What I'm Working On (9/2021)

Mo Salah Is Boss at Football

I was going to do a whole thing about the semester starting, blah blah blah, but instead please pay your respects to the greatest footballer in the world, my King, Mohamed Salah.

Quotes of the Month

“miserable, stupid, one-eyed dyspeptic, arrogant tyrant…Oh, let me see him damned and sunk into the lowest hell.”

-James Lusk Alcorn describing Jefferson Davis (1864)1

“A horrible racist and antisemite who also deserved to be sunk into the lowest hell.”

-Gautham Rao describing James Lusk Alcorn (2021)

The West Wing as History

Not much to report here as the beginning of the semester has brought any progress on this to a (hopefully temporary) halt. I am presenting a chapter about the show’s repackaging of the 1990s backlash against feminism to my department’s works-in-progress seminar.

I did finally get my hands on the published “Shooting Scripts” for seasons 3 and 4 and am finding very little difference between the scripts and the subtitles available on HBO Max’ streaming service. But Sorkin does include a brief intro that is pretty trippy and all over the place. Nonetheless, one does find the odd interesting fact, such as:

Peter [Roth] green-lit the construction of the West Wing of the White House. (Part of it, the Oval Office set, Warner Bros. already owned, ironically, having a few years earlier purchased Castle Rock Entertainment, which made The American President, which I wrote. But even that needed some refurbishing as it was blown up in Independence Day. (5)

Also, the infamously cringey “Isaac and Ishmael” episode? Apparently, before 9/11, it was supposed to be a goofy Halloween episode. But after the attacks Sorkin wanted to do something that explained “the history of terrorism.

I called the writing staff into the conference room and told them the new plan…. ‘So,’ I asked them, ‘what’s the history of terrorism?’

“Well…it’s been around for a while.” That came from Eli Attie, who you’ll hear more about later.

Thus was born one of the weirdest episodes of any show in television history, featuring this gem of a line, which of course gets foisted on Donna Moss:

I don’t know a thing about Irving Berlin, but your ridiculous search for rational reasons why somebody straps a bomb to their chest is ridiculous.

Slavery’s Leviathan: The State the Enslavers Made

Reading this month centers around one of the arguments I’m trying to advance in my book manuscript’s fifth chapter: Confederate demobilization and both official/unofficial guerrilla units (and bushwackers) helped reconstitute the white vigilance that had been at the heart of the enslavers’ state in the previous few hundred years. White violence against the emancipated in the spring and summer of 1865, or the sustained threat of it, was the driving force behind the largely unfree labor system that replaced plantation slavery. White violence was also at times wanton and intended to counteract Black assertions of political rights. Regions that had seen a great deal of activity by Confederate guerrilla units—such as Faquier County, Virginia, which had been occupied by John Mosby—were particularly prone to this pattern. In other areas such as Bladen Springs, Alabama, Black residents lived under constant fear of being lynched as white ‘patrols’ conducted night raids and left corpses hanging from trees for months. In short, the Thirteenth Amendment brought a constitutional end to chattel slavery. But the enslavers state—white vigilance, police, and torture—endured.

H. Reuben Neptune, “Throwin’ Scholarly Shade: Eric Williams in the New Histories of Capitalism and Slavery,” Journal of the Early Republic 39, no. 2 (2019): 299-326.

William F. Messner, “General John Wolcott Phelps and Conservative Reform in Nineteenth Century America,” Vermont History 53, no. 1 (Winter, 1985), 17-35.

Henry Putney Beers, Guide to the Archives of the Confederate States of America (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1968).

*shockingly still relevant!

Paul D. Escott, The Confederacy: The Slaveholders Failed Venture (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010).

Paul D. Escott, After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978).

Paul D. Escott, Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in the Confederacy (Westport: Praeger, 2006).

*Escott’s work on these topics is incredibly thoughtful and significant. I remember first reading him when I was a grad student working on the posse comitatus article in the lobby of my awful apartment building in The Crystal City a.k.a. “National Landing”.

Kenneth Radley, Rebel Watchdog: The Confederate States Army Provost Guard (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989).

Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the American Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2016).

*I’m truly embarassed to say that I only got around to reading this book over this past summer. What the hell was I waiting for? Like all of her work, Troubled Refuge is beautifully written and brilliantly structured scholarship. The research that she has drawn upon is incredible. Do we still use the word magisterial? If so, it is the perfect word for this one.

Chris E. Fonvielle, Jr., "'Welcome Brothers!' The 1865 Union Prisoners of War Exchange in North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 92, no. 3 (July, 2015)

William G. Thomas III et al., "Reconstructing African American Mobility after Emancipation, 1865-67," Social Science History 41, no. 4 (Winter, 2017)

Daniel L. Schafer, Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida (Tallahasee: University of Press of Florida, 2010)

George C. Rable, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

Mary S. Estill, “Diary of a Confederate Congressman, 1862-3,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 39, no. 1 (July, 1935), 33-65.

Michael Fellman, Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Sylvea Hollis, “Race, Capitalism, and Social Welfare After the Civil War, 1864-1911: the CKOP and the COC,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Iowa, 2018:

Locally, back in Washington, at least two distinct aspects of DC’s urban growth distinguished it from other cities—industry played, but a small role and after 1874 the local government was administered by an appointed commission. Nonetheless, DC shared a “promotional tendency” of many other cities, whereby attitudes, laws, and administrative practices in the public sphere helped to advance and raise capital. But, those new resources were rarely dispersed for public good. Fraternals and mutual aid groups were particularly important during this period. This was particularly true of groups like the Grand Army of the Republic that suffused their culture of mutual aid and benevolence with a memory of the Union’s cause. (87)

Noel C. Fisher, War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

“A second problem was a lack of consistency in Confederate policy. This weakness stemmed partly from policy shifts in Richmond and partly from the rapid turnover of department commanders. In the twenty-eight months that the Confederacy held formal control of East Tennessee, eight different men headed the department…This revolving door of command prevented both the implementation of consistent policies and the establishment of trust, or at least understanding, between the commander and the rebellious population.” (174)

Vanessa Meikle Schulman, “The Pleasure of the Parlor: Mocking the ‘Home Guard’ in Civil War Visual Culture,” Studies in American Humor 7, no. 1 (2021), 105-27.’

*This article is really fascinating! I sort of found it by accident but was captivated by the cultural analysis of cartoons and other art works. I imagine this would be a lot of fun to teach!

Matthew Christopher Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwackers Became Gunslingers in the America War (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016).

Matthew Christipher Hulbert, “The Five Best Books on Civil War Guerrillas,” The Civil War Monitor, September 27, 2021, https://www.civilwarmonitor.com/blog/the-five-best-books-on-civil-war-guerrillas

In reality, there is no monolithic guerrilla narrative because there was no single guerrilla war. Irregular conflicts followed regular soldiers everywhere: to the Indian territories of the Far West, the Trans-Mississippi Borderlands, the Midwest, Appalachia, and beyond. In some of these places, guerrilla violence predated formal militaries and Napoleonic maneuvers; in others, bushwhacking continued well after Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered their armies. Understandably, such a geographic expanse and the diversity of irregular combatants within it has made answering seemingly basic questions a difficult task. How many men fought as guerrillas? How many were killed? What did they do after the war? We simply don’t know—and probably never will with the specificity of the figures from the regular theater. The nature of guerrilla war does not lend itself to recordkeeping.

Joseph Beilein, Bushwackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri (Kent State University Press, 2016).

*As Hulbert points out in his essay cited and quoted above, Beilein’s book is really quite good. It is remarkably well-researched, but Beilein also deserves credit for the extremely innovative way he understands and analyzes space. E.g.:

In point of fact, the brush itself was an extension of the rebel houshold. This was a measured and quantifiable truth revealed in the agricultural censuses of the day, as they listed the amount of acreage owned by these rebels. The real estate was broken into two types, improved and unimproved [end 169] land. The former took the shape of the farms that one would see as they traveled along a country road while the latter was the brush, the wild areas of Missouri yet to be tamed by the farmer’s ax and plow.” [170]


Angela Hui, “Yum Tong, Eat Bitterness,” Vittles, September 6, 2021.

It’s about acceptance of who I am and accepting my Chinese identity, occasionally forcing myself to ‘eat bitter’ to endure pain for the sake of beauty and health, and drinking in the complexities of my diaspora identity. 

Recipe: Chaat Mi Sandwich

This is a vegetarian, Indian-inspired play on the Banh Mi that replaces the traditional filling with a spicy north Indian chickpea and potato curry. Order of operations: make curry, prep bread, assemble, cut into individual size sandwiches as you prefer, serve.


1 baguette, sliced in half lengthwise

(optional) handful curry leaves

1 tsp asafetida powder

(optional) 1 tbsp chili powder (you can of course adjust this if you are a wimp)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp chaat masala* (I prefer the Spicewalla brand)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1 carrot, julienned

1 cucumber, julienned

(optional) 1 serrano chili, julienned

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp ginger, diced

1 tsp white vinegar

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cup sliced yellow onion

1 lemon, juiced

handful cilantro, chopped

1 cup labneh or greek yogurt

2 cups cooked (or canned I guess) chickpeas

1 cup diced potato

1 cup peeled tomato (torn up into as small pieces as possible)


  1. Preheat oven to 400

  2. Pickle your onions: place the sliced white onion into the lemon juice, add pinch of salt.

  3. Heat vegetable oil on medium in cast iron or other pan and when it shimmers add curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds. When seeds start to pop, add diced red onion, ginger and diced garlic. Saute until onions are translucent.

  4. Add potato and 1 tsp salt to pan, reduce heat to low and cover, stirring frequently. Cook until potato is beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.

  5. Add chickpeas, chaat masala, garam masala, and chili powder. Cook on low heat 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. You don’t want too much liquid since it will end up inside the sandwich.

  6. While curry is cooking, prepare bread. For the bottom half (that tends to be thicker) I like to remove some of the bread to ensure that the curry will fit neatly into the bread, but totally optional. Anyway. Rub both sides with the halved garlic cloves and coat with olive oil. Bake until bread begins to get crispy.

  7. Spoon the curry on to the bottom half of the bread. Sprinkle (as evenly as possible in terms of distribution) the serranos, carrots, cucumbers, pickled onion, and cilantro on top. Spread the labneh or yogurt on the top half of the baguette and place atop. Slice into sandwich size of your preference.


Two of my favorite Mets Twitter officianados, Rich McLeod and Michael Baron, have launched the Just Mets newsletter, and already it has become a must-read for me. You can subscribe at justmets.substack.com.

The Reds of Liverpool…they’ve got no money but they might just win the league. But in addition to the usual heavy rotation of Anfield Wrap, Anfield Index, and EPL Index podcasts, I’ve been enjoying Stephen Drennan’s (@babuyagu on twitter) newish podcast, Craque Stats, including a cameo by one of my favorite Liverpool writer, Mari Lewis.

Bye til next month (or thereabouts).


P.L. Rainwater, “Letters of James Lusk Alcorn,” Journal of Southern History 3, no. 2 (May, 1937), 204; quoted in George C. Rable, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 175.