Monday, October 30, 2006

Fun on the Internets with the Google

President Bush is making surprising progress leaving his mark on the lexicon of digital communication, laughter notwithstanding. But perhaps his usage of "the Google" isn't ignorance, but actually reflects his websurfing in foreign languages (which don't tolerate the absence of an article as well as English)? After all, in Portuguese he would use "o Google." Perhaps he reads Rua da Judiaria!

(So far, I have found a few references to le Google (French), el Google (Spanish), Der Google (German), and one to Googlen (Danish). De Google (Dutch) reference only Bush's usage. Interestingly, in languages with the choice between gendered and neutral articles, Google is masculine (or common in Danish and Dutch).)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Browning Appalachia

... by which I mean that Mexicans, and other Latin Americans, some of them illegal, are becoming the new face of Appalachia. Kim Cobb has been writing articles for the Houston Chronicle about the influx of Hispanic immigrants to Morristown, Tennessee (here , here. here, here). Rather than being a cause of social instability, as critics claim, the immigrants are propping up what was once a dying region of the country. Moreover, they raise questions about the nature of the so-called problem of illegal immigration and "broken borders": are they not overwhelmingly about culture and ethnicity rather than law and crime? And can rural America survive without them?
Hamblen County's resident Latino population jumped from a few hundred to as many as 10,000 in the past decade, and the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that more than half the immigrants arriving in southeastern communities are illegal. Cumberland Avenue on the town's south side has been transformed into a commercial strip dominated by Latino restaurants, specialty stores and used-car lots.

"I mean, right here, where our church is, is Little Mexico," said the Rev. William Burton of Iglesia Bautista La Gran Comision, or The Great Commission Baptist Church.

The pastor is an exuberant, round-faced white man who speaks the Spanish he learned as a missionary in Venezuela with a decidedly Tennessee accent. His congregation began as a Bible study group at another Southern Baptist church. The study group grew, and Burton eventually began offering an early service on Sunday mornings in Spanish.

But, the young minister said, his devotion to the newcomers created resentment among some of the church's established members. It was never put into words, but Burton felt the challenge to choose "between us and them."

"Of course, my heart was with 'them,' " he said.

Burton quit and took his new flock with him. Six years down the road, La Gran Comision is flourishing in a salmon-colored stucco building that used to be a grocery store. ...

Morristown does not fit the Appalachian stereotype of quaint villages and hillbilly shacks.

It's a factory town with the usual Ameri-bland assortment of burger joints, drugstores, a Wal-Mart. For generations, the spectacular mountain greenery visible from the highest points in town was a wall between Morristown and change.

But change has come. Now, when residents say they don't like to travel the area along South Cumberland Avenue after dark, they mean they fear the newest arrivals who frequent the Latino businesses there.

That fear may be overblown. Roger Overholt, the chief of police, said the crime rate among Latinos is not much different from that of their neighbors. Cases of public intoxication and cars being abandoned after accidents increased with the arrival of Latinos, he said. But an education campaign about American law reduced the problem.

Morristown averages one homicide a year. There were five in 2002, which Overholt called "probably our worst year." None involved Latinos killing whites.

Still, the perception of danger is strong. ...

The khaki-clad state troopers hup-hupped into formation on opposite sides of the courthouse lawn, wearing riot gear and clutching batons.

About 100 state and local officers stood on the square this summer, some carrying M-16 rifles. They were more than a match for an equal number of mostly middle-aged locals arriving for the anti-illegal immigration rally.

It was one of the most confounding spectacles this little town of 25,000 had ever seen.

The only way to step on the lawn between the rows of troopers was through a security checkpoint, surrendering anything that looked like it could be used as a weapon. Ted Mitchell and his flag never made it in.

"It's an American flag!" Mitchell sputtered.

You can bring the flag into the rally, a police officer explained, but you have to leave your flag pole.

Mitchell's face got redder. His yelling got louder. In an instant the 62-year-old man was scuffling with the police. They pushed him to the ground, cuffed him and carted him off in a police car.

By the time lame-duck County Commissioner Tom Lowe was ready to start the rally, the police helicopter overhead was so loud that even people standing a few feet away couldn't hear him.

"They brought in all this overwhelming force like there was going to be some kind of violence," Lowe shouted over the din. "I understand this to be a violation of my constitutional rights!"

What would make a little town like this prepare for battle on the courthouse lawn?

Local police officials said they had gathered information that members of the Ku Klux Klan, a familiar presence in East Tennessee, might show up and force a confrontation. People identified as Klan members had attended previous anti-immigrant rallies in the Morristown area.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Beyond Vichy Galactica

Vive l'humanité! The Cylon occupation of New Caprica is over, and the Vichy government of Giaus Baltar has fallen. Now, we can forget historical analogies and get back to science fiction!

The analogies to Vichy France were hardly surprising. Indeed, the producers advertised their intentions at the end of the last season. The show explored the messy differences and overlaps between resistance and collaboration, especially the problems of collaborators who act, nonetheless, to protect their loved ones.

The summary execution of Ellen Tigh reflects the purge of collaborators that occurred as France was slowly freed and the German army pushed back. Actually, I was a bit disappointed that occupied New Caprica looked so much like Vichy France--did Robert Gildea get a writing credit for these episodes?

Now that the human race is back on it's quest to find Earth, is the show done with the Vichy analogy? There are still possibilities to mine it into the Fourth Republic era? Yes. Post-liberation politics were dominated by conflicts between political parties, each of whom claimed to embody the true spirit of resistance, who did the most to free the nation. "Resistance" became a key term in discussing the future. They talked about resistance in the singular, as if only one movement existed, but they did so in order to legitimize their politics.

Although the resistance on New Caprica looked like a united effort, it's possible that their cooperation was a matter of convenience, and that Col. Tigh, Roslin, and Zarek each see themselves as the key component in the success of the resistance. More intriguing, Tyrol has been set up as a major player in post-occupation politics, something akin to the Communist Party, who would claim to be unrelenting opposition not just to the occupation, but to the corrupt political forces that pre-existed the occupation (Baltar, namely).

Resistance was a powerful force that freed the human race. Or was it? This is another area where the Vichy analogy can be exploited. The role of the French resistance in liberating France is unclear; military power finally broke the Nazi hold on state and society. Similarly, freedom for humanity appears to be unthinkable without the Galactica and Pegasus. Could Adama become De Gaulle? The scene in the landing bay shows the emergence of a hero who seems super-political, to whom humans will look to save them from their own machinations. Who knows: maybe the Fifth Republic will make an appearance as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Little More French Politics

Not only did the CEVIPOF report on the public's attitude toward political corruption grab my attention, several pther articles seem noteworthy.

Ségolène Royal had drawn attention outside of France as potentially the next woman to be elected head of state, but political anthropologist Marc Abélès says that her style--her approach to political discourse--is a break from the politics of the past. (Is she's the French Howard Dean? I think she does him better.) On the one hand, she uses her blog, Désirs d'avenir (Future Desires), to realize a dynamic, less asymetrical relationships between politician and public, very muc realizing the potential and realities of the blogosphere. On the other, rather than argumentation on the basis of ideological differences, she accepts the collapse of those differences.
What the candidate and her team have understood is that one need not produce a majority opinion as much as the possibility of that the greatest number of people will enter into the debate, expressing their opinions ... Diversity, and not head-on opposition. It is clear that there no longer exists a "left vote" or a "right vote" that is the same on every issue.

Absorption capacity has been thrown out with regard to the expansion of the EU: concern for how new members fit into the overall mix. The fear that limitless expansion would weaken and dilute central institutions is real, but as Thomas Ferenczi points out, such concerns presuppose the need for new members to assimilate the practices of established members. Ferenczi says that absorption capacity is an important concept in measuring up Turkey for membership, but that "new memberships are accompanied by institutional reforms." I don't think it is different for an international organization as a nation: expansion occurs contiguously, and as the limits of the nation increase, diversity must be accomodated. Expansion goes hand in hand with reform.

The Sun King's liaisons were notorious, but were they political sexuality? The NY Times has a good review of Antonia Fraser's new book on Louis XIV and his women. I am, however, a bit wary of the positive spin that Fraser puts on his affairs:
This period, during which Louis enjoyed the “undiluted love of his mother” and witnessed her mostly able leadership — at her death, he memorialized her as “among the great kings of France” — may have established in him a respect for and comfort with dynamic women that led to his “variegated philanderings.

Still, I love this characterization of aristocratic sexuality:
Perhaps, on the domestic front, some innate evolutionary imperative, an awareness of the incestuousness of it all, led many of them — not just Louis XIV but also Charles II of England and a number of “princes of the blood” — into compulsive adultery as a means of expanding the gene pool.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Affairs (Not of the Heart)

Mitterand used the anti-terrorism service to spy on starlets and political enemies. Juppé ripped off the city to pay the salaries of RPR (conservative party) employees. Villepin implicated Sarkozy in the Clearstream debacle to discredit him in the upcoming presidential campaign. I've been helping someone edit part of his book on the seedier aspects of French politics--I was by no means surprised by this headline:
60% of French citizens see their elected officials as corrupt
Actually, it's better than that: of the remaining 40%, three-quarters refused to answer the question. Only 10% believed in the integrity of French politicians!

(This is all according to a report that should be released in the next few days by Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po (CEVIPOF).)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Australians started World War II

Denied an outlet for its criminals in the Americas, Britain sent an unsavoury bunch of people around the world, who landed in Australia in 1788. They grew, thrived, and prospered as only European colonies can do, until in 1901 they became a Commonwealth in 1901. Then, on September 3, 1939, Australia declared war against Germany. So began World War II. Simple, isn't it?

Of course, it isn't. At Revise and Dissent, Brett Holman has been pondering when WWII began. He gives three possible dates: first, 1937, when hostilities began between China and Japan; second, good ole' 1939; third, 1940, when Italy declared war against France because of the real possibility of warfare in Africa among the European powers. Which does he chose? The conservative date of September 3, 1939, which, by his own admission, affirms his British perspective.

I'll give Brett his subjective judgment, but it still raises the question for the non-Britons, when did World War II begin? Was there something magical about 9-3-39? The more I ponder this, the more I feel that it is a question of the prestige of the powers that came into the conflict: Britain and France, two nations who prided themselves in their global stretch. Colonies and submarine warfare aside, their declaration of war against Germany, along with those of Australia and New Zealand, did nothing to expand the theater of battle outside the European region. Germany was in no position to fight in Africa or Asia, at least not until the falls of Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and France, all nations that possessed overseas colonies nominally under German control. Australia or New Zealand sending troops to Europe would not have made for multi-regional theaters.

The larger question: every time a nation with colonies/an empire goes to war, is it a world war (or potentially one)? When the United States fought Mexican revolutionaries in the 1910s, was there potential for expansion to Hawai'i? For that matter, was the American Revolution a world war (or just a continuation of the Seven Years War)? Is fighting in eastern Congo an African World War, as some have claimed? Is Iraq a front in World War III (ok, perhaps this question should be left alone)? Finally, when was the first "world war"? Alexander in India, perhaps?

Of course, I want to make light of this. Many conflicts take place in the midst of international, worldwide processes. Even if Britain, France and Germany never fought anywhere but Europe, we would still have cause to zoom out to see larger issues at play. The same could be said of almost every conflict since the 16th century.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Turkey, Ruined but Unspoiled

The Nobel Prize in Literature for Orhan Pamuk? Hooray! He's one of my favorite writers, and Snow is one of my favorite books. Alas, so many older than he whom I thought would win by now...

Istanbul: Memories and the City, which has not received as much attention as other works by Pamuk, contains vibrant insights into the use of urban landscapes. One chapter, "The Melancholy of Ruins: Tanpinar and Yahya Kemal in the City's Poor Neighborhoods," explores how the two writers explored the less attractive parts of Istanbul in an effort to find the genuine Turkish people, the spirit of the nation, not overburdened by the legacies of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires (or the poetry of the French who glorified them).
When Tanpinar wrote "A Stroll Through the City's Poor Neighborhoods," he was not just describing his own most recent visit and his earliest walks. His purpose was more than merely to reacquaint himself with the poorest and most remote areas of Istanbul; he was attempting to accustom himself to the fact of living in an impoverished country, in a city that no longer mattered in the eyes of the world. To explore the poor neighborhoods as a landscape, then, was to address the reality that Istanbul and Turkey were themselves poor neighborhoods

[Tanpinar and Kemal] had a political agenda. They were picking their way through the ruins looking for signs of a new Turkish state, a new Turkish nationalism: The Ottoman Empire might have fallen, but the Turkish people had made it great (like the state, the two were happy to forget the Greeks, the Armenians, the Jews, the Kurds, and many other minorities), and they wanted to show that though suffused in melancholy they were still standing tall. Unlike the ideologues of the Turkish state who expressed their nationalism in unlovely and unadorned authoritarian rhetoric, they expressed their patriotism in a poetic language far removed from decrees and force.

To prove that theirs was a Turkish city, these two writers knew it was not enough to describe the skyline so beloved of western tourists and writers, or the shadows cast by its mosques and churches. Dominated as it was by Hagia Sophia, the skyline noted by every western observer from Lamartine to Le Corbusier could not serve as a "national image" for Turkish Istanbul; this sort of beauty was too cosmopolitan.

Nationalist Istanbullus like Kemal and Tanpinar preferred to look to the poor, defeated, and deprived Muslim population, to prove that they had not lost one bit of their identity and to satisdy their craving for a mournful beauty expressing the feelings of loss and defeat. This is why they went out on walks to poor neighborhoods in search of beautiful sights that endowed the city's dwellers with the hüzün of the ruined past ... . All his nationalist fervor notwithstanding, Tanpinar sometimes resorted to words like "picturesque" and "paysage"; to convey these neighborhoods as traditional, unspoiled, and untouched by the West, he wrote that "they were ruined, they were poor and wretched," but they had "retained their own style and their own way of life."

Ruins often figure into the image of places. Early modern illustrators were keen on pairing peasants with ancient edifices whereever they went, but particularly in the eastern Mediterranean. Such images gave power to the Classical era, but also romanticized the unchanging nature of traditional ways. But in the 19th Century, landscapes in France tended to divorce the people from the ruins. The paintings of Millet, for instance, put the peasants and their struggles in the center. The human ruins that Tapinar sought established a different hierarchy: rather than just eliminating monumental architecture, the people replaced it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Asian History Carnival!!!

What’s happening? Have the lunatics taken over the asylum? Why is a Euro-centrist, such as myself, hosting the Asian History Carnival? Obviously, I want to sit at the cool kids table with Manan et al. Apparently, I need to overthrow the dry, stultifying style of my Rankian super-ego and embrace my inner Asianist.

So for today, Welcome to the Indus River!

Sleazy Western Businessmen

At Marmot’s Hole, Robert Neff writes about the impressions that Westerners had of sexuality in Korea in “The Oldest Profession in Choson.” Yet it was the Japanese who brought the prostitutes the Westerners desired.
When Chemulpo was opened to the West it was nothing more than a handful of small rude huts. The Japanese began building European/Japanese hybrid buildings and as more and more people arrived, began importing “entertainment” from the home islands. Many of the early missionaries were appalled at the low morals of their fellow countrymen and that of the Japanese - but no matter how much they moaned about it - they could not get rid of it.
Similarly, Jonathan Dresner looks at the sex-toy industry in 1930s Japan, noting that it seemed completely oriented towards foreigners, as the catalog for the Arita Drug and Rubber Goods Co. was printed entirely in English.

Rather than “Googling himself,” Konrad Lawson wiles away his evenings by searching through Google Books. He has been pulling out full-text, downloadable books that should be of interest to Asianists: something for China, for Japan, and for Korea.

Pan-Asian Unity

Oiwan Lam tells us about a Chinese cartoon series, Devil Soldiers in Mao-er Mountain, set during WWII, which portrays Japanese soldiers as idiots. Perhaps it will be a point of discussion when Japanese PM Abe visits China and Korea, who puts such a positive spin on Japan's war.
Just before taking off, Prime Minister Abe spoke to the press corps at Haneda Airport about the issue of Japan's acknowledgement of its history, stating emphatically, "We will act based on humble reflection on the past. I would like to make that the basis of my discussions [with the PRC and ROK] and look toward the future." On the Yasukuni Shrine issue, he stated, "I want to explain that most successive Prime Ministers paid their respects to those who died for their country and that we have made our pilgrimages in a spirit of seeking peace."
Well, since that's the way the issue's been "explained" to the rest of East Asia for years now, I'm not sure what's supposed to make it more persuasive this time--especially since it's now going to be coming a from a known nationalist and apologist for Japan's wartime conduct.
All Greek to Me

I found nothing beguiling about Wade-Giles in the three classes of Chinese history I took as an undergraduate, but apparently the Cambridge scholars, Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles, despite being linked together in the awkward Romanization of Chinese, were quite different men. Language Hat notes this article by Andrew Leonard that explored the diverging Weltanschauungs of the two scholars.
Thomas Wade may have been [a soldier] in the infamous Opium Wars, giving heft to any theories of Wade-Giles Romanization as a tool of neocolonialist ideological oppression. But Giles, apparently, was something else. According to Pickford, "Giles was also disliked by the Christian Missionaries whose work he despised. This antagonism was contrary to British Government policy, which saw the work of the missionaries as entirely legitimate and beneficial. Giles disagreed, and made his disagreement very open and public... Giles was also unpopular with the British traders because he opposed the overcrowding of emigrant Chinese on British ships. In 1881 he was presented with a Red Umbrella by the Hsiamen Chinese Chamber of Commerce in recognition of this service to the Chinese people."
Reb Chaim HaQoton offers a post on triskadecaphobia’s expansive, transnational roots.

At Global Voices Online, John Kennedy tells Chinese students how to access Wikipedia.

History and Memory

Siddhartha Shome has a wonderful and erudite post about the recovery of India's ancient past from myth. Discussing the efforts of the Brit-run Asiatic Society, Siddhartha examines the process of deciphering ancient inscriptions and matching them to known personalities. So, who was King Devanampiya Piyadasi?
The question now was, who was this person Devanampiya Piyadasi? Prinsep initially thought it could be the Buddha himself, for, so far as scholars then knew, no single Indian monarch had ruled over such a vast territory as was covered by the pillars and rock inscriptions. This explanation, however, had soon to be given up because the inscriptions referred to ‘such and such year of my reign’, and the Buddha had never been a monarch. Unfortunately, wrote Prinsep, “in all the Hindu genealogical tables with which I am acquainted, no prince can be discovered possessing this very remarkable name”. The mystery was solved within a few short months, with information gleaned, not from archeological sites in India, but from distant Sri Lanka.
Alan Baumler minds the calendar. First, Taiwan's celebration of Confucius' birth and the accompanying feather dance. Then, the 95th anniversary of the Wuhan Revolt.

It may have happened only one year ago, but Manan Ahmed looks back at the deadly earthquake in Pakistan and his efforts to help out.

“Either you are with us or you are against us”: the attitudes toward Westernization during the Meiji era reduced to a simple dichotomy. Morgan Pitelka worries about reducing complex realities of resistance and promotion to binaries.

M.G. Sheftall gets political, dissecting comparisons between Kamikazes and suicide bombers.
That said, one wonders if JSB’s promoters and apologists can legitimately claim that their campaign is, like tokkō, an act of defense: is there any “existential threat” today posed by the West vis-à-vis modern Islam – the world’s fastest growing religion – or for that matter, even by Israel vis-à-vis the Arabic-speaking community currently residing in the Palestinian Authority territories, whose population is increasing with vigorous fecundity, and for whom obesity is a chronic public health crisis?[10] If so, where are all the starving, besieged Palestinians, Saudis, Syrians or Jordanians, or the carpetbombed and firestorm-ravaged Muslim cities whose nightly obliteration under some merciless Western juggernaut – as in 1945 Japan – might provide at least some semblance of understandable rationale for suicide bombing? The absence of such threats suggests that JSB is not the collective burnt offering of a desperate community fighting a rear guard action and preparing for a worst-case scenario of collective suicide. Rather, it is obvious that the operant motivation is a hot/cold mélange of ressentiment-inflamed desire to inflict pain on a hated cultural Other, and a cleverly crafted and calculated political manipulation of these emotions on the part of its strategists, i.e., the Jihadist ideologues who have been rallying the disaffected faithful of the Islamic world and stage managing the West’s nightmares for the last five years.

Spaces of struggle: Abodh takes us on a tour of Ganhi's Bombay.

Onnik Krikorian has a rather long post about the Yezidis of Georgia, a national minority sometimes considered a subset of the Kurds. He interviews the president of the Union of the Yezedis of Georgia, discussing the history and memory of the group during the Soviet era and current issues related to identity and cultural policy.

Varnam brings to out attention the recovery of Hindu texts, written on palm leaves, through the use of multispectral imaging, especially the Saramoola granthas.


Jonathan Dresner asks a few stupid questions: how ceremonious was the rectifications of names; which Chinese leader suggested that the French Revolution was incomplete? (That last question is so 1989).

If turnaround is fair play, then I offer you this interpretation of a German article written about Chinese government at the height of the French Revolution. Oh, how great Chinese imperialism would be for the Germans ...

The End

That's it, folks. Thank you to Jonathan Dresner for allowing me to host. Also, I want to thank Manan Ahmed and Chaim HaQoton for their nominations, and Global Voices Online for allowing me to pilfer some of their work.

The next Asian History Channel will return to safe hands at Kotaji. You can nominate posts at Blog Carnival or e-mail him directly at kotajihwal[a] And don't forget the other upcoming history carnivals: the History Carnival at ClioWeb and Carnivalesque at Recent Finds.

Empire in the Mirror

How it can be said that in China, which has been described as despotic, that people have been described as both more free and more fortunate as people in many republics!

Searching for articles about the Holy Roman Empire in Zeitschriften der Aufklaerung, I came across this anonymously-written aritcle in the 1797 Deutsche Monatsschrift (table of contents) , which seemed stand in stark opposition to what most 18th-century politicians thought about the Orient. The French, certainly, fetishized the Orient, especially Turkey (see Montesquieu’s Persian Letters). Rather than being accurate portrayals, these were mirrors held up to France.

German thinkers were a bit more analytical in their approach to, dare I say, comparative political science. The Humboldt brothers paid attention to the larger world (Alexander to the Americas, Wilhelm to South Asia). No state played the same role in German culture that Turkey played for the French. Herder (Treatise on the Origin of Language) accorded great respect to China, making it (probably) the first civilization, the root from which all other civilizations spread. However, each subsequent manifestation improved upon what China accomplished, and China was itself stuck in its ancient ways.

What struck me was not the esteem with which the anonymous writer held for China and its “despotic government,” but how s/he used used it. China is a model of efficiency and unity based on the “unlimited,” “undivided authority” of the emperor and the nature of the state bureaucracy. He “tames the wildness of the princes”; his court is the perfect Versailles, forcing the aristocracy to bind themselves to his will. He is “the source of all fortune” (patronage) and “by law the absolute Lord over the lives of his subjects.” He leads a strong, well-funded army. Finally, he composes “a [civil] service, that is honest, erudite, experienced, and especially accomplished.”

The perfection of this system, “for so long made of the same stuff” (ancient and unchanged), is close to the state of nature. Rather than stifling public life, the authority of the Chinese emperor simplifies rule to such a point that he need not interfere (arbitrarily) with its operation. Despotism is never practiced. Conversely, “the concept of the republic is completely foreign to the Chinese ... they see the republic as a many-headed monstrosity that would develop from the ambition and corrupt intentions into civil unrest and confusion.

I’m sure this loving portrait of Ming China is easily demolished. It’s at least a bit of critical satire, not meant to say anything about China but lots about Germany. Actually, France and Germany. The republic was probably that which was represented by the French Revolution, as exported to Germany–it’s promises of liberation compromised by harsh administration and economic exploitation.

China, nonetheless, represents what Germany needed to resist France: a strong, central authority; elimination of the sovereignty of the princes; administration by the educated (Bildung) bourgeoisie; and reform to create a mass army. China was a unity of will and action that eluded Germany, had made it defenseless. In both cases, the republic would be “the greater tyranny.”

What should the German Empire become? More like China? Bureaucracy and military became lynchpins of the Kaiserreich, the will of the emperor still locked up into the intrigues of the court. It’s perhaps not impossible that the anonymous writer saw a blueprint for Germany’s future in Chinese political traditions.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Insert Carnival Here

Today should have been the day when the Asian History Carnival was posted here. Alas, I received no submissions--not directly or via Blog Carnival. Some might blame the radiation of bluster coming from the Korean peninsula, but I think people are still reeling from the directoire established in Thailand (see Head Heeb for commentary--HT Far Outliers). The new date is October 12: submit the best Asian blogging from the last month either to rhineriveratearthlinkdotnet (properly formatted), or use Blog Carnival's aggregator. Cheers!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Age of Arendt

The world at the centennial of Hannah Arendt:
In “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) she cataloged their characteristics: sweeping ideologies, death and concentration camps, vengeance against imagined conspiracies, imperviousness to political challenge. Together, she wrote, these characteristics “exploded” the familiar concepts of politics and government: “the alternative between lawful and lawless government, between arbitrary and legitimate power.” The lawless was made lawful; the arbitrary became legitimate. All categories were broken down; new ones needed formation. In the future the exception would shape a new rule.

And, to a great extent, with varied and vexing consequences, it has. Whether the world itself has changed (as she proposed), or our interpretation of it has, or both, it is no longer possible to discuss political life without in some way invoking those phenomena that once seemed so exceptional, without forming analogies to them, and without considering Arendt’s concepts that developed around them.

Minding of the Past

French National Assembly, still believing themselves to be guardians of memory, are on the verge of punishing denial of the Armenian genocide. Sarkozy sees this as a critical step in defining how Turkey enters the EU: at minimim, it must admit the genocide:
"Pour moi, (la reconnaissance du génocide par l'Arménie) ce n'est pas une condition préalable pour rentrer en Europe. C'est le minimum. Ce n'est pas parce qu'on fait son devoir de mémoire qu'on peut rentrer en Europe. On ne pourrait éviter de voter cette loi qu'à trois conditions : la mise en place d'une commission bilatérale et paritaire Arménie-Turquie ; que la Turquie rouvre ses frontières avec l'Arménie ; que la Turquie renonce à sa législation pénale qui interdit de parler d'un génocide", a déclaré M. Sarkozy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Real" Africans

Sharon laughs, but this scares me. White settlers, like the Germans in Namibia, thought they were the real Africans who would put the primitive, tribal, disunited natives, who were not Africans, in their place.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Great Communicators of the Mediterranean World

Nicolas Ostler raises an interesting point about Ancient Greek Civilization in his book, The Empire of the Word: democracy did not spread along with Greek culture. Beneath the veneer of this celebrated role, Greek culture was a tool of hegemony across the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. This should raise questions about how "the Greeks" are portrayed in Western Civ courses, whether democracy was really their legacy, recovered by the Renaissance, or appended to the existing institutions of the European free cities.
Western Europe likes to think itself an indirect heir of the Greeks; but the countless modern accounts of what the Greeks were like never ask, much less answer, this question. Rather, they simply trace the processes by which the Greeks produced so many pioneering contributions to Western civilisation, in mythology, politics, literature, the arts, architecture, philosophy and science. Part of the answer is thus given implicitly: for none of their contemporaries has laid by as vast a record of their cultural product as the Greeks— unless one counts the Romans, who chose to build on the Greek work, rather than replace it. Literacy could be seen as the Greeks’ secret weapon.

But this can’t be the whole Answer. After all, literacy was a gift to them from the Phoenecians, who themselves were just the lately travelling sales representatives of a vast Middle Eastern range of literate societies, from Egypt at one end to Babylon and Elam at the other. But unlike the Phoenicians, the Greeks had chosen to use their literacy to record their culture: the ability to read Greek brought a vast range of original works in its wake. The result was that the Greeks had access to ‘the arts of civilisation’ in a way that could only impress others when they came into contact with them. Civilisation, after all, when combined with such delights as olive oil and wine, is apt to be attractive. ...

It is often, somewhat romantically, claimed that Greece’s greatest contribution to subsequent civilisation was the invention of democracy, the highest mechanism invented to realise eleutherIa, ‘freedom’, always a virtue that the Greeks claimed to care for. This is certainly false: false as a theory of what appealed in Greek to outsiders confronted by it, and false as an account of what made Greek capable of spreading so far to the east and west of its homeland. It has already been pointed out that most Greek city-states were never democratic; and the larger states with Greek as their official language, established all over Egypt and much of Asia after conquests by Alexander, were without exception monarchies. They were bureaucratic states, where civic control by concerned citizens was not possibly an ideal. They were also much bigger than any city-states had ever been. When the Greek language spread, it did not carry with it the properties that had possibly been crucial in the original creation of its attendant culture.

Indeed, a major property of Greek culture, throughout its long continuous history since the third century BC has been a wish to hark back to the classical aping their linguistic form as well (as far as possible) as their style and content, but never the excitement of innovation and originality that must have attended their actual writing in the fifth and fourth centuries. Whatever had proved enduring in the Greek language tradition—and leaving aside the question of whether its classics really are the best things ever written—it has far more to do with rigid conservatism than openness to exciting new ideas. If nothing else, the history of the Greek language community shows that conservatism too can be attractive, if something attractive is being conserved.

We can see that what Greek had to offer was highly attractive in the context of the ancient world. Even those whose careers were dedicated to limiting and diminishing Greek influence nevertheless took as much as they could from it ... . The Greeks were undoubtedly the Great Communicators of the Mediterranean world.

But the agents who spread this undoubtedly attractive commodity round the oikouméne, the inhabited world, were seldom actually Greek. The spread of the Greek language is, rather, an object lesson in the effectiveness of hitching a ride. Macedon was beyond the pale of the Greek language community; yet its king planted Greek-speaking colonies all the way to the boundaries of India. Aramaic was the language of Greece’s greatest foe, the Persian empire; yet the two-hundred-year-old use of it as a chancery language across the empire meant that there was a clear model for Greeks to follow in seeding a Greek-based communications network round their newly won domains. Two hundred years later Rome, and with it Latin, was taking the whole Mediterranean rim by storm; yet Greek, the language of colonies in southern Italy, was accepted into a kind of equality with Latin, and went on to become the true cultural milieu of the Roman empire—in the sense that no cultivated inhabitant of the empire could be without it. Two hundred years later still, the new brooms sweeping the empire were mystery religions, especially Christianity; yet although none of them originated in Greece, their language of preference was Greek, and so Greek built an indissoluble link with the greatest movement of the late Roman empire, the Christian Church. By a final stroke of good fortune, this same movement, now specialised as Christian Orthodoxy, turned out to be the key to preserving Greek through four centuries of Turkish domination, after the dissolution of the Roman empire in the east. Greek thus owes its remarkable career to help from its friends, at every crucial turning point of the last 2300 years.