The new map is more reminiscent of early modernity, of the trade and pilgrimage routes, of the links between holy cities and routes of world communication. Periphery and centre, far and near – everything is being re-positioned. Even the most recent scenes of coming clashes are marked on this map of the new Europe: the London underground stations, the Moscow metro, the suburban railway station of Madrid-Antoch, where the bombs exploded. Marked on these most recent maps are the places where Europe is at its most vulnerable – in the public spaces of its great cities.

I wish I had expressed this as effectively as Karl Schlögel has here.  However, the fuzzy world which he sees coming into view–the one formed in spite of the memories of Cold War conflict between Europeans–has a much deeper history.  The Wall divided Europe, but the since of East and West has been ingrained in memory for much longer, at least since the Enlightenment.

Where the West ended and the East began was never clear, and many would argue that they were truly in the West, those over the next hill were in the East.  But East and West were two parts of the Christian world at different stages of development. Progress and openness on one side of the continent appeared opposite despotism and feudalism on the other.  The western states were in control of their own nations, subsequently dominating the world.  The eastern states-if they could be called states–were at the mercy of competing nationalisms.

Moreover, the eastern states were at the periphery, muddle in affairs of Asian countries and peoples.  Their orientation forced them to adapt to their social and cultural institutions to the proximity of the non-European world.  The orientalism of the West allowed them to overcome geography and dominate the non-European world.  The vestiges of this perspective appear whenever affairs of Georgia or Turkey are discussed.  It’s not the division between East and West made manifest by Soviet domination.  But it is a division made by the West, with a longer life.



A few weeks ago, Turner Classic Movies ran a night of films with Hispanic themes.  Even better, several of them were set and filmed in New Mexico.  Milagro Beanfield War and Salt of the Earth were already familiar to us.   Another, And Now Miguel (1953), was entirely unfamiliar.  Filmed as a documentary of rural Nuevomexicano life, the narration describes a young boys yearning to “go to the mountains”–that is, to go with the men to the summer shepherding grounds and, consequently, fulfill an important right of passage.  Aspects of integration and migration are raised in subtle ways, and gender divisions between home and mountains are present, if not analyzed.  Elias, surprisingly, was gripped by the young boy’s work with the family sheep.

The strange outlier among these films was a short, called “Give them the land.” The film depicted efforts of an American scientist to educate Mexican farmers on scientifically-informed methods of farming in the harsh Mexican deserts.  Perhaps it is a bit of a nit to pick, since the rest of the films concerned Hispanics in the United States, and rural life in New Mexico is not necessarily comparable to that of rural Mexico.

Certain underlying messages distburbed.  The short was a stunning visual document of farming practices.  The scientist, of course, encounters various inefficiencies of agriculture methods, and he discusses how Americans can educate Mexican peasants in order to make land improvements.  His approach: literally become “a good neighbor”, living among the peasants to serve as an example and compatriot.  The good neighbor disarms opposition to innovation by living among Mexicans, offering advice and supplies for barter (some of the improved yields) rather than capital.  In some sense, the good neighbor is socially assimilated, but culturally radical, working from within rather than as part of a hierarchy.

The final message puts the film into context: “We need him more than he needs us.”  We need Mexicans (and by extension, subalterns) to become more efficient farmers rather than come to us for employment.  It is a pro-development policy that carries an anti-immigration sentiment.  It is, perhaps, little different from the thoughts and arguments that drive so-called free trade agreements, substituting the flow of people with the inverse flow of technology and capital.  Indeed, the film begins with a soaring montage in which a message from the UN reaches the tiny village by telegraph, postman, and finally pidgeon, and ends with the peasant staying in his place, revealing how flows can be controlled.

Rick Perry needs help! His ramblings about the possibility, no matter how unlikely, of Texas’ secession seem Yeltsinesque (you know, the hegemonic state claiming to be oppressed by the imperial system it created).

Of course, how could I, a sympathetic regionalist, complain of Perry’s threats? Although each state encompasses different resources and populations, the governmental uniformity of the US is boring. And the possibility of redrawing the American map plays into fun role-playing games from high school. And the whole rhetoric of the “Lone Star State” is an effective rallying cry to motivate the population.

Perry’s threat, though, is lame. The notion that Texas’ integration into the Union was both negotiated and conditional holds little water, and was easily debunked by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Statehood occurs nationally and constitutionally. Territories and populations aspiring to statehood must meet the conditions set by Congress (conditions that delayed statehood for Louisiana and New Mexico). States do not have special relations to the Union, as for example Alsace to France, Andorra to France and Spain, or Hong Kong to China. Other nations may have come together in a heterogeneous fashion. The United States, a late comer influence by the Enlightenment, is more Cartesian in its constitution. Even the original states surrendered what made them unique upon ratifying the constitution, and conformed themselves to national standards. Of course, some Americanist will raise issues about the Civil War and changing meanings of integration in both culture and law that will further weaken Perry’s case. Ultimately, neither Perry nor the Texas legislature can unilaterally declare their sovereignty from the United States. It’s like a big bowl at a party: guests must leave their keys behind in order to drink, and can’t get them back without the hosts ok. (And you might have to drive home someone you don’t like, too.)

Now, just because it’s not constitutional, we can’t dismiss secession out of hand. Perry could appeal to the global community on the basis on indigenism: the native peoples of Texas were not adequately represented in the decision to join the Union, or joining the Union deprived native peoples of their autonomy. Yes, bring it back to the original Texans. Though that might empower those who would not want to leave the United States. (Like I’ve said, Tejas por los Tejanos!)

Whatever the merits of Perry’s argument, he’s simply overplayed his hand. Few “divorces” are as easy and successful as the fracturing of Czechoslovakia (they were effectively two states being administered side by side). The list of bloody and unsuccessful secessions is much longer. Even in the realm of polite politics, separation is expensive, something the Quebecoises have learned. It might even require renegotiation with Mexico. (Not to mention that Perry would secede over matters of degree rather than real policy differences.)

I doubt that Perry wants Texas to leave the Union; he’d rather make use of secessionist rhetoric in order to gain political capital. But he may already have lost by appearing among those calling for independence rather than representing Texans (which would include those who doubt the future of the Union). In European regionalism, the more politicians appeared with separatists, the more their lost support of the general population. (ETA: Indeed, it seems Texans aren’t really behind this, according to some numbers from Rasmussen.) They were more successful first denying separatism as a solution, but giving voice to the complaints of the separatists. Catholic Democrats in Alsace were thereby able to delay the full integration of French law indefinitely, and in the Rhine Province they were able to gain autonomy with the Prussian state that they might not have been afforded had it become a Land.

So, Mr. Perry: don’t be a secessionist–use the secessionists! Those are people with real complaints who need a voice! (And maybe–just maybe–secession will happen anyway.)

Washtub bass lead?

Andrew (who recently changed blogging abode) takes a little exception to my rants about Galactica.  I think my frustration with the show is not unfounded.  Andrew ought to share my frustration at the development of Gaeta. Yep, you can’t trust a gay man in the trenches, especially one that obsesses over his symbolic castration (loss of a leg). However, the show has suffered in its depth and complexity in more fundamental ways.  It obsesses over backstory and beloved characters.  “What is humanity” has been set on the back burner.  Perhaps this is typical of a television show in its final episodes, especially science fiction.

The story arc, now referred to as the “mythology”, has become a cumbersome cantilever rather than a bridge.  Much of the last “season” has been dedicated to rewriting the back stories of almost all major characters.  Even in the last episodes, we are confronted with new aspects of personality drawn from a life that they ought to have left behind.  It seems excessive to dwell so much on where they have been when where they are going has sustained the show (this ain’t 90210).  Indeed, compelling aspects of the show have been left behind.  Except for some trite conversations about the Admiral’s authority, democracy figures little in the arc.  Religion has some place, but the only really compelling question that need be answered is why Kara Thrace was resurrected, which is itself sufficiently interesting.  Religion, though, received deeper attention in earlier episodes.

The attention to Kara Thrace, though, has been part of a larger trend of the story arc: uncovering the “special destinies” of the characters.  With all the retooling of the back story, the characters seem more like puppets than people with free will.  And the people with compelling missions in life have turned out, more often, not to be human.  Humans have become minor characters in a Cylon saga.  (At least  humans may decide for themselves that the hybridization of human and machine is worth saving, unlike Star Wars).   If there is something compellingly human about the finale, perhaps it will be found in the Roslin-Adama romance, one of the few adult romances in Science Fiction.

A few years ago, I suggested that students pool together their documents   in order to create a virtual archive–a digital replica of archives in other countries.  At the time I was concerned for the cost of travel with the declining prestige of some branches of history as well as the declining value of the dollar.  The global economy would be enough to make such a project more interesting.  However, the recent collapse of the Historische Archive der Stadt Köln (HAStK) makes such an effort imperative in this one case.  Those of us who have done research in Cologne know that is a unique resource.  Many of us have been able to take images away from the archive–it was even facilitated by the nice, dark back room with the mount and perfectly attuned lighting.  These images should be identified, collected, digitized (if necessary) and offered on line.  The contents of the archive could made quickly available to other scholars, perhaps before German archivists can recover or replicate HAStK’s contents.

What should be done, roughly in this order:

  • American scholars who have worked at HAStK should identify themselves (or should be contacted).
  • Monographs and articles that are founded on research at HAStK should be cataloged.
  • Scholars should produce lists of their personal holdings of images (digital, photographic, photocopied) by Bestand.
  • A list of these holdings should be made available along with contact addresses.
  • Copies of images should be assembled and digitized, if necessary.
  • A site should be established to present these material publically.

We are often jealous of our research, as we often reach into our own pockets to fund it (at least in part).  I think that German history would be set back if HAStK remains innaccessible.

I’m a little astounded to learn that the Historische Archiv der Stadt Koeln (Municipal Archives of the City of Cologne) simply collapsed yesterday, perhaps due to subway construction in the area.  From the photographs, it looks like the front of quarter caved in (it is a square with a courtyard in the middle).  To the right of the courtyard is where the reading room is.  The collapsed part held, on the ground floor, the entryway, reception area and lockers–not necessarily a lot of people.  But I don’t know where the files are physically.

The archive was unique–very different from other municipal archives I’ve visited.  In my work I found records concerning Germany’s early nationalist movement (particularly the correspondence of the Reichenspergers), documents on the Catholic Democratic movement, and of course, the mayoralty of Adenauer.  From what I can tell, the losses  may not be extensive: copies of documents were held in another location in the Black Forest.  However, it seems that Heinrich Boell’s papers were just purchased.

Andrew, of Air Pollution and currently holed up in some Parisian archive or getting yelled at for not ordering his pain choco correctly, tagged me with this meme:

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag 15 others, including moi. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you’re it!

Not bad enough that I had to agonize over the definition of the list, I had to come up with 15!  Anyway, here it goes, fifteen albums that changed my life, in chronological order that I heard them:

  1. Roxy Music, Country Life (All I want is you)
  2. Cocteau Twins, Treasure (Lorelei)
  3. Joy Division, Closer (non-album track Love with tear us apart)
  4. X, More fun in the New World (New World)
  5. Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (This Charming Man)
  6. Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill (Ballad of Mack the Knife)
  7. Thelonious Monk, Thelonious Himself (Round Midnight)
  8. Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (This ain’t no picnic)
  9. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (to here knows when)
  10. Mzwakhe Mbuli, Resistance is Defence (post prison interview)
  11. Spacemen 3, Perfect Prescription (Walking with Jesus)
  12. Sigur Ros, Svefn-g-Englar (Svefn-g-Englar)
  13. William Parker, Raining on the Moon (Corn Mothers Dance–on different album, but with Leena Conquest)
  14. La Bottine Souriante, Traversee de l’Atlantique
  15. Pete Seeger, Abiyoyo (Abiyoyo)

Perhaps a few comments are in order.  Playing music for a long time, many of the picks are  musical as much as lyrical, if not more.  That’s probably why they spread out so well chronologically–they correspond to a different periods in which I explored new styles of music.   Some albums I like more don’t appear.  One album that got bumped was Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden (which would have been #6), because I decided Sven-n-Englar was more important, and for more negative reasons.  The latter sounds like the former, which is ironic.  But the process of finding Svefn-g-Englar was grueling in 1999, but something that I was accustomed to, given the nature of imports.  I found this kind of fandom rewarding–scrounging for an obscure recording based on a five line review in a third rate magazine.  But several years later, when everyone’s grandmother listened to the band, my efforts seemed less worthwhile or unique, so I gave it up.  Now it’s easier to download.  I would have never found my favorite album from last year by the means I used to employ.

Now, who to tag?  Brandon, because he’s a good sport.  Geek Lethal and Johno and everyone one else and Ministry of Minor Perfidy, because he needs to post soon.   Joel, out of curiosity.  And I’m going to tag back Andrew with a meme of my own:

Name five to ten books, albums or films that used to mean a lot to you, but that you have matured out of. Tag as many people as you want.

[ETA] I’ve added a few YouTube clips so that the selections don’t remain obscure.

Or, the second coming of Neutral Milk Hotel.
Or, Wallace Stegner with a Rock and Roll band.

Or, the greatest unsigned band on the planet.

Whatever they are, I absolutely adore Rural Alberta Advantage. Such reflections on the landscapes of loneliness seem more appropriate for Romantic Lieder.

(If you can take the lack of lighting, check out this clip.)

The Great Depression is far from my area of expertise, though I know enough about the questionable aspects of Burton Folsom’s history (particularly the skewed employment numbers and the light treatment of political volatility).  What I find interesting is that this debate about the effectiveness of New Deal policies seems to have found distant shores. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, not only referenced the New Deal in justifying state intervention in financial markets and aggressive economic stimulus, but Australian columnists have taken up the arguments of American conservatives in opposing Rudd’s proposals.  Referencing Fulsom, Michael Costa wrote:

What is not in dispute is that the US Federal Reserve made the Depression worse by mismanaging monetary policy. At the onset of the Depression, the Federal Reserve adopted a deflationary monetary policy that added to its severity. The money supply contracted by nearly one third in the Depression’s first four years. That’s why present Fed chairman Ben Bernanke moved quickly to increase liquidity.

Without discussing the merits of Folsom’s arguments, I wonder how Costa came to the conclusion that this is “not in dispute”, considering Fulsom’s arguments fly in the face of many American histories of the Depression, and that Fulsom has gained currency mostly among politicians, almost all conservative.  (Perhaps a better critique would come from Alan Brinkley’s The End of Reform: Roosevelt and Morgenthau found that  state intervention brought stability, but limited potential growth.  Consequently, Rudd’s plan to reinvent capitalism under state guidance might not provide as much bang in the long term.)

On a similar note, German Social Democrat Erhard Eppler has been arguing hard for not just state intervention, but reinvestment in the state itself (see “The State is an Achievement Itself” and “Nicht-Staaten sind gefaerlich“).

I just took a quick look over at this essay, Culturalism: Culture as political ideology, which attempts to define a new way of looking at intolerance.

Culturalism is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realise him or herself within it. Culturalism also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections – even if at the same time they violate individual rights.

It’s useful to think anew about how culture, particularly cultural differences, are used to structure comprehension of conflict.  The “clash of civilizations” seems to draw overt battlelines where only small quarrels may exist.  However, a few things concern me about the essay. First, equating liberal multiculturalism with conservative ethnocentrism misses a crucial point: the former may sow the seed of future conflict by making culture deterministic, the latter seems to read conflict into existing relationships.  Second, calling nationalism a subset of culturalism gets the story backwards.  Our contemporary view of cultural determinism may be able to encompass nationalism (and avoid the dangerous historical associations with nationalist movements and imperialism), but it was nationalism that would seem to have driven our understanding of why culture are not compatable.

However, I think the authors put too much emphasis on determinism when incompatability of cultures may be more important for the political ideologies that interest the authors.  We could look at a larger set of anti-immigrant political groups who view culture as an either/or proposition.  The individual is not confined by their native culture, but s/he must make the full transition from one to the other.  All vestiges of belonging to a minority must be dropped.  Integration is possible, but it does not bring cultures into contact with one another, and indeed reinforces their incompatability.

Political turmoil in the fictional kingdom of Wallachia … even the realms of satire are not imune to the financial crisis.

“There is an air force loyal to me, a royal guard; we even have a Trabant tank division,” [Boleslav I]  said. “We have not only conquered space but planted our sacred blue plum trees on the moon.” In fact, the Wallachian Royal Air Force consists of five Cessnas emblazoned with a Wallachian crest: an emaciated chicken falling through the sky.

What a strange coincidence that Crooked Timber would have a symposium on the science fiction of Charles Stross days after I completed reading his first novel, Singularity Sky. (HT: Ralph Luker)  I had picked up the novel years ago, but it languished in the pile of books-I’ll-get-to-someday.  Reviewers had described it as a novel of ‘big ideas’ about the clash of civilizations, appropriately reflected in its publication date, 2003.

Among the contributions are fine analyses from Paul Krugman and Henry Farrell.  Curiously, the authors don’t deal extensively with Singularity Sky, nor do they touch upon one of the novel’s most relevant themes: asymmetrical warfare.  At best, the novel serves to illustrate singularity, which a theme that runs throughout his oeuvre.

Singularity Sky is set in an era in which humanity has been forcibly dispersed by a near-omnipotent Eschaton, an entity that jealously guards the past to prevent threats to its power.  The politics of Earth have been decentralized to the individual, nationality is meaningless, and citizenship (if one can call it that) emerges from a complex web of overlapping allegiances and alliances.  Conversely, the New Republic has regressed back to the strong post-Westphalian state, as represented by such nineteenth century powers as Prussia and Russia.  Anti-intellectual and anti-technology, advancement serves only to strengthen the  state’s ability to project violence.

In Massie-like fashion, the state invests in heavy space-faring battleships to protect its empire.  When the mysterious Festival drops technology over one of its colonies, inciting violence and revolution, the fleet launches in order to confront the threat to its sovereignty.  However, the political thinking that produces this type of war machine fails to comprehend, and thus respond, to the threat.  Instead of engaging in a high-tech, though traditional, gun battle, the ships are consumed by nanites.  The fleet is catastrophically defeated.  (Oh, there is also something about the Eschaton preventing interference in the timeline.)

According to the protagonists, the New Republic was bound for disaster.   The New Republic was organizationally mismatched against the Festival, the the former’s command hierarchy being incapable of confronting the decentralized system of the latter.  Unfortunately, we don’t see this, it must be told to us (as with much science fiction) by the protagonists.  Stross never describes how the Festival operates, and what we do see of its military strategy (if you could call it that) does not preclude a centralized command structure.

In the end, the technological differences (rather than organizational) carry the day.  The pesky nanites are  too small, too numerous to confront with large-scale weapons.  The strategic advantages aren’t clear, and we are left with a narrative that gives superiority to the civilization with the better technology.  Tropes of western imperialism could fit easily into this narrative.  Indeed, I could not help but think of the Africans who believed that German bullets would turn to water and would not harm them.  (I’ll grant that Stross’ description of what happens to societies inundated with techonology is compelling and frightening.)

This aspect of the novel offers insight into what had been a poorly explored aspect of the “War on Terror”: the tendency to associate terrorism with the politics of state rather than understanding the mentality and organization of terrorists.  How much Stross wants readers to equate the New Republic’s fights against the Festival with the War on Terror is debatable (nor should we force congruence between them).  Yet Stross has vocally denounced the United States’ targeting of nation-states as exporters of terrorism.  Instead, the fight requires broader, more cordial engagement with the societies from which terrorism rises:

Declaring a war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11 was good politics for George W. Bush. But it’s a misleading metaphor; because war is terrorism by other means, just as terrorism has become an extension of diplomacy by the weak against the strong, to fold, spindle and mutilate Von Clauswitz’s famous dictum. If a war against terrorism is to be successful it must be fought in peoples’ hearts and minds, with unusual weapons like trust and respect, and a willingness to negotiate with the moderates before our intransigence turns them into desperate extremists.

Insisting that a war on terrorism is a literal war, involving bombers and tanks, is foolish in the extreme. Handing them a victory on a plate — by surrendering our civil liberties on the altar of security — is insane.

Given Stross’ interest in the War on Terror, it’s fair to ask how useful his novel is at illuminating asymmetrical warfare.

Part II tomorrow.

German woman are celebrating ninety years of voting (in this case, given in the aftermath of defeat as the Reich was choosing delegates for a national assembly to write a new constitution).

Departmental America: Fortune Cookie Chronicles has a great post about how area codes are used by Chinese workers to navigate the US. (HT: Far Outliers) I find this compelling: beyond the property level, the US isn’t very geometric.  Area codes aren’t a reflection of either territory or governance; at best, they equate to population, but at worst, the convenience of the phone company.  Worst of all, area codes are multiplying!  I wonder how one’s mental map changes when new entities are created every few years.

Mediated history: Cafe Babel considers how film is the primary medium by which young Europeans know the Holocaust.  (Yep, I’m groaning in the background.)

The perpetually reuniting nation: At exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art (which I miss) tries something unique: bringing together East German and West German artists in order to explore a less divided post-war culture (one that is more of a response to the Cold War rather than a result of the divided political cultures).

The Incredible Shrinking University: Brandeis closes its art museum and will sell of its art collection.  Wait to see what happens next.


Is Archie Bunker still funny?

The question crosses my mind repeatedly as columnists and bloggers consider whether we have seen “the end of racism.”  All in the Family exposed deep feelings that Americans held that contradicted the achievements of civil rights in the previous decade.  Archie Bunker was a ripe target, yet the show’s other characters, self-professed champions of political and social equality, often fell short.  Indeed, the Bunker’s neighbor, George Jefferson, was willing conspire with Archie to keep minorities out of their Queens neighborhood: even an aspiring African-American could use the language of capitalism (property values) to keep out an Hispanic family.

Archie’s racism could sometimes be portrayed starkly and tragically, as he was unable to enjoy the birth of a child because he was too focused on his diminishing piece of America.  But moments like those were broadly drawn.  Often what made All in the Family powerful to me–someone who watched the reruns in the nineties–was the irony in the show’s dialogue.  It seemed impossible to address racism both directly and constructively.  Instead, sarcasm and glib remarks are substitutes therefor.  Humor became a vehicle to expose  social conventions regarding race could be both accepted, but also challenged, revealing the duplicitous meaning of words spoken in polite company.

Having an African-American president and first family does not convince me that we have moved beyond the need for humor when discussing racism.  At the very least, race and  racism are too complex to be solved by the success of one man.  Discussing Hurricane Katrina  this past semester, I found many students who had difficulty recognizing racism except in cases of the elimination of the other (only in its most extreme form) as well as a tendency to equate race only with the experience or perception of racism.  Violence or victimhood.  Decades of polite conversation have confined race to the narrowest of phenomenon.  All in the Family may still hold a sacred place in American culture, but similarly sarcastic treatments, like Blazing Saddles, have been confined to the realm of bad taste.

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