Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Blogistani Revolution and the Jews

An interesting article on Iranian blogger-in-exile Hossein Derakhshan on his visit to Israel.
"I am trying to show Israelis that there are lots of people like myself living in Iran, with the same moderate ideas about Israel and the world. Most Iranians want normal relations with Israel, and do not view Israelis as bloodthirsty Jews who want to kill all Muslims, which is how the regime tries to portray them." ...

"When the world focused on stopping Iran's development of nuclear arms, it led to the electoral defeat of a moderate president and the rise to power of a more radical president ... I understand the fear of nuclear arms, but the focus has to be on democratic means and not on halting nuclear development. If the bomb is in the right hands, it won't be dangerous at all."

Instead of preventing the development of nuclear arms, Derakhshan wants to halt the mutual demonization of Iran and Israel. He suggests, for example, that expatriate Iranian Jews living in Israel write about their everyday lives on Farsi blogs. ...

"For the past few years I have been preoccupied mainly with the dissemination of the blog idea," says Derakhshan. "In order for this medium to gain momentum, I convinced famous public figures to publish blogs, provided them with technical support and built an index of Iranian blogs." ...

"People in Iran," says Derakhshan, "will be very interested in discovering that there are Iranians in Israel living completely normal lives, without any connection to bombings and incitement." ...
From his own blog:
But in terms of what the Israelis think about Iranians, I still need to work more. So far I've talked to a lot of people and they've all been very friendly and nice, even after hearing my name and where I come from. But I'm going to Jerusalem today and possibly Ramallah to talk to more people and get more reactions.

If I can manage to get into the Palestinian Authoritiy territories, I'll still focus on my main question which is about Iran, not Sharon, or settlements, or Hamas, etc. I'll ask the ordinary Palestinians about how they perceive Iran and its leaders and what do they think about Iran-Israel relationship.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Further Dispatches from the Memory Wars

Chirac, straddling the line between figurehead and lame duck, declared that May 10 will be the annual commemoration of slavery (text of his speech.) During the announcement, Chirac said:
... since its origin, the republic has been incompatable with slavery.
Actually, the republic did a good job of ignoring, even helping, slavery, even though it was outlawed.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sunday Reading

If you are serious about French history and politics, the Klarsfeld Report ("Law, History and the Obligation of Memory") is essential. Arno Klarsfeld reviews how democracies have legislated memory, not just laws concerning denial and recognition of attrocities, but commemorations as well. His conclusions may prove hard to swallow: it is impossible to do a fair, critical history of colonization without mentioning its positive aspects. The report is in French, but I should have some translated excerpts in a few hours at Cliopatria have translated several passages at Cliopatria.

At Air Pollution, AIR compares Brokeback Mountain to EM Forster's Maurice, a book that placed homosexuality in the British university. The question: why does the narrative structure of the former necessarily end in tragedy, while the latter requires a happy ending? [Edited]

The ascension of Evo Morales to the Bolivian presidency has sparked interest in Tiwanaku, a pre-Incan city (Global Voices Online has several links here.) The notion of trans-Andean civilization (Aymara) has certainly come of age.

For those of you wondering how government works, just read Fafblog:
Q. How does a War Bill become a War Law?
A. It all begins with the president, who submits a bill to the president. If a majority of both the president and the president approve the bill, then it passes on to the president, who may veto it or sign it into law. And even then the president can override himself with a two-thirds vote.
"Your scare quote, they are really scaring me": Matt Christie is blogging about usage. It's the year of Levinas in the French press (start here.) Medievalist John Baldwin in interviewed in Le Fig about Marc Bloch. At Salon, Oprah's vindictive interrogation of James Frey (let's hope next Oprah vicitm, Elie Wiesel, gets better treatment.) At Fantastic Metropolis, Kazu Ishiguro's use of time and space.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Missionary Positions

Googl-ing references from Buttimer’s book, I came upon this interesting article from the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Geography and the Church.” I have used the encyclopedia a few times because of the importance of Catholic politics to my dissertation. It seems to express a desire to prove the openness of the Church to modernity and its contribution to the progress of human knowledge.

This article struck me because it almost admits the connection between missionary activities, the production of knowledge, and imperialism. It argues that the clergy contributed significantly to the evolution of geography, both practice and knowledge. Moreover, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the imperialism of the 19th century, the vision of the world went hand in hand with the expansion of Christianity, outwardly and inwardly.
The motives that led to geographical progress at that time were greed and lust of conquest, as well as a far nobler motive than these -- the spread of Christianity. To this mission the most intelligent, the most upright, and the most persevering of all explorers devoted themselves. Consequently, it was they who achieved the greatest success in the field of discovery during the Middle Ages and far into later days, right up to the time when modern scientific research became its successor. The second purpose, geographical theory, commonly called universal geography, could only be profitably attempted after adequate progress had been made in the auxiliary sciences of astronomy, mathematics, and physics. But herein, too, medieval clerical scholars were the first to show their clearsightedness. For them there was no more attractive pursuit than to trace the vestiges of the Creator in all the marvellous harmony of the universe.

Click here to read more

World of Missionaries

As missionaries ventured out into the world, first to Northern Europe and the British Isles, then to Asia, they recorded observations in their travel diaries that would become a wellspring of geographic information about the frontiers of Christianity. They described political conditions, genres de vie, culture, etc/, of foreign lands more than give a sense of spatial distribution. However, they did establish the boundaries of ecclesiastical territories.
The subsequent centuries were spent in exploring the North. To this end a centre of operations was established which, for the purpose of the scientific discoverer could not have been more wisely selected in the conditions then prevalent. Then followed the foundation of monasteries in the British Isles which sent out in all directions their monks, well equipped with learning and well fitted to become the pioneers of culture. To these missionaries we owe the earliest geographical accounts of the northern countries and of the customs, religions, and languages of their inhabitants. They had to define the boundaries of the newly established dioceses of the Church. Their notes, therefore, contained the most valuable information, though the form was somewhat crude, and Ritter very justly traces the source and beginning of modern geography in these regions back to the "Acta Sanctorum".
Their diaries and reports introduced knowledge of the non-Christian world that, during the Middle Ages, enticed merchants to set up commercial operations. The wealth generated supported further geographical exploration by clergy. The article claims explorers to the mid-sixteenth century as primarily emissaries of the Church, recognizing their commercial and imperial ambitions as secondary, albeit still important. This Christian dimension of geographical curiosity was more important in Medieval Europe’s relationship with the Orient (especially China) than in later relationships with Africa and the Americas.

World of the Creator

Understanding the physical world was another area in which the Church contributed to geograpy. Theologians explored both physical world and the Biblical description thereof, testing the contradictions between the two but regarding both as works of the creator (after Augustine.) The orthodoxy of the Church by no means limited them. Most important contributions came from clergy as scholars, who posed questions about the nature of the universe and who preserved and rediscovered classical works and engaging Islamic scholarship; Albertus Magnus was particularly important.
Blessed Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), a master with whom in the universality of his knowledge only Alexander von Humboldt is comparable, opened up to his contemporaries the entire field of physiography, by means of his admirable exposition of Aristotle <01713a>, laid the foundations of climatology, botanical geography, and, in a certain sense, even of comparative geography. ... For all of these Albertus Magnus had opened the door to the rich treasure-house of Greek and Arabian learning. Still more far-reaching in their results were the labours of the scholars who applied themselves principally to mathematical geography.

World of Empire

The academic contributions continued after 1650, but they played a secondary role in the development of the discipline. Clergy, especially Jesuits, belonged to and supported scientific societies. However, their specific contributions become blurred and circumstantial–it’s not clear how they contributed beyond their involvement.
About the middle of the seventeenth century it was left almost exclusively for missionaries, going about their unselfish, silent, and consequently much under-estimated labours, to continue geographical research until, towards the end of the eighteenth century, great expeditions were sent out, supported by states and corporations and equipped with every possible scientific and technical aid and appliance. The missionaries achieved results from their work that entitle them to the credit of having been the pioneers of scientific geography and its strenuous co-operators. Bold expeditions exploring the interior of continents became more frequent.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century the progress of geographical science, as was to be expected, is due chiefly to laymen, who, without religious aims, have continued the work on the foundations already provided.
The encyclopedia entry does much to establish the role of the Church in the evolution of geography, admits it contributed to capitalist and colonization, but then dissociates itself from the discipline at the point when it geography becomes a tool of imperialism: an apology for an unwitting collaboration with European states.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Dispatches from the Memory Wars

The news from France's conflict over the loi 23 février 2005 (the one that said colonization was, on the balance, good for the colonized): Chirac and the parliamentary leaders will test the constitutionality of the particular article of the law:
Comme s'accordent à le penser les juristes, le Conseil constitutionnel devrait déclarer que cette formule relève du domaine réglementaire et non de la loi. Le gouvernement pourra alors l'abroger par décret. En ayant recours à l'article 37-2 de la Constitution – idée dont Bernard Accoyer, président du groupe UMP à l'Assemblée, revendique la primeur –, Chirac, Villepin et Debré écartent une nouvelle discussion au Parlement qui aurait pu rouvrir des plaies, à droite comme à gauche.
Saying that the article is "regulative" rather than "legislative" is a big "take-back," sidestepping the resentment that the law raised. It's still to be seen how interested people, the 'colonized' and historians, will react.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Humboldt Discovers the Human Landscape

From Geography and the Human Spirit by Anne Buttimer (1993):
For those many geographers whose energies for a century or so had been spent on basic compilations of information and perfection of mapping techniques, Cartesian geometry and Newtonian mechanics offered new frontiers for rational and elegant renderings of the earth’s surface. Many would also hearken to the optimistic promises of eighteenth-century Encyclopédisme and the prospects of improving the human condition through societal applications of scientific rationality. Like Pope Alexander IV, who in 1494 drew the Tordecellas line to separate the Spanish and Portuguese territories in the New World, Immanuel Kant would define the legitimate territories of intellectual curiosity for particular fields in the early 18oos. Geographers should focus on space, the outer sense; to historians belonged the study of time, the inner sense, and all that this implied in terms of emotion and human experience .

It was still in a Kantian spirit, while transcending the letter of his epistcmological la that geography’s two great pioneers, Alexander von Humboldt (1769—1859) and Carl Ritter (1779—1859), made their decisive contributions to the discipline. Far from armchair speculation about human nature or worries about boundaries separating science and humanities, Humboldt’s Cosmos remains even today the unrivaled model for a geography imbued with the humanist spirit. Together with Carl Ritter, the other acclaimed father of modern geography, Humboldt moved geography beyond the routine-operational compiling of information, classification, and mapping of earth features. The earth and its panorama of diversified landscapes contained for him the drama of civilization and biosphere.

In their actual writings, the old distinctions between Platonic and Aristotelian ontology would reappear: Ritter’s Erdkunde read the earth’s landscapes as script of a divine plan for humanity, Humboldt’s Cosmos found in the cosmos itself the “sacred forceanimated by the breath of life." While attuned to the general quest for Ganzheiten [wholeness], which characterized their day, both defied the Kantian boundaries of geography as mere mapmaking: time, process, causal connections were all included in their mirrors on reality. Humboldt was fascinated by the diverse ways in which humans had internalized nature and landscape. As a pioneering voice in the exploration of environmental perceptions, he would actually subvert the Kantian orthodoxy that geography was simply the description of the earth’s surface. [Emphases mine]

Buttimer's book stresses the tension between geographer's self-perception as scientists, their desire to turn to human matters, and the discipline's uncomfortable relationship with "its parents," geology and history. It is an excellent book about the art of geographical description and the history of the discipline as set against an unfolding Western philosophy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The "Middle Ground" and the Colonies

So far I have greatly enjoyed The War that Made America, the documentary about the American theater of the Seven Years War (some might call it the French-Indian War.) At least the first part looked seriously at the political maneuverings and social context behind the start of hostilities, the second part (for obvious reasons) dealing more with combat.

What has impressed me so far is the melding of Native American politics into the narrative of conflict between the British, French and their respective colonists. Perhaps the subject matter lends itself to Richard White's middle ground, the attempt of natives to establish themselves between the colonizing empires (a good, brief summary of White's thesis is here.) In the first episode, the dealings of native leaders are contextualized as attempts to confirm possession of Iroquois lands in the Ohio Valley as European commercial endeavors expand westward and southward.

In the past I have been attracted to the paradigm of the middle ground, and I have wondered whether it could be used (or has been used) outside the context of the Americas and situations of contact between natives and Europeans. It stresses adaptation, even accomodation, in the quest to retain autonomy. Furthermore, it allows modernization without abandoning cultural persistence.

One thing, however, piqued my curiosity. It concerned a different "middle ground," if you would, the one American colonists used to fight Britain's war with France. The second episode makes great hay over the negotiations that occurred between British commanders and their would be soldiers, be they colonists or Native Americans. This invites comparisons between how the European powers approached both groups. The Virginians are more easily convinced to fight with the British, and in the "European style," because of George Washington's enthusiasm for British military traditions. The New Englanders resist, mostly because they will not fight under the direct authority of a British commander, but only their own military leaders (as per their enlistment contract.)

The narrative clearly and deliberately sets up future conflict: a perception among New Englanders that they did not belong to Britain's hierarchy. The presentation, however, overemphasizes the point. The narrator sets out the reasons for New Englanders' resistance, it is then dramatize (using almost the same words the narrator used), and then it is explained again. No other scene is presented in this way. It gives the impression that the American colonists, like the Indians, are maneuvering for their autonomy within the imperial system, but in a manner that is less cooperative.

[ETA] On a slightly related topice, I found this article on Benjamin Franklin's appeal for unity among the American states. The author describes Franklin's American model as a predecessor to internationalism. I have doubts. It seems that Franklin addressed the problem of autonomy as European imperialism gained strength; unity was a means of preventing the Americans from becoming playthings of the Old World. Probably closer to EU than UN.

Anyway, I can't wait for the final two episodes this week.

[ETA] The show's website has a good linkography of online resources about 18th C North America, as well as the war itself, emphasizing primary sources.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

F---, F---, F---, F---, F---

Somehow four pages of my chapter have been lost in the digital ether. I have to type them back in--from handwritten notes.

Sunday Reading

Christopher Hitchens wrote a half-assed review of one of my favorite novels, Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecouchet. "This novel was plainly intended to show its author's deep contempt, however comedically expressed, for all grand schemes, most especially the Rousseauean ones, to improve the human lot." Obviously, but Hitchens missed Flaubert's concerns about bourgeois society in general. Bouvard and Pecouchet were the lowest rung of a culture that valued literacy as a means to enlightenment. Unfortunately, literacy did not raise the spirit of the individual. It made him a valuable part of an emerging bureaucratic system. The comical errors that the two clerks made could have been made by any 'white-collar workers' (although not with as much frequency.)

Carnival of Feminists #7 is up.

At Die Welt, Emanuele Ottolenghi criticizes "Europe's Good Jews", the pressure from the European intelligentsia to say that Jews should turn against nationalism (Israel, that is) as their moral obligation as inheritors of the Holocaust. (In German) (Perhaps the question should be asked why analyses of nationalism often apply disproportionately to Israel than to other nations, as if they should eternally be 'a people without a country.') [ETA] Commenter Peet_G notes that the Ottolenghi article orginially appeared in English. Here is a link.

At Fistful of Euros, Mrs. T comments on how Germany's legal prohibitions against the use of Nazi symbols has turned on people who use them to rally against the rise of extremism in Germany.

Le Monde reviews the memoires of Marc Bloch's war experiences (not just WWII.) (In French)

Alexander at Pruned has an interesting post about the re-emergence of agriculture in areas of Los Angeles' asphalt jungle. Joel at Far Outliers has been putting up posts about baseball in Asia and Australia (here and here.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Courage and Indifference

From Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.
The day that Henry returned with the Ghanaians June 8, Major Luc Racine led a small team of [military observers] into Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali, to do a reconnaissance of a French-run orphanage called Sr. André.

The orphanage was one of the places that Bernard Kouchner [of Doctors without Borders] had on his radar, and the situation there was desperate. The children, mostly Tutsis, were crammed into the building with little food or water and they could rarely even venture safely out into the yard. The orphanage was surrounded by unfriendly people, including militiamen.

To get there , Racine had to negotiate past twenty-one barriers. Nyamirambo was one of the few densely populated areas left in Kigali and was full of militia. All the barriers there were set up close to drinking joints, and the people at the barriers were boozed up on homemade banana beer. Huts were so jammed together on the sides of the road that driving along it was like going through a tunnel.

Racine drove deeper and deeper into Nyamirambo he seemed to be penetrating the heart of the Interahamwe [militias]. The people of the suburb were so poor it was hard for them to imagine a future and they had been receptive to the Hutu hate message.

The orphanage was a square building surrounded by a fence, and jammed up against the fence on all sides were more huts. When Racine and his team drove into the orphanage compound and parked near the one big tree, the French missionary who ran the place burst into tears. But the arrival of the UN vehicles had drawn attention, and soon hundreds of locals had climbed onto the roofs of the surrounding huts, and some even hopped down to stare in the orphanage windows at the children.

Inside the building, a couple of the adults who had been attempting too care for the children had lost it and become near-crazed with fear. Racine knew there was no way he could bring the children out that day. The crowd was getting ugly, and the UN’s evacuation of orphans was a potentially explosive issue. But he decided to try to move the adults who had suffered breakdowns.

With the occasional militiaman now firing his weapon toward the orphanage, getting anyone out was going to be tricky. They managed to dodge the bullets and reach the cover of the tree, but on the way to the truck, the French journalist was hit in one buttock, and they had to grab him, fling him inside and make their escape.

Racine stepped on the gas and started ramming his way through the barriers, making it past each one just ahead of the word being passed on to stop them. In Racine and his team’s wake, Nyamirambo exploded—the Interahamwe had no compunction about firing at their own people when denied a target. The suburb became so chaotic, we weren’t able to get back into the neighbourhood until Kigali fell to the RPF three and a half weeks later—even Kagame’s troops had trouble taking control of the area.

That failed mission was exactly the nature of the tasks I had to ask the [military observers] to do in order to try to deliver medical supplies and save, protect, feed and possibly evacuate innocent people. By this point we had received 921 requests from the outside world to go in and save Rwandan individuals or entire families, and 252 requests to rescue expatriates. All of those people had connections pulling strings for them through New York, or even calling us directly.

Even though Racine and his team had made it out of St. André’s orphanage alive, Racine was devastated by the thought of not being able to rescue the children. He knew that after he’d left there was a good chance that all the kids would have been murdered—people had been looking in the windows waiting to pounce.

It took every ounce of our effort, resources and courage to produce tiny results, yet all around us hundreds of thousands of human beings were being ripped apart and millions were running for their lives. Sometimes we did more harm than good. After each and every mission, failed or “successful,” I had to wonder whether it was ethical for me to keep my men at such a level of operational intensity and risk.

After I got home from Rwanda, and the years slowly revealed to me the extent of the cynical manoeuvring by France, Belgium, the United States, and the RPF and the RGF, among others, I couldn’t help but feel that we were a sort of diversion, even sacrificial lambs, that permitted statesmen to say that the world was doing something to stop the killing. In fact we were nothing more than camouflage.

When I hit my personal rock bottom in the late nineties, after I testified at Arusha for the first time, it was because I had finally realized the extent to which I had been duped. I had pushed my people to do real things that ultimately saved human lives, but which in the scheme of the killing seemed nearly insignificant, and all the time I had thought I was leading the effort to try to solve the crisis.

Listing Academics

I have already used up my allowance of list-writing for the moment, but you can go to a few places where academics discuss what works they think are most important (and of course, disagree):

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Tricouleur Across Europe

This resource came in over the H-Net wire: Nations, Borders, Identities: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in European Experiences and Memories, a British-German research project "ntended to examine these experiences and memories of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in the European nations and regions involved in a long-term perspective."

Taking Pity on "The Pity of War"

Historian Niall Ferguson turns to fortune cookie writing, creating a history of the future that sees grave consequences--a World War--in the absence of a commitment to preemption. (HT: Ralph Luker) The gist: turning against Bush's bold policies created the conditions of appeasement that will allow militaristic powers in Iran to move from (not so) covert support of terrorism to outright warfare with weapons of mass destruction.

I'm sure plenty of others have written about Ferguson's screediness, as well as his potential recklessness--more punditry than history. But I feel obliged to look at what he has written and examine the choices he made in his speculations.

The refrain of Ferguson's article is that conditions are so much like the 1930s that a future conflict cannot be avoided--better to embrace preemption now than let the opportunity pass. It is a retread about the failure of appeasement.
As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.

Obviously this plays well into the end of history. Ferguson offers us the opportunity to use war to destroy the cycle of past.

But why is the decade of the 1930s the only one he uses to compare to the present? Why didn't Ferguson use World War I as his referent, which he discussed skillfully and creatively in his book, The Pity of War?

In his imaginative study, Ferguson asked tough question about how British involvement shaped the First World War, perhaps turning it into a deadlier, more protracted conflicted than it needed to be. Did Prussian militarism have to be destroyed at all cost? (Personally, I'd say yes--too bad it was not.) Ferguson put Fritz Fischer's thesis (Griff nach Weltmacht) in doubt: Germany had modest war aims at the beginning of the war that the British government could have tolerated, and the dream of German hegemony over Europe evolved later on. Ferguson even says that no proof exists that the German military or political leadership took hegemony as a serious goal.

A Germany victorious would have led to a different world:
"Had Britain stood aside — even for a matter of weeks — continental Europe could therefore have been transformed into something not wholly unlike the European Union we know today .... Perhaps too the complete collapse of Russia into the horrors of civil war and Bolshevism may have been averted .... And there plainly would not have been that great incursion of American financial and military power into European affairs .... Granted, there might still have been Fascism in Europe in the 1920s; but it would have been in France rather than Germany ...."

"With the Kaiser triumphant, Adolf Hitler could have eked out his life as a mediocre postcard painter ... And Lenin could have carried on his splenetic scribbling in Zurich ..."

"In the final analysis, then, the historian is bound to ask if acceptance of a German victory on the continent would have been damaging to British interests ... The answer here is that it would not have been."

Ferguson presents a scenario in which the only salvation from our impasse is war. This sounds so much like the pulp fiction of the 1900s that imagined German threats lurking everywhere, the apocalyptic literature in which bloody destruction must precede spiritual rebirth, the idealism of artists who declared, "Except in struggle there could be no beauty--No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece."

Could similar questions be asked about Iraq and the future of conflict in the Middle East?

Comparing current events to the lead-up to WWI might produced unsatisfying results. Militarism escalated in the context of conflicts over resources (the mineral resources of Africa becoming more important to industrial development and armament.) The comparison also has the potential for judging the victors harshly. Modris Eksteins, in Rites of Spring, argued that German warfare originated in British imperial tactics (Britain invented modern warfare, Germany perfected it.)

But then again, World Wars I and II are not the only example. What about the Crimea? French Revolution? Seven Years War? The Thirty Years War?

This does not mean that military force should not be used to counteract nuclear proliferation. I suggest that Ferguson should make a fuller accounting of continental and global conflicts to situate the current crisis in a better light. The meme today-as-1930s has already been used, and the policy it supported did not produce the expected results. Perhaps the same questions could be asked: could misinterpretation of goals, protracted conflict, and (indeed) involvement shape how goals and policies of Iran change? These question need not turn against military action, but Ferguson should not shy away from asking them.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Alsace Hate Watch

Public distribution of ham soup--that's an innovative way of spreading a racist message!

The group Solidatité Alsacienne (Alsatian Solidarity) distributed ham soup at the rail station in Strasbourg as a means of celebrating European-Christian identity. As its leader, former Front National member Robert Spieler, put it, "the pig is a European symbol, whether you like it or not." Of course, those who cannot eat it--Jews and Muslums--are excluded therefrom. At the request of the mayor and the president of the urban community of Strasbourg, the prefect banned distribution at the rail station. It has since moved elsewhere.

BTW, I am happy I haven't done an 'Alsatian Hate Watch' in many, many months.

[ETA] I found an English language article on the incident.
On Saturday, police intervened to close the soup kitchen after Solidarité Alsacienne defied the ban and began distributing food in one of Strasbourg's main squares.

Chantal Spieler, Solidarité Alsacienne's president, was escorted to police headquarters and given a formal warning before being joined by her husband, Robert Spieler, a former MP for Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front party.

Mr Spieler denounced "a totalitarian regime" where soon "they'll be banning salami".

He said: "Pork is a European symbol, whether we like it or not. The day when there are laws forbidding the distribution of pork in Alsace I believe there will be a lot of us who will leave France and take refuge in a country where there is still a certain culinary freedom." His wife said she would appeal against the prefect's decision.

"Pork is part of our culinary culture and we are offering the soup to everyone, so there is nothing discriminatory about it," she said.

Here is an article about the movement (in French.)

Sunday Reading

blogI won't post much today: Rob MacDougall has ample material in the current History Carnival to keep someone reading all day, if not all week. This edition is heavy on article on teaching history, which corresponds well with the Teaching Carnival, which should appear sometime today at Ancarett's Abode. I would mention, in brief, the numerous articles that appeared in the last two weeks on the incredible, shrinking Chirac (like this one). Other Predecessors of Satan ... is an interesting read; Zid makes his own plea for the indepedence of the discipline of history.

Another OB appointment this week, and everything is going well. No pictures, though. I also found a used copy of Bunnygrunt's Action Pants.

BTW, take the time to wish Barista's David Tiley well.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Year of the Rabbit

We've had Millie for one year. Still male, still scampering. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


In Whose Name?, a post over at Ethiopundit, is an excellent example of reading the intent of a monument ... and then reading a subversive meaning. The monument in question is the Mekele Martyr Monument, created for the memory of Tigrayans killed in an air raid by the Eritrean air force. It represents the suffering of the Tigrayans, but it contextualizes that suffering in terms of the ultimate goal of achieving a communist paradise. Their misery is less important than the role of the state in achieving progress in their name. (Definitely check out these pictures, here and here.)
The presentations of the people, their pain and perseverance against odds is stunning. The young are reassuring the old as they head into an uncertain future determined by their will and sacrifice. The colors are of the native soil and their scale is near human creating a moving whole of purpose and respect. ...

We aren't sure about the orb. Perhaps it is a representation of the divine power that rests by the throne of Marx in Communist Paradise. (That is assuming that Lenin has not yet managed the schemes necessary to overthrow him.) The point is that humanity, here the Tigrayan people who gave of their blood, sweat and tears to change the world, have shrunken before an idea. ...

What is to us the beauty and significance of the human figures in the Mekele monument are dwarfed by the self-justifying ideology of their unelected leaders. ...

The principal message seems to be that people - the individual men, women and indeed children who brought about change don't matter but what does is their nebulous destination determined by a few who allegedly speak for them. Just as profoundly offensive to us as the idea that Ethiopians by definition support the government is the idea that Tigrayans necessarily support the government.
Ethiopundit offers a different meaning, one that is closer to the truth: the Tigrayans toil for an unforgiving, tyrannical overlord who is their only hope for safety. He claims that the government uses rumors of genocide to force them to suspect other ethnic groups and remain faithful only to the government.
... the government seeks to have Tigrayans become hated by other Ethiopians so that they have no other place to turn for security and common cause than the original authors of their misery who may look and sound like them but who only care for themselves. ...

By demanding absolute conformity and national discipline of the variety of Lenin's 'democratic centralism' today's rulers want Tigrayans to be isolated and unable to look outside of the party structure for common cause with anyone.

The brutality used to try and divorce Tigrayans from their identity, history and traditions so that they could not make common cause with other Ethiopians can not be forgotten. One anecdote from an international bureaucrat looking to set up a pilot development program is revealing.

It's a very long and rich post. Go read.

On a similar note, two more article have appeared on the demolition of the Palace of the Republic in Berlin, one in the NY Times, the other in Deutsche Welle (in English.) The first article attempts to place the the East German relic as part of East Berlin--in harmony with the modern construction of that city.
Yet many of the Palace's problems could be solved by simply rethinking the barren area just to the west, where a sensitively designed new building could begin to weld the palace and its 19th-century neighbors into a coherent urban composition. And the Palace has a harmonious relationship with the 1960's and 1970's structures to the east. Seen from the base of the soaring 1969 television tower, for example, its reflective glass facade is a serene backdrop to the emptiness of Marx-Engels Platz. The uniform strip of Communist-era buildings that frames the plaza's northern edge lends the area an unexpected unity.
Replacing it with a rebuilt Hohenzollern Palace disrupts the unity of the eastern city by placing a kitsch in the middle of it. The latter article is more about the emotions of the East Berliners: how this is just another examples of the Wessies undoing what the Ossies made.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My E-Mail from 1969

Desire can transcend boundaries, ethnicities, classes. Has it the power to transcend time itself?

Apparently it can. Deep in my inbox, with the first messages that I ever received on my current desktop, there were five messages dated 1969. Two offered the opportunity to change my physique. A third was a source for "Viiagera [sic.]." One wanted to help me out of debt. Finally, someone wanted me to visit their site.

Before I ever had an e-mail account, before Viagra, before the existence of the internet, before the personal computer ... before I was born, someone reached out to give me these messages. I guess desire, at least sexual desire, can reshape the structure of the universe, allowing people to communicate across time. Maybe historians should look into tapping this power.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cliopatria honors The Rhine River: Best Series of Posts

At the panel Were All the World a Blog at the AHA annual meeting in Philadelphia, Cliopatria honored my three part series, The Geographical Turn (Parts One, Two, and Three), with an award for 'Best Series of Posts.' From the citation:
The judges thought that, of the nominations, this was the best example of historical scholarship. It was a well-written, thoughtful and accessible essay about an important historiographical movement that may be unfamiliar to many non-specialist readers, while for academic historians it discussed a less familiar aspect of a well-known subject. As such, it represented an excellent example of the uses historians can make of blogs both to explore their ideas and to increase understanding of the past and of the discipline of history.
I was there, blushing, to accept the award from Ralph Luker and from the judges, Sharon Howard, Timothy Burke, and Another Damned Medievalist. I would like to thank all them, as well as Marc Comtois, who not only nominated the post, but whose own series (nominated as well), motivated me to write thoughts about historiography and geography that had been running through my mind for months.

All of the winners are worth checking out:
Congratulations to everyone!

Two heads are better than one, especially when one is sleepy and provincial

It looks like the division of competencies between Berlin and Bonn will be permanent. Negociators from the CDU and SPD and representatives of the state Nord Rhein-Westfalen have agreed to amend the 1991 legislation that returned the government to Berlin, allowing six ministries (including defense, education, and environment) to remain in Bonn. The Bonn-Berlin Resolution is part of a broader plan for federal reform to be undertaken by Merkel's coalition government. The agreement, which must still be approved by the Bundestag and Bundesrat, comes after years of discontent over the high cost of moving the capital. Centralization, however, has been a growing concern.

[ETA] More than half of government positions would remain in Bonn.

[ETA] Berliners' annoyance, complaining about the legacy of German federalism:
Insanity with method ... The reunification had brought together what belonged together, not only the Land, but also the capital. Thus it is necessary to divide that which is unified. Berlin unites, capitals divide.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Goldhagen's Open Letter to Turkey

Daniel Goldhagen wrote an open letter that appeared yesterday in Die Welt. He links the success of German democracy to its explorations of the past and reparations, all of which helped it to prosper and join the community of nations, and uses that history to argue that Turkey should do the same (and drop the case against Orhan Pamuk.) If I find the English version somewhere, I'll post it instead. Otherwise, this is my translation of a few passages.
On the other hand, had post-war Germany attempted to lie and to cover up the whole truth, that the Nazi regime and many Germans would eliminate the Jews, neither the European project nor the Germany's standing in the world would have prospered they have. Had Germany systematically lied, it would have come into continuous conflict with its neighbors and the world and incessant doubt about how much Germany had actually reformed. It is accepted that German politics without an honest discussion with the past would be less democratic and tolerant than it is today, and would be worrily observed by its neighbors. ...
About the Pamuk trial in specific:
The whole world sees this historical and juridical farce. The suppression of the whole historical truth through the Turkish government, the people and the intimidated, or nationalistic, intellectuals will only cause Turkey great difficulties as they attempt to join the European Union and leave their undemocratic past behind them. The commissioner of expansion of the EU, Ollie Rehn, has already warned, "It is not Orhan Pamuk who stands before the court ... but Turkey." ...
I do have one question: what if Jews and Israelis had been cold to German offers of reparations (and many were), what if the discourse only occurred within German society, would the results have been the same?

[ETA] After further reflection, I think that although Goldhagen is generally correct, Germany democracy might have evolved for some time, perhaps until the Eichmann trial, without confronting the legacy of the Holocaust. Neither the US nor the core members of the European Coal and Steel Community raised the Holocaust as an issue. Their concerns were security (making sure the German army was no threat) and rebuilding (finding a context to share economic resources.)

Back Home

I got back from the AHA Philadelphia just after midnight. I am still a bit beat, and overwhelmed, and I have not read one newspaper article or blog posting since Thursday morning. I need to catch up with the world. Later I'll post about the convention, including lunch with Juan Cole and the 'Cliopatriarchs.'

[ETA] Driving across the George Washington Bridge into New York, I had an urge to hear the theme song from Taxi. Sleater-Kinney was a surprisingly good replacement ('my baby loves me, I'm so happy, happy makes me a modern girl ...'.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


This made me laugh:
... no book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep, it's meant to make you jump up out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out ...
From Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal

A Feminist? Moi?

For the second consecutive time, a post of mine has appeared as part of the Carnival of Feminists! Hooray for me! But it is also a little befuddling, considering I can't remember the last time my blogging appeared on the History Carnival. (I swear: I am an historian!)

The Carnival of Feminists had developed quickly. The current edition is a wealth of fine writing, all of which I am in awe. One post should be read with great care. It is an interview with Muslim German intellectual Serap Cileli, who works on issues related to Turkish women in German, at Redemption Blues. Cileli touches on many issues, as well as personal experiences, but I want to note that she touches on how Germans misuse the discourse on the conditions of Turkish women (which I addressed a few weeks ago in this post). Although she talks mostly about women's issues, Cileli's analysis reveals insights into the reason behind 'cultural isolation', and she has strong ideas about why and how Muslims should integrate:
This multicultural idyll, as it were, is a mere pretext for violating human as well as women’s rights, an excuse for looking away, for not wanting to face up to the realities for reasons of convenience ... It is precisely this feeling, precisely this manner of upbringing here in Germany that has made the suffering of these women possible because people didn’t want to confront what was going on, it was ascribed to such and such a tradition, to their culture. The reaction was a desperate effort to accept the alien elements of other cultures, of other traditions just as they were, without questioning them and without criticising them. It was out of bounds, taboo. For years on end it was taboo ...

[Click here to read more of the quote]

I also ask myself, did it really have to take the murder of six women one after the other in the name of honour in the space of five months before German public opinion, German politicians stood up, showed the courage of their convictions and decided to do something about tackling the problem, to say these people live here, they are not just guests any more and each and every one of us, hand in hand, has to help these people and we also have to tell these people, in a spirit of frankness, that we have equal rights here, sharia laws do not apply and we cannot allow them in Germany, nor can we allow parallel worlds, parallel societies, parallel ways of thinking to be created here in Germany or here in Europe for that matter ...

... On the German side there has been a failure in putting forward integration measures, to include these people, to put activities on offer to young people born here either during school hours or in their free time. On the Turkish side, the German-Turkish community has not set up any lobbies here in Germany. There are around 1,600 clubs and organisations in Germany, of which about 800 are Turkish religious associations. The Turkish citizens in Germany have preferred to set up religious associations instead of founding clubs and the like for the next generation. They have not created a body to represent the interests of their own young people. What I have observed is that the lack of integration measures, be it on the German or the Turkish side, has led to Islamists stepping in and taking over these tasks. The fundamentalists have stepped into the breach and the mosques are now offering German courses. German courses for Muslims ...

[The parallel society] certainly does [exist]. There are various reasons behind it. Of course, the main reason, I have to say, is financial. People with no professional qualifications are forced to live in these areas, renting accommodation there. They can’t afford better. Unemployment is rife amongst the Turkish immigrant population in Germany. They don’t have any professional qualifications, the vast majority of the women are housewives and if their social and financial level is not sufficient they are forced to move into this council housing. Given that the majority, by which I mean the Turkish immigrants, have been affected by this, this is how the ghettoes came into being. I hear from a lot of Turkish people who live in these parallel worlds, these ghettoes, that they want to move out because they too want to offer their children a future, they want their children to get out, but it is simply beyond their financial wherewithal, they cannot afford to rent expensive flats ...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Random Notes

Yesterday, I found this article about the role of women in the government of the Mongolian Empire. To put it bluntly, they ruled while men fought, and they were responsible for the administrative development and diplomacy. On as similar not, the Japanese legislature is considering a reform that would allow the imperial throne to pass through a female emperor; one historian has even suggesting restoring the imperial status of courts that had been lost because lineage ended with a female emperor. The reform, however, appears to have met a lot of resistance. (HT: Jonathan Dresner)

The Boston Globe has an article about the controversy over Berlin's Palace of the Republic. Built by the DDR, the federal republic wants to demolish it to rid themselves of the vestiges of the communist regime and replace it, of all things, with a reconstructed Hohenzollern palace, the center of Prussian militarism. I blogged about this before here.

If memory is a strange thing, the filming of Fateless proves it. Imre Kertéz, returning to the places and stories that formed his autobiographical novel of childhood set against the Holocaust, found the experience 'beautiful.'

Finally, in order to give the Dreyfus Affair the place it deserves, I gave my ten events to understand contemporary France at Cliopatria. Warning: it won't please anyone who works on premodern France. It was still a fruitful exercise, one that I might repeat.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Six Words

What should be the Democratic Party's message?

My answer: Secure families, secure liberties, secure country.

In every debate democrats should raise issues about the nature of security. They should shout that individual rights and economic vitality are not contrary to national security. Quite to the contrary, they are all necessary for each other.

Copies and the Imagined Community

Natalie Bennett, visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, reflects on the use of copies as a means of accumulating art treasures in one place and preserving them:
Today of course, we are hung up about originality, and some would dismiss mere copies as having very little value indeed. But this is a modern luxury - an effect of extensive cheap printing of colour plates, and air travel and our consequent ability to visit originals in situ. These were luxuries not available in the 1860s when Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, dragooned the crowned heads of Europe into signing an international convention for the exchange of casts. And who knows if these luxuries will continue to be available.

As much as originality is prized, cultural awareness cannot be spread without reproduction, and museums' mandates often extend far beyond being houses of great works of art.

Coincidentally, the problem of copies cropped up in my dissertation as I wrote about the creation of the Rhenish Museum in the 1920s and 30s. Konrad Adenauer, trying to put his stamp on regional politics and culture, proposed founding a museum in Cologne that would represent the entire Rhineland.

Numerous problems delayed the project: location, the competencies, the type of museum it would be. By the time it opened in 1936, the House of the Rhenish Heimat, as it was renamed, was substantially less than what Adenauer originally envisioned.

The most difficult practicality that the planning commission faced was how the materials would be assembled. Adenauer wanted the Rhenish museum to present 'the gesamt Bild'--the complete image--of the region. It was his catchword for promoting the museum:
The gesamt Bild should appear before the eyes of the visitor ... as a representation of the complete culture of the Rhineland, built on scientific foundations, composed for the layman.
Installations would run the gamut of historical eras, milieus, occupations and diversions. Nothing would be left out, and a casual visitor would be able to locate his hometown within the museum.

The problem: how to assemble such diversity of sources, from fine art, patrimony, everyday items, maps, graphs ... . Architecture was the most important element for representing the Middle Ages, which was seen as the most formative era in Rhenish history. Clearly whole buildings could not be moved. Furthermore, many essential pieces belonged either to private citizens or the Catholic Church. No one wanted to fight to obtain them.

[Click here to read more]

To magnify the problem, Adenauer wanted the Rhenish Museum to be the premiere research institution for western Germany. It would be a repository of images and data for scholars and, most importantly, those involved in preservation. It was felt that preservation could not occur unless patrimony was studied in its regional context.

To overcome this deficiency, plans were made to hire artists to travel the entire Rhine Province to paint copies, take photographs, make castings. Rather than being a modest institution, the museum would display a wealth of images. Rhenish history was complex, and its museum should be just as complex. (Some felt this was unrealistic and didactic.)

Ultimately photographs became more important for the museum. After Adenauer was forced out of politics, the remaining members of the museum commission changed how they appealed to the Nazi regime for funds. It would help to preserve popular (voelkisch) culture by acting as a repository of photographs of daily life, settlement structures, rituals, etc. Casting of Gothic architecture were no longer important.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sunday Reading

Happy New Year! In the last week I have survived Webs' year-end sale, finished rereading War of the End of the World, experimented with Latke recipes (using panko bread crumbs, zucchini) and become an uncle. I also got my haircut: it was necessary because I have phoned in several threats to attend the AHA, and I need a quick change of appearance in order to sneak in.

Thank you, for congratulating my wife and me on our big news. (Including Claire, Ralph and Geitner.)

Click here to read on.

In the 1990s, violent urban crime fell while the immigrant population rose. Hmm? The Boston Globe looks at several theories to explain the apparent contradictions between facts and 'common sense.' One interesting finding: criminality becomes worse with each generation after immigration.

If any source has done a good job of reviewing the constitutional, legal and ethical issues of the wiretapping controversy, Balkanization has been superb. Our Legal and Political Culture is a great piece about how the practice of law has changed along with the push and pull of defining new executive powers.
... the question becomes, what restrains lawyers from being the most shameless tools of interest, or power, or both? ... the lawyers' craft is always hemmed in by larger social forces and by popular opinions about ethics and morality, opinions which are not always articulated or articulable in precisely legal ways. One important task that lawyers perform is to translate or channel these moral opinions into struggles about the law. But this moral constraint has its own limits: If the moral opinions of a time are deeply corrupt, the law is unlikely to be far better.

Pruned, updating a post from a few months ago, looks at one method of counting large crowds.

The New York Times' Book Review has several essays about recent biographies of great authors, including Franz Kafka and Isaac Babel.

Working things out: Taking a break after his first semester, AIR has been working out issues related to his impending thesis on French dandyism. Otto adds another installment to his look at Stalin's purges, this one examining executions and the practices of the NKVD. Something interesting to note:
These executions fell heavily upon Soviet citizens belonging to extra territorial nationalities. These groups constituted only 1.7% of the population of the USSR, but accounted for over a quarter of all arrests and executions during the Great Terror.
Anyone who has an interest in Riesling-style wines should take a look at the current issue of Wine Spectator. It has come good recommendations for inexpensive (<$20) bottles. A new Counter-Reformation? Die Welt puts Cardinal Ratzinger's election to the Papacy in the context of growing German influence in the Catholic Church since the 1960s. One factor: the German Church's engagement with German philosophy