Saturday, June 04, 2011

Looking for an honest man: The Palin/Revere flap

In a recent interview, recorded on video, Sarah Palin responded to a question about Paul Revere with:

"…he who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringin' those bells and, um, makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we're gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we we're gonna be armed."

Lots of people online (and, I presume, elsewhere in the media) responded by accusing Palin of gross ignorance of American history, since the purpose of Revere's ride was not to warn the British but to warn the Americans. They are wrong twice over.

To begin with, if you actually read (or listen to) what Palin said, the obvious meaning isn't that Revere was carrying a warning to the British but that he was raising the countryside against them and by doing so warning them that they would be facing armed resistance. 

It turns out, however, that Revere did warn the British in the literal sense of the term. In his ride he encountered some British officers, was questioned by them, and told them
"that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the country all the way up."
The quote is from Revere's own account, quoted on a web site. I checked it by googling for part of the passage and finding it quoted in a book written about a century ago.

The first mistake of the people attacking Palin—accusing her of thinking that Revere was riding to warn the British rather than the Americans—is either careless reading or deliberate dishonesty. The second mistake—making fun of the idea that he warned the British—is historical ignorance. I am in a poor position to criticize that ignorance since, until the question came up as a result of Palin' comment, I shared it.

The interesting question is whether any of the people who made fun of Palin for what she said will have the honesty to admit that the mistake was theirs. Googling around, I found a piece by Rick Ungar on a Forbes blog. The comment thread includes ones pointing out that Revere did warn the British. Ungar's response was that Paul Revere didn't fire any shots—true, but hardly a serious criticism of something Palin said not in a prepared speech but in a reply to a question. There was no hint that he recognized that it was his ignorance, not Palin's, that was revealed by what he had written. Rereading his original post, I conclude that he probably doesn't care, since what he made fun of Palin for saying quite obviously doesn't fit what she said.

Which gets me to the title of this post. It will be interesting to see if any of the people who publicly claimed that Palin was falsely asserting that the purpose of Revere's ride was to carry a message to the British admit their error—either the original error of misstating what she said or the subsequent error of insisting that Revere did not warn the British.

Which gets me back to my admiration for George Orwell, which I hope was clear in earlier posts, some of them attacking him. He was an honest man, even if often mistaken—and political controversy would be pleasanter if there were more of them.


Anonymous said...

So I guess if you were asked who was Paul Revere you would say some garbled statement like Palin's, instead of saying he was spreading the alarm to his fellow colonists you would concentrate on the minor historic incident that he encountered a few British, and you would talk about um bells and um ah duh arms ya know hey ring dem bells.

Miko said...

1) Whatever she meant to say, she said what she said and what she said was "warned the British." And the fact that he actually did tell the British (while being interrogated, which I wouldn't exactly classify as "warned" since that sounds more intentional) is irrelevant, because that is clearly not what she meant.

2) "Warning the British" isn't the only fact that she got wrong. For example, it being a covert mission, he wasn't ringing a bell or drawing attention to himself. Also, the primary purpose of the British was to arrest Sam Adams and Hancock (while confiscating weapons was a second purpose); by mentioning only one of these she is either showing herself to be ignorant of the events or intentionally rewriting history to better reflect her views. I think you're correct that she misspoke about "warning the British," but the other errors are definite lapses in her knowledge.

So, I'd say it's fair to ask why she says things like this (whether she knows better or not). If you stripped that quotation of the speaker and asked a group of people unfamiliar with it to rate its speaker on areas such as possessing relevant historical knowledge about what she was speaking or being able to form coherent English sentences, I suspect that she'd do poorly on both.

Perhaps some are making fun of her under the false assumption that she really meant that he warned the British (although I couldn't say, as I tend to avoid such "news"). If so, I think they're idiots (which is why I tend to avoid reading what they say). But there is a valid criticism of Palin there: namely, that in everything I've ever heard her say, I've never once gotten the opinion that I could learn more about any subject by listening to her for as long as she cared to talk than I could by reading the lede of a Wikipedia article.

It's charitable of you to give her a pass by admitting to misspeaking in your own speeches, but I suggest that these are not comparable. Try the test I suggested above with a selection from Palin and a selection from yourself where you think you spoke as poorly and I suspect that your test subjects will have no trouble identifying which passage came from a moron.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Friedman, your post is nonsense. Even if Revere did in fact warn the British after being captured, Palin obviously didn't know this historical footnote. It should be obvious that she was trying to summarize the legend of Paul Revere's midnight ride, and she botched it. She shouldn't get credit for being accidentally right.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous starts "So I guess if ..."

I guess if I had read the post you are responding to a little more carefully, or read Palin's statement more carefully, I would realize that Palin wasn't talking about the incident and there is no reason to think she knew about the incident. Nor any reason to think that she thought Revere was carrying messages to the British rather than to the colonists.

David Friedman said...

To Miko:

1. I agree that wasn't what she meant. But it was what various people claimed to think she meant, so the fact that it was in some sense true means that those people, in making fun of her for meaning it, were displaying their own ignorance. As I think I said.

2. If you read Revere's account, it isn't merely that he tells them things because they force him to. It's reasonably clear that he is telling them what he wants them to believe (whether true or not I don't know), namely that they had better give up on their plan because the countryside has been roused against them. So he is in fact choosing to warn them.

3.Her statement wasn't very coherent--but then it wasn't an essay or a speech, it was a response to a question. Most people, even intelligent and educated people, don't speak very precisely in conversation. You might try, sometime, keeping a digital recorder running in your pocket, then selecting chunks of what you said and writing them out--you may find it a humbling experience (part of the point of my later post).

3. I don't think she "misspoke." I think it should be clear to anyone who is actually trying to figure out what she is saying that she thought Revere was sending a warning not carrying a warning--was rousing the countryside in the belief that doing so would show the British what they were going to be facing.

4. So far as bells et. al., I quote the following (from one of the pages I linked to):

This account in "Paul Revere's Ride" by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press 1994), may be of interest ...:

"A townsman remembered that 'repeated gunshots, the beating of drums and the ringing of bells filled the air.'.... Along the North Shore of Massachusetts, church bells began to toll and the heavy beat of drums could be heard for many miles in the night air."

5. I agree that one is unlikely to learn a great deal from listening to Palin's speeches--or those of almost any other practicing politician. With rare exceptions (Paul Douglas and Newt Gingrich come to mind) politicians are not academics, don't think like academics, and are no better educated than other people with similar backgrounds.

I'm not a fan of Palin's, as it happens, but the reason is not that I think she is stupider, nuttier, or worse educated than the competition. It's that I think she is a flake, as demonstrated by her resignation as governor of Alaska.

Biden has given much clearer evidence of historical ignorance, but while he may have a reputation for foot in the mouth disease, he doesn't have the sort of image that Palin does. The reason, I think, is a much more sympathetic media.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous number 2:

Like anonymous number 1, I think you have failed to follow what I was saying in my post. Try rereading it and see if you don't agree.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

I share anyone’s interest in recording accurate history since I work in ancient and modern history.

The defense of Sarah Palin at the Conservatives4 Palin website is not tenable. For the sake of convenience, we can analyze Palin’s quoted statement into the following clauses:

1. “…he who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms,”
2. “by ringin' those bells”
3. “and makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells”
4. “that we're gonna be secure”
5. “and we were gonna be free.”
6. And we we're gonna be armed."

The defense of Palin rests on a letter Revere wrote to Jeremy Belknap ca. 1798. The complete edition of that letter is provided by the Massachusetts Historical Society, and can be found here:

First, the whole defense presupposes that Palin knew of this document, when there is nothing to indicate that she is referencing it at all. There are no “bells” mentioned in Revere’s letter. There are no warning shots mentioned. Revere is not described as riding his horse through “town” as though it were one town.

Clauses #4-6 can be interpreted more figuratively and so I will not concentrate on those, but they bear no verbal parallels in the Revere letter. However, #6 was already known to the British, and so it is unclear why Palin thought Revere needed to warn the British about the possession of arms by the revolutionaries.

So either Palin is providing a very garbled retelling of Revere’s ride as portrayed in the famous Longfellow poem, or she is referencing the letter to Belknap in a way that is most opaque.


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Second, the defense of Palin relies on the supposition that the revolutionaries also regarded themselves as “British” or English, and so warning the revolutionaries was equivalent to warning the British. Note the statement on that C4P website: “The colonist still viewed themselves as British subjects at the time and would not have said, “the British are coming”.)”

However, this equivalence cannot be sustained by any plain reading of Revere’s letter because he distinguishes the revolutionaries from the British repeatedly. Revere clearly refers to the British as “the British” and to American revolutionaries as “sons of Liberty.”

1. “Son of Liberty” (said of Dr. Prescott)
2. “the leaders of the Sons of Liberty”

1. “watching the Movements of the British Soldiers”
2. “if the British went out by Water”
3. “He met ten British Officers”
4. “I discovered they were British officer.”
5. “there were no British troops coming”
6. “we saw the British very near,”
7. the British Troops
appeard on both Sides of the Meeting-House
8. “were parodized by him, in favor of the British,”
9. “Capt. Price, a half-pay British officer”

This use of "British" refutes the claim that the colonists would not have said “the British are coming” (note #2, #5, #6, #7).

Third, the defense transmutes a statement Revere gave under duress when captured by the British into a “warning” to the British. Aside from being based on a flawed exegesis of the letter, it is not using the word “warn” in any sense that we would normally use that term (i.e., to give notice in order to protect or threaten someone).

Revere encountered hostile British forces at least twice on his ride, and the combined context indicates that warning the British was not part of any intentions on his part. Palin’s defenders are usually referring to the second encounter when he was captured.

In this instance, he was forced to “tell the truth,” in one case with a gun to his head. But it is not clear at all the he did tell the truth. Note Revere’s exact words: “I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River,
and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time.”

By “The River” one most reasonably surmises the river mentioned earlier: “we were aprehensive it would be dificult to Cross the Charles River.” That location would be back in Charlestown-Boston, not in Lexington or Concord.

Revere apparently was trying to convince the troops that captured him to go back to Charlestown-Boston, not warn them. Revere, at best, was trying to DECEIVE the British, and not warn them.

Furthermore, if Revere had meant to warn the British, then why did he not warn the first party of British soldiers that tried to capture him? Clearly, warning the British is not what he wanted to do, and he was forced to say something only when he could not escape.

Given a careful exegesis of Revere’s letter, the defenses I have seen simply are mitigating Palin’s woeful ignorance of our American history.

David Friedman said...

"First, the whole defense presupposes that Palin knew of this document, when there is nothing to indicate that she is referencing it at all."

I can't speak to anyone else's defense, but mine certainly doesn't; I have no reason to think she knew of the document, or even knew that Revere had been interrogated by British officers and told them that he had roused the countryside and they were in trouble.

The defense of Palin depends on simply reading what she said with the intent to understand it. In context, warning the British doesn't mean carrying intelligence to the British, it means making it clear to the British that the colonists could and would resist them, having been warned by Revere. The only relevance of the letter is that it shows that Revere was thinking in part in terms of deterring the British action--and, given the opportunity, tried to do so by giving the British a (possibly inflated) account of what they were up against.

"However, #6 was already known to the British, and so it is unclear why Palin thought Revere needed to warn the British about the possession of arms by the revolutionaries."

Perhaps because possessing arms doesn't do much good if you are taken by surprise and so don't have them loaded and ready to hand? It seems to me obvious that Palin's point was that the British would be facing substantial armed opposition if they went through with their plan.

I don't think she was giving a garbled retelling--merely one couched in a form to appeal to her and her supporters' interests.

Anonymous said...

interesting article (tongue in cheek) on Paul Revere which might, or might not, add to the discussion:

Kid said...

Politics involves the areas of our mind which were evolved to argue for something regardless of whether it is true or not.

It is the area of the mind where evolved for the situation where, if you can win the support of the tribe, you can execute your hated rival Ghar instead of being executed yourself.

Being persuasive was a matter of life and death, and this area of the brain was not evolved to carefully weigh probabilities and facts.

Humans are certainly capable of rational thinking - capable of using the evidence to find out what the truth is rather than using the evidence to argue for what they already believe.

As soon as politics comes into the picture - oh it gives you such a jolt of pleasure to make fun of your hated rival Sarah Palin that it takes a good amount of self-control to even begin to question the facts.

Of course, humans also evolved to justify their beliefs, no matter how those beliefs came into existence, so after you made fun of Sarah Palin you will go to great lengths to ensure that other people think it was justified - again persuasiveness being a matter of reputation, sex, wealth, everything.

We ought to train people from young age to resist the temptation to get in a good solid dig against our hated rivals. To use the evidence to establish beliefs, rather than argue for pre-existing beliefs. To have enough self-knowledge to recognize where your beliefs came from, and to have enough willpower to give them up if not epistemologically clean.

We ought to train our youngsters from young age to regard with contempt, anyone who does not care for the truth of what they believe, and what they try to persuade others of.

Instead we have 'debate clubs' where you learn how to be persuasive regardless of what you are arguing.

Platypus said...

It was not Revere's *purpose* to warn the British. The fact that they were effectively warned by the bells, or that he warned them verbally after a capture he had tried to avoid, doesn't change that. Conflating the two in Palin's defense is both partisan and idiotic.

chofland said...

I suspect a large portion of those attacking Palin for her ignorance, would gladly explain to us, with great confidence:
"Hoover was laissez-faire ideologue who did nothing when the stock market crash started the Depression. After FDR's election, the New Deal provided proper Keynesian stimulus, and unemployment finally ended."

That is, of course, at least five kinds of wrong, but there is a political clique that is as immune to any reconsideration of it as the devout Creationist is to the charms of Stephen Jay Gould.

Those that hold this type of historical ignorance frequently hold political power, and will likely continue to do so. Ms. Palin has the virtue of holding no political power, and can therefore be ignored at little cost.

Anonymous said...

So I guess Paul Revere started the NRA? C'mon, listen to what she said. It is obvious that she has no clue what Paul Revere did. Keep spinning....

Anonymous said...

This is very well spun, but obviously Palin isn't quite clear on the exact history of Paul Revere's ride. And that's fine, I suppose, but she should expect to be ridiculed for trying to reference historical events when she can only do so very poorly. I think she needs to stick to short, pre-written phrases about god, flags, guns, etc.

Anonymous said...

You can't "reverse engineer" her statement and make it true. You know Palin had NO IDEA of what Revere said when he was being interrogated. You admit yourself that you didn't know. Heck, 99% of Americans still don't know that. To insinuate that Palin is so well-read on the topic that she knew is disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

This is an absurd defense. Revere's ride was undertaken in secret--that was the point of the lanterns in the north church, and the midnight part.. It was a secret mission to alert the colonists that the brits were planning to march out to Concord.

The Brits needed no warning. They themselves were trying to sneak out of Boston as quietly as possible, under cover of night, because they expected they would meet resistance. There was no need for Revere to "warn them."

He carried no gun, he fired no shots. No bells were rung--the countryside was full of british patrols. The fact that he was caught indicates that the british needed no warning, and the fact that he told them to expect trouble at Lexington is hardly an example of Revere "warning them." you have to completely and totally ignore the context of the ride and the ENITRE POINT of the ride to make this argument

Anonymous said...

That lady could be liberal or conservative... she'd still be dumb. And either way, she'd have followers who didnt realize she was dumb because she says what they want to hear.

dallan007 said...

Would her answer pass a 5th grade history test?

Anonymous said...

Let's apply some common sense. Does anybody actually think Palin knew that Revere had been captured and interrogated, or about his letter twenty years later? Much more plausible is that she was asked a question (BTW, does anybody know what the question actually was?), wanted to spin the answer in a direction favorable to the NRA, and the first thing that popped into her head was Paul Revere.

This has nothing to do with being stupid, or ignorant, or right-wing rather than left-wing; this is about being a politician. The job of a politician is to get from any conceivable question back to the talking points you came in with.

Meglet said...

So by one interpretation, she flubbed basic American history, and by another, she flubbed basic English language vocabulary. Which is worse?

I'd say her gross misuse of the word "warn" is the greater crime. Yet she insists on the defense that demonstrates her poor understanding of the English language.

Appleofmylie said...

Why could she not have just admitted she made a mistake and moved on? Is she truly benefitting from this controversy in any measurement of actual gain? The number of voters or donors she garners for simple sympathy would certainly be negligible if not actual loss.

I think the number of voters and donors who changed their minds about her, or potential supporters who have now made up their minds against her, would either cancel out or outnumber her gains from the "everybody quit pickin' on the lady; we all make mistakes" boost of support.

Joseph said...

I thought the critics of Palin's Paul Revere statement were criticizing her belief that one of the reasons for the American Revolution was George III's attempts at gun control. It's quite clear that opposition to guns was what made them emphasize a minor verbal stumble.

BTW, it it my imagination or do all the Anonymous posters sound alike?

Appleofmylie said...

Joseph: no, the critics are complaining because Palin said that Paul Revere "warned the British" which is exactly the opposite of the truth. She had even odds and still screwed up!

It sounds a bit like she realized her mistake instantly and then, instead of saying "oh whoops my mistake! As I was saying...", she frantically tried to mold the rest of her answer to fit her initial gaffe.

Anonymous said...

Two more thoughts:

1) I still don't know what the original question is. It could be an awesome combo of an actual mistake followed by a poorly-planned prepackaged answer pushing a particular agenda.

Beauty pageant contestants do this all the time by having a short statement prepared on her topic of choice, then deflecting whatever they get asked. They are trying to work the most awkward and hilarious verbal sleight-of-hand maneuvers in order to make a good segue.

But so often they are just not able to connect messages about "adult illiteracy hurts us all" to "spay your pets!" Someone could be asked "how would you solve the healthcare crisis?" and try to talk only about "The Feminine Mystique." The results are glorious nonsense.

2) I remember being taught that Paul Revere wasn't any more or less brave and awesome than anyone else running around calling the revolutionaries to arms.

He's famous today because of the narrative poem written a century later, "the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. "Hardly a man is now alive that remembers that famous day and year."

I'm being anonymous because I'm lazy. I hate having to log into anything to write a comment.

BCC said...

I find myself, writing from Concord, MA, rather unimpressed by the various rationalizations of Palin's gaffe.

But I'll restrict my comments to one thing. The bit about the church bells on the North Shore caught my attention, because Revere didn't travel to the North Shore, he traveled toward Concord, which isn't near the North Shore at all! The North Shore was alerted by Doctor Martin Herrick. And the bells were rung to raise the militia, not "warn the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms."

Palin got the essence wrong and the details wrong.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that most of the posters are making the classic argument "Palin is so stupid that it doesn't matter what she said, she's wrong".

All I can say is that she comes across as far more educated than the bigoted small minded mysognists who, with minds forever closed because they simply doing what they're told, make conclusions based on their fantasies because to engage might lead them into cognitive dissonance.

The liberal "religion" is so crippling to thought...

RKN said...

I agree with other commenters: you are, for some reason, ignoring the difference between cause and incidence. I too Googled around a bit and didn't find any evidence that Revere's cause was warning the British which, so far as I can tell, was Palin's claim.

Indeed, one site I found reported that Revere's own writing and other history indicates that secrecy was vital to his mission.

Had Palin admitted afterward that what she meant was that the British were incidentally warned of what was planned, she would likely have defused most criticism. Even if that knowledge of the correct history came from her own last second Googling. Nobody would have been the wiser, and she would have come away from this appearing possibly a bit more sharp and sincere, not dumber.

Years ago I agreed that may of the things being said about Palin in the popular press were outright wrong or, at least, distorted. But lately she's proving that people's intuitions about her were correct.

David Friedman said...

"and didn't find any evidence that Revere's cause was warning the British which, so far as I can tell, was Palin's claim."

I don't think that was her claim. I think her claim was that he was doing things which would warn the British--in the same sense as a sign saying "Warning: This house protected by Smith and Wesson."

As it happens, we know that one thing he wanted to do was deter the British attack, as shown by his answer to the questions of the British officers. I don't see any evidence in what Palin said that she knew that, however.

Incidentally, at least some sources say that church bells were rung and shots fired, presumably to alert people that the British were coming.

Meglet said...

To Mr. Friedman,

So, correct my if I'm wrong, but your stance seems to be all about the bumbling end of her answer instead of the huge blunder at the beginning. Why will you not consider that she was simply grasping at straws, scrambling to rescue herself from her "he warned the British" goof.

Occam's Razor applies here but nobody seems to want to consider the simplest answers. Instead her mistake is being propped up by nation built, weak, and unessesarily complex scaffolds of irrelevant rhetoric.

Pal in's spin doctors are princes who have unbelievably, successfully, cast enough reasonable doubt on this hoopla. In the cort of public opinion, even people who don't like her are going out of their way to be conciliatory.

Meglet said...

I am also confused by the in-depth arguments over details like "bells, what bells?" and "Revere gave the British information" ("even though he certainly would have done everything he could to avoid capture)", etc. Do you really think she thought an overly-complex and babbling answer was appropriate in that interview?

It looks like *any way* you cut it, Palin can't look good. Either she's just outrageously stupid about us history, or she's so over our heads that she's failing to connect with the average citizen in a simple Q&A. Those seem to be our choices here.

And I'm glad. It shows she's *consistent* in her ignorance and ineptitude!

Anonymous said...

Put aside the history. Put aside what you think "she must have meant".
Palin was 100% grammatically factually incorrect. "He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin' sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed."
I dare you to ask someone to translate that sentence into one that would be understandable to a foreign head of state and make any sense whatsoever.
It's not possible because Palin's syntax is so mangled, you cannot pull any meaning out of this.
In order for native English speakers to grasp what she is saying, multiple paragraph blogs have to be written.
Think about President Palin sitting down with a foreign dignitary to work out a peace plan and then think about the poor translator trying to get her meaning across.
That is a scary thought.

Anonymous said...

WAKE UP! As the last commentator pointed out, regardless of the historical details regarding her jumbled statement. It's the overall inability to express herself (this if far from the first time) that scares people. If she is actually serious about running for president, then how could anyone possibly take her seriously if she can't speak at all without stumbling, unless it's a prepared statement.

A president represents our country, will have to handle many high pressure, sticky situations and should be the brightest we have to offer. I sincerely hope we can do better!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Friedman -- I see your point. But there's also a history of similar mistakes by Palin to take into account. -- In fact I did pretty much the same as you; while not defending, pointing out to friends that the media response may be an overreaction based more on politics than journalism.
I've never read your blog before and am making a big guess here, but if you're at all like me you have a tendency to take a stand when you feel someone is being treated unfairly, or maligned, especially when the larger issue isn't the original act (Palin's Revere reply in this case) but the seriousness regarding consequences of the reaction.
I've learned that there are some times when flogging myself in such a manner isn't worth the effort. I think your Palin post may be one of those times. As Anonymous wrote,"Think about President Palin sitting down with a foreign dignitary to work out a peace plan and then think about the poor translator trying to get her meaning across".
This may be a good place to allow those knocking Palin to get their kicks. Nice try though.

Kirby Uber said...

you are clearly trying to make her garbled nonsense, clearly the product of her, once again, having no idea what she is talking about, fit into the historical facts. revere was detained by a handful of British soldiers and interrogated briefly. in that interrogation, he made the claim 500 Americans were massing, a product of him "alarming the country"

you are taking that one sentence and trying to make that fit her rambled statement, ignoring the portions that don't fit, like firing a gun, and ringing bells.

your intent is transparent, this post is ridiculous.

Schtelegar said...

Watching Palin's response reminded me a lot of this:

Anonymous said...

I concur the post is ridiculous. As with the biblical fundamentalists some people will go to any means to acheive a pre-determined end. Even the children's book and Disney movie teaches us that "the British are coming" was about them coming to sieze arms, so they already knew we had them and if they were going to seize them, they must also have been pretty worried about us using them. And why the midnight ride unless the intent was to warn colonists rather than Brits.

RKN said...

I don't think that was her claim. I think her claim was that he was doing things which would warn the British"

And he was "doing things" to avoid warning the British, evidently.

Anonymous said...

I think some of your commenters would do well to read -- carefully -- one of Orwell's masterpieces, the Politics and the English Language essay.

In it he basically warns us that if we allow ourselves to write fuzzy mush, it leads invariably to thinking fuzzy mush. The converse is obviously true.

It appears as if some of them have either not read your post carefully, for its exact meaning, or perhaps are subconsciously imprinting their own meaning over what they (supposedly) read.

On a separate issue, it is truly a shame that Congress is populated mostly with lawyers. In earlier times lawyers had more of a rounded, classical education instead of the basically trade-school education of modern times. The difference shows in the crap they spew out. I'd much rather vote for someone with a degree in History instead of Law.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

For what its worth, I believe she recited that bit right after a tour by a local guide. I bet his history, recited by Palin, is more accurate than most of our School House Rock/ Longfellow understanding.

Even if the tour guide wasn't licensed.

Anonymous said...

I understood her to be talking symbolically about a warning to the British. As a gathering of people would be a show of unity, so would bells ringing and alarm spreading be a warning to the British.

Anonymous said...

Hold on. The issue here is that Palin doesn't understand the most basic US history AND she's also being seriously considered as a presidential contender. Fine, her understanding of Paul Revere's ride is probably (sadly) equivalent to that of many Americans', but based on this and her previous frequent gaffes, can you imagine the chaos she'd cause daily from the White House? Add to this that she tripled down on her Revere moment by both claiming that it was a "gotcha" question -- which she seems to get a lot of -- and by claiming that her response, in hindsight, was intentional and factual. To me this points to major character shortcomings which nicely complement her ignorance.

Andrew said...

Why do intelligent people waste so much time talking about stupid people?

Orwell's rolling over in his grave to be mentioned in the same blog post as P*lin.

Anonymous said...

A big thanks to Prof. Friedman for sharing his thoughts on this subject (and for having the patience and graciousness to deal with some of the commenters on this blog).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out to Orwell at the end of your post. It was then that I understood the rest of your post. "We have always been at war with Oceania."

freak said...

Hi David, please check this quote from Palin defending her comments at

"Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there"

She is clarifying that she believes that Revere had intent to warn the British. The document you reference clearly tells a different story. Paul Revere had no intent to tell the British anything. It was only after he was captured, hit in the head with a pistol, and threatened to have 'his brains blown out' that he told them what he was doing.

Two very different stories.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, the "gotcha" question was: "Who was Paul Revere?"

Anonymous said...

I wanted to quote from David Hackett Fischer's book, 'Paul Revere's Ride", Oxford Press, 1994.The Chapter entitled "The Capture", pp 135-136. "At last the (British) officers began to feel the full import of what Paul Revere had been telling them. His (Paul Revere's) words of warning took on a stronger meaning when punctuated with gunfire (referring to the Colonist)....As they (the British) came closer to the Common they (the British) began to hear Lexington's town bell clanging rapidly."

James Stripes said...

You appear to comprehend Northeast Wasillian! Bravo for getting to the heart of Palin's understanding of the events despite her utterance of a summary that could never receive a passing grade in a high school history class.

Anonymous said...

Speaking to the original question; NPR's Melissa Block interviewed historian Robert Allison and essentially backed up Friedman's assertion Palin errors were overblown. Still David Friedman cannot find an honest man. Perhaps he is looking on Fox which would explain his difficulties.

Kevin Carson said...

I'm afraid it's a bit of a stretch to get a reference to the actual historical facts you cited from the word salad that Palin spouted. Revere did warn the British -- while being interrogated in their camp -- that the militia was prepared to resist. But it's hard to avoid reading Palin's specific reference to "ringin' those bells" as a reference to warning the British in the course of the ride itself.

I just don't think it's credible that she really knew an obscure fact of history that most educated and intellectually curious people were unaware of. I mean this is Sarah "In what regard, Charlie?" Palin, the woman who thought questions like what newpapers she read and what she would take away from Boston were gotcha questions, and the woman who is notorious for her "math class is hard" view of the detail work of governing.

If some of her gibberish coincidentally resembled something that actually happened, well, even a blind pig gets an acorn now and then.

And it's also a stretch to say her critics were wrong to laugh even if she was inadvertently correct. What they laughed at her for saying -- which pretty plainly suggests Revere was riding to warn the British -- is not what they were wrong about. They may have been wrong about Revere's exchange with the British in a different context, but they were entirely correct to mock what she was clearly saying about Revere's *ride*.

It's nice that you want to be charitable, but I don't have a shred of charity toward that woman. She reminds me of way too many psychopathic bosses I've had with hystrionic personality disorder who made life hell with their Leona Helmsley routines. I've encountered enough people who have that perfect mixture of dumb and mean where they're always into it with somebody, and it's always the other person's fault, that I know one when I see them.

ncmemphis said...

"What have you seen so far today and what are you going to take away from your visit." This is the actual question that was asked of Sarah, not who was Paul Revere or any number of other simialr itterations.
If you can get the question right, the answer makes perfect sense. But when the question is changed after it is answered, anyone would sound stupid.