Saturday, July 31, 2010
There will be one notable re-enactment, by the Company of St. Michael, on the Tuesday of the main week of Pennsic, of the Seneschal of Hainault's deeds of arms of 1402-3. The previous link will tell you more. I hope to be there, but I promised last year and ended up too exhausted to take part.
Image: Do you know that Google returns 19,000,000 results when you search for images of the Company of St. George?
Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
That is what Jordan Heron calls himself, since he has jousted in North America, Europe and Australasia. Only problem: he's getting good.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
A fascinating article in the Toronto Star. Someone of influence in Iran thinks that the new "Islamic haircut" policy will be easier to sell if you stick the Canadian flag on it and tell people a Toronto-based agency headed by a Canadian educated Iranian is "advising" on it.
I guess Canadians could take this as a double-backflip compliment of some sort, but I think it means that someone in Iran thinks young, fashion-conscious Iranians are suckers. Or that the people charged with selling the policy are suckers.
The whole thing is embarrassing. What's next, Islamic tuques?
Friday, July 23, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
An opinion piece by Ali Abunimah on Al Jazeera's English website reports that is now Israeli settlers and right-wing parties that are considering a one state solution for Israel/Palestine. I strongly suggest you read the entire article, but I will include some excerpts:
With no progress toward a two-state solution despite decades of efforts, the only Zionist alternative on offer has been outright expulsion of the Palestinians - a programme long-championed by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, which has seen its support increase steadily.
Israel is at the point where it has to look in the mirror and even some cold, hard Likudniks like Arens apparently do not like what they see. Yisrael Beitenu's platform is "nonsensical," Arens told Haaretz and simply not "doable".
If Israel feels it is a pariah now, what would happen after another mass expulsion of Palestinians?
Lessons from South Africa
Given these realities, "The worst solution ... is apparently the right one: a binational state, full annexation, full citizenship" in the words of settler activist and former Netanyahu aide Uri Elitzur.
This awakening can be likened to what happened among South African whites in the 1980s. By that time it had become clear that the white minority government's effort to "solve" the problem of black disenfranchisement by creating nominally independent homelands - bantustans - had failed.
Pressure was mounting from internal resistance and the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions. By the mid-1980s, whites overwhelmingly understood that the apartheid status quo was untenable and they began to consider "reform" proposals that fell very far short of the African National Congress' demands for a universal franchise - one-person, one-vote in a non-racial South Africa.
The reforms began with the 1984 introduction of a tricameral parliament with separate chambers for whites, coloureds and Indians (none for blacks), with whites retaining overall control.
Until almost the end of the apartheid system, polls showed the vast majority of whites rejected a universal franchise, but were prepared to concede some form of power-sharing with the black majority as long as whites retained a veto over key decisions.
The important point, as I have argued previously,is that one could not predict the final outcome of the negotiations that eventually brought about a fully democratic South Africa in 1994, based on what the white public and elites said they were prepared to accept.A joint state should accommodate Israeli Jews' legitimate collective interests, but it would have to do so equally for everyone else.
Once Israeli Jews concede that Palestinians must have equal rights, they will not be able to unilaterally impose any system that maintains undue privilege.
That proposals for a single state are coming from the Israeli right should not be so surprising in light of experiences in comparable situations.
In South Africa, it was not the traditional white liberal critics of apartheid who oversaw the system's dismantling, but the National Party which had built apartheid in the first place. In Northern Ireland, it was not "moderate" unionists and nationalists like David Trimble and John Hume who finally made power-sharing under the 1998 Belfast Agreement function, but the long-time rejectionists of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, and the nationalist Sinn Fein, whose leaders had close ties the IRA.
The experiences in South Africa and Northern Ireland show that transforming the relationship between settler and native, master and slave, or "horse and rider," to one between equal citizens is a very difficult, uncertain and lengthy process.
There are many setbacks and detours along the way and success is not guaranteed. It requires much more than a new constitution; economic redistribution, restitution and restorative justice are essential and meet significant resistance.
But such a transformation is not, as many of the critics of a one-state solution in Palestine/Israel insist, "impossible." Indeed, hope now resides in the space between what is "very difficult" and what is considered "impossible".
The proposals from the Israeli right-wing, however inadequate and indeed offensive they seem in many respects, add a little bit to that hope. They suggest that even those whom Palestinians understandably consider their most implacable foes can stare into the abyss and decide there has to be a radically different way forward.
Image above: Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank as islands in the sea of Israel.
Image below: Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank in red.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
...and its mandatory long form.
The issue is that the federal government is ending the practice of requiring a certain number of people to fill out a detailed census long form, under pain of law. The government says that a larger number of voluntary forms will be just as good. Anyone who uses the statistical databases that result from the census disagrees, including a great many businesses. The chief statistician of Canada has just resigned, probably because he feels that his advice has been mischaracterized by his minister.
This is the biggest deal going today. The Globe and Mail's article had attracted 1616 comments last time I looked a few minutes ago. That's a lot of comments.
Unfortunately, if you look at them, many of them are from the same idiots who like to bait each other on any political issue. Still 1616 is a tremendously large number for that forum.
Image: from slapupsidethehead.com, even though this issue has nothing to do with gay marriage or gay anything.
The battleground of hair is now in Iran. one of the warriors in that battle is human rights activist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. Here's the beginning of her story as told in
On a cold winter day, Iranian women's rights activist and journalist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer made an about-face: Having worn the hijab for 25 years, she decided to cast her head scarf into the sea.
That was in 2006. But she still remembers every detail of that day in Ireland: how she walked along the seaport in Dublin for several hours pondering the act; how she watched as her head scarf was pulled away by the waves.
Above all, she remembers how for the first time she felt the wind blowing in her hair, a feeling she had long dreamed about.
"For a moment, I felt that there was no greater pleasure in the world than the feeling of the wind in my hair," Davoodi Mohajer says.
The article goes on to give the background to her decision:
Davoodi Mohajer grew up in a liberal family, but says she decided to wear the hijab at the time of Iran's 1979 revolution because she believed it would make her a better person and Iranian society a better place.At the moment, the Iranian government is also going after men with "inappropriate hairstyles." Also from RFE/RL:
"I thought due to the propaganda then, and also books I used to read, that my hijab gives immunity to the society," Davoodi Mohajer says. "They kept saying men shouldn't become aroused, men shouldn't sin, and I thought preventing that [from happening] was my responsibility."
Several years later Davoodi Mohajer, who had chosen to wear the strictest form of the hijab, the head-to-toe chador, began questioning it and other Islamic laws in which she had once firmly believed.
She says her studies and her human rights activities had a key role in her reassessment of reasons for wearing the hijab in the first place.
Davoodi Mohajer says she started asking herself whether the hijab was really giving her "immunity" as claimed by Iranian leaders -- whether it elevated women's status. And, if so, then why didn't women have the same rights as men in the Islamic republic? "Why do women not enjoy equal rights with men when it comes to divorce, inheritance, and other issues?" she says she kept asking herself.
She started writing about women's rights issues and human-rights abuses in reformist publications and giving speeches at universities and other places.
Her activities and her support for dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri led in 2001 to her arrest, beatings, and 40 days' imprisonment at a security prison controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
There, she says, she realized that even the chador she'd been wearing throughout her adult life provided her no immunity.
"When I used to be a 'chadori' and religious, I was arrested and jailed in a men's prison," Davoodi Mohajer says. "They wouldn't let me shower without the door of the bathroom open. The guard would say, 'You can't close the door, I won't look.' I was being interrogated by a man for long hours."
It made her question the motives of those who advocated such strict dress for women.
"I realized then that the hijab doesn't mean anything to them either," Davoodi Mohajer says. "For those who say hijab must be respected, they don't respect you if you wear the hijab but don't share their political ideas."
Yes, coming to an Iranian barber shop near you… Ali Abedi, the secretary of the Hijab and Chastity conference held in Tehran, has said that the country's newly approved men’s hairstyles are to be named after Iranian cities and provinces.What does it say that so many of these battles are fought by teens?
“For example one hairstyle can be named, 'the Shiraz hairstyle,'” Abedi was quoted as saying by Iranian news websites. Apparently, naming the hairstyles will make it easier for customers to tell the barber which state-sanctioned haircut they want.
Iran’s Culture Ministry recently unveiled a number of approved hairstyles that are considered Islamic. Iranian officials have said that the move is aimed at fighting the spread of unconventional hairstyles and promoting Islamic and Iranian culture.
Women are next. The head of the conference, Zhale Khodayar, said that the Culture Ministry is also going to print pictures of approved hairstyles for women in a magazine.
But are they likely to catch on? A hairdresser in Tehran, Saeed Vedayi, is quoted by the “Jam-e Jam” website as saying that the new cuts won't be popular among Iranian youth "unless their taste changes.” As Vedayi reminded us, in recent years young people were more interested in getting “Western haircuts” with names such as “Typhus,” “Metal,” “Pineapple," and “Electric Shock."
(Although, confusingly, another barber, Moloud Emami, said that the approved haircuts are similar to those that are already popular among young people.)
We'll see. RFE/RL spoke to a 14-year-old boy in Tehran who confirmed what we might suspect: that he doesn’t think any of his friends would want a hairstyle that's named “Shiraz." ”It doesn’t sound cool and why would they want a haircut that's approved by the government," he said.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
One is an article from the New York Times which explores a very unpleasant subject, the fact that a certain number of German women actively volunteered to take part in the Final Solution. Here is a bit of it:
Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower. But in many cases where genocide was taking place, German women were very close by. Several witnesses have described festive banquets near mass shooting sites in the Ukrainian forests, with German women providing refreshments for the shooting squads whose work often went on for days.
Ms. Petri was married to an SS officer who ran an agricultural estate, complete with a colonial-style manor house and slave laborers, in Galicia, in occupied Poland. She later confessed to having murdered six Jewish children, aged 6 to 12. She came across them while out riding in her carriage. She was the mother of two young children, and was 25 at the time. Near naked, the Jewish children had apparently escaped from a railroad car bound for the Sobibor camp. She took them home, fed them, then led them into the woods and shot them one by one.
She told her interrogators that she had done so, in part, because she wanted to prove herself to the men.
She was tried in East Germany and served a life sentence.
There is a more unusual story from a bare-bones blog (no author info). It concerns a rather famous figure from Algerian history who in his later life did something quite unexpected. Abd-el-Kader was a young man from a prominent tribal family who when the French first invaded Algeria about 1830 became the leading figure in the resistance. He lost, and eventually ended up in exile in Damascus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Then around 1860, there was big trouble in Lebanon and Syria, and the Druze, a religious and ethnic group unique to the area, plotted with a Turkish authorities to slaughter the Christians who compete with them for the dominance of the mountains of Lebanon. Abd-el-Kader, who was already a minor world celebrity and pretty well known in the Muslim world, took it upon himself to intervene. or so our blog, depending on a recent book,says:
On July 8th, Abd el-Kader had learned the details of the plot between the Druze and the Turks, and had rode out of the city to confront the Druze cavalry before they attacked. He – and his small army – succeeding in, ahem, convincing the Druze to call off their attack. Meanwhile, though, he was oblivious to the fact that there was a mob already sweeping through Damascus.
He returned to the city on July 10th, and found chaos before him. “Abd el-Kader soon learned that the Turkish troops assigned to protect the populace had been ordered into the citadel or were lackadaisically watching as rioters were running amok, burning homes and slaughtering Christians.”
And at that moment, Abd el-Kader, the man who had led his Muslim people in a war against Christian invaders for 15 years, knew what he had to do. And that he had to do it quickly.
First he and his men hurried to the French consulate to offer safe harbor; the French were immediately joined by Russian, American, Dutch, and Greek diplomats looking to flee the scene. And then:
All afternoon of July 10, Abd el-Kader plunged into the chaos of the Christian quarter with his two sons shouting: “Christians, come with me! I am Abd el-Kader, son of Muhi al-Din, the Algerian…Trust me. I will protect you.” For several hours his Algerians led hesitant Christians to his fortresslike home in the Nekib Allée, whose two-story interior and large courtyards would become a refuge for the desperate victims.
“As night advanced fresh hordes of marauders – Kurds, Arabs, Druzes – entered the quarter and swelled the furious mob, who, glutted with spoil, began to cry for blood. Men and boys of all ages were forced to apostatize and were then circumcised on the spot…Women were raped or hurried away to distant parts of the country where they were put in harems or married instantly to Mohammedans,” wrote Churchill of the events. “To say that the Turks took no means to stay this huge deluge of massacre and fire would be superfluous. They connived at it, they instigated it, they shared in it. Abd el-Kader alone stood between the living and the dead.”
Abd el-Kader returned with his men, and every Christian they could pull away to safety, to his estate.
News spread among the rioters that the emir was protecting the Christians. The next day an angry crowd gathered at his door to protest. They were prepared to tolerate his harboring diplomats, but demanded that he hand over the local Christians under his protection. As the mob got larger and more unruly, the emir came to the door.
“Give us the Christians,” the crowd shouted after he had quieted it by his silent presence.
“My brothers, your behavior violates the law of God. What makes you think you have a right to go around killing innocent people? Have you sunk so low that you are slaughtering women and children? Didn’t God say in our holy book, Whoever kills a man who has never committed murder or created disorder in the land will be regarded as a murderer of all humanity?”
“Give us the Christians! We want the Christians!”
“Didn’t God say there should be no constraint in religion?” the emir vainly replied.
“Oh holy warrior,” cried out one of the leaders in the mob. “We don’t want your advice. Why do you stick your nose in our business?”
“You have killed Christians yourself,” shouted another. “How can you oppose us for avenging their insults. You are like the infidels yourself – hand over those you are protecting in your home, or you will be punished the same as those you are hiding.”
“You are fools! The Christians I killed were invaders and occupiers who were ravaging our country. If acting against God’s law doesn’t frighten you, then think about the punishment you will receive from men…It will be terrible, I promise. If you will not listen to me, then God didn’t provide you with reason – you are like animals who are aroused only by the sight of grass and water.”
“You can keep the diplomats. Give us the Christians!” shouted the mob, sounding more and more like Romans in the Coloseum.
“As long as one of my soldiers is still standing, you will not touch them. They are my guests. Murderers of women and children, you sons of sin, try to take one of these Christians and you will learn how well my soldiers fight.” The emir turned to Kara Mohammed. “Get my weapons, my horse. We will fight for a just cause, just as the one we fought for before.”
“God is great,” his men shouted, brandishing their guns and swords. Faced with the emir’s battle-hardened veterans, the crowd melted away bravely hurling insults.
Well over a thousand Christian refugees were housed inside Abd el-Kader’s home, making it so crowded that people could not sit or lie down, let alone use the facilities. So Abd el-Kader arranged for small groups of his Algerian men to accompany the Christians, in groups of 100, to the citadel outside the city – the same citadel that the Druze had originally planned to use to slaughter them.
Parts of the above were quoted from John W. Kiser’s Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader. Unfortunately the italics indicating this disappeared in the copying process.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Dr. Beachcombing is impressed with the fact that Nicholas of Cusa,15th century canon lawyer, astronomer, and philosopher, put his intellect to work on the question of the size and habitability of the universe:
Me, I rather prefer the superficially similar but perhaps more generous speculations of Ethan Allen, founder of Vermont and in that cause a rebel against both the British Empire and the United States of America:
Nor can place furnish an argument for the earth’s baseness. Life, as it exists here on earth in the form of men, animals and plants, is to be found, let us suppose, in a higher form in the solar and stellar regions. Rather than think that so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited and that this earth of ours alone is peopled — and that with beings, perhaps, of an inferior type — we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God, who is the centre and circumference of all stellar regions. Now, even if inhabitants of another kind should exist in the other stars, it seems inconceivable that, in the line of nature, anything more noble and perfect could be found than the intellectual nature that exists here on this earth and its region. The fact is that man has no longing for any other nature but desires only to be perfect in his own.
Furthermore, it is altogether reasonable to conclude that the heavenly bodies, alias worlds, which move or are situate within the circle of our knowledge, as well all others throughout immensity, are each and every one of them possessed or inhabited by some intelligent agents or other. however different their sensations or manners of receiving or communicating their ideas may be from ours, or however different from each other. For why would it not have been as wise or as consistent with the perfections which we adore in God, to have neglected giving being to intelligence in this world as in those other worlds, interspersed with another of various qualities in his immense creation? And inasmuch as this world is thus replenished, we may, with the highest rational certainty infer, that as God has given us to rejoice, and adore him for our being, he has acted consistent with his goodness, in the display of his providence throughout the university of worlds.
To suppose that God Almighty has confined his goodness to this world, to the exclusion of all others, is much similar to the idle fancies of some individuals in this world, that they, and those of their communion or faith, are the favorites of heaven exclusively; but these are narrow and bigoted conceptions, which are degrading to a rational nature, and utterly unworthy of God, of whom we should form the most exalted ideas.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
In the 14th and 15th centuries lances were not infrequently used by men at arms fighting on foot, both in massed formations and single combat. The length preferred depended on circumstances and personal preference.If you are interested in this subject, he's got a whole well-researched post here.
Friday, July 16, 2010
... the crappy first draft of what I hope will be a decent article eventually.
Do you have problems writing concluding paragraphs? Of course you do.
Image: This is what a corrected first draft looked like in the typewriter era. If you were a good writer, that is (in this case, James Michener).
Thursday, July 15, 2010
But they might listen to a more experienced student (one writing a dissertation, perhaps) who has seen it all and is willing to tell uncomfortable truths about her writing life. Meet Tanya L. Roth:
More interesting thoughts here.
The truth is that I am a perfectionist with my work. Or, as I like to think of it – I’m a recovering perfectionist, as this is something I’ve been working to overcome for the last five years. Perfectionism, as it turns out, gets in the way of things more than it actually helps. (As Lamott says, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor…and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Also, “perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force.” (Lamott, 28).)
In my experience, five years of graduate school teaches you a lot about your writing habits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I’ve learned that revisions are my bread and butter, and that facing the blank page is one of my greatest challenges (see: perfectionist tendencies). My solution? Conquer the Blank Page.
I like to think I’ve gotten very good at drafting. I can eliminate the blank page in fairly short order and transfer something from my brain to the screen. That something tends to be the worst writing you have ever seen, but as it turns out, it helps me get started. In a couple of hours, I can pour out about ten to fifteen double-spaced pages of the very early thoughts on a chapter topic. I do this, of course, by simply writing.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s not quite freewriting (I pay attention to grammar and spelling and all that). In a sense, it’s stream of consciousness, but some of it will appear more Faulkneresque while other parts sound like I’m actually trying to write a real academic piece. I don’t delete anything. I do tend to write “this is crap” at least once or twice every two pages, and the general tone tends to be “here’s what I’m thinking I need to do in this chapter…” – as if I’m talking to my best friend.
Before I know it, I have something. Something I can create an outline from and begin to make into a real chapter. Once I have a rough outline – which will change, and become more detailed as I continue to write – I divide the chapter into sections. Sections, you see, are far more mentally (and physically) manageable to work with than the prospect of an entire chapter.
Lynn Hunt wrote in a recent issue of AHA’s Perspectives:
Everyone who has written at any substantial length, whether prose or poetry, knows that the process of writing itself leads to previously unthought thoughts. Or to be more precise, writing crystallizes previously half-formulated or unformulated thoughts, gives them form, and extends chains of thoughts in new directions.
This is why the shitty first draft – Lamott’s term, not mine – is so important. If you haven’t written anything yet, how can you know what you’re thinking?
Update from Lynn Hunt's article:
The best advice about writing that I ever got was many years ago from the poet and prose writer Donald Hall. His book Writing Well was then in an early, if not a first, edition (it is now in its ninth), but he also generously read the pages of those of us who were junior fellows in the Michigan Society of Fellows. He was a senior fellow, and I knew that my dissertation needed serious work. From him I learned that writing requires an unending effort at something resembling authenticity. Most mistakes come from not being yourself, not saying what you think, or being afraid to figure out what you really think.Wonderful! (I'll tell you about Sir Percival someday...)
Image: borrowed from these people.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Since that is no longer my default frame of reference, I got rid of the phrase.
Is there any old, even consecrated language that you are now unexpectedly uncomfortable with?
Beachcombing has noted before the refusal of archaeologists to face up to some of the bloodier customs of our ancestors. And what better example of this than the way that most archaeologists go into denial on coming across any evidence of mass killings or human sacrifice in Dark Age Britain? Indeed, despite there being straightforward references in contemporary histories and in the archaeological record, archaeologists prefer to talk of ‘exaggerations’ or ‘misunderstandings’ and move on.
Take as an example Caedwalla’s conquest of the Isle of Wight. In c. 685 this king of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex decided that he needed some Lebensraum. The result was that he called up his army and Beachcombing will allow the early English historian Bede to tell the rest.4, 16 After Caedwalla had possessed himself of the kingdom of the Gewissae [in the Thames Valley], he also took the Isle of Wight, which till then had been entirely given over to idolatry, and by cruel slaughter endeavoured to destroy all the inhabitants thereof, and to place in their stead people from his own province…
Monday, July 12, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
John Cipollina was the phenomenal talent of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Nick Gravenites produced the first QMS album, which was pretty close to perfect. See also: Pride of Man.
In fact, despite his desire for economic and political co-operation between Germany and the Soviet Union, Rathenau remained skeptical of the methods of the Soviets. In his Kritik der dreifachen Revolution (Critique of the triple revolution) he noted that:
We cannot use Russia's methods, as they only and at best prove that the economy of an agrarian nation can be leveled to the ground; Russia's thoughts are not our thoughts. They are, as it is in the spirit of the Russian city intelligentsia, unphilosophical, and highly dialectic; they are passionate logic based on unverified suppositions. They assume that a single good, the destruction of the capitalist class, weighs more than all other goods, and that poverty, dictatorship, terror and the fall of civilization must be accepted to secure this one good.
If ten million people must die to free ten million people from the bourgeoisie, then this is a harsh but necessary consequence. The Russian idea is compulsory happiness, in the same sense and with the same logic as the compulsory introduction of Christianity and the Inquisition.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
A scary guest editorial at Informed Comment by Houshang Asadi, who once shared a cell with Khamenei during the Shah's regime:
Since its inception, the Islamic Revolution has sought to suppress civil society by replacing civil law with sharia law as the legal basis of the Iranian society. But the long-lasting conflict between liberal-minded clergymen and their fundamentalist colleagues has only surfaced recently as Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, has taken drastic measures to turn the ‘Islamic Republic’ into the ‘Islamic Caliphate’.
There are now two distinct camps in Iran. The first faction is composed of Shi’a fundamentalists who support Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei’s views have three major influences: First, the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are generally seen as the founding fathers of Islamic fundamentalism in modern times. Before the 1979 Revolution, Khamenei personally translated into Persian from the original Arabic the important works of the leading intellectual of the Brotherhood, Sayyed Qutb. Qutb’s views, especially his profound hatred of the West, are easily discernable among Iran’s ruling clergy today.
The second group that has influenced Khamenei is known as Fadā’iyān-e Islam (devotees of Islam), the first followers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iran led by Mujtaba Navab-Safavi, who carried out some of the earliest acts of religious terrorism in modern Iran. Khamenei has repeatedly referred to Navab-Safavi as his role model in politics. That he has named his eldest son Mujtaba might be an indication of Khamenei’s admiration for this man.
The third sphere of influence is a group known as Hujjatiyeh Society, which sees as its mission to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi, the 12th Shi’a Imam, who is believed to have gone into a millennium-old occultation and whose ultimate return in the End Times is expected to bring peace and justice to the world. Recently it has been revealed that each Wednesday, Khamenei visits Jamkaran, a well in the city of Qum that is regarded by many Shi’as as the hiding place of Mahdi. Eyewitnesses have reported that Khamenei has been seen in a state of deep prayer, allegedly communicating with the Hidden Imam.
The members of the second camp see themselves totally at odds with the other faction whose views and actions they regard as nothing short of catastrophic for Iran’s future. The vast majority of the country’s intellectuals, the middle class, the youth and a significant portion of those who work in “the system”, belong to this second camp, and are collectively referred to as the Green Movement. From the perspective of the Shi’a fundamentalists, the members of this movement are no better than infidels. As such, they can be imprisoned, tortured, raped etc.
The outcome of the ongoing power struggle between these two opposing factions carries great significance not just for Iran but for the international community. A victory by the Iranian “Taliban” will take Iran on a downward spiral and would place the country’s wealth and geopolitical powers entirely at the disposal of those who believe Islam’s global hegemony is possible through violent jihad, which is why they wish to secure nuclear capabilities. Bearing in mind that Iran has long served as a source of inspiration for many social and ideological movements in the region, it becomes clear how critical is the outcome of the battle between these two camps in Iran for the country, the region, and the world at large.
The Village In Full Effect
Tweety's [= Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball"] latest promo:
Really? Are you related to wealthy TV celebrities, political operatives armed with talking points and professional politicians all of whom live in the same place, went to the same ivy league schools and whose professional and social advancement depend upon each other? Does listening to their canned repartee really give us insight into "where the American people are?"
I think if you watch our show, you're hearing the American family arguments. It's as if you're sitting at a dinner table with your conservative uncle and your liberal relatives and they're arguing with each other and you're hearing both sides. You're hearing the interesting American attitude about things. You're hearing the flavor of our country. You catch it. I don't think it's a calm event. I think it's a noisy event. And I think at the end of the argument you'll know where the American people are.
Le hameau de la Potomac in all its glory.
Friday, July 09, 2010
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I know some of these people, and once worked as a squire at one of Shane Adams' jousting meets. The Times article rings true -- this is what Adams's bunch were doing seven years ago. And crazy as it is, there is something really medieval about a scene like this:
That evening, some of the competitors and their squires gathered at McGuire’s, a Pensacola pub and steakhouse. Everyone was sweaty and sore and more or less broke, and nobody could seem to talk about anything but horses and armor and lances. If the championships were held again tomorrow, you knew they would all be there.Of course you will read the rest.
Thanks to Al Magary for the tip.
Image: Shane Adams's Knights of Valour, from their Facebook page.
The National's Matt Bradley has a story on the Muslim Brotherhood's Facebook clone:
IkhwanBook joins a veritable suite of Brotherhood-affiliated (“Ikhwan” is Arabic for “Brotherhood”) websites, such as IkhwanWiki, IkhwanWeb, IkhwanGoogle – a “Cusotmized [sic] search engine specialized in searching muslim botherhood’s [sic] websites” – and IkhwanTube. Many of the sites are published in English and each of their functions is tailored to Brotherhood-related content.
The article then wonders why the Ikhwan bothers: IkhwanBook is after all technologically extremely inferior to the real Facebook, and the other sites are not that sophisticated either. And there are plenty of young Brothers on Facebook — anyone who's ever met them can expect to be friended within 24 hours, after all.
Brian Whitaker, noting the story, writes:
The interesting and slightly puzzling question is what the Brotherhood hopes to achieve by this. It's hard to imagine the Ikhwan sites gaining anything like the popularity of those they replicate, and they look like a move towards exclusivity which is generally uncharacteristic of the Brotherhood.
I think both Matt and Brian miss the point slightly. The first reason for having all these sites — and believe me, there are a LOT of Ikhwan sites out there, practically one for every governorate of Egypt plus many more on specific issues before you reach the Facebook and Wikipedia clones — is that there simply is enthusiasm to build them. Beyond the apparent correlation one notices between tech-savvy and religious inclination (just visit any of the computer malls on Midan Sphinx in Cairo), there are a lot of young talented programmers in Egypt who would love to show their enthusiasm for the gamaa by building websites for it. And there are a lot of young people in the Brotherhood, no matter how elderly the leadership is, for whom these websites may be a way of expressing their views as well as gain practice in the art of political and religious rhetoric.
The second reason is that this resonates with the groupthink and in-group mentality that the Muslim Brotherhood cultivates. These sites won't replace Facebook or Wikipedia, they are a virtual gated community (gated, that is, by strong symbolic references and imagery that are likely to alienate those not already versed in the Ikhwan universe) for like-minded people, where they can create a more orderly version of the sites that they copy and where the membership is self-selecting. The Muslim Brothers tend to socialize together, marry within each others' families, work together (or for each other) and a whole lot more. It's a support group as much as a political organization. It makes sense that, online, they will tend towards a closed ecosystem — alongside the open internet, not instead of it.
It's just the way online forums thrive: through community-building. That's true for computer geeks and religious geeks
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
What I find noteworthy in this daily broadcast is the fact that they devote long segments to the in-depth investigation of material that would not make it onto, or not be handled well by, too many other news outlets. Tonight for instance they spent at least five minutes and maybe closer to ten interviewing the French finance minister. That was followed by the last segment of the night, five or 10 minutes on the imminent publication of Mark Twain's autobiography, which he embargoed for a century. Both were very good, and given enough time on the screen to make the reports more than just trivia.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
And that place is called... Iran.
A battle over the largest university in Iran, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, also shows the divisions within the Iranian establishment. Here is part of a long article:
By Golnaz EsfandiariA dispute over control of one of the world's largest universities has turned into a fight between government bodies that is exposing deep fissures within the Iranian establishment.
At the center of the tug-of-war is Azad University: its leadership, board, 1.4 million students, and tens of billions of dollars in assets.
On one side are hard-liners within the Iranian establishment, most prominently President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who appears ready to punish Azad University for its alleged support for opposition candidates in the 2009 presidential election. Supporting Ahmadinejad is the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR), whose resolution to alter the Azad University's charter, replace its current head of Azad University, and change its governing board was recently approved by the president.
On the other side are the conservatives within the same establishment, mainly former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who co-founded the university in 1982 and now the heads its board of trustees. Also supporting the conservatives are parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, and Abdollah Jasbi, the university head who is up for replacement and is a close Rafsanjani ally.
Matters came to a head on June 19 when the university's board secured a temporary injunction that prevented the SCCR from enforcing its revision of the university's charter.
The next day, a bill was rushed through the 270-member parliament that effectively circumvented the government takeover of Azad, by allowing universities to endow their properties to the public.Azad University's board had previously decided to endow the properties of the university, which has 357 branches and satellite campuses throughout the country.
The legislative move was quickly met with demonstrations outside parliament by Ahmadinejad loyalists.
In the wake of the heated protests, 100 legislators made a counter move by voting for emergency discussion of legislation that would support the SCCR's authority in the matter. This, in turn, could result in a bill that would effectively overturn the endowment bill passed on June 20. The counter move led to an uproar in parliament, with legislators exchanging insults.
Now it is up to the Guardians Council, which must approve the legislation, to decide on the matter, and for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to weigh in. The result could either strengthen Ahmadinejad and his allies or give some leverage to his rivals who are trying to curb his influence.
The fight has already been ugly at times. During the June 22 protesters outside parliament, which included members of the Basij militia, threatened to place the parliament "under fire" unless it backed away from its bill.
And that's just the various factions of conservatives fighting each other!
Image: picture taken from Wikimedia Commons. The photographer is named, believe it or not, Mani Parsa. Talk about your archetypal name!
A cool, detailed article on the naming of America. Thanks to Boston.com and Explorator for this one.
The expanding horizons began with Vespucci. In his letter, he reported sailing west across the Atlantic, like Columbus. After making landfall, however, he had turned south, in an attempt to sail under China and into the Indian Ocean — and had ended up following a coastline that took him thousands of miles almost due south, well below the equator, into a region of the globe where most European geographers assumed there could only be ocean.
When Ringmann read this news, he was thrilled. As a good classicist, he knew that the poet Virgil had prophesied the existence of a vast southern land across the ocean to the west, destined to be ruled by Rome. And he drew what he felt was the obvious conclusion: Vespucci had reached this legendary place. He had discovered the fourth part of the world. At last, Europe’s Christians, the heirs of ancient Rome, could begin their long-prophesied imperial expansion to the west.
Ringmann may well have been the first European to entertain this idea, and he acted on it quickly. Soon he had teamed up with a local German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemüller, and the two men printed 1,000 copies of a giant world map designed to broadcast the news: the famous Waldseemüller map of 1507. One copy of the map still survives, and it’s recognized as one of the most important geographical documents of all time. That’s because it’s the first to depict the New World as surrounded by water; the first to suggest the existence of the Pacific Ocean; the first to portray the world’s continents and oceans roughly as we know them today; and, of course, the first to use a strange new name: America, which Ringmann and Waldseemüller printed in block letters across what today we would call Brazil.
Why America? Ringmann and Waldseemüller explained their choice in a small companion volume to the map, called “Introduction to Cosmography.” “These parts,” they wrote, referring to Europe, Asia, and Africa, “have in fact now been more widely explored, and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci....Since both Asia and Africa received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this from being called Amerigen — the land of Amerigo, as it were — or America, after its discoverer, Americus."
Image: the revolutionary Waldseemüller map. Click for a bigger view.
Monday, July 05, 2010
This sounds nuts doesn't it? Sounds just like old what's his name doesn't it? But it's been in the papers!
In fact, if you read the news accounts about this scholarly argument, you might not be very impressed. Prof. John (Jay) Kennedy might end up sounding to you just like old what's his name. And I bet the full scholarly treatment in his published article is pretty impenetrable to anyone who has not Plato in Greek.
Fortunately Prof. Kennedy was so excited about his discovery that he published two summaries on the web even before his print article came out. And taking the scholars' summary and the popular summary together you come up with something pretty amazing but not too unclear.
Here are some key passages that will give you the idea.
In antiquity, many of Plato's followers said, in various ways, that Plato wrote symbolically or allegorically, and that his true philosophy would be found in the layers of meaning underneath the surface stories he tells. In ancient religions, sects, guilds, and fraternities, it was normal to 'reserve' knowledge to initiates and Plato, they contended, had used symbols to hide his philosophy within his writings.Well, as Prof. Kennedy himself says, this is just the beginning and his work will have to be verified by other scholars. What he hopes, however, is that the positive philosophy of Plato will be revealed. Kennedy, like many others, sees Plato the writer as throwing out a bunch of ideas without specifying what Plato the teacher told his students. Plato wrote in dialogues in which he is not a character, and so does not speak in his own voice in his written works. Kennedy hopes a new round of scholarship will show more of what Plato himself thought and taught.
The view that Plato's writings contained symbols was a mainstream and sometimes dominant view for more than a thousand years: from about the time of Christ until the Renaissance. Beginning in the 1700's, theologians in Germany who emphasised rigourous and literal methods of interpretation fiercely opposed this view. They argued that there was no consistent system of symbolism in Plato's writings, and that claiming such was a sign of credulity and mystery-mongering. The ancient defenders of the symbolic approach to Plato were dubbed 'neo-Platonists' in an effort to segregate them from Plato and Platonism. The view that Plato's writings were not symbolic became the standard view among modern scholars and has remained so ever since.
I was teaching a course for philosophers on Plato's most famous book, the Republic, and another course on the history of mathematics for mathematicians, which dealt with Pythagorean mathematics and music. This was a combustible mixture. A series of insights led to the surprising conclusion that the Republic did use symbols, but that recognising and unravelling these symbols required knowledge of Pythagorean music theory.
...the musical and mathematical structures he hid in his writings show that he was committed to the radical idea that the universe is controlled not by the gods on Olympus but by mathematical and scientific law. Today we take it for granted that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, but it was a dangerous and heretical idea when it struggled for acceptance in the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake and Galileo was condemned and imprisoned. After Socrates was executed for sowing doubts about Greek religion, Plato had every reason to hide his commitment to a scientific view of the cosmos. But we now know that Plato anticipated the key idea of the Scientific Revolution by some 2000 years.
... each dialogue was divided into twelve parts. At each twelfth, i.e., at 1/12, 2/12, etc., Plato inserted passages to mark the notes of a musical scale. This regular structure resembles a known Greek scale. According to Greek musical theory, some notes in such a scale are harmonious (if they form a small whole number ratio with the twelfth note) and the others are dissonant or neutral. Plato's symbolic passages are correlated with the relative values of the musical notes. At more harmonious notes, Plato has passages about virtue, the forms, beauty, etc.; at the more dissonant notes, there are passages about vice, negation, shame, etc. This correlation is one kind of strong evidence that the structure is a musical scale.
This musical structure can be studied rigorously because it is so regular. Subsequent work will show that other symbols are used to embed Pythagorean doctrines in the surface narratives. It is surprising that Plato could deploy an elaborate symbolic scheme without disturbing the surface narratives of the dialogues, but in this respect he does not differ from other allegorical writers like Dante or Spenser.
...4. History of Pythagoreanism. The Pythagoreans were long reputed to reserve their doctrines and use secret symbols, and now we have proof. Does this up-end Burkert's view that Plato was innovative and not a proper Pythagorean? Does it shift our views of Aristotle as a reliable reporter for the history of Pythagoreanism?
6. History of Platonism. The distance between 'neo-Platonism' and Platonism has been steadily diminishing since the work of Dodds. This work implies that the reports among Plato students that he was a Pythagorean in some strong sense were correct. This reaffirms the views among some neo-Pythagoreans and neo-Platonists. How is the history of the reception of Plato now altered?
Me, I don't read Greek, so I can't say anything except that it would be pretty exciting if this were true.
Image: What Plato said.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Over at his blog, Brad DeLong republishes Frederick Douglass's famous 1852 speech. I will just link to the full text.
I am in awe of Douglass's moral and physical courage.
Saturday, July 03, 2010
This would be a good book if Hansen only discussed the Greek material, but he goes farther. The first section of the book discusses the importance of city-states throughout history, as incubators of many characteristics that we take for granted as modern phenomena:
A general analysis of urbanisation and state formation shows that in world history from antiquity to c.1900 two different types of state have existed: macro-states, with numerous cities included in the territory of each of them, as against regions divided into micro-states each of which consisted of one city and its hinterland. Such a micro-state is what is called a ‘city-state’, and regions divided into city-states form what the Polis Centre has called a ‘city-state culture’. We have succeeded in identifying thirty-seven ‘city-state cultures’, from the Sumerians in Mesopotamia in the third millennium bc to several city-state cultures in West Africa which were only wiped out by the colonial powers a bit over a hundred years ago. In this matter also, nobody has yet tried to get an overall picture of how many and what kind of city-state cultures there have been in the history of the world.
To sum up the results of the researches of the Polis Centre I single out four features. In city-state cultures, including that of ancient Greece, there has been (1) a degree of urbanisation unexampled in major states before the Industrial Revolution, which began in the second half of the eighteenth century; (2) an economy based on trade and centred on the city’s market; (3) a political decision-making process whereby laws and decrees were not always dictated by a monarch, but were often passed by majority votes after a debate in an assembly, which mostly was a selection from among the better-class citizens but sometimes included them all; (4) interaction between city-states, which resulted in the rise of leagues of states and federal states. As a type of state, the federal state grew up within the city-state cultures, and only appeared as a macro-state with the foundation of the USA in 1787–9.
There is no longer any city-state culture remaining; the last of them vanished in c.1900. So it is an irony of history that the social,economic and political organisation that characterised the city-state cultures did not disappear when they disappeared, but came to dominate states and societies in the world we have today. In many important respects modern macro-states are more like the ancient city-state cultures than they are like the ancient macro-states.
I like Hansen's analysis, in so far as I've seen it,but one thing really bothers me. The Polis project identified 37 city-state cultures from around the world, most of them pretty obscure and some rather small. The republican city-states of North India around the time of the Buddha and, later, Alexander the Great, are not included. I think the evidence is incontrovertible that there were plenty of republics in North India in the first millennium BC and even later, and that some even fit the Greek definition of democracy -- Greek writers tell us so. Maybe I should write a note to Hansen. I can't see how he missed the ancient Indian republics and I rather think that he didn't. Why, I wonder, did he exclude them?
...as Magistra et Mater herself says. Nevertheless, I like this:
If modern companies want to expand, they have two main routes to take. One is what is often called organic growth, which is the process of gradually expanding your current business: opening up one extra shop, buying the piece of equipment that will increase your output etc. The alternative is expanding via mergers and acquisitions, where you suddenly take on a whole new area of business. The M&A route can get you big gains quickly, but it’s risky, because you’re moving into unfamiliar territory. Organic growth is slower, but in theory is safer, except that if one of your rivals goes the M&A route and gets a lot bigger, it can then swallow you up.There's more. I'd just add that M et M could have spent a little time on dynastic marriage. Maybe later. Oh, her reflections on 1000 years of economic irrationality are worth a look, too.
What does all this have to do with early medieval noblemen? They too want to expand, in the sense of gain more wealth and power. And we can also see two main strategies for how they do this. One focuses on expansion, particularly via war or royal favour. The other is more locally focused, aiming to exploit their current lands and the peasantry on them to the maximum, while gradually buying up or taking over adjacent property. Call these imperial and local strategies.
It’s important, first of all, to notice that it’s hard to combine the two strategies. If you’re spending all your time focused on your local area, you don’t have free time for being at court in the king’s presence, or carrying out the other kinds of networking that you need to gain royal favour. Conversely, if you’re reliant on royal favour, you need to be willing to go where the king wants you. If you’re given charge of the Pannonian frontier, you relocate there, you don’t just stay where your ancestors were. But you then have the fundamental medieval problem of the delegation of power. If someone else is managing your lands for you, and you’re not on the spot, how do you ensure they don’t either rip you off financially or even usurp the land? You can’t easily mix and match the two approaches.
Generally speaking, the local strategy is a conservative one, in the sense of more likely to keep what you already have (whereas king’s favourites can come to very sticky ends). It also fits better with both hereditary office and castles, as I’ll explain in a moment. But first, I want to emphasise one point: that discussions about what (lay) noblemen want too often ignore the anti-Kantian nature of their ideas. Medieval noblemen, like most of us, often really want rules that apply to everyone except themselves, or only to them, not to others. So it’s misleading to say that nobles always wanted offices to be hereditary. They wanted the offices they held to be hereditary, but not necessarily the ones that other men held, because that would make it harder for them to get their hands on those. If offices are becoming hereditary, that suggests an aristocracy worrying more about holding onto their current offices than acquiring new ones, which goes with a local strategy.
Image: Warkworth Castle.