Friday, September 30, 2005

The Catalan Nation

The Catalan parliament in Barcelona just voted for autonomy. I don't know all the details yet, but it appears that the regional legislators gave up on reforms of the national government that would lead to decentralization. Catalonia is one of several Spanish regions with a strong identity. However, it has not had the history of radicalism of the Basque. The statutes that were voted now refer to Catalonia as a nation, not a nationality.

ETA: This comes from a commentary in Madrid's La Gaceta (in Googl-English):
Thus, the new Statute is not a reform of the effective one but that breaks with the same one. But, so that '? What prevents or has prevented, until the moment, to the present one to establish a frame of improvement of competitions, organization and financing for Catalonia? The present Statute is not worth because the objective is another one: to change the original sovereignty of the citizens and to make of Catalonia an independent State, with international legal character. The only one which it has that expressed it clear has been ERC.

The title first of the new Statute not only defines to Catalonia like a nation, but that also defines Spain like a nation of nations, skipping doubly the Constitution of 1978. With it, the possession of the popular sovereignty, that now resides in all the Spaniards, to only one part of the citizens is transferred. Soon, that the rest is grasped as it can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuning out already?

The season premiere of the Amazing Race annoyed me. The family edition has some major flaws, and I might tune out before season's end.

Teams composed of adults seem to have advantages over those with children. The first team eliminated, the Blacks, had two children under twelve. The team was clearly slowed down because the children could not keep up with the physical tasks.

If anything bugged me about the family dimension, it was that teams were too large. Too many people to keep track of, and the people who shrieked the most were adults.

What? Are there no families with homosexual parents? Could they not find a gay couple who would race with their children? Is there at least one adopted kid, unmarried parent or broken home in the mix?

Did one team say that New Yorkers "hung out on the street like monkeys?" If someone has a tape, could you rewatch that part?

I would guess that one of the adult teams will win, either the Aiellos or the Godlewskis. Since that's too easy, I will root for the Schroeders.

Despite my dislike of the family angle, I realized that I would like a show that focused on travel within the US/North America or that used plane travel less. But I hope that they don't drive those SUV's throughout the series. There are trains in the US (albeit bad ones).

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Geographical Turn -- Part III

The Annales was not the only school of though affected by geography. In Germany, Landeskunde (regional studies) took off at the university of Bonn with the establishing of a special institute. The goals of the institute were, in part, propagandistic. They defended against the French occupation of the Rhineland. Their work was, however, founded the notion that human labors shaped the landscape.

[This is part III of a three-part series. To read part I, click here. To read part II, click here.]

They – Hermann Aubin, Theodor Frings, Franz Steinbach – used linguistic geography to understand the history of the movement of culture. Sound shifts were evidence of historical interaction between communities. Language and dialect were, therefore, means of understanding the structure of historical landscapes.

As their appointment to Strasbourg was political as well as academic, Bloch and Febvre confronted the research produced at Bonn. Bloch felt that the Bonn institute was trapped in a discourse of natural boundaries and regions. Febvre critiqued the “pseudo-geography” of borders and landscapes, but for the most part he published favorable reviews of many publications, including atlases of Saar and Alsace-Lorraine that positioned them as part of Germany.

Despite the international conflict that informed the works of the Bonn institute, Febvre incorporated much of their research into his The Rhine and its History (review in French), his work closest to The Mediterranean. He attempted to create a middle ground, both methodologically and historiographically, between French and German scholarship. Febvre created a work that was not bounded by Franco-German antagonism, that went beyond the narrow confines of that conflict, that studied the people and the place of the river in European civilization.

By the time The Mediterranean appeared, geography was on the decline. The cartographer became a tool of the state, establishing claims over territory and determining locations for bombardment. After World War Two geography was reduced to a descriptive project, not quite a science, not quite a social science, not quite its own discipline.

The Geographical Turn -- Part II

The Annales emerged at a time in which human geography became popular in the universities. Carl Sauer and Paul Vidal de la Blanche attacked the determinism of Friedrich Ratzel that prevailed at the end of the nineteenth century. Instead of topology and environment dictating the ways of life, they established opportunities for humans to shape the landscape through their traditions and labors, creating their own culture in the process. Instead of determinism, there was ‘possibilism’.

[This is part II of a three-part series. To read Part I, click here.]

Febvre himself was a student of Vidal de la Blanche (JSTOR required) and Henri Bergson (whose phenomonology encouraged reconsideration of the relationship of self to physical environment). Bloch was intimately aware of Vidal de la Blanche, but less influenced by him.

At Strasbourg Bloch and Febvre were determined to challenge established barriers, both within the academy and within space. Febvre, more than Bloch, promoted geography in the Annales. His work showed that spatial concepts had become more sophisticated and, correspondingly, more belligerent.
Frontières of a different type appeared when larger and more complicated states were created and found themselves to be in contact with populations that refused the order, peace and material or moral civilization which the larger states stood for.

In modern Europe, following the major crisis caused by the French Revolution, the various countries are tending to unite within limits that are increasingly strictly defined; the old system of ‘enclaves' and ‘exclaves' is disappearing and giving way to the continuous demarcation line, the linear ‘frontière' which can be accurately identified, and all it is is the projection on the ground of the external outlines of a nation fully conscious of itself, making it a point of honor, devoting all its might and power to ensuring the protection of a natural homogeneous territory, and in practice, forbidding any foreign power ‘le viol de sa frontière'.

Bloch was less committed to geography. He used old maps to study the agrarian regimes of France, but he was not as informed by geography as he was by sociology. He wanted historians to take more interest in geographical factors. On the one hand, this meant enriching studies with rich descriptions of the landscape, enriching the reality within the study.

On the other hand, he wanted historians to define the space (as well as the time) of their studies according to the problem they explored. No study should be confined to an arbitrary region:
Why should scholars all stop at precisely the same frontiers?
He bemoaned the state of regional studies, trapped inside narrow boundaries. Instead, historians should explore ‘broad horizons’, even of local studies.

[To read part III, click here.]

The Geographical Turn -- Part I

In 1949 Lucien Febvre seemed prepared to pass on the legacy of the Annales to the next generation. In the article “A New Kind of History” he analyzes the progress that he and Bloch had made trying to establish a different style of history that was conscious of its differences with normative historical practices – ‘history that is not our own.’

Febvre’s school – although it had ceased to be an actual school after Febvre and Bloch left Strasbourg in the mid-1930s – was aggressively interdisciplinary, bringing a range of social sciences to bear on historical subjects. The discipline closest to his heart, however, was geography. In his mind, Fernand Braudel, who had just defended his dissertation, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World of Philip II, succeeded best at combining the geographic interests of the Annales by placing the end of the pre-modern era in its center:
In order to place the major objections of Spanish policy, in the broadest sense of the term, in their natural historical and geographical context, he first studies the permanent forces that operate upon the human will and weigh upon it without its knowledge, guiding it along certain paths; thus we have an entire analysis never attempted before of what we mean when, almost negligently, we pronounce the word ‘Mediterranean', and it is seen as a guiding force, channeling, obstructing, slowing down or, on the other hand, heightening and accelerating the interplay of human forces.

Braudel’s accomplishment, from Febvre’s perspective, was not simply one of time, the longue durée. The Mediterranean pushed the historical boundaries of time-space. The politics of fourteenth and fifteenth century Spain was but a thread of the story of the relationship of humanity with the environment. It extended across millennia and across continents. Humans reshaped the landscape and gave it an orientation.

Unfortunately the contributions of the Annales have been largely reduced to the longue durée, seeing historical events within longer durations of social change. (Marc briefly discussed this aspect of the Annales in his excellent introduction to historical methodology). Bloch’s essays on interdisciplinary and comparative history have made the rounds, but it is questionable that they are read with an eye towards the work done by the Annales.

[To read part II, go here.]

Monday, September 26, 2005

Voices in the Dark

Turkey's efforts to silence talk of the Armenian Genocide would be funny if the subject was not so serious. Last week a Turkish court banned an academic conference to discuss the genocide. Instead of accepting the ban and the censorship that it implied, the conference picked up and moved to another university. The participants were, however, harassed by protesters and assailed with tomatoes and eggs.

National Lampoon's Amazing Race

Amazing Race 8 is about to begin. The season could be a disaster, if rumors are correct: families did not work well for the shows hard slog around the world. That didn't stop yours truly from claiming that he saw one of the racers, nor did it stop a journalist from using my testimony.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pocketing the Profits

Since Mystic was rediscovered as an important site of the Atlantic slave trade, the Hartford Courant has run regular specials on Connecticut and New England's involvement in slavery as an institution and industry. The net is cast wider this time, with more attention given to the entanglement of the Northeast in Southern plantation system.
That may shock many in Connecticut, who know their state was a force in the abolition of slavery, and that it sent thousands of its young men to die in the war to free the enslaved and end an inhuman, ungodly institution.

But the fact is that politically and socially and economically, Connecticut was as much a slave state as Virginia or Mississippi. It even had that most iconic of slave institutions: the plantation.

The big difference is that we hid most of our involvement because, well, we could. In large part, the slavery that Connecticut benefited from happened somewhere else.


Connecticut became an economic powerhouse in the 18th century, far out of proportion to its tiny size, because we grew and shipped food to help feed millions of slaves, in the West Indies.

The rivers and streams of Connecticut in the 19th century were crowded with more than a hundred textile mills that relied on cotton grown by hundreds of thousands of slaves, in the South.

Up to the edge of the 20th century, two towns on the Connecticut River were a national center for ivory production, milling hundreds of thousands of tons of elephant tusks procured through the enslavement or death of more than a million people, in Africa.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hartford's most famous abolitionist, said this was slavery the way Northerners like it:

All of the benefits and none of the screams.

Random Notes

All writing and no play makes Nathanael a dull boy. That and dealing with the insurance company after I was rear-ended last weekend.

The delightful Claire has resurfaced on the blogosphere. She has tried to turn blogs into resources for researchers in the past. At her new home, We are still here, she combines her interest in early modern history and literature as she delves into the depths of Project Gutenberg to find hidden gems (here, here, here, and here). One post explores French emotions after defeated by Germany in 1870-1871. Another, the controversial aspects of an ex-slave's biography.

"The natives of the Republic": the legacy of colonialism has cast a long shadow over race and immigration in France -- at least from the perspective of scholarship. Le Monde has published several articles exploring recent literature on the persistence of colonial images and ideas. Some scholars would disagree: although colonialism and the war in Algeria are 'silences of memory' which the French public does not address, the legacy of colonialism does not explain contemporary racism.

Jamaica in Berlin: as the German parties make and uneasy march towards a grand coalition, it turns out that several deputies to the Bundestag from the Linkspartei were former Stasi informants. ISN has a thorough run-down of the electoral turmoil.

After enjoying RS:INXS all summer, I am glad that the NY Times has revisited the question of how much life bands have after their singers die. Perhaps losing a front person is a major blow to a band's career, but should that mean that a group of people who have played together for years, perhaps since childhood, must sit at home?

ETA: Berkeley has started up an on-line journal of German Studies, Transit, with its first issue, "Migration, Culture, and the Nation State". And a EspacesTemps, Juliet Fall looks at why Foucault has not exercise as much influence over French geographical scholarship as American.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Speed of State

From Negative Horizon by Paul Virilio.
The State apparatus is in fact simply an apparatus of displacement, its stability appears to be assured by a series of temporary gyroscopic processes of delocalization and relocalization.

Let's look again for a moment at the Peruvian world: despite its inferior mobility due to the absence of the horse, it relied upon the distances between outposts to maintain state power; however, these distances would prove fatal with the arrival of the European equestrian forces: 'In the Incan Empire borders and subjugated provinces were defended by garrisons, strategic points were guarded by fortresses, pacification was effected, by moving people from one point to another: the conquered tribal colonies were installed in secured areas and colonies of the dominant race were established in the subjugated provinces'.

We note that pacification is accomplished here, as elsewhere, through a complete distancing between the vanquishers and the vanquished, and a similar practice is at work among the Guarani Reducciones. Transport is at the heart of the State apparatus just as it is at the heart of war, while these logistical necessities are to be traced back to their beginnings assured by the woman of burden.

Nevertheless, these displacements are still only displacements in space, transplantations from one place to another and not yet transmigrations in the time of acceleration; the weak and irregular performance of vectors is up to this point incapable of prompting a dromocratic revolution of the State, beyond the walled city, the limits of the town or region.

The distancing occurs through territorial conquest, it does not yet occur through the conquest of time. If invasion contributes to the institution of public law, its speed is not yet the Law of the world, the State is as yet only the state of siege of citadels, and not yet the state of emergency of vectors.

Delocalization is effected through colonies of populations until it comes to be realized in the perpetual movement of columns of vehicles, and this will last until the nineteenth century, when the rail will contribute less to consolidating the colonial conquest than to preparing this historical transformation that today takes the illusory title of'decolonization.

The 'liberation of colonies' brought about by the passage from the era of moving people from place to place to that of outright migrations is in fact only the most evident sign of deterritorialization; it announces the future of an anarional 'state of emergency' beyond the old state of siege on the city, where the capitalization of speed attains to such a degree that the old geopolitics tends to become a simple chronopolitics, a true war of time, beyond that of space and territories.

Bavaria screws conservatives

German elections are clearly in a mess. At the moment neither CDU or SPD has a majority, and at least one of the minor parties, the FDP, is refusing any coalition that includes anti-business interests of the Greens or SPD, denying to Germans the coalition that they want. As the two majority parties fight for the small end of the turf in order to construct legislative majorities (be it the probable Schwarze Ampel or the Jamaica option), minority parties may exert more influence over the course of politics. I think that this state of affairs would not have arisen if Merkel had not pandered so much to Stoiber, the pretender of the last elections and leader of the Bavarian Christian Socialist Union. Merkel lost votes -- not to the SPD, but to the other small parties (Greens, Post-Communists (Linkspartei), FDP), who all have more representation than the CSU.

(Is it time for German politicians to review the problems of late Weimar?)

No Lessons from Rwanda

ISN SECURITY WATCH (21/09/05) - Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande has accused the UN of failing to learn from its mistakes, as the world body announced a declaration calling for intervention to stop genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Speaking in front of the 191-nation UN General Assembly over the weekend, the foreign minister welcomed the UN declaration stating that the international community must intervene in cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing, but wondered whether the statement was simply a sign of apathy, saying action, not words, would be the measure of success or failure.

The UN adopted a blueprint for reform for the 21st century that included a new international responsibility to protect.

Murigande told the assembly: “There are probably no other member states in this august body, apart from Rwanda, where the UN has consistently neglected to learn from its mistakes, resulting in massive loss of life and untold misery. Action, not words, would be the measure of our success or failure.

“How will the United Nations respond the next time action to protect populations is required? Will there be lengthy academic or legal debates on what constitutes genocide or crimes against humanity while people die?”

The commitment was included in response to massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo, where there was no meaningful international response. ...

“It was in 1959, while still under UN trusteeship, that the first acts of genocide against Tutsis took place in Rwanda,” Murigande said. “The UN watched unmoved, and no action was ever taken.”...

“We all recall the shocking decision of the UN Security Council to withdraw peacekeepers at a time when hundreds of thousands of defenseless people needed them most,” he said.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame echoed his minister’s comments and condemned the world’s leaders for their inability to take decisive actions against human suffering, citing the ongoing crisis in Darfur as another example of the UN’s impotence.

Kagame, who was addressing university students on the sidelines of the UN summit, said: “World leaders often seemed more fixated on what to call a conflict than on how to address it.”

“Call it what you want, but what is very obvious is that people on the ground are suffering,” Kagame told the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in New York.

“‘Never again’ really should be the concern of all of us, of everyone,” he said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More Penguins

Tahitians lived in bliss with lives free of material needs and in a blissful state of moral obliviousness. In the mid-eighteenth century their isolation was interrupted when a group of empire penguins, who had swam from Antarctica, landed on their shores and attempted to convert the indigenous people to their morality (as well as establish foundations for future imperial penguin rule).

OK, that was complete BS. The penguins found Tahiti too far and too warm and never completed their journey. It was the French who visited Tahiti, and after attempting to civilize Tahitians, fantasized about screwing it over (that is, made it part of their empire). A few artists braved the ‘indecency’ to bask in the warmth of open, subaltern sexuality, only to return to France a few years later with venereal diseases.

Religious conservatives’ attachment to March of the Penguins has a familiar ring to it. Since Tacitus westerners have morality a northward orientation. In cold climate of northern Europe families incubated virtue in order to survive. Montesquieu systematized the connection between location, climate and morality in The Spirit of the Laws: cultures that are pushed towards greater cooperation to survive in harsh landscapes are more capable of living under rule of law; in forgiving landscapes law must be maintained by force. Of course, the former were located in Europe, the latter in Africa and the tropics.

Never mind that neither place was really the land of abundance that Europeans imagined. The African environment was harsh, a chronic under-population prevented exploitation. The imagined moral geography prevailed: Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North was a story of survival, his Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (a collaboration with FW Murnau) focused on sexual license.

Bringing empire penguins to Tahiti – that is, to uphold the cold as an environment in which virtue is born – reminds me of Diderot’s Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville. Louise Antoine de Bougainville had claimed Tahiti for Louis XVI when he circumnavigated the world in 1766-69. The subsequent account of the voyage was a hit, describing Tahitian society as a paradise of abundance and open sexuality. It horrified some, titillated others.

Diderot’s Supplement, a work of fiction, brought some critical perspective to both Bougainville’s voyage and to Europeans’ perception of their own morality. Diderot argued that the Tahitians had a code of sexual conduct that was effectively based on their traditions. A different morality, not an absent one. (His intent was to establish that European sexuality practices did not engender the best or most practical ethics).

In particular, Diderot wrote that the society required men and women to stay together for the duration that the woman was capable of conceiving. From the beginning of one menstrual cycle to the next, men and women were monogamous. If the woman conceive, then the couple remained together for the duration of pregnancy. Once those periods ended, the two were free to pursue other mates. Sexual practices solidified the man’s responsibility towards the woman and the child, and provided a support network for the woman.

Ironically, the sexual practices of Diderot’s Tahitians, so loose in their ways, resemble those of the emperor penguins, so upright! But I doubt that the Tahitians would appeal to religious conservatives as examples of morality. (I wish, however, they could see the particular Frenchness of love that the movie portrays.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Modern Traditionalists

While Canada may represent an extreme view on the question of secession, even in the West, it is one that is gaining ground as the culture and objectives of the virtual state become increasingly dominant. Other Western countries still have their minorities and groups demanding independence, but increasingly it is being realised in the developed world, that some kind of concessions must be made for either autonomy or secession in democracies. It is the developed world that is transforming the international system, which in turn puts pressure on other states and institutions to adopt more modern attitudes and structures.
This comes from the conclusion on an article that compares Canadian and Chinese attitudes towards secession and separatism in their respective countries (which Joel quotes). Regional movements, whether they are ethnic or not, whether they are secessional or not, are often depicted as anti-national or counter-revolutionary, resisting integration to protect a culture of traditions. But as much as regionalisms are informed by tradition, many movements strive to control of own resources -- intellectual, cultural, social, economic -- to take advantage of modernization and globalization. As much as the Confederate identity of Southerners troubles many in America, it is a motivating factor in economic development. Even the Aymara, the Andean movement that claims the legacy of the Inca Empire and appeals to a unintegrated native population, is concerned greatly with the use of Bolivia's oil resources.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Immigration Discourses

Every few weeks the French press spits out the same article: polygamy is exploding the hexagonne, the result of the immigrants from Mali who refuse to abandon the practice in contravention of national laws and norms. They come with one wife, perhaps sneak another in later. Or they divorce in the eyes of officials, but remain domiciled. The women, both young and old, are trapped by economic dependence, their lack of familiarity with French, and their adherence to traditions.

The latest of such articles appeared today in Le Figaro. Fatou, who married her cousin, is one of three wives and who has seven of her husband's nineteen children, has been technically divorced since 1993. She would like to establish her own household, but she hasn't the means to do so. Making things complicated for her, officials have refused to renew permission that allows her to continue to live with her ex-spouse.

Certainly polygamy has become a major problem, both socially and legally. Men play a game of misdirection with bureaucrats in their native and adoptive countries. They bring over women who, because of their lack of familiarity with French culture and language, are functionally dependent. They feel powerless to resist their husband's further housemaking.

Divorces are farces, allowing the men to marry again and making the women eligible for government aid -- money which the husbands more often than not send home to their native communities. The government attempts to help them gain independence by giving financial incentives to separate, paying for apartments and care. Still, the economic and psychological costs are high.

The differences between France and the US are interesting. Both countries perceive that they have problems with immigration. But each focuses on a different archetypes. For Americans, the (illegal) immigrant is often a gang-banger or drug dealer -- a character who breaks the law and consumes public resources.

The French also associate their immigrants with hoodlumism, but they use a paradigm of the subordination of women to understand the problem. The wife in a plural marriage is a carryover from a primitive and corrupt society. Her condition worsens because she is incapable of assimilating: she has not been educated because the society from which she comes does not value intelligent women. Consequently, the French discourse focuses on saving these women (and their families) from men who liberate themselves by living in France but turn their households into bastions of tradition.

Women -- school girls, in particular -- have been a constant obsession of French politicians since the 1830s. The July Monarchy was the first regime to take widespread public education seriously. The laws, written by Guizot, did not cover girls, and religious institutions saw the education of girls as a domain wherein they could establish themselves.

Noticing this, Michelet raised the alarm that the clergy were turning women against the progress of democracy. Priests and nuns taught girls only to do the housework, but they armed them with stock phrases to counteract the republican ideas that men received in the public sphere. According to Michelet, girls were instructed to become counterrevolutionaries who turned the hearth into a battleground. Not only were the accomplishments of the Revolution at risk, but the French family itself: men and women were permanently pitted against each other.

To be sure, the French republicans and democrats were interested in nothing more than retrieving girls from priestly influence. They were not interested in educating women to liberate them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Zoomorphism gone awry

March of the Penguins is an advertisement for monogamy? The French film about mating and parenting in extreme climates has been appropriated by religious conservatives as an example of positive family values: the penguin parents remain faithful to raising their offspring for the duration of the cold winter in the Antarctic. However, as it has already been noted, their monogamy lasts only for the one mating cycle; the next year the birds are free to court another.

But, the movie could also be taken as proof of the equal value of women's work! Throughout the film, each parent takes turns making a perilous crossing of the ice sheet to fish in the cold waters; the other cares for the newborn, keeping it warm and away from harm. The first parent to take this trip is the female ... while the father carries the egg with his feet so that it does not touch the ice. So, March of the Penguins is an advertisement for revisiting the ERA!

(HT to Brdgt)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Random Notes

Rock Star: INXS is winding down. Got over my Jordis love, and I am ready for her to go back to the coffee shop. I loved last night's performances of "new songs", especially JD's road song, "Pretty Vegas".

Speaking of mad music genius, who new that our president was one? This picture had been circulating the internet, showing the president playing the guitar with Clint Black. Mercy, has it been misunderstood. What chord is that? I'm thinking an A flat maj -9, but it could be more complex if the 3rd and 4th strings are open. He could be making a transition in a jazz standard to d flat min 7. But I always assumed that his tastes were more country, so maybe this is part of some master plan to revitalize Memphis.

Lots of NOLA blogging out there. Pearsall, who should have settled into his new home by now, has a useful collection of links (here and here). Should conservatives be mad about the federal response? Ask Andrew Sullivan. Fafblog comes out with some useful information of what to do if you are facing a disaster like Katrina and are particularly crafty. Take it with a grain of salt:
You will need:
# construction paper
# glue or glue sticks
# a can of baking soda
# some play-doh (optional)
# 200 gallons of distilled water and 100 pounds of canned food

Make-And-Bake Clay Levee!

Make flood prevention easy AND fun with this emergency arts and crafts project!

1. Mix some cornstarch, baking soda, and water in a large bowl. Make sure it's evenly mixed!
2. Cook over low heat, stirring for about 15 minutes
3. When your mixture starts to thicken, take it off the stove and let it cool
4. Mold into an 8 foot high 20 foot wide levee
5. Decorate with seashells and macaroni!
Creature of the Shade, a self-proclaimed literary geographer, asks, "is New Orleans dead?" They are more resilient:
When we speak of the death of a city, then, all we really mean is a wound, some change that will always be manifest. And if we really mean death in the permanent sense -- well, that only comes to a city when we stop mourning it. On that score, New Orleans has many great years ahead, and today, I wish it long life.
Geitner and Ted have some personal reflections. The former is the observations of the evacuation that took place more than a week ago before the storm hit. In the latter, Ted recovers his memories of the Bayeau.

Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorites, may go to jail for admitting genocide -- for saying that Turkey is responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Armenians and Kurds. (At Cronaca) The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interviews Harald Welzer, whose new book, Täter, deals with genocide.

Viele Täter aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg argumentieren, sie wären selbst erschossen worden, wenn sie sich geweigert hätten.

Das sagen alle. Aber es hat mit der Realität nichts zu tun. Für die Zeit des „Dritten Reichs” gibt es keinen einzigen nachweisbaren Fall, wo jemand, weil er sich weigerte, an einer Massenerschießung teilzunehmen, gravierende Folgen zu tragen gehabt hätte. Den Mythos des Befehlsnotstands hat die historische Forschung längst widerlegt.

(Briefly: Everyone says that, but that has nothing to do with reality. During the time of the Third Reich there was not one single referenceable case where someone, because they refused to participate in a mass execution, had suffered grave consequences.)

Muninn is blogging up a storm about his native Norway. Lots of posts on history and patrimony, many from his cycling excursions. Check out this one on Mosterøy and the Utstein Kloster. Keeping in Scandinavia, Peter Levine reflects his reading of the Saga of Laxdaela, one of the regional sagas, in his trip to Iceland. The sagas are some of my favorite literature because of their near realism and reflection on social and legal conventions. Furthermore, there has never since been a hero like Egil.

On other historical stuff: the latest Carnivalesque is out at (a)musings of a graduate student. Sorry I didn't notice, Sharon. Also, Figoblog links to a number of places to find digital books and texts (post in French, although the linked sites are in various languages). I am going to look through the Electronic Ecclesiastical Codices of Cologne, although my Latin sucks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Awash in Civilization, Redux

William Broad writes today in the NY Times about other nation's experiences with flood control, in particular the ongoing projects of Netherlands to protect its cities. (Big HT to Brdgt).
On a cold winter night in 1953, the Netherlands suffered a terrifying blow as old dikes and seawalls gave way during a violent storm.

Flooding killed nearly 2,000 people and forced the evacuation of 70,000 others. Icy waters turned villages and farm districts into lakes dotted with dead cows.

Ultimately, the waters destroyed more than 4,000 buildings.

Afterward, the Dutch - realizing that the disaster could have been much worse, since half the country, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, lies below sea level - vowed never again.

After all, as Tjalle de Haan, a Dutch public works official, put it in an interview last week, "Here, if something goes wrong, 10 million people can be threatened."

So at a cost of some $8 billion over a quarter century, the nation erected a futuristic system of coastal defenses that is admired around the world today as one of the best barriers against the sea's fury - one that could withstand the kind of storm that happens only once in 10,000 years.

The Dutch case is one of many in which low-lying cities and countries with long histories of flooding have turned science, technology and raw determination into ways of forestalling disaster.

... While scientists hail the power of technology to thwart destructive forces, they note that flood control is a job for nature at least as much as for engineers. Long before anyone built levees and floodgates, barrier islands were serving to block dangerous storm surges. Of course, those islands often fall victim to coastal development.

"You'll never be able to control nature," said Rafael L. Bras, an environmental engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who consults on the Venetian project. "The best way is to understand how nature works and make it work in our favor."

... In humanity's long struggle against the sea, the Dutch experience in 1953 was a grim milestone. The North Sea flood produced the kind of havoc that became all too familiar on the Gulf Coast last week. When a crippled dike threatened to give way and let floodwaters spill into Rotterdam, a boat captain - like the brave little Dutch boy with the quick finger - steered his vessel into the breach, sinking his ship and saving the city.

"We were all called upon to collect clothes and food for the disaster victims," recalled Jelle de Boer, a Dutch high school student at the time who is now an emeritus professor of geology at Wesleyan University. "Cows were swimming around. They'd stand when they could, shivering and dying. It was a terrible mess."

The reaction was intense and manifold. Linking offshore islands with dams, seawalls and other structures, the Dutch erected a kind of forward defensive shield, drastically reducing the amount of vulnerable coastline. Mr. de Haan, director of the water branch of the Road and Hydraulic Engineering Institute of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, said the project had the effect of shortening the coast by more than 400 miles.

... "Nature will throw big things at us once in a while," [Bras] said. "There's always the possibility that nature will trump us."
When it comes to the problems with flooding that cities face, New Orleans is peculiar, but it is not unique. Humanity has a history of dialogue with environment that is a repository of knowledge that can both legitemize and inform rebuilding cities in the Gulf Coast -- a dialogue that includes more and more environmental preservation. Failing to resolve these problems for New Orleans (allowing it to grow to its previous size) will not solve the environmental problems faced by other American cities.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Awash in Civilization

David Sucher, an author on urban planning and community development, wrote the following to me in a comment:
Do you folks think it is worth rebuilding if it requires massive and expensive flood control measures? How much will you pay?

It seems to me that much of the city is in a place which current "sustainable growth" thinking would reject out of hand.
Despite the tone of his comment, I don’t think that he has decided himself whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt, rather noting that the landscape and the environment of the city make reconstruction almost inconceivable. [Added:] He has posted some thoughts here and here.

David knows more about healing a city and keeping it healthy than I. I can speak first as an historian, second as a regionalist, which means that I only know of the historical challenges faced by cities as they develop a relationship with the natural and the social world. With all due respect to David, I don’t think that sustainable development, at least seen from inside the city, can be the sole, or even major, factor by which to judge reconstruction. Indeed, New Orleans’ disadvantage, its position with respect to major bodies of water, is also its advantage, and historically speaking, the growth of cities has always been a function of their relationship with water.

Note: I consider this to be a vital conversation, not just because of New Orleans, but because other cities will face environmental crises in the future. Everyone should chime in.

New Orleans cannot be taken in this instance as a collection of real estate properties and neighborhoods. Far more important is its relationship with its environment. Water both makes and destroys it. The city is situated at the best transfer point between the Caribbean and the Heartland. It’s positionality resembles other cities, including David’s own Seattle.

However, it is on poor land. It sinks every year from the settling ground; it will continue to do so because environmental infrastructure prevents the Mississippi from depositing silt to build it up. Consequently, New Orleans will become evermore like a bowl, distending downward and becoming the perfect receptacle for water.

The birth of the urban has, however, always been a matter of water. In Mesopotamia, urban governments and communities grew up around water control: irrigation of agricultural lands and limiting of inundation. In both the Eridu Genesis and the Enima Elish, cities chief role was moving water through the landscape; Sargon, the Akkadian king, was himself a water manager.

Fernand Braudel connected cities and waters more forcefully: water management was a priority of European civilization. Indeed, Braudel claims in The Identity of France that the primordial consideration in the location of a city is its relationship with a river or other body of water. It becomes a junction of two types of routes, fluvial and terrestrial. The city becomes a conduit between its hinterland and international markets. I would not be exaggerating to say that Netherlands, the ‘first capitalist economy’, was built on water management. Land clearing, canals and dykes are a centuries-old process that has been woven into urban development more than in America. And unlike America, it has been woven into urban democracy: political development involved all citizens in funding further development of water management. This ongoing dialogue with its river, swamps, and the North Sea gave Netherlands more cultivatable land in the south and established a ring of cities well positioned for the world economy that would explode in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Unfortunately Americans have never taken this subject as seriously as they should at any level of government.

Because of cities’ relationship with water, they are always at odds with them. They make improvements to flow and flood control, averting disasters in the short term. In the long term, floods become more and more devastating, something that communities along the Danube have learned recently.

New Orleans has been a viable city for centuries – with good reason. Well positioned between two large regional economies at a point where one must change modes of transport in order to move from river to sea and vice-versa. The economic effects of the hurricane will make clear very soon the role the New Orleans played in the American economy: not just gas, but a host of tropical products. Logistically there might be no better location than NOLA. Even if the city is bulldozed, someone at sometime will consider how to put a port there. That “new New Orleans” will be less likely to provide good neighborhoods for people who work and live there.

New Orleans is a unique case of a common problem faced by cities; over time New Orleans will become less exceptional. Other American cities face dangers from floods, especially with subsidence. Some of those threats are related to other dangers, notably seismic activity, as in my native Los Angeles. As an historian, I fear that something would be lost if we only consider our communities from the city limits in. In fact, I am not moved to dislike the location of New Orleans the way that I would a gated community that is shoved up against a rock face.

In general, the relationship of the urban to the landscape is a vital component of the internal health of the city. It determines what kind of city exists, how it looks, how it lives, and how it speaks. I don't think that sustainable development will have anything to say about whether or not NOLA is rebuilt. National economic imperatives will prevail. The environmentalists and urban planners will follow. I hope that they will be taken seriously.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Let them eat cake!

The French Revolution had its pre-history: its origins in France's wars with Britain, the Jansenist challenges to the authority of the king, the financial difficulties of the monarchy, the rising fortunes of the bourgeoisie, the Enlightenment, growth of literacy and the public sphere. The unique situation made France a tinderbox.

The Revolution, however, took on a life of its own. Perhaps the most basic questions in French historiography concerns the continuity between the problems of Ancien Regime and the events of 1789 and after. As much as the political, social and cultural climate gave critics of the monarchy popular voices, their ideas did not end up leading the revolution. Other revolutionaries, radicals, came to the fore with new ideas that challenged the order of the Old Regime. They dared to constitute their nation anew, something never before imagined. Even the notion of 'revolution' as something more than a cyclical disturbance took on new meaning of recreation and separation from the past. As much as their were origins to the crisis, the revolution itself could not be imagined on the basis of its origins. As Roger Chartier noted,
The revolutionary event had a momentum and dynamic of its own that were not contained in any of its conditions of possibility. In this sense, the Revolution had no origins, properly speaking. Its absolute belief that it represented a new beginning had a performative value: by announcing a radical break with the past, it instituted one.

Louis XVI initially stood with the Revolution. The calling of the estates general to resolve the country's financial crisis was a risky, but necessary act. In 1788 a hailstorm destroyed the crops in central France and the Paris basin. Peasants would not be able to pay taxes and would themselves need help. Louis planned to ask the nobility to allowed itself to be taxed, an request that would open up the possibility that the powers of the monarchy would be limited.

No one came to Paris in 1789 to behead the king. In 1793 Louis XVI would be judged on his reactions to the crises that France would face, his insensitivity, his corruption, not what came before.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Silent Saint

It is too early to discuss rebuilding New Orleans when so many lives are still threatened. We should give a short, though conditional, "yes."

But the question has already been asked, and people versed in urban planning like Witold Rybczynski and in punditry like Denis Asstert (sic) have already said a thing or two on the matter. Rybczynksi puts it best when he draws the connection between humans and their physical environment as part of the essential bond that is community.
[I] is more than the loss of lives and property, it is also the eradication of a sense of community itself, which, however imperfect, is always a measure of human achievement. In the case of New Orleans, it is also the loss of a distinctive urban fabric. It is—was—a rare example of French city-building in the United States ... . Founded by the French in 1722 and then taken over by the Spanish (who built all those wrought-iron balconies), New Orleans has a cultural and architectural richness that is unique among the bland, sliced-bread cities of the continent.
New Orleans brings together many strands of global history: the presence of France and Spain, the development of agriculture in the Ohio Valley, the migration of people to and around the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, slavery and the emancipation. Its music testifies to the meeting of cultural influences.

I have said a thing or two about rebuilding German cities at this blog. Each confronted complex problems about what rebuilding meant, not just restoring housing and essential services, but how much of the architectural heritage and public spaces of the old city to restore. Each city made different choices about what to save and what to leave in the rubble based on material and cultural needs. Berlin, east and west, was shaped by competition in the Cold War and, more recently, memorialization oatrocitieses of German history. Munich and, to a lesser extent, Dresden rebuilt as much as possible to their Baroque glories, wiping away evidence of war. Cologne was almost completely replaced. Churches were saved, as if the best that Cologners had to save was their spirituality. Many buildings were partly completed with modern materials, especially glass, emphasizing the destruction of the community. With its extensive devastation anyone could have asked "why rebuild here"?

New Orleans should be rebuilt -- it has rebuilt before, after a fire destroyed nearly nine hundred buildings in 1788. There is every need to have a city at the mouth of the Mississippi River, every need to have a gateway into the Caribbean world. Jazz needs its birthplace. Preliminarily it looks like much of the patrimony has been spared extensive damage.

Ironically, the people who were left behind -- the poor, elderly, mostly African-American -- may suffer from reconstruction. Orleans may be gentrified, replaced by posh homes that are out of reach. Or it can be subjected to a 'new brutalism': erecting of simple, overly modern blocapartmentsts in which no community can thrive. More likely a combination of the two will occur.

Either way, the rebuilding of New Orleans should not be taken as the opportunity to turn it into Main Street, Disneyland. It doesn't need to clean up -- not the image of Storyville, not the experience of the tragedy that has just occurred.

Surrender Monkeys

On September 7, 1914 Parisian taxi drivers ferried 6,000 reservists onto the battlefield of the Marne.

Why can't we do the same?