Note regarding comments

I love comments. I enjoy debate. I welcome both praise and thoughtful criticism. However, I've had to change comments-permissions to require self-identification. No more anonymous messages, please!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The worktable

     We've long wanted to put primary source materials online, so a team of students, researchers, teachers - scholars! - can sit together and ask questions out loud. Even if that "out loud" is virtual.
     But we were a little picky about how we wanted it to be set up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


     If our energy had been flagging, events of the past few weeks remind us that this work has meaning and purpose. Through the years, we've pointed to relatively obscure extremists that hit our radar, worried that domestic terrorism based on white supremacy or other hate-filled messages could begin to dominate the national conversation.
     After the rampage at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the January 2012 firebombing of a mosque in Queens, together with the August 7 arson of a mosque in Missouri, it's clear that we may not keep silent.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Must Be Said

     When my father was in his forties, he weighed close to 300 pounds. The extra weight caused not unexpected health issues, so he went to our family physician.
     That man—weighing a good 400 pounds, if not 450—proceeded to lecture my father on diet and exercise. He wouldn’t consider running tests to diagnose my dad’s ailments. Essentially he told my father to go on a diet and to come back when he had lost weight.
     My dad knew that what that doctor said was true (although the doc really should have done a physical!). But it galled him that the man behind the stethoscope could be so judgmental, while he himself was more morbidly obese than my father.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Defense of the White Rose

     It's February 22, sixty-nine years after Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl, and Sophie Scholl were convicted of treason in Germany's Volksgericht and promptly beheaded. While much about that day has been fairy-taled beyond recognition, one element of the legend has basis in fact.
     Namely, as Hans Scholl was being led to his death, he shouted Long live freedom!
     Now, he did not shout it loudly enough for the whole prison to hear. And he did not shout it after sharing a cigarette with Christl and Sophie. And he did not shout it after shedding a tear for an unnamed 'girlfriend' of any sort.
     But his final words - appropriately enough - reminded the executioner, prison chaplain, and witnesses to his death that the friends of the White Rose were giving their lives for the notion that "freedom of the individual" was worth fighting for. Three leaflets had specifically mentioned their obsession with this personal freedom that had been taken from them by Hitler and his regime.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

So Madeleine, was it a revolution?

     This time every year, I tend to get swamped with requests for information about White Rose resistance from high school students who are just beginning their National History Day projects. No matter the annual theme, White Rose usually shows up as a favorite topic. It truly is that good a story.
     Too often those requests for information have come in the form of, Hey, I am doing a National History Day project, so tell me everything you know about the White Rose. It can be a little frustrating when students expect to gain knowledge without expending any effort.
     This year, the inquiries have been refreshingly different. Out of six initial emails, three teams have stayed with it, asking intelligent questions that prove they've already done a fair amount of homework and are prepared to do more.
     My first phone interview was with a young woman named Madeleine Poisson. Part interview, part conversation, the exchange encouraged me on several levels. First, Madeleine wasn't looking for easy answers. She was ready to think about complex questions beyond the basic plot-line of White Rose actions. She's thinking about motivation and relevance of specific incidents (trying not to give away her project, since it is a competition).
     Madeleine asked, and followed up on, the notion of White Rose as revolution. This year's National History Day theme is Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History, so it's a fair question, indeed, a question one would expect in the context of NHD. But she pursued it. Madeleine, this is the longer answer I promised during the interview.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 - Wall Street Paper

The following is the column I wrote for on September 12, 2001, entitled Wall Street Paper. It is as relevant today as it was ten years ago.

     Part of me is this wildly creative person who thrives on word play and music, Bach and double entendre. That half of me loves to travel, eat in strange places, talk to people I have never seen before and likely will never see again. I understand Mozart when he said he could hear a complete symphony in one breathtaking moment, then sit down and put it all on paper. The artistic part of my brain cherishes nourishment.
     But then there is another aspect of my personality that people either know very, very well, or not at all. I like order. I like my financial records to be in perfect shape. I like personnel files to be kept in secure storage. I like well-conceived procedure guides that define business processes. Succinctly.
     When glued to my television along with the rest of the world, that orderly side of me could not help noticing the unbelievable quantity of paper that escaped the World Trade Center towers without being incinerated. It is not a stretch to assume that among the white sheets on the ground, one could have found employment contracts, stock certificates, drafts of legal briefs, and confidential memoranda.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cornucopia of life

     When considering the consequences of informed dissent and civil disobedience, we tend to focus on "Big Events" and the negative aspects of such actions. The beheadings. The imprisonments. The public ridicule. The loss of friends, the betrayal of family. The condemnation by a society unworthy of true patriotism and unfettered integrity.
     And indeed, the sacrifice is great.
     But it is only half the story, only one side of the coin.
     When a person takes a difficult stand for what is right, for what is noble, he may lose friends, she may forfeit status in her community, he may feel isolated, she may wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to go along. Some who are driven by ethics and honesty may even lose their lives, money, and assets.