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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Links Round-Up (Science & Technology Edition)

PZ Myers slaps down the absurd anti-science arguments of creationist/'intelligent design' proponents.

The case that is currently in front of the Supreme Court, MGM vs. Grokster, is the latest front of the music and movie industries war on peer-to-peer services. The major record labels and Hollywood movie studios have been desperately trying to stuff the P2P genie back in the bottle for years. It hasn't worked yet, but they are hoping that this time they will succeed. To be completely honest, their efforts so far have been completely counter-productive, encouraging a constant refinement of p2p technologies. The shutdown of Napster begat Audiogalaxy, the shutdown of which begat the various Gnutella-based clients, Kazaa, Grokster and so on, until the development of Bit Torrent, which is, to my mind, the best p2p technology by some distance. Articles to read: Slate, The New York Times, Salon, plus Boing Boing and Wired are providing constantly updated coverage.

Wired has a story about a group of High School students from Phoenix, all illegal immigrants from Mexico, who won the national underwater robot championships, even beating the team from MIT.

CNN has a story up about how Islamist terror groups maintain a presence on the web by outfoxing the various security services that try to shut them down.

And, finally, a man in Shanghai stabbed another man to death for...selling his online RPG sword.

|| RPH || 10:54 PM || |

Google: Un Symbole de l'Hyperpuissance Américaine

According to Der Spiegel there is increasing resentment in France to Google's power, which is seen as symbolic of America's global dominance of high technology and, particularly, the Internet. There is particular anger over Google's library project, which plans to digitize millions of volumes from the libraries of Stanford, Oxford, Harvard, and the New York Public Library, with French fears that, in time, the most globally popular works on French history and culture will be those written by native English speakers.

This is but the latest in a string of French complaints about American 'cultural imperialism'. I find the concept of 'cultural imperialism' to be a bit of a canard anyways; when I have walked by American fast food restaurants in foreign countries I have not seen GI's forcing people inside. The export of culture is dependent on how much appeal it has to foreign audiences, and this applies not just to American culture, but to any kind of culture. For instance, country music has little appeal outside of the United States, and so it has little presence in the global cultural lexicon. Rap music, on the other hand, has a tremendous worldwide appeal, and that is why American rappers can sell out arenas around the world and why local variants have popped up in many places, including France.

I quite like France personally, and I like the French people. I have family there and whenever I've been I've greatly enjoyed it, but I do get pretty bored by this sort of childish anti-American posturing. Disagreements with American foreign policy, fine. Disliking aspects of our society, fine. Kneejerk whining about absolutely everything to come out of America is irritating, especially when the same anti-américains are the first to complain when our own legions of the politically immature cook up stuff like "freedom fries". If, as the article mentions, the French do get their own searchable online library off the ground, then good for them. France has to get used to the fact of its reduced status in the world, and those French intellectuals and politicians who claim that they want an America that is more engaged with their concerns should realize that by constantly freaking out over everything that America does they are not exactly helping us, those Americans who want to see our country be a bit more multilateral, win the debate.

|| RPH || 7:09 PM || |

Protecting Ideas

In a comment to yesterday's post, 'Race and Religion', Robert Jubb asked, "would it be more acceptable to have a law banning those holding certain religious beliefs, or not holding any religious beliefs, from holding public office, than a law banning those of particular race or gender?" For what it's worth, I don't think it is acceptable to have laws that ban people from public office based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Although my original post was mostly about my own personal distinctions between the two concepts of race/ethnicity and religion, and the relative seriousness of abuse based on the two, this got me thinking about legal/public policy approaches to resolving such matters.

I think that the key distinction that I make on the topic is between ideas and people. Idealogical frameworks of all types (including religion) deserve, in my opinion, no special protection from the state. They should live, die, thrive, decline on their own depending on their appeal to the population at large. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of government deciding that certain ideas deserve protection, as in the case of legislation to ban incitement of religious hatred. If someone wants to say that Mohammed was a paedophile for his marriage to Aisha that is their business, and the state should not step in to protect the feelings of Muslims, because it is not, and never should it be, the state's job to hold hands and offer a consoling pat on the back.

On the other hand, I believe that people deserve protection, and the right to hold their ideas. This is why I have no particular problem with anti-discrimination legislation. There should be no barriers to employment or housing by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin etc. and I think that it is legitimate in such cases for the state to ensure equal access.

|| RPH || 5:05 PM || |

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Aryan Brotherhood on Trial

Did you know that one of the largest recent RICO trials has begun in Santa Ana, California? Probably not, as it seems to have had little play in the media. On trial is most of the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood, the infamously violent white prison gang. The AB was founded at California's San Quentin Prison in the 1960's in response to the rise of black and Hispanic prison gangs like La Nuestra Familia, the Black Guerilla Family, and the Mexican Mafia.

I've done some googling and come up with two articles that I think are very much worth reading. They cover a lot of the same ground, but I think they are both quite interesting on the history of the gang, its organizational structure, the power it developed within the prison system (and the crimes they committed to gain and maintain this power), and the federal operation to take it down.

Here's an excerpt from an article by Matthew Duersten that appeared in the LA Weekly in February:

From one rather warped perspective, the United States, which spends around $60 billion annually on its prison and jail systems, has been getting its money’s worth: The AB are the most lethal killers this country has produced outside of Delta Force. They are one of the “Big Four” of prison-born gangs in the U.S. — all of which first formed in California. Over the years they have perfected a sort of asymmetrical warfare in dealing with prison authorities. Their fearsome propensity for violence — not merely at the drop of the watch cap but before the cap even hits the ground — has made them legends within the penal system. In a 1992 study from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Brotherhood constituted less than one-tenth of a percent of the inmate population in the federal system — yet they were responsible for 18 percent of all its homicides. In 1999, an FBI agent said under oath that the figure was closer to 25 percent.

What’s more, the law-enforcement and penal branches of state and federal governments have built bigger and bigger prisons to house the very supercriminals who train themselves for the “posture of battle” (as Angela Davis described it) almost in direct proportion to the amount of punitive pressure placed on them by The Man. In this respect, the AB has flourished in the most regimented and isolated maximum-security prisons on Earth, including the enormous mall-like Supermaxes. In fact, the entire concept of Supermaxes was born out of violence committed by AB members. In 1983, within an eight-hour period in the dreaded federal pen at Marion, Illinois, inmates Clayton Fountain and “Terrible Tom” Silverstein butchered two correctional officers named Robert Hoffman and Merle Clutts. Hoffman was stabbed 40 times and managed to save two other officers before dying in the arms of his son, also a guard at the prison. Both Silverstein and Fountain had gotten free of their shackles by using counterfeit keys passed to them by other AB members. Thing was, they were already in Control Unit H, a supposed “prison within a prison” built especially to house them.

The Aryan Brotherhood (also known as The Brand) enjoyed decades of relatively undisturbed strength. As their senior leadership was composed of men serving life sentences there was little that the courts could do to stop them short of the death penalty. They also gained many advantages, both in power and in protection from Federal infiltration, from their unique organizational structure: unlike other gangs that concentrated on gaining strength of numbers to consolidate their power the Aryan Brotherhood chose a strategy of carefully selecting an elite, men who had proved their cunning and propensity for violence. These men controlled thousands of associates as well as a range of criminal operations within the prison system, as David Grann explained in the New Yorker:

The Brand, authorities say, established drug-trafficking, prostitution, and extortion rackets in prisons across the country. Its leaders, often working out of barren cells in solitary confinement, allegedly ordered scores of stabbings and murders. They killed rival gang members; they killed blacks and homosexuals and child molesters; they killed snitches; they killed people who stole their drugs, or owed them a few hundred dollars; they killed prison guards; they killed for hire and for free; they killed, most of all, in order to impose a culture of terror that would solidify their power. And, because the Brotherhood is far more cloistered than other gangs, it was able to operate largely with impunity for decades—and remain all but invisible to the outside world. “It is a true secret society,” Mark Hamm, a prison sociologist, told me.

For the first time, on August 28, 2002, that world cracked open. After more than a decade of trying to infiltrate the Brand’s operations, a relatively unknown Assistant United States Attorney from California named Gregory Jessner indicted virtually the entire suspected leadership of the gang. He had investigated hundreds of crimes linked to the gang; some were cold cases that reached back nearly forty years. In the indictment, which ran to a hundred and ten pages, Jessner charged Brand leaders with carrying out stabbings, strangulations, poisonings, contract hits, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, robbery, and narcotics trafficking. The case...could lead to as many as twenty-three death-penalty convictions—more than any in American history.


(Jessner) was accustomed, he explained, to murder cases, but he had been shocked by the gang’s brutality. “I suspect they kill more than the Mafia,” he said. “They kill more than any single drug trafficker. There are a lot of gang-related deaths on the streets, but they are usually more disorganized and random.” He paused, as if calculating various numbers in his head. “I think they may be the most murderous criminal organization in the United States.”

|| RPH || 3:50 AM || |

Destroy the Web!

Netdisaster. Fun.

Via PZ Myers.

|| RPH || 1:10 AM || |

Monday, March 28, 2005

Race and Religion

Bob Pitt from Islamophobia Watch has responded to my post from Saturday about his site. Since comments are turned off at his site, I am forced to reply here.

In his brief response he misses, completely, the point that I was making about the difference between religion and race:

Our basic mistake is to suppose that Islamophobia is a form of racism: "It is not – Islam is a religion, an ideological choice." Really? How come there are so few Muslims among white inhabitants of the United States, then? And rather more among people of colour in the Middle East? Well, obviously, they just made different individual choices.

There are several reasons why there are so few white converts to Islam in America - social stigma about the religion, ineffective missionary efforts, general lack of knowledge, simple disinterest. Yet this does not mean that any individual white American can not choose to convert to Islam. For instance, two of the best known American Muslims are white converts: Hamza Yusuf Hanson, founder of the Zaytuna Institute, and Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Both of these men, at some point in their lives, decided to become Muslims. That is an area over which they have choice, and the fact that their parents were Christians did not effect their ultimate choice. Yet the fact that their parents were white Americans of European descent means that neither man could become black or Chinese or Indian or whatever, if he wanted to change his race as he changed his religion. It is a physical impossibility.

This is the same in the Middle East. The same phenomena that work against white American conversion to Islam also apply to Middle Eastern Muslims (or Christians, for that matter) converting to other religions. A combination of social stigma, lack of information, and disinterest (plus the sharia mandate of the death penalty for 'apostasy') clearly inhibits the amount of people from Muslim backgrounds in the Middle East and North who are going to want to convert from Islam. Yet this does not mean that, say, the head of Al-Azhar University could not become a Buddhist or a Christian if he really wanted to. He wouldn't, but he could.

Essentially, the difference between race and religion is that one is an unchangeable fact of being and the other is a belief system, an ideology. Attacking someone's beliefs is, in my opinion, far less repulsive than attacking their race. For instance, I don't have any particular problem with people attacking Condoleeza Rice for her conservative political views, but I get quite irritated when people dragoon her race into critiques. I think that the same thing is true of attacks on Islam. I think that the most extreme right-wing ranting on the topic of Islam is, frankly, deranged, but I think that it is insane in the same way as their most extreme attacks on political liberalism (and political liberals) are insane. You can choose your beliefs, but not your skin.

|| RPH || 10:51 PM || |

Ajax and the Jews

In today's New York Times there is an article on the philo-semitic fan culture of the Amsterdam football club Ajax, the venomous reaction it spawns from rival supporters, and the increasing discomfort with which the club's management (and some members of Holland's small Jewish community) view it.

AMSTERDAM - Just minutes before a high-stakes soccer game not long ago between this city's home team, Ajax, and their rivals from the southern city of Eindhoven, a chant built to a roar in the hall packed with supporters where they were serving plastic pint cups of Dutch beer.

"Jews, Jews, Jews!" thousands of voices cried.

Outside, souvenir stalls sold Israeli flags or flags with the Ajax logo, the head of the fabled Greek warrior, emblazoned inside the star of David. Fans arrived with hats, jackets and scarves embroidered with Hebrew writing. Until recently, the team's official Web site even featured the ringing tones of Hava Nagila and other Jewish songs that could be downloaded into fans' mobile phones.

Few, if any, of these people are Jewish.

Ajax's identification with the Jewish can be traced back to before World War II, when Amsterdam had a substantial Jewish minority and Ajax was located in the east of the city near the main Jewish quarter. Many of its supporters were Jewish, as well as a handful of players and directors. After the annihilation of Dutch Jewry in the Holocaust the issue lay dormant for several decades until being reborn under the taunts of supporters of other clubs like Feyenoord Rotterdam, Den Haag, and PSV Eindhoven. In reaction, the Ajax supporters (by now almost entirely non-Jewish) defiantly adopted Jewish symbols like the Star of David as part of their iconography.

If you are interested in reading more, I highly recommend Simon Kuper's Ajax, de Joden, Nederland which, fortunately, can be read in English translation at the Ajax USA site.

|| RPH || 5:09 PM || |

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nefarious Beasts Stalk The Land

A standing ovation for Harry of Harry's Place for a magisterial dismembering of the arguments of a new site called Islamophobia Watch. This latter site is a pretty good example of what I generally think of as reflexive Islamophilia, the tendency of some Western Leftists to offer an intellectual free pass to Islam and Muslims because it is non-Western. By forcing the billion or so Muslims in the world into the magic box of 'anti-imperialist/oppressed People of Color' that fits their Manichaean views of the world this species of Leftist is as bad as the brigati Eurabiani on the right, who see all Muslims as sleeper cells for Caliphal revivalist fantasies.

Islamophobia Watch's mission statement claims that "Islamophobia, as a racist tool of Western Imperialism, is strongly advocated by the political right but has also found an echo in the left, particularly sections of the left in France and the countries that make up the United Kingdom." The most obvious flaw with this statement is that 'Islamophobia' is a form of racism. It is not - Islam is a religion, an ideological choice. It is not comparable to race in any way, as Muslims come from all racial backgrounds. Anti-Muslim discourses may simply be cloaking devices for racism (who doubts that when the BNP discuss Islam they are referring to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and not white Muslims from, say, Bosnia?) but more usually, I'd say, they are about Islam as a religious and ideological system and are disconnected from race. There are any number of ultra-right blogs where you can find comment sections that froth over at the mention of Islam yet these same people are generally happy to express support of Christian minority groups (the Copts, the Maronites, the Armenians, etc.) in the Muslim world. If we are looking at the world through our usual Western confusion on the issue of race, does a Copt look much different from an Egyptian Muslim? Something besides racism is at work here.

Despite claiming to be opposed to 'seeing Islam as a monolithic bloc' this is precisely what Left Islamophilia does. It sees Islam as, monolithically, the 'enemy of my enemy' (their enemy being the Western Right, or even, in some cases, Western society itself) and thus worthy of more or less uncritical support. Otherwise, why would the SWP be in alliance with the British branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, in domestic ideology at least, represent most of the things that the Western Left claims to reject? The problem with those who wave 'Islamophobia' as a bludgeon is that they refuse to countenance the idea that people may have intellectual problems with Islam that arise from reasoned consideration, and not from unthinking bigotry. As if someone with a liberal perspective on the world is really going to think that Sharia law is worth supporting if they've thought about it for more than, say, five minutes!

Seeing Muslims purely as victims of 'the West' takes away their agency in their own affairs, and denies the fact that the world is a complex place. As Harry correctly points out, whatever your position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impossible to dispute that 'Western Imperialism' saved many thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Serbian death squads. Elsewhere, is it not a bit questionable to see Salafism as purely a reaction to the West? I would say that, in the context of Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere Islamism has generally shown itself to be more predatory towards the local population than any Western interferences.

This is not all that is at work here, though. One of the major ideological changes in the Westen Left over the last fifty or so years has been the fetishisization of Otherness, the lauding of the perceived purity of non-Western cultures as opposed to the corruption of our own. This tendency can be seen quite clearly in the way that this mindset reacts to cultural exchange. When it moves from West to East (or North to South) it is 'cultural imperialism'. Horrified Leftists cry that the young Arab or Indian or Thai or Ugandan who is pulling on a pair of blue jeans or listening to a rap cd is really surrendering part of their (beautiful and wonderful, dontchaknow) traditional culture to nefariously Western forces. Considering that, closer to home, these sorts are enthusiastic about the burial of our own traditional culture(s), is this not completely hypocritical? In any culture there are things that are worth preserving, but also much that is worth jettisoning (or at least changing) and sometimes this change comes about through the adoption of ideas from elsewhere. Cultural exchange is an historical constant.

|| RPH || 7:02 PM || |

Friday, March 25, 2005

Baghdad - Medellin with a Shawarma

The LA Times investigates the Iraqi capital's insane crime rate:

"As Iraq's newly elected leaders cobble together the foundation of a fledgling democracy, a killing epidemic has taken hold of this troubled nation. Ministry of Health statistics show that record numbers of Iraqi civilians are coming to violent ends, particularly here in the capital.

Assassinations and bombings have garnered worldwide attention. But Iraqi officials say violence unrelated to the insurgency is growing, and Iraqis are more likely to die at the hands — or in the cross-fire — of kidnappers, carjackers and angry neighbors than in car bombings.

In some cases, authorities say, the motives are so opaque that they cannot tell whether they are investigating a crime disguised as an act of war or a political assassination masquerading as a violent business dispute.

In Baghdad alone, officials at the central morgue counted 8,035 deaths by unnatural causes in 2004, up from 6,012 the previous year, when the U.S. invaded Iraq. In 2002, the final year of Saddam Hussein's regime, the morgue examined about 1,800 bodies."

From everything I've read Iraq in general, and Baghdad in particular, has experienced a massive growth in criminal activity since the American invasion, yet with everything else that is happening in that country this factor has dropped somewhat off the radar of Westerners. 8,000 murders is pretty spectacular, even allowing for the insurgency.

|| RPH || 5:18 AM || |

Pentecostalism and the Berbers

Randy has an interesting post up about Berber conversions to evangelical Christianity. This fits in with some of the stuff I discussed earlier this month. Have a look.

I've just started a book on Algeria, so maybe that will shed some light on the background. There was also a fascinating article on the Berbers in National Geographic several months ago. Unfortunately the whole thing isn't online, so you'll need to go to a library to see it, although an excerpt can be seen here.

|| RPH || 5:03 AM || |

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Death of Cod

The Scientific American reports that a group of scientists from the University of New Hampshire have fully quantified how much Atlantic cod stocks have collapsed since 1850.

Using daily fishing logs from the 1850s--which recorded the number of fish caught, their size and their location--together with a population modeling program, Andrew A. Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire and his colleagues reconstructed the total biomass of cod that existed in the area at the time. The team calculated that there were 1.26 million metric tons of the fish on the Scotian Shelf in 1852, compared with less than 50,000 total metric tons--and just 3,000 metric tons from adult fish--today. "Despite stringent regulations for the last six to 10 years and a slight rebuilding of fish stocks, the best estimate of adult cod biomass on the Scotian Shelf today comprises a mere 38 percent of the catch brought home by 43 Beverly schooners in 1855," the scientists report.

What's interesting about this is that it finally quantifies just what has been lost. The collapse of Canadian cod stocks in the early 1990's proved economically devastating for much of Atlantic Canada (and fishing areas in Maine). It came about because of a complicated interplay of poor governmental management, overfishing, and environmental factors. It's an interesting (and fairly grim) topic. One to keep your eye on, as other fishing areas of the world are also on the edge of rushing over the precipice that the Grand Banks hit in the early 90's.

|| RPH || 7:10 PM || |

Gospel Music: Hebridean, Not African?

Recently my mother sent me a fascinating story from the Scotsman on Sunday about Willie Ruff, a music professor at Yale who believes that the musical roots of the unique singing style of African-American gospel music lie Scotland, and not West Africa as it commonly supposed.

Ruff’s journey of discovery started as a child in his home Baptist church in Alabama, when he would listen to elders present the line, which predates, and was an influence on, gospel music.

"I remember this captured my imagination as a small child. The elders, some born into slavery, say the lines in unison. They were dirge-like, impassioned melodies. They were illiterate and poor, they had nothing, but they had that passion in their singing. I, like everyone else, assumed it was unique to black congregations in the United States, having grown out of slavery."

But last year, during a casual visit to the Presbyterian church in Cumberland, Alabama, Ruff stumbled on a predominantly black congregation that sang the same way as the Baptist congregation of his childhood.

"Not only were they singing the same psalms, they were singing in the same deeply profound way, with the same passion which cries out. The tears began to flow."

They believed the method of worship came from Africa, but Ruff started to ask whether white Presbyterian congregations sang in the same way.

The academic began researching at the Sterling Library at Yale, one of the world’s greatest collections of books and papers. He found records detailing how Highlanders had settled in North Carolina in the 1700s. "I found evidence of slaves in North Carolina who could speak only Gaelic. I also heard the story of how a group of Hebrideans, on landing at Cape Fear, heard a Gaelic voice in the dialect of their village. When they rounded the corner they saw a black man speaking the language and assumed they too would turn that colour because of the sun. When I made these connections, I thought: ‘That’s it, I’m going to the Hebrides.""

A chance meeting with James Craig, a piper with the Royal Scots, put Ruff in touch with congregations in Lewis and Donald Morrison, a leader of singing.

"When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: ‘That’s us!’

"When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."

I have no way of knowing how accurate this is musically, as I haven't been to any kind of church service (besides weddings and funerals) in the best part of a decade, but from an historical perspective it makes a certain amount of sense. Scots played a major role in American slavery, as both plantation owners and as overseers, and there are other cultural links between Scotland (and the Scots-Irish from Ulster) and African-America, in areas like the blues and Southern cuisine (which amalgamates British, African, and other influences).

|| RPH || 5:40 AM || |

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Photoblog: A Long Walk On An Ugly Day

Yesterday I set out from my home in Astoria, Queens on a long walk. The weather was a sort of weak drizzle, which, although unpleasant, was quite good for capturing the Sunday desolation of the rather gloomy industrial areas I was (mostly) wandering though. My original plan was to walk down through Brooklyn and over the Williamsburg Bridge to Delancey Street in Manhattan. From there the plan was to walk up through the Lower East Side and the East Village to Union Square, where I would get the train home. Unfortunately, the battery on my digital camera died when I got to Williamsburg, so I only got about half of the distance covered. Still, it was a pretty reasonable walk, taking around an hour and a half to get to New York City's main nexus of hipsterism.

As ever, click on the thumbnails for a larger version of the picture.

After leaving home I stopped in at the corner deli at Broadway and Crescent Street to pick up a bottle of water(L) before continuing up Broadway, where I took the picture on the right of 'Freddy's Street Meat' (as it's known), at the corner of Broadway and 30th Street.

In Queens the N and W trains run overground as they head up 31st Street through Long Island City and Astoria to the end of the line at Ditmars Boulevard.

As you walk down 31st Street from Astoria into Long Island City the neighborhood becomes steadily less residential and more industrial, such that on a Sunday it's really empty (l). There are still a fair amount of people around, as you can see from the poster for a Brazilian evangelical church on the right.

These are two more pictures from 31st Street. On the left is a little sign on the front yard of an abandoned house at the corner of 38th Avenue. The Coptic Church on the right is by the corner of 39th Avenue.

31st Street brings you straight to Queens Plaza, a traffic-swamped no-man's land, where the Queensboro Bridge belches out its cargo into a maze of junctions, where Jackson Avenue, Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, 21st Street, and 31st Street all meet.

Queens Plaza is not just busy at ground level. Several stories above your head the entire area is covered in a metal latticework that supports the N, W, and 7 trains as they arrive and depart from Queensboro Plaza station.

On the far side of Queens Plaza from 31st Street is Jackson Avenue, where you can finally see the Citibank Tower (L) shimmering like a spaceship in the distance. It's a pretty incongruous sight when set against the rather grimy street-level reality of Long Island City (r).

Walking down Jackson Avenue is a curious experience, taking you from the light industrial grime with which the area has long been associated (L) through the area's relatively recent shoots of gentrification (R).

At the junction of Jackson Avenue and 14th Street I crossed the street to the Pulaski Bridge, which runs over the canal that separates Brooklyn from Queens and provides superb views across the East River to Manhattan.

On the other side of the bridge is the heavily Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, which is happily tidy and residential after the deserted industrial gunkiness that is (most of) Long Island City.

I lived for a time in Greenpoint, so I swung by my old building on Franklin Street and took a picture (R).

Between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which are both fairly bustling residential neighborhoods, there's an industrial buffer zone which is pretty busy during the day but completely deserted and wildly creepy by night. When I lived in Greenpoint I'd often go to Williamsburg to have a drink or hang out with my cousin Ben, and I'd always get mega paranoid walking through this bit on my way home.

The other barrier between the two neighborhoods is McCarren Park, which gets really busy on nice summer days, with families, barbecues, ball games, and general hanging out. This was not one of those days, as you can see from the shot of the tennis courts on the left. Once you are past the park you are in the North Side of Williamsburg, the center of all that is hip(ster) in New York today, a huge agglomeration of artists, musicians, and hangers-on. Galleries, bars, restaurants, concerts, exhibitions, boutiques, questionable hairstyles, drug habits - its all here. Over the last couple of years it has been slowly beginning to break up as the yuppies begin to move in and rents shift upwards. The pic on the right was taken at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street, where the L train gets out. Unfortunately, this was the point at which the battery on my camera died, thus prematurely ending my walk.

|| RPH || 4:51 AM || |

The Principles Project

Earlier this month I mentioned that I went along to a conference organized by the Principles Project. Basically, the Principles Project was an attempt to articulate core progressive principles, a sort of statement of liberal intent. Having never participated in a political conference like that, it was quite an interesting experience. Anyways, over the weekend there was an article about the project in the Washington Post which is worth a read.

"The Principles Project's declarations represent a partial answer to two questions that have percolated in Washington since the November election. One is whether the grass-roots activity and political energy that was mobilized on the Democratic side against President Bush would continue after his reelection.

"This is an antidote to the disappointment right after the election," said Rollert, the chairman of the project. At the same time, Rollert added, he and his fellow organizers believed that "we on the left" had not matched conservatives in thinking in a long-term way about the ideas and values that drive politics. "This is an attempt to think not just about the election cycle but through 10 or 20 election cycles."

The effort also helps answer what some of the big Democratic-supporting independent groups that were created to influence the 2004 election will do now that their original mission ended in defeat.

The Principles Project has received endorsements and modest financial support from such groups as America Coming Together, the big labor-supported effort that spent heavily to promote Democratic nominee John F. Kerry in key swing states."

|| RPH || 1:50 AM || |

Monday, March 21, 2005

That's Not Your Hairstyle!

Yesterday my mother sent me a remarkable story from The Guardian. Basically, to sum it up, Olivia Acton, a (white) 13 year-old student at Middleton Technology College, Rochdale, got her hair braided when she was on vacation in the Canary Islands. Unremarkable, so far. Then, she returned to school and was told to go home and not return until she had removed them. The wrinkle in this story is that the school allows two black students to have their hair in...braids. When pressed about this the school's headteacher, Alison Crompton, said, "We don't allow any extreme hairstyles at the school. We are a high-achieving school with high standards. We don't allow any street culture into school. If we didn't allow some leeway for their cultural and ethnic background I think it would probably be discriminatory."

I dunno, maybe it's me, but if I'd imagine that the parents of the black girls don't appreciate their daughters' hairstyles being considered 'extreme' and 'street'. Speaking personally, I am not a fan of white people having cornrows, braids, or dreadlocks, or black people dying their hair blonde, not because I think it is some kind of 'cultural appropriation', but because I think it looks pretty silly. But that's a personal aesthetics call, nothing more. How is it the headteacher's business to be a vigilante patrolling the boundaries of 'culture', to tell people how they should or should not dress or style their hair? There are bigger issues at hand.

More particularly, this ties back to a point that I made in my December essay on multiculturalism, that ideological multiculturalism, in its desire to 'celebrate diversity' by calcifying difference, is explicitly anti-individual and weirdly coterminous to nationalisms of all forms that insist there is an 'authentic' way to be a member of any group. Perhaps I am hopelessly libertarian, but I don't think it is anyone but the individual's responsibility and choice as to how they approach the world, especially on benign matters like hairstyles, clothes, music choice, reading matter, and so on. Everyone should have the right to approach the world in whatever way they choose, as long as that doesn't impinge on others' freedoms. If that means white suburban teens dressing in baggy clothes and talking like they're from Brownsville, then that's fine, it's their choice. The ideological multiculturalism that says that there are boundaries beyond which the European/European-descendant cannot pass because of fears of 'appropriation' implicitly implies that all members of other groups cannot behave, dress, or think in ways that might be considered, by some arbitrary standard, 'not of their culture'. Which is, of course, a direct attack on personal liberty.

Update, 21/3/2005, 6:43pm: Having posted this, I decided to reactivate this thread on Dissensus. Worth a look.

|| RPH || 6:33 PM || |

Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Culture in the Islamic World

Grim weather here in New York today, but I'm gonna go out and shoot some pictures for a new photoblog entry. Anyways, just quickly, here's a couple of things I've seen recently that I've thought were interesting.

First, from the Christian Science Monitor, "Pakistan's Antidote to Extremism: First Art's School":

Last month, President Pervez Musharraf made an announcement that many here say could reshape the cultural landscape.

No, he didn't trumpet the capture of some one-eyed mullah. He opened Pakistan's first-ever performing-arts academy. This might seem frivolous in a country with endemic poverty and thousands of hard-line Islamist seminaries. But many liberal Pakistanis say this small step is downright revolutionary.


Pakistan's arts scene has been at a low point for decades, but reached its nadir during the 1977-88 dictatorship of Gen. Zia-ul Haq. Citing national security needs during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, General Zia curbed artistic expression. Many artists went underground for fear of being declared "un-Islamic."

Changing Pakistan's cultural mindset and weakening the grip of Islamists will not be easy, Mr. Mohyeddin admits. "This Islamic influence is the sword of Damocles that hangs over our heads. Dancing, singing, these are anathema to the Islamists, for they can only lead to the further de-Islamization of our souls. The biggest thing is the stigma, the prejudice. This is still seen as disreputable work."

Also, there's two documentaries that have been made recently rap music in the context of the, uh, 'difficult relations' between Palestinians and Israelis. One is called 'Channels of Rage' about two rappers from Israel, one a Jewish mc named Subliminal and the other an Arab named Tamer Nafer. The documentary is about how their one-time friendship becomes strained and collapses during the intifada. The other one that is coming out is by an Arab-American director named Jackie Salloum, and it's called Slingshot Hip-Hop. It follows several different Palestinian rap groups in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. On the basis of the trailer on the site I'd be very interested in seeing this when it comes out.

Oh, and Lebanon has withdrawn from the Eurovision song contest because of a law on the books that prevents Lebanese television from showing anything involving Israel (as far as I can tell, the article is kind of vague as to what the problem is exactly). I don't really have any comments beyond the fact that I think that the Lebanese people could survive being exposed to a cheesily-grinning Israeli Jew singing a tacky song. For those you who are reading from outside Europe and are unfamiliar with it, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual cheesefest bringing together young people from all over Europe in musical competition. It is a wonderfully kitschy institution, responsible for, among other things, bring Abba to international attention after they represented Sweden in 1974. Israel itself has had one of the wilder winners, the transexual chanteuse Dana International, who won in 1998.

|| RPH || 6:45 PM || |

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The British Press

This week Slate has been running a series by Sarah Lyall, a New York Times bureau reporter in London, called 'An American Perspective on the British Press', which is both quite good and quite annoying, because I had been toying with writing just such a piece.

One thing that I, and the rest of my family for that matter, have always enjoyed about British broadsheets (the serious newspapers, as opposed to the tabloids, which I'll get to later in this post) is how much less seriously they take themselves than their American counterparts. This is particularly true in regards to objectivity, for so long the Holy Grail of American journalism, because British papers make no pretense of following higher principles. As openly partisan institutions, they are generally a lot more fun to read than, say, the serially stuffy New York Times. This straight-forward angling worries Lyall, who says that "With so many points of view, so much spinning, and so much news-page can seem impossible to answer the simplest of questions: What happened yesterday?" While I can understand her position as someone who has grown up with the American journalist tradition and (presumably) went to the kind of journalism school that hammers home the importance of objectivity, I don't think it's that big a deal. Once you've cracked the codes as to who the papers are writing for (The Guardian for bearded and be-sandaled geography teachers, The Daily Telegraph for harrumphingly retired colonels in the Home Counties, The Daily Mail for net-curtain twitching Middle England) then it is quite easy to correct in your mind for bias and reach some kind of objective understanding of what happened.

In fact, using this technique, the easiest way is to buy multiple papers, like my parents do. They get both The Guardian and The Times, and generally figure that the truth lies somewhere between what is presented by the two of them. Personally, I like the fact that the different parts of the British media are quite open about their ideological biases, unlike the constipated liberalism of the NYT that hides under its status of 'the paper of record' or Fox News's ludicrous 'We Report, You Decide' motto.

But that's the broadsheets, which, although they seem quite remarkable to American eyes, are nothing compared to the feral alien-ness of the tabloids. Sure, there are tabloid newspapers in American cities, but they are but a pale shadow of their British counterparts. The two we've got here in New York, The Daily News and The New York Post come across as sober and starchy compared to the salacious prurience of the British 'red tops'. The New York tabloids cover celebrity gossip to a certain degree, as well as weird stories, but are nowhere near as single-minded in their hounding of their celebrity quarries, nor are they as funny. Perhaps my favorite tabloid in Britain is the Evening Standard, which is the London evening paper run by Associated Media. Quite often I would disagree very strongly with its right-wing politics, but what I've always enjoyed about is that it is so shamelessly what it is, and glories in it: maniacally London-supremacist, open when it hates someone (whoever their photo editor is is particularly cruel), and prone to publishing all kinds of scaremongering and salacious nonsense. It doesn't take itself seriously, unlike the New York tabloids (which sort of do, although the News is a much better paper than the Post), and is consequently all the better for it.

I think that the differences between the American and British mainstream media can also explain part of the reason that political blogging has made less of an impact in Britain. In America, the media has, until quite recently, generally been quite neutered. This is especially true outside of big cities where decades of media consolidation have reduced local papers to collections of clippings from the wires. Much of the American media has been, for decades, lacking the pizzaz of the British press, that entertainment quotient, that passion. In reveling in its own somnolent sobriety, it has completely ignored the fact that a lot of people want to read something fiery, with open and unashamed bias, and that most people who are serious consumers of media are sophisticated enough to decode what is presented to them. Thus they've left the door open for the bloggers to build substantial audiences quickly, because the bloggers are genuinely providing something different from the American mainstream media: open spin on the day's events for the portion of the population that wants it. In Britain, contrastingly, the media provides, cheerfully, the full range of bias already, such that the biggest British bloggers only attract a small fraction of the traffic that goes to American sites like Instapundit and Daily Kos.

|| RPH || 10:44 PM || |

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Bowery and the Changing Face of New York

For all pictures, click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version.

Like all great cities, New York is always changing. Of course, being New York, this takes on a more extreme form than elsewhere. Like a snake shedding its skin, every couple of years the city sloughs off its earlier form to reveal a new face to the world. If Rome is the Eternal City, New York is city of 'Today? Yeah. Tomorrow? Probably. The day after that? Probably not.' The spirit may endure but the faces that walk the streets change, and even the streets themselves change. Over the last decade or so, perhaps no single district of the metropolis has embodied this impermanence better than the Lower East Side/East Village. And the heart of this transformation is The Bowery, the great thoroughfare that runs from Astor Place in the East Village down to the bottom edge of the Lower East Side.

Always an iconic roadway, it has lived many lives, and today it is nearing the end of yet another transformation, equivalent to the moment when a plastic surgery patient has the bandages removed and can see all the details of their new face for the first time. It has always been quite an iconic street, running at a diagonal through lower Manhattan and passing through several distinct neighborhoods while never really belonging to any of them. The story of the gentrification of The Bowery is the story of the transformation of much of downtown writ large.

"It's just a construction site now, girders and planks strewn on the floor. Instead of giant picture windows and balconies, there are unfinished walls and a sheer drop. But use your imagination: In a few months, this will be a glorious 16th-floor penthouse, complete with panoramic views, Sub-Zero fridge, and Italian bathroom fixtures. For $4.4 million, you can hover over all of downtown Manhattan like some kind of god, absorbing the sunlight that once flowed west down Spring Street. You can gaze down upon the crumbling tenements far below you, the lamp stores, the scrawny men who shuffle in and out of the flophouse next door. Your address is 195 Bowery and you are part of the transformation of a street once synonymous with bleak failure into a new millionaire's row.

Up and down the northern end of the Bowery, luxury apartment buildings are shooting up over the low-rise thoroughfare like iron weeds, framed by two nearly completed 16-story megaliths: 195 Bowery and Gwathmey Siegel's "Sculpture for Living," a curvaceous glass tower rising above Astor Place, where the asking prices range from almost $3 million to over $12 million. In between is the controversial (and nearly completed) Avalon Chrystie Place at Houston Street, with its giant Whole Foods and YMCA. If you consider all the current and planned activity, there's likely to be at least 600 or 700 pricey new apartments on the street. To keep pace, developers may have to bus in the rich—just as long as they call the buses jitneys. Sure, this instant infusion of wealth sounds like a grotesquely accelerated version of what's happened elsewhere in the city. Except this isn't elsewhere: It's the Bowery, a legendary slum."

What I find really fascinating is how quickly this has happened. When I lived in Britain I generally came back to New York and so I was able to see how the city was changing at pretty regular intervals. First came the general cleansing of the city - the removal of graffiti from the subways, the lifting of the cloud of menace that hung over the city when we left in the early 90's. That was followed by the spectacular economic boom of the late 1990's, where vast quantities of money were going to Manhattan's wealthy; a point I remember my dad making when we were visiting in about '98/'99 when he said something along the lines of "you can almost smell all the money that's being made at the moment in Manhattan."

This combination of factors created an enormous property boom that continues in New York City to this day. Prices in the traditional bourgeoisie stomping grounds of the Upper West and Upper East Sides have shot into the stratosphere, with the side effect of forcing many of those who would ordinarily have lived in those neighborhoods to go look elsewhere. With crime rates having shrunk at a dramatic rate many started moving into the once-Bohemian East Village and then, ultimately, into the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that was for well over a century the emblematic Downtown slum, the site of succeeding waves of immigration, where the Puerto Ricans and Chinese (and white junkie/squatter/rebels) had taken over from the Italians and Jews who had taken from the Germans and the Irish who had taken over from the native-born Anglo-Saxon poor.

The speed with which the neighborhood has changed is remarkable. In early 1998, when I was 17, we came back for my dad's cousin Marian's wedding, and on one of the afternoons my sister and I went to Alphabet City because my sister wanted to hit some of the junk stores that were then clustered in the area to get some cheap clothes. Already at that point there were clear shoots of revival, but mostly the area was rundown and pretty grimy, gap-toothed streets with empty lots standing between seedy-looking tenements, and junkies staring into space on street corners. Today, only eight years later, virtually all of that has gone, with the exception of the neighborhood's eastern edge on Avenue D, but even that is conceivably not long for its roughness.

The Bowery itself has experienced a remarkable change. Where, on that same day out, we were hassled by a prostitute and her pimp who were suggesting to me that I pimp my sister out, there is now a fancy bistro-type place. The Bowery, at least north of Houston, now has the same 'open-air young bourgeois theme park' vibe that the rest of the East Village has acquired in recent years. Don't get me wrong, as I'm not one of those people who is nostalgiac for the city's high crime days. The new, safer New York City is a vast improvement. It's just that it's a remarkable change from the down-at-heel vibe of its recent past. Now, unless you are really lucky, you can't find somewhere to live downtown without dropping at least $1000 a month. The bars that charge $6 a beer are full. The modish restaurants are swarmed. On a Saturday evening in nice weather the streets around Tompkins Square Park, once a notorious drug zone, are filled with fresh-faced youths from all over the tri-state area.

Yet this is nothing new for the area when you pull back and look at history. The story of this neighborhood is one of constant change. The community in which Martin Scorcese set his first real classic, Mean Streets, no longer really exists in any meaningful sense. Little Italy is gone, besides a row of restaurants on Mulberry Street that exist solely for tourists and Italian-Americans from the outer boroughs and the suburbs feeling nostalgiac for the neighborhood that, with its mafiosi, its poverty, its tightly-knit community, the pizzerias and bakeries, and its San Gennaro Festival, was always what people thought of when they pondered Italian-America. In contrast, Chinatown has grown at an exponential rate, overtaking most of what was left of Little Italy. As you walk south on The Bowery from Astor Place the change comes slowly, as the restaurants and bars slowly merge into the Chinese-owned restaurant supply stores before, finally, the stores become almost entirely Chinese around the junction of The Bowery, Canal Street, and the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Bowery generally marked the border between the boundaries of Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side, of course, is famous for what it once was: the center of early 20th century Jewish New York, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe lived cheek-by-jowl in the tenements that overlooked the teeming streets. Then it became infamous for its heroin trade, for its high crime rate, and for the rebellious squatters who colonized much of the abandoned housing stock. Yet the Lower East Side, too, has seen a rapidly spreading gentrification in recent years. What had, for decades, been a fairly notorious neighborhood is now home to an increasing number of stores selling such proletarian goods as antiques, vintage clothes, and microbrewed beers.

The Lower East Side is the last domino to fall within the gentrification of Lower Manhattan. First, those who couldn't afford to live in Greenwich Village as it moved upmarket moved to SoHo. Then, when SoHo prices shot into the stratosphere, the overspill went to the East Village, and when that got to pricey, people started moving to the Lower East Side. The gentrification of the Lower East Side has pushed many young people to move across the river to Brooklyn, primarily to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which has also seen their own gentrifications beginning. Now, as prices soar in Williamsburg, the art rebel types are slowly moving deeper into Brooklyn, to neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, which were, and still are to some degree, seriously notorious neighborhoods.

I don't tend to have much sympathy for those who complain about such changes ruining the 'flavor' of the city, as if losing the sex stores around Times Square was some sort of unnecesary concession to the dread Middle America (of course, those stores are now coming back). Despite fears that the poor will be priced out of the city, this is still a city of the rich, the poor, and the middle class. As some neighborhoods move upwards, others move downwards, becoming the new homes to the city's newest immigrants, those who have arrived to attempt to make it in New York. New York City is somewhere that is always changing; people are always coming and going, nothing stays still for long. The transformation of The Bowery and the neighborhoods it cuts through means only that the city still lives, and that it continues as before. Only a fool could hope to stop New York doing what it has always done: change.

|| RPH || 5:04 PM || |

Blue Lobster

This is a fun story:

One lobster in a million is blue, and the reason is not that it has been holding its breath.

A combination of red and blue pigments in the shell of a live lobster creates a mottled camouflage of indeterminate hue that blends in with the ocean floor.

The red comes from the molecule astaxanthin, a cousin of beta carotene, which gives carrots their orange color and is a source of vitamin A. Astaxanthin, which looks red because it absorbs blue light, also colors shrimp shells and salmon flesh. The blue pigment in lobster shells also comes from crustacyanin, which is astaxanthin clumped together with a protein. "It's a gorgeous bluish color, almost an ice blue color," said Dr. Harry A. Frank, a professor of chemistry at the University of Connecticut. In an article that will be published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, Dr. Frank and colleagues at Connecticut and Bowdoin College report data explaining why astaxanthin is red, but the astaxanthin-protein compound crustacyanin is blue.

|| RPH || 12:19 AM || |

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy St. Patrick's Day

To anyone who is Irish or thinks of themselves as Irish or whatever, happy St. Patrick's Day!

Facts about the Irish in America from the Census site:

4.8 million - Total number of immigrants from Ireland admitted for lawful permanent residence since fiscal year 1820, the earliest year for which official immigration records exist. By fiscal year 1870, about half of these immigrants were admitted for lawful permanent residence. Only Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Mexico have had more immigrants admitted for permanent residence to the United States than Ireland.

34.0 million - Number of U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry. This number is almost nine times the population of Ireland itself (3.9 million). Irish is the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.

24% - Percentage of Massachusetts residents of Irish ancestry — about double the national percentage.

3 - Number of states in which Irish is the leading ancestry group: Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Irish is among the top five ancestries in every state but two (Hawaii and New Mexico).

|| RPH || 5:39 PM || |

Blogging as the 19th-Century Yellow Press Reborn

I think that this column is pretty interesting. It doesn't really apply to me, as I am but a tiny, tiny fish in the sea of bloggers (Instapundit gets more hits in like half an hour than I've ever got total), but I think it's quite accurate on the way that the blogosphere is evolving.

Bloggers badly want to believe their time has come. CNN made its reputation by covering the Gulf War, and I am sure someone has declared that the bloggers’ recent career-wrecking achievements—discrediting CBS News’ National Guard documents, forcing CNN to oust Eason Jordan, outing the weirdo Gannon—amount to their new new-media equivalent of Operation Desert Storm.

But just as CNN was never really able to reinvent itself to be indispensable for anything except covering wars and tsunamis, one can imagine the blogs settling in forever at their present level of almost wholly media-on-media impact. For now, bloggers are a second-tier journalistic species. They are remoras. The Times and CNN and CBS News are the whales and sharks to which Instapundit, Kausfiles, and Kos attach themselves for their free rides. (Remoras evolved special sucking disks; bloggers have modems.) If the sharks and whales were to go extinct, what would the blogging remoras do? Evolve into actual reporters? Let a hundred I. F. Stones bloom.

This is, I think, quite true. What I like about blogs is the hearing of original views and thoughts, especially from sources like lawyers, economists, scientists and other sorts of specialists who, usually, only come make it into the mainstream media through being quoted, a process that sets them at a distance. And yet the biggest blogs are nothing more than media recycling jobs (like this post! Although I'm not big), taking what is reported and adding a personal spin to it, or even just providing the reader with a sort of indexing service, pointing them in the direction of stuff that the author thinks is interesting. Totally fresh material is not really the forte of the major blogs, which are more about building communities of like-minded people (LGF, Daily Kos, and Redstate), serving as a meta-media digest (Instapundit), running a super-fast gossip column (Wonkette), or as technologically shiny outlets for people who are, at heart, very good old school pundits (Kevin Drum, Andrew Sullivan).

That's probably why I don't really read most of the big blogs, because they aren't really all that different from other sources of media. What I do like in the blog world are those little things that couldn't happen outside of blogs, like Abu Aardvark's discussions of the Arab media or Razib Khan's scientifically-focussed discussions of everything from genetics to Islam, or the bloggers whose interests are more diffuse than those of the heavily American media/politics angle of the big boys; people like Johnathan Edelstein, Randy McDonald, and Abiola Lapite. I try to do this as well, but I must admit that I've gotten very lazy recently and in trying to do a couple of posts a day over recent weeks I've settled into an easy groove of just doing digest-type stuff, linking on elsewhere, with the occassional decent post. If you go back to the archives from when I first started doing this I did much more substantial work, proper book reviews and the like, but I wasn't updating so frequently. I guess part of the problem is that you start to get worried about how many hits you are getting, and so you try to post a lot to get hits, but that's ultimately less satisfying that taking the time to do something better.

Journalism is reverting to a very old-school status quo, when most coverage was as partisan as today’s New York Post’s. In the middle of the nineteenth century, New York City had a population of 500,000 but more than a dozen daily papers and countless weeklies, most of them small-scale, idiosyncratic reflections of their editors and owners, chockablock with summaries of stories nicked from other publications—in other words, very bloglike. Back then, too, papers and magazines depended overwhelmingly on revenue from selling copies to readers, not from ads. The advertising tail did not yet wag the media dog. These days, as I gleefully strip away more and more advertising from my life—by means of HBO, a digital video recorder, and satellite radio—state-of-the-art early-21st-century media thus begins to look still more mid-nineteenth.

The big media behemoth will continue on because there's a demand for it. It won't be as large as before but most people who aren't total news/politics/culture junkies are probably not willing to take the time sifting through the literally millions of blogs that are out there to find what they want. The evening news, the local papers, and major newsmagazines already provide a pretty efficient way of getting information. The purpose blogs serve is that they can provide an outlet for people to find analysis of information from a particular perspective they want to hear, or they can provide links on to information, stories, and sources they might not have known about or might have missed. But blogging isn't reinventing the wheel, and its not "the new punk".

|| RPH || 5:23 AM || |

Wednesday Evening Bits

Europhobia on reacting to terror. Harsh but fair. Via Rob.

Randy McDonald reviews Michela Wrong's book on Eritrea, I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation.

An old article from HNN, "Did You Know that the Radicals of the Middle East Used to be Christians?

Sasha Frere-Jones goes to the Mixtape Awards.

And finally, four years ago a young guy from South London, Congo-born Cherno Samba, was being tipped as the future of English football at the age of 14. What's happened since?

|| RPH || 4:33 AM || |

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The This, The That

The richest county in America (per capita income): Marin County, California

The richest county in America (median household income):Douglas County, Colorado

The poorest county in America (per capita income): Buffalo County, South Dakota

The poorest county in America (median household income): Kalawao County, Hawaii

The least populous county: Loving County, Texas

The most populous county: Los Angeles County, California

The least densely populated county: Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area

The most densely populated county: New York County, New York

|| RPH || 7:27 PM || |

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


At the end of February I mentioned that right-wing journalist/activist David Horowitz had started a site called Discover the Network that purported to show the links between various members of the American Left. What made it so ridiculous was that Horowitz's definition of 'leftist' included such well known progressive thinkers as the Ayatollah Khomeini and Mohammed Atta. Absurdity abounding.

Anyways, other people, not suprisingly, had a similar reaction to mine, and John Holbo of Crooked Timber decided to whip up his own parody. Fun.

|| RPH || 6:11 PM || |

Latino Pentecostalism

Just to add to yesterday's post, there's an article in this week's Newsweek about the growth of Pentecostal Christianity in the American Latino community through the lens of the situation in Chicago's immigrant neighborhoods. The same dynamic is visible here in New York, too, as there are quite a few storefront Iglesias Pentecostales in the neighborhood where I live.

Forty million strong and deeply religious, Hispanics are traditionally Catholic. But, research shows, the longer they are in the United States, the more open they are to other faiths. While 72 percent of first-generation Hispanics are Catholic, according to one study, that figure drops to 52 percent by the third generation—a trend that has long troubled the Catholic hierarchy. Latinos remain the Catholic church's fastest-growing ethnic bloc, but they are also one of the fastest-growing segments among Mormons, Methodists and most other denominations. The result: all faiths are courting Hispanics with a marketing savvy more often associated with corporate America. These churches "have plans to grow, and they're aggressive," says Edwin Hernandez of the University of Notre Dame. "The competition is rampant."

That's especially true among Pentecostals. With their cathartic, music-filled worship style and aggressive proselytizing, they've made deep inroads in Hispanic communities. Of the 610 Latino churches that Hernandez and a research team have mapped in Chicago (as part of an ongoing study of how the churches attract and retain congregants), 202 are Pentecostal, compared with 119 that are Roman Catholic, though the latter are much bigger on average. In Humboldt Park—a neighborhood filled with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Central Americans—Pentecostal churches abound in rich variety, from storefront outfits with strict codes governing dress and behavior, to warehouse operations with more lenient approaches. While the leaders tolerate one another, rivalries simmer close to the surface. From her perch at the tiny Iglesia de Dios Peniel, Pastor America Garcia eyes Rebano down the street—where female congregants might sport tight pants and belly rings—with suspicion. The place is rife with "libertinism," she says. "When people leave, they go to orgies, to movies, to dances!" Rebano's Lynette Santiago has heard all this before. Back when her parents led the congregation and replaced old-school coritos, or spiritual songs, with a salsa band, a disapproving pastor labeled her mother "the Devil."

|| RPH || 12:49 PM || |

MIA Interview

Last week I posted about the British singer MIA, and just to add to that there's an interview with her at Pitchfork that has some pretty interesting stuff.

Pitchfork: When you're in Sri Lanka, do you feel like people identify you as a Londoner and vice versa?

M.I.A.: When I go to Sri Lanka-- I mean, I haven't been that many times-- but when I went, it was really difficult, just because of how I dress and what I look like. They go, "Oh my God, she's so Westernized." I have brown bits in my hair, and my Mom was practically on her knees screaming, "Nooo! You have to dye your hair before you leave the house or I'll kill myself!" I'd be like, "What are you freaking out about?" and she'd explain the Tamil Tiger girls have been in the jungle for so long that their hair goes brown, and if you walk out like this, you're going to get shot because people will think you're a Tamil Tiger girl. And I'd be like, [posh accent] "Mom, this is fashion! From England! L'Oreal hair color, like, get with it-- because I'm worth it!"

That's how they knew I was Westernized, because I'd be brave and I'd walk to the shops. And they'd be like, "No no no-- you just don't do shit like that around here. Get off the bicycle and quit it, 'cause you will get killed."

Pitchfork: But when you're in London-- or anywhere in America for that matter-- do people identify you as Sri Lankan first and foremost?

M.I.A.: I'm stuck in the middle with nowhere to go. Nobody wants me! So I have to throw myself out there and let anything happen, because I have no sense of home. Part of me wants to go through a mad journey because it's like I have nothing to lose. I have no one to disappoint if I get it wrong. And it's brilliant, because instead of being depressed about not having a home, you can embrace it and turn it into freedom. It frees me from having any cultural connections.

I didn't feel good growing up back in the day in London with Sri Lankans, 'cause they'd look down on us. They'd be like, "Oh, you haven't got a Dad. My Daddy's a doctor, and we're going to private school, and then I'm going to Cambridge to be a doctor." And I knew when I was a kid that was never going to happen to me. I had no parents helping me with my homework. My parents never came to a parents' meeting in school, I went to my own-- "How'm I doing this year?" [laughs] Then when I started doing art, and everyone was like, "Oh my God, your children are so thick that they have to take art!"

|| RPH || 12:37 PM || |

Monday, March 14, 2005

The First Shall Be Last, And The Last Shall Be First

9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,

12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation, 7:9-12

While much of the Western secular commentariat (including me) focuses on, dissects, and endlessly discusses Islam, its generational conflicts, its radical and liberal and orthodox forms, elsewhere, ignored, Christianity stirs anew:

The counterpart of populist Islam in the slums of Latin America and much of sub-Saharan Africa is Pentecostalism. Christianity, of course, is now, in its majority, a non-Western religion (two-thirds of its adherents live outside Europe and North America), and Pentecostalism is its most dynamic missionary in cities of poverty. Indeed the historical specificity of Pentecostalism is that it is the first major world religion to have grown up almost entirely in the soil of the modern urban slum. With roots in early ecstatic Methodism and African-American spirituality, Pentecostalism ‘awoke’ when the Holy Ghost gave the gift of tongues to participants in an interracial prayer marathon in a poor neighbourhood of Los Angeles (Azusa Street) in 1906. Unified around spirit baptism, miracle healing, charismata and a premillennial belief in a coming world war of capital and labour, early American Pentecostalism—as religious historians have repeatedly noted—originated as a ‘prophetic democracy’ whose rural and urban constituencies overlapped, respectively, with those of Populism and the IWW. Indeed, like Wobbly organizers, its early missionaries to Latin America and Africa ‘lived often in extreme poverty, going out with little or no money, seldom knowing where they would spend the night, or how they would get their next meal.’ They also yielded nothing to the IWW in their vehement denunciations of the injustices of industrial capitalism and its inevitable destruction.

Symptomatically, the first Brazilian congregation, in an anarchist working-class district of São Paulo, was founded by an Italian artisan immigrant who had exchanged Malatesta for the Spirit in Chicago. In South Africa and Rhodesia, Pentecostalism established its early footholds in the mining compounds and shanty towns; where, according to Jean Comaroff, ‘it seemed to accord with indigenous notions of pragmatic spirit forces and to redress the depersonalization and powerlessness of the urban labour experience.’ Conceding a larger role to women than other Christian churches and immensely supportive of abstinence and frugality, Pentecostalism—as R. Andrew Chesnut discovered in the baixadas of Belém—has always had a particular attraction to ‘the most immiserated stratum of the impoverished classes’: abandoned wives, widows and single mothers. Since 1970, and largely because of its appeal to slum women and its reputation for being colour-blind, it has been growing into what is arguably the largest self-organized movement of urban poor people on the planet.

Although recent claims of ‘over 533 million Pentecostal/charismatics in the world in 2002’ are probably hyperbole, there may well be half that number. It is generally agreed that 10 per cent of Latin America is Pentecostal (about 40 million people) and that the movement has been the single most important cultural response to explosive and traumatic urbanization. As Pentecostalism has globalized, of course, it has differentiated into distinct currents and sociologies. But if in Liberia, Mozambique and Guatemala, American-sponsored churches have been vectors of dictatorship and repression, and if some us congregations are now gentrified into the suburban mainstream of fundamentalism, the missionary tide of Pentecostalism in the Third World remains closer to the original millenarian spirit of Azusa Street. Above all, as Chesnut found in Brazil, ‘Pentecostalism . . . remains a religion of the informal periphery’ (and in Belém, in particular, ‘the poorest of the poor’). In Peru, where Pentecostalism is growing almost exponentially in the vast barriadas of Lima, Jefrey Gamarra contends that the growth of the sects and of the informal economy ‘are a consequence of and a response to each other’. Paul Freston adds that it ‘is the first autonomous mass religion in Latin America . . . Leaders may not be democratic, but they come from the same social class’.

In contrast to populist Islam, which emphasizes civilizational continuity and the trans-class solidarity of faith, Pentecostalism, in the tradition of its African-American origins, retains a fundamentally exilic identity. Although, like Islam in the slums, it efficiently correlates itself to the survival needs of the informal working class (organizing self-help networks for poor women; offering faith healing as para-medicine; providing recovery from alcoholism and addiction; insulating children from the temptations of the street; and so on), its ultimate premise is that the urban world is corrupt, injust and unreformable. Whether, as Jean Comaroff has argued in her book on African Zionist churches (many of which are now Pentecostal), this religion of ‘the marginalized in the shantytowns of neocolonial modernity’ is actually a ‘more radical’ resistance than ‘participation in formal politics or labour unions’, remains to be seen. But, with the Left still largely missing from the slum, the eschatology of Pentecostalism admirably refuses the inhuman destiny of the Third World city that Slums warns about. It also sanctifies those who, in every structural and existential sense, truly live in exile.

Over the last several centuries Europe has sent vast phalanxes of Christian missionaries out into the world, and their triumphant success has made Christianity the largest faith on the planet. Now the descendants of those who were brought into the fold are reconfiguring the faith to better fit their lives, with potentially enormous impact on the global future: (unfortunately only subscribers can access this)

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress. Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations—currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America—now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith. The revolution taking place in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is far more sweeping in its implications than any current shifts in North American religion, whether Catholic or Protestant. There is increasing tension between what one might call a liberal Northern Reformation and the surging Southern religious revolution, which one might equate with the Counter-Reformation, the internal Catholic reforms that took place at the same time as the Reformation—although in references to the past and the present the term "Counter-Reformation" misleadingly implies a simple reaction instead of a social and spiritual explosion. No matter what the terminology, however, an enormous rift seems inevitable.

Although Northern governments are still struggling to come to terms with the notion that Islam might provide a powerful and threatening supranational ideology, few seem to realize the potential political role of ascendant Southern Christianity. The religious rift between Northern and Southern Europe in the sixteenth century suggests just how dramatic the political consequences of a North-South divide in the contemporary Christian world might be. The Reformation led to nothing less than the creation of the modern European states and the international order we recognize today. For more than a century Europe was rent by sectarian wars between Protestants and Catholics, which by the 1680s had ended in stalemate. Out of this impasse, this failure to impose a monolithic religious order across the Continent, there arose such fundamental ideas of modern society as the state's obligation to tolerate minorities and the need to justify political authority without constantly invoking God and religion. The Enlightenment—and, indeed, Western modernity—could have occurred only as a consequence of the clash, military and ideological, between Protestants and Catholics.

Today across the global South a rising religious fervor is coinciding with declining autonomy for nation-states, making useful an analogy with the medieval concept of Christendom—the Res Publica Christiana—as an overarching source of unity and a focus of loyalty transcending mere kingdoms or empires. Kingdoms might last for only a century or two before being supplanted by new states or dynasties, but rational people knew that Christendom simply endured. The laws of individual nations lasted only as long as the nations themselves; Christendom offered a higher set of standards and mores that could claim to be universal. Christendom was a primary cultural reference, and it may well re-emerge as such in the Christian South—as a new transnational order in which political, social, and personal identities are defined chiefly by religious loyalties.

This ground shift is now returning to the lands from which the flame was originally carried into the world - where the fire and the passion have become so dim:

I first encountered the Eternal Sacred Order in eastern Nigeria, near the city of Port Harcourt, where the order was founded. Every Sunday large numbers of the faithful, dressed in long white seraphic robes, trooped down a path of beaten red earth through the lush undergrowth to a large church built of cinder block, where they sang and prayed lustily, forgetting for a while the insecurities of life in a country in which the police and soldiers hired out their weapons by the night to armed robbers, and where at least one of the Four Horsemen was never far off.

Two hundred yards, then, from the church where the religion of the English upper class genteelly sighs its last, an assembly of Nigerian immigrants (all from Rivers State in eastern Nigeria) don their robes (now satin), sing, and shout hallelujah. The air in the chapel is thick with incense and rent by urgent prayer. The police in England don't hire out their weaponry to armed robbers, at least not yet, but life is still full of insecurities for these immigrants. By no means welcomed with open arms by the local population, they find the climate cold, the cost of living unexpectedly high, and the moral dangers for their children manifold and pervasive.


The congregation is on its knees, facing in all directions, and unanimously utters a heartfelt amen, with some banging of heads on the ground for added emphasis. Then one of the women in the congregation—which is two-thirds female—comes forward and prays in distinctly biblical language, King James version, for the sick of the world, especially for Sister Okwepho, who is in the hospital with abdominal pain. She asks the Lord to guide the doctors and scientists who are trying to rid the world of diseases, and from thence she moves by natural progression to the Second Coming, when there will be no more suffering or abdominal pain, when there will be no more disease or hunger, no more injustice or war, no more unemployment or poverty, but only goodness, brotherhood, and contentment. Now the congregation is standing, its hands upraised, and it begins to sway rhythmically, eyes closed, already bathed in the bliss of a world without gray hostile skies, a suspicious immigration department, or temptations for adolescents to fall into the wrong company.

Where this is headed, I can't say. But it is so far off most people's radar that I think it's worth pointing it out.

|| RPH || 10:12 PM || |

What impact did the American Civil War have on Canada?

Every now and then I post old history essays of mine. This is another one. Check the comments for a full bibliography.

While the Civil War was indisputably the most important event to occur in the United States in the nineteenth–century, and arguably the most important event in the nation’s history, it had surprisingly little impact on Canada. Indeed, I would argue that that the effect on Canada would have been far greater if the South had managed to successfully secede from the Union. In order to consider the scale and nature of the actual effects of this war on Canada, one must start by quickly summarizing its effects on the United States.

It is almost impossible to overstate the Civil War’s importance in the history of the United States. The American Civil War was the apocalyptic denouement to centuries of economic, social, and political drift between the North and the South. It was a showdown between two alternative perspectives on what being American meant, and its resolution was a crucial determinant of the future pattern of American life. By the middle of the nineteenth century the North was leaving behind its rural past, as industrialization remade the face of the region. Its social composition had already been transformed by the millions of Irish and German European immigrants who had arrived in the decades before the Civil War.

In contrast, the South was still very much a rural society, economically dependent on a small number of cash crops, the production of which were closely linked with the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Its white population had also remained quite homogenous, as only a small minority of the immigrants arriving at the time chose to settle in the South. The South also lacked much of the infrastructure, such as canals and railroads, that was driving the industrial revolution north of the Mason-Dixon line. Indeed, the gap between the regions in terms of economic development was widening week-on-week. These socio-economic differences were reflected in the politics of the regions. Politics in the South were dominated by the planter class, who were content to rule unchallenged their county, a pseudo-feudalism reflected in the lack of strength of the political party machines when compared to their counterparts in the North. In the North urbanization and industrialization had created the phenomenon of the urban political machine, an organization that necessarily operated in a completely different way to the gentlemanly semi-oligarchy prevalent in the South. Machine politics served multiple purposes, distributing patronage, rudimentary social services, and jobs in a time before federal safety nets were introduced. The machine also served a nexus point through which the often mutually antagonistic ethnic, commercial, and religious communities could interact. The result of these differences was that, while Federalism was a strong force in the North, the South clung strongly to the concept of a Confederation of States wherein each State was an independent contracting party which had the right to govern itself. When the South finally concluded that the North intended to introduce policies that would attack the Southern way of life, conflict became inevitable.

The toll of the war was enormous: more than 620,000 dead, millions wounded, millions homeless, and the destruction of a vast swathe of the South. It would be fair to say that even the most isolated communities in the United States would have been deeply affected by the war. Equally, the resolution of the conflict meant wide-ranging change in American life, especially in the South. The end of slavery meant the destruction of the economic system that had propped up the South’s social and political elite. For the average southerner, black and white, the legacy of the war was one of deep poverty, with so much of Southern infrastructure, homes, and agricultural land in ruins. For the federal government, the war, and the strains it put on the mechanisms of American bureaucracy, led to the creation of a much stronger, much more centralised national government than any that had previously existed. Most of this expanded role came at the expense of the states, who saw many of their traditional powers taken by Washington. Economically, the Civil War saw the introduction of the first ever federally-mandated income tax. Socially, it ended nativist anti-immigration sentiment as a major political force in the North as the conduct of Catholic immigrants in the war had placed them beyond reproach. It confirmed that the Northern urban and industrial model would be the driving force for America’s future, not the Southern rural and agricultural model.

For Canada, the impact of the war was relatively slight. Many of the issues that aroused so much passion in the United States, such as slavery, the rights of state governments as opposed to the rights of the federal government, or whether the transcontinental railroad would pass through the northern or southern United States, were absent in Canada. While a parallel can be drawn from the sectional tensions between North and South in the United States to the cultural tensions between Anglophone and Francophone Canada that had led to the rebellions of the 1830’s, the difference lies in the nature of the disputes. The protection of French language, religious and cultural rights did not create anywhere near the same anger among Anglophone Canadians as slavery did among northern Abolitionists. There is also the important factor that many Southerners were actively seeking the extension of slavery to the new territories in the west. There were many in the North outside the abolitionist movement who feared that slavery had become a corrupting influence in American public life, that aspects of the slavery crisis, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the Dred Scott decision, and the attack on Charles Sumner in Congress, constituted a major threat to the principles of self-government and liberty upon which America was founded. The French-Canadians involved in the rebellions were seeking the protection of their rights within Lower Canada (or Quebec as it is known today), not the imposition of their culture on areas in western Canada. Also, they were a political minority, and did not have the same disproportionate powers over other Canadians that Southerners had over Northerners in the United States. In the period leading up to the Civil War, there was growing resentment in the North at the South’s disproportionate strength in Congress, particularly in the Senate where Southern states had the same number of representatives as the North, despite the South’s ever-shrinking percentage of the national population.

The central issue of the war, the one facet of Southern life that created the political crisis leading to war, was slavery. Although the majority of white Southerners had no personal connection to slavery their political leaders were deeply involved with it. Slavery was the cornerstone of an economic system that gave the Southern plantation owners the money and the leisure to transform themselves into a pseudo-aristocratic ‘squirearchy.’ Their lifestyles were completely dependent on slavery, and so they grew progressively more alarmed as the abolitionist movement in the North swelled swelled over the course of the nineteenth century. Even beyond the abolitionist movement there was strong opposition in the North to the possibility of slavery's extension to the new states being carved from the western frontier. In contemporary Canadian analyses of the American tensions, this was an area of particular misunderstanding, of failing to see fully the divisiveness of this issue. Mainly this was down to the lack of a tradition of mass slavery on the level seen in the southern United States. There had been a limited amount of slavery in Canada from the earliest days of New France, but Canada had never been a major destination point for slavers. Generally, although racism was hardly an unknown factor in Canadian life, the average person was unsupportive of slavery as an institution, but it seemed so remote from their lives that the conflict over it in America seemed, to Canadian observers, quite extreme.

There was widespread sympathy in Canada for the South and its cause, with many seeing the Lincoln government’s actions as unwarranted belligerency . This was not indicative of pro-slavery views in Canada, merely a reflection of the lack of importance attached to the slavery controversy, a fact seen in the way that newspaper editorials would tend to sidestep it as an issue, concentrating on states’ rights as the basis for their support for the Confederacy. In Quebec, where a majority of the population was illiterate, views were shaped by the attitudes of the clergy, who saw the war as the supreme result of America’s moral degeneracy and culture of violence . In the Maritimes, as Marquis writes, the view was that the Confederacy was “a government of reasonable gentlemen casting off the Northern yoke, much like the Italians were doing with the Austrians or the Poles with the Russians.” These pro-Southern sympathies can be ascribed, in large part, to the much greater degree of familiarity that Canadians had with the northern United States. It was, after all, Northerners who had abortively invaded Canada in the War of 1812, and it was from the mill towns and urban slums of the North that so many Canadian emigrants wrote unhappy letters home from. Political, social, and economic ties to the South were much weaker, and the Southerners who did visit Canada seemed, in their dignified and mannered bearing, to be much closer to the ideal of the English gentleman than the hustling, scheming Yankee. It is also important to note that Canadians rarely met the average white Southerner, as those who did visit Canada tended to be members of the Southern elite, but Canadians were frequently in contact with Yankees from all social classes. There is also a loyalist element to this, as a sizeable proportion of the Canadian population were descended from the American loyalists who had arrived in Canada after Britain’s defeat in the American Revolutionary War. The southern United States had, after all, been a relative stronghold of loyalty to Britain, and so to some Canadians it seemed a case of historical repetition, as the descendents of the Northern fanatics who had overthrown the British went about oppressing the South.

The American Civil War did have several direct effects on Canada. Perhaps the main one was the recruitment of Canadians as soldiers, principally for the Union Army. This affected different communities across the whole of British North America, and was a source of bitter condemnations in Canada, creating an outcry that echoed from the pulpit to the editorial page to the colonial assemblies and wherever ordinary people gathered. Although there are no precise details as to how many Canadians fought in the Civil War it is undeniable that many Canadian men did join the hostilities, despite the fact that in 1861 the British government announced its neutrality in the war and called for obedience to the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819, which forbid British subjects to fight in the army of a foreign nation. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of Canadian men ended up involved. Many were among the emigrants who had crossed the border in the hundreds of thousands prior to the war, seeking employment in the industrial centres of the North. Others were lured by the promise of high bounties for several years of service in the Union Army. Most controversially, many were tricked into service. Some were persuaded across the border by agents claiming to be providing industrial jobs, when in fact the men were left at recruitment camps. Others were drugged or made drunk in Canada and then transported to Army camps in the northern United States. Although the US government never explicitly condoned such activities, they did little to stop them. Freelance agents recruiting for the Union Army had been active throughout British North America from the earliest days of the war. The flow of Canadian men into Union camps was never checked and the men rarely returned before serving out their time in the Army. Penalties imposed by the provincial Canadian authorities, such as high bounties for the capture of recruitment agents and the concentration of police resources on fighting the problem, did manage to slow the recruitment of Canadian men for the Union Army from the high points of the early 1860’s, but despite legislative efforts it remained a serious problem through to the end of the war in 1865.

Canadian relations with the United States had always been complicated by the fear of invasion from the south. The failed invasion of 1812 meant that for decades after Canadians worried that the United States might move against them again, a fear that was heightened by the vast expansion of the Union Army during the Civil War. It was an open secret that many Americans, particularly in the North, saw it as a long-term goal for Canada to become part of the United States. Canadian worries about such machinations seemed to be confirmed during the events of what came to be known as the Trent Affair. The Trent was a British merchant ship that set sail for England from Havana on November 7th, 1861, with two semior Southern diplomats on board: James Murray Mason of Virginia (who had written the Fugitive Slave Act), the Confederate envoy to London, and John Slidell of Louisiana, the Confederate envoy to Paris. A day after setting sail it was stopped by a Union ship operating under Captain Charles Wilkes, who seized the passengers and allowed the Trent to continue on its course. This caused an immediate uproar in Canada, and the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Monck, immediately began the task of strengthening Canada’s defences along the border in case of invasion. The aftermath of the Trent Affair saw a war of words conducted between newspapers and politicians in Canada and the North that would lead to the scrapping of the Reciprocity Act of 1854, which had allowed for the relatively free movement of goods across the border. Although ultimately no invasion was to come, the tensions created by the Civil War in relations between Canada and America proved to be a unifying force in Canadian life, as the French-Canadians, so often in dispute with Anglophone Canada, were worried enough by the potential of invasion that they made demonstrations of their loyalty to the British Crown and showed a greater willingness to make compromises over political disputes.

The most important event of the 1860’s in Canada was unquestionably the Act of Confederation in 1867, where the different colonies that constituted British North America were joined together as constituent parts of one nation, Canada. The lesson that the Confederation movement took from the American Civil War was the danger of unchecked disunity, that the fact that for decades the two main factions of American life had completely refused to compromise and cooperate meant that ultimately their differences could only be solved through fratricidal bloodletting. The fear of American invasion had created a greater sense of national feeling, and Confederation was seen as the best method for ensuring military security. Although the pace of Confederation was undoubtedly quickened under the influence of the American Civil War, it is much harder to determine whether or not it was a decisive factor in Confederation. It had already been a growing movement for some time before the 1860’s and other examples from the British Empire, such as Australia where similar constitutional change would occur in the late nineteenth century without the impetus of a vicious civil war on its doorstep, show that it is doubtful whether the American Civil War changed the likelihood of Confederation.

In conclusion the Civil War was a moment of defining historical importance to the United States. For Canada, as shown, the impact of the conflict was much smaller. It is possible to argue that the Civil War’s impact on Canada would have been much greater if the Confederacy had won the war and successfully seceded. The north’s victory meant that the great historical trend of Canada’s relations with the US, of having a population a tenth of America’s, of being very reliant on American trade and investment, were maintained. As far as long-term trends go, relations between the two nations before and after the war continued much as before. Victory for the South would have plunged this relationship into unpredictability. The North could have either sought to revenge its loss of the South with a new campaign for annexation in Canada, with the tensions during wartime mentioned earlier merely a taster for what it was to come. Or it could have meant that, with their neighbour to the south less monolithic and imposing, Canada would have been able to escape from the aforementioned reliance on America, and could have been able to forge a more independent future, where considerations were less affected by events south of the border. Or it could have eroded the temporary sectional stability achieved in the face of the violence and encouraged the growth of secessionist tendencies within Canada, particularly among Francophones. It may also have further stunted the spread of democracy within British North America, with America’s collapse a useful example of the untrammelled chaos to be unleashed via popular democracy. The point is that America’s maintenance of the Union kept these potentialities to the north sealed up.

|| RPH || 5:32 AM || |