Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Maude Barlow at NU, March 8

From NU's International Women's Week Steering Committee:

We are extremely pleased to welcome the celebrated Canadian, citizen’s rights advocate, environmentalist and author, MAUDE BARLOW. Ms. Barlow will be giving this year’s keynote address, titled “The Global Water Crisis: The Biggest Women’s Issue of Them All”, part of the Gender Equality Lecture Series, on MARCH 8th at 7pm in the Nipissing Theatre (Rm. F213).

**Tickets are free but must be reserved at
Tickets are going quickly so register SOON!!

To find out more about Ms. Barlow’s work, please go to either or

Taliban/Al Qaeda revival in North Waziristan?

Two articles, a summary of various reports from TPMmuckraker, and an article (which provided this map and includes gory pictures of public executions) from the Asia Times (Hong Kong). The Asia Times of today has an article called Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban. Very alarming if you know anyone in Afghanistan.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth at NU on Friday, March 2

The Nipissing Department of English Studies and the Cultural Affairs Committee cordially invite you to attend "Climate Change and Solutions: An Interdisciplinary Discussion" on Friday, March 2nd (3:00-6:00 p.m.)in the Nipissing Theatre. The event is free and open to Nipissing and Canadore students and to the public.

The event will begin with a screening of Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' and a special Round Table Discussion with faculty members, community leaders in the environmental movement, researchers and student representatives will follow.

Iran's Assembly of Experts

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has an article on the Assembly of Experts, the secretive body of clerics who supposedly supervise Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is much more important than the noisy and provocative President Ahmadinejad (seen above schmoozing with the Experts). The most important thing I got from this article is that although Iran has a formal constitution and elections that aren't entirely fixed, it's awfully hard to tell who has what specific power. Of course through the 20th century and into this one, numerous countries have been in this situation at one time or another.

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Will McLean's A Commonplace Book

Readers who have enjoyed my translations of Charny's Questions on War may be interested in Will McLean's A Commonplace Book.

Will is an independent scholar from a re-enactor background (that's him in his armor above). He's been doing serious research in late medieval combat, especially individual deeds of arms, for well over a decade, reading, translating, analyzing and even illustrating sources. His work was one of the things that inspired me to look into Froissart and other writers of the fourteenth century, which led me to write Jousts and Tournaments and Deeds of Arms.

Will puts anything he likes into his "commonplace book" but a great deal of it concerns medieval evidence for what "men at arms" actually did in the lists. His most recent post, for instance, discusses whether thrown spears could have been effective against the full plate armor of the 15th century. For the surprising answer and the relevant evidence, go over there right now.


What we can learn from re-enactors

We learn, for instance, that knights could strike mighty blows while levitating.
(No snark; I'm impressed.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #86: Chivalric fantasy

86. Charny asks:

There are two cities which are at war with each other and in each there is a garrison of a hundred men at arms, all good companions and skilled men. And near these two cities is a good city that is not at war, but which has in it as many handsome and lively damsels as in any city one knows. So it happens that each of the men at arms in the two cities for their virtues has a ladylove who pleases him in this good city and it seems to each of them that his ladylove is the best and most beautiful of them all. So it happens that that the ladyloves of the companions in one of the two cities send letters to them and make it known that they should come the next day to them to amuse them and dance and lead a good life. And the companions get up early in the morning and wish to take part in the great joy, celebration and welcome which is made for them. It is hardly necessary to speak of how each one in her own right jokes, talks, sings, and dances all day and all night so very honorably as ladies ought to know how to for those who are their friends. And when the morning comes the companions wish to arm for their departure, but the ladies do not permit any to give them a hand in arming except themselves, and each of them helps the one she loves best. And at their departure each lady has kissed her own friend and given him a ring or other jewel and they beg them to fight well for the love of them. And the men give their oath by St. John and then go. So it happens that the ladies and ladyloves of the other companions know of the good time which the others have had; so they each wrote in their own hand a letter to their friends telling them that they should come to them and they will enjoy such a good time that they will leave them well content and that the ladies are well prepared to put on such a good time as was ever done. The companions of the other city mount up, completely armed, happy and in great joy to go to their ladies, because of the good news they have just received. So they go into the field and when they come to the city they see the companions who are coming from their ladies. So they ride against each other to fight. Of which party would you prefer to be, as having a better will to fight well?

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Charny's Questions on War, #80 and #81: Subversive behavior?

I confess that I can't see how anyone but the absconder in #81 would think that his behavior had "good reason" -- not if any of the "good men at arms" ever expected to be saved by ransom, or to collect one.

80. Charny asks:

Men at arms have fought against each other until one of the parties is defeated. It happens that one man at arms takes as prisoner a man at arms of the defeated party, and guards him as he can to save him. And then comes a man at arms of the same party and acquaintance of the one who has taken the prisoner and says he will kill the prisoner. The one who has taken him tells him that the prisoner has surrendered to him and tells and entreats him not to kill him. The other does not believe him, and kills him. The next day the one who has captured the prisoner takes the one who killed him as his prisoner and takes him without any (further?) defiance and puts him to ransom for as much as he can. And the other says as an excuse that the first cannot take him or ransom him in this manner, while the one who has taken him says he will do it. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

81. Charny asks:

A man at arms takes another in a set battle and tells him, “Surrender,” and the other answers, “I won’t because I am the prisoner of such and such,” and gives a name. And the one who arrested him says, “Give me your faith that you are the prisoner of the one you name.” And the other gives his faith that such is the case, and the other frees him. When evening comes those to whom it is known that he was the prisoner of the other speak to him [i.e. the first captor] and this one knows nothing of it, nor has he taken the prisoner, nor even seen him during the whole day in which he [the actual captor] took the prisoner, and so he demands his surrender. And the prisoner says no and that he only did it to save himself. Many good arguments are given on one side or another. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

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Charny's Questions on War, #78 and #79: Say "coward" and start a riot

What was Charny aiming at when he composed this pair of questions?

78. Charny asks:

Since some contend that when a man at arms who is captured in the field, armed in a besoigne and the man at arms says “I surrender” or gives his faith, that this ought to be a reproach of cowardice to him, how can he be captured and keep his honor and without reproach?

79. Charny asks:

Since I do not understand when a man at arms surrenders himself into the hands of his enemies in a besoigne arrestee in what way he can say the words, “I surrender,” which will not be considered cowardice, I ask to be enlightened, for I don’t understand it.

A besoigne or besoigne arrestee is a kind of battle ("affair" or perhaps "set-piece battle"). And Charny himself had been captured and ransomed twice in his previous career. Still, these alternative formulations of the same issue seem pretty provocative.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blather or insight?

Read Michael Vlahos' The Fall of Modernity over at The American Conservative site -- if you can get through it -- and make up your own mind.

Iraqi refugees

Some time ago I was hoping that some quality news service would do a substantial piece on Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. Here's a good one from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Note this excerpt:
The[re] are a few camps, but the camps are very small and are there for particular minorities. For instance, the Palestinians who come from Iraq are stuck in camps in between borders -- in between the Syrian and Iraqi borders. They've been living in a no-man's land for almost a year now.
Students in my History of Islamic Civilization course should note that this is pretty typical of Arab treatment of Palestinians. They always get a lot more symbolic than practical attention. Not that Iraqis are being treated well. As the article says the countries receiving this flood of refugees have few resources of their own to cope, and no help from the outside world.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Iraq: What about the terrible aftermath to withdrawal?

William Odom, a retired US general and former head of the important but little-known National Security Agency, has been arguing for some time that the longer the US stays in Iraq, the worse things will get. He wrote a opinion piece in the Washington Post on February 11 called Victory is not an Option. More interesting is an interview from February 15 which argues his position at greater length. Worth reading.

I was particularly glad to see him rebut the classic idiot line that the current reviled dictator is Adolf Hitler in 1938 and any policy but war to the knife is appeasement -- "Munich."

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Charny's Questions on War, #74 and #75: Sharpsters and scofflaws

Again, it's interesting to think of these as bits of a screenplay.

There are a number of questions about what constitutes a valid surrender.

The man on the left above is the valet or varlet.

74. Charny asks:

A man at arms has taken another in war; it happens that the master has set a certain ransom with the agreement of the prisoner, either to pay on a set day or to return to his captivity on that day. And one of the party of the prisoner's master takes himself to the master as pledge to pay for the prisoner or instead of him surrender himself on the set day. And in the meantime it is made known by the counsel of the pledges that the prisoner is divested of all his heritage, all that he had, into the hands of his heirs. And then the pledge leads back the prisoner on the agreed day and asks the prisoner's master that he be released from his status as pledge. The master says no, for he has not fulfilled his captivity as he agreed to do. Many good reasons are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

75. Charny asks:

Men at arms encounter each other and fight until one of the parties is defeated. It happens that one man at arms of party with the upper hand takes a man at arms of the defeated party and says to him, "Surrender to me!" And the man at arms says "I surrender to you," and gives him his sword; and the one who has captured him gives him to one of his valets to guard and this companion goes to fight with the others. Then another of those who have the upper hand comes and finds the prisoner which the valet of the other companion is guarding and demands from him whose prisoner he is, and the prisoner responds, "So and so of your party." The man at arms asks if he has given his faith, and the prisoner replies that he has not given any faith, at which the companion says that he will kill him if he does not swear to be his prisoner. And this one takes his oath as a prisoner and takes him away despite the valet. And when evening comes the companion who first took him without faith being pledged demands his prisoner; the other who has his faith says no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by judgment of arms?

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The answers to Charny's Questions

Before posting a couple more of Charny's Questions I thought I'd briefly discuss where we might find the answers to them.

We won't find Charny's answers. The manuscripts indicate that Charny drew up his case studies to present to King John II of France and his ill-fated Order of the Star. We don't know if he actually did present them at the single formal meeting of the Order, or whether they were actually discussed and answers determined. If the answers were determined, were they meant to reform or establish authoritative doctrines for France? Again, we will never know.

We are not completely in the dark about what some later writers and legal authorities thought were the right answers to some of the questions. The easiest source is Maurice Keen's 1965 book, The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages; as always, a very fine piece of work. He discusses many common disputes of the era with reference to the Questions and other legal sources. If you go to the trouble of ordering for yourself your own copy of Michael Anthony Taylor's edition of the Questions (Ph.D Thesis, University of North Carolina; text in Middle French without a translation, English commentary), you'll see that Taylor references Keen's work and Keen's conclusions in regards to some of Charny's cases in his footnotes.

More adventurously, you can dig through primary sources yourself. One later 14th century source is Bouvet's (Bonet's) Tree of Battles, which is another legal discussion of problems of war and its regulation. Fortunately it is in English. Another French source from slightly later is Christine de Pisan's Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, which is definitely a reformist text interested in the training of skilled and disciplined soldiers, which means it has a quite different emphasis than Charny's works, which are interested in producing brave and dedicated men at arms -- and defining their legal privileges. Still, Christine is worth reading.

My friend and fellow enthusiast Will McLean has pointed out to me a set of sources not yet fully used to cast light on Charny's Questions: the Black Book of the Admiralty, an English source which contains a few army ordinances from around 1400. These should be very useful as showing what some kings and captains thought the law of arms meant for their armies, two or so generations after Charny.

If anyone knows of other useful sources I'd be glad to hear about them.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ten more years? Hundreds of thousands more troops?

See this Newsweek article for the latest great-power fantasy. Note it says nothing about how many people would die or how much such a war would cost in dollars.

Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to compare this to whatever really happens.

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Charny's Questions on War, #63 and #64: More prisoners

One wonders here whether there's a contrast between what men at arms were expected to do when they were in the "master's" position, and what they actually did. And how does the prisoner in #63 find a competent court to rule?

63. Charny asks:

A man at arms puts another to ransom to be paid over three or four installments; and the prisoner promises to do all in his power fulfill it, or to return. The prisoner comes at the first term and pays up; at the second term he returns to prison because he can't pay. The master imposes a very big ransom which he did not impose before the prisoner wasn't able to pay the second installment. The prisoner says that his ransom ought not to increase. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

64. Charny asks:

A man at arms holds another as his prisoner and makes him give his word that he will not leave a house where he will put him without permission. And then it happens that the master becomes angry with his prisoner and strikes and beats him. After this the prisoner escapes and goes his way. His master claims him; the prisoner says no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

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The Canadian north and carbon emissions

An informative article from the Washington Post.

Climate change is one of those processes that affects all history, early, recent and future. We're just now realizing it.

Rough Crossings

Back last June I talked here about the Union Jack as "the flag of liberty" in connection with the abolition of first the slave trade and then slavery as an institution acceptable to civilized people, and mentioned the new book by Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution. Well, I've finally had time to read the book and thought I should say something about it.

If you have never read anything about the issue of the slaves in the American Revolution, when patriots by and large upheld slavery while the monarchists were willing to free Patriots' slaves to fight for the Crown, with the result that thousands escaped captivity; if you've never read about the ex-slaves' settlement in Nova Scotia; if you've never read about the establishment of the more-or-less self-governing black colony of Freetown in present-day Sierra Leone, well, you've got a lot to learn from this interesting narrative history (in other words, it's a good story).

On the other hand, I thought this was not as good as some other Schama books, such as Citizens, which infuriated me in places but which I retain the highest respect for. There were a few writing tics that made me want to get out my blue pencil. More seriously, I couldn't exactly understand Schama's purpose in writing the book as he did. Why, for instance, did he focus so much on two white guys, Granville Sharp and John Clarkson? Because they were among a handful of white people willing to give black people an even break? Or for the more prosaic reason that we have good sources for Sharp and Clarkson and the ex-slaves are harder to know (not that Schama didn't try)?

I thought that this book failed to put the budding emancipation movement around 1800 into a wide enough context. Even with only a general knowledge of the events I thought that this was a pretty traditional story of British people -- at least a few, generally of a pious Evangelical persuasion -- discovering the humanity of Africans and doing something about it.

Still, a readable account of important events. And I became fond of Sharp and his family of musical brothers and sisters. It seems right that a great humanitarian should come from such a loving family.

The NU library has this book, or rather will have it back soon.

Update: Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic alerts me to the fact that a big-budget biopic on anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce is being released today. According to Schama's book, the connection to the hymn Amazing Grace is legit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Phil Paine on knowledge: too good not to steal

The unique Phil Paine, over at has a post from the 17th that is too good not to steal, or rather, quote in full:

Saturday, February 17, 2007 - Forging a Frame

Issues of democracy and political reason, environmental issues, economic questions relating to prosperity and social justice, and issues of personal freedom and cultural vitality, are all interconnected. The challenge to the coming generation will be to devise a language and a frame of reference that can handle all of these interlocking issues on the same level of sophistication. As things stand, we are far from that state of affairs. If a political theorist talks about the environment, any scientist is baffled by their inability to grasp scientific principles (witness any statement by a politician or political scientist about global warming). Crusaders for human rights causes, and cultural figures seem to learn their politics from comic books, and are capable of the most inane pronouncements and absurd solutions. Environmentalists, who are aware of the complexities of nature, cannot grasp the ecological patterns of economies, or remember that human beings are part of nature. There is nothing in this wider forum of ideas that resembles the underlying commonality of purpose and method that allows a herpetologist and a cosmologist to see a snake and a galaxy as points of interest in a continuum of inquiry. Yet all these political, economic, environmental, moral, and cultural issues are part of a continuum, the entirety of our experience as human beings. Every question posed within one component of that experience requires an answer that can be reached and understood from the standpoint of all the other components.

I see the task of my time as being the forging of that common frame of reference.

Charny's Questions on War, #57 and #58: Prisoners and Ransoms

Here are two more of Charny's questions (explanation below) on the practice of taking prisoners for ransom:

57. Charny asks:

Men at arms encounter each other and fight. One of the men at arms in one party takes one from the other side, and that one surrenders himself as prisoner by his good faith, if the other protects him from death; and the one who takes him promises him and then leaves him unguarded. So it happens that some of the men at arms of the same party as he who took the prisoner find this prisoner and tell him that if he does not surrender he will die, and he answers that he has surrendered to one of their party and gives his name. They don't believe him and strike him and wound him in many places and want to kill him if he does not surrender, and from this fight the prisoner is rescued by his party and is led off to safety. The one who first captured him requires him to come to him as a captive according to the faith which he gave; and the other says that he is not required to do so. Many good arguments are given on either side. How should the men at arms judge the case?

58. Charny asks:

Two captains of war are in the field against each other and fight. One of the parties has the better of it at the beginning, so that those in this party take ten or twelve prisoners. In the end it happens that the party of the prisoners rally and attack the others and defeat them entirely and take possession of the field and recover all the other prisoners taken at the beginning. And so those who took the first prisoners that they should come and be their prisoners; some of those who took the first prisoners are taken themselves and some have gone. It was said to the first prisoners: "Swear to be my prisoner," and so they did it and should not be contesting this captivity. The first say that they are not required to go, and the others say that they are. There are many good arguments. How should it be judged by the law of arms?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

News for Medievalists

Charny's Questions on War, #54 and #55: Men at arms on horseback

I wrote about the background to Charny's 14th century case studies on the rules governing "men at arms" a few days back. Here's two more unanswered questions. I like to visualize the events, or better yet the arguments that resulted.

54. Charny asks:

A captain of a city has retained a gentleman at the wages of a foot sergeant. So the captain and the people under him agree that all who take profit from their enemies will put into the common booty for the men at arms to share, and that and the footmen will have a share of it, but less than the men at arms. So it happens that the men at arms and the footmen of this garrison sally out against their enemies and kill and take and gain a great deal. The gentleman who is at the wages of a footman has found a horse and is mounted on that day with the others who are well armed. When they have returned they share the booty; and this gentleman demands the share of a man at arms, and the men at arms say no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

55. Charny asks:

The captain of a place leaves it and rides out against his enemies, and he has made an ordinance that all should share in the booty in common whatever they gain. And they ride until they see their enemies. So the captain orders that all should dismount to fight on foot against their enemies; many dismount and many remain on horseback. Those who are on foot with their captain attack their enemies and defeat them. When it comes to the defeat, those on horse join those on foot who have already defeated the enemy. When evening comes, those on horse demand a share of the common booty, and those who are on foot say no. How will it be judged by the men at arms?

Just what were those mounted men at arms doing, in #55, before they rejoined those on foot?

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End of the incandescent light bulb?

The incandescent light bulb that most of us use at home is old enough to almost count as "early history:" Edison (above) and several others invented a variety of different designs well over a century ago. Although they are easy and cheap to make and give a good quality of light, they are now falling out of favor because they are so wasteful. Most of the energy put out by the glowing filament is heat, not light. For some time now people have been pointing out that carbon emissions could be reduced significantly by using small florescent bulbs where incandescents are used now. Business Week reports that Australia is moving to ban the sales of the old bulbs. It's part of a world-wide movement which will eventually break one of our connections with one of the most brilliant tinkerers and marketers of all time, Thomas Edison.

For those of you who live near Dearborn, Michigan, consider a trip to Greenfield Village, where Edison's old Menlo Park, New Jersey research complex was lovingly recreated and preserved by Henry Ford. It's like a shrine to the technologies that made possible the peaceful advances of the 20th century. Edison had an important role in inventing and popularizing such things as the telephone, moving pictures, electrical power grids and much else.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Seven new wonders

The Globe and Mail is running a photo gallery showing the 21 finalists in the world-wide poll to pick the current 7 wonders of the world. The site for the poll is here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #37

Faithful readers know I am interested in Charny's Questions on the Joust, Tournaments and War. For newcomers, these are cases put forward by a mid-14th century French knight for his peers to debate. The unifying theme of the vast majority is how would the law of arms, the rules and customs that regulated respectable fighting men, apply to a possible dispute.

Unfortunately for us, we don't have Charny's answers.

I'd certainly love to have an answer to this one:

37. Charny asks:

Since I have heard it said that one is able to leave and retreat from a battle from the defeated side, if he has acted in seven ways (manieres) without being killed or taken, without being reproached. How can this be and what are the seven ways?

Your suggestions are welcome.


Friday, February 16, 2007

The door swings open on a closed country

Perhaps few of my readers know or care about Turkmenistan, which went directly from Soviet rule to one-man personality cult. I know little about the place myself but it lifts my heart when a country where everyone has for years danced attendance on some conceited maniac gets a chance to deal with real challenges. Al-Jazeera tells us that the new president is restoring a year of education cut by the old guy, and wants more Internet cafes outside the capital. Good start.


Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century

A professional colleague of mine was quite taken by a Shockwave-animation historical presentation of the Imperial History of the Middle East ("See 5000 years of history in 90-seconds"). She thought it would make a good opener for a class discussion in any number of commonly-taught courses, and I agree. The hosting site, Maps of War, has a number of other interesting animated maps. They are hardly perfect maps, and there are some dubious pieces of information presented, but I've long felt that historical maps are only starting points and their true virtue is provoking you to ask questions and even to correct the initial map. Some of you will get something out of this site.

If you want a real thought-provoking historical atlas on line, do not miss Matthew White's Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century. Mr. White states that he is no one in particular, with slim formal qualifications, but I consider him a benefactor of the human race. There are a lot of valuable information and sensible insights in this collection of maps and other data. Mr. White shows very good judgment on a number of issues. I was, for instance, amused and almost convinced by his argument that Thurgood Marshall was more important than Martin Luther King, Jr. And when he says "Let's face it, two hundred years from now, no one will bother to differentiate between our World Wars," I know he's right because I've had students in Islamic Civilization final exams who under the pressure of time found it difficult to distinguish them.

If you have a serious interest in comparative modern history click right over and see what a well-read and imaginative amateur can do.

The image: I found it difficult to find an image of the mythical giant Atlas using Google Images, until I ran across this one at Also worth a visit.

Chips and salsa

According to this article in the Washington Post, some lucky people ate taco chips and chilies 6100 years ago. Did they have salsa? Beer? Only further research will tell.

The picture above comes from a site advertising a TexMex diner in Japan.

The complexities of colonialism continue to work their way out in Africa

Once again this post diverges from "early history" but it is quite relevant to material my students are studying in World History and the History of Islamic Civilization. I'm linking here to an article in the Times Online about Rwanda's intention to join the (British) Commonwealth. Rwanda, Burundi, and the neighboring (Democratic Republic of the) Congo (once Zaire) were under Belgian rule in the early 20th century, which put them in the French-speaking zone of influence. The current President of Rwanda charges that France's efforts to maintain the French language in Africa led them to support the previous ruling group responsible for the famous Rwandan genocide. Kagame, who has been influenced by British culture (cricket) and speaks English, is mad enough to break off all relations with France and join the club that used to be called "the British Empire."

I'm in no position to evaluate the various claims made and implied in this article, but I wanted to make it available.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Brian Osborne on North Bay TV

For the last few days Brian Osborne, an emeritus professor at Queen's University has been here at Nipissing University talking on a variety of subjects growing out of his life-long interest in historical geography. I'm sorry I missed listing his talks here.

Word of mouth tells me that Professor Osborne's talk on the Canadian artist Tom Cummings will be mentioned on Channel 12 at 5:30 or a bit later.

PowerPoint, Google Earth, and Iraq

When Saddam Hussein was in power, paper maps were unavailable. Now ruinous post-invasion Iraq has leaped directly into digital mapping with downloads from the mapping/aerial photography program Google Earth. The Telegraph (UK) tells us that Iraqis are using the free information to plan routes that avoid sectarian checkpoints, to reveal the layout of Coalition bases, and to locate villages that might hold rival Iraqi militias. O brave new world!

Ever been to a lecture or a conference presentation where it seemed that all of the content was contained in a few rather vague PowerPoint slides. Newly released PowerPoint slides outlining the American plans for the invasion of Iraq and the post-invasion period have to make people wonder how much planning there was behind that particular PP show. See the NY Times article and a fuller discussion at George Washington University's independent National Security Archive.

The USA tries a dollar coin again

Two women, Susan B. Anthony and Sacagaweya, failed to lure Americans into the bright new future of dollar coins, so the Mint is trying again with a series of Presidential coins, four different ones a year in order until they are all represented.

Has it occurred to anyone that people might not want some of them on a coin? Ever?

About: Coins has a gallery showing the first four: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Abraham Lincoln on monarchy

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln's birthday and two well-known American bloggers, one "liberal" and one "conservative" each decided to quote the great man. Interestingly, both quotes had Lincoln referring to monarchy as an evil that the United States should have left behind. Too bad that there isn't more such talk in American politics today. My watching of the TV show "The West Wing" makes me think that many Americans, even before 9/11 and George Bush's war, thought of the President as rightly surrounded by awe and veneration. I wonder what Lincoln would say about that?

Here is Lincoln on slavery as monarchy and Lincoln on war-mongering as the deceit of kings. And two comments on the latter.

The image above is from a monument at Alton, Illinois, which celebrates one of the famous debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas on what position the free states should take on the expansion of slavery. The US National Parks Service, of all governmental offices, makes the text of all the debates available here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Canadian Senate report on the Afghan mission

The Globe and Mail reports today on a report by a Senate (yes, Canada has a Senate) committee reviewing Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. A quotation from the article:

Speaking to media at the report's release, Mr. Kenny and Senate defence committee vice-chair Michael Meighen said the public debate in Canada was made more difficult by the radical contrast between the two nations.

“We're talking about a medieval society that has a very different attitude about democracy than people who have grown up taking civic classes,” Mr. Kenny said.

Canada's presence in Kandahar was making life more perilous for people in that region, the report states, and is compounded by the civilian death toll and lack of development assistance on the ground.

“Afghanistan is only remotely connected to the modern world,” it says. “Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognizable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor.

“Are Canadians willing to commit themselves to decades of involvement in Afghanistan, which could cost hundreds of Canadian lives and billions of dollars with no guarantee of ending up with anything like the kind of society that makes sense to us?”

Somehow that looks like the kind of question that answers itself. Nonetheless, the report (in the executive summary) talks about improving the odds for success. Here's one realistic (!) suggestion:

to effectively stop Taliban infiltration, the Government of Canada, with
its NATO partners and Afghanistan, [should] establish a defensible buffer zone in
Afghanistan on the Afghan side of its border with Pakistan.

Here's the whole report and the executive summary.

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Shadid on rising sectarianism in the Arab world

Anthony Shadid writes in the Washington Post today how Arabs who never thought much about the Sunni/Shiite divide feel they are being dragged into sectarian conflict.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #31

Another question posed in the 1350s by the French knight Geoffroi de Charny:

31. Charny asks:

A captain of men at arms rides out in the field and orders some of his scouts to see the situation of his enemies who are in the field; and there are a sufficient number of these scouts. And at the approach of their enemies one party of their enemies pursues them faster than they can go; and the scouts retreat from their enemies and are able to retreat without loss. So there are some of the scouts who turn back and meet their enemies, and perform arms like good people should; and others retreat to their captain and make their report. Which of these are to be more valued and praised: those who went back to their lord or those who are captured?

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rail: key to the 21st century?

I've been telling my first year World History students that railways were the key to the important developments of the 19th century.

Now the Guardian (UK) has a travel piece arguing that rail may be the green, convenient wave of the travel future.

That's if we are lucky. If we aren't...

Iran's internal conflicts

Ever since 1979, Iran has largely been portrayed as a monolithic and menacing religious state. But the country is more various than that. In particular the problems and divisions which sparked the Islamic Revolution still exist and the economic and social difficulties Iran faced then may be worse today. If Iranian leaders talk big, in absolute and apocalyptic terms, it may be because their practical power, despite all that oil, is very restricted.

Today's Globe and Mail has a long feature article on Iran's domestic problems and how they have made Iran's president's power very precarious. Two things that surprised me: Iran's leaders reserve a special hostility for Canada, and the under-30 cohort of the population is up to 70%!

Image: the Jamkaran mosque referred to in the article.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

NU History Seminar, Friday February 9

For the third installment of the History Department Seminar Series we again feature one of our own, as well as making our first foray into the history of Canada. Catherine Murton Stoehr will speak on the subject of "Nativism's Bastard: 100 Years of Anishinabeg Political Theory," A224 at 3:30 pm, Friday, Feb 9.

Catherine's paper examines the role of Methodist Christianity in 19th century Anishinabeg communities, arguing that the Anshinabeg created of it a truly indigenous, and politically powerful, movement.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Middle Eastern news sources

If you are interested in Middle Eastern developments, I suggest that it may be worth your while to check out two English-language news sources from the Arab world.

One of them is the weekly on-line presence of Al-Ahram, an Egyptian paper well over a hundred years old. As time goes on, I am more impressed by the variety of in-depth articles they have, on a variety of subjects.

The other is the English site of Al-Jazeera, the Arab-language. In the United States, the TV version of Al-Jazeera has a reputation for being anti-American, something I am not in a position to judge for myself, but the English web material strikes me as being on a par with other international outlets.

What both sites give you is a selection of news that you won't find on US or even British sites. US coverage of the Middle East is usually restricted to the Iraqi situation and Iran's nuclear capabilities. Even Afghanistan is little covered, despite it supposedly key position in the War on Terror. Worse, American news is usually cast in terms of domestic politics, in other words, what Bush, Cheney, Snow, Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or John McCain has said about Iraq, or what they said three or four years ago (if they are playing the blame game). Even British media usually pair the words "Iraq" and "Blair."

By the way, does anyone have a good source of news from the Israeli point of view? I often look at Haaretz, a paper of good repute, but it like other Israeli media seem to be entirely obsessed with the minutiae of local politics.

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NU lectures on ethnomusicology, Feb. 12-13

From our communications office:

Nipissing University is pleased to welcome Dr. Anna Hoefnagels to campus for a series of lectures on First Nations music, culture and politics.

Hoefnagels' lecture topics and schedule is as follows:

“POWWOWS AND POLITICS: The Development of Powwows in Canada vis-à-vis Native Activism”
Monday, February 12, 2007, from 8:30-10 a.m. (Room A118)

Monday, February 12, 2007, from 3:30-5 p.m. (Room F210)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007, from 3:30-5 p.m. (Room A224)

The lectures, to be held in conjunction with Nipissing University Anthropology and History courses, are open to everyone and are free of charge.

NU's English Studies Department brings in two speaker

A notice from Dr. Colleen Franklin:

Dr. Barbara Bruce, of the Department of Film and English Studies at the University of Western Ontario, will be speaking from 3:30-5:00 today in H105 on the subject of "The American Horror Cinema."

As well, Dr. Rosemary Daniels, of the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, will be visiting us this Thursday [Feb. 8], 6:30-8:00 p.m., Room A122. Dr. Daniels' talk is entitled “Women’s Work: The Domestic Muse Writes Back.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Success in Afghanistan?

The lost legion

For a very long time there has been a story making the scholarly and popular rounds that Roman legionnaires from Crassus' army, defeated by the Parthians in 53 BC, were 17 years later part of a Hun army defeated by the Chinese, when they were captured and settled on China's western frontier. Some versions of the story identify the village of Liqian near the Gobi desert with the legionnaires' settlement, and sure enough, some of the modern inhabitants have big noses, light hair, and green eyes. (See Cai Junnian, above, now called by his friends Cai Luoma, or "Cai the Roman.")

Now some geneticists are taking this story seriously enough to take blood samples from 93 people near Liqian to see if they can make a Roman connection. Like some of their critics, I'm not sure what they can prove, but what the heck. In the meantime it may bring tourists to isolated Liqian to sing at the Caesar karaoke bar.

More in the Telegraph (UK).

News from Stonehenge

It's an interesting fact that though recent history only seldom changes, one discovery can revamp our understanding of the distant past. Thus with Stonehenge. Stonehenge has been justly famous since it was built, but many details of its purpose and construction have been obscure for most of that time.

This past week, several houses built by the builders or staff of the complex have been announced by archaeologists, just a few from what looks like the largest Neolithic settlement found in England. A good summary from the New Scientist is here, while National Public Radio (US) has a good gallery of pictures.

After 10 or 20 years of follow-up work and debate we may have a much fuller notion of what went on at early Stonehenge than we do now.

Thanks again to Explorator.

Robert Knolles in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The new edition of the classic British reference work, the Dictionary of National Biography (often called the DNB) has a web site which includes a feature called Lives of the Week. This week, one of the English participants in the Combat of the Thirty against Thirty, familiar to students in HIST 4505, is featured. It's Robert Knolles, whose biography is here, probably for a short time only. It includes a depiction of him and his wife Constance.


Friday, February 02, 2007

International Development Week at NU

Take note of these upcoming events:

International Development – Why Do It?

Monday Feb. 5th from 5:00pm-7:00pm
Nipissing University Room H246

Find out what is involved in applying, raising funds, and planning to embark on some amazing
adventures and better yet, the gratification of helping others.

Into Africa Night
Wednesday, February 7th from 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Nipissing University Weaver Auditorium B200

Get to know Africa through experiences of Nipissing students, staff & North Bay residents

International Food Festival
Saturday, February 10th from 12:00pm - 2:00pm
Nipissing University, Education Cafeteria

Come enjoy a variety of food and entertainment from around the world!

Tickets are $1.00 per food sample, purchase at the door
All proceeds going to the WUSC Student Refugee Sponsorship Program

Owning a suit of armor

Newsday features an article on an American man who owns a really high-quality reproduction suit of armor. I know the armorer, and his talent is phenomenal.