Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cement Shoes for World Peace

Another year of Cologne's Rosenmontag.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Freedom without Borders part I

Monday's class begins with a simple idea: during the Ancien Regime the citizen enjoyed his freedom and rights based upon his citizenship; following the French Revolution, his citizenship expresses the natural freedom and liberty enjoyed from birth. I doubt that this idea will withstand the scrutiny of the students, especially since the class consists entirely of women. Nevertheless, it will introduce questions about the practice of citizenship during the French Revolution, leading into the contentious Reign of Terror: a nation of the sovereign people could not tolerate individualist, particularist expressions of personal liberties.

What was interesting about the revolution's elucidation of the rights and liberties of the individual was its desire to be both foundational and universal–an expression of human rights, not just those reserved for Frenchmen. Although American constitutions and bills of rights (national and state) served as models for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (with a particular Jeffersonian accent), the revolutionary deputies felt that the "self-evident" truth that "all men are created equal, ... endowed ... with certain unalienable rights" was not adequately enshrined in the Bill of Rights. From their perspective, the French saw a document that reflected the realities of American culture, and it give any reason to say that these were anything more than American rights.

Distinguishing themselves from the Americans, yet appealing to the world, revolutionary deputies set forth to tell the world of the natural rights that were denied to them, not the least of which was that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights." And many Europeans and a few Haitians seemed to agree, even as they were kicking the French out of their own countries.

There are probably those out there who will disagree with the assessment of the Bill of Rights versus the Declaration of the Rights of Man, that the former indeed offered a statement of universal (and revolutionary) truth to the world. And some rights may not entirely be universal. Regardless, both documents are premised on the notion of the existence of rights that belong to the individual, regardless of gender, status or nationality. The social contract is not even the benefactor of these liberties, but must observe them as being natural and innate.

What are these rights? Right of free speech? Rights to dispose of one's own property and labor? Right to a public, jury trial? What are these inalienable rights that precede all political categories and considerations? And has any nation the right to deny them?

[Part II coming soon]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Say It Loud!

Notes for Stanley Crouch:
  1. Memory is not genetic.
  2. Repression of people of African descent by people of European descent is not uniquely American.
Now, I'm gonna blast Stan Kenton and Jimmy Guiffre until Stanley can't stand anymore.

[Wik] Better yet, Cecil Taylor!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Noch Einmal (Once More)

Dixie Chicks--Best Country Album--a political statement? The belles of the dance received the most accolades for an album shunned by country radio, the genre they supposedly represent, and the Country Music Awards. Best country album? Johno will no doubt interject that country music eats its own, fossilizing new talents into legends as quickly as possible and pushing them into the closet, making way for another generation of singers with clean-pressed blue jeans and posturing with capoed guitars.

Well, there's nothing new under the sun, and this year was no exception. For the third year in a row, the Grammy best country album went to artists who did not even receive nominations in the respective categories at the CMA: Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose and Alison Kraus' Lonely Runs Both Ways preceded Taking the Long Way. It's easy to focus on the political statement that the Dixie Chicks' album presents, but other trends may be at work. I won't argue the merits of the album (I preferred Chis Thile's How to Grow a Woman From the Ground and Carrie Rodriguez's sassy "Never Gonna Be Your Bride"). But it seems that the larger music industry (which includes country musicians) disagree about what should be considered good country music. Indeed, Taking the Long Way is the most accessibly crossover of the three I've highlighted, perhaps much more in line with country music trends (especially in marketing) than Lynn's and Kraus' bluegrass.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shape of Textbooks to Come

If you don't check out Words without Borders, you are missing some great works in global literature. This month they are offering graphic stories from around the world, this one a biography of the medical education of a German woman during the Kaiserreich.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Imagining the Westphalian World

The University of Augsburg has put up an interesting collection, Die Augsburger Friedensgemälde — Tradition und Bedeutung im Rahmen der Erinnerungs- und Gedächtniskultur des Westfälischen Friedens (Paintings of the Peace of Augsburg--Tradition and Meaning in the Realm of the Memorial Culture of the Peace of Westphalia), a work that was directed at local school children. Most of the works are allegorical in nature, but they taught recent religious and political history as well. (Click here and work your way down the left-hand window.) These images specifically pertain to the Peace of Augsburg, the city's role in its formation and its importance to order in the German world.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Picture is worth a thousand politicians

Pictures as historical actors? L'Événement (The Event), an exhibition at Jeu de Paume (Concorde, Paris), considers the role of photography in reporting historical events--effectively "generating the historical event." Lunettes Rouges looks at the exhibition (it's all in French, sorry).

Paving Paradise

Get out your maps! The boundaries of Europe have changed yet again! Old nations disappear, new nations appear, conquest shifts the divisions between people (often without shifting the people themselves). This is what makes European history fun: the division of Poland, the Napoleonic conquest of Europe, the Congress of Vienna, Greek indepedence, annexation of Alsace -Lorraine, the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

What earth-shattering event has happened? France and Luxembourg exchanged nine hectares of unused agricultural land so that the latter can put up a parking lot. With strains of Joni Mitchell in my head, I lament the modesty that has overcome the politics of the continent. I guess Chirac's "triple revolution" of environmentalism has started off on the wrong foot.