Drop the book and step away from the scholarship

Apparently Homeland Security is monitoring Interlibrary Loan. A UMass student was questioned for having ordered a copy of the Little Red Book. According to the story the fact that he had traveled overseas was also a tip-off. I sort of wonder where he went. Does any foreign travel count? Or do you have to go someplace specific?

I wish I could say that this type of thing surprised me, but given all the stuff that has happened in the last few years I am not. I -am- a bit surprised by the level of incompetence this shows. The Little Red Book? Not exactly how to build a dirty bomb or even single spark to start a prairie fire. Are they running computer checks on everyone who orders books by Mao, Marx, Clinton etc?

Via a Crooked Timber post on how Chinese people are using web sites to comment on Lu Xun’s In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen to comment on Dongzhou


  1. I may as well confess now: I have two copies of the Little Red Book. One, in English, I bought in an Asian bookstore in Berkeley after many years of searching. One, in Chinese, is an early printing given to me by a student who found it in a flea market in China and remembered that I’d talked about how hard it was to find used copies in the US….

  2. I am rather sceptical of historians having skills derived from their profession to be competent analysts of current policy programs, but I did have full comnfidence in historians in being able to accumulate and assess data. My faith has been shaken.

    I have no particular knowledge of this incident, I do not even live in the United States; but that does not mean that I cannot make an initial assessment of the data available.

    Two things strike me as rather strange:

    1, DHS is a large organization, but it does not consist of all other organizations. If two agents came to this lads apartment, from whence did they come from-ICE, IAIP, TSA, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard?

    One would normally think this would be a FBI responsibility-the FBI is not part of the DHS. If the artical is true, then we may have the beginnings of a turf conflict here and that would be good fodder for historians.

    2) It also presupposes in the Boston area that the DHS is so overstaffed that they cannot allocatye the necessary time for two agents to spend on a very low priority case immediately.

    There are other things to consider, but those two are adequate. The story may be true, but it has all the stench of bovine scatology. It reminds me of when religious organizations get all riled up about the government because they hear that the government is going to outlaw christmas music or some such thing.

  3. It seems to me that hatred for president Bush has people taking leave of their senses.
    Many simply want to beleive this kind of thing becuase it suits their bias. Unfortunately most of these suspect stories are not as easily debunked as this one.

    To be honest, I think the tone of the Mr. Baumler’s post postively drips with a similar kind of contempt. I do hope this excellent website won’t be contaminated by this type of politicization, particularly of the moonbat type.

  4. Dear Ken (and Merry),

    I’m a bit unclear as to why you think my post “drips with contempt.” The event turned out to be a hoax, but at the time I found it believable because it was backed up by a reporter who had looked into it and a professor who vouched for the student’s character. Buying the story also required me to believe that the current administration has at best a caviler attitude towards civil liberties and that the reformed national security bureaucracy is not very competent. The first two turned out to be wrong, but I still believe the last two (irrational Bush-hatred no doubt.)
    I share Ken’s hope, however, that this site not be infested with political moonbats.

  5. I think many people strangely believe the substance of mainstream media reports until there is evidence to disbelieve them and this has nothing to do with “moonbats” Conservatives are delighted to find out that the student had invented this and are using this as evidence of supposed gullibility of the “left” (suffering a brief but understandable selective amnesia about their own similar history of being deceived) but as Alan points out, it is only because of similar madness going frequently that we all find it within the realms of possibility. For example, many librarians, my sister included, find it somewhat “moonbatty” that the anti-terrorist agents of our democracy, supposedly the lighthouse of freedom for the world, should be given such unusual and extensive rights to consult the library records of its citizens. If bewilderment and concern at this sort of thing, when it arises in relation to something connected to the history of East Asia, is what you mean by “politicization” then I’m delighted to inform you that Frog in a Well positively welcomes the politicization of our posters. There is no such thing as apolitical history.

  6. You guys are a card! That student pulled a scam. If someone tells you a good story, one that has all the trappings of being true, then it is easy to fall for it, but this scam was so shallow and slipshod that it is difficult to understand why anyone bought into it. But if you did buy into it, do not blame Bush, or Mao Zidong, or Adolf Hitler, or Al Gore, or whoever, just blame yourself. If you bought into the scam, it is because you wanted to do so. We have serious policy issues this country needs to resove, but that has nothing to do with this two bit scam, so do not be so pious, it is absurd.

  7. If you bought into the scam, it is because you wanted to do so.

    No, it’s because it was a plausible extension of events and processes currently at work.

    We have serious policy issues this country needs to resove, but that has nothing to do with this two bit scam, so do not be so pious, it is absurd.

    We have serious policy issues which directly relate to the issue of scholarly freedom and information mining on the part of the government. That this case was a scam does not change the fact that Asian scholars are being monitored (see the Goodman case) and that the government is engaging in extensive and constitutionally suspect monitoring.

  8. Mr. Dresner et al,

    This tall horse you are riding is no horse at all, it is a phantom.

    The fact that it is plausible means that the incident demands our attention. A well researched, well designed, well constructed scam can fool people, and has the potential to fool people for very long periods of time. This scam was not well researched, was not well designed, was not well constructed. That student was hawking as a diamond not glass, but a crumpled up, coffee stained sheet of writing paper; and you guys took it and held it up as if it were the real thing, the real diamond. A cursory examination was all that was required to reveal it as potentially specious. But you did not even do that, not even a cursory examination.

    You guys have written that you should have a special voice, one that should receive attention from the common folk, as to the issues of our day. The reason for this, because you are scientists (historians in this case). This attention given to you should not be because you have been annoited with holy oil, but because you have a special skill-set as scientist to critically examine the issues. You, et al, did not do that in this case. You acted like groupies, and took this scam as if it was a relic of some ancient saint.

    Furthermore, and I am assuming this from how I read your missives, that those of us that indicated how spurious this affair appeared are somehow in league or in concert with President Bush and his programs. That is not necessarily true. I myself have very serious qualms about the programs instituted, but that does not mean that I am going to swallow whole any useless nonsense that comes along. One should ask, et al, what differentiates you gentlemen from all the crusaders, all the jihadists, all the true believers out there. The only thing that can differentiate you is that skill-set you possess, and you did not use it.

    It has also been mentioned that history is not apolitical, meaning I presume that one should be partisan in one’s analysis. I do not even think you understand what science is. Science is involved in how things tick, how they work, or what relationships hold. I divide the world into two parts here, the non-scientific part I call engineering. Engineers are concerned with the good or right or beautiful of the thing. They use science, but they are not scientists. A bridge engineer, for instance, will build a good bridge, a beautiful bridge, or something of the kin. The science of the bridge is not concerned with it goodness or beauty, etc., only with the forces interacting on the mass particles. If I want to study Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, the science of the study is not interested if he was a good man, or a useful man; only, for instance, what was his vision for Germany, the policies and programs that he instituted-did they bring about his vision or did they fail, where was the regime efficient, etc. The engineer, in this case, a moralist of some form, will give his view on the goodness of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. There is nothing wrong with that, they will use science, but it is used within a framework of the moral principles and axioms that assumed. That is not history, it is not science. That does not make it bad, but it is not science.

    To sum up, Mr. Desner et al, you did not do your science, you failed and will not even own up to that failure. You pretend that the failure is overshadowed by the cause. It is not. You are scientists, be scientists. The whole issue of privacy in America does not stand nor fall on this scam, that issue is completely irrelevant to the scam. The relevancy of the scam is your failure to do your job, to do proper science. This scam should never had been posted, you posted it because it was convenient and commented upon because it was convenient. Your failure to do your job, is in my mind, just as serious as another case in another field of science in modern Korea today. Your obligations as scientists should be taken seriously. It may not reach to the same level of impact or seriousness as the Korean issue, but dereliction to duty should be taken seriously.

  9. Mr. Sanders,

    You are conflating us: you are taking us as some sort of collective “person” instead of dealing with the fact that you’re actually engaged in a discussion with at least three different historians here, not to mention others who you keep conflating with us as convenient to make your points. For example, I don’t agree with Konrad’s assertion that “there is no such thing as apolitical history” (except at a level of abstraction which renders it pretty meaningless).

    You also forget: this is not peer reviewed publication here. This is a blog, where we comment on news, on bits and pieces of sources, on thoughts that run through our heads and our hands to hard drives and routers…. it’s a blog. It’s not a scientific test bench. It’s not our jobs.

    We’re not in disagreement on the basic facts at hand here. But none of us is going to get too worked up about having passed along something that was relevant and thought about it until we learned that it wasn’t. That’s what we do. We collect facts and stories (and the difference is sometimes subtle) and think about them if they seem relevant….

  10. This horse has pretty much been beaten to death; it is rather flayed and so I apologize for continuing.

    I knowingly conflated the various items, mainly because I was rather lazy (actually, time constrained), and thought that where it was applicable, it would be noted; and where it was not applicable, it would be dismissed. Again, I apologize.

    As for the issue at hand, you do not need to get worked up; but I am not going to back off. Let me reiterate one more time. A while back I use to get these emails from some guy who claimed that he was from Nigeria, related to the General or his widow or something like that and they had fifty million USD to get out of the country, and I was someone introduced to them as reliable, etc. This is obviously a scam and some one was interested in swindling money of me in some fashion. I do not get worked up about that at all, but I am not going to use it as evidence of corruption in Nigeria either (that would, in my opinion, but very dishonest on my part). And that is what I see here.

    I just cannot get over how poorly crafted this scam was. Forgetting about the ethics involved, I would go back and hail this student just because of the lack of research used in crafting this scam. It almost appears that he went out and used the dramatic aspects of “B” grade movies.

    I suspect this student wanted to built some scenario for his prof of totalitarian aspects of the US government (for whatever reason-my specualtion). So he came up with this story of his. But what should he have done? First of all, he should have went and looked at some good quality movies of spys and FBI and so forth. I realize fiction is fiction, but a good story sets the drama and the, what is it called, “Machina ex Deux” or some such thing like that; anyway, it sets all that in a matric of things that normally occur. In that way we get the feel for reality. All that supporting staff, what do they do? That is a good introduction, then one can go and do the research-looking how the DHS is organized, the FBI, the CIA, and NSA, etc. The two agents waving the little old “Red Book” is just drama, and that you do not want in your story. He should have been horse-whipped for that.

    What story would have been more rational than this piece or hog-wash? His problem was that he needed a reason to know that the government was spying on him. There was nothing wrong with the two agents coming and interviewing him, except for that two-bit drama he introduced and the fact they were from the wrong agency (poor research, extremely poor research on his part). Remember, when someone is spying on you, they do not want you to know, consequently, they have a tendency to keep it a secret. So when two agents come to your door, there needs to be a reason why the scenario changes from a spying case to an investigatory case. His scam fell apart here. He could have told his prof that he applied for an internship at some secret organization and these two FBI agents came and interviewed him and mentioned the little red book. That would have been much more plausible, the time frame this all occurred would not have been plausible, though (I would guess he had less than one semester for all this to take place).

    I am not advocating that one repents and does better quality scams. Anytime a cause uses scams in its support, then that cause can be made fun of, and those advocating the scam can have the scam rubbed in their face. I realize this is just a blog, and one does not need to footnote, etc. what is written here, but we should write as if we are still in possession of our mental faculties. I would think we would not want to look as if we were just some cypher (or is that cipher?) in some cause chanting the latest slogan.

    I realize that you would wish to dismiss this incident as meaningless, but what irks me is that it was so flagrantly bad. Now I am asking myself if you really understand what is happening, what is taking place (or is this all some type of hypothetical without real applications); and if you do not, why are you talking about it?

    I apologize for taking up so much memory space on such a minor issue. I know that I have huge tree trunks in my eye, and this is just a small mote in yours; but I am afraid it may reflect upon myself if I left this uncommented.

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