Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Grizzly Man Ecology

Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man certainly left an impression on me. Timothy Treadwell's passion for grizzly bears (and a pretty-fly-for-a-white-guy desire to live like them) unfolded into an blinding innocence about the distance that man has evolved from animals, leading to his ultimate, bloody death (and his companion's). Herzog, not content to focus just on Treadwell's character, implies a difficult question: to what extent does humanity delude itself that it can peacefully coexist with nature?

In subsequent interviews, Treadwell's colleagues rejected Herzog's portrayal of the delusional man, emphasizing his expertise, experience, and ultimately the results he achieved protecting grizzly bears. Of course, these colleagues seem apologetic, salvaging what they can of Treadwell's work and reputation. Their conservationism seems to be as destructive and confrontational as their poachers they try to stave off.

This film came to mind as Brdgt has tried to convince me of the importance of risk in urban history. True, I would not equate Treadwell's environmental instincts with urban planning or think that his follies discredit environmentalism's attention to urban issues. But her comments have me questioning my own belief that "humanity has a history of dialogue with the environment": that it is impossible to see the landscape without the human hand. Rather than rushing toward the disaster, urban life involves constant, tedious balancing that is seldom stable. I'm not as concerned that Mike Davis' hot tubbing bears are evidence of man's crossing the line than Treadwell.

I guess my concern is how risk emphasizes certain aspects of the urban experience above others. Has the intimacy and rapidity of interactions brought by urban life been, well, worth the risk? Is human population density in itself problematic, even fundamentally unnatural? And do disasters fit in as speed bumps in the urban experience, or are they washed away in the tide of rebuilding?

If I have answers in the future, I'm sure I'll have more questions as well.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

City and Country (Current Version)

Thanks to everyone who made suggestion about my proposed syllabus. I found them all helpful. Yes, Nature's Metropolis made it in (with three recommendations, how could I resist?). However, I have to thank Alan Baumler for mentioning Pommeranz--it was a book that I had read and enjoyed years ago.

Anyway, here is how the readings stand now. I added sections relevant to migration and urban interaction. I expect to make changes in the future, and will keep an updated syllabus somewhere on the sidebar.

The City from Tradition to Modernity
  • Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950
  • Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City
  • Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (film)
Fate of the Village
  • Kenneth Pommeranz, The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society and Economy in Inland North China, 1852-1937
  • Jean Giono, Harvest (aka Second Harvest)
  • Marc Bloch, French Rural Society
  • Raymond Williams, The Country and the City
Taking Control of Nature
  • Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations about the Americas before Columbus
  • David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany
  • Jared Orsi, Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles
Theories of Space
  • Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space
  • Paul Virilio, Negative Horizon
  • Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of Social Environment
  • Ann Whitson Spirn, The Language of Landscape
  • Renzo Dubbini, Geography of the Gaze
  • Denis Cosgrove, Social Transformation and the Symbolic Landscape
  • William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
  • Jan De Vries, European Urbanization
  • Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life
  • Shri 420 (film)
  • J.R. McNeill, Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World
  • Martin Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time: Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution
Borders and Border Crossings
  • Leslie Page Moch, Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe since 1650
  • Emile Zola, La Bête Humaine
  • Paula Robert, La Gran Línea: Mapping the United States-Mexico Boundary, 1849-1857
  • Robert Davidson, “Spaces of Immigration ‘Prevention’: Interdiction and the Non-Place”, Diacritics (2003)
Industry and Environment

    Marc Cioc, The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000
  • Joel Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective
  • George Orwell, Road to Wiggan Pier
Preservation and Conservation
  • Maiken Umbach and Bernd Huppauf, Vernacular Modernism: Heimat, Globalization and the Built Environment
  • Michael J. Lewis, The Politics of the German Gothic Revival
  • Gregg Mitman, The State of Nature
Memory and Place
  • Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul
  • George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers
  • Sunil Kumar, The Present in Delhi’s Pasts
Transacted Space
  • Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender
  • David Harvey, The Urbanization of Capital
  • Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957
Space and the European Union
  • Andreas Faludi, Making the European Spatial Development Perspective
  • Secondary Reading: none

Friday, November 24, 2006

City and Country: Modern Spatial History

Alas! I'm spending too much time away from this blog. Baby, applications, and the albatross (Diss) take up too much of my time. Needless to say, this state of affairs won't last forever.

Yet I need help. I've been trying to design a course, either advanced undergraduate or graduate, that integrates various aspects of, what I would call, spatial history: urban history, social history, rural history, environmental history, etc. This project, while it has got me thinking about how these topics work together, it has made me aware of deficiencies in my reading.

Anyway, this is how the units are set up so far:

Part I: Milieu The City from Tradition to Modernity
Primary reading: Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts
Secondary reading: Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham

Fate of the Village
Primary reading: John Merriman, Stones of Balazuc?
Secondary reading: Marc Bloch, French Rural History?

Taking Control of Nature
Primary Reading: Charles Mann,
Secondary Reading: David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature

Part II: Theories
Theories of Space
Primary Reading: Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space
Secondary Reading: Paul Virilio, Negative Horizon

Primary Reading: Ann Whitson Spirn, The Language of Landscape
Secondary Reading: Renzo Dubbini, Geography of the Gaze

Primary Reading: ?
Secondary Readin: Jan De Vries, European Urbanization

Primary Reading: J.R. McNeill, Something New under the Sun
Secondary Reading: Jeffry Diefendorf and Kurk Dorsey, eds., City, Country, Empire?

Part III: Themes
Geography of the Imagination
Primary Reading: Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current
Secondary Reading: Martin Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time

Industry and Environment
Primary Reading: Marc Cioc, The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000
Secondary Reading: ?

Preservation and Conservation
Primary Reading: Maiken Umbach and Bernd Huppauf, Vernacular Modernism
Secondary Reading: Rudy Koshar, Germany’s Transient Pasts ?

Memory and Place
Primary Reading: Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul
Secondary Reading: Michael J. Lewis, The Politics of the German Gothic Revival

Green Politics
Secondary Reading: Gregg Mitman, The State of Nature
Secondary Reading: ?

Space and the European Union
Primary Reading: Andreas Faludi, Making the European Spatial Development Perspective
Secondary Reading: None

German, all too German! I'm disappointed that these readings seem to apply mostly to Germany, France to a lesser extent. Moreover, there are several holes that I cannot fill in the way I like. Anyway, I'd appreciate any feedback anyone might have with regard to the readings or the structure. Thanks!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

That's what I've been saying

Thank you! There are other, more charitable, more socially aware sides to religious people.
Consider that the Catholic Bishops, who have, from my perspective, unfortunately concentrated their energies on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, have also engaged in eloquent criticism of American actions in the Iraq War, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops is among the most important groups that still support the idea of a vigorous welfare state. One could obviously present other examples, including the attempts of Jim Wallis and others to present a more politically progressive version of Evangelical politics.

This is not a question of learning to talk about "values" or professing one's own religiosity. I remain a thoroughly secular Jew, with the operative word, when all is said and done, being the adjective. Rather, it is how "we" who have no religious "faith" manifest our respect for and make alliances with those who do have very deep religious commitments and are, as with King, quite literally willing to put their lives on the line in behalf of the most fundamental values of instantiating "equal concern and respect" even for those who pick up our garbage. (Jesse Jackson, who is too often derided, is surely the most eloquent speaker in the country today in behalf of King's late-60's commitment to what he called the "Poor People's Campaign" (which, of course, utterly failed, and not only because he was assassinated).)

Friday, November 17, 2006

For a History of the Use of Religion

rousAt Spinning Clio, Marc, writing about Michael Novak, distinguishes between the religiosity and spirituality of the sogennant Founding Fathers:
I do think things have a gone a bit too far in proclaiming that the Founders weren't really, you know, that religious and, by extension, they'd be somehow against referring to God in public. Historians have learned to contemporize their subjects in so many other areas of historical research. Yet, it seems to me that there is a deficit of contemporization with regards to how important religion was in both the daily life and the philosophy of the Founders.
Now, I'm not going to discuss the merits of Novak's arguments about their attachment to Judaism as portrayed in the Old Testament (I don't believe there is much Judeo- in the Judeo-Christian Tradition). Nonetheless, Marc points out a problem about the way religion is presented in historical discourse that is not limited to the founding of the United States. Inordinate attention is paid to the doctrines and orthodoxies of faith without examining the importance of faith and its use in daily life. This is especially true in the teaching of religion in the past, and I am afraid that students believe that almost all past societies are dominated by fervent spirituality. Moreover, they become convinced that the political application of religion leads necessarily to intolerance (something I complained about last month).

Yet the application of religion is of utmost importance. Even in the Nineteenth Century, when religion supposably declined in the midst of faith in progress, religion grew in astounding ways. As Owen Chadwick pointed out (
The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century), religion persisted despite the effectiveness of anticlerical rhetoric on faith. Surely faith lost its intimacy, but religion practice remained (perhaps even strengthened) as it became seen for its potential for moral education.

Indeed, for an age known for rationality, there were many mystics and pilgrims. This was especially true for Catholicism, which experienced a revival even though its position vis-a-vis the state progressively weakened. Suddenly it was free to concentrate on the faithful, and in some ways, to be led by them, as in the popular sentiment that grew around Bernadette Subaru Soubirous.

But if there is one trend that shows the change in the use of faith, it would be how religion was transformed into identity. Perhaps the best work of history I read this year, is Michael Gross' The War against Catholicism: Liberalism and Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany. He writes evocatively about the Catholic revival missions and the propaganda used to raise the alarm about the Jesuit presence in Germany. Protestantism, interestingly, became a foil for Liberals' campaign against Catholicism, casting the visibility of Catholics as a threat to the nation and its dominant religion.

Can religion influence the public mind in the absence of spirituality? I think it can, and does.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Way Out

HW Brands on how the money question and the founding of the Federal Reserve hold the answer to compromise on Medicare and Social Security:
The act established the Federal Reserve system, which represented a compromise between the private sector and the public sector — between the demands of the bankers and holdover Hamiltonians for capitalist control of the money system, and of the Populists, Progressives and remnant Jeffersonians for democratic control. The dozen Federal Reserve banks were privately capitalized but were directed by a board of governors appointed by the White House. Otherwise, the Federal Reserve system was designed to be institutionally independent of both the business and the political classes. ...

The secret of the Federal Reserve Act — and of the subsequent success of the Fed — was the willingness, born of exhaustion, of the two opposing camps to turn the money question over to a partly capitalist, partly democratic agency — and thereafter to keep their hands off. It's a model that works and that might be applied to other vexing problems. The healthcare and pension questions, for example, have defied solution in much the way the money question did during the 19th century. On healthcare and pensions, both the private and public sectors have strong interests in the outcome — so strong as to prevent, thus far, any outcome besides a muddled extension of the status quo.

Reviewing the compromise that produced the Federal Reserve, modern reformers might well find the key to similarly happy, or at any rate acceptable, solutions. Details, naturally, would have to reflect the distinctive facets of healthcare and pensions, but the principle of a public-private compromise, followed by insulation from both the political and corporate spheres, would allow decisions to be made that can't be made in the current setting.

Whether the resulting agencies would achieve the success of the Fed is something only time would reveal. But, at the least, Ben Bernanke would have company. [Emphasis mine]

I think the key, unfortunately, is exhaustion, and I don't think either side will stop, even if a part-private, part-public solution is found.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Shifting Winds

The U.S. may yet get on the right side of international justice:
To Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, the verdict is already in. "The ICC has refuted its critics, who confidently and wrongly predicted that it would be politicized and manipulated by our enemies to prosecute U.S. soldiers," he said recently.
So, the International Court has not been used to randomly prosecute soldiers, you say?

Again with the Urban Strategy?

Remember this map. It's the results of the 2004 presidential vote, by county. It looked so red, with thin veins of blue only at the margins. At the time I wrote:
The counties map might tell of dwindling influence, but it also shows a clear advantage. Those blue spots produced almost as many votes as all that red. They are cities and their regions. It might be useful for the Democratic Party to concentrate on its urban politics (economic development, safety and policing, anti-terrorism) as a means of attacking many places at once. Furthermore, they should not limit planning to the cities themselves, but to their suburbs as well. Get people to realize that they have a stake in the health of their nearby metropolis.
USA Today has another county-by-county map for Tuesday's results. It's bluer than 2004, as if all the Democratic areas had jumped their banks and inundated the surrounding areas. But these are the House results, which, if you click over to the 2004 county-by-county House results, look similar (again, bluer). DNC gains occurred in areas adjacent to other Democrat leaners. I still think that Democrats might build their support by convincing voters of their stake in municipal-regional development.

What I didn't appreciate at the time is that big swath of blue along the Canadian border. Sure, Minnesota and Wisconsin looked blue, but not North Dakota and South Dakota. Of course, I am comparing 2004 Presidential results to 2006 House results, which is a jump. And I'm sure someone will have an explanation that will seemingly negate its importance (maybe the counties are sparsely populated with Native American majorities). Nonetheless, it shows that Democrats have some appeal in rural areas.

In North Dakota, the Democratic senator and representative were both long-time incumbents, and they were probably going nowhere, but Democrats made gains in state elections, reversing recent trends to the right. Similar small gains were made in South Dakota state offices; commentators disagree whether mood drove voters at the polls, or a little Rovian strategy helped. Whichever is true, there is reason to believe that Democrats can reestablish themselves in rural America.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Deficit

Last night ... so much different than two years ago, especially the mood swing that occurred from when I left New Hampshire as as poll watcher (yes, I had the power to challenge votes! but I didn't) to when I had a headache at 1 am. I like the idea of a legislature that involves itself in matters of oversight and administration than 'big projects.'

Anyway, Brandon has some interest reflections on what votes really mean--that is, the reality beneath the euphemisms that pundits and commentators pile on top of them.

Points 2, 3, and 8 are particularly interesting because they reflect to the extent that an election is the "voice of the people" (as is point 7, as it connects voting to the psychology of mass politics). Elections are, at best, an attempt at collective agreement among voters that, in the end, is never an expression of the full electorate. On the one hand, choices are not what the people want, but what is made available to them. They cannot pick z when only options x and y are put on the table, as Brandon points out.

On the other, the selection of x over y does not indicate that the entire electorate choice x. Voters for y, in this sense, do not contribute to the collective decision that has been made, and their votes are not counted among the "voices of the people," no matter how small their numbers.

Pierre Rosanvallon, a French political scientist, refers to this as the deficit of representation (or democratic deficit), a problem that arose with the transition from monarchy to parliamentary democracy. Despite equating the nation with the people (as Siéyès did), voting systems and legislative bodies could never become identical to the nation. Despite every measure to fold the minority back into the governing process, majorities excluded largswatheshs of the population. Moreover, the inability to identify the two led to increasing politicization and partisanship: counter-democratic institutions to create a majority by driving a smaller section of the electorate. Rosanvallon's view is not all doom and gloom: democracy may be "unachieveded," but the counter-democratic institutions do not overturn democracy.

The "voices of the people" are diverse, multivalent, personal, and complicated. Speaking of the vote in the singular ascribes motives to those who did not see their desires met, regardless of how they were formulated.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Taping the Disaster

Excellent post at Global Voices Online: Former Yugoslavia: Can video play a part in truth, justice and reconciliation?

Friday, November 03, 2006

I wanna job
I wanna job
I wanna good job
I wanna job
I wanna job that pays
I wanna job
I wanna good job
I wanna job
One that satisfies
My artistic needs
Job searches--so much like Sid & Nancy.