Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mario Vargas Llosa

"The perspective of [liberalism] is no less stupid than what the Marxists preached once. The Marxists explained everything economically -- and some liberals believed, that the market can master all problems - - however not one great liberal so primitively argued.

Correctly understood liberalism is not ideology, but an open system of ideas, obligated to self criticism. Its strength, endowed by modernity, is based undisputedly on the fact that from it came the philosophies which shape our democratic societies: human rights, liberty to express of opinion, the acknowledgment of difference, tolerance, division of power and distrust in relation to each kind of large political power.

We erred, when said that humans could manage without religion. Only a minority is able to replace religion by culture. This is at least my experience of the small world which I know. The large majority of humans needs transcendence, faith in another world. Therefore one cannot fight religion. Communism tried - and not least because of it failed. In the democracies, however, religion must remain a private thing - in the context of the legal order which free societies give themselves. [R]eligion does not interfere into the affairs of the state or, conversely, the state [does not] identif[y] itselfwith religious goals."
From an article in Die Welt, translated poorly from German by yours truly.

Random Notes

I am charging through some research now that is pissing me off because, well, it debates historiography with which I am less than familiar. Still, I should post soon on some interesting subjects. In particular, Marc at Cliopolitical posted a excellent outline of historiography, "Introduction to historical method" in five parts (start here), that has got me thinking about the problems of understanding the context with which the Annales emerged. The long durée is its most lasting influence, but it was also part of a trend in academia towards interdisciplinary studies. Geography, in particular, was adaopted by historians of various fields. Lucien Febvre was not the first historian to use geography, but he inspired Braudel to overlook national boundaries for the broader picture. Why is the school not remembered for this aspect of its work? Why do we not remember a "geographic turn"?

Some of my posts have inspired writing that is better than my own. At Protocols of the Yuppies of Zion, Aspargal takes the passage I extracted from My Father's Rifle to discuss the role that art plays in authoritarian movements.
This obsession with art as a means to prop up the state's power shows up in some bizarre ways. The Nazi's were notorious for their intertwining of aesthetics and politics, to the point where the typeface "Fraktur", the Gothic font used in Nazi anti-Jewish edicts, was later abruptly banned for being a treacherously "Jewish" font. (Antiqua [Roman] type was then instituted as the offical Nazi-approved font.) Early Italian art deco took some of its design cues from Italian fascism, while also showcasing its themes and aims. Kim Jong-Il has plastered ubiquitous smiling paintings of his ugly visage all over North Korea, a malevolent and unintentionally funny form of public art. And he's misappropriated the arts for his regime's purposes in an unusually obvious way by actually kidnapping film directors and actresses that he liked, to force them to make films for his pleasure.
Equally more riviting than me, Brandon at Siris notes the problems reading Cylon religion in Battlestar Galactica.
The issue is complicated by the fact that so much of our knowledge of Cylon belief is mediated through Six, who may have peculiarities in religious belief which other models tolerate but disapprovingly (as they seem to do with Six's libido -- one curious feature of the humaniform Cylons is that they don't seem to agree about much except their basic plan). Certainly Boomer seems much less devout (but that may be because she is like the Colonists to an unusual degree). Also, the Six in Baltar's head seems to be out on her own in some way, and her agenda is certainly at least partly religious. It's further complicated ... by the fact that the Colonists are tricky to pin down as well -- except the Colonists from Gemenon, who are literalists, the 'Globalized Mormonism' (as it has been called) of the Colonists is usually nominal, and is generally considered a private matter, anyway. The Cylons actually remind me a bit of QT-1 in Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" -- Cutie, you will recall, started as a Cartesian and then began to consider himself the Prophet of the Master, as he called it, which was the space station on which he was serving. Rationalism tends monotheistic, elitist, and intolerant of anything it regards as superstition, so I think the post is probably on the right track.
Now will anyone compare the use of religion in Battlestar Galactica to the two Bajoran religions (The Prophets and the Pah Wraiths) in DS9?

Let me also mention Brandon's useful essay on the difference between rule of law and rule by law, which if I were less lazy I would respond to.

Geitner at Regions of Mind has new posts up, which are always a treat. The Other Bill Murray looks at the leader of a movement to establish a community in Bolivia based on American religious values.
Their Bolivian haven, Murray claimed, would create a society in which "the Ten Commandments are given as the foundation of all laws" and each individual could "strive to maintain the virtues of an American citizen" and "avoid the vices and errors of other races."

Murray's Bolivian dream proved a failure. In 1929, he returned to Oklahoma and was soon elected governor. He served one term. In later life, he embraced radical racial theories and became fixated on conspiracy theories.
Emigré communities can be a fruitful aspect of regionalism in which the history of a landscape is extended beyond its geographical boundaries into the wide world. Steinbach, a German ethnologists and geographer from the mid-20th century, claimed that the cultural influence of any community extends beyond its physical limits.

[Added]: Otto posts on the genocide of ethnic Germans in Stalin's Russia.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Wrath of a Machine G-d

What manner of G-d do the Cylons worship?

Religion is central in Battlestar Galactica, both old and new. The original series was based on a strongly Mormon worldview, but Mormonism only structured the narrative and was couched underneath vague talk about ancient g-ds and the esoterica of Egyptology. In the new series religion is up front: something that distinguishes the humans from the Cylons.

And it has bugged me. The humans are the polytheists, the Cylons monotheists. Is it that simple? Is humanity the victim of a contrivance to replace natural religion with a domineering patriarch who lives apart from them.

On the surface this looks like some sort of Wiccan persecution complex, not dissimilar to extremist views on the witch trails of the 17th century. The Colonialists are not, however, nature worshipers, but rationalist agnostics for whom the pantheon of the g-ds has been almost universally discarded as antiquated fantasy. Only a small segment of the population (the Gemenons) are considered religious, and only their clerics have extreme spiritual practices. Humanity has only begun to rediscover religion now that they are in flight. Faith was forgotten, regardless of who was worshiped.

Even if the main conflict is between monotheists and polytheists, it cannot be read as the Christians (and the Jews) against the pagans. Ronald Moore, the show’s producer, cleverly mixed elements of Christianity and Greco-Roman paganism to create a canon of spiritual beliefs for the Colonialists. The retention of the Greek Pantheon suggests that they still appreciate a patriarchal g-d as supreme.

The Cylon religion has no obvious human counterpart. Cylons know human religious texts (as well as undisclosed other sources), but those texts are not canonical. They borrow from human religion, but they appropriate and invent to support their political and bio-technical ideology.

I would suggest that the Cylon g-d is: neo-Platonic, bourgeois, and imperialistic. First, the choice of G-d over g-ds is a rational judgement rather than a religious commandment. Greek philosophers were able to establish the necessity of a single, true deity without spiritual discovery. The “one true g-d” of the Cylons, in the absence of other evidence, a logical manifestation.

Second, the moral superiority given to the Cylons gives them political legitimacy. G-d gives them dominion over humanity. I am reminded of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie in Europe, for whom Christianity had become an emblem of their domination. Something for them to produce, others to consume. Cylons argue the immorality and degeneracy of humans has brought them to their end. If they know religious texts, it is mostly to show humanity’s immorality (usually those stories where the g-ds cast out the humans from Kobol and not stories of their redemption).

Third, G-d gives the Cylons the right to replace humans over which they exercise moral superiority. In the old show, Cylons strove to control and eliminate the presence of biological sentience. The new Cylons are technological in the broadest sense, not just mechanical, and rather than exterminating humanity they want to fill all the roles that they did. It reminds me of how, after an eco-system is disrupted, a single animal species will recolonize it and diversify itself to fill all functions within that system. G-d’s plan, always brought to the fore by Number Six, has the Cylons replace the humans.

Ultimately, the struggle between monotheism and polytheism on Galactica is less important than the struggle between extremism and spirituality. There is serious doubt whether they are religious or use religion. The Cylons have crafted a rigid, rationalized, and aggressive faith that harmonizes with their holy war. Their opponent is not reason, but a textual religion that could have easily been monotheistic itself.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Mr. Burke goes to Bagdad

Does anyone else see the irony in conservatives pinning their hopes on Iraq's constitutional process? Have conservatives given up on Edmund Burke? The constitutional skeptic appears nowhere as conservatives urge Iraqis to pull democracy out of the ether and put it onto paper. No doubt that a nation can constitute itself; no faith in reform. Personally, I would not welcome reform. Even in the absence of national traditions of democracy, Burke would prefer building democracy organically from the ground up rather than top-down and in the abstract. If post-war West Germany is taken as an example of successful democratization, two things preceded federalism. First, the repoliticization of the states (Länder) on democratic principles; second, the rediscovery of traditions that could contribute to democracy. The nation-building process was able to meet the allies interests rather well. (Too bad they didn't purge all the Nazis, but I'll bet former Ba'athists ("the grays" who joined only for professional opportunities) will be in administration.) The constitution should be an embodiment of society, not a reference work.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Opponents only, no collaborators

Czech PM Paroubek apologized to Germans who were expelled in 1945 by Benes. Well, at least those Germans who were "anti-Fascists."
"We are correcting an injustice committed against our German co-citizens,'' Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said. The apology is for "the opponents of Nazism who were affected by measures taken by former Czechoslovakia against its so-called enemy citizens after WWII.''

"We are documenting that the Benes decrees did not refer to anti-fascists,'' Paroubek continued. "We are expressing our admiration, appreciation and apology to the significant minority of those Czechoslovak citizens of German descent,'' who "had remained faithful.''
The conditionality is delicious. Who are these loyal ethnic Germans, the Sudetenlaender who resisted the annexation, occupation, who did not benefit from the special privileges given to ethnic Germans over ethnic Slavs and Jews? What commission determined who they were?

The government promises to locate these people and to remunerate the loss of property, but I think that they will step into their own historiographic nightmare as they try to sort out what it meant to have collaborated and resisted. Good Luck!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

California über alles

In a strike against the rankings normally produced every year by US News & World Report, the Washington Monthly has released its own rankings of America's top colleges. The kicker: the big private universities didn't rank as well as public universities.
  1. MIT
  2. UCLA
  3. UC Berkeley
  4. Cornell
  5. Stanford
  6. Penn State
  7. Texas A&M
  8. UC San Diego
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Michigan
Not only do none of the Ivy Leagues appear in the top ten, but four California schools do (cool, my alma mater is #2 -- thanks, Jerry Brown). The West does just as well as the East; the legacy schools fail; the technical schools shine.

How did they reach these conclusions? They considered factors that other organizations did not: "commitment to national service", "social mobility (number of low income students who graduate), and the use of financial resources and endowments (I guess a new dorm doesn't count for much). They also look at how the activities of the university impact the surrounding business environment.

The Washington Monthly is, in essence, trying to measure which universities are affecting our country the most. Clearly, they want to identify forces that make the country "more democratic". I agree with the goals of the magazine, and with many of its conclusions. Having experienced both private and public schools, the former lack the motivation of the latter. I have been enriched more by the students who struggled to go to school than those who could pay. I would, however, be interested in seeing rankings for how PhD and professional graduate programs alone affect universities. Are rankings affected by the number of low income grad students enrolled? Does the current trend of accepting more non-funded students diminish the universities?

Random Notes

Over the weekend I spent a few hours talking to two old friends, Robin and Jackie, at the local café. We had been students at UMass-Amherst, where we earned our MAs. Both will defend in a few months and go on the hunt for jobs. Just as any other gathering of nerdy grad students, we talked about academics and history: the fate of UMass, the value of the history of commodities, where our research is going, the job market (a subject I normally avoid).

Robert Moog died -- Oscar Chamberlain has a brief history of Moog's inventiveness, including the creation of the synthesizer.

Le Monde has been running a series of articles, "1905, l'année des tournants", which examines the year 1905 as a decisive moment of modernity (Einstein, Sartre, Jaurès). Yesterday's article discussed the 1905 law of secularization in France -- the law that has become the burden of French politics as they attempt to assimilate immigrants from Islamic countries today. The article argues that the law was, at the time, not the rupture as seen today, but the culmination of French democracy's promise -- the end of its maturation.

[Added:] Ever wonder what "Love will tear us apart" would sound like by a Tuvan throat singer?

Monday, August 22, 2005

"The Night Commuters

Human Rights Watch has a short video on the threat faced by children in Africa's Great Lakes region, in particular the phenomenon of children who walk several miles to cities every night, where they hide away from the militias who would abduct, conscript, and rape them.

From Collaboration to Fraternity

While pouring over a file on the Institut der geschichtliche Landeskunde der Rheinlande in Bonn, I found this reference to a project between the institute, amateur researchers in Germany, and Americans: "an investigation of emigration from the upper Ahr Valley in the nineteenth century" to the United States.
The inquiry into and collecting of letters in the places of origin of the emigrants and with their descendants in America ... [triggered] a thoroughly lively correspondence, which stirred strong emotions over there. Essays in German-American newspapers promoted the enterprise, as had the local press in the Eifel Forest. Families ties [between Germans and Americans] were restored, and an abundance of old letters related to the history of the emigrants flowed in from both sides. ...
Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the collection, whether it turned out to be an archival holding or an anthology. It was just one of the projects that benefited from the institutes assistance. The file itself is a dead end on this subject: I have no idea if it continued beyond 1932 and how the relationship between those involved changed with the rise of Nazism.

In general, the institute worked on Landeskunde, regional studies, rather than Volkskunde, ethnic studies. The former was, nevertheless, an offshoot of the latter. The institute still attended on people, and part of its work concerned the history of settlement and migration, which extended the horizons of research beyond the Rhineland to Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lorraine. Migration helped the institute prove a point: that the true history of the Rhineland was neither home-grown nor German, but continental.

The collaboration between Rhenish and American academics and societies to find the sources of German-American history may have produced compelling research on Transatlantic dialogues during an era of significant political and social change -- only six years separated the American Civil War from the unification of the Reich. Even the collection was a type of Transatlantic dialogue over a shared past.

The project resembled other international collaborations that the institute undertook. However, the relationships between the researchers in the two countries changed as German politics took a severe right turn. The National Socialists, who were no fans of regionalism, used the institute, first, to cultivate foreign support for German policies, and second, to locate the places of Germanic habitation. Research on immigration was used to determine the maximal boundaries of Hitler's Reich. The researchers at the institute (some prominent social scientists like Adolf Bach, Franz Steinbach, and Joseph Müller) happily made the case that the lands of north-western Europe not only belonged to Rhenish history, but to Germany itself.

The triangle between the institute, foreign researchers and the past became exaggerated. Opportunities to collaborate were limited to academics who sympathized with Pan-Germanism (even fascists in other countries distanced themselves from the institute).

I can only imagine how the relationship between Germans and Americans involved in the project changed. The collection, whatever it is, would be useful to anyone studying German-Americans. What is interesting is that the collection itself may be a document about how Americans rediscovered their European roots at a time when ethnic identity was celebrated as the cornerstone of nationalism.

History : Germany: America

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Good Husband?

I have never sewn anything before in my life, and yet I made this needle case for my wife. How much of a pain was it? I learned how to resolve almost every little disaster possible.

Brdgt (the angry, crafty girl) made one these a few weeks ago, and I though it would be a simple project. My wife has too many needles without a home, and hopefully this will help her.

The local fabric stores were not kind with their selection of upholstery weight fabrics, so I was forces to work an autumnal theme. Perhaps next time I'll find something more stylish. Posted by Picasa

Is the Pope wearing a kippot?

No, but Benedict XVI made his visit to the Rooonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne today.

Some news sources in the US are calling the Cologne the "oldest Jewish community in Germany." This needs to be qualified. Cologne, one of the first Roman outposts north of the Alps (its name means "Colony of Agrippina"), was the first Jewish community in Central Europe. Jews established themselves in the city almost as soon as the Romans.

The community was expelled from the city in 1414, the last of a wave of municipal expulsion that started a century earlier. Most went across the river to Deutz, which was not part of Cologne at the time. A few individuals were given special dispensation from the municipal council to travel through the city; even fewer allowed to reside within for short period of time. They would not return until the emancipation in the early nineteenth century.

More than a few important Jews came from Cologne, Moses Hess and Hans Mayer to name just a few.

I have written a lot about Cologne and its religious environment (mostly about the Dom) over the last fifteen months. Here as list of those posts:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More WJD

At Ad Limina Apostolorum, Jamie is blogging daily on the events of World Youth Day in C0logne. (HT: Siris) Perhaps we can teach him how to order a beer: "Köbes, dot ehr mer noch e Kölsch?" (Unfortunately, the Brauhäuser are expecting a sobering week).

The major city newspaper, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, has lots of photo galleries. Just look down this page to wherever it says Fotoline. The Kölnische Rundschau also puts up a few pics.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


World Youth Day has gotten under way in Cologne. Interesting: Benedict XVI will visit the Randstrasse Synagogue, the second time a Pope has visited a Jewish place of worship, on Friday.

Are we on the Amazing Race?

In June, when I made a brief stop in Paris, my wife and I were approached in the Latin Quarter by a woman asking for money. She was middle-aged (around 50), blond and dressed appropriately. Nothing indicated that she was at all needy. She spoke directly to us in English. She offered no explanation, only saying that she was not pretending to be poor. We told her we had nothing to spare -- the truth, since we were traveling on limited, grad student funds. Two minutes later my wife and I admitted to each other that the situation resembled any number of scenes that play out on the Amazing Race: a team that has been stripped of their money, running through the streets of a foreign town, begging for pennies but unable to explain their predicament.

I have lived in fear of being one of the people who turned down a team on the show. Seeing the teams for the eighth season has not put my mind at ease. In particular, Linda Weaver looks like the woman who approached us. G-d, don't let me look bad!

Anyway, my early bet is on the Schroeder family, but I hope the Paolo family sticks around.

Camera mightier than the Machine Gun

Hiner Saleem's My Father's Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan is a short (perhaps too short) memoir of the struggle of Kurds against the oppression in Iraq. He becomes a refugee as the Ba'athist regime excluded Kurds from public life. They join the war of liberation, believing that American forces will come to their aid. But the war is brief and fruitless, and Saleem's family returns to Iraq to suffer more humiliation as Saddam Hussein arabizes Kurdish areas (putting Arabs in positions of authority and administration and suppressing minority culture).

Saleem himself feels frustration as he is held back in school because he cannot master Arabic; opportunities in the arts are closed off to him because he refuses to join the party's youth group. Eventually, as the police prepare to arrest him as a rebel, he sneaks across the border and becomes filmmaker in Europe.

Saleem's reflections on the futility of the armed resistance are the most interesting aspects of the book. After the failure of Barzani's war failed in the late 1970s, Ba'athist forces constrained public life for Kurds. Frustrated, he runs into the mountains to join the resistance, but he finds that they are incapable and ill-equipped: they cannot confront Iraqi forces. Instead he contemplates intellectual resistance, using art and film to express his rage and patriotism.

As this narrative is too brief, many ideas are underdeveloped. However, I particularly like this passage in which Saleem, perhaps by accident, identifies his struggle with African liberation, against the Pan-Arab nationalism of the Ba'athist official.
I started painting again. I wanted to become a great painter, like Sami. The school was organizing an exhibition, so I brought over some of my best canvases. I was very excited to take part in this exhibition. On the day before the opening, I was summoned by the official in charge. One of my paintings was propped up against the wall: it represented a chained man raising his eyes to the sky.

I recalled that when I had initially painted this picture, the figure had the same skin colour as I, but dissatisfied with the colour, I had repainted the skin black. The official in charge of the exhibition wanted to know why I had painted such a skinny man. 'You make it look as if Iraqis are dying of hunger. And why those chains? What's the significance of that?' To cover myself, I replied, 'He isn't Iraqi, he's African.' He ordered me to paint other subjects: the accomplishments of the Ba'ath Party, the nationalization of oil, the Palestinian struggle against Zionism and imperialism. 'I'm still a young painter,' I replied. 'I haven't had time to paint all those subjects, but I'll surely get around to it.'

My paintings were returned to me. I was rejected for the exhibition.

Monday, August 15, 2005

We're off on the road to Montana (this Jihad is tough on the spine)

Walter Kim, substituting for Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish, fashions himself a sociologist. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a reactionary one. Today he recommends that we turn out backs on the metropolitan and the cosmopolitan, all to enjoy security from Terror.
I think it's high time that we did a few thing differently that maybe we should have done already. Like, say, spread out a little geographically. I live in Montana, way out in the country, near towns that have been abandoned and depopulated and could use a few resources from the threatened cities that have made themselves sitting ducks for sabotage by building their infrastructures so dense and tall that a pellet gun could knock them over. There's a price for supersaturating small areas with people, wealth, and technology, and now we're paying it by trying to secure in thousands of ways targets that are inviting as they come. This folly of rebuilding the World Trade Center proves that we'd rather be proud and stubborn than safe. Here we go piling up the blocks again just to show how bloodied but unbowed we are instead of learning our lesson and reshaping things. It's not the de-urbanization of the cities that I'm dreaming about here, it's the re-urbanization of the towns -- places where strangers can easily be spotted and people can't be vaporized by the hundreds merely by stuffing a few bombs into some backpacks.
First, the United States is, for a modern, industrial nation, very rural. Cities and towns are spread thinly, and cities tend to be less dense than counterparts elsewhere in the world -- even when comparing larger US cities to smaller international cities.

Second, the development of the urban realm was not folly, but progress. The capitalism is unimaginable without the the velocity of transactions possible in a densely packed space. Certainly farmers were not economic pioneers -- they naturally tended towards anti-capitalist controls. Cities, however, reduced the distance between individuals, making their interactions more frequent and necessary, their commerce and traffic more fruitful. They were also portals whereat locally produced goods entered the global market. From an historical perspective, Americans might enjoy an iron-age existence without cities.

Third, Walter suggests deceptively that OBL and al Qaeda would have attacked any opportune target. Wrong. New York City was picked for a reason. Manhattan was picked for a reason. The Twin Towers were picked for a reason. Sept. 11 was an attack on this country, but it was also an attack on a specific city as the vanguard of this country. NYC is a symbol of both open society and globalization. Trust me, Walter, terrorists would never want to attack Montana if it were its own country.

If Walter wants to "re-urbanize" small town life, great idea. But dismantle metropolitan life? The most rabid of Tönnies supporters eventually realized that town life could not exist without the Groߟstadtvolk.

History Carnival 14

Natalie at Philobiblion has up the latest History Carnival. It is another cornucopia of posts. Check out this post on Conservatism's attention to Medieval manhood and this post on late Antique paganism.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sunday Reading

Check out the blog of the bizarre Jewish cowboy of Texas, Kinky Friedman. Bound to make you laugh ... and think. (Hat-tip to Rua da Judiaria.)

Le Monde interviews architect Jean Nouvel ("La provocation n'est pas un moteur architectural (Provocation does not drive architecture"). Nouvel defends his ethic of architecture that incorporates design into innovation, which is being referred to as the Louisianian paradigm. Architecture must "serve the spirit of place", being "a stage in an evolution that should be inscribed in geographical and historical continuity".

In the Boston Globe article, "In Namibia, 'Stink Bay' residents seek a whiff of change", the cities along Namibia's coast attempt to get rid of the aweful odors produced by its industries that making urban life intolerable.

"Why Greater Israel Never Came to Be" in the NY Times takes the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza as the failure of a nationalist paradigm of geography.

As World Youth Day in Cologne approaches, Deutsche Welle looks at the spirituality of German youth ("Traditional Piety Rare Among German Youth", in Enligsh). "German youth of today are not necessarily becoming less religious; they are simply less interested in experiencing God through the mediation of the church." Die Welt asks which Ratzinger returns home to Germany: one that reflects the drive of German liberal theologians, or a more conservative southern Germans? (Auf Deutsch)

London Review of Books has an article on how ancient Greece was read in the landscape of modern Greece in travel literature. (Hat Tip: No Great Matter)

A Taxing-free Time

Yesterday and today the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not collect tax on consumer goods. Our good governor, Mitt Romney, claims that this move will help small businesses in the inner urban areas increase business. Too bad that all the pictures are of consumers flooding suburban mega-stores rather than mom and pop shops in the middle of Worcester.

The Commonwealth has a reputation as having the high taxes. "Taxachusetts", people call it. Yet the 5% sales tax is the thirteenth lowest. Furthermore, the sales tax in Massachusetts is absolute: counties and communities can add nothing to it. The absolute maximum for the state is, therefore, higher than only one state. The flat 5.3% tax on income puts it right in the middle of the spectrum.

[ADDED] Brandon from Siris sent this link that shows how tax rates have changed in each state over time -- a much better tool for comparison.

Anyway, I went down to a small bookstore in Amherst in order to enjoy my "tax holiday". I bought three books: Martin Heidegger's fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, and Solitude; the new translation of Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell & Illuminations; and August Kleinzahler's The Strange hours Travelers Keep.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Faith and the Bomb

"Hiroshima lives with resentment, Nagasaki prays."
Takashi Nagai, quote in an article in Le Monde on how Catholicism of the residents of Nagasaki figures into their remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The People with Creativity

Early in the year I used Steven Mithen's After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC to teach the prehistory (I even extracted a passage on Çatal Höyük). Now I can read it slowly and savor it. Mithen writes well, using fictional techniques to imagine prehistoric life. He also explores the history of anthropology, describing how opinions of prehistoric peoples have changed since the 19th century as sites were discovered and technology used. Here is one example of how appreciation of Australian Aborigines grew (also, check this site on Australian Anthropology).

[The] earliest accounts of the native Australians are often little more than dismissive racist tracts. Anthropologists, however, soon began to appreciate the complexity of Aboriginal society. At least two hundred distinct languages were recorded; extensive trade networks were documented along which foodstuffs, axes, grinding slabs and ochre traveled; the mythological world of the Dreamtime, in which Ancestral Beings created the landscape and continued to intervene in human affairs, was partly revealed. What had appeared to be simple depictions of animals, people and signs were found to have complex meanings, often relating to the activities of Ancestral Beings

Initial assumptions of a hand-to-mouth, catch-as-catch-can existence were revised as the sophistication of Aboriginal hunting and gathering was realised. Aborigines were found to have a profound knowledge of plant distribution and animal behavior; they were able to adapt to ever-changing conditions, often adopting radically different lifestyles in wet and dry seasons according to the range of available resources. Although they were all hunter-gatherers, many managed their landscapes and food supply by the controlled burning of vegetation.

Recognising the complexity of Aboriginal society was the first of two shifts in European views about the native Australians. The second was to appreciate that these people were not a timeless relict of an original human society, a people without history. Their societies were as much a product of history as those of the European colonists. The start of their history - the date at which Australia was first colonised - has gradually shifted back in time, from an initial guess of 10,000 BC, to 35,000 BC during the 1980s, to almost 60,000 years ago today.
[Italics mine.]

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Know when to hold 'em

First, an admission: I am addicted to Rock Star: INXS.

I was a casual fan growing up. I owned three albums by them (Shabooh Shoobah, The Swing, and Listen Like Thieves). I stopped listening after they release that Prince rip-off ("Need you tonight"). There were a listenable band, and as a good KROQ kid, I blasted "Don't Change" and "Original Sin" whenever they came on the radio.

The show is much more entertaining than the band ever was. The talent is strong, the song selections are good, the house band is tight. JD has a rich, Peter Murphy-like voice that does not match his Elvis-on-uppers dance moves. MiG's voice is a little thin, but he moves well. Marty is totally karaoke. My favorite, by far, is Jordis, the dread-locked singer who reminds me a little of Diamanda Galas.

Rock Star has its problems. It lauds its doubtful authenticity vis-a-vis that other singing competition at every turn. The vapid Brooke Burke pronounces every letter of "Rocker" with such care as if Rock musicians were the Volksgeist incarnate. The songs themselves come the (what must be) the golden ages of Hard Rock, representing the debauchery of the '70s and the angst of the '90s. Too bad the selections don't often resemble the kind of Rock that INXS produced in their heyday.

Sunday night's show produced what ought to have been reality TV gold: caffeinated Rocker Ty Taylor bawled because he was nearly eliminated. Probably prodded by producers and writers off screen, Ty admitted that he felt pressure to succeed as the only black singer on the show. How many African-Americans are in Rock?, he asked. Quite a few. However, given that as Rock gets harder and more alternative, blacks are less represented. Ultimately I understood that Ty felt obligated to represent African-Americans in the competition and in music.

How has this 'touching, disarming' moment gone down? At a number of forums, including the show's, he has been accused of playing the race card. Hmm. He didn't make excuses that he failed because of race. He only said that he felt a heavy burden that he alone carried. Are people that sensitive to the mention of race, or are they trying to render it unspeakable? There seems to be a misinterpretation of what playing the race card means and how race affects life.

Well, I'll tune in tonight. I am already anticipating the show. Rock on!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Shylock's Rhinoplasty

Philosopher Sarah Kofman was sheltered by several families during World War II in order to avoid deportation. At first she was sent to northern France, but she was promptly sent back to Paris: she refused to eat pork because it was not Kosher, and when she tried, she vomited. Her host family felt that her aversion to pork would give her, and them, away.

She spent the remainder of the war along with her mother hiding at the apartment of a Parisian woman. Despite her gesture, the woman was determined to break Kofman from her faith:
Knowingly or not, Mémé had brought off a tour de force: right under my mother’s nose, she’d managed to detach me from her. And also from Judaism. She had saved us, but was not without anti-Semitic prejudices. She taught me that I had a Jewish nose and made be feel the little bump that was the sign of it.

She never stopped repeating that I’d been badly brought up: I obeyed ridiculous religious prohibitions but had not moral principles. She undertook to reform me from head to toe and to complete my education.
After the Liberation of Paris, Kofman found that she lost the physical discipline to follow Jewish laws. And she was happy not to.

The body has been a central marker for Jews in public life. Dress, bodily discipline, diet, and sexuality were signs of difference; they were also signs of progress towards assimilation. The Jewish body was always at the center of ‘emancipation’. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries are replete with examples of Jews attending to corporeality: Freud, Adler, Hirschfeld, Nordau.

Obviously there is a history of the Jewish body. But as much as it is an appropriate historical subject, many scholars won’t accept it as a subject for Jewish Studies. The current issue of Jewish Quarterly Review (on Project Muse, subscription required) hosts a number of essays on (what one scholars calls) the corporeal turn. Those who object do not deny that Judaism has much to say about the body; rather attention to the body has disturbed the structure of Jewish Studies.

The corporeal turn forces recognition of extra-Judaic influences in the construction of identity. The Jewish individual is not only constructed with reference to Jewish texts, but is shaped through numerous cultural and social influences.

The notion of a Jewish subject that is social, anthropological, or even racial has been repeatedly rejected, diluted, and often feared. Jewish Studies, therefore, conceives itself largely as an intellectual project. Those who critique the corporeal turn say that Talmudic texts themselves provide sufficient material by which to discuss the issue of the body without looking to the outside.

The study of the Jewish body does not require, as most of its practitioners believe that it requires, an uncritical acceptance of cultural materialism. ... the study of matter is an activity of mind, and in the Jewish case what it finds again and again—the true subject, I think, of Jewish cultural materialism —- is the inscription of Jewish mind upon Jewish matter. The laws of menstruation, for instance, are not some kind of "privileging" of the body over the mind that await rediscovery by scholars newly sensitized to considerations of gender; they are, and they always have been, plainly for all to see, the interpretation of the Jewish body by the Jewish mind: the application to corporeal life of certain ideas which are not themselves corporeal in origin, but which nonetheless presume to order and to explain corporeal life, to confer meaning upon it. But the meaning that they confer upon it is metacorporeal, metaphysical; and thus the Jewish scholar, if he or she is to comprehend this phenomenon correctly, is immediately thrown back from the body to the book, to the supremacy of the incorporeal. Such a development does not amount to a denial of the body. But the body is not its own interpreter.

The "construction" of the body is not a bodily activity. The Jewish traditions about sexual intercourse and sexual hygiene are intellectual traditions, not physical traditions. They seek to legislate and to legitimate practices with concepts. This is the complication, the tension, the paradox, the play of freedom that the materialist utterly fails to grasp. And the failure to acknowledge the interpenetration of idea and act in Judaism is a failure of historical method.
Should the body be admitted to Jewish Studies? I don't think that introducing extra-Judaic would endager "the People of the Book". If scholars wish to limit themselves to theology and its practice, they may, knowing that they are shutting themselves from the experiences of daily life. Others are involved in studying the Jewish body as it is constructed by numerous disciplines.

Distancing itself from the body, Jewish Studies will dissociate itself from a means of studying the complexity and plurality of Jewish cultures. Early Zionists were themselves motivated by the critique of degeneration and developed programs to prepare Jews, mind and body, to return to Palestine. Over the last decades claims of crypto-Judaism and "lost tribes" have been re-evaluated theologically and scientifically on the basis dietary and sexual practices. DNA evidence has been used to test claims made by Falasha and Lemba communities in Africa as well as to prove the genetic relationship between contemporary Jews and the ancient Holy Land. Without the body scholars would undermine their ability to see how texts manifest themselves in daily practice, and how they interacted with the various host cultures where Jews have lived. Indeed, they obscure the signs of Jewishness itself.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

"He broke the Law like Bread"

Last night K. and I saw a performance of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht. It is one of my favorite plays, a work that Brecht composed in America while in exile. The play is typically Brecht, with few heroes, only those who act according to instinct. The treat in this play is Azdak, an idiot installed as judge by the soldiers who toppled the government. Azdak is aware that the symbols rather than the man make for power, and he uses his position to dole out his unique brand of popular justice. His scenes can be read as an commentary on how justice should be meted out after Germany's defeat.

The plays was performed by the Mettawee River Theater Company, which incorporates masks and puppets into theatrical performances. Very well done. My only beef was that they excised Brecht's own historicity (he would mix anachronistic events within the time of a play).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Random Notes

José, we can see! Now that Rafael Palmiero has been caught red-handed (or with something in his urine), will more of the sports icons that Conseco named fall? Will a steriod user be elected to Cooperstown?

Some history. The new History Carnival is up at Willism. Very extensive. I recommend two posts, one on the misuse of ethnology in Middle Eastern studies (get comfy, it's long), the other a history of TB. Still on medival history, the Turkish Daily News has an article on Ottoman medicine (in English, free subscription required).

Pennies for your thoughts? The largest caché of pfennigs ever found were discovered in Lower Alsace (article in French). The man who discovered them intends to sell them as one rather than break up the collection. They date from from the sixteenth to eighteenth century and bear clear marks from where they were minted. I hope someone will be able to study them to understand early modern commerce.

Siris-Origen Alliance. Brandon has an interesting post on the different concepts of personhood and how they hold together.

Traces of the Devil

Yesterday's events in Sudan gave me an eerie feeling of deja-vu: a suspicious helicopter accident, death of the rebel leader who just became part of the coalition government (the glue of a fragile peace), the rioting in the streets of Sudan. The death of Garang, the circumstances surrounding it and the reaction thereto, reminded me of the assassination of Rwanda's President Habyarimana eleven years ago. That event triggered a genocide, something that is already underway in Sudan.

The genocide in Darfur slides into a pit of amnesia even as it continues. The nascent African Union provides what forces it can. The UN and the US have shown that they can talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. Although Americans might approve of intervention, it seems that the current administration prefers to be less active than it claims to be.

What were the lessons of Rwanda? Has it been forgotten? The memories of genocides ought to put nations and peoples on guard, stopping atrocities as soon as possible. Memory, however, can be more finicky than we would want. It takes shape over decades, never in the forms that are expected, bringing with it a mix of emotions: bitterness, anger, confusion, and even nostalgia. Even the Holocaust is still taking shape as people revisit the places where it occurred. The response to Jan Gross' Neighbors reveals how the return of memory disturbs myths about heroism and victimhood.

Véronique Tadjo's L'Ombre D'Imana (In the Shadows of the Creator) reveals the problems of speaking about genocide so soon afterward. Tadjo, born in Cote d'Ivoire and living in South Africa, went to Rwanda to explore how narrative can be used to give life to memory and to explore the ruptures that have formed.

The Rwanda that she finds is plagued by ghosts; the experiences of the genocide have produced silences around people who must live with one another, who pretend that they cohabitate in a normal civil society.
When the war ended, we believed that everything would return to normal, that we could make a new and better start. And not make the same mistakes. But after several years, everything is as it was: corruption, impunity, uncertainty. Promises made have not been kept. They have disappeared along with the others.Reconciliationn? We need justice! ... everything is falling into oblivion. No one wants to carry this heavy memory.”
Because no one gives voice to memories, the society remains dysfunctional.

Tadjo's book is both a meditation on the possibilities of narrative as well as a telling of the stories of Rwandans after the genocide. I hesitate to call them "testimonies" because Tadjo is herself aware that memories must become more than something that passes from mouth to ear.
"Is the orality of Africa a handicap to collective memory? One must write to make information permanent. Writers force men to pay attention, to exorcise buried memories. It can put a salve on the ruptures, speaking of all carried a bit of hope."

The people whom Tadjo gives voice have different problems. They are businessmen who want stability to restart their enterprises. They are tens of thousands of men and women who wait in crowded prisons for justice. They are the daughters of the perpetrators. They are the wives who gave themselves to soldiers to save their children. They are the children who have experienced impromptu, and unhealthy, maturation. They are people who were simply afraid. They are the ghosts of those whose bodies cannot be identified. And of course, they are the Tutsi who pretend that they are now safe among the people who would eliminate them.

An urban legend explores the contradictions inherent in reconciliation without justice. It is a story about a woman who lives with the man who killed her husband. Does he know that she saw him in the act? Does he know that she has AIDS? How can a woman sleep with such a man? Her immediate needs take precedent: she has fallen ill, and it is he who takes care of her.

A pastor returned to Rwanda to face justice. He had been charged with the care of four children as the parents went into hiding. The militiamen found the children and killed them. The militiamen threatened the pastor if he did not participate. He struck a child with a single blow, then ran away. What did he hope to accomplish by returning, telling his story, and facing the tribunal? Is he not, in some sense, a victim as well? He tells the judge, "“Let me disappear." His example raises the question about what can be achieved with justice.

Another story looks at the victims of the discourse of racial purity. It is the backstory of a woman who fought and died protecting Tutsis. According to the people who knew her, she was already dead before the violence broke out: her brother, believing that she prostituted herself, raped her to punish her for defiling herself.

One victim, who survived the massacre at the Ntarama Church by hiding under corpses, watches the foreigners who file into the memorial.
He knows how to categorize them right away: those who turn their heads at the sight of death, those who revolt [against the sight], those who cry, those who remain silent, those who will still ask questions with pen in hand, those who try to rationalize, to comprehend, those who will give money and those who dare not, those who cry, “Never again!”
His classification bespeaks of the irony of his life. No one takes responsibility.

Tadjo does not identify the ethnicity of many of her subjects. They are the accused, bystanders, and sometimes victims; they are seldom called either Hutus or Tutsis. The silence that prevents reconciliation is not ethnic. Nonetheless, I wonder whether or not Tadjo has done a disservice not revealing up front who was the killer and who was the kill.

These stories reveal the precariousness of daily life. Everyone lives with fear, hopelessness and loss. Amnesia has become a malady. Five years after the publication of the book, these conditions hold in Rwanda. Tadjo's analysis, furthermore, applies to the world as well as Rwanda:
Forgetting Rwanda after the noise and fury mean to become one-eyed, voiceless, handicapped. It is to march into obscurity, to shoot oneself in the arm in order to avoid a collision with the future.
Biography of Tadjo

History : Africa