Saturday, March 31, 2007

Strange bedfellows

Peace-making usually means that you must talk and reach a deal with people you don't like very much, and sometimes even people who have been trying to kill you. I'd have paid good money to witness this scene, which took place before the preliminary northern Ireland accord was reached in April l998:

"It was in the Christmas of 1997 that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness first went for talks in Number 10. When they sat down in the cabinet room, Adams wondered out loud whether it was the same room in which David Lloyd George had met Michael Collins for the negotiations which created the Irish Republic. 'Yes, I think so,' said Tony Blair. Mo Mowlam pointed at the window: 'And that's the window the mortars came through.' There was nervous laughter at this reminder that Tony Blair was talking to the political wing of a terrorist group that had tried to assassinate his two immediate predecessors as Prime Minister."

Some people in the UK say that northern Ireland is Tony Blair's signature achievement of his prime ministership. I agree, because it's going to improve the lives of generations to come, but what a long, strange, hair-pulling trip it's been.

Hoyas Rocks!

In case you were wondering, the Georgetown Hoyas owe their team moniker to the days when Georgetown students cheered their sports teams in Greek and Latin. Those days went away with compulsory morning Mass and the all-male campus, but the legacy of the more rigorous past lives on in the chant, "Hoya! Saxa! Hoya! Saxa!." Loosely translated, this means "what rocks!" Thus a Hoya is half of "what rocks," which confounds the casual onlooker. It gets even more interesting when you realize the team mascot is a bulldog named Jack, to whose care a Jesuit priest is assigned full-time. They zip around campus in a special golf cart. I guess the philosophy and theology sections are undersubscribed these days...that's what Jesuits do mostly.

The blue and grey uniforms the players wear are a tribute to the nearly equal numbers of Confederate and Union Georgetown students who died in the American civil war. My own freshman dorm had had students in it continually since just after the revolutionary war.

Off the hardwood, it's truly fascinating to go to G-town for four years, because the diploma you will receive will be entirely in Latin. I've never taken the time to puzzle through all of the words, but I assume it says I'm legit, a grad-you-ate.

"Georgetown, Georgetown, Alma Mater,
Swift Potomac's lovely daughter,
Ever watching by the water,
Smiles on us today..."

Should we laugh or cry?

A faithful and sharp-eyed friend from the Hoosier state recommends the following article, in which the following nugget is found:

"Forty-eight percent of Germans think the United States is more
dangerous than Iran, a new survey shows, with only 31 percent
believing the opposite. Germans' fundamental hypocrisy about the US
suggests that it's high time for a new bout of re-education."

I don't know whether this is more a reflection to the abyss in which the US's reputation abroad has fallen or of nascent delusional thinking on the part of the Germans, but in any case you can find this astonishing bit of surveying here.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thank you and Godspeed

When you think of gender-role pioneers in World War I, Maria Bochkareva, the Russian soldier who received the St. George's Cross for bravery, immediately comes to mind. But we had our own "gender-benders" here in the US, women who believed they should be able to share responsibility for defense of the country with men. Charlotte Winters was one of them, so it's appopriate to pay tribute to her here.

BOONSBORO, Md. -- The last known surviving American female veteran of World War I, a refined Civil War buff who met face-to-face with the secretary of the Navy to fight for women in the military, has died. She was 109.
Charlotte Winters died Tuesday at a nursing home in northwest Maryland, the US Naval District in Washington said in a statement.
Her death leaves just five known surviving American World War I veterans.
In 1916, Mrs. Winters met with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to persuade him to allow women in the service, said Kelly Auber, who grew up on South Mountain, where Mrs. Winters and her husband, John, had settled.
When the Navy opened support roles to women in 1917, Mrs. Winters and her sister, Sophie, joined immediately, Auber said. By December 1918, more than 11,000 women had enlisted and were serving in support positions, the Naval District said. Mrs. Winters served as a secretary and in a gun factory.
It would be two more years before women won the right to vote.
Mrs. Winters retired from the US Naval Reserve in 1953 with the rank of yeoman.
Friends said she was proud of her role but didn't like to be fussed over as she grew older and fewer and fewer WWI veterans were alive.
"Why are they doing this for me? I don't deserve all this," Doug Bast of Boonsboro recalled her saying.
Auber said Mrs. Winters was "an absolutely refined lady" who with her husband was fond of traveling the country looking for burial spots of fallen Civil War generals.
"She was very proud of her accomplishments, and when asked, she'd say it was the thing to do, to be patriotic. And, she was very patriotic," Auber told The Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

We should give thanks for Americans like Mrs. Winters...Godspeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tough, but fair?

Here is a very tough, very provocative view of the Iranian sailor snatch. This fellow claims that Britian, and by extension the United States, has lost any moral authority they might once have had to remonstrate seriously with the Iranians. You won't want to hear it, but you should read it anyway.

The face of civil war

"The final hours of Saadoun's life reveal the ferocity with which Shiite militiamen are driving Sunni Arabs from Baghdad house by house, block by block, in an effort to homogenize the capital. It is happening even as thousands of additional American troops and Iraqi soldiers have entered Baghdad as part of President George W. Bush's "surge" strategy."

Go read the sad story of the widow Saadoun and her seven children, now orphaned, all victims of Shiite ethnic cleansing, carried out within shouting range of US troops. Then ask yourself a) whether the US can stop even a fraction of this illegal activity with the "surge" troops; b) whether an outside party has ever successfully refereed a civil war and c) if not, what in the world can we accomplish there?

A point that gives pause?

I was watching the PBS documentary "The Boomer Century" last night. We had just been talking about the "crisis of authority' created by the Vietnam war, e.g. LBJ and General Westmoreland exaggerating the "body count" and "progress" in Vietnam, and the UW Madison authorities conspiring to spin the violent breakup of a peaceful protest as a "mob" and "riot" for which the students were to blame. On last night's program, Dr. Andrew Weil added another dimension: the discrepancy between what officialdom told people about marijuana--it will drive you mad, make you do insane things, land you in an asylum--and what was actually experienced. That certainly is correct...people DID try to scare kids with films like "Reefer Madness," which only widened the credibility gap when the kids tried wacky tabacky. That's not to say it was harmless--far from it--just that the adults promised your head would spontaneously combust with the first iinhalation.

So add marijuana to body counts, lights at the end of the tunnel, peaceful protests-turned-riots...the lies just kept piling up.

Bravo For Bono!

U-2's international superstar Bono has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his humanitarian work worldwide. Few celebrities have done anything approximating what Bono has accomplished in terms of raising public awareness of global poverty. He's much more than a rock star...he's a Bill Gates figure, making his mark far outside the narrow world of rock and roll.

That's SIR Bono to you from now on!

A small bit of justice for My Lai massacre

According to the BBC on this day in 1971, the Charlie Company leader, Lt. William Calley, was indicted for his part in the My Lai massacre. Though several were guilty, he was the only one charged. He was originally sentenced to life w/labor, ending up serving house arrest in Fort Benning, GA., freed on bail in 1974 and paroled after serving about a third of his term. Two weeks ago today was the 39th anniversary of the My Lai massacre.

Again, it was a small bit of justice and I'm sure the relatives of the My Lai villagers wouldn't see it as justice at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More of the same old, same old

There's more evil tidings from Russia this morning: AP is reporting that several people died in a striptease club fire, the details of which read like this:

"The cause of the blaze had not been determined, but some witnesses said it broke out during a "fire show" that was part of the club's nightly entertainment, said Yevgeny Bobylev, a spokesman for the Moscow division of the Ministry.

The preliminary accounts indicated that a performer in the show inadvertently set his clothing on fire and that in turn ignited a nearby one-gallon container of flammable liquid, Bobylev said.

He said all the deaths were due to suffocation. About 150 people were evacuated, including four who were hospitalized"

You can add this to the fire in the home for the elderly last week in the north Caucasus, which took the lives of nearly l00 people(the nightwatchman ignored two alarms), the disastrous inferno in the Moscow drug rehab center that killed several dozen young people(doors were locked to prevent escapes(!)), and the numerous instances of people killed on the job in potentially hazardous conditions. Actually, this time of year, you could be killed just walking along the street, as jagged, torpedo-shaped pieces of melting ice fall from buildings. I remember vividly an excursion I took in the Solovki island canals a few years ago--the rowboats were all overcrowded, there were no lifejackets in sight and of course, no lifeguards. Also, I suspected that very few people with me could swim. It was truly every man for himself there.

All this points up a scandalous lack of attention, even indifference to human life and safety, and a corresponding lack of legal protections against this sort of thing. There is really no recourse if you are injured in one of these incidents, because there is no tradition of health and safety legislation there, and even if there were, what courts there are always rule in favor of the state or the wealthy owners of a given enterprise. People here often grouse about intrusive legislation and regulation, but I would err on the side of intrusive rather than have to live in an actively Darwinistic place, a near anti-state like this incarnation of Russia.

Sectional sports history

If you've never seen it, this would be the week to rent "Hoosiers," the story of a fabled Indiana basketball state championship featuring tiny Hickory High, enrollment 64, and South Bend Central, enrollment 2000 +. It has a great cast, with Gene Hackman as the coach of Hickory, and it spotlights a real phenomenon in American cultural history: the Indiana State High School Basketball Championship. You wouldn't know it unless you lived in Indiana, but basketball is not just a sport there, it's a religion. Every small, rural town lives vicariously through its high school team; on weekends, you see these long caravans of cars and trucks, headed either down the road to the away game site or the local fieldhouse. That's no joke: a lot of the schools have venues that seat up to l0,000 people. I've never seen anything quite like it anywhere I have been.

Up until a few years ago, the Indiana Championship was an all-comers affair, in other words everyone played in the same classification. There was no distinction between super-small and mega schools, so that there COULD be a David and Goliath scenario as you will see in Hoosiers. In the interest of fairness, officials changed the format recently, which many people regretted since the tourney lost some of its character and uniqueness. But you can still see a great story from the old days if you get hold of "Hoosiers." It should be playing on one of the movie channels most of the week, since we are almost ready for the Final Four in Atlanta.

Dedicated sports fans should watch the sched on ESPN Classic, too--I caught a few minutes of the ACTUAL "Hoosiers" championship from l954 last Sunday night. The schools' real names were Milan(David) and Lawrence Central(Goliath), if memory serves.

Go east, west, north or south--out of the United States

One of the things I would do if I suddenly were granted extensive dictatorial powers over the world is require that everyone spend at least six months outside of his or her home country, preferably on another continent. Typically, you would do this as a middle or high-schooler, but you could opt for later just as easily. If you have a degree, you could go teach abroad, either in an American school in a given country or in a normal elementary or secondary institution. You have one particularly valuable calling card: you speak American English, which is what everyone worldwide wants to learn. You can go here for some preliminary information on how you would arrange a teaching gig abroad. I highly recommend will transform the way you see the world.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bookworld Saturday

It's not a great time, mid-semester, to be taking on extracurricular reading, but here's a new non-fiction offering from ABC foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz that promises to be instructive, in terms of the point at which this war began spinning out of control. Here's a sneak peek from the WaPo Bookworld magazine:

"The chief White House correspondent for ABC News, Raddatz was in Baghdad when she learned about a platoon of 1st Cavalry Division soldiers who had embarked in April 2004 on what they thought would be a routine community-outreach mission (they were assisting with sewage disposal, to put it delicately) in the massive Shiite slum of Sadr City. Without warning, the once pro-U.S., Saddam Hussein-hating enclave erupted into an anti-American shooting gallery. The 1st Cav platoon was pinned down by members of the firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army -- hundreds of them. The Long Road Home details the increasingly desperate and unquestionably heroic attempts to save the troops and reclaim order in an impoverished district that's home to some 2.5 million Iraqis. There isn't a hint of political bias in the book, but by focusing on this pivotal firefight, Raddatz illuminates a key moment when Iraq's sectarian strife mutated into the ferocious, unrelenting insurgency it is now."

The book's title, "The Long Road Home," seems very appropriate, very apt.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Well put

I was just listening to an English reporter who covers the Middle East. He was talking about the seizure by Iran of l5 British sailors in the Persian Gulf today and interpreted this development as a kind of tit-for-tat thing--the US seized some Iranian diplomats in or near the Kurdish region recently, and so this snatch of the sailors is payback. The reporter said, "You are the Big Satan, and we(British)are the Little Satan, but we're all together in the same Satan basket, one might say."

I think that sums up the US-British situation in the Middle East pretty well at the moment.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Russians and France, vol. 5,678

There's more news on the Russian-French front...this is a Franco-Russian connection I'm not sure I knew about. You can have a piece of the action for a cool couple Ks.

Coming attractions(!?)

You remember those fill-in-the-blanks mini-reading paragraphs on the SAT, where they left words out of certain sections? Well, I've got one for you from RCE, Really Current Events, and if you get it right once, you can fill in the rest of the blanks with the same word.

The _______ issue is as notoriously divisive in Iraq as sovereignty over certain parts of Ireland used to be in British politics. Winston Churchill famously complained that, after all the political and military cataclysms of the First World War, the question of who should have "the dreary spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone", remained as ferociously contested as before the war.

The control of ________ divided Kurds from Arabs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and continues to do so. The city is commonly called "a powder keg" though it has yet to explode. But that does not mean it will not happen and the referendum might just be the detonator for that explosion.

The Kurds believe they were a majority in the city until ethnically cleansed by Saddam and replaced by Arab settlers. As the regime crumbled in April 2003, the Kurds captured ______ and its oilfields. They have no plans to give them up.

It's worth it to puzzle out this one--no cheating allowed-- because then you will remember it when it becomes a perilous flashpoint in the war.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A dramatic reversal

If you're looking for truly historic change, you won't have to go far: try the Irish precincts of Boston, which are steadily depopulating. Once Irish people came to Boston and New York by the thousands, fleeing repression, poverty and lack of opportunity; now many more are going back across the ocean to Ireland.

Kevin Cullen has a remarkable series on this tectonic shift in the Boston Globe(where else?) this week. He cites as key factors in this turnaround the Irish economic boom, which has created thousands and thousands of high-paying jobs and made for an incredibly high standard of living there. There is also a "new normal" for Irish people here illegally: they are being deported now, rather than allowed to stay with a wink and a nod. That seems to be a permanent feature of post-9/11 America.

Incredibly, there are so many ex-American Irish living in the legendary County Kerry, in the southwest corner of Ireland, that some residents have deemed their neighborhood "Little Boston." You can read the yesterday's kickoff story and succeeding parts here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Best wishes for a fun and (relatively) sober St. Patrick's Day. While we're thinking about Ireland and the Irish, here's my top five or so myths about the Emerald Isle most widely held among Irishophiles here in the US:

1) Corned beef and cabbage is NOT strictly speaking an Irish dish. It is an Irish-American dish, because corned beef was about the cheapest cut of meat you could buy in New York or Boston, and no immigrant had much money to spend. What you will find on Irish menus in Ireland are things like salmon, lamb, pork, Irish stew and just about any dish from around the world--that is, if you are in one of those pricey Dublin five-star hotels. My advice: concentrate on the SODA BREAD, which can't be replicated here.

2) The only people who eat IRISH OATMEAL are TOURISTS. I based this on the fact that you never see Irish oatmeal anywhere in Eire except in places frequented by foreigners.

3) Irish people are not all backslapping, hail-fellow-well-met types like movie priest Barry Fitzgerald. Nor are they inclined to go all to pieces when they meet you, because they see foreigners, especially Americanos, all the time. They ARE some of the friendliest people you will meet, though.

4) Irish people have a reputation for fighting and for opting for violence in solving problems. There's a lot to that. What you might NOT know is that they are one of the few peoples--the ONLY one I know of, actually--who arrange to honor poetry and poems in their public parks. There are any number of poems on stone slabs in places like St. Stephen Green in Dublin. Who would've thunk it?

5) Gaelic is not a dead language, not at all. In the Irish republic, it's a required subject in elementary schools, and in some places like Co. Donegal, if you don't know Gaelic, you won't be able to read the road signs!

6) We all DO speak the same language, English, even if you do have to ask people in northern Ireland to repeat themselves about four times each time they open their mouths!

7) It is NOT TRUE that the Irish refuse to walk their dogs in cemeteries. I met the nicest canines--retired greyhounds, mostly--looking for IRA shrines and graves in Milltown cemetery, Belfast.

Now that you've been stripped of all your illusions, on with the holiday, and do plan a trip to the Emerald Isle. You'll get a warm welcome, except when you forget yourself and drift over into the wrong lane on the highway!

Friday, March 16, 2007

A not so happy anniversary :-(

I'm sure those of us in History 388 are soon going to learn what happened this day in 1968. It is the anniversary of the American troop massacre of the My Lai village. Here is a good overview from PBS's American Experience. This event was not a high point in American History.

Trouble in Irish-American Paradise

All is not well in St. Patrick's Day Central, the GHQ of Irish America, GOTHAM. There's another brouhaha, or rather, brew-ha-ha, over the Big Parade that always marks the Big Green Day. In previous years, organizers nearly came to blows over the designation of an IRA "volunteer" as grand marshall, and more recently over gay and lesbian Irish who wished to march under an Irish gay pride banner. Now things have gotten REALLY serious--the nearly all-Irish American NY Fire Department has been disrespected all the way back to the middle of the marchers. USA Today reports,

"St. Patrick might have driven the snakes out of Ireland, but he'd find it near impossible to eliminate controversy from the nation's oldest and largest celebration of all things Irish.

John Dunleavy, president of the parade's organizing committee, ignited this year's brouhaha by moving the FDNY from its traditional spot at the front of the parade to the middle of the pack
Dunleavy then created a separate brew-haha by complaining that firefighters show up drunk for the parade — and continue drinking all day while in uniform.

Fire officials, along with city officials, were quick to strike back at Dunleavy on both counts.

"He's made a huge mistake in trying to brand all New York City firefighters on something that he says he saw," said Uniformed Firefighters Association head Steve Cassidy about the drinking charges. "It's nonsense."

Drinking on St. Patrick's Day in New York? Firefighters? I'm shocked, shocked. I wonder which city administrator the FDNY looks like a strictly Irish-eyes-are-not-smiling power play. But it figures... the Irish are a contentious lot, and a drinking lot, wherever they are.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

They're baaack...

It's the Buddhists, back in Vietnam. They have a checkered history in that country...they were hounded and persecuted by the Diem government in the l960s. The inimitable Madame Nhu offered to send matches and mustard when they began a campaign of self-immolation in protest of Diem and his brother, Mr. Secret Police.

They didn't fare well in Communist Vietnam, either, because that regime was officially atheist. Now, however, things are changing, and top Buddhist leaders have returned to give public talks in some of the major cities. Embracing Buddhism has even become something of a status symbol among young people there, in the way that wearing a Christian cross set people apart in early post-Communist Russia.

Who knows where this will lead, but it is a good sign. Repressive governments are threatened by people being drawn to religious groups, and the nominally Communist government in Vietnam is looking a lot less repressive now.

All Hail the Hungarians!

Let me be the first to wish you Happy Hungarian Independence Day! On this day in l848, the poet Sandor Petofi climbed up the stairs of the National Museum to deliver his "National Song," which begins, "Talpra Magyar! Hi a haza!"--in the vernacular, "Arise, Hungarians! Your nation calls!" This was the beginning of the Hungarian revolution of l848, which started as a bid for autonomy within the Austrian empire, and ended in a full-blown declaration of independence in l849 and then a war with Austria which decided ultimately by the Imperial Russian army. The l8-year-old Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef, begged his Russian counterpart, Nicholas I for help putting down these upstarts, and Nicky was happy to oblige since he hated any and all revolutionaries. So this first campaign for independence ended badly.

On June 4, l920, as we all know(well, maybe we all do), Hungary got its independence--after 2/3 of its territory and citizens went to neighboring nations Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania. That was the "be careful what you wish for or you might get it" period of independence. As World War II neared, the Hungarians followed the revisionists, Italy and Germany, hoping fervently that those nations' rulers would return its lost territories. Instead, they were plunged into another war, which ended in the Russian occupation of Hungary and eastern Europe. In l956, Hungarians tried to throw off Russian rule by force of arms--another valiant but futile effort. Finally, when Mikhail Gorbachev proclaimed the "Sinatra doctrine" in eastern Europe--"I'll do it MY WAY"--the Hungarians jumped at the chance to hold truly free elections and proclaim something of a lasting independence. They have been building on that foundation ever since.

The Hungarians are a great group. I admire them tremendously because they, like the Irish and the Poles and a group called the Americans, knew they would have to fight for their independence, and they kept on fighting until they won. They've got courage, persistence, elan and lots of savoir vivre, as they say in the Hungarian consulate in Paris.

Long live Hungary and Hungarians!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Celebrating "Slava"

If you've never heard of Mstislav Rostropovich, you need to get acquainted. He's one of the most outstanding people you will ever meet, and he's going to be 80 in a few days, so you probably don't have decades in which to do that.

Rostropovich is one of the most remarkable musicians ever in a country that invented remarkable musicians--Russia. He is one of the one or two best cellists of the 20th century, he plays piano brilliantly, he's a coveted conductor and musical director. Unlike a lot of fellow musicians, who keep their heads down, he took a lot of personal risks. He was unafraid of the consequences when he took into his own house Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had become persona non grata for the Soviet leaders after the publication of the Gulag Archipelago. He believed he was doing the right thing, and he paid the price--exile from his country. He didn't suffer financially at all, because he was a musical citizen of the world, welcomed everywhere. But he still lost his country for many years.

When Mikhail Gorbachev indicated he would like to see the exiles return, "Slava" eagerly accepted the invitation. In fact, when Gorbachev's Russia was in danger from a coup staged by Communist dead-enders in l991, Rostropovich dropped everything and flew to Moscow. He went straight to the Soviet Parliament building, where Boris Yeltsin was holed up, defying the Red Army to shoot people who were defending their Russian democracy. I doubt he had ever gotten close to a firearm, but there he was in the building, manning a window with an AK-47. This man had an extraordinarily comfortable life in the west, a cushy music director's gig in DC, and he puts his life on the line for his country. What a mensch!

"Slava" is the diminutive form of Rostropovich's name. It is a good thing for all of us, because it's practically impossible to say "Mstislav." It is also a fitting name for this man, because it means "glory."

Glory to Slava Rostropovich! Go get one of his solo works and listen to it. You won't be sorry for the acquaintance!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rosemary Nelson and the "other Ireland."

We're coming up on St. Patrick's Day, the celebration of all things Irish in America--corned beef and cabbage, Guinness, parades, blarney and wearin' o the green. It's a great day, even if it's mainly an American thing...Irish-Americans know how to party. But I wanted to remind everybody that even though we have those great verses, "in the lilt of Irish can hear the angels sing," life hasn't exactly been sweetness and light for Irish people this century, particularly in the six counties of northern Ireland.

An instructive example of this is the life and death of Rosemary Nelson, who lived most of her adult life in Portadown, n. Ireland, a flashpoint of Catholic-Protestant conflict. She was a lawyer, an advocate for human rights, with no connections to radical groups like the IRA. She quietly fought the deck that was stacked against her--the Protestant-dominated police, the Protestant paramilitary groups, anyone who unfairly targeted Catholic citizens. She defended victims of police abuse, she spoke out against victims of sectarian violence, and she tried as best she could to prevent the annual "in-your-face" Protestant parades on the notorious Garvaghy road that celebrated Protestant victories over Catholics and kept the pot of resentment and incitement boiling. She did all that she could to defend Catholic citizens and advance their cause, i.e. obtaining the same rights as other citizens of the United Kingdom. But that was too much for some Protestant extremists, who booby-trapped her car and murdered her on March l5, l999. Evidence emerging since that time has implicated the security services, police and paramilitaries, just as people familiar with the case alleged.

The point of her life is that Irish people, especially Catholics in northern Ireland, have had a lot more tough times than smiles
this century and last. Rosemary Nelson's life teaches us that much. It also shows us that no government gives concessions unless people press for them, agitate for them, are willing even to die for them. I guess in the end, Rosemary Nelson and the other non-violent advocates for justice in Ireland give real meaning to the phrase, "freedom isn't free."

I hope that when you hoist your Guinness on Saturday, you'll remember Rosemary Nelson and all the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland who have worked to put an end to injustice for Catholic citizens in the six northern counties.. They deserve all our admiration.

Degrees vs. Democracy at Wikipedia

I think we all have used Wikipedia, the online people's encyclopedia, from time to time. I have found it to be fairly accurate on the occasions I have consulted it about Russian history, but lately there have been problems. Someone editing the entry on Robert F. Kennedy inserted an outrageous inaccuracy last year, and now there have been instances of editors claiming advanced knowledge or degrees working on entries involving issues like canon law in the Catholic church. These incidents have prompted some history departments to forbid students from using it as a source.

Now Wikipedia is attempting to address these problems by asking contributors to fax proof of expertise where they claim to have advanced knowledge...perhaps having alleged PhD or MA editors fax a copy of their diplomas to the editor-in-chief. But then Wikipedia will lose its democratic essence as an online encylopedia to which the world is invited to contribute on an ongoing basis. So should degrees or democracy determine Wikipedia content? It's an interesting issue.

I notice that not all entries and issues are accessible for anyone wishing to contribute. One prominent example is the Armenian genocide...gee, I wonder why the editors wouldn't want that to be a free-for-all subject? Access is severely restricted there, for some strange reason...anyway, you can check out the whole story when you have time. It's definitely a 21st century phenomenon.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Site o' the night

And you thought there was nowhere you could go to get an MA, or for that matter a BA in First World War Studies! The University of Birmingham is THE place. Best of all, it's in the UK, Merry Olde England...check it out. Even if you don't end up enrolling, there are a lot of good resources there.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"How weird was my book title," 2007 edition

The UK Bookseller magazine has just come out with its annual list of oddest book titles of the year, apparently in advance of the annual London book fair. Some of the contenders have unimpeachable qualifications for inclusion on the list, to wit:

"How Green were the Nazis," by F.J. Bruggemeier, ed., et al.

"The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: a Guide to Field Identification," by J. Montague


"People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It," by Gary Leon Hill.

If you want more, you can find it here.

HCTV week

History and culture take a back seat this week to NCAA basketball, with the conference tourneys concluding today and tomorrow and bracket mania beginning Sunday with the selection show. Cold War fans have something to look forward to on Monday, though, as PBS's American Experience looks at the USA-USSR space competition, specifically the race for the moon. In this area, it airs Monday at 9 pm.

The space race has always been interesting, in that it launched the US's massive math-science-foreign language initiative designed to catch us up to the Soviet Union, which was perceived to be far(and unacceptably)ahead in these areas. I personally owe a lot to Khrushchev et al because I got through grad school with some of the last of the "catch up to the USSR" funding. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have learned that the Soviet space program was part of Khrushchev's efforts to win the allegiance of the Soviet people: he knew he couldn't rule through fear and coercion like his predecessor, Stalin, so he had to have some high-profile, attention-grabbing initiatives in addition to tangible improvements in people's living conditions. He had mixed successes in the latter, but he and the Soviet people certainly rejoiced in the successes of their cosmonauts, especially Iurii Gagarin

Anyway, I'll stop thinking about my "horses" in the tourney--Georgetown, Indiana, WSU--to take in the race to the moon, even though I know how it ended.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The company they keep...

Like most people, I haven't chosen a "horse" to back in the '08 Presidential race. One of the things you look at, though, is the people the candidate chooses to play roles in his/her campaign. Accordingly, I was very pleased to see that Barack Obama has added one of the more incisive writers I have read in the last few years. Following the race for the British reading public, the Independent notes in tomorrow's edition,

"One of the biggest names to work with Obama is Samantha Power, the scholar and journalist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. "In 2004, I came out of election night just completely depressed," Power says. "We thought Kerry would win and we'd all get a chance to change the world. But then it was like, 'Nah, same old thing.'" Obama gave her a place to channel her energy. She advised him on the genocide in Darfur, an issue that most politicians at the time were studiously avoiding.

Power is part of a generation of thinkers who, like Obama, came of age after the Cold War. They worry about the problems created by globalisation and believe that the most important issues America will confront in the future (terrorism, avian flu, global warming, bioweapons, the disease and nihilism that grow from concentrated poverty) will emanate from neglected and failed states (Afghanistan, the Congo, Sierra Leone).

Over the past two years, Obama has come to adopt this worldview as his own. He came back fascinated from a quick trip to a US project in Ethiopia, where American soldiers had parachuted in to help the victims of a flood: "By investing now," he said, "we avoid an Iraq or Afghanistan later." The foreign-policy initiatives he has fought for and passed have followed this model: he has secured money to fight avian flu, improve security in the Congo and safeguard Russian nuclear weapons."

I think this says several important things about Obama. First, he looks forward, at the world we are now living in, when he looks at solutions to ongoing problems. With all due respect to Secretary Rice, John McCain and other Cold War vets, you aren't going to solve every problem with conventional military force. You have to use "smart power" a lot of the time, as Obama noted above. Secondly, Obama is a writer and appreciates other writers. Good writers are above all clear thinkers, a quality not to be underestimated in the Presidency. Third, he's not afraid of people with greater expertise than his own in a given area. You need a President who knows what he doesn't know, knows his weaknesses, will listen actively to others.

It's early yet, but it's always true that you know people by the company they keep, and I like what I see of Obama's.

Bronx cheer time!

I realize the timing could be better on this, as we are beginning spring break today, but just in case you become bored and/or desperate to work on history, the 395 IS a takehome, that should make things slightly easier.

History 395/WSUTC/spring '07—TAKEHOME Midterm exam—due on or before class on April 4, 2007

Directions: Prepare answers to the following questions--brilliantly formulated, superbly organized and flawlessly written, using as much detail as possible from the lectures, videos, readings, personal research/reading. It is hard to determine “how long” an answer should be, but ballpark would be maybe 2.5 typed pages per answer.


The Armenian genocide was among the worst atrocities of this war. Although not initially a participant in the hostilities, the United States was involved in this genocide and its aftermath from the start. What was the nature of that involvement, and how did it evolve? You should use Balakian’s book and the World War I document archive(Ambassador Morgenthau’s diary) in composing your answer.


2. Many scholars have bravely attempted to explain the origins of the Great War over the years. Some points of emphasis would include the following:

The rule of William II as Kaiser of the new German state between l888 and l9l4

The division of Europe into armed, hostile camps

The difficulties faced by Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary, two fading empires, in the face of rising international tensions.

Individuals unhappy with their lives, or the lives of some of their co-nationals, under "foreign rule."

Your task is to determine which of the above factors is most crucial to the outbreak of war and explain WHY you chose as you did. Again, be specific and judicious in marshalling your evidence.

3. The European conflict of l9l4-l9l8 broke much new ground beyond the cemeteries. Write an essay in which you identify and discuss the impact of some of the “firsts” that this war produced between l9l4 and l9l7. Take care to choose your examples carefully and document them well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Cineculture Wednesday

She was born in Nazi-occupied Paris, she's starred alongside Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon and Johnny Hallyday, among many others, she's made 99 films, and she's popularly known as the Queen of Gallic Cool.

Who is she? The answer is ici, as they say in Bordeaux.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Turks and Armenians in the Congress

We've been talking for awhile in the World War I class about the Armenian genocide and the worldwide reaction to it...curiously, to this point, the United States is not among the countries who officially view that episode as an episode of ethnic cleansing or genocide, although the consensus of academic opinion clearly tilts towards that view. That is about to change, as Jackson Diehl makes clear in this morning's WaPo. There is a non-binding resolution in preparation in the House acknowledging that Turks indeed massacred Armenians in l9l5--they use the word "genocide."

You would think that there would be a rare moment of consensus on this one between the executive and legislative--after all, the US is historically a proponent of human rights, even though our record has been inconsistent at best in recent years. But that's not the case, for reasons Diehl makes clear:

"...the consequences of passage could be deadly serious: To begin with, Turkey's powerful military has been hinting that U.S. access to the Incirlik air base, which plays a key role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be restricted. Gul warned that a nationalist tidal wave could sweep Turkey and force the government to downgrade its cooperation with the United States, which needs Turkey's help this year to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran. Candidates in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections could compete in their anti-American reactions."

So what do you do? The Admin opposes this, for obvious reasons. Nancy Pelosi and other congresspeople with heavy Armenian support in their district favor it. Maybe if the House passed the resolution, Turkey would finally have to look at itself in the mirror and begin to acknowledge that its forbears did, in fact, commit a terrible crime. I think it HAS to do that in order to become a modern state and join the European Union...but clearly, it could cost the US if it takes this step.

I reported on this, now YOU decide. How would you vote?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Tip O'Neill, meet Baroness Jeger

Looking at the UK Independent just now, I was reminded of why I like obituaries so much. Lena May Chivers(created a Baroness in l979), the wife of a prominent politician who took over his seat in the House of Lords after he died, passed away this week at the age of l0l. When she began her political career, she had yet to learn the lesson that Tip O'Neill knew so well, as this excerpt from her obit makes clear:

"Canvassing as she did from the top of flats, downwards, she met a woman in the lift. Jeger addressed her on the issue of the day - German rearmament - which evoked the reply, 'People have been pissing in this lift. What are you going to do about it?'

Jeger said that, if elected, she could not promise, as an MP, to stop this. She harped back to the German threat. "Well," said the woman. 'If you can't stop people pissing in lifts, how are you going to stop Germans rearming?'"

The obit notes that Lena Jeger was a quick study. She drew the conclusion that "MPs, however immersed in foreign policy and the great issues of the hour, ought to remember that politics is local."


Your selections, please?

Well, it's happened yet again...I was just reading the Guardian and discovered another of those books in which a writer polls his fellows, asking for the best books of all time. Here is J. Peder Zane's consensus top 10:

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov

10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

I absolutely agree with "War and Peace," and certainly Chekhov is great and instructive reading about l9th century Russia, but I'm a little bit underwhelmed by the others.

So what are YOUR favorite books? You don't have to have l0 on your list, just share some titles.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Good counsel from former ensign(later President)Kennedy

The news from Boston is that the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is to be decommissioned today. A Harvard professor of international relations/nuclear proliferation muses today in the Boston Globe about what the man for whom the carrier was named would have to say about Iraq, north Korea and Iran. Graham Allison boils down JFK's probable advice to GW Bush as follows:

a) Force is the hand in the glove of US diplomacy. JFK understood the use of military power, but used it as a last resort rather than a first option in the missle crisis, guaranteeing that we are alive today to read this.

b) Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Vice President Cheney said we would never negotiate with "evil." I don't know what you would call someone who wanted to put nuclear missles in this hemisphere, but JF and RF Kennedy talked and talked and talked with Khrushchev and the Soviet leaders, and the denouement of the missle crisis saved the lives of millions of citizens worldwide. Is Iran really more "evil," more of an "enemy" of ours than the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in l962?

c) " The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Although his ultimate goal was to bury Communism, Kennedy knew that this was a long-term project. Success would require careful small steps that avoided confrontations that could lead to a nuclear war neither country would survive. President Kennedy thus initiated arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union that led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, an emergency hotline between Washington and Moscow, and, ultimately, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
If there is to be a negotiated solution that stops Iran short of a nuclear bomb, the United States will be required to take uncomfortable steps. These will include offering Iran a security assurance if and when it gives up its nuclear weapons program. Despite valid concerns about the nature of the Islamic Republic, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrotein a 2004 publication entitled "Iran: Time for a New Approach," "Iran is not on the verge of another revolution . . . The durability of the Islamic Republic and the urgency of the concerns surrounding its policies mandate that the United States deal with the current regime rather than wait for it to fall."

John F. Kennedy was a fallible chief executive. He was ineffective and timid in his domestic policy, especially regarding civil rights. But I do believe he made all the right calls in international affairs after the disaster at the Bay of Pigs--letting the Berlin Wall stand as a testament to the failure of the Soviet system, opting for a diplomatic solution to the missle crisis, seizing the initiative with Khrushchev to sign the treaty against nuclear testing in the atmosphere. President Bush could do a lot worse than take his posthumous counsel.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Whatever you do, don't mince words, Your Eminence!

Via tomorrow's London Times, without comment:

An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year’s Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, who retired as Archbishop of Bologna three years ago, quoted Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), the Russian philosopher and mystic, as predicting that the Antichrist “will convoke an ecumenical council and seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions”.

The “masses” would follow the Antichrist, “with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants” who would fight to prevent the watering down and ultimate destruction of the faith, he said.

Today's quiz

No cheating, now: who can name the six people granted honorary US citizenship to date?

Part II: whose honorary citizenship is now being discussed, in the Congress and elsewhere?

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, l9l7-2007

I was sad to hear today of the passing of a legend, Arthur Meier Schlesinger, at the age of 89 in New York last night.

Arthur Schlesinger had a career full of contrasts. He was a distinguished and prolific historian without any advanced degrees--he had a B.A. in history from Harvard but never went on for a Ph.D. That goes to show you that additional degrees can be overrated. He was the "court historian" for John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, but did not believe his subjects and friends were above legitimate criticism. He was an unabashed liberal who testified to the inadvisability of impeaching Bill Clinton, but also wrote a work decrying political correctness and "balkanization" of American culture among ethnic lines. He was kind of a mystery man. The bottom line was that he wrote courageously, honestly and gracefully. You can READ Schlesinger's works, really READ them.

Of all his works, "Robert F. Kennedy and his Times" is my favorite, because Robert F. Kennedy is such a compelling figure in modern American history(in addition to which, he was nice to me when I met him as a little kid. Everyone who is nice to little kids gets huge credit with me) In the introduction to that book, Schlesinger declares that RFK is someone he liked and admired, giving fair warning to the reader. Yet those expecting hagiography will be disappointed, because Arthur Schlesinger called'em as he saw'em on Kennedy's mistakes, of which the most important was the long-running covert campaign to "get Castro." You don't have to tear your subject to pieces in writing biography, but you don't have to canonize them, either. Arthur Meier struck exactly the right balance in that equation.

Rest in peace.