Review of Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789

Robert Middlekauff has read deeply in the history of the American revolution and the early republic. Moreover, he is interested in more than just a simple narrative; he is interested in causes and motives, as he shows in chaps. 20 and 21 of this book, which discuss why soldiers fought instead of ran.

Unfortunately, the narrative in this book has holes, and Middlekauff often fails to put people and personalities into context, making the reading less interesting than it should be. He also makes high demands on readers’ attention; this, plus the holes, made the book heavy going at times.

Here are some examples of holes: 1) In his discussion of the Intolerable Acts, Middlekauff fails to say what the Quebec Act was, yet on pp. 239 and 280 he assumes you know. 2) On p. 471 he writes: “They all knew what happened to Buford’s men at Waxhaws when they tried to run away.” This is the only time “Buford” and “Waxhaws” are mentioned in the book. 3) On p. 340 Middlekauff says: “June also brought William Howe back to New York.” I can’t find where it says Howe had been in New York before. 4) On p. 462 it reads: “Some hint of what was coming was given …when the victors, shouting ‘Tarleton’s Quarter,’ shot and stabbed the wounded…” There is no explanation of this anywhere in the book. On p. 478 we are told: “… Lee’s Legion rode in. Greene once more had his army in one piece.” This is the first time that “Lee’s Legion” is mentioned. I had to look in the index to find out that “Lee” was Henry Lee. It never explains how he got a legion. The last time we saw him, on 417, he was foraging in Delaware.

No context for people and personalities: Isaac Barre gives a speech supporting the colonies in parliament (74-75), but Middlekauf never tells us who he is or why he speaks so strongly. Directly below, the American who thinks Barre’s speech is “noble” is never identified. Apparently it was Jared Ingersoll, who appears in a very different light in other parts of the book.

Demands on reader’s attention: Pp. 406-7 says that “Amherst told the king…” This is Jeffrey Amherst. The last time we met him, also identified only as “Amherst”, was page 276, where he was fighting Montcalm in Quebec for all of one sentence. Look up Amherst in the index, see where he appears, and see how easy it is to connect these references. This is very tough, demanding writing.

Middlekauff knows the period, is a very intelligent writer, has interesting views and judgments which he backs up effectively. However, if you want to understand what is going on, you will have to go to other books in addition to this one, and you will have to pay very close attention to Middlekauff, with pencil in hand and constant reference to the index.

As an example of a book which brings people and personalities strongly into context, I recommend Barbara Tuchman’s “March of Folly” which has an outstanding chapter called “The British Lose America.” This will tell you who Barre was, why they were drinking toasts to John Wilkes in South Carolina in 1768, and what the Quebec Act was. It’s only a tiny fragment of the history Middlekauff tries to cover, and occasionally Tuchman falls down as well (she mangles the text of Barre’s speech), but it is a great example of fascinating historical writing which historians would do well to study.

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Book reviews coming

If you haven’t recently looked at Amazon’s book reviews, these have undergone a massive change. The reviews are still there, but greatly diminished in utility. Perhaps the main value of the old book review system was that it allowed you to look at reviews ranked by “helpfulness”; in this familiar scheme, people vote reviews up or down, and you can then use the voting results to pick out the reviews that are not junk. This was so useful that I even saw Brian Lamb use Amazon reviews to grill authors on his Book Notes show, way back in the 1990s.

This is no longer possible however, for reasons I don’t understand in full. Part of the reason is Amazon’s new “Verified Purchase” campaign. If you are not registered as purchasing the product you review, FROM AMAZON, the default ranking system no longer counts your reviews. (Note that this system also excludes books you might have bought from an ‘Amazon seller’.) This campaign only began in recent years, yet it has now been applied to all previous reviews, across the board. As a result, all reviews from before ‘verified purchases’ began to be counted are now essentially kicked out of the rankings. In addition, the metric for ranking seems to have changed, even for those who have made a ‘verified purchase’, so that a ‘verified purchase’ review with dozens of ‘upvotes’ will not necessarily outrank a ‘verified purchase’ review with only one or two upvotes, or even no upvotes. Age of the review seems to play some part in the new rankings, but other than that I can’t see rhyme or reason for these rankings.

In any case, it is a waste of time to post reviews under this new system, which was intended for consumer goods, not books. I didn’t have many reviews up, but I did spend time on the ones I posted, so in a feeble attempt to recoup some of that effort, I will repost my Amazon reviews here, slightly modified in some cases when I left off interesting stuff to fit into Amazon review limitations. In the future I’ll post all new reviews here.

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JFK Records Act Releases: 11-17 Update

That was fast.

NARA released another set of JFKRA documents on November 17. According to NARA’s press release, there 10744 documents in this set (144 previously withheld in full, 10600 withheld in part), all from the FBI. Once again there are duplicates in this set, this time 7 documents that have the same RIF numbers as do documents in the November 3 release. This puzzled me enough that I went back and checked. Here are the results in a table:

Document RIF 11-03 doc 11-17 doc
124-10211-10454 11-03 11-17
124-90143-10043 11-03 11-17
124-90143-10044 11-03 11-17
124-90143-10430 11-03 11-17
124-90143-10432 11-03 11-17
124-90144-10004 11-03 11-17
124-90144-10078 11-03 11-17

There are actually two pdfs on NARA for each of these documents. Although they are the same documents, with identical RIFs, the pdfs released on 11/17 have removed most of the redactions that were in the 11/03 pdfs. This “double” release seems unnecessary. Why release redacted versions then two weeks later release unredacted versions? Why not just release the unredacted versions on 11/03? Perhaps the FBI had agreed to release the unredacted versions at the last minute and the corrected list didn’t get through to the NARA team posting the documents. Or perhaps not.

Not that big a deal, of course, but it does make one wonder how to do a real document count. I don’t see any point in counting these documents twice; subtract 7 from the official count of 10744 to make 10737 documents released this time. So what about the duplicate documents I noted in my last post? There were all listed twice, first under the 7/24 release, then again under the 10/26 release. Some of these were real duplicates, i.e. only one document is available from NARA. Here is a list of these:

Identical documents in 7/24 and 10/26 Releases

In the remaining 13 cases, however, there were two distinct files, listed again below:

Document RIF 7-24 doc 10-26 doc
104-10268-10001 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10003 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10005 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10007 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10009 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10011 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10013 7-24 10-26
104-10268-10015 7-24 10-26
104-10439-10114 7-24 10-26
104-10512-10245 7-24 10-26
104-10512-10245 7-24 10-26
104-10433-10097 7-24 10-26
104-10433-10097 7-24 10-26

None of the 7/24 files have RIF sheets attached, while all the 10/26 files do. All of the RIF sheets refer to a ‘case NW 53216’, for which I have not yet found any useful references. Other than the RIF sheet, the two files are identical; no redactions seem to appear in any of the files, though some of them are quite long and I can’t guarantee it. Again, like the 7 duplicate files listed above, I don’t see the point in counting what are actually the same documents twice. Thus in future counts, I will subtract all these 29 duplicates from the total.

There are other glitches in NARA’s spreadsheet of releases worth noting. As one might expect, the guys at the Mary Ferrell Foundation have been keeping an eye on the releases, and they noted that the 11/09 spreadsheet had changed the status of 13 documents released on 10/26, from previously “withheld in full’ to ‘withheld in part’ (see here). As a result, the count of documents released on 10-26 that were ‘previously withheld in full’ went down from 52 to 39.

I checked my tables and found the same thing. The newest spreadsheet, however, has now reverted this change of status back to what it was before. In other words, the 10/26 count of documents previously withheld in full has gone back up to 52. Having spent some time on the counts in my last post, I’m frustrated by this sort of flip-flop, but since they’re posting so much faster than I expected, I’ll hold back on revising my status counts for at least another week or two. Some of my other counts also seem to be different from Mary Ferrell’s as well, so a careful audit is in order.

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The 2017 JFK Record Act releases at NARA: Q & A

After looking at Harold Weisberg’s archive last year, I became interested in the JFK assassination, a subject I had never really looked at before. The recent NARA release of documents under the JFK Records Act, which was supposed to be the final release of all previously withheld documents, was therefore quite interesting to me. Unfortunately, the newspaper reporting on this event was not very good, and I eventually decided to take a look at what had come out myself. The release provided some materials that I had not expected to run across, which I will write about in the not too distant future. For this short note, however, I’m just going to summarize the documents releases in a general Q&A form.

When were the documents released and what more is to come?

As of today (November 14, 2017), there have been four public releases of records under the JFK Records Act in 2017. The releases were on July 24, October 26, November 3, and
November 9, and are described in detail on the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) website, which provides an authoritative excel file of the records released so far. This post is actually just a summary of the NARA excel sheet, I claim nothing original here, except on one small point. I am certain that there will be a number of releases in the future, which I will try to look at as well. President Trump’s October 25th order gave everyone until April 2018 to finish up releasing documents, but who knows if they can really do it? I am somewhat skeptical.

How many documents were released?

In this post, I’ll refer to files posted at NARA as ‘documents’, regardless of whether they were originally paper documents or otherwise. In fact, 17 of the ‘documents’ are audio files of interviews, or interrogations, of Yuri Nosenko. I do not include these in any of my counts. In addition, 16 of these 17 audio files have matching pdf files; these are just single sheets, providing recording dates, tape numbers, and in some cases information about the interviewers (Pete, Nick, Tom, FBI, etc.) If these count as separate documents (since they are separate files), that would add another 16 to the total count. For my purposes, however, I’ll omit them, meaning that the total number of JFK Records Act documents released this year is 20,552. The number of documents released for each date is as follows:

Date No. Docs
7/24 3794
10/26 2891
11/3 654
11/9 13213

These figures are not the same as the official NARA figures. This is because the NARA says that 676 files were released on 11/3; in fact, 22 of these files had already been released on 7/24, so that only 654 new files were released on 11/3. If we were counting the 16 single ‘cover-sheets’ for the audio files, the total would be 20,568 discrete pdf files now available from NARA.

(There is also a minor error on the NARA spreadsheet: RIF# 104-10086-10154 appears twice, but in fact the second of these two documents should be 104-10086-10156. NARA has posted this file under the correct filename, so it is available.)

How many pages were released?

Putting aside the audio files and their cover sheets, the NARA files are all pdfs ranging from 1 to 562 pages. Many of the files have an RIF coversheet, which is supplied by NARA and gives basic JFK Record information. These should not be counted as part of the documents, but since some files have them and some don’t, it is hard to say how many RIF coversheets there are without going through all 20500+ files. Disregarding this problem, here is a table of number of pages per file:

Page range No. of Docs
> 200 115
100 – 199 161
50 – 99 207
30 – 49 204
20 – 29 206
10 – 19 610
6 – 9 1065
5 654
4 1206
3 2707
2 5861
1 7538

Based on this table, the total number of pages released so far this year is 133,761.

This is a surprisingly high number. It is inflated by the fact that the releases include a large number of documents already released in part in previous years. As an example, RIF # 104-10301-10004 is volume 3 of the CIA’s internal history of the Bay of Pigs operation. The NARA document has 408 pages, but in fact this volume has been previously released multiple times (most recently in 2011). There were about a dozen pages with redactions in the 2011 release, and the current NARA release has removed perhaps 4 or 5 of these (redactions remain even in this release). Thus, as many as 390-400 pages of this document have no new information, and even the redactions removed were usually just one or two words. If one ignores this type of ‘inflation’, it is easy to erroneously conclude that much more new material was released than is actually the case.

Another way to look at this question is to compare the number of pages from documents “previously withheld in full” as opposed to the number of pages from documents “previously withheld in part”:

Previous document status Number of docs Number of pages
withheld in part 19510 73427
withheld in full 1039 60271

These numbers are more in line with what we might have expected. The withheld in part documents had withheld a relatively small number of pages; on the other hand, the withheld in full documents, though relatively few, have so far turned out to be more voluminous than some had guessed. Among these newly released documents are the CIA operative files of a number of well-known people, some of these hundreds of pages long. Although often quite dull, these can sometimes give a detailed picture of the careers of important CIA officers such as David Phillips and Scotty Miler, and of CIA asset June Cobb, who many people were very curious about. Whether these people have very much to do with the JFK assassination is of course a different question. There are also lengthy transcripts of telephone taps, and compilations of surveillance photos that, in my opinion, contribute very little to our understanding, except that we can now see that the HSCA was right when they said ‘Nope, nothing there.’

What dates are covered by the released documents?

Most of the documents in this year’s releases are dated. Exceptions are the CIA op files mentioned above. Since some of these files cover decades, it is not reasonable to assign them to any particular date. There are also a fair number of documents where the NARA spreadsheet does not provide a date, even though a date is clearly indicated in the file, sometimes even on the RIF coversheet included at the beginning of the file. No doubt these omissions were due to the massive volume of files releases. In the end, though, there are only 1352 files with no year, so most of the files are dated.

Since dates may be a convenient way of indicating content (and interest) of the releases, these are worth examining more closely. The top year for documents, of course, was 1963; almost 4000 documents of the releases so far are from this one year. In terms of decades, the 1960s are naturally the main document era, with the 1970s a distant second, mostly releases of HSCA documents. There are a mere handful of releases from the 1980s. This is because it was the only decade in which there was no major investigation of the assassination. Several hundred documents were also released in the 1990s, almost all by the ARRB. Here is all this descriptive stuff in a table:

Decade Number of documents
no year 1352
1940s 137
1950s 1485
1960s 13796
1970s 3166
1980s 41
1990s 575

(note that this table follows common practice in counting ‘ought’ years such as 1960 as belonging with the 1960s)

Earliest and Latest files

The most recent documents released so far are dated 1999; these are primarily from Barry Harrelson at CIA, who was coordinating with NARA on release of HSCA CIA segregated materials after the ARRB closure in 1998. A more mysterious item is a letter from Scott Breckinridge to Charles Briggs. Don’t know why this letter is included, since it dates from after the ARRB closed. The earliest dated document is an FBI report on Paul Raigorodsky, from 1941. Raigorodsky was “a member of the Russian-speaking community in Dallas” and testified before the Warren Commission on 3/31/64. There are plenty of files released so far which include earlier documents than this, but these files are all collections of various documents, such as the CIA op files, and most of these were assembled in the 1960s or 70s.

Agencies releasing documents

The NARA spreadsheet also indicates the agencies which produced, or had charge of, the documents being released. This again gives one a fairly clear idea of the type of material in the documents. The table below gives counts for all agencies credited with more than 10 documents.

Agency No. of Documents
CIA 15762
FBI 3760
HSCA 294
NSA 244
Blank 110
JCS 43
LBJ 11

(SSCIA = Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, ‘Church Committee’; JCS = Joint Chiefs of Staff, INSCOM = Army Intelligence and Security Command; ROCKCOM = Rockefeller Commission; LBJ = Lyndon B. Johnson Library)

Miscellaneous information

The NARA spreadsheet provides several other types of information, including the latest review dates of the documents, and comments on individual files. All this is useful for those who want to know what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ at NARA, but since that is not my main interest, I’ll omit it for now.

Final note

So far, I have barely scratched the surface of the files released, and since my overall knowledge of the JFK assassination’s many controversies is very limited, I will refrain from offering anything more than the most general comments on what’s out so far. As far as I can tell, much of this material is only distantly related to the assassination; so much so that in many cases it takes great familiarity with points of controversy to see the relevance. This is perhaps not surprising; those who had read this material prior to its release, people such as John Tunheim, the former chairman of the ARRB, have generally warned that there are few surprises to come. But for those who have more general or tangential interests, there is doubtless much of interest. An example is the large number of materials related to the Golitsyn – Nosenko controversy. For me, there were other surprises as well. In the not too distant future, I will try to write up at least one such item that “knocked my eyeglasses off.”

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Zotero to Endnote: part III

This is the latest update of a note I first posted four years ago. Below is a summary of what I’m trying to do, then the revised solution.

I use both Zotero and Endnote to do bibliographies. References that I have as pdf files I keep in a folder on D: drive. I have set Zotero to use a custom directory for these: d:/bibfiles.

It is often convenient to have my Zotero data in an Endnote library. Zotero can export data to Endnote in RIS format, and I want to have the locations of the pdfs included in the Zotero export file. The problem has been that, out of the box, if you tell Zotero that the export file should include pdf locations, Zotero will give you an ris file with ‘internal locations’, and these cannot be directly imported into Endnote. In addition, Zotero will also copy ALL the pdfs into a subdirectory below the export file. I have close to 40g of pdfs in my directory, so this is NOT what I want. I just want the pdf file locations in the export file, not copies of the pdf files.

Here is the recipe to fix this problem. You can change Zotero’s default behavior by editing the ris.js file under the zotero/translators directory. Search for the phrase ‘local file’. Under this phrase there are two lines:


Edit the first line to read

Then comment out the second one:

The first edit will produce an ris export file with the attachment filenames using the correct directory name, i.e. d:/bibfiles/ref1.pdf etc. The second edit will keep Zotero from trying to copy all the pdfs in d:/bibfiles in a subdirectory under your ris export file.

An important caution! The ris.js file is sometimes automatically updated when a new version of Zotero is installed. This will wipe out any changes you do, and cause Zotero to revert to its default behavior. You should check whether the ris.js still has your edits in it before you use it. If you want the default behavior back, you will have to revert the changes yourself. Adding an extra option in the Zotero menus for this type of export may be possible, but it is far beyond my abilities at this point.

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Welcome to Chi Nan, Fall 2017

Hi! The new semester is now into its second week and I’m a little bit behind on most of my stuff as usual. To the new students, Welcome! To the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, hope you had a good summer and have got the classes you want/need this semester. Looking forward to meeting my advisees, give me an email or leave a note here if you’re stopping by!.

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Capturing system command output in perl

Running system commands from inside a perl script is one of the nastiest of all perl headaches. I suffered grievously when trying to use this method with some pdf file addons, and have scars to show for it. Lately, having failed to learn my lesson not to mess with this stuff, I have been working on something similar: trying to use the new version of 7-zip to get crc hashes for the excel files in a directory.

The idea is to use the hash checksums to see which files have been modified, compared to an earlier archived version of the files. 7-zip command line syntax is already tricky and I have no idea what I’m doing in most of this; I’m just following incantations found on various occult internet sites. Here is the command line version of the 7-zip command:

"c:\Program Files\7-zip\7za.exe" h -ir!d:\yumyum\*.xls -ir!d:\yumyum\*.xlsx > temp.txt

This gets the crc hashes for all the xls and xlsx files in the d drive directory yumyum. Doing this in a perl script is equally tricky; the key is putting the various segments into an array, as follows:

my @cmds = (
'c:\Program Files\7-Zip\7za.exe', 'h',

One then uses system to invoke the mystic phrases, and an ‘or’ clause to ask for an explanation if it fails:

system (@cmds) == 0
or die "system @cmds failed: $?\n";

The procedure described above works, but the mind boggling issue is how to get the output of this command (lengthy scrolling for about 20 seconds) into a perl variable where you can do something with it. This task completely defeated me after half a day. I then switched to trying to pipe the output into a file. This accounted for the second half of my day. In fact, there is a ready made solution to this problem: Capture::Tiny, written by David Golden and included in the ActivePerl distribution.

The final result is:

use Capture::Tiny ':all';
my ($stdout, $stderr, $exit) = capture {
system( @cmds );

The output of the system call is in $stdout, the error info is in $stderr, and the exit return code is in $exit.

All hail David Golden! Hail!!

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Welcome to Spring Semester!

Hello! Fall 2017 was a very quiet semester in the warren, hopefully there will be more coming up this spring. If you want to get in touch and you’re an NCNU student, NCNU’s Moodle site is probably the best way. If you’re not from NCNU and you’re interested in a post here, please try my regular email address, which is available from the DFLL webpage at National Chi Nan University.

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Welcome to the new semester at Chi Nan!

Another semester begins, and I hope all the students in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature had a pleasant first day. I’m looking forward to the semester, and to seeing all of you.

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“I have always had adequate sex that no one appreciated”: The best of Studies in Intelligence

Taking a 10 minute pause from grading final exams, I would like to announce that the Warren will begin a new series introducing government funded fun and enlightenment from Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house journal. While there is much food for thought in the more analytical articles, there is also plenty of idle-reading entertainment hidden in the shadowy depths of this mysterious but official publication. Fearlessly footpadding through its classified depths, I have located the best of these cloaked gems and will expose them to the world at large at irregular intervals. Today’s recommendation is, in my opinion, one of the most incisive pieces SI ever published. What are you waiting for? Click here and read on.

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