Monday, November 30, 2009

Bright Sun and Crescent Earth

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Someone in China doesn't want you to read Phil Paine

Specifically, the post A Gift of Earth and Water (November 16, 2009). Why? Have a look.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Watching the chapandaz

The chapandaz are the players of buzkashi, or according to this Big Picture photo feature, "Only the best players, [who] get close to the carcass in the competition." This rider is watching the action -- will he dive into the melee?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something fun from Afghanistan

Truthfully, there is very little cheerful news out of Afghanistan, and I fear that if Obama goes ahead with the war there, it will ruin the American economy and destroy the American Constitution. More on that later.

However, I am a fan of the medieval tournament, and Afghans like some other Central Asians preserve a sport that must be a lot like the old melee combats of medieval Europe: buzkashi or (outside Afghanistan) kok-boru. Any good article about buzkashi will catch my attention and probably find its way into this blog.

When I was staying at an American hotel last week, I got a free copy of USA Today every weekday morning, and to my astonishment I found that it is better than it used to be, by a lot. The editors no longer seem to be completely allergic to substantial journalism. One of the more solid articles was this piece on buzkashi. A website called Newser ran an excerpt and added some new pictures.

Here's a taste of the USA Today piece:

Is the world ready for a sport played with a headless goat carcass?

Haji Abdul Rashid thinks it is and has big plans: corporate sponsors, television rights and beyond.

"We want it to become an Olympic sport," says Rashid, who heads the Buzkashi Federation.

To understand how ambitious — even crazy — this is, consider the game. Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," is a violent sport with virtually no rules. Players, called chapandaz, gallop at breakneck speed over a dusty field, fighting over a dead animal without a head.

Buzkashi is undergoing a renaissance in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001. There are more games, players and spectators than ever before. Rashid says he has already contacted some Olympic officials.

Once dominated by powerful warlords or tribal leaders, buzkashi is attracting a new generation of businessmen who are using the game to meet contacts and get clients, explains Said Maqsud, who owns a Kabul-based security company that employs more than 1,000 people.

"That is a new concept," Maqsud says. "Now businessmen like me can be involved."

Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere.

The game has no rounds or time limits. Galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for safety. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening around the field.

"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it."

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it.

"I'm not sure it's a universal sport," Adams said.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coming to a screen near you: The Iraqi National Museum


From the New York Times:

Amira Edan, the director of Iraq’s National Museum, says that soon she will no longer have to worry so much that the famous institution remains closed to the public for fear of violence.

People will just be able to Google it. “It’s really wonderful,” she said Tuesday.

Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, had just made a presentation inside the museum, announcing that his company would create a virtual copy of the museum’s collections at its own expense, and make images of four millenniums of archaeological treasures available online, free, by early next year.

...

The museum, badly looted during the American invasion, has been declared reopened three times: in 2003, by the American occupation authorities, again in 2007 by Iraqi officials and most recently in February by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

None of those openings, however, involved letting the public back in. A few invited scholars, journalists and the occasional school group have been allowed to visit. Only 8 of the museum’s 26 galleries have been restored; most of the collection’s treasures are in secret storage.

Jared Cohen, the State Department official who organized the visit, disputed a suggestion that the event seemed like a government-sponsored infomercial for Google. “This is a really good example of what we’re calling 21st-century statecraft,” he said. A dozen other companies are involved in the project to digitize the National Museum’s collections, so “it’s not an exclusive club,” he added.



But if you can't wait, try this: The Virtual Museum of Iraq.

Image: One of Iraq's treasures: The royal helmet found at Ur, dating from Sumerian times.

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It doesn't take a thousand years

...for this poem to become relevant.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

4000+

Now that I'm back from a family trip to Oklahoma, I've managed to push chapter 2 of Men at Arms up past the 4000 word mark. Wish me luck for tomorrow...

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World famous in Scotland

Listening to CBC One's Ideas program on early steam engines last night, I heard a Scots expert say about James Watt, "We all know his story, I guess," and I realized:
I know next to no personal anecdotes about Watt, nothing on the level of what I know about Newton; and other people do.

Image: Watt's engine, turning linear motion into circular motion. And don't forget the condensers.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Slogging forward

Despite the international plot to keep me away from Men at Arms, I am up to 3000 words on Chapter 2. Of course, family business now takes me away from the book, but it's the kind of thing that can't be helped.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The danger of a single story

A thought-provoking talk by Chimamanda Adichie from TED. "It's not that stereotypes are false, it's that they are incomplete."

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Nine nations: A China primer

I will be away from blogging till at least the weekend, so I came to the computer today feeling some obligation to leave you with something good. I was completely uninspired until Brad DeLong -- again -- came to the rescue by providing me with a link to Patrick Chovanec's Atlantic article on the Nine Nations of China. Like Mr. Chovanec, I was influenced by the 1981 book by Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, in which he redivided Canada and the United States into economic and cultural areas that more reflected reality than the international and state/provincial divisions on most maps. It was a fresh approach that has since gone stale, as lazy people keep referring to it like nothing important has changed since the 1970s. But once again it renders yeoman service by inspiring this new article. I do not endorse the authority of the Nine Nations of China, since I'm about two or three steps above simple ignorance, but I found it interesting. Here's an excerpt:
This week, President Obama makes his first state visit to China. What kind of country will he find there? We tend to imagine China as a monolith: 1.3 billion people sharing the same language, history, and culture. The truth is far more interesting. China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.

As a traveler, teacher, and professional investor who has been exploring China since 1986, I’ve come to think of these regions as the Nine Nations of China (inspired, in part, by Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America). Taken individually, these “nations” would account for eight of the 20 most populous countries in the world.

As China’s economy becomes more integrated, these regional differences are taking on greater importance than ever before.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

The plot thickens

There seems to be an international plot to keep me away from Men at Arms, my translation of and commentary on Charny's Questions on War. Last night I got an invitation to write another article on ancient democracy. I have to do some hard thinking about whether to take up the offer. At least they don't want it immediately...

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blogging history

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They thought Minoan art was cool!

Not an unusual feeling, but this still evokes in me a "well, wow!" reaction:

The remains of a Minoan-style wall painting, recognizable by a blue background, the first of its kind to be found in Israel, was discovered in the course of the recent excavation season at Tel Kabri. This fresco joins others of Aegean style that have been uncovered during earlier seasons at the Canaanite palace in Kabri. "It was, without doubt, a conscious decision made by the city's rulers who wished to associate with Mediterranean culture and not adopt Syrian and Mesopotamian styles of art like other cities in Canaan did. The Canaanites were living in the Levant and wanted to feel European," explains Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavations.


Thanks to David Meadows at Explorator for the heads-up.

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Taqwacore: The birth of punk Islam (2009)

Last night I saw this movie at the Windsor International Film Festival. Taqwacore is supposed to be a combination of "taqwa" ( God consciousness) and "hard core punk." I think the word is an invention of Michael Muhammed Knight, a young Muslim from New York State whose immediate family is Roman Catholic. At some point in his life he thought, "What if a bunch of musicians got a house together and lived the true Muslim/punk life?" He wrote a novel called Taqwacore about the possibilities, and soon enough he was the center of a network of American Islamic punks who wanted to do it for real. Taqwacore the movie tells the story of what happened next, in the USA and Pakistan.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie shows the band, of course called Taqwacore, playing for a convention of middle-aged, mainstream American Muslims in Chicago, who are so offended by the hard-core presentation, and the use of a female lead singer, that they call the police to eject the band. At the same time, all the 15-year-old daughters, dressed in hijab, are giggling and smiling and grooving to this rebellious music.

And then there is the confidence that these Americans have that they can take the true spirit of Islam to Pakistan, again with mixed results.

I found the whole thing as American as... Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac. It's one more version of On the Road.

The trailer is here. Do have a look.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Young Stars in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud

See the page at Astronomy Picture of the Day for an explanation; or click the pic for a better view.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1000 words today!

That's 1000 words on the book I promised to write during this sabbatical! I feel that I'm finally getting my teeth into it.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Charny question?

In my research and translation of Charny questions, I have been working mainly from the Michael Taylor (Chapel Hill) edition. Recently I've been looking more closely at the Belgian edition by Rossbach. Not only does the Rossbach edition have an answer to one of the questions, it has a question unknown to Taylor! If it were in the Taylor edition it would be war question 80A, and if Rossbach had included it in his edition as a confirmed part of the text, it would be question 121A. The fact that Rossbach did not include this question in his main text makes me think he doubted that it was genuine Charny. And after all only appears in one manuscript.

Here is my translation of the question:

Charny asks:

Men at arms fight in the field against their enemies and it happens that one of the men at arms of those who have the upper hand takes another man at arms and he who is taken surrenders to the one who is taken him and gives faith as his prisoner. But very soon the party of the prisoner has the better of it and defeats the others and takes the field, and the prisoner, who sees his party get the upper hand attacks his enemies and takes two or three of them and makes them swear to be prisoners and gives them a day [on which to pay ransom]. Those come on their day and demand of the captain of the one to whom they had sworn by the law of arms saying that they should not be held to be prisoners to him who on that day had [been?] a prisoner, notwithstanding that he is able dispute that because of the rescue he ought to be free; and the first one taken says that they are his prisoners, for he was rescued. And many good arguments are given on one side or the other. How will it be judged by the law of arms?
Note that this is the only Charny question where a captain or other authority figure is identified as presiding over a case by the law of arms.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Name that planet!

Afghanistan's local elections: a measure of success

That's the conclusion of a 30-page report (Voting Together by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson) for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, which describes itself thus:
AREU is an independent research organisation based in Kabul. AREU’s mission is to conduct high-quality research that informs and influences policy and practice. AREU also actively promotes a culture of research and learning by strengthening analytical capacity in Afghanistan and facilitating reflection and debate.
Here's the key passage, I think:

There has been intense criticism of the August 2009 elections by international and Afghan commentators alike. But were they actually a failure? Most estimates are that around US$300 million was spent carrying out these elections in a “free and fair” manner. During campaigning and on election day, thousands of monitors came to the polls and four provincial council candidates lost their lives. Despite this, this research shows that Afghans have amalgamated existing structures of political activity with the newly-introduced SNTV system to create a hybrid, nontransparent and often fraudulent electoral system.

Yet at the same time, the primary purpose of elections is to renegotiate power between key political groups in a non-violent manner. Some power has exchanged hands in these elections, with certain winners, such as the Hazara, gaining some power in the provincial council in the study area and through presidential bargaining, and losers, most notably the Panjshiri Tajiks, losing some power in both of these areas. This transition has remained relatively free of violence thus far, particularly considering the fact that Afghanistan is still a country at war, with over 80,000 international troops currently in the country, and is experiencing the most intense fighting since the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001. During the election all major political groups engaged in the process of negotiating the structure of the Afghan government, even if not in a typical Western way envisioned by the international community. On a local level this study demonstrates that elders, commanders, religious figures and ordinary voters in Kabul Province entered into conversations about the issues that matter most to them, particularly when discussing provincial council candidates.

...

It is evident that international expectations concerning the 2009 elections in Afghanistan were vastly unrealistic. Democratic institutions such as elections do not function independently from their political and cultural settings. In a context in which an ongoing insurgency meant that much of the country was seriously underrepresented at the polls, and in the light of a flawed voter registration process that has been a poor substitute for a valid census, it was misguided to expect the 2009 elections to be a test of “democracy” in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the pervasion of “corrupt” practices in daily political life at a national and local level in Afghanistan
makes the levels of electoral fraud unsurprising.

From this factor alone it is clear that elections are a product of and inextricably linked to the society of which they are a part. As demonstrated by this report, political power is still very much based on highly localised political groups. Therefore, the fact that most candidates did not have developed platforms and that debates between candidates were generally not substantive is also logical given that gaining votes is still primarily a question of using personal appeals and material incentives to secure voting blocs. For this reason, the few attempts that have been made by international actors to develop a political culture among candidates, for example by encouraging the formation of issues-based blocs and party platforms, have met with limited success. Similarly, initiatives to develop and encourage “civil society” in Afghanistan have had little effect, since strong tribe- and kin-based political blocs already exist, fulfilling a function very similar to that of civil society in Western societies.

When thinking about the future of Afghanistan, how 2009’s elections continue to play out politically, and particularly the upcoming Wolesi Jirga elections, the international community could gain much by reshaping their expectations and considering many of their goals more realistically within the Afghan context.
[A number of concrete proposals follow.]


Noah Coburn has a forthcoming dissertation entitled Potters and Warlords in an Afghan Bazaar: Political Mobilization, Masterly Inactivity and Violence in Post-Taliban Afghanistan (Boston University).

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

One of the best things to happen in human history

We are coming up to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, part of the greater fall of communism and the Iron Curtain in Europe. This is one of the best things that ever happened in human history. It could all have gone very wrong.

All over the web there is commentary and reminiscences, and I urge you to have a look. The Toronto Globe and Mail is not a bad place to go. Their coverage was excellent 20 years ago, and I have just finished reading an amazing article by Doug Saunders and video by the same, both discussing what happened in East Germany.

The video is here.
(Click video tab if necessary.)

The article, "Half a life ago, Katrin blew the Wall down," is here. (Click article tab if necessary.)

Some excerpts (note the lack of mythologizing about Gorbachev or Reagan):
Through the bare tile walls of her solitary-confinement cell in Leipzig, Katrin Hattenhauer could feel a rumbling. As she lay on her bare, plank bed, her petite frame shook with a vibration from the main street outside, the sound of something large and heavy and determined.

She knew, from the air of distress among her Stasi guards, that something was going on. But it was damningly hard to make the distinction: Was this the thundering surge of huge numbers of people rising against the state, or of tanks and columns of soldiers restoring order?

It was Monday, Oct. 9, 1989. In a month, it would be her 21st birthday. It seemed unlikely she would live that long. Cancer had nearly killed her five years before, and now the Stasi, the East German secret police, had told her that they wanted her dead, soon.

She had been locked in isolation for five weeks, after being picked out of a crowd of hundreds and arrested for insurrection as she carried a large, cloth banner: “For an open country with free people.”

...

Unbeknownst to Katrin Hattenhauer, East Germany had erupted that Monday, in her name. The banner she had carried, and the air of martyrdom created by the arrest of her group of unknown students, had galvanized the nation.

During her confinement, the tiny, silent peace protests they had been holding on Mondays in the square of Leipzig's St. Nicholas Church had metamorphosed into a full-scale revolt with thousands of people, then into a mass insurrection with tens of thousands, then into a national revolution, bringing a million people onto the streets, that would precipitate the end of the Berlin Wall exactly a month later, on the night of Nov. 9.

When Berlin celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Wall's breach on Monday, it will mark a symbolically important event that was neither the beginning nor the end of anything. Communism would stagger on for a month after Nov. 9, and elections and German reunification wouldn't take place until well into 1990.

Nor was the Wall's fall the event that triggered the end of East German communism. That pivotal event, the day that ripped past from future, had taken place exactly a month earlier, in Leipzig, where pressure had been building quietly, for weeks and years, in a church courtyard.

Its eruption was what Katrin Hattenhauer had felt shaking her prison-cell bed. It was the eruption she and her friends had launched.

The rumbling she felt on Oct. 9 had been the force of 70,000 people marching past and occupying the city's downtown district. Tanks, dogs and train-loads of shells had been shipped into the city that morning, and stood waiting at the train station, along with thousands of troops.

The soldiers were under direct orders from Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic Republic, to prevent the occurrence of mass protests “from the start,” and, if provoked in any way, to respond “offensively.” Only four months earlier, tanks had cleared Beijing's Tiananmen Square of democracy protesters, killing hundreds. Mr. Honecker was not against a Chinese option. Slaughter seemed the logical outcome.

But the soldiers did not fire. They didn't even block anyone's path. Mr. Honecker was shocked, and only a few days later the magnitude of the Oct. 9 protest (and the even-larger ones encouraged by its lack of violence) would force him to resign.

Their decision not to shoot – apparently made without much discussion – owed much to the collapse of East German confidence. Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev had made it clear a year before that he wouldn't use Soviet troops to enforce communism in satellite states. Poland and Hungary had ceased to be communist earlier that year in peaceful, negotiated handovers, so they wouldn't provide troops.

But even more important was the tradition of calm, tranquil protest that began in Leipzig as “prayers for peace” with a few dozen people holding candles, expanded into the Monday demonstrations and then inspired the quiet queues of people who chanted open the Wall on Nov. 9.

On that Monday, the soldiers searched for provocations that might justify a violent response, but found none. “We were told we would be facing counterrevolutionaries,” one soldier explained later, “and we realized it was just people like us.”

...

The “peace prayer” protests (only a small fraction of the participants had religious beliefs) and environmental statements had not been intended to challenge the existence of the state. Nobody dared imagine that. But the mood in East Germany changed in 1989: Between the increasingly dramatic liberalizations occurring in the USSR under Mr. Gorbachev, the sense of economic collapse within the GDR and the quiet revolutions in Poland and Hungary, there was a desire for change.

And one of the only vehicles for change was the small circle of protesters in Leipzig.

“No one was dreaming that the Wall would fall,” Ms. Hattenhauer said. “That was unimaginable – 1989 was a year of escalation, where we had the feeling the state was getting more dangerous. People were being arrested faster and disappearing faster. Nobody had sensed that the system was kaput economically.”

By July, after news of Poland and Hungary ending communism had reached the public, the Monday protests were attracting hundreds of people. The Stasi and police would sometimes arrest and beat protesters – they had started to worry.

But the protesters became organized. There was a circle of half-a-dozen young students who became very adept at sidestepping the Stasi. Mr. Müller devised ways to stay in touch with other protest groups forming in different cities. And he developed a way to get videotapes of protests, and subtle messages of coming ones, smuggled out to the West, where they would be broadcast on TV stations that could be received in towns close to the border such as Berlin and Leipzig.

...

Three weeks after her release from prison, on Nov. 9, Katrin Hattenhauer took the train to Berlin. This was illegal, as she was still under arrest for insurrection and was not allowed to travel.

But she wanted to celebrate her 21st birthday, on Nov. 10, so she defied the Stasi and went to meet her friends at a bar on Bornholmer Strasse, near a fortified checkpoint. Later in the evening, guests started leaving because they had heard a rumour that the Wall had opened.

Nobody believed it until the bar owner himself shut down the place, ushered everyone out and made his way down the street to the crossing.

What had happened at the Wall that night, like what had happened in Leipzig in September and October, was by no means inevitable and relied entirely on the quiet accumulation of large numbers of people.

An official had announced, earlier that day, that more-liberal travel policies would soon be in effect. Without clear instructions, he mistakenly announced that they were in effect immediately. Within an hour, East Germans were rushing to the border crossings to find out if they could get visas to the West.

The bureaucratic confusion and the sheer number of people pressing at the gates, especially those at Berlin's Bernholmer Strasse checkpoint, eventually provoked the guards simply to throw up their hands, open the gates and walk away.

Shortly after that, the heroes of 1989 simply melted into the crowd. Unlike in Poland and Czechoslovakia, people such as Ms. Hattenhauer and Mr. Müller were not transformed into heads of state and cabinet ministers: There was a pre-existing German government waiting to absorb the reunified East.

Mr. Müller stayed east and had the family he had put off during the underground years, staying an environmental activist. Ms. Hattenhauer moved west and became an artist. Most of their colleagues followed similar paths: Now in their early 40s, they reminisce about the moment, half a lifetime ago, that they changed history.

“It was completely absurd: We didn't really believe it until we saw it,” Ms. Hattenhauer said while making me coffee in her flat in one of the quiet bedroom communities that make up much of the former West Berlin, now that the city's core has shifted sharply east.

“It was almost cute to see how the East Germans just went to see if it could possibly be true, and just by being there in such numbers they made it come true.

“For me, it was a sign of what could have happened had we gone to the Wall years earlier, instead of doing a typical German revolution where we all went to work during the day and then we went to the St. Nicholas Church afterwards and protested.”

She laughed at this, and reflected for a moment. “Maybe something would have happened much earlier if we'd done that, but we went about it in a very organized, very peaceful, German way, so it took a lot longer.”

It's all in the timing. And you need luck. Ask anyone who was at Tiananmen Square. Charles Kurzman's book on the Islamic revolution in Iran makes a similar point about timing, numbers, and luck.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

A meditation on the British cemetary in Kabul

From the At War blog of the New York Times. This of course is what caught my attention:
A Canadian television journalist who was in the graveyard the same afternoon I was there was struck by something closer to her home. On the walls surrounding the cemetery are lists of the dead since 2001. Plaques for the fallen British; for Americans; a few for Germans and for Canadians. The plaque for the Canadian dead with the country’s emblem, the maple leaf, etched in the middle, lists only those who had died through the end of 2006 as if Canadians soldiers had not died after that. The 30 Canadian troops killed in 2007, the 32 killed in 2008 and the 27 killed so far this year have no marker of their passing. She turned and said, “I called our embassy, it’s terrible; they haven’t added any names since 2006.” She wasn’t a journalist at that moment; she was a Canadian on foreign soil. We are most patriotic when we are far from home; the possibility of our own mortality, most present.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sabbatical score so far -- updated

Since classes ended in April, I have completed the following academic projects:

Reviews:
  • Charles Kurzman, Democracy Denied (Journal of World History, accepted for fall 2010)
  • Mark Pegg, A Most Holy War (Michigan War Studies Review, now available online)
  • Richard Kaeuper, Holy Warriors (The Medieval Review, submitted and accepted)
Article:
  • "Republics and Quasi-Democratic Institutions in Ancient India: Their Significance Today," for the forthcoming book The Secret History of Democracy (a rethinking and recasting of an earlier web-published article; forthcoming next year; submitted and accepted)
Not bad, but these projects and some family health problems have slowed progress on the book I'm supposed to write; a scrappy first draft of Chapter 1 is all I have written so far, though I have also partly revised the translation of the crucial text.

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This is your planet -- Moon over Sobreda, Portugal

This is your planet -- Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan, India


Pictures of the great annual camel and livestock fair from The Big Picture.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You can't trust anything these days: mixing up Kentucky and Tennessee

Patrick Neilsen Hayden at Making Light (thanks Brad DeLong):
John Keegan, author of the excellent The Face of Battle (1976) and many other books, is possibly the most widely-respected military historian alive. James M. McPherson is an eminent historian of the American Civil War; his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) is often called the best single-volume history of that conflict.

Keegan has now published his own history of the American Civil War, and McPherson has reviewed it in the New York Times. And by “reviewed,” I mean “discredited it for the ages,” if even only a portion of the factual errors McPherson cites are in fact present in Keegan’s book.

As usual at Making Light, the comments are well worth reading, and in this case add a great deal to the topic at hand.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Giant kites for celebrating the Day of the Dead in Guatemala

Click for a full-sized picture at The Big Picture.

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Christ as tourneyer

I have just finished reading this new book, Holy Warriors: The religious ideology of chivalry, by Richard Kaeuper, and I'll have much more to say about it later. Right now I just want to point out an interesting quotation that shows how one medieval warrior, writing a spiritual autobiography, visualized what he saw as the ideal knight's resemblance to Jesus.

The warrior was Duke Henry of Lancaster, also known as Henry of Grosmont, one of Edward III's best generals in the Hundred Years War. Here is what Kaeuper says on page 41:

Duke Henry sometimes wonderfully reveals his chain of thought, if indirectly. In discussing how the tears shed by the Blessed Virgin will wash the wounds of his own wretched body he comes to nasal wounds, a topic which puts the realist in him in mind of the blows that struck Christ's nose during his scourging. He comments, in all piety, that Christ's nose must have looked like that of a habitual tourneyer, and that his mouth must have been discolored and beaten out of shape. Here he writes with the voice of experience. Warming to his topic, he says that indeed Christ did fight in a tournament -- and won it, securing life for humanity. As a strenuous knight, his conception of imitating Christ readily turns to this martial version of the savior and his role.
Image: the cover of the book, which can be seen better at Google Books.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Word frequency in Charny's Questions on War

Courtesy of Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) I made a word cloud showing what words Charny used in his war questions. Click on the image to see the Wordle at proper size.

I am not surprised that "Charny" and "arms" are big; but I am rather taken aback by the size of "prisoner" and the near invisibility of "knight."

Wordle: Charny's Questions on War

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Ah, the good old days of divine monarchy and mass murder!

From the New York Times, an article on happier days at Ur:

A new examination of skulls from the royal cemetery at Ur, discovered in Iraq almost a century ago, appears to support a more grisly interpretation than before of human sacrifices associated with elite burials in ancient Mesopotamia, archaeologists say.

Palace attendants, as part of royal mortuary ritual, were not dosed with poison to meet a rather serene death. Instead, a sharp instrument, a pike perhaps, was driven into their heads.

Archaeologists at the University of Pennsylvania reached that conclusion after conducting the first CT scans of two skulls from the 4,500-year-old cemetery. The cemetery, with 16 tombs grand in construction and rich in gold and jewels, was discovered in the 1920s. A sensation in 20th century archaeology, it revealed the splendor at the height of the Mesopotamian civilization.

The recovery of about 2,000 burials attested to the practice of human sacrifice on a large scale. At or even before the demise of a king or queen, members of the court — handmaidens, warriors and others — were put to death. Their bodies were usually arranged neatly, the women in elaborate headdress, the warriors with weapons at their side.

C. Leonard Woolley, the English archaeologist who directed the excavations, a collaboration between Penn and the British Museum, eventually decided that the attendants had been marched down into burial chambers, where they drank poison and lay down to die. That became the conventional story....

The researchers, led by Janet M. Monge, a physical anthropologist at Penn, applied forensic skills to arrive at the probable cause of death in both cases.

There were two round holes in the soldier’s cranium and one in the woman’s, each about an inch in diameter. But the most convincing evidence, Dr. Monge said in an interview, were cracks radiating from the holes. Only if the holes were made in a living person would they have produced such a pattern of fractures along stress lines. The more brittle bones of a person long dead would shatter like glass, she explained.

Dr. Monge surmised that the holes were made by a sharp instrument and that death “by blunt-force trauma was almost immediate.”...


But what did this "process" smell like?

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Late for Hallowe'en: Boo!

US figures. From Mark Thoma via Brad DeLong.

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