Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Argh! Look At The Illustration Caption & See This Blogger Hoist By His Own Petard

The New Yorker just reissued one of the The Jillster's eariest (2007) contributions that was written in the glow of the celebratory embers of the quadricentennial of the founding of Jamestown. While the blogger taught a lot of students at the Collegium Excellens, he never failed to insinuate that Captain John Smith played fast and loose with the truth about the early years of Jamestown, with special emphasis on Smith's rescue by the daughter of the Powhatan chief named Pocahontas. Thanks to The Jillster's revisionism, this blogger was aghast at being taken in by the likes of Henry Adams, J. Franklin Jameson, and Samuel E. Morison. If this is (fair & balanced) belated embarrassment, so be it.

[x The New Yorker]
Our Town
By Jill Lepore

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Somewhere under the south aisle of St. Sepulchre’s Church in London lie the remains of Captain John Smith, who died in 1631, at the age of fifty-one. On a brass plaque, his epitaph reads:

Here lyes one conquered that hath conquered Kings.
Subdu’d large Territories, and done things
Which to the World impossible would seem,
But that the Truth is held in more esteem.

In other words: believe it or not, he wasn’t a liar.

Smith’s conquests are, to say the least, hard to credit. In 1630, he published The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith, in Europe, Asia, Affrica, and America, in which a discerning reader will learn to expect that when the Captain, wearing full armor, has his stallion shot out from under him he’ll mount a dead man’s horse before his own has hit the ground, and reload his musket while he’s at it. Even his mishaps prove his valor. Nobody could have survived so many sea fights, shipwrecks, mutinies, deserted islands, musket wounds, betrayals, captivities, and gashes received while jousting except a man whose coat of arms depicted the severed, turbaned heads of three Turkish champions he defeated in back-to-back duels in Transylvania, and whose motto, emblazoned on his shield, sounds like the title of a James Bond film set in Elizabethan England: Vincere est vivere. “To conquer is to live.”

In 1631, less than a month before Smith died, a Welsh clergyman named David Lloyd published The Legend of Captaine Jones, a lampoon of Smith’s True Travels, in which Smith is more Austin Powers than James Bond. A later edition includes, by way of appendix, a spoof of Smith’s well-known epitaph:

Tread softly (mortalls) ore the bones
Of the worlds wonder Captaine Jones:
Who told his glorious deeds to many,
But never was believ’d of any:
Posterity let this suffice,
He swore all’s true, yet here he lyes.

Perhaps it’s of more than passing interest that, even before he died, Captain John Smith was widely believed to be a liar, especially since he was also, arguably, the first American historian. In The True Travels, Smith claimed to have defeated armies, outwitted heathens, escaped pirates, hunted treasure, and wooed princesses—and all this on four continents, no less, if you count a little island in North America that this year celebrates its four-hundredth anniversary as the birthplace of the United States. That would be Jamestown, Virginia, where Smith served as chief chronicler, and where his most disastrous adventures took place.

“America’s 400th Anniversary,” as Jamestown’s quadricentennial has been styled, marks the founding of the first permanent English settlement in North America. It’s also a good time to take stock of John Smith, not least because the Library of America has just published a thirteen-hundred-page edition of his works, edited by James Horn, who directs the library at Colonial Williamsburg. Horn has gathered Smith’s many writings about Virginia, an adventure recounted not only in The True Travels but also, first, in a letter printed without Smith’s permission in 1608 as “A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned in Virginia”; next, in an essay on the Virginia Indians published in 1612 as “A Map of Virginia” and bound with a longer account of the founding of Jamestown, “The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia”; and, again, in “The Generall Historie of Virginia,” printed in 1624. Horn’s bare-bones edition will never replace Philip L. Barbour’s magnificently annotated and definitive three-volume Complete Works of Captain John Smith, published in 1986, from which Horn has taken the text, but, if it directs new readers to Smith’s writings, all the better.

“I am no Compiler by hearsay, but have beene a reall Actor,” Smith wrote, and true enough. Born in Lincolnshire in 1580, Smith left England at about the age of sixteen, “to learne the life of a souldier.” He fought the Spanish in the Netherlands, sailed to Scotland, and returned to England to live like a hermit in the woods, reading books and practicing to be a knight: “His studie was Machiavills Art of warre, and Marcus Aurelius; his exercise a good horse, with his lance and Ring.” (Smith often wrote about himself in the third person.) In circa 1599-1600, he crossed the Channel again. After adventures in France, including a sword fight near Mont-Saint-Michel, he tried to sail from Marseilles to Italy but was thrown overboard. Rescued by pirates, he sailed the Mediterranean and learned to fight at sea. In late 1600, he joined Austrian forces to fight the Turks in Slovenia and Hungary, where, for his valor in the field, he was promoted to captain. Wounded in a “dismal battel” in Transylvania, where “30,000 lay, some headlesse, armelesse, and leglesse,” Smith and his fellow-survivors were “sold for slaves, like beasts in a market-place.” He was sent to Istanbul, to serve his owner’s mistress. But she fell in love with him. Eventually, he escaped, and, after making his way through Russia and Poland, and fighting in Morocco, he returned to England in the winter of 1604-05.

In December, 1606, when a burly, bearded Smith was twenty-six, he sailed to Virginia with a fleet of three ships, the Godspeed, the Susan Constant, and the Discovery. For much of the voyage, he was under arrest, accused of plotting a mutiny to “make himselfe king.” In May, 1607, Smith and a hundred and four other colonists settled on the banks of a river they called the James, in honor of their king, on land named after his predecessor, Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. On board ship, they had carried a box containing a list of men appointed by the Virginia Company to govern the colony, “not to be opened, nor the governours knowne untill they arived in Virginia.” When at last the box was opened, it was revealed that Smith, still a prisoner, was on the list. On June 10, 1607, he was sworn in as a member of the governing council. In September of 1608, he was elected its president—effectively, Virginia’s governor. By his telling, he was also its only hope.

Jamestown’s reputation, like John Smith’s, has had its ups and downs. This anniversary, which comes at a time when the country’s need for stories of successful nation-building and military heroes is at a peak, is sure to be a banner year for both the colony and its most famous founder. Elizabeth II will be coming to Jamestown for the festivities in May—concerts, reënactments, exhibits, and more—as she did for the colony’s three-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary, in 1957. Meanwhile, bookshops are stocking up on confetti-laced birthday books, not only the Library of America edition of Smith’s writings, wrapped in its signature red-white-and-blue ribbon, but also a very long list of celebratory tomes, most of which bear subtitles like “Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream.”

That 1607 is being fêted as America’s birthday seems, at first, absurd. Really, what’s to celebrate? The English were far from being the earliest Europeans to settle on land that would one day become the United States. The Spanish settled at St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565; by 1608 they were building Santa Fe. And it’s hard to consider Jamestown an auspicious start. Writing in 1975, the great Yale historian Edmund Morgan dubbed it a “fiasco.” “Measured by any of the objectives announced for it,” Morgan reckoned, “the colony failed.” The English landed, and “for the next ten years they seem to have made nearly every possible mistake and some that seem almost impossible.” They chose a poor site: on the banks of a brackish river. They had a lousy plan: build a fort, and look for gold. They brought the wrong kind of settlers: idle and indolent English gentlemen, who spent their time bowling in the streets. (Smith counted one carpenter, two blacksmiths, and a flock of footmen, and wrote the rest of the settlers off as “Gentlemen, Tradesmen, Serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoyle a Common-wealth, then either begin one, or but helpe to maintaine one.”) They made enemies easily, especially of the Powhatan Indians, whose hearts and minds they failed to win, even though they relied on them for food, having harvested little of their own. Mostly, they died. Except for the year that Smith was in charge, from the fall of 1608 to the fall of 1609, when he told the colony’s half-dead men that he “who would not work must not eat,” they starved. It wasn’t the land that was the problem. “Had we beene in Paradice it selfe (with those governours), it would not have beene much better,” Smith complained.

After October, 1609, when Smith returned to England (ostensibly, to recover from an injury, though, actually, he had more or less been kicked out), Jamestown went to hell. In the winter of 1609-10, five hundred colonists were reduced to sixty. A hair-raising account of those months, written by the president of the council, George Percy, the eighth son of the Earl of Northumberland, paints this scene: “Many throwe extreme hunger have Runne outt of their naked bedds beinge so Leane thatt they Looked lyke anatomes, cryeinge owtt, We are starved. We are starved.” In the end, they ate one another. Percy writes, “One of our Colline murdered his wyfe Ripped the Childe outt of her woambe and threwe itt into the River and after Chopped the Mother in pieces and sallted her for his foode.” Telling the story of the husband showering his wife with salt, another settler wondered, “Now whether shee was better roasted, boyled or carbonado’d, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of.” Happy birthday?

And yet: “The American dream was born on the banks of the James River,” the Jamestown archeologist William M. Kelso insists in Jamestown: The Buried Truth (2006). Kelso writes in a tradition of Jamestown boosters who revel in the colony’s eventual success. By the sixteen-twenties, in spite of a mortality rate that was still as high as seventy-five or eighty per cent, the Virginia economy was booming. Hence the American dream: arrive empty-handed, work hard, and get rich. Just as cockeyed, anachronistic, and overblown is a debunking tradition that damns Jamestown as the birthplace of the American nightmare: with corporate funding from wealthy investors (the Virginia Company), steal somebody else’s land (the Powhatan’s) and reap huge profits by planting and harvesting an addictive drug (tobacco, whose sales were responsible for the boom), while exploiting your labor force (indigent Britons and, after 1619, Africans).

American dream or American nightmare, the bare facts about Jamestown have been dressed up and pressed into the service of either of these narratives. One American abolitionist, writing in 1857—Jamestown’s two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary—implied that we ought to ignore 1607 and instead pay attention to the divided nation’s twin founding moments: the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing in Plymouth and the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown, in 1619. “Here are the two ideas, Liberty and Slavery—planted at about the same time, in the virgin soil of the new continent; the one in the North, the other in the South. They are deadly foes. Which shall conquer?”

For a very long time, the question that animated the study of Jamestown was the very one that most troubled John Smith: “howe it came to passe there was no better successe.” In other words, why did things go so badly? The debate over that question, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties (not coincidentally, in the shadow of Vietnam), was one of the most vigorous in all of early-American historical scholarship, at least as vigorous as the earlier and continuing argument over the causes of the witchcraft outbreak in Salem in 1692 (a debate that has never really crawled out from under the shadow of McCarthyism). The too-many-gentlemen theory is compelling—in Smith’s shorthand, “miserable is that Land, where more are idle then well imployed”—but for years historians marshalled evidence in support of a range of provocative explanations, from malaria and typhoid to salt poisoning and the Little Ice Age, and, finally, to the colonists’ stubborn preference for planting tobacco to sell instead of corn to eat.

This year’s birthday books have turned that unanswered question upside down, asking not why Jamestown at first failed but why, in the end, it succeeded. Thus does the Jamestown quadricentennial snatch victory from the jaws of a man who ate his wife.

“To call Jamestown a failure, let alone a disaster, is to oversimplify,” Kelso writes. Kelso’s evidence for this claim is what he has found: Jamestown Fort. Before Kelso came along, most archeologists had concluded that the remains of the fort that the settlers built in the spring of 1607 had long since been washed away by the James River. Kelso was sure that its foundation lay underground, and not underwater. Beginning in 1993, when he was hired as the director of archeology for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, Kelso oversaw the painstaking discovery of the fort’s footprint, one of the most exciting finds ever in American historical archeology. Within and around the fort’s footprint, Kelso’s team dug up not only human remains, palisade lines, and building foundations but also more than seven hundred thousand artifacts: beads, armor, pottery, and tools, each with a story to tell. They found the jawbone of a dog, with lead shot in it; a butchered turtle; thimbles; a suit of armor, thrown down a well, piece by piece; even a fancy silver “ear picker.” What story these artifacts tell is less clear. (Wouldn’t it have been better to pack a few more hoes for the voyage, and not so many ear pickers?) Kelso’s extraordinary findings are sure to inspire a new generation of tourists, and scholars from around the world, to visit and revisit Jamestown. For now, he proposes that the archeological record tilts toward proving that Jamestown’s first settlers weren’t nearly as hapless as John Smith made them out to be, not least because they built a very good fort very quickly. He offers this measured assessment: “There is evidence that some of the immigrants worked hard.”

Karen Kupperman, in her new study, The Jamestown Project (2007), agrees. Like Kelso, Kupperman, a historian at New York University who has written about early American colonization for two and a half decades, attributes Jamestown’s eventual success not to unrelenting investors or slave labor or the price of tobacco but to the hard work of “ordinary colonists.” “The truly remarkable thing about Jamestown is that it somehow survived,” Kupperman argues.

What’s most useful about Kupperman’s work is the careful attention she pays to many of the Jamestown colonists’ earlier experience with Islam. John Smith had three Turks’ heads on his shield and, as a slave to Muslims, he had eaten “Cuskus” (he went to fight the Turks because he regretted having “seene so many Christians slaughter one another”), but he wasn’t the only Jamestown adventurer to have travelled through the Ottoman Empire. William Strachey, who became secretary of the colony in 1609, had been in Istanbul two years earlier. George Sandys, the colony’s treasurer, had travelled, by camel, to Jerusalem and had written, at length, about the “Mahometan Religion.” To these Englishmen, the New World beckoned as but another battlefield for the Old World’s religious wars; one of the chief reasons to hunt for gold in America was to use the money to defeat Muslims in Europe.

While providing this extraordinarily helpful context for what happened in Jamestown, Kupperman mainly measures the colony against both previous and later English settlement efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, the Caribbean, and New England, including Roanoke, England’s first attempt to establish a foothold in the New World, on the outer shoals of what is now North Carolina. That settlement was the subject of an earlier, excellent study by Kupperman. Founded in 1584, Roanoke was deserted three years later, and it’s anyone’s guess what happened to the more than a hundred men, women, and children who were left behind when the governor, John White, sailed to England for help; when he returned, in 1590, they were gone. Compared with Roanoke, Kupperman points out, Jamestown is a stunner.

Kupperman’s argument, that Jamestown wasn’t really that bad, requires her to explain why it looks so bad. Resolutely, she blames the sources, “which consist largely of complaints, special pleading, and excuses sent by colonists back to their patrons in England.” They made everything sound worse than it was. The devil of it is that some of these kvetchers were actually colorful writers, and this, Kupperman warns ominously, has led historians to make a fatal error: reading their accounts “to mine them for pithy quotes.” Again with the wife-eating man!

John Smith liked to blame whiners, too. “Ingenious verbalists,” he called those who came to Virginia, while he was in charge, only to find themselves shocked by what they saw, “because they found not English Cities, nor such faire houses, nor at their owne wishes any of their accustomed dainties, with feather beds and downe pillowes.” Such men, he said, were those who would call Virginia, under his inspired leadership, “a misery, a ruine, a death, a hell.” But after Smith returned to England he began to see that what was going on in Jamestown was impossible to discover from so far away, investors having need of twisting the story this way and that, like so many Enron executives, in a world without a Securities and Exchange Commission (although by 1624 a royal commission had begun investigating the Virginia Company for mismanagement). No matter how many men ate their wives, Smith wearily concluded, reports in England would make “the Company here thinke all the world was Oatmeale there.”

The question of whether John Smith was a liar is inseparable from the question of whether Jamestown was a failure. They don’t map onto each other exactly, but it usually works like this: if Smith told the truth, Jamestown was a disaster, except when he was in charge. It’s possible to both believe Smith and see Jamestown as a success, but let’s just say that this requires quite a bit of squinting. Generally, if, like the Virginia Company, you’d like to think that everything in Jamestown was oatmeal, it helps if you are willing to say that Smith was either ill-informed or stretching the truth, although, most often, those who discredit him aren’t as gracious as that. Their assessments have more of a liar-liar-pantaloons-on-fire quality. (As it happens, and just for the record, they were: the injury that sent Smith back to England was a severe burn that he sustained to his thighs and groin when, it seems, his gunpowder bag, lying in his lap, caught the spark of a tobacco pipe and exploded.)

“He swore all’s true, yet here he lyes.” As David Lloyd’s The Legend of Captaine Jones would have it, Smith made up most of what he wrote, or at least exaggerated, brazenly. Nevertheless, in the colonies, and especially in the early United States, The Legend of Captaine Jones was entirely forgotten and, despite lingering doubts about his credibility, Smith became a romantic hero of the nineteenth-century American South. His exploits were celebrated—and lavishly embroidered—in songs and in antebellum stage productions that implausibly but invariably paired him, romantically, with Pocahontas, the daughter of the Powhatan’s most powerful leader, who, no older than fourteen when Smith left Virginia, in 1609, actually married a colonist named John Rolfe, in 1614.

This distortion of historical fact was more than Henry Adams could abide. Appalled by the growing myth of Smith’s romance with Pocahontas, Adams earned his reputation as a historian by savaging the Captain’s. In an 1867 essay in the North American Review, Adams’s first piece of historical criticism (in 1870, he would be named professor of history at Harvard), he pointed out that Smith’s account of his rescue by Pocahontas changed every time he told it. Worse, Smith didn’t even mention the rescue before Pocahontas’s visit to London, in 1616, when she was received as a foreign dignitary. Only afterward did Smith boast that Pocahontas had once “hazarded the beating out of her owne braines to save mine,” after her father, Powhatan, had ordered his men to kill him. In his 1624 Generall Historie, Smith added still more detail: “Being ready with their clubs, to beate out his braines, Pocahontas the Kings dearest daughter, when no intreaty could prevaile, got his head in her armes, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.” Lies, lies, and more lies! cried Adams. Smith’s work, he concluded, contained “falsehoods of an effrontery seldom equaled in modern times.”

In offering this exposé, Adams claimed to have been motivated solely by his zeal to establish the “bald historical truth,” but privately he confessed that he considered his essay “a rear attack on the Virginia aristocracy.” Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Adams, who despised the South, delighted in defeating a founding father of the Old Dominion. John Gorham Palfrey, a Harvard professor and New England booster who had persuaded Adams to write the essay in the first place, was equally pleased, allegedly telling him that “a stone thrown at Smith would be as likely to break as much glass as a missile heaved in any other direction.” He was right. Smith’s already fragile reputation as a man of his word and, especially, as a historian was shattered (and Palfrey’s project, to promote New England as the birthplace of America, and 1620 as its birthday, greatly advanced). Smith had his defenders, to be sure, including Edward Arber, who edited an eleven-hundred-page compilation of his writings, in 1884, and who argued that “wherever we can check Smith, we find him both modest and accurate.” But far more common was the kind of dismissal offered by J. Franklin Jameson, in his 1891 History of Historical Writing in America, in which he concluded, after reading Smith, that “what was historical was not his and what was his was not historical.” In effect, Adams and Jameson relegated Smith’s works to the (lowly) rank of literature, and demoted Smith himself from historian to mere writer. After that, about the nicest thing that any American historian was willing to say about John Smith was an aside offered in 1930 by Samuel Eliot Morison, who called him “a liar, if you will; but a thoroughly cheerful and generally harmless liar.”

Since then, three things have happened: it has been discovered that much of what Smith wrote was actually true; historians have begun to care more about the art of lying (a.k.a. literature), anyway; and Smith has been rehabilitated as an astute, if biased, ethnographer.

In 1953, the historian Bradford Smith published a biography that aimed to check John Smith’s word against that of his contemporaries, and, working both with newly discovered sources in England and, more important, with a Hungarian scholar named Laura Polanyi Striker, B. Smith concluded that J. Smith was a man of his word. A quixotic, self-aggrandizing Elizabethan gallant and knight-errant? Yes. But a fraud? No. Inspired by Bradford Smith’s biography, Philip Barbour, a linguist and former intelligence officer, scoured archives across Eastern Europe, where he was able to corroborate an astonishing number of details in Smith’s True Travels. All manner of additional research—including a successful re-creation, by the Boy Scouts of Graz, Austria, of a mountaintop torch-message system that Smith had described but which had never before been tested—further supported the Captain’s credibility.

Meanwhile, scholars came to agree that “Smith was as much a man of letters as a man of action,” as John Wood Sweet has put it. Historians now commonly read Smith as a writer engaged in what the literary critic Stephen Greenblatt labelled “self-fashioning.”

Finally, students of Jamestown with a more anthropological cast of mind, and with an interest in the Powhatan, have claimed Smith as one of early America’s best ethnographers. After all, compared with his contemporaries Smith was a keen observer, although it’s worth remembering that most of what he saw, in Transylvania as much as in Jamestown, was altogether new to him, stranger than strange, and he wasn’t always able to make sense of it. Two historians, James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, once tried to imagine how Smith might have reported a July afternoon spent at Yankee Stadium:

Being assembled about a great field of open grass, a score of their greatest men ran out upon the field, adorned each in brightly hued jackets and breeches, with letters cunningly woven upon their Chestes, and wearinge caps . . . upon their heades, of a sort I know not what. One of their chiefs stood in the midst and would at his pleasure hurl a white ball at another chief, whose attire was of a different colour, and whether by chance or artifyce I know not the ball flew exceeding close to the man yet never injured him, but sometimes he would strike att it with a wooden club and so giveing it a hard blow would throw down his club and run away.

In other words, you can count on Smith for abundant detail, and admirable accuracy, but he’s fairly likely to leave out what you most want to know: “Yankees 10, Red Sox 3.”

At the age of twenty-nine, John Smith returned to England. He spent most of the rest of his life, another twenty-two years, writing. He never took up another profession. He never married, or had children (facts perhaps best explained by his pantaloons having been set on fire; his wound has a decided Toby Shandy quality to it). He was restless. He wanted, urgently, to participate in more northern settlements—he gave New England its name—but the Puritans didn’t want him along. Instead, he had to be content with giving them armchair advice, a role he despised: “It were more proper for mee, To be doing what I say, then writing what I knowe.” His last work, published in the year of his death, is an impassioned essay with a desperate title: Advertisements for the unexperienced Planters of New-England, or any where. Smith’s advice—bring your women (but don’t eat them) and don’t forget to plant corn—was taken, and may well have saved New England from Jamestown’s early misery, but Smith himself died poor and scorned. As Adams put it, in the very language so often used to describe early Virginia, Smith’s career “turned out a failure, and his ventures ended disastrously.”

And Jamestown? Was it, too, a failure and a disaster? Or was it, instead, the birthplace of the American dream? Maybe this question has outlived its usefulness. By considering the world that Jamestown made, and ignoring the world that made Jamestown, it hides more than it reveals. John Smith was more medieval than modern, closer to a Crusader than to a Founding Father. Neither he nor Jamestown can bear the burden of our national need for a tidy past. (Neither can Plymouth, for that matter.) What happened in Jamestown is a story of vaunting ambition and staggering success in the face of surpassing cruelty and rank catastrophe. It is a story of some lessons painfully learned, and others not learned at all. The world isn’t made of oatmeal. And maybe to conquer isn’t the only way to live. Ω

[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University as well as the chair of the History and Literature Program. She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her latest books are The Story of America: Essays on Origins (2012), Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013). and The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014). Lepore earned her BA (English) from Tufts University, an MA (American culture) from the University of Michigan, and a PhD (American studies) from Yale University.]

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Somehow, "One Damned Thing After Another" Needs To Be Ripped From Dumbos/Teabaggers' Cold, Dead Hands

In reading this account of surviving the history wars, Christine Grossman-Loh imparted this fact to the blogger: "... a positivist view of history [was] the 19th-century notion that history was akin to a science, and that the accumulation of historical facts would eventually lead to an objective understanding of events." It caused a light to dawn for this blogger. For 32 miserable years, he had labored in the Collegium Excellens' Department of Social Sciences, teaching history. During that miserable period, the blogger knew — in his heart of hearts — that history was not a science, but all of the other drones in the department taught one damn thing after another. If this is a (fair & balanced) moment of insight, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
A Better Way To Teach History
By Christine Gross-Loh

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In a spacious classroom in Aldrich Hall on the Harvard Business School campus, 100 students are passionately discussing a case called “Battle Over a Bank.” But these aren’t MBA students deliberating over how much the government should regulate the financial sector. This group of mostly undergraduates, guided by the award-winning Harvard Business School professor David Moss, is diving into the fierce 1791 debate over whether the Constitution could be interpreted to allow the fledgling U.S. government the power to form a bank at all.

This class, “History of American Democracy,” is no pedestrian historical survey course. It uses the case method—the business school’s signature teaching technique—to immerse undergraduates (as well as a limited number of HBS students) in critical episodes in the development of American democracy.

The field of history is often dismissed as dull, but educators like Moss are experimenting with innovative teaching strategies to teach history in a way that is effective, exciting, and productive. There’s “Reading like a Historian,” based at Stanford and aimed at the K-12 level, which explicitly hones the ability to take primary sources and interpret, construct meaning, recognize competing narratives, and contextualize as a historian would. “Reacting to the Past,” started at Barnard College by Mark Carnes, is a student-centered college curriculum consisting entirely of role-playing games. “Facing History and Ourselves,” which grew out of a course focused on the Holocaust, uses a multi-pronged approach to get young people in grades six through 12 thinking about the ramifications of genocide and mass violence as a way of reflecting on moral choices they themselves face in their own lives.

History education generates heated controversy among educators and policymakers. There is a long history of tension over which historical facts children should be learning in school and when, whether a particular set of proposed standards is too patriotic, too multicultural, or whitewashes uncomfortable truths. Controversies over the content and nature of what children are learning often fall along political lines: The Michigan State Board of Education recently delayed voting on its new social-studies standards because of a controversy over whether liberal bias was behind proposals to include civil rights in the curriculum before high school, while in Texas, critics repeatedly accuse textbook authors of reflecting conservative political views in their coverage of topics such as religion or slavery.

Perhaps the most major current-day divide falls along the lines of content versus skills: Should history classes be about acquiring facts and information, or should they emphasize historical thinking abilities and processes? And if the latter, which skills and how might they best be taught? While a positivist view of history—the 19th-century notion that history was akin to a science, and that the accumulation of historical facts would eventually lead to an objective understanding of events—fell out of favor long ago, this idea seems to remain the operative assumption behind traditional history curricula that emphasize content, chronology, and comprehensiveness.

According to Bob Bain, a professor of history and education at the University of Michigan and faculty lead on the Big History Project, the debate over factual content versus skills—one that has actually waxed and waned ever since history emerged as a field of study a century and a half ago—pertains to a false dichotomy. “You can’t do historical thinking without facts, and you can’t acquire stuff without some sort of historical thinking,” he points out. A good history teacher can teach both effectively, agrees Elaine Carey, a history professor at St. John’s University and the former vice president of the teaching division of the American Historical Association. She emphasizes that teachers can teach “skills through content,” and that you “can’t understand historical continuity if you don’t have historical knowledge.”

The case method goes beyond historical skills and factual content; it aims to hone decision-making skills. Each case is a concentrated story about a specific episode in history. Students are asked what they would have decided had they been, say, an advocate arguing for compulsory public education in 1851, or Theodore Roosevelt deciding whether to intervene in a dispute between labor and industry in 1901. It’s not until after they have fully discussed the case that the historical outcome is revealed to them. (Class participation, even though it is mandatory, is enthusiastic: “We can have 40 hands in the air at any given moment,” Moss tells me.)

Few students think about history that way, according to Moss. Instead, they’re often taught that “what happened is what happened.” Unlike with many history courses, where students look back at historical events students in Moss’s course “play history forward. If you were in that place as that voter, that labor leader, or that congressperson, what decision would you have made?”

One of the reasons American children often appear to struggle in history, Bain says, is because their knowledge is primarily assessed through multiple-choice tests. Multiple-choice assessment, by nature, often privileges factual content over historical thinking. “If you’re testing historical content out of context, that might explain why they don’t do so well,” Bain says. He advocates embracing the use of narrative—even if that narrative is flawed or one-sided. “The grand narrative is pejorative to many in the historical profession—people say that it tries to inculcate a particular viewpoint in kids. But having a big picture or story is cognitively critical to historical knowledge.”

Similarly, history textbooks appear omniscient and objective, and tend to gloss over competing narratives. But educators say that understanding whose narrative is being told helps students to engage with it; even if it is wrong or they disagree with it, the narrative provides context and a more effective way to learn and remember. “The argument I make all the time is, it’s like if I were to ask someone to assemble a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the box-top picture of it. You could of course eventually put it together but the effort to match shapes and colors on each piece would be monumental, and you’d likely give up quite quickly. Such is what happens to many kids in school.”

It’s difficult to track down research corroborating the academic benefits of the case method, but anecdotal evidence speaks to its power. Moss tells me he has observed the results of story-based teaching in his classroom. “People remember cases incredibly well—and often at a level of detail that’s almost shocking. Stories stick in the mind, and when you learn history with a focus on particular stories it’s much easier to remember the pieces around them.”

David Kaufman, a student who took the course last year, says that discussing history through a series of cases allowed the students to “focus a lot more on the process than on, say, the actual legislative result, which I think was much richer.” It is well known that stories aid learning because of how memory is structured. The cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner wrote of two modes of knowing: paradigmatic and narrative; with the latter, attention and emotion influence the strength of a memory. Stories activate emotion, which helps students stay engaged and remember. They also feed the human need to fit things into a coherent structure in order to make meaning of them.

All this makes the case method promising for high school, too, and some of Moss’s cases were indeed adopted for use by history teachers at public and private high schools in a pilot program beginning early last year. One of the participants, Eleanor Cannon, a history teacher at St. John’s School in Houston, expressed astonishment at how students who never thought of themselves as history types before grew to love history. “I’ve never had this experience as a teacher before, and it’s explicitly due to the case method—it’s a game changer.” Rather than merely know which decisions historical figures made, her students now understood why. Facts she had taught multiple times, such as that the Constitution was not handed down intact by the founders but emerged from a protracted period of intense tumult, debate, and compromise, made visceral sense now after students read and discussed a case on James Madison and the making of the Constitution. (As one student told Cannon, “I didn’t realize how much they argued!”)

Moss compares immersion in case after case to batting practice that helps train judgment. The idea is to help students develop an instinct for how to respond even to problems—whether they be furor over same sex marriage or a massive financial crisis—that feel unprecedented. Through sheer repetitive exposure to problems and problem-solving, students learn the art of decision-making—and develop better judgment—in “much the same way as you might learn a language. It’s not an algorithm, it’s the development of an instinct—at least in part,” says Moss. They also provide historical perspective when looking at problems today.

Take the current debate over immigration. Although none of Moss’s cases focuses principally on immigration, themes of exclusion/inclusion are woven throughout, potentially reminding readers that unpleasant historical episodes have happened again and again. A group of people will become accepted into the fold, only to see the fire turned on another one; who the “threatening” outgroup is always changing. “You can see it as deeply disturbing,” Moss says, “that there always seemed to be an outgroup that some Americans looked down upon, but you could also see that there is an ongoing process of expanding tolerance, over time. This doesn’t create an excuse for bigotry—absolutely not—but it does give you a little hope that when there is bigotry it’s not necessarily permanent; there is a chance to get past it, group by group, with the result eventually being a broader, more tolerant society.”

One of Moss’s arguments about democracy is that it is far more complex than people tend to realize—that “it is not a machine built to specification.” Instead, democracy can be understood as a living organism that thrives on productive tension, engagement, and change. Without movement, it would die. Moss mentions the de facto national motto first suggested in 1776 by Benjamin Franklin: E Pluribus Unum. “Out of many, one.” Franklin saw difference that achieves common purpose as a core strength of the country. If one were to apply this analogy to history, ongoing debates about how to teach it only enhance the field—as long as educators remain committed to the same shared goal of helping students understand the past in order to face the future. “The best ideas come out of tension, out of disagreeing,” Moss tells his students. “Tension is what ensures the best ideas win out.” Ω

[Christine Gross-Loh is the co-author (with Michael Puett) of The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life (2016). Grossman-Loh received a BA (history) from Bryn Mawr College as well as a PhD (East Asian history) from Harvard University.]

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Tom Tomorrow Explains Why This Blogger Hasn't Watched A Single Second Of Broadcast/Cable News In 2015-2016

In today's 'toon, this blog's toonist-in-residence — Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) — captures the essence of TV news. The usual cast of characters is assembled — from Biff & Wanda on Action McNews to Sparky The Wonder Penguin — and THE answer sinks in. Northrup Frye was right, we have become what we have beheld. If this is (fair & balanced) hopelessness, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Primary Questions
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Roll Over, John Donne — Make Way For A Modern Version Of Meditation XVII

Regularly, before signing off from his Friday simulcast (Radio/TV), Dan Patrick signals a mention of condolences upon the recent death of a prominent figure in our lives. When this blogger, first heard the opening drumline of "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire, he had to scramble to Wikipedia and YouTube to discover that the band's first album, Funeral (2004), contained "Wake Up." Now, when the accoustic open begins, it's a cue for an elegaic tribute from Dan Patrick. Today's illustration for Eags' own comments — triggered by last month's deaths of David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Paul Kantner — have a fitting accompaniment in "Wake Up." If this is a (fair & balanced) function of rock music, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Reading Rock Star Obituaries
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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[x YouTube/ArcadeFireTube]
David Bowie & Arcade Fire
"Wake Up"
Radio City Music Hall, 2005

They pass away with regularity now, frozen in provocative poses of youthful eternity. Gone in the last month are David Bowie, age 69, Glenn Frey, 67, and Paul Kantner, 74, musicians who lifted hearts, pushed boundaries, had it all and then had nothing that could hold off the inevitable.

You parse the cause of death, as if that explains something. You look for a pattern — years of debauchery finally catching up with them? — and realize simply that a rock star can have a very ordinary ending. Bowie, the Man Who Fell to Earth, suffered from cancer. Complications of rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia stilled Frey, whose voice haunts a million sunsets from the Hotel California. And Kantner was felled by multiple organ failure brought on by septic shock. These are things that kill old people, not demigods with electric guitars.

A founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was once a co-author of a song with this anthem:

“One generation got old

One generation got soul

This generation got no destination to hold.”

Of course, we all have the same destination. Still, death does not become rock ’n’ roll. How can it be that all four original members of the Ramones are gone? Aren’t they still headbanging somewhere, three chords against a wall? Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee. Hey, ho, let’s go. They belong to sports stadiums now, in between innings.

A rock star’s death is at once shocking, because rock stars aren’t supposed to die, and no surprise, because many of them should have been dead a long time ago. The cadaverous Keith Richards, at the age of 72, is a living testament to how much self-abuse — heroin, tobacco, alcohol and sleep deprivation — one man can endure. After the apocalypse, goes the old joke, only Richards and cockroaches will remain. But then again, there was always alcohol in Winston Churchill’s bloodstream, so maybe the Brits are on to something.

Age-defiance has long been a part of the music that young white musicians fashioned from black rhythm and blues. The earlier genre had a place for mournful riffs on the passage of time. Rock pushed it away, though Bowie at least foretold it in “Changes,” one of his biggest hits:

“Oh, look out now, you rock and rollers,

Pretty soon you’re going to get older.”

So now it’s laughable that Pete Townshend could define his g-g-g-generation with “hope I die before I get old.” His band mate, the drummer Keith Moon, did just that, leaving this mortal coil at the age of 32. Townshend is 70, and still performing the song.

Mick Jagger was adamant about at least one thing in his youth: “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” He’s a seasoned 72, and the Rolling Stones are touring yet again, sure to include that song.

Bob Dylan, at 74, or Neil Young, at 70, could be the Bernie Sanders of rock. They don’t hide their age, all crinkly, deep-lined and grumpy, and yet still draw the same youthful crowds that follow Sanders around like he’s Phish on tour. Hey, look at that old dude rock!

Bruce Springsteen has long had a poet’s feel for how life chips away at hope and ambition. From the stage at the age of 66, he holds his microphone out to the crowd for the lyric in “Thunder Road” — “so you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.” Many of those who sing it for him are indeed scared, in an age of diminished expectations. But the song is a palliative.

Springsteen has lost at least two members of his E Street Band; he is the rare rocker who can sing of aging without sounding inauthentic. And yet, this being rock ’n’ roll, he and Paul McCartney (now 73) did not seem like creepy old farts when they belted out, “Well she was just 17, you know what I mean,” from a London stage in 2012.

Some of pop culture’s most talented stars — Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse — belong to the 27 Club, having died at that tender age. I wrote the story of Cobain’s death for this newspaper, and I ride my bike past the house in Seattle where he killed himself. It just seems foretold, for artists who can’t keep their psychic demons at bay, to die young.

At the other end, you have clean-living Pete Seeger, he of the folky “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a song that makes me want to summon John Belushi from “Animal House” to smash his guitar. Seeger died at the age of 94, of natural causes. Of course.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t miss John Lennon. I can’t remember if I cried when I heard that he’d been gunned down in New York. But I remember someone telling me that he’d be forever young, at age 40, which didn’t seem young at the time. He was so much older then. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

Farewell, Iowa, Farewell

Today, this blog's poet-in-residence — The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin) — offered a valedictory poem to the Children of the Corn as the Dumbo/Teabagger Klown Kar careened off to the Granite State. There seems to be no end to the national nonsense. If this is a (fair & balanced) complimentary close to Act I, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Iowa: Sweet Relief
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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The pollsters now have all moved on.
And café patrons needn’t fear
A candidate just might barge in
To plead his case and smear a peer.

And now it’s safe to get the phone:
One needn’t fear a robocall.
The rest of us for four more years
Won’t be discussing ethanol. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA (English) from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Roll Over, Mikhail Baryshnikov — Make Way For Another Artist Who Leaps The Boards — Wardell Stephen "Steph" Curry II

This blogger is a self-admitted contrarian. In the short interval until Super Bowl L (for Losers) will be played, this blog features an essay about Steph Curry, the magical guard with the NBA Golden State Warriors. Curry is a one-man highlight reel most nights, but the Warriors are not a one-man band. See Curry in action here. If this is (fair & balanced) sport at its best, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Golden State Warriors’ Beautiful Game
By Nicholas Dawidoff

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Even warm Januaries are winter, and for people who enjoy basketball, nothing in recent memory has brightened the long season like the rise of the irresistible Golden State Warriors. This is partly due to their diminutive [6'3"] long-range shooting guard, Stephen Curry, a human trebuchet who leads the NBA in both scoring and charisma. But the defending NBA champions are the sport’s best and most entertaining team not because of a single player but because they have an intricate approach to basketball that’s as pleasing to old-school coaching purists as it is to people fitted out in new blue-and-gold Curry shirts—he’s first in the league in jersey sales, too—who simply can’t get enough of watching the little guy throw the rock over a mountain and into the cup.

Too often, in past years, the NBA game has succumbed to a dull form of pick-and-roll basketball, featuring players with a matrix of individual skills sufficient to overwhelm defenders, but little observable sense (or concern) at any given moment for where the rest of their teammates are. If you wanted deeper tactical innovation, traditionally the better bet has been the college game—from Bobby Knight’s motion offense, at Indiana, to Pete Carril’s Princeton offense and Tex Winter’s triangle offense, which Winter developed at Kansas State in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, and which Tara VanDerveer used, until recently, with the Stanford women’s team. The Warriors, and the 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs, have been professional exceptions in that they emphasize crisp off-the-ball movement and dynamic sequences of passes, treating each possession as an opportunity to subdue the opponent with collective imagination. When the Warriors are working in five-part harmony, you can hear it: the squeak of their sneakers is constant as they cut and swerve. And such is their spacing that whatever half of the court they are attacking seems larger than the one they’ve just left behind.

The team’s coach, Steve Kerr, is the son of an academic, and his offensive system has footnotes. Last season, he sourced it for me, explaining that it contains primary elements borrowed from four coaches that he studied as a player: the “big-time flow” used by Mike D’Antoni’s full-sprint Phoenix Suns teams; the many actions off low-post screens that Jerry Sloan brought to the Utah Jazz; the way Gregg Popovich placed a big man at either side of the free-throw line and ran the Spurs attack through these “horns”; and the read-and-respond triangle offense that Phil Jackson and his offensive coordinator, [Fred] "Tex" Winter, used to win eleven championships with the (Jordan) Bulls and (Bryant) Lakers. Kerr played for Jackson’s Bulls, thriving in the triangle as an accurate spot-up shooter who could see his opportunities coming several passes ahead of time. Golden State practices begin with drills that Winter used with the Bulls, a catechism emphasizing basic footwork and ball handling. Kerr’s coaching system has no name. He simply calls it “a faster, more freelance version of triangle.”

Jackson is now in his second season as the Knicks’ president. He spent much of last year implementing the triangle via the team’s coach, his former Lakers guard Derek Fisher—and being denounced for deconstructing the Knicks in the name of abstract theory. Few could really say what the triangle was; some questioned its existence altogether. The team won only seventeen games.

In the June draft, with the fourth over-all pick, Jackson chose a spike-lean seven-feet-three Latvian power forward named Kristaps Porzingis. The choice brought more contumely from fans, who had never heard of him, or feared another Andrea Bargnani, a fragile product of European ball. Then the season began, and it was rapidly clear that Porzingis, who speaks three languages, also possesses, at the age of twenty, remarkable basketball fluency. “They have one big piece of the puzzle to make it work better—Porzingis,” Carril, now retired after his Hall-of-Fame coaching career at Princeton and as an NBA assistant, said. “What he adds is another passer. You throw him the ball it doesn’t stop. He continues the flow of that offense adding to the easier shots they get and, if he’s open, he’s as accurate a shooter for a guy that tall as I’ve ever seen. I watch the Knicks a lot now—I didn’t used to,” Carril continued. “They were so selfish it wasn’t fun. Now they move it around better. Got to give Phil Jackson credit. Took a lot of clout to pick that guy, and be able to see what he’d be.”

The Knicks best player, Carmelo Anthony, has seemed grateful to have the rookie around. Anthony spent much of his career as the ball-dominating scoring impresario of bad teams. But alongside Porzingis, and a rugged cast of role players, he has been more frequently swinging passes along. By Sunday, the team had won twenty-three games, with about half of the season still to play.

All of this lent additional interest to the Warriors’ annual visit to Madison Square Garden, this past Sunday [January 31, 2016]. The champs had begun the week with a game against the NBA’s second-best team, with the league’s foremost defense—the Spurs. I watched with my friends Dave, a political scientist who was once a high-school captain in Michigan, and Mike, whose sociology dissertation at UCLA was grounded in an ethnographic study of playground basketball. But the game required no scholarly insights. As Golden State shredded the Spurs defense, Dave threw up his hands: “It’s like the Warriors are playing a different sport.” Cuts were timed in relation to other cuts around clever screens, promising shots were passed up for even easier opportunities, and for long stretches of play the five Warriors achieved movement that was so fast and yet cohesive that it became limpid and, counterintuitively, a viewer could see their intent with explicit clarity.

We focussed on Curry. At just six feet three inches, he is a sunflower in a stand of pines. But Curry is so quick and elusive that he escapes trouble with abrupt changes of speed and direction. He has many gears, and many gaits, from herky-jerks, to prances, to diagonal streaks as he emerges from thickets into space. If I haven’t watched him in a while, I start to worry that he’ll get hurt, but the sudden spins and blurs of moth motion and the ability to stop on a dropped coin keep him in the clear. Like the hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who changed the NHL from a contact sport dominated by burly stick-handlers into a true ensemble activity that valued spacing and movement, Curry is a slight figure who has mastered the rhythms and landscape of his game. Stanford’s VanDerveer, another Hall-of-Famer, and a big Warriors fan—the Warriors sometimes practice at Stanford—pointed out, when speaking of Curry, that “John Wooden said quickness is the key, not size, not speed.” Wooden was addressing movement and finesse, but Curry, again like Gretzky, has studied his sport with sufficient care that he seems able to envision future events before they unfold. He never appears hurried, especially when he’s catching the ball and almost instantly redirecting it toward the net with the quickest release in the game.

Against the Spurs, Curry scored thirty-seven points while playing only twenty-eight minutes, as his team won 120-90. Carril was watching, too. “The only difference between San Antonio and Golden State is that Golden State is younger and faster,” he said later.

Outside of Madison Square Garden, on Sunday evening, scalpers were having difficulty securing tickets, and were asking six hundred dollars for those they landed. Dave and I attended the game, sitting down in time to watch the teams’ layup and shooting drills, which Curry accomplished while languidly chewing his mouth guard, bestowing ample dap to bystanders, and managing not to be blinded by Anthony’s new agent-orange high-tops across the way. Then Curry joined his teammates for some pre-tip dancing and hugging—no high-school softball team displays more happiness than the Warriors.

Once the game began, Curry shot poorly and sustained a vivid scratch on his forehead courtesy of a helicoptering Anthony fingernail. But these adversities opened up the evening for the Warriors’ other lethal All-Star shooting guard, Klay Thompson. He scored thirty-four points, on fourteen-of-eighteen shooting, in a 116-95 Warriors rout. Thompson has a baby face, the posture and uniform drape of a fifty-year old man, and the ability to receive passes while moving hard to one side; he can cantilever his momentum by squaring mid-air into launching position and score from Sausalito.

Many of Thompson’s opportunities were, in turn, facilitated with the ball vectoring through the hands of Draymond Green, the Warriors agile six-feet-seven-inch All-Star forward, who played college ball at Michigan State. The night before, after a narrow Warriors victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Green had chastised himself for being “selfishly unselfish”—trying for assists to pad his stat sheet in (a failed) pursuit of his league-best ninth triple double. Here, he got it, shooting nine out of nine, for twenty points, to go with ten rebounds and ten assists. When the Warriors take their center, Andrew Bogut, out of the lineup, and bring on the former All-Star Andre Iguodala, Green becomes their biggest player on the court (Harrison Barnes, another forward, is taller, but he lacks Green’s bulk). The Warriors then spread the floor with five long-distance shooters, and Green’s vision for teammates weaving free, his ability to dribble—he bestowed a Michigan State post-doc tutorial upon the suddenly callow Porzingis—and willingness to guard larger opponents make him unique. Dave had seen Green play frequently during his college days, and wondered how Green had become so much more versatile in the NBA than he’d been in college. What seems true for the Warriors also holds for the New England Patriots in football: players improve in their system.

The Knicks, by contrast, have far less experience with the sophisticated triangle offense, and the effect of the relative unfamiliarity is that it slows them down. The advantage of the triangle is the array of responsive options it offers an offense in reaction to what any defense presents, but until the Knicks master those actions—and find themselves a guard who can score with consistency—their offensive limits will be exploited by a team that plays the kind of harrying defense that the Spurs and Warriors feature. With Bogut out of the game, the Warriors small lineup grew increasingly active in the second half, clogging up passing lanes and swarming the paint, and the Knicks offense often stagnated. One could easily imagine the gist of the after-action memo Jackson sends to all his coaches following every game: still too basic; need more means of adjustment; but we’re playing the long game; stay the course. Give Porzingis a year or two of experience, and some ample helpings of kotletes and rasols, and he’ll be a load for defenses.

Watching from New Jersey, Carril said that he thought both teams “were affected early by the hype.” After that, he noticed, the Knicks were bothered by the Warriors’ skill and experience. “But the Knicks represent a team on the rise,” he added. “If I were the Knicks, I’d be encouraged by that.”

As for VanDerveer, earlier in the day, her sixteenth-ranked Stanford team had defeated Washington State. Now, out in California, she sounded weary, but pleased with her Sunday sweep—and likewise optimistic for New York. She keeps a film library of games that Jackson coached in the triangle, as she now also does with Kerr. She acknowledged that the learning curve for the triangle’s many variables means it will be a while yet before the Knicks can hope to match the Warriors’ ball movement but, like Carril, she’s enjoying their process. “The more the Knicks run it, the better they’ll be. It’s a matter of time as they add personnel and embrace it. There’s got to be more pace. The Warriors have pieces of a puzzle that fit, and that’s what the Knicks are working on.” Then she brought up another old coach she admired, Fred Taylor, who led Ohio State in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. “He once said, ‘I’d rather have a dead rat in my mouth than watch pro basketball,’ ” she told me. “But Kerr and Popovich and Jackson have made it fun to watch.” Ω

[After receiving a BA (history — magna cum laude) from Harvard University, Boris Dawidoff joined Sports Illustrated as a staff writer covering baseball and the environment. After resigning from SI in 1991, he began writing articles, on a variety of topics, for periodicals like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. Dawidoff has also been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Civitella Ranieri Fellow, as well as a Berlin Prize Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. His first book was The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg (1994) and most recently he has written Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football (2013). See his other books here.]

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