Monday, December 31, 2007

The Middle East at the end of 2007

For any of my readers who might be interesting in summaries of what the Middle East is actually like at the moment -- since just following the headlines, whether or not they are honestly composed, is not very helpful -- I have two recommendations.

The first is from Juan Cole, who posts on Informed Comment a count-down list of Top 10 Challenges Facing the US in the Middle East, 2008. Though formally composed as recommendations to Americans, the analysis is less US-centric that most US political discussions, which focus on "the horserace," i.e., which American political actor is ahead in which media-defined race. Cole actually discusses what foreigners want.

For Iraq, I recommend the last few entries from the blog Inside Iraq by the Iraqi correspondents of the US McClatchy news service. There is a tiny bit of good news, but my non-expert impression is that the civil war is about half over and I have no idea how it will end up.

Image: "The grim world of Warhammer." If only great big hammers were the worst we had to worry about!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ba' -- a wonderful account in the Washington Post

Although you can't trust a word it says about politics or international affairs, the Washington Post still occasionally has wonderful feature articles.

Sometime back near the beginning of this blog, I ran a post on the traditional Orkney game of ba' (which might go back to the Middle Ages) and at that time I read much of what was available on the Web. This article by Eli Saslow is far better than any of that earlier material, and is accompanied by a fabulous photo feature.

One question -- is Orkney so quiet in the fall and winter because so many Orcadians are in the south of Spain? Just asking.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

English Russia -- still at it, still astonishing

Sometimes I go for quite a while not reading the English Russia site -- motto: "just because something cool happens daily on 1/6 of the Earth surface" -- probably because there is only so much raw astonishment I can take.

Today I had a look and found a recent post featuring ice sculptures (which I love). To be specific, an Ice Kremlin.

Follow the link for more images.


Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest

The subtitle of this book is "The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior," and therein lies its interest to me as sometime historian of democracy. About 15 years ago Phil Paine and I wrote an article in which we argued that democracy was not the intellectual property of just one culture, but that most cultures contained the raw materials out of which democracy could be built. (See "Democracy's Place in World History," Journal of World History, 4 (1993): 23-45.)

Boehm in his book is interested in a similar point, and I certainly would have been happy to have access to his thinking in the early 90s. Are humans basically hierarchical or egalitarian? What does anthropological evidence tell us? How about comparison with other great apes?

Boehm argues that contemporary nomadic hunter-gatherers are universally egalitarian, as are some sedentary hunter-gatherers. But it's not because humans don't have a strong prediliction for hierarchy (which is pretty obviously the case); it's because in small communities hunters, who are all armed, trained killers, don't tolerate potential alpha males lording it over them. The male hunters, and the women too, use gossip, criticism, ostracism and ultimately execution to keep such "upstarts" under control.

Thus humans have evolved in such a way that both strong hierarchies and egalitarianism are real possibilities.

Boehm never mentions Athens, but archaic Greece was always on my mind as I read the book. In particular, ostracism and the career of Alcibiades.

Image: Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure, by Regnault. All sorts of smart remarks come to mind, the most presentable being adding "for about 15 minutes" to the title.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Roland Tapestry

Did you ever wish there were more big medieval story tapestries like the Bayeux Tapestry? Well, now, online, there is a Roland Tapestry. It's quite fine. Thanks to Matthew Gabriele for alerting me.

Labels: ,

The good news about Egyptian archaeology

I have decided to read Al-Ahram Weekly, the high-quality online Egyptian news site, on a regular basis.

Currently Al-Ahram is summing up the year 2007, and this effort includes a long, detailed roundup of Egyptological news.

There's lots of bad archaeological news in the world, especially in Iraq, but in Egypt at least the news is mostly good.

Image: Hapshepsut's mummy. (More here.)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Golden Compass (2007)

I saw The Golden Compass this afternoon, and though some of my friends and correspondents hated the movie, I rather liked it.

I think I was in a good position to like it: I read the book and liked it, but not so recently that I could remember vast numbers of details that got left out or changed. Also, I thought the film was impressive visually. For instance, the docks and the dockyard neighborhood in Trollesund was just perfect. Things like that make movies for me, if there is quality in the other elements. Last, I really liked the remote Arctic setting of much of the book, and some of that was done very effectively in the movie.

I'm not particularly interested in arguing about the virtues and vices of GC, but I will remark on the fact that this was another example of Hollywood steampunk; steampunk being a literary/movie SF/fantasy genre where the present is one side or the other of the year 1900, and the futuristic elements are supplied by technology that is "super-science" by the standards of the 1890s or the 1900s. There are huge engines and electricity and advanced weaponry that Jules Verne could have believed in or made up, and given the huge size of his output, probably did. Oh, yes, there are plenty of brass scientific instruments, golden compasses and whatnot. And airships.

The popularity of this genre (which includes on the movie side the failed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the much more enjoyable Wild, Wild West) is kind of curious. Another example of the backward-looking nature of the "speculative" imagination which currently refuses to speculate?

I'm tempted to say that this scaredy-cat looking at a Paleo-Future that's already long been superceded is a delayed reaction to World War I, an acknowledgment that modern culture went off the rails then. Who could argue with that? But of course that's probably too-clever baloney. The real World War II with its real nuclear bombing and fire bombing before that and its vast death camps didn't scare SF writers off, from utopian or dystopian speculation, or more realistic future construction. It spurred them on, gave them a sense of mission.

I think it's probably unfair to categorize the Golden Compass the book as steampunk, but the movie is certainly an excellent example of it.

Labels: , ,


Although I'm not teaching History of Islamic Civilization this year (I should be next year), I assume that some of my students and other readers are going to be interested in the situation in Pakistan after the assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto. There are any number of analyses on the web, but here are two from the reliable and honest Talking Points Memo: a video interview with Barnett Rubin from October, and a follow-up today, both accessible from this TPM post.

TPM also provides a link to this BBC summary of Bhutto's career.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas recitations

On Christmas Eve my family does recitations. Here are two of this year's. The first is from the sufi poet Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks:

There is a morning where presence
comes over you and you sing
like a rooster in your earth-bound shape.

Your heart hears and, no longer frantic,
begins to dance. At that moment
soul reaches total emptiness.

Your heart becomes Mary, miraculously pregnant,
and body, like a two-day-old Jesus,
says wisdom words.

Now the heart turns to light,
and the body picks up the tempo.

Where Shams Tabriz walks, the footprints
are musical notes, and holes
you fall through into space.

Another recitation was "Mon pays" by Gilles Vigneault, one verse of which I offer to all those whiners who think this country has been "wrecked" (trans. P. Paine):

From my vast lonely land
I'll cry out just once before going quiet,
To all the men of this earth:
"My house is yours.
Between these four walls of ice
I set aside this time and space
For all humanity, from all horizons
Because all humans are my race."

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Labels: ,

Monday, December 24, 2007

Stars of wonder, stars of light

Saturday, December 22, 2007

December Solstice, 2005, over the Tyrrhenian Sea

From Astronomy Picture of the Day. Click on the pic for a larger view.


The Cloisters

Winter solstice

It's coming back!

Image: Nguyen Vo photographs snow skiing.


Friday, December 21, 2007

The challenges of cultural history

Students of mine who have struggled to make sense of ancient or Anglo-Saxon history, when the evidence is severely limited, may be interested or amused at what seems to be a controversy about the origins of heavy metal music.

I was alerted to this debate by an article in the British newspaper the Guardian, in which Joe Queenan, commenting on a film documentary called Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, by Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, casts doubt on the filmmakers' contention that an obscure, one hit wonder band called Blue Cheer deserves to be recognized as the originators of heavy metal. I was flabbergasted that anyone should think this. We are talking about 1968, when I was about the age of many of my students now: in other words, the age when music really matters. I was a big fan of loud, "hard rock," "psychedelic" music and the San Francisco sound, and today when I read Queenan's article, I couldn't even dredge up the slightest memories of Blue Cheer (and no, it has nothing to do with my non-existent drug-taking). Though I remember their hit Summertime Blues, a cover of an earlier rockabilly (!) record.

But sure enough, you can find on the Web the many champions of the claim that these guys were the source of heavy metal (see, for instance, the Wikipedia entry for Blue Cheer). I don't buy it; if the patriarchs of metal are not Black Sabbath, then there are plenty of people in 1967-8 who contributed more to the metal sound. Let me cite only three: Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi Hendrix. (As this web-site points out, Blue Cheer were pretty derivative of Hendrix.) I'm not excluding any influence, but others surely were more influential (Iron Butterfly, even maybe the pretty laughable in retrospect Vanilla Fudge).

Why is this on Early History? It strikes me that if we can't agree on something this recent and well-recorded as this phenomenon, how well can we do for the 8th century, or the 8th century BC? How many jokes, to take one point, lie undetected in our sources?

Yet despite our problems with determining facts and influences, I still say, Blue Cheer, bah. Just look at that album cover.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East, by Juan R.I. Cole

This book is not a general discussion, but is focused on Egypt in the 1870s and early 1880s, as indicated by the subtitle, Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt's 'Urabi Movement. Ibn 'Urabi was an Egyptian army officer who led an uprising against the European-dominated Viceroyal government of Egypt and the culturally-Turkish upper-class, in the name of "Egypt for the Egyptians." His revolt had many causes, but was particularly inspired by the crushing taxation that European governments insisted that the Viceroy enact and enforce, to guarantee that holders at home of Egyptian government bonds would be paid on time. The revolt was aimed as much at European infiltration of Egyptian life as it was at a cruel and unresponsive government; the two things went hand in hand. The revolt was also a failure; the British invaded Egypt and imposed a "viceroy" of their own who could control the Viceroy who supposedly ruled the country for the Ottoman sultan. Britain continued to occupy the country in whole or in part until the 1950s.

This book is not an action-packed narrative like Cole's more recent Napoleon's Egypt -- it doesn't tell the story of Urabi's revolt or much about Urabi himself -- but I found it, given my interests, a more valuable book. In my course on the History of Islamic Civilization, I've lectured on this period, using standard books, but I learned a great deal from this treatment.

First, the relationship between Ottoman reform in Istanbul and what might be called Ottoman reform in Egypt is well drawn-out. It's easy to treat Egypt as not really part of the Ottoman Empire, given its undoubted autonomy and its diverging history in later time, but there was lots of interaction between Constantinople and Alexandria and Cairo.

Second, I had no idea how strong the European influence was in Egypt, though I knew it was strong. Details of influence by elite Europeans and expatriate European workingmen add up to a fascinating if rather gruesome picture. (Can you say, "hit by a runaway locomotive"?)

Third, Cole's big contribution here is to discuss different Egyptian social and political movements that led to the explosion of the 'Urabi movement, many of which are entirely ignored in more general accounts. I was particularly interested in the role of the urban guilds and their internal electoral institutions, institutions which may have by example encouraged the push for parliamentary, responsible government at the level of the state.

Finally, I found little to object to in the style of this book, unlike Napoleon's Egypt. Did in fact NE's editor urge Cole to repetitively explain what I found obvious.

I think as I find time I'll continue to read on Modern Egypt.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Remembering Pogo...

...and not for the political insight of "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Long ago those funny comic strip animals from the Okefenokee Swamp were discussing the then-current fad of Op(tical) Art. One said there was now a do-it-yourself Op Art kit consisting of a barber pole, pictures of Saturn, and a hammer to break your glasses with.

Barber poles are pretty close to extinct, but we still have hammers, of Saturn.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

HIST 1505, assignment for the second paper

Students in History of the Modern World, HIST 1505, who are anxious to get started on the second essay, here is the list of books and the assignment.

Image: Steph Swainton, who has recently written a novel called The Modern World, which seems to be about the War against the Insects.


HIST 2055, assignment for the second paper

Here is the assignment for Ancient Civilizations, HIST 2055. I promised to distribute the evaluation sheet for the paper, but I haven't composed that yet.

Image: Creating an ancient (piece of papyrus) paper.


Friday, December 14, 2007

More on the new world of information

Would students like to get textbooks free for the cost of printing from the Web, if they included a few ads? I bet they would! Brad DeLong and his commenters discuss how it is already happening at Freeload Press, how it might happen with other material, and what it might have to do with the Screenwriter's strike.

Brad also directs us to the end of the "Australian models discuss quantam physics" scandal, and posts a "mock final exam" from a first year economic history course he teaches at Berkeley.

Finally, Google is getting into competition with Wikipedia by starting an encyclopedia that won't have articles that are anonymously written and edited, but a variety of signed articles. The idea is that if you don't like the existing article on a given subject, you can write your own. Interesting idea.

Labels: ,


It revolts me that we have to say more about torture than, "the torturers are the bad guys, all the same bad guys, whatever they call themselves," but we do. And since we do, it is good to note that the inglorious Washington Post, enabler of so many government lies over the past five years, has published a useful article by Darius Rejali on Five Myths About Torture.

In further torture news, high ranking American officials are doing their level best to dissociate themselves from torture by destroying evidence and blocking investigations. See the invaluable Talking Points Memo on obstructionism by Republican senators to prevent a torture ban, obstructionism by the Department of Justice in an investigation of the CIA torture tapes, and a refusal from the Attorney General to discuss with Congress the now-destroyed torture tapes.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Heavy Metal Islam

Yesterday Led Zepplin reunited and performed in London and apparently they were great.

A couple of days ago, Al Jazeera ran a story on how Zep over the years has served as a bridge between East and West.

That never occurred to me before, and since journalists can say anything, I might have my doubts were it not for the fact that the article includes extensive interviews with two musicians, Salman Ahmed of Pakistan and Mark Levine from the USA. Musicians will say anything, too, but these two carry conviction. Ahmed caught my attention when he said:

I saw the band at Madison Square Garden during their last US tour in 1977 and it was a spiritual awakening. There was something deeply familiar in the music, but I couldn't place it until I returned to Pakistan for medical school.

It was then that I realised music - in good measure, their music - had led me home. Zeppelin channelled the Sufi music of South Asia through the blues to create rock 'n' roll at once more spiritual and more hedonistic than any before or since. Soon enough I traded in my stethoscope for an electric guitar, which seemed the better instrument to help heal my deeply wounded society.

Article recommended.

"Heavy Metal Islam" is the title of a book by Mark Levine.

Image: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Update: Kashmir performed in London and the Sufi-like lyrics.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yes, medievalists are eccentric

I've got the idea that at least a few of my students, on occasion, think I'm a bit of an eccentric. Could be, after all, I am an academic! But I offer the following link to Wormtalk and Slugspeak to show that within the ranks of medieval scholardom there are perhaps more eccentric ones than me.

Thanks to that eccentric over at Unlocked Wordhoard for this.

Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East, by Juan Cole

Juan Cole is a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan, best known for his daily blog Informed Comment, which discusses developments in Iraq, the United States and elsewhere from a critical perspective. He's been criticized for saying (before it was self-evident and even popular) that Bush's policies were disastrous. I look at his blog every day because he takes his information not from the US press, which has shown itself to be pretty useless to those who want to understand the situation, but from a variety of Middle Eastern sources. Cole's perspective is useful because he understands Arabic, has lived in the Middle East, and is an expert on Shiite movements.

Somehow in the last while he has found time to write a good book on Napoleon's 1798 invasion of Egypt. That invasion, which I always thought put Napoleon in a particularly bad light, is often treated as some kind of aberration, which need not be taken very seriously when evaluating Napoleon or his era.

Cole thinks that the invasion of Egypt is far more important than that, and for me at least he makes his point. In my reading about the great revolutionary era on either side of 1800 I have been struck by how just about all revolutionaries were fascinated by the possibility of an "Empire of Liberty." There is a great deal of that in this account and it makes perfect sense to me. Cole believes that the motives that took Napoleon to Egypt were not absent from other revolutionary-era projects, and were indeed central motives.

There is one fault I see in this book, and it almost drove me crazy before I decided to relax. Cole again and again (and again) quotes some participant and then explains the significance of the quotation immediately thereafter. Good practice, perhaps? Well, it seems to me that he overdoes it, and as a result repeats some of his favorite conclusions and observations too many times. Was he urged to do this by his editor, or was he afraid that his audience really, really needed some pretty basic things spelled out?

However, the book has two great virtues.

First, Cole is an opinionated writer, but he's very straightforward in admitting his opinions, and does not pretend to be an omniscient observer. He is careful to tell the reader where he got his data, specifically which French officer's journal or Egyptian chronicle he is using at a given point. He has his opinions about their usefulness, but doesn't think any of them necessarily tells the whole story. This should be basic scholarly procedure, but even with the repetition noted above, I think Cole does a very good job in depicting the variety of contemporary views and how they have affected and limited modern understanding of the Egyptian invasion.

Second, Cole succeeds in making his subject come to life. When readers of English in the next few years or decades look into this episode of European/Middle Eastern interaction, they'll pick this book up, and many of them will get excited. For some, it will be the beginning of their own investigations, and a good start, too. For even more, it will fill in a blank page in their understanding of Islamic and Middle Eastern society. They will be unlikely to leave Cole's account with the idea that Napoleon had, that the Muslim world was asleep and waiting for the touch of a prince of modernity.

Note: Speaking of good scholarly practice, Cole is supplementing Napoleon's Egypt on a continuing basis in a blog of the same name, in which he includes documentary material that just wouldn't fit into the printed work.

Labels: , , ,

"Long story short"

Is this perhaps a punctuation mark disguised as a phrase? In any case, one of my students used it in the midst of a mini-essay on an exam to hurry things along, and it quite did the trick.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chavez defeated at the polls

People who despise George W. Bush and all his acts sometimes get satisfaction by praising President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for defying him and the United States. I see this as a big mistake. He's a typical big-mouth, big-ego would-be dictator of a sort that the world, and Latin America in particular, has seen too many times. And he can afford to be brave because Venezuela has won (lost?) the oil-in-the-ground lottery.

In recent months Chavez has been promoting a huge omnibus constitutional referendum that would give him just about all the power he could ever want, for as long as he cared to be president. Millions of people who voted for Chavez for president not so long ago either voted against the constitutional amendents or sat on their hands.

To get an idea of why the bloom seems to be off the Chavez rose, even for people who have approved of many of his policies, or at least his promises, see this article in the Economist. It goes well beyond "the enemy of my enemy" rhetoric and does two more things. It shows that Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution" and socialism are just the same old baloney; and also how oil wealth is a dangerous thing.

Image: An inflatable Hugo Chavez doll, as referred to in the article, but this one's from November 2006. How many of these things are there?

Labels: , , ,

How close was the USA to war with Iran?

It has been revealed this week that official US claims that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program were as legitimate as the claims in 2002-3 that Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction." Iran is enriching uranium but US intelligence experts believe with a high level of confidence that the weapons program was discontinued four years ago. (And don't for get that the supreme religious leader has issued a fatwa against weapons development.)

The official US claims were clearly a prelude to bombing Iran, resulting in a war which would have devastated the workings of the world economy which, because of corrupt speculation in US mortgages, is in perilous condition anyway. We are all being held hostage to a small group of warmongers in Washington. Just because their shenanigans have been exposed, there is no guarantee that they won't start a war anyway. That would be to assume that normal standards apply to these people.

In other news, from AFP:
Major crude producer Iran has completely stopped carrying out its oil transactions in dollars, Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said on Saturday, labelling the greenback an "unreliable" currency.

This is not entirely unexpected, since Iran has been cutting back on dollar usage to avoid American financial warfare. But it shows how the American position in the world is eroding. It's one thing to defy the President of the United States. It's quite another to defy the Formerly Almighty Dollar. The current president, thanks in large part to his own policies, no longer has Almighty at his back.

Image: From last April, presidential candidate John McCain amusing a Republican Party get-together by singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, Bomb bomb Iran." Cute.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A great mind on display

Some time ago someone -- was it Brad DeLong? -- provided a link to a series of lectures by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, which were delivered in New Zealand in 1979. That's a long time past in physics, but these were lectures for a wide public and treated basic issues.

I've just had a look at lecture one, and it's as good as I suspected, if not better. If you want to see a great mind at work, look at the first 22 minutes. At that point, it begins to happen. Then see if you can stop there.

Labels: ,

University of Waterloo -- a new MA program

The Department of Classical Studies at the University of Waterloo would like you to know that they, in collaboration with the same department at Wilfrid Laurier University, are launching a Master's program in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures.

Strange Maps: The geography of blondness

Strange Maps also provided us webcrawlers recently with a link to a site, Eupedia, which includes a series of maps meant to orient the reader to some interesting features of European society. They are not all of the same quality. The map of "traditional religious majorities by region in Europe" really offends my sense of reality (see Kaliningrad). But it's still good fun.

The map above, called "The Percentage of Light Hair in Europe" is particularly neat, though I have no idea whether it has any validity. My vast background in human genetics (I have human genes, and they go back a long way!) allows me to say that this map suggests a shocking fact: a freak mutation that occurred on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia has produced a weird looking bunch of people who have managed to convince much of the rest of humanity to bleach their hair to "fit in."

Madonna may be the current leader of this propaganda effort.

Full disclosure: In some countries I would be called blond, and my hair is lighter than most.

Labels: , ,

Strange Maps: The ancient geography of Germany

I've mentioned the unique and delightful blog Strange Maps here before; it continues to be excellent. A few days ago it ran this 19th-century reconstruction of the 1st century map of Germania (roughly modern Germany) created by the 1st century Graeco-Egyptian geographer and astronomer. Ptolemy is one of the most important scientists who ever lived. A great many of his analyses and ideas were wrong -- look up "epicycles" -- but he was a careful scholar and people were able to build better because of the foundations he laid down.

Think of this post as an homage to all who make useful mistakes.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

No surrender!

All the exams I give are preceded by a study sheet which includes all the possible questions. Given that there will be no surprises, I tell my students that all they really have to do is not give up prematurely.

Students in HIST 3425 (Medieval England) were pretty diligent today, writing right up to the deadline! I certainly appreciate the effort.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Thucydides on ancient Greek politics

In my Ancient Civilizations class, I referred to the famous Funeral Oration of Pericles as "the one passage in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War that makes the Greeks look admirable." I was only 3/4 of the way through a rereading of the History when I said that, but I'm still looking for the second. More typical (though to my sensibilities more repellent than many others) is this incident from Book 8, chapter 41, page 560 of the Penguin translation:

On his voyage along the coast he landed at the Meropid Cos. The city was unfortified and had collapsed in an earthquake which was certainly the greatest one that can be remembered. He sacked the city, the inhabitants of which had fled to the mountains, over-ran the country, and made off with everything in it except the free men, whom he let go.

One could rant for hours about this passage. Even the Soviets would be ashamed to admit to this kind of behavior.

BTW, I have left the war criminal anonymous here; he's got enough publicity over the last 2 1/2 millenia. I have a similar policy for famous assassins.

Labels: , , ,

Two books on the history of democracy

Thanks to a heads-up from Phil Paine, I've recently looked at two books relevant to the history of democracy.

The first is G.P. Singh's Republics, Kingdoms, Towns and Cities in Ancient India (New Delhi, 2003) is a somewhat antiquarian discussion of what's known about the various smaller political entities of India since Vedic times. It concentrates on surveying the evidence, which in the case of nearly every republic or kingdom covered, is very fragmentary. This is not for the casual reader, or where even the serious scholar starts to investigate the ancient republics and democracies of the sub-continent. I suggest my own on-line article and bibliography, which references a variety of printed works.

Shorter and aimed at a student audience, I'd guess, is Alan T. Wood's Asian Democracy in World History (also 2003, part of a Routledge series of short introductory books on "[Something or Other] in World History"). There were things I liked about this book. For instance, it cites my work and Phil Paine's, in print and online. It also surveys recent democratic developments in that part of Asia east of Iran and Afghanistan (Siberia excluded) in a reasonably sensible manner, using reasonably sensible criteria. Better yet, it places the striving for freedom seen in such developments in a universal context. It's not just "western civilization" that can provide roots for democracy. But then, Wood occasionally falls into trite, cliched and even false generalizations. For instance, in discussing the role of the "market economy" in the development and maintenance of democracy, he cites the supposed commitment of socialist economies to "equality." No, he's not talking about Norway,* but Cuba:

In Cuba, for example, everyone may be equal, but they are equally poor.

Really, Prof. Wood, even Fidel and his brother?

So I can't give this book an unqualified endorsement (for what that's worth), but it's short and to the point and better than many other analyses of the Asian situation.

*Norway may or may not be "socialist" by your favorite measurement, but they've tried real hard not to be corrupted by their oil wealth -- no easy matter.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Galaxy M74, 32 million light-years away

From Astronomy Picture of the Day. Click for a bigger image.


Here it is again

We had a mild, warm fall until about a week or so ago. If your eyes were well trained, you could still see green in the grass. (After a decade and a half, my eyes can see the slightest speck of green in the landscape; but it wasn't just me, horses were still grazing.)

Now it is really wintry and supposed to stay that way for a long, long time.

Image: This is not our area, but Minnesota, but close enough, close enough.