Friday, January 06, 2017

Another review of my book, Deeds of Arms

I just ran across this review on the website of Academie Duello in Vancouver.
Book Review: “Deeds of Arms” by S. Muhlberger

Wes von Papineäu JUNE 19, 2015

CATEGORIES: ADULT SWORDPLAY, PROGRAMS, SWORD NEWS

TAGS: BOOK REVIEW DEEDS OF ARMS HUNDRED YEARS' WAR JOUSTING MEDIEVAL MUHLBERGER

“They are stories about stories.” [1]

It does my heart good when I hear competent people say that they’ve recreated the essence of some medieval martial art event to the best of their ability, because they followed the descriptions of medieval combat “exactly” from period texts.

It’s a good … start.

But what if the reference book is not completely correct about the event it describes? What if the author had written a version of the event he witnessed that was “flavoured” by a political or social leaning? What if he wrote of an event based on his interview of someone who had (allegedly) witnessed the event? And even if the author penned a totally neutral recollection of an event, did he truly understand the nuances of the combat that he was witnessing? (Think of when you as sword scholars see swordplay on television, and your “recollection” of what went on compared to that of your swordless peers).

This is the conundrum that the eminently qualified and respected medieval historian Muhlberger brings to our attention in well-documented and easy-to-read detail.

A Broad Overview

In the first half of the book, Muhlberger focusses on the period of the Hundred Years’ War following the battles of Crécy and Poitiers (1350-1400). Using period recollections of “deeds of arms” (conflicts fought by prearrangement and within agreed upon limits), Muhlberger explains how tales of combat came to be so important for 14th century French literature … and for the medieval man-at-arms’ “sense of self”. [2] More importantly for us, he goes on to describe just how period writings concerning these events were influenced by a great variety of political, social or personal influences on the writers during this period. (Apparently, even back then, authors expected to be paid for their original work. Who knew?) With the aid of this information, Muhlberger guides us to a more careful consideration of how we interpret what really happened in any particular mêlée within the context of medieval politics and culture.

This is not a “fight book”, and it is not a history of historical duels; but it is a description of how period authors wrote about “deeds of arms”, and why the styles they used were fashionable.

The book is divided into sequentially supporting chapters, each of which I found could stand alone as independent studies in their own right.

Chapter-by-Chapter

First we learn of the risks undertaken by men-at-arms when one actually engages in physical combat, both in duels and war. (We do get a nod to select fight books here.) [3] The reader is introduced to the concept of “formal duels”, and extant variations on the theme.

Next, Muhlberger gets into the meat of his proposal with his examination of writings featuring the combat of “Thirty against Thirty” in 1351, examining in detail the confusion and discrepancies in recollection caused by passing time and the use of second hand accounts — and how sometimes the story of an event became more important that the actual event.

The chapter entitled “Will a Frenchman fight?” is most illuminating, demonstrating unequivocally that while the French Royal Army of 1380 was not famous for seeking battle, there were lots of French men-at-arms throughout the land ready to remind Englishmen that (to paraphrase a great film) “[their] mothers were hamsters and [their] fathers smelt of elderberries” … and were willing to back that challenge with one-on-one cold steel.

“Deeds of and Careers in Arms” describes how our protagonists built wealth and reputations during deeds of arms, and how the chroniclers of those deeds became our first “spin doctors”, worthy of employment in any modern PR company.

To finish, we are presented with period impressions of the four royal jousts conducted between the years of 1389 and 1390 during the “good peace” … though the intensity of combat during one tournament appeared to be equal to the combat seen in any war.

In Conclusion

A reading of Deeds of Arms would serve well anyone trying to recreate historical events in modern times. Any historical reference that a modern scholar may wish to use as “canon” is apt to be slanted in its representation of any past event — even if written with the very best of “neutral” intent and desire for accuracy. Read the old manuscripts, yes. But remember that when we are looking for guidance on how things happened in medieval times, a manuscript only tells us of one person’s recollection of “historical truth” and that any manuscript — regardless of its detail and “accuracy” — must be interpreted as part of a greater regional and situational historical record.

Read. Consider. Validate.

Sources

1. Muhlberger, Steven. Deeds of Arms – Formal Combats in the Late Fourteeth Century. (Highland Village Texas: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005) 4.

2. Muhlberger. Deeds of Arms. 3.

3. Muhlberger. Deeds of Arms. 23.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The evolution of the Canadian character

The Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation is being celebrated by the Globe and Mail with a number of special features. The first one is a long thought-piece by Doug Saunders, who was born on the Centennial year. He's got a lot to say about the many changes that took place before 1967 and emerged into public consciousness in the year of his birth.

Highly recommended even if you don't find the argument persuasive.

Me, I am very interested in how Canada stopped being British, so this was an excellent read for me.

Excerpts:
Eight hours after I was born, the directors of the Canadian National Exhibition filed into a banquet hall for their annual luncheon. The exhibition’s president, W.H. Evans, asked them to remain standing to sing the national anthem – and then chaos ensued, as half the audience broke into God Save the Queen before the pianist had struck the first note of O Canada. A debate over Canada’s true national anthem, begun in 1964, had been winding its way through a special House of Commons-Senate joint committee all year and filling the media with debate. It wouldn’t fully be resolved until a law was passed in 1980, and many people (especially in Toronto) still considered the British national anthem “official.”
In that light, 1967 can only be seen as the apex of Canada’s postcolonial moment. The wars over symbols were one small manifestation of a larger shift. It’s worth remembering how new this all was. We still remained, in important ways, a colony. In 1967, Canadian citizenship had only existed for 20 years – before January 1, 1947, everyone in Canada was a British subject and had to travel with a United Kingdom passport. But it still didn’t quite exist: That 1947 law creating Canadian citizenship declared in its main clause that “a Canadian citizen is a British subject” (this would remain in place until 1977). That idea was still hotly defended by many in the Ottawa of 1967: The Progressive Conservative leadership still opposed Canadian citizenship, and the flag, and the anthem. There was still a sizable political faction in Canada who supported the idea that all Canadians were simply a slightly different, less important flavour of British people. But the great majority of Canadians had moved on – or moved in – and you could see the centennial struggling to catch up with them.
Back in the 1980s, I told my history class that the disappearance of "the Romans" from Britain was less like an invasion and more like the elimination of "a Canadian citizen is a British subject" from the passport. This passed right over their heads, since they'd never seen such a passport.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

More Yes lyrics for the new year

Sad preacher nailed upon the coloured door of time

Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme

There'll be no mutant enemy we shall certify

Political ends as sad remains will die

Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you.

I listened hard but could not see

Life tempo change out and inside me

The preacher trained in all to lose his name

The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same

In the end we'll agree, we'll accept, we'll immortalize

That the truth of man maturing in his eyes

All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Some lyrics from Yes for the new year

Speak to me of summer Long winters longer than time can remember Setting up of other roads To travel on in old accustomed ways I still remember the talks by the water The proud sons and daughters That knew the knowledge of the land And spoke to me in sweet accustomed ways

Monday, December 26, 2016

Superintellligence


This talk, by Maciej Cegłowski, which reached me through a number of links, is one of the most interesting things I've seen on the web in a long time. I warn you that it's long, but it's not boring. The topic is superintelligence, the idea that computer-based intelligence is growing so fast that it will soon be dominant in our society. The proponents of this idea think this is a wonderful thing. Our author is not so sure.

Here are some short excerpts:
AI Cosplay
The most harmful social effect of AI anxiety is something I call AI cosplay. People who are genuinely persuaded that AI is real and imminent begin behaving like their fantasy of what a hyperintelligent AI would do.
In his book, Bostrom lists six things an AI would have to master to take over the world:
  • Intelligence Amplification
  • Strategizing
  • Social manipulation
  • Hacking
  • Technology research
  • Economic productivity
If you look at AI believers in Silicon Valley, this is the quasi-sociopathic checklist they themselves seem to be working from.
Sam Altman, the man who runs YCombinator, is my favorite example of this archetype. He seems entranced by the idea of reinventing the world from scratch, maximizing impact and personal productivity. He has assigned teams to work on reinventing cities, and is doing secret behind-the-scenes political work to swing the election.
Such skull-and-dagger behavior by the tech elite is going to provoke a backlash by non-technical people who don't like to be manipulated. You can't tug on the levers of power indefinitely before it starts to annoy other people in your democratic society.
I've even seen people in the so-called rationalist community refer to people who they don't think are effective as ‘Non Player Characters’, or NPCs, a term borrowed from video games. This is a horrible way to look at the world.
So I work in an industry where the self-professed rationalists are the craziest ones of all. It's getting me down.,

Incentivizing Crazy

This whole field of "study" incentivizes crazy.

One of the hallmarks of deep thinking in AI risk is that the more outlandish your ideas, the more credibility it gives you among other enthusiasts. It shows that you have the courage to follow these trains of thought all the way to the last station.
Ray Kurzweil, who believes he will never die, has been a Google employee for several years now and is presumably working on that problem.

There are a lot of people in Silicon Valley working on truly crazy projects under the cover of money.

Religion 2.0
What it really is is a form of religion. People have called a belief in a technological Singularity the "nerd Apocalypse", and it's true.

It's a clever hack, because instead of believing in God at the outset, you imagine yourself building an entity that is functionally identical with God. This way even committed atheists can rationalize their way into the comforts of faith.
The AI has all the attributes of God: it's omnipotent, omniscient, and either benevolent (if you did your array bounds-checking right), or it is the Devil and you are at its mercy.

Like in any religion, there's even a feeling of urgency. You have to act now! The fate of the world is in the balance!

And of course, they need money!

Because these arguments appeal to religious instincts, once they take hold they are hard to uproot.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Favorite entries 2016

Not much dross this year, since the less important stuff got redirected to Facebook.

Another review of Charny's Men-at-Arms

http://deremilitari.org/2016/12/steven-muhlberger-charnys-men-at-arms-questions-concerning-the-joust-tournaments-and-war-hass/




Steven Muhlberger, Charny’s Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning The Joust, Tournaments and War (Hass)

Steven Muhlberger

charny’s men-at-arms: questions concerning the joust, tournaments and war

(freelance, 2014) 111 pp. $25.00

Written around 1350, Geoffrey de Charny’s Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War (Les demandes pour la joute, les tournois et la guerre) consists of a series of questions – twenty relating to jousting, twenty-one to the tournament, and ninety to war – presented by the great French knight to King Jean II for the purpose of discussion among the members of the king’s new Order of the Star. As the questions found in the work remain unanswered, however, the document is often overlooked by scholars in favor of Charny’s more thorough and insightful composition; the Book of Chivalry (Livre de chevalerie). [1] Steven Muhlberger first took up the challenges presented by the Questions in 2003 with the publication of his Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France. [2] As the title suggests, the work examines only the first two sections of the text, and – but for five questions relating to jousting and the tournament – leaves the larger section on war for future comment. In this current volume Muhlberger brings his discussion of the Questions to its conclusion; but this is not merely a supplement to his earlier work. Employing his deep knowledge of medieval chivalry, the author has combined new material with a re-assessment of his previous scholarship, and the result is an enjoyable work that provides an enticing glimpse into the world of 14th Century knighthood.

Charny’s Men-at-Arms begins with Muhlberger establishing the historical context of the Questions by briefly introducing the reader to the life and career of Charny himself and the reform initiative that was the Order of the Star. He continues with the contextual discussion by showing the Questions to be part of a broader genre of writing about war; such as: Laws of Arms, Laws of War, disciplinary and administrative ordinances, etc. This latter discussion is important in helping to identify Muhlberger’s revised purpose of the Questions as being a prelude to legislation regarding the law of arms that was never enacted. (22) Chapter Three discusses the first two sections of the text – jousts and tournaments, and, as these were the core subjects of his 2003 volume, it is here that some overlap would be expected. However, Muhlberger’s re-assessment of his old discussion in light of more recent scholarship in the field – he specifically credits the works of David Crouch and Noel Fallows [3] – results in a discussion that is largely new. Older points of discussion – such as the importance of the horse – if they remain, have been edited and rearranged to fit the new narrative, with the new (questions about rank on the tourney field in light of new role of squires) and old information fitting together seamlessly.

Muhlberger’s new discussion about the questions concerning war is contained in Chapters Four through Seven. He begins with an examination of terms as a means of determining whom Charny was targeting as Men-at-Arms. Chapters Five to Seven examine the Questions themselves, and, given no answers to the queries, he uses frequency to identify what topics the Men-at-Arms thought were important. What emerges is the predominance of practical considerations; such as those involving plunder/booty or capture. Not strictly relying on frequency, however, Muhlberger also manages to identify a pattern between those above (questions which seek concrete gains or rights of warfare) and questions in which his intended audience was asked to define honorable behavior and chivalric terminology. The author’s final discussion concerns those topics (clerical sense, duels, heraldry, siege warfare) that receive little or no mention in the text. For a work like the Questions this is an important discussion as it shows its limitations, and thereby better frames the discussion and what information may be gleaned from the text itself and what may not. The volume is completed by Muhlberger’s translation of Charny. The translation is again based on the edition of Anthony Michael Taylor, but, unlike his effort from 2003, he has omitted the corresponding French text. For reasons of comparison (given the author’s new conclusion regarding the purpose of the Questions), an edition of an Ordinance of Richard II from 1385 has been included.
Overall, there is much to like about Charny’s Men-at-Arms. It is a handsomely produced and easily readable volume. The author’s translation of the original text is faultless; although there is still no information regarding the original Charny manuscripts and their dissemination. [4] Yet, it is Muhlberger’s introductory discussion that particularly stands out. Erudite, insightful, and often entertaining, he is also necessarily cautious with a text that requires deft handling. Indeed, one of his particular strengths is his recognition of the limitations of the text, and working within them to extrapolate out the considerable amount of information that he does without falling into the trap of over-speculation. In so doing he makes accessible a composition that had been overlooked and shows its merit. Moreover, this skill makes this work of particular appeal to teachers introducing students to primary texts, while at the same time contributing valuably to the scholarship of chivalry and the era of the Hundred Years War.
Jeff Hass
Franciscan University
[1] Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de
Charny: Text, Context, and Translation. Philadelphia, 1996.
[2] Reviewed for this site by Andy King.
[3] David Crouch, Tournament. Hambledon and London, 2005.
Noel Fallows, Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia. Woodbridge, 2010
[4] Both the production values and lack of manuscript information had received mention
in King’s review.
THIS ENTRY WAS POSTED IN BOOKREVIEW. BOOKMARK THE PERMALINK.




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"A city in heaven, inhabited by angels."

That is what a Sudanese refugee called London, Ontario in a CBC broadcast of an event raising money for a foodbank.

Yes, it seems rather unlikely to me, but it's all a matter of perspective.

At the moment, at least most of us, are on the right end of the telescope.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Great Events in Religion, edited by Florin Curta and Andrew Holt



A while back I was recruited by Andrew Holt to write some articles for an encyclopedia of the history of religion.  I took him up on it, even though he was asking for articles not particularly close to my current research interests.  It was an interesting challenge.

Just a couple of hours ago my contributor's copy came to my door.  I hadn't thought about the encyclopedia for quite a while, even though Andrew and I correspond fairly frequently, and as a result it was a bit of a shock to see the finished work.


Part of the surprise was the sheer size of the thing, which is a three-volume work.  I shouldn't be surprised, of course, because it is after all aiming at describing a whole important aspect of human existence.  There are, however, plenty of things calling themselves encyclopedias that have huge holes in their coverage.  Now I'm not sure yet that Great Events covers everything that I might think it should cover -- remember I've had it for two hours or so -- but it does have an awful lot of stuff.

Likewise I did know, somewhere in my fallible memory, that it was going to be "an Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History," but perhaps I hadn't really thought about what that might mean. What it does mean is that all religious history is treated in chronological order, which gives the whole thing a comparative history emphasis.  For me, that's a big plus. I am tempted to just sit down and read it through and see what I learn.  (I am unlikely to be able to do that.)

I have to admit that I have always been skeptical of the usefulness of  encyclopedias -- something I share with many historians -- but there is a chance that this one might be useful. The rare reader who has the time and access to the whole thing may get a much fuller view of world history than I did l when I  read Arnold Toynbee's A Study in History in my high school library.

I am genuinely pleased to see this.  As to how well it succeeds, I will get back to you.

Contest:   I am not sure this will have a prize, and it has as much intellectual content as clickbait promising to show you how the starts of some shows in the 70s look today.  In other words, you will be guessing.  Guess what three pivotal events I wrote up for Great Events.  To narrow the field a tiny bit, I wrote nothing on chivalry or the crusades.  Do it for laughs.

A discovery: Ilan Mitchell-Smith's Between Mars and Venus: Balance and Excess in the chivalry of the late-medieval English romance

A friend of mine alerted me to the existence of a PhD dissertation (Texas A&M) on chivalry and masculinity. I have just had a quick look, but the dissertation touches on some subjects of great interest: for instance, medieval masculinity being more complex than a bipolar spectrum between more masculine and less. In particular, Mitchell-Smith argues that masculinity did not simply equate to violence. He also explores the difference between chivalric behavior and chivalric identity.

If you are interested, you can read the dissertation online.

Image: A less-obvious chivalric pursuit (but note the helm and the heraldry). From the Manesse Codex.

The value of late medieval clothing

A review (in the Medieval Review) by Sharon Farmer of Daniel Lord Smail's Legal Plunder: Households and Debt Collection in Late Medieval Europe has this interesting fact about the value of clothing in the 14th and 25th centuries:
Smail also concludes that moveable goods constituted a much larger proportion of a household's value than we might have expected. He estimates that in the average household of the period, moveable goods constituted about three fifths of total household wealth. Most surprising of all is the relative value of clothing items vis-à-vis landed wealth. As Smail states, "the median price of a plot of agricultural land in 1350 could be paid off with a dozen fairly nice tablecloths, and a very high-end houppelande [an outer garment] in 1420 was worth more than double the median price of a field" (60). Because small goods stored so much value, because they could be sold off or given away more quickly than a piece of land, and because they enabled their owners to display their prestige on their backs and at their tables, they came to play a major role in personal and household thesaurization.
Image: from the early Dutch oil painter van der Weyden.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Death by overexertion, an English duel of 1380



Some of you probably know that I am writing a source reader -- a book that combines medieval documents with modern commentary -- on the subject of judicial duels.  These were considered to be the most dramatic "deeds of arms" by contemporaries and modern re-enactors are very interested in them.  My book in fact was inspired by Will McLean's collection of sources in his blog, and he will be credited as co-author.

This book includes an account of an English duel between as squire,Thomas Katrington, and Sir John de Annesley.  Annesley, the knight accused Katrington, who had commanded a castle in France, of treason, because, said Annesley, he had surrendered it to the French when he had the resources to defend it.  After a certain amount of political back and forth among major players, including Duke John of Gaunt, a duel was arranged.  There was so much public interest that the crowds who attended were said to exceed those at the recent coronation of Richard II.

An interesting point is the way the duel ended.  It was said to be half an hour long, and very strenuous, with the weapons of either man being destroyed so that (I think) they  were fighting on foot with daggers.  They ended up both lying on the ground with Katrington on top.  The question then arose, what next?
Soon after [Annesley, the knight] was raised up, without any support he eagerly went to the king, while the squire [Katrington]who had been raised, was not able to stand nor go anywhere without the support of two men; and therefore, he was put upon a chair,  and he remained there quietly. The knight therefore came to the king and asked him, and his nobles, that he would grant him the grace, he should be put in the same place as before, with the squire on top of him... he realized that the squire was nearly at his last breath from the excess of [labor] and heat, and the weight of arms which had almost taken the vital spirits from him.
 In the meantime the squire, lacking breath, suddenly  fell off the chair, as if dead, among those who stood around him. Many therefore took care of him, pouring wine and water over the man; but nothing helped at all, until his arms and all of his clothing were removed . This being done  it proved that the knight was the victor and the squire defeated. After a long delay, however, the squire's spirit began to revive, and opening  his eyes he began to raise his head, and terribly began to look at all of those standing around ; when this was announced to the armored knight, (for the knight had not taken off his armor from the beginning of the fight) he approached the squire and called him a false traitor, and asked if he dared to repeat the duel. Since [Katrington] indeed had neither sense nor breath to answer, it was announced that the fight was over and that each should return to his own place. The squire therefore was soon carried to his bed, and he began to rave; and persisting  in his madness, the next day, about the ninth hour, he breathed forth his spirit. 
Interesting that an experienced warrior could end up dying of overexertion caused by among other things the weight of his armor.

In addition, a short piece from Froissart (book III, chapter 7; also late 14th century):


A squire of Navarre was there slain, called Ferdinand de Miranda, an expert man at arms. Some who were present say the bourg d'Espaign killed him, others that he was stifled through the heat of his armour. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Objectivity and the teaching historian

Andrew Holt of Florida State College at Jacksonville recently asked some medieval historians (he is one himself) to comment on the possiblity of "objectivity" in the teaching of history. I was one of them. Here are the answers he received.
Objectivity and and the classroom: ten historians respond.
There are no big surprises, but the similarity of views here might be of interest to non-academic readers.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

American Gods, Supernatural, and Jesus

Recently I have been reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, as well as watching the TV show Supernatural, which has been on for pretty close to 15 years now. I am finding both of them quite enjoyable. They have strong similarities, specifically they both take place in America (Trump's America?) where behind the scenes of ordinary life (a pretty dreary ordinary life mostly in the country or very small towns) biblical or pagan gods, culture heroes, and etc. pursue their own agendas, generally with bad effects on human beings who stumble across them.
American Gods has a high reputation and it is very entertaining and well-written. The specific plot of the story is that many of the ancient gods of European or Middle Eastern origin are trying desperately to make a living, generally by running some kind of scam. They are old and weak because nobody much believes in them anymore more and sacrifices are hard to come by.
There is one very noticeable weak point in American Gods, and that is the complete absence of Jesus in the storyline. When the human hero of the story comes across these gods and goddesses, many of them talk about how things are not nearly as good as they were back in the old days. They are upset about the current condition and talk about it in some detail. But Jesus never comes up. Churches, priests, ministers, huge suburban ministries with a strong television presence likewise. Jesus should be there in that landscape, but he isn't, not even as a figure on whom to blame the sad plight of the old gods. It is fully in line with the tone and logic of American Gods that the old guys should take a new human ear as an opportunity to pour out their troubles.
Supernatural is a bit different. A lot of biblical and semi-biblical mythology is strongly present in the main plot line. You can kind of understand how the makers of the TV series might back off from including any commentary whatsoever on Jesus.
But it is very odd that a novelist who likes think of himself as innovative, would censor himself in this way. Or is there some other explanation for his strong desire to ignore the most important American God?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Onslaught, by David Poyer

David Poyer's publisher sent me a proof copy of this book in hopes I would comment on it. I was a little hesitant since it is a "big war" story, and such books tend to be a bit on the fantastic side, and their authors often seem to be motivated by a smug confidence that they know better than their readers how things really work.

I very quickly became impressed with David Poyer's most recent naval adventure novel. Not necessarily because he knows more about the modern navy than I do, there's no doubt about that, but more because he has got a real talent for taking a complicated situation and showing how many different people are affected by the big events.

Poyer has written fifteen novels about a US naval officer named Dan Lenson and shown his hero dealing with a lot of different crises. In Onslaught, Lenson is in command of a naval squadron in the East China Sea just as the leader of communist China decides to launch a new militaristic dynasty by annexing Taiwan, Okinawa and a slew of other small but strategic islands. The US is caught flatfooted and Lenson has to desperately put together a response to Chinese aggression without clear direction from the political leadershib or adequate resources, such as fuel and ammunition. There's plenty of story in just this scenario, but Poyer doesn't stop there. He uses other characters very deftly to fill out the picture. We see Washington through the eyes of Lenson's wife, a defense expert who is also running for Congress; the complexities of shipboard life by following an NCIS investigator trying to track down a rapist; the extreme dangers of a career in the Navy SEALS and the high price of failure.

Poyer is a good storyteller, with a talent for explaining weapons systems, international politics and a variety of characters. I got hooked and read it at top speed.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Things change

A prominent English orchestra conductor said this on the radio yesterday, about refugee policy:

"It is nice to live in a country where we can do the right thing and not just the politically expedient thing." The country he was speaking about was, of course, Germany. The conductor was Sir Simon Rattle, who leads the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Not so long ago...

...it looked like the world was experiencing an impressive democratic wave, similar to but even more widespread than the one that took place around 1905.  Things don't look too good now.  It is discouraging how in the name of democracy the republican tradition of Turkey, never completely secure in regards to its democratic practice, is being throughly trashed.

Juan Cole has a rather detailed summary of recent developments. Read 'em and weep.

The Turkish government has detained 11 members of parliament from the leftist, feminist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP),including the party’s co-chairs. This step is intended to give Erdogan the majority in parliament he needs to make himself president for life, and to give Turkey (currently a parliamentary government) an imperial presidency on the Egyptian model. The pretext was that these MPs declined to testify in a witch-hunt inquiry. I.e., this is precisely McCarthyism.

Since the failed July 15 coup, the Turkish government of President Tayyip Erdogan has fired 110,000 people–10,000 of them just last weekend– from the police, judiciary and other government offices. He has had 12,000 professors fired. Some 15 private universities have been summarily shut down on the grounds that they have some Gulen link. If all of them were involved in the coup, that action might be understandable. But manifestly, all were not. It is true that the rightwing religious Gulen cult has seeded covert agents throughout the Turkish government and business sector. But surely there are hundreds of them, not 110,000. Among the authoritarian steps he has taken is the lifting of parliamentary immunity, setting the stage or his current coup d’etat.

Erdogan has also closed down 45 newspapers, 16 television channels and all told, 130 media organizations. Some were accused of having Gulen tendencies. Others are pro-Kurdish. Still others are secular. Many are just sometimes critical of Erdogan, which apparently is no longer going to be allowed.

Woodpiles as art



Anyone who has heated a house with wood can't help but pay attention to woodpiles.  Just seeing a good pile ready for use stirs emotion; this kind of creative effort is truly fine.