing to do with him.

"Defeating Lee" does not win the war. This is painful for so many ACW readers to accept. It might get you closer to the end, but it is nowhere near the end.

The end is the surrender of forces in Texas AND the abandonment of a guerrilla warfare option AND capitulation of the rump Confederate government en route to Havana.

6/13/2012

"The Civil War Monitor" - sink it

Oh, a new ACW mag with loads of pictures and pop culture authors presented as scholars! Just what the market needed! Hey, a new piece by Stephen Sears! I wonder what he'll say about the command crisis of August/September 1862 in his article about the same! We have all his books and all his previous articles on the subject and yet we can't imagine!

Kill the mag, folks. Nobody needs this. You're paying your authors to recycle their book material.It's a complete waste and a serious embarrassment to all of you.

Kevin Levin, you're on their masthead, straighten them out.

Softie that I am, I have added the mag's ancillary blogs to my blogroll nevertheless. The book review blog is needed. Here's a Reardon review: it's absurd and the absurdity smacks of the general editorial stance of the mag. Let it be published anyway. (We bloggers are nothing if not magnanimous to each other. Cyber hug!)

Their other blog is a potpourri. Take a look at this post and ask yourself, who wants this? What purpose does it serve? Couldn't you write a post listing and linking to your favorite accounts of the battle and what each has to offer? Apparently not. No need for that. That would be value added and uh whatever. Let's recap the battle with no credit to sources.

Didn't mean to harsh anyone's mellow but more of the same old ACW should be no one's favored beverage.

6/11/2012

A choice ACW scene


This appears to be a comic book cover. Twenty years from now, it will be an American history textbook cover.

6/07/2012

"Team of Mascots"

Vanity Fair is running a piece about President Obama's cabinet called "Team of Mascots." The basis of comparison is with Goodwin's Team of Rivals and the underlying assumption is that Goodwin's trope reflects some approximation of historical reality.

Details on the Obama team will emerge over time but in the meantime the Lincoln cabinet, if not mascots, were window dressing, Seward excepted.

In ACW circles, the Goodwin "team" idea is interpreted two ways. The easy, generous idea has it that the cabinet members did good work in their own spheres and thus constituted a virtual team. The other view, reiterated by Vanity Fair, is that Lincoln and the cabinet cooperated on issues and worked harmoniously. This is absurd.

Even if you appreciate its knock on Obama, "Macots" further embeds Goodwin's nonsense in the popular culture and that's a bad thing.

6/06/2012

Fun book "facts"

Some undated, unsourced book facts from a blog not known to me:
-Book review column inches in newspapers have dropped by 20 to 50 percent.

- Women buy 68 percent of all books sold.

- Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

- 52 percent of all books are not sold in bookstores!

- The industry return rate [from bookstores] is typically 36 percent for hardcovers and 25 percent for softcovers.

- It takes an average of 475 hours to write a novel.

- Fiction is considered successful if it sells 5,000 copies.

- Writing a nonfiction book requires about 725 hours.

- A nonfiction book is deemed successful when it reaches 7,500 copies sold.

6/04/2012

Ten questions for John Marszalek

"If your history is not accurate and truthful, you're basing the future on a false past." - John Marszalek

Brooks Simpson takes a good look at the Grant Association Papers and reminds us that the engine driving their relocation was the settlement of a law suit. Looking through his news links, I saw a continued pattern of poor reporting.

Let me supply the media with questions to ask John Marszalek at their next opportunity.

(1) What is your tenancy deal with MSU and is it conditional or permanent?

(2) Is this an endowed library? Details, please.

(3) Is there a comprehensive index of the collection? If not, what is your timeframe for developing one?

(4) What is your timeframe for getting the collection online?

(5) What percentage of your documents are under restrictive loan covenants that prevent scholars from seeing them?

(6) How would you express the ratio of collected to uncollected material (e.g. "we think we have collected X percent of what's out there").

(7) The celebrations and festivities included few Grant scholars - why is that?

(8) You are paying scholars $500 to visit the collection to do research; how many scholars have taken you up on this? Where does this money come from?

(9) Your wife is involved with this project - what is her role?

(10) An MSU press release says "MSU President Mark E. Keenum recently received a letter from Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero of the National Archives congratulating the university on the presidential library designation." Is this Grant library part of the National Archives system or is it a private library? There is no mention of it here.

Our old friend, heritage tourism

The absurd claims made for heritage tourism seem to have died down just as we approach the middle of the Sesquicentennial.

Exceptions really stand out:
State's heritage tourism worth $196 million a year, study says

The state is Nebraska and before reading the underlying report I couldn't name a single attraction in Nebraska.

The report represents numerical projections - modeling - based on surveys and interviews. For more than half of all sites under management, management did not respond to the survey!I would say, that's a problem.

Another item worth noting is that the report includes natural history (and landscapes) under its heritage tourism definition. I don't think of beachgoers in the coastal states as being heritage tourists, but if people enjoying inland landscapes are part of the Nebraska mix, why wouldn't oceansiders be such? This looks like someone is stretching definitions to boost numbers.

Again, reading the report another thought struck me. The figures - if you had real ones - would show a natural underlying pattern of movement, visitation and spending. The question that a report like this must answer (they never do) is how susceptible is this natural pattern to manipulation?

Meanwhile, the larger ACW battlefield sites are probably counting, rather than estimating their visitors, and thus at the end of the Sesquicentennial there will be a moment of truth for heritage tourism and all of its hype.

Until then, enjoy your many Nebraska vacations.

6/03/2012

The "Grant Papers" revisited

On May 18, a local Mississippi newspaper, the Dispatch, ran this wildly misleading article announcing the formation of something styled "the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library." The piece said, in part,
This weekend, Mississippi State will become the official permanent host of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library during ceremonies to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation. [...] Now, Grant's presidential artifacts will remain permanently at the Mitchell Memorial Library on the MSU campus, where they have resided since 2008.
The permanence of the arrangement plays no part in this press release (which matches the news story in laying smoke over the topic).

Anything touching on John Marszalek and his collection of papers requires a kind of expert Kremlinology to decode, so let's get to it.

Let's begin with the question, What is this collection housed by Mississippi State? On this official web page, last updated in 2009, it is styled the Ulysses S. Grant Association's Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection. This is actually a life collection but for some reason, in 2009, it is styled a presidential collection. (Nothing with these people is straightforward.) The page is "signed" by the association president, Frank Williams, leader of one of the battling factions on the Lincoln scene, and a man disgraced by an "inadvertent" plagiarism scandal.

When you go back to the press release, linked above, you find Williams (not MSU, not the National Archives) announcing the "Presidential Library" thing. The news article, also linked above, notes a celebration panel featuring (near as I can tell) one Grant author, Jean Smith. We explored Smith's plagiarism in some detail right here. He seems to be the Association's historian laureate, outside of the leadership.

So this is very clubby, as you might expect when an association owns papers and is making an announcement. And the news report fails to tell us with any accuracy what these papers really are.

And, BTW, what is a presidential library, anyway? As far as I can tell, anyone anywhere can designate any collection a presidential library. It's a wonder we don't have multiples. What is confusing to you and me is that we have a preconception; we're imagining a public institution under the supervision of the National Archives. Fooled you!
The presidential library system is made up of thirteen presidential libraries operated by the NARA. Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments...
So our diligent reporter, the press release, the celebrities concerned, all have failed to tell us that this is a private presidential library outside of the national system. The reporter actually went so far as to list presidential libraries housed at universities as if this one would belong to that system of libraries.

Now, there may be truth and meaning in the reporter's claim that the "presidential artifacts will remain permanently" at MSU. We don't know because everything about this bunch is top secret. the claim is not echoed in the press release or on the MSU websites. I assume that the Association may have clinched a "permanence" negotiation that gave them the confidence to announce their own presidential library. You wouldn't want a presidential library that floats around. That's my guess.

Marszalek was dogged in deflecting the public away from questions about how the collection went to MSU and under what terms. Here he is as late as February 2011 performing a complete snow job on Gerald Prokopowicz. (It's all about the bulldogs and Stephen Lee.) The man is nothing if not a serial deflector, for if you Google him back to the days after John Simon's death, you'll see he has assiduously avoided explaining the basis on which the papers moved to MSU. He may go to his grave withholding the most basic details on this presidential arrangement.

Let's talk about this collection, which presents fascinating problems. Over the years, the public face of the collection has been those volumes collected and sold to the book-buying public. The framework for the volumes has been set in time periods and the material is in no sense comprehensive or even representative of holdings for each period. Rather the papers deemed interesting or important for that period were selected and presented. So the books do not equal the papers.

On Gerry's show, linked above, Marszalek mentioned 95 file cabinets of material and 150 ms boxes. In the same breath, he mentioned (if I understood correctly), indexing (and maybe digitizing?) was being done by his wife, on a volunteer basis, plus an intern. If this is true, it gives another clue about the relationship of the school with the association. Perhaps that would also explain online search results like this (click to enlarge):
That's it - there's no drilling down to an detailed index or actual papers. You're done. The search box at the bottom is for a new search. Thank you for visiting the "Grant Papers!"

To avoid choking, before you click on the image to enlarge it, before you read the search instructions at the top of the page, I would suggest you empty your mouth of food or liquids.

You're going to search for papers by individual: could be the originator, recipient or subject of a communication. You're going to use initials and guess what - your paper may not be filed by initials after all. You're welcome to search by full name for supplementary material but good luck with that.

Meanwhile, dig this:
Marszalek said the collection database allows a full-text search, including footnotes. This makes searching easier when seeking specific names, dates or places, he added.
Easier. Right.

Again, though, what are these papers? They are a few originals augmented by scads of copies. This collection is the 1962 analog equivalent of a website with links. Can I create a Millard Fillmore website with links and declare it a presidential library? Assuredly. How would it differ from this Grant Society offering? Only in the number and quality of links.

------

We explored the Vatican-like secrecy surrounding Marszalek's many Grant collection dealings in a number of posts.

The mystery of Oktibbeha County 3/4/2009 - Note especially Marszalek's misleading quotes. This is your best overview of the puzzle and the players

The mystery of Oktibbeha County (cont.) 3/11/2009 - Here we learn that Mrs. Marszalek has endowed library funds in the state system and that her own papers are gathered into one such collection. This opens the door to the possibility that Mr. Marszalek's position was bought and paid for.

Grant papers find new home 2/18/2009 - This recorded our initial suspicions based on the early, patently misleading reporting. It contains a link to an NPR interview with Marszalek again deflecting questions about the underlying deal.

Over at Civil Warriors, there was a post on March 3, 2009 explaining what the collection is. Brooks Simpson noticed at this early date "inaccurate claims that the university nevertheless showcases."

Jean Smith's plagiarism in his book Grant was the subject of a series of posts.

Jean Smith, Grant, and antigravity 4/27/2005 - We kicked it off with a review of the standards Smith was held to when he published this work.

Jean Smith and Grant (cont.) 4/29/2005 * 5/02/2005 * 5/03/2005 * 5/05/2005

(The last post in the series has side-by-side text comparisons.)

We are nowhere near clarity on these matters and the presidential library project adds yet another layer of smoke on the landscape.




6/01/2012

The ALPLM revisited

In the early years of this blog, the ALPLM was a goldmine for public history commentary, starting with the living roadshow that is Richard Norton Smith and ending with the supernatural disappearance of the enigmatic Mysterioso.

Before being banished to oblivion, Dr. Strange issued a dire warning:
Any pretense that you’re hiring the best person necessarily [for directorship of the ALPLM], that you’re conducting a search or that you’re really trying to hire quality and that’s all that matters is absolute nonsense.
And so the mysterious one cast his fateful prophecy upon unwilling ears. Our mouths were stopped at the very end of 2010 when the Illini announced that "After conducting an in-depth interview process of several nationally-renowned historians and museum professionals, [Eileen] Mackevich was the unanimous recommendation [for executive director]."

A national search, a local pick. In some unknown dimension, the Mysterioso was laughing maniacally.

Today, almost 18 months after her appointment, look at the Linked-In page of ALPLM Director Eileen Mackevich. (Never mind capitalization and punctuation, look at the order of the info presented and what it says about professional identity.)
Environmental services! Is that like pest control?

Please, folks. Think of me not as a museum and library director but rather as an environmental consultant (or rat catcher) trying to help out some friends in the humanities.

Mackevich was preceded by an interim director named Sunny Fischer. Unless I am mistaken, Sunny has expunged any connection with the ALPLM from her history, See here and here.

Sunny says you didn't see nothin' sucker. ALPLM? What are you talking about?

I've lost the link, but one of the newspaper accounts announcing Mackevich's appointment gave a motivation for the hire: that she would be a fund raiser. For me, this was a red flag, given the make-up of the ALPLM's board. This subject is worth revisiting.

Let me tell you what the board should look like.

Schema: Donor, donor, donor, (etc.); wheeler-dealer with loads of donor friends; celebrity capable of attracting scads of donors; politician capable of getting tax breaks and keeping the mayor and his city inspectors off your back.

Example: Annenberg, Gates, Buffett, Murdoch, Trump, Kate Middleton (or Snookie), Richard Daley. And guess what: one donation does not get these folks a seat on the board. They are there for multiple and continuous donating or they are kicked off.

My friends, that is the deal. Accept no substitute.

If we look at the ALPLM board, it is backwards in a way that spells small town provincial amateurs. I know. I ran arts organizations in a provincial city.

Take a look ALPLM board. Their lawyer is on the board, in exchange for pro bono services. They wasted a seat to score a few thousand in savings on expenses! Ditto their accountant and insurer.Then, there are the relatives of politicians, always a terrible sign. Okay, then you have a couple of local CEOs. I suppose these are supposed to be the rich guys with their totally immense, utterly awesome life savings of $5-10 million. Memo to Illinois: ditch these jokers and get some real plutocrats on your board.

This is a loser, deadbeat board that has exported its own job (contribute scads of cash or have your friends donate early and often) to the executive director. The director has other work to do - that's why there are boards.

Scroll to the middle of the board page. Notice this: "Eileen Mackevich, ex officio, non-voting." She cannot replace the deadwood dragging the museum down under the weight of their patronage. She is a guest in their wise councils. This environmental whatever consultant, as she styles herself, may not be able to do much for her little outpost of the humanities.

Anyway, if you've read this far down, you deserve a treat. This is a newspaper article about the mess that is the ALPLM. Superb reporting. Long piece but worth every moment of your attention.