Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
1)"Self-Hating [X]s". I've used the phrase"self-hating ...." I believe that there are"self-hating [X]s". Given my judgment of my fellow Methodist Republican men, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, I might even be accused of being a self-hating Methodist Republican man. But you ought to read Volokh's careful delineation of the circumstances in which the term"self-hating [X]s" ought not be used. He refers to two very different figures who've recently been accused of self-hate: George Soros and Michelle Malkin.
2)"Islam". This one responds to a post at Bjorn Staerk's blog. It has been much discussed, by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, Gary Farber at Amygdala, Ted Barlow and Belle Waring at Crooked Timber; and Michael J. Totten. It's good to see reasonable people on the net, left and right, rejecting ignorant generalizations.
his team of observers had concluded there was a" clear difference in favour" of Mr Chavez.
When I was in Colombia last week, the press there was gripped by the Chavez referendum. Colombia and Venezuela have had frayed relations in recent years. The popular current Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, is the most pro-U.S. head of state in South America. Alone among South American nations, Colombia has expressed unreserved support for America's"war on terror." (The Colombians surely know more about living with terrorism than the citizens of any other country in the Western Hemisphere).
On more than one occasion, the Uribe government has accused the neighboring Chavez regime of giving aid and comfort to the revolutionary guerrilla groups that seek to establish a Marxist state in Colombia. Judging on what I read in the Colombian press (my fiancee helped translate some stuff, but my comprehension of written Spanish is getting better and better), most Colombians do worry about the possibility of potential armed conflict with Venezuala if Chavez remains in power. (To have the most pro-American and most anti-American states in South America sharing a long border is worrisome to some.) Some on the Colombian left have said that they fear that Uribe may be urged by his American allies (Colombia receives more in military aid from Washington than all the other Latin countries put together) to invade Venezuala at the Bush Administration's behest. An English-language article that expresses that same concern can be found here.
I have to say, I liked Chavez from the start because of his splendid first name. I also liked him for another reason: he's black. Light-skinned, yes, but still negro by the standards of his region. As many folks know, South America is a continent dominated by light-skinned political elites. South America is also a continent with huge numbers of descendants of African slaves, particularly in northern countries like Brazil, Venezuala, and Colombia. If you look at pictures of the presidents of countries like Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and even Brazil, you see very European-looking fellows indeed. Most look as if they have nary a drop of non-European blood in their veins. Chavez, on the other hand, is darker with what to a Colombian or Venezualan eye are clear African origins. In South America, that is immensely meaningful.
In the Colombian north, where my fiancee's family lives, a very high percentage of the poor have at least some African origins (my fiancee's family very much included). To an untrained Yankee eye, many Colombians in what is called the costeno region appear more"black" than"Hispanic". On the other hand, the wealthy in cities like Bogota have very European faces, some with skin and eyes and hair as light as my own. The racism in Colombia is blatant and ominipresent. When I first met my fiancee's aunt, she asked plaintively"Is he (meaning me) upset that we're so black?" (I obviously did everything I could to assure her that skin color was not an issue for me). But a question like that one can only be asked in a deeply bigoted society where those with dark skin have been marginalized, abused, and mistreated for generations. The idea that Colombia could be led by a negro is unthinkable. But next-door Venezuala now is.
I am convinced that at least some of the antipathy directed towards Chavez by the elites in his own country and elsewhere in Latin America is based on his appearance. (Here's a Common Dreams article that touches on that). My fellow Hugo may be bombastic; he may have an unpleasantly authoritarian streak, but he has done more for the mostly dark, mostly poor masses of Venezuala than any other leader in that country's history. Latin America has never had a more successful"dark" leader; even Castro himself is quite"white" by the standards of mixed-race Cuba! Thus today I rejoice in Chavez's clear and convincing referendum victory; I celebrate both for the obvious political reasons, but also for the less-obvious cultural reasons revolving around color and class.
Recognition of Africa’s role in both World Wars has been growing. Several books have been written about the African dimensions of European wars. Senegalese soldiers served on the front lines as shock troops (literally to frighten Germans with their blackness) in the First World War. French colonies were a refuge for politicians as well as a source of soldiers in the Second World War. After the war native leaders in the colonies (like Senghor) expected that Africans would be awarded individual rights (as citizens) and territorial rights (full representation in the legislature). The subsequent disappointment encouraged Africans to find other alternatives to France.
While the African contribution to France is being remembered, the Americans are ignoring the same memorials, forgetting in the process. Americans are not aware of memorials like this that are taking place. French newspapers and television news are rife with stories that document the progress of the Allies sixty years ago as well as the private and public memorials that are taking place. [Aside: These popular histories have become a guilty pleasure of mine: every week the Wednesday edition of Dernières Nouvelles D’Alsace has at least two articles dealing with WWII and the deliverance of Alsace.] Unfortunately, the rhetoric of the last two years has created a rift within which the feelings and thoughts of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are lost. Most Americans may believe that France is ungrateful for its liberation sixty years ago. Furthermore Americans remain unaware of the contribution of French institution–in this case the colonies–in continuing the fight after occupation.
Are these additional examples of fiction and non-fiction reaching out to or past each other? Rapes have occurred from time immemorial [ed: do you know that or do you just believe that, like some people believe that heterosexual monogamous marriage dates unchanged from Adam and Eve?], but I can't recall them occurring earlier in cartoons. Must our fantasy texts include that reality, as some people's fantasy apparently does? On the other hand, do we now find virtue in flat portrayals of historical characters because they invite readers to find whatever they please in a text?
· Well written. Good content will make or break your blog. Period. This it the #1 thing that makes a blog successful in my book.Robinson's criteria are just that, of course: his criteria. By them, I'd give Cliopatria a mixed report (a 1 or 2 on some counts, a 9 or 10 on others), but far better than some of the most heavily trafficked blogs on the net. I'd also hold us to a higher standard of intellectual content than is suggested anywhere among his criteria.
· Frequently updated. Unless you're a guru of some sort you really need to stay on top of it. This can be a real challenge.
· Consistent. This is kind of a combination of the first two. I like sites that are able to maintain quality and frequency overtime.
· Open. I like to read people who are honest and willing to talk about tough issues in a free and open way.
· Responsive. Those who respond to feedback and try to adapt to the wants and needs of their audience get high marks from me.
· Well designed. Yes, I do judge a blog by its design. It's not the most important thing, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter at all.
· Aware of its audience. If you don't know your audience it'll show.
· Varied in topic. I feel there are lots of people who would disagree with this, but I like sites that change the subject every once in awhile.
· Personal. I tend to enjoy a blog with a bit of a personality. I want to"get to know", to a certain degree, the person(s) behind the site. Tone and style have a lot to do with this.
· Thick skinned. With any successful site comes nay-sayers, trolls, pedants and spammers.
· Honest. Readers are smart and they can smell bullshit.
· Accountable. Mistakes are inevitable and there are times when it's best to fess up and admit where you're wrong.
· Funny. I like a blog that can make me laugh on occasion.
NYTimes guest columnist Dahlia Lithwick is arguing that the"activist judge" label deserves an equally withering counter, something that can be bandied about when judges are activist in reactionary ways (which is at least as common). Her nomination:"re-activist":
Re-activist judges are the ones trying to roll back time to the 19th century. Re-activists are the judges who have reactivated federalism by rediscovering the"dignity" of states. ... Re-activist judges have increasingly adopted the view that their personal religious convictions somehow obviate the constitutional divide between church and state. ... Re-activist judges are able to present themselves as"strict constructionists" or"originalists" by arguing, as does Justice Clarence Thomas, that any case decided wrongly (i.e., not in accordance with the framers of the Constitution) should simply be erased, as though erasure is somehow a passive act. And while there is an urgent normative debate underlying this issue - over whether the Constitution should evolve or stay static - no one ought to be allowed to claim that the act of clubbing a live Constitution to death isn't activism.(Writers note: the baby seal metaphor was probably what got the column started: bloggers and songwriters know how it is: you find a phrase or an image in your head, and you build something around it. If you're really good, people don't notice which phrase it was.)
While I applaud her attempt to highlight the hidden activism of" conservative" judicators and challenge the"judicial activism" meme, the moderate in me wonders why the middle ground -- the vast majority of judges at all levels doing their best to apply enduring and slowly changing legal doctrines to swiftly shifting gray areas of contemporary life -- gets so little attention.
Or perhaps the problem is a perceptual and rhetorical one, caused by the very real diversity of political thought and theory in America, and the increasingly powerful tendency to demonize the opposition(s). Depending on what camp you belong to, 'smart' judges are the ones that agree with you, and 'activist' judges are the ones that don't? No, I don't think it's that simple, though sometimes the rhetoric does seem to fall that way.
Perhaps we've really come to a point where we are getting at the heart of the matter, a nexus where issues of federalism, rights, religion, legitimacy, identity, security need to be addressed in fundamental ways. The last time we did this was in the 50s and 60s, I think, so perhaps we really are due. Then, when we work these questions out, we can come together again in a reasonably coherent manner and go on for another few decades, pushing the limits and exploring the gray areas of our new paradigm. Maybe, though, I'm being overly optimistic to think that this Supreme Court can actually resolve some of these questions without exacerbating them.
Follow-up: Brandon, at Siris, thinks I may be underestimating the degree to which the judiciary has, due to a lack of checks on its authority,"precedent by precedent, slowly moved or begun to move outside its Constitutional bounds, and that therefore the problem is systemic." The Canadian Constitution, he points out, has a clause, enacted in 1982 (Clause 32), allowing the legislature to check the judiciary.
A native of Los Angeles, the newly invested Cliopatriarch of Boston is known, however, to hate the Red Sox only slightly less than he hates the Yankees and to prefer rabbits to chinchillas.
Ollie, I'd like you to meet Matilde. Matilde, this is Ollie. Maybe, neither of you care to know Victoria and Disraeli, but we'll all try to get along, like one big happy family.These are not insignificant matters. Robinson could be doing comparative tomato and zucchini studies with Burke, Chana, and Howard. We call it Summer Veggie Blogging.
For 36 hours or so after Governor McGreevey announced his resignation, it appeared as if the Torch might be eclipsed on the New Jersey list of scandals. Think again. Today's New York Times has a brilliantly researched article on the McGreevey resignation, that concludes with the following nugget:
Then, a few minutes before 4 p.m., came a stunning development. Mr. Lesniak [McGreevey's attorney] received a call from a lawyer who said he was an intermediary working on behalf of Mr. Cipel and Mr. Lowy and wanted to cut a deal. Mr. Lesniak declined to discuss the matter because it was now under investigation by the F.B.I. But according to several people, the lawyer offered to drop the lawsuit in exchange for a cash settlement and the Governor's agreement to approve permits for Tuoro College, a school in Brooklyn, that was trying to found a medical school in New Jersey.
Take one guess which former New Jersey senator's lobbying firm has been working on Tuoro's behalf to obtain the medical school permit.
If true, the Tuoro offer provides an answer to the biggest unanswered question of this matter, which is why McGreevey's former lover, Golan Cipel, decided to go public. Maybe, of course, he's telling the truth: but most sexual harrassment cases lead to the victim suffering retaliation, not being constantly rewarded. Maybe, as McGreevey's lawyers have suggested, Cipel was trying to extort money. Or maybe, as McGreevey's 2001 opponent, Bret Schundler, alleged almost immediately after the resignation, Cipel was used by influential New Jersey Democrats pursuing their own agenda.
Obviously we'll learn more in the coming days. But it's nice to see that The Torch hasn't developed a conscience in his political retirement.
I highly recommend the ones written by my favorite historians of South Asia:
Shahid Amin imagines an India without trucks:
Modern India is unimaginable without colonialism, and pucca colonialism without the railways, the lines that ran on desi steam for firenghi profit. The railways made all of us Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai what we are. They helped push goods and ideas around, eased pilgrimages to various teerths, and allowed that inveterate passenger, M.K. Gandhi, to carry his message to the thousands thronging wayside stations for a fleeting darshan: the Mahatma had set guidelines for how effusive nationalists were to exercise platform discipline. But the odd steam-gurgling ‘lorry’ aside, the sahib’s simply yoked their steel-rails to our mricchakatikam-style bullock carts. So that Devdas Dilip Kumar’s final train journey to Paro ends dramatically on a creaking bailgari, and the hooch that would lay waste the less affluent came to mufassil warehouses well into the mid-sixties in bonded barrels carted by a pair of bullocks.Irfan Habib imagines a Hindu fundamentalist India:
What if there’d been turning points at which we did become a Hindu state?Ainslie Embree imagines a united sub-continent:
This scenario is so difficult because that means we should have had a different kind of national movement, we would have no Karachi resolution of 1931...you can be counter-factual but you can’t be to such a degree. How the whole national movement was constructed around the Congress and other parties also prevented the formation of a Hindu state. As Gandhiji said,"The nation is not built on religion." And of course, there were other elements in the national struggle like equality of women. Hindu-Muslim unity was not the only touchstone for secularism. Secularism means you rely on reason, not religion.
I would like to suggest that while many of those great ideals have been fulfilled for the Indian people in the India that came into being on August 15, 1947, they might have been more fully realised, not just for India but for all the people of South Asia, had the Cabinet Mission’s three-tier constitutional idea been adopted. It is a very big ‘What if?’And finally Mushirul Hasan takes on the history of communalism in India:
History cannot be reversed, but the realisation that there was nothing inherently improbable in a very different scenario in 1946 surely helps in looking at South Asia in a different way in 2004.
- A three-tiered India would have had at least the same industrialisation that has occurred and the areas that are now Pakistan and Bangladesh would have profited from it. It would have been a vast"free trade zone" with no equal in the world.
- It would have been a democratic republic, without military dictators. There would seem to be no reason why Muslim voters could not have exercised their franchise, just as they do in present-day India.
- This vast new India would have been a secular state, fulfilling the dream so often enunciated by Indian leaders both before and after 1947. Nehru’s commitment to secularism can scarcely be doubted. To that must be added a reminder of Jinnah’s speech on August 11, 1947:"You can belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State. We are all citizens and equal citizens of one State." Would not he and Nehru—and a host of others—have said that for the Three-Tier India?
Q. So obviously we go back to the question, why Partition then? And what if Partition had not happened? Of course, the non-serious answer is that we would have had a great Cricket team, but would there not have been obvious problems of governance?
A. Well [smiles] united India was governable under Akbar in the 16th century.
Q. But then it was a different geographical entity and he was busy all those 50+ years in fighting those opposed to his rule and conquests...
A. No, the Mughal Empire was run through a very efficient bureaucratic apparatus. So governability wasn't really a problem. Governability is not the main issue. The man issue is what has acquired salience now. i.e. the distribution of power. Whether it is Mandal or the opposition to reservation for SCs and OBCs. The centrality of distribution of authority and power is the key question in a society that is socially stratified and a society that is so unevenly developed. So in an unevenly developed region, caste antipathies become extremely important. In an undeveloped society, the struggle for loaves and fishes becomes even more intense. So if a young student asks me what Partition is all about, my answer is: Don't look at it as a conflict between two communities, because if you begin to do that you would not understand the struggle for the levers of power and the struggle. That struggle is at a higher level when you and me compete for a position in government, but there are other deeper level of society where the introduction of new institutions create conflicts among people who have lived together for centuries amicably.
Geitner Simmons calls attention to two posts at Regions of Mind about how the Pulitzer Prize winning Polish novelist, Henry Sienkiewitz, was influenced by his travels in the American West; and a third about how the United States accommodated Louisiana's Spanish and French heritage. Simmons especially calls attention to the responses by Nathanael at Rhine River, who wrote about the influence of Sienkiewitz on modern literature; and compared the United States's assimilation of Louisiana to the contemporary Prussian annexation of the Rhineland. As Simmons said, these are important indicators of the kind of immediate intellectual exchange that blogging enables. We both recommend Rhine River as a fascinating history site, with strong visual appeal.
Siris, which we've just added to the blogroll at Cliopatria, actually has rules for what is blogrolled over there. The discriminating philosopher says:"Political blogging is the parasitic scum of the blogosphere." I was just bottom-feeding, when I recommended Dugger's article, but I meant it!
Finally, Brian Ulrich observes that"... you know you're a grad student in history when you set your books down to check out and a visible cloud of dust emerges from one of them." He reminds me of the professor of European intellectual history who spoke of our job-related injuries. He was working quietly one day in his library carrel, when a bound volume of the London Times fell on his head. Maybe you have to have seen what a bound volume of the London Times looks like to appreciate that one.
I love the internet. Other people do the work for me, and all I have to do is point at it. Of course, my students do that too, but I'm not being graded or getting, in fact, any sort of credit for this. Special thanks today, however, to Ralph Luker, who reads far and wide to find new and interesting people to add to our blogroll.
First up, something I've been thinking about writing about for some time. Michelle Malkin's new book In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror gets the dismantling it so richly deserves at the hands of Orcinus' David Neiwart (via Peevish). Neiwart starts with a brief vitae for Malkin (troubling enough even if she'd stuck to punditry), then points us to other folks who've tackled the book's many flaws (I'd read the Volokh Conspiracy material, by internment experts Eric Muller and Greg Robinson), then does his own very authoritative supplement. The ultimate conclusion: Malkin has taken a few facts out of context and turned them into an historical and ethical abomination. Here's a quick primer on the internment, if you need one before diving into the realms of MAGIC cables and executive orders. [P.S. If you want to see Malkin in action, you can read this HNN Roundup piece and my response]
On a lighter note, Garry Trudeau says that George W. Bush may be a circumventing knave. He also may not have the advantage he thinks he does, as an incumbent, particularly if this sort of news and analysis keeps coming out. Though, if I were starting a blog (or music group, or magazine, or pseudonymonous on-line account) of my own, Circumventing Knave would have to be on my list of possible names.
Even some of my most theory-minded students roll their eyes a little at that word, heteronormativity . It isn’t an elegant term, I’d agree. But the concept is an important and legitimately useful one, I think. It is essentially a specific form of what Antonio Gramsci thought of as ideologically-interested “common sense”, a perspectival unconscious that influences everything we think and say but that we’re scarcely aware of. I would depart from Gramsci in that I think much of this common sense is made or manipulated not so much to consciously serve the interests of any social group but is instead like the accumulation of geological layers at the bottom of an ocean bed. It’s what history becomes as it decomposes. It’s the way the past resides in our minds, as a hodgepodge and contradictory set of assumptions about what is normal.
Scholars who study race have made note of the way that whiteness gradually became the unreferenced, invisible norm from which blackness or Asianness or any other racialized identity was imagined as different. A similar history applies with sexuality and gender—and it is that to which the term heternormativity refers.
It’s hard to deny that something like that exists in the United States in the wake of New Jersey governor’s James McGreevy’s resignation yesterday. It’s a phenomenon that stands outside of whether one approves of homosexuality or not: it has to do with how we instantly frame and understand particular events.
The story as it played out last night was that the governor had come out of the closet, and was resigning because of it. Even his opponents were shocked, stunned, confused, and in some cases, respecting his “courage”. This has a bit to do with how McGreevy himself framed his resignation in his speech, but I think it’s the reaction most people probably had in some measure on hearing the news, a kind of shocked double-take mixed with some sympathy for him.
Now imagine this instead: a governor already under fire for dubious political practices and hints of corruption resigning because it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair with a woman and had placed that woman—without qualifications—in a high-paying job within his administration. We’d all yawn, more or less. Sure, there would be coverage, and sure, there would be political fallout. But as a story, it would also have something of a dog bites man character to it. We expect it, we’ve seen it before in American politics.
And yet, that’s McGreevy’s story, too. His sexual orientation is beside the point: it’s not why he had to resign. He had to resign because he was already skirting the edge of unethical patronage practices and with the placement of his lover in a job in his administration had gone right off the edge. But it takes effort, even for those who follow New Jersey politics closely, to move their minds onto that track, to recognize the actual banality of the story in its details. That’s the subtle difference that accumulated histories of identity make: they lead us to misrecognize something that’s as plain as day.
Would it be progress if we got to the point where a gay man doing something unethical was just another humdrum case of corruption in politics? Yeah, at least from where I’m sitting, it would be.
Update: Thanks to Brian Ulrich for correcting my abuse of Abu Aardvark's name and to Abu Aardvark for clarifying his position in an update that good history and good political science require analysis, interpretation, and explanation.
As an Asianist, teaching world history can be very frustrating. Most world history textbooks are written by Western historians, mostly the same Europeanists who write the Western Civ texts, but they usually add an Asianist to the group, usually a China or India person. Sometimes they get it right, but a lot of the time you can tell that the Asia chapters were written by someone who picked up one or two basic textbooks. You can sometimes even tell which textbook (I love Mikiso Hane's work, but it has to be read in context!), and they're often out-of-date (Asia textbooks don't get the kind of semi-annual polishing now current in the trade, and there are some really creaky old classics still being used by thousands of people; that's a subject for another post).
So I spend a fair bit of time in class correcting and contextualizing the textbook material. Maybe the experience is the same for Europeanists, or Americanists? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that material is much better served by the distillation process than the Asian material.
The worst, the most consistently annoying thing, though, is Marco Polo. Let me say this clearly and plainly: Marco Polo did not go to China, Marco Polo did not work for the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Yes, it was possible to make the journey, and yes, some non-Chinese did serve the Yuan. But the errors in his Travels cannot be glossed over as"a traveler's tendency to exaggerate (especially in regard to numbers)" and his absence from Yuan records (which were pretty well kept) cannot be slipped by with"may have been employed" and the distinct likelihood that Polo was simply embellishing translations of Chinese gazetteers he picked up in Persia is not clearly expressed by"Scholars have long regarded Marco Polo's book, if used carefully, as an important historical document."
Marco Polo's book is important because it introduced Europeans to a world beyond their ken, and it seems to have been based on authentic sources, but badly translated (particularly in terms of units of measure), possibly through several stages of translation. This is commonly accepted by actual Asianists. But, outside of world history texts written by generalists, I've never seen a history of Asia that took Marco Polo's narrative at face value. It's time to bring these things up to date.
Supplement: Some Details
Ok, perhaps it was unfair, certainly unrealistic, to think that I was going to get away without some more specifics. The one book which keeps coming up when I look for sources is Frances Wood'sDid Marco Polo Go To China? though it has gotten some pretty harsh reviews for relying heavily on 'sins of omission' rather than positive errors, but Wood also makes some powerful positive claims particularly in the area of identifying the Persian and Arab sources from which Polo's narrative was almost certainly constructed.
Some of her noted omissions are worth mentioning, though, particularly foot-binding. Wood's critics have noted that Polo supposedly spent most of his time with Mongols and other non-Chinese, but the Mongols were well aware of the Chinese tradition, increasingly popular at this time, and legislated against it (for Mongol women). Even if Polo had no contact with Chinese women (and some variants of Polo's text do mention their taking"small steps" he should, over 17 years of administrative service, have come across mention of it. Similarly, chopsticks are something that he might well have noticed in the marketplaces and shops, even if he didn't spend time with Chinese in their homes.
Peter Jackson's article"Marco Polo and his 'Travels'" (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 61, No. 1. , pp. 82-101 [JSTOR]) argues that Polo's journey was probably authentic (and his omissions are due to his spending most of his time in the Indian Ocean, plus the vagaries of pre-printing copyists), but that he exaggerated their status (which wasn't uncommon, for Europeans far from home, he argues). This would account for Polo's use of secondary sources to describe much of China, and might help explain the total lack of corroborating documentation for his Asian sojourns.
This would not, however, account for Polo's lack of Mongol or Chinese linguistic skills. Nor would it account for his geographical absurdities. Some of them can be attributed to his lack of understanding of Chinese units: the Chinese li, for example, is translated by Polo to mean a mile, when it actually corresponds to about 1/3 of that distance. (This has always bothered me, since I noticed it in a World Civ reader: how could he have done business in a society in which he didn't actually understand the units of trade and measure?) Not all, though, as he gets travel times wrong as well, for trips that he supposedly took himself.
There's an interesting contradiction, by the way, regarding ibn Battuta, the other noted world traveler. Gernet's textbook says that"Unlike Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta was an excellent observer...." (375) while Jackson contrasts Polo's realism"with the highly improbable description given of China in the 1340s by the Moroccan pilgrim Ibn Battuta (demonstrably an authentic traveller as far as India)." (89) Ross Dunn, the reigning expert, comes down somewhere in the middle.
The section which is almost always present in the readers is the description of Hangzhou. It reads much like a Chinese gazeteer or a government report, and is probably a pretty decent description of the city, though exaggerated in numbers and measures. It's the introduction to the material that irks me.
If we hadn't already known it, we've recently found the American corollary to Godwin's Law in rhetoric on the American Right. Perhaps they learned it from the Left, but it's interesting that the thread doesn't grow long before the slavemaster is invoked these days. Alan Keyes's attack on Oback Barama's position on abortion is the most public instance of it. On the net, Clayton Cramer defends his anti-gay rhetoric by invoking the slavemasters' sinister influence."... whatever the libertarian theory is in favor of treating homosexuals like everyone else," says Cramer,
the enormous threat to civil liberties that they insist on imposing on the rest of the society makes them dangerous. They are like slaveowners in antebellum America: few in number, but rich, arrogant, and powerful, because of their internal political cohesion. Their sexual behavior (at least if they can stay away from children) isn't the biggest hazard; it is the corruption of the political process that they cause in their effort to suppress dissenting opinions, through anti-discrimination laws, through their attempts at shutting people up.Query: Does Governor James McGreevy's resignation tend to confirm or refute Cramer's charge? Or is it beside the point? A tip of the hat to CrescatSententia. Update: As one might expect, Clayton is grooving on the McGreevy story, but there's something voyeuristic about all this.
Bennett notes the possible dangers inherent in a tied Electoral College (269-269), which would throw the election into the House. To preempt the possibility, he urges expanding the membership of the House by one member, to 436, thereby producing an E.C. of 539 members (with D.C.'s 3 votes) and ensuring that, at least in a case where all electors cast ballots, there could be no tie.
Bennett's proposal, however, would create a far more likely problem than a deadlocked Electoral College: a House in which both parties had the same number of Members. We're not that far removed from a House in which neither party had a majority--the 64th Congress (1917-1918)--and in which third-party Members decided which party would have the Speakership. (The mostly left-wing independents from the Upper Midwest sided with the Dems.) If I had to guess, a tied House is much more likely than a tied E.C. Better to keep the system the way it is, or abolish the E.C. altogether.
I received a Middle Eastern example of nationalist pseudo-history from my wife (and fellow historian) this morning. This article, if at all accurate, suggests that a fairly reasonable desire to counter the “Judea and Samaria” claims of some Israelis is resulting in falsehoods of at least equal if not greater proportions. In a program on Palestinian TV two scholars argued that Arab’s existed in Palestine in Biblical times, but the ancestors of Jews today did not. Some of the claims are fairly boneheaded. Others, however, show a certain degree of subtlety, which makes it all the more worrisome.
In responding to Sue and another colleague, I critiqued a list of claims from the article this way. Please post any corrections or suggestions.
* The Hebrews of the Bible have no connection to the Jews today.
>That one’s BS.
* The Hebrews of the Bible were Arabs.
>Don’t forget Ismael. There is a tradition of kinship in both Judaism and Islam, not to mention pre-Islamic Arab history. Of course kinship is not identity.
* The Prophets of the Bible were Muslims.
* Biblical King Solomon was a Muslim Prophet.
>Both true, but only retroactively. Muhammad (or Gabriel, if you prefer) does refer to biblical prophets as predecessors.
* Solomon’s Temple was not built by Israelites, but by Arab Canaanites.
BS, which is not to say that some of the builders aren’t up high in some Arab’s family tree. Again, there is a chance for connection.
* The Canaanites are the forefathers of the Palestinians.
Probably BS, but if their language was Semitic, there would be a case (though it would also emphasize the connection between the Hebrews and Palestine, which the scholar here is trying to avoid.)
* The Bible consists of legends based on what Jews imagined, and not on history.
>An element of truth to this. Of course approaching the Qu’ran in the same spirit could yield a similar conclusion.
* The Jews today are descendents of a 13th Century Khazar tribe with no history in the Land of Israel.
>I gather that there are connections betwen Russian Jews and Jews in Khazar, but this claim transforms that connection into something else entirely.
* The location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is a Zionist invention.
BS. That tradition is far older than Zionism.
* Zionism is Racism.
All nationalisms—including Arab and Jewish-- have the potential for systematic discrimination on some basis. Palestinians can make the case that Zionism in Palestine has done just that. And that is one reason that this junk may sell.
Yet before anyone reserves a bottle of champagne against the day, British historian Karen Armstrong warns that we may have been fighting for the wrong side or at least for a cause we never fully understood. In their own perverted way, Armstrong argues, the Al Qaeda have been fighting to assert the existence of God in world that has forgotten Him.If Wretchard interprets Armstrong and Harris correctly, he certainly is right to recognize that Armstrong's religious and Harris's secular perspectives hold much in common. Both require an abandonment of monotheistic absolutisms. I'm inclined to think that he misinterprets Armstrong because she believes that the G_d of Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad is one lord, differently apprehended. I'm inclined to think that Wretchard is also wrong in his conclusion. If the fight is worthy, it must be a struggle for the freedom to disbelieve, as well as to believe. That is neither nihilism nor vacuity. It is freedom.So what is fundamentalism? Fundamentalism represents a kind of revolt or rebellion against the secular hegemony of the modern world. Fundamentalists typically want to see God, or religion, reflected more centrally in public life. They want to drag religion from the sidelines, to which it's been relegated in a secular culture, and back to center stage.If so, the victory discernable as a thin line on the horizon really represents the final triumph of secularism over the last religion. And, while Armstrong has publicly said many foolish things, this particular accusation at least deserves serious examination, not in the least because other writers, like Sam Harris affirm it from an opposite point of view. The Amazon review of Harris' book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason summarizes his thesis as follows:Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes. He asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer tolerate views that pit one true god against another. Most controversially, he argues that we cannot afford moderate lip service to religion—an accommodation that only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.Harris claims that if we seriously subscribe to God in any form we will eventually wind up settling accounts with WMDs; hence we must abolish God. Armstrong asserts that unless we accept all gods, any religion left out will eventually resort to weapons of mass destruction."Now more and more small groups will have the capability of destruction that were formerly the prerogative of the nation-state ... The way we're going -- and Britain is just as culpable as the United States -- we're alienating Muslims who were initially horrified by Sept. 11 and we're strengthening al-Qaeda, which has definitely been strengthened by the Iraq war and its awful aftermath." She argues that we should simply recognize that many people"just want to be more religious in some way or another."
The cure to religious extremism, according to these arguments, is a choice of two elixirs: believing in nothing particular or classifying all religious belief as madness. Yet on closer examination both these arguments are so close to each other that despite apparent differences they are virtually identical. Both require the abolition of belief as the price of survival, the latter by maintaining there is nothing worth arguing over and the former asserting there is nothing to argue about.
That will be good news to those who feel that the Global War on Terror is really about making the world safe for homosexuals, metrosexuals, MTV and the United Nations: that it is really about using the US Armed Forces to impose the"End of History" on 8th century holdouts; that its function is to restart the music that inconveniently stopped on September 11. But there is another possibility: that fundamentalism is created by the very vacuity Karen Armstrong recommends. Camus in The Rebel believed that man could find the courage to live under a dark heaven swept clean of stars. But then he was Camus: he uncharacteristically forgot that in that vast night false beacons would almost instantly spring up, the sort that Vladimir Ilich Lenin, anticipating Sam Harris, lit to the destruction of millions. In one thing Armstrong is almost certainly correct: Islamic fundamentalism is twinned to relativism of the West. In one thing she is almost certainly wrong: that its antidote is even more relativism.
It would be absurd to conclude that the war on terror is waged to make the world safe for nihilism. That would almost equal Robert Fisk's declaration, upon being beaten by a Muslim mob that"if I had been them, I would have attacked me." For where the mind can find no purchase it must ground its postulates in the simplest of things.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.We fight in the end not to disbelieve but for the right to believe again -- and trust that we may find our way.