Saturday, May 15, 2010


A 16 year old Australian girl just completed a sailing solo and nonstop 23,000 miles around the world. I vaguely recall her setting out but did not follow her trip but, damn, if I don't feel emotional at her accomplishment. Maybe because finishing the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin Summit is a similar experience and I recall the joy of that moment. But compared to her challenges, my six months on the Appalachian Trail don't amount to much. I had regular resupply and human contact. I didn't fight monstrous storms or experience seven knockdowns. (I'm not sure what a knockdown is but I'm sure that it's extremely bad.) I just walked with friends.

Well done, Jessica. Thanks for teaching us what dreaming and determination can accomplish.


Showing Some Spine?

Well, maybe. The University of Virginia is finally evaluating ALL options in responding to the state attorney general's subpoena of academic research records. University officials have hired outside counsel, a sensible move since its own legal staff are affiliated with the state attorney general's office.

When the subpoena was first announced the university emphasized its legal duty to comply. Not a word about the subpoena's impact on free inquiry. Academics from around the nation and within the university spoke up for academic freedom well before UVA's administration. For a school that celebrates its Jeffersonian spririt of free thought and inquiry, UVA's response was embarrassingly tepid.

Just because UVA is seeking legal advice, it doesn't mean it will actually fight the subpoena but at least the university's administrators are beginning to see what slavish cooperation with a witch hunt will do to its reputation.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Passing of a Mentor

Norman Graebner died May 10 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He taught diplomatic history at the University of Virginia. I took his diplomatic history of the US course during my senior year. It was a lecture class but Graebner's lectures were electrifying. He was rumored to be the highest paid professor at Virginia, that the university lured him from Illinois with big bucks. True or not, he was worth his salary. Best of all, he told America's diplomatic history in a clear, logical and concise way that was directly applicable to contemporary events. Graebner spoke with knowledge and passion. Taking notes was impossibly difficult because note taking might distract from hearing something important and not one word ever seemed unimportant.

The Vietnam war dominated all discussions of foreign policy in 1970. Graebner presented that war in the context of misguided and misinformed decision-making and how those decisions fit in the longer dynamic of US and world history. He taught me the dynamics of war as an instrument of foreign polilcy, how a deeply nationalist movement fighting a foreign occupation had a strength that made up for limitations in weaponry and technology, and how never-ending war will bleed a nation. That nations choose war and conflict, in Graebner's thinking, was all the more tragic because diplomacy and keen understanding of national interest offered a more sustainable alternative.

I haven't seen any work by Graebner on America's current wars. But I would be amazed if he didn't think America was pouring lives and treasure into an effort that served this nation's interests.

Godspeed, Mr. Graebner.

Thank you.


Although he had a PhD, Norman Graeber was addressed as Mister Graebner. The University of Virginia had the tradition of addressing all members of the "academical village", student and professor alike, as Mister. Founder Thomas Jefferson was Mr. Jefferson, not President Jefferson. I have no reason to believe that tradition does not continue.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bad Week at the Alma Mater

The murder of a well-liked University of Virginia lacrosse player by her ex-boyfriend and men's lacrosse standout shocked the Charlottesville campus early last week. It was a senseless murder whose likelihood certainly seems in hindsight predicted by the alleged suspect's past behavior. Like so many other tragedies (can you say 9-11?) no one connected the dots. It's no Virginia Tech massacre but it's still a nasty tear in the fabric of what is presumed to be a safe society.

The murder may be shocking but even more disturbing is the Virginia Attorney General's subpoena of a University of Virginia professor's research papers in a civil fraud investigation. The AG, a climate change denier believes the professor, whose emails are cited in the "climate-gate scandal", may have committed fraud in using research grant funds. The University plans to comply "as required by law" with the subpoena.

Supporters of academic freedom (myself among them) are aghast at the meek response. We can certainly connect the dots between an ideologically driven politician's agenda and academic freedom even if the University administration cannot.

What would Mr. Jefferson do?


Money Talks

Education in managing personal finances is lacking in American schools according to a recent report. And not just for the students. Less than 20 percent of teachers consider themselves "very competent" to teach personal financial management. The solution, of course, is more education to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully manage their finances.

But along with those individual skills students need to know how the economy works, both in theory and practice. An honest financial and economic education would not only teach students how to make budgets and pay bills but also how to recognize corporate predation and economic imperialism. They would understand how politicians and private interests conspire to their own advantage to the detriment of the public.

Not bloody likely, though. That education would spark a revolution.