This blog is defunct! Check out my new music blog at Sonicrampage.org.
Over the weekend I added some new stuff to my links bar on the side. Here's a little bit of info on some of the European blogs I've added.
Draxblog - Dragan Antulov presents a bit of everything about Croatia - history, popular culture, politics.
The Daily Ablution - Snarky conservative commentary on the liberal parts of the British press. Mostly attacks The Guardian, The Independent, and the BBC. I'm not a conservative, but it's a fun read.
Civitas - The blog of Britain's Civitas think tank. Classical liberalism.
Siberian Light - A superb blog that is mainly about Russia.
The Library of Congress has a wonderful online exhibition of photographs taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, "the photographer to the Tsar".
The photographs of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) offer a vivid portrait of a lost world--the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming revolution. His subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia's diverse population.
In the early 1900s Prokudin-Gorskii formulated an ambitious plan for a photographic survey of the Russian Empire that won the support of Tsar Nicholas II. Between 1909-1912, and again in 1915, he completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.
There are some truly stunning pictures in this collection, wrapping a painterly sense of color and light with a hyper-realistic sheen. It is amazing to think that many of these photos are now around a century old, and to dwell on the enormous change that this world would soon be experiencing.
(Hat tip: Abiola Lapite)
Update (3:27 PM, Jan. 31st, 2005): I'd crossposted this from the Dictionary of Received Ideas and in the comments there Explora mentioned that Yale's Beinecke Library has a collection of the Tsar's photo albums. Go here and type in 'Romanov'.
Judy Bachrach - A queen of our times.
In case you haven't been keeping up with my new music blog, yesterday I posted a (necessarily brief) guide to buying vinyl online from British record stores, an essay on what I like about techno music, and a few other bits and bobs.
My good friend Robert Jubb has responded to my series of posts from the last couple months on the question of European identities (see here, here, and here). I am still working on a full-length response, but go read what he has to say (I make a few brief comments after his post, but there is much more to come).
I would also suggest, for anyone interested in these issues, downloading the Danish tv documentary "Holland: The End of the Multicultural Dream", that I linked to (right-click, save as) back in November. It's 56 megs, so I'd recommend downloading it only to those who have broadband internet access. Particularly important, I think, are two scenes. One where a Dutch professor describes Dutch tolerance as really being a matter of indifference, of 'do as you like as long as you don't bother me,' and the scene where the reporter talks to the two young Dutch-Moroccan men who describe how they feel both rejected by Dutch society and alienated from traditional Moroccan society.
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Bolivia's military and police on Wednesday warned protesters that they would not recognize any breakaway governments formed by the country's wealthiest regions in a push for autonomy from the capital.
The heads of both forces declared obedience to President Carlos Mesa two days before he faces the biggest threat to his authority when demonstrators in energy-rich Santa Cruz and Tarija hold town hall assemblies to create their own governments.
In Santa Cruz, a region that accounts for one-third of Bolivia's economy, a movement led by the European-descended, conservative elite opposes Mesa for his handling of the economy and for pandering to the indigenous majority's demands for more state control of natural gas resources.
Civic leaders in Tarija, home to 85 percent of Bolivia's huge gas reserves, mimicked their neighbors in Santa Cruz but denied they wanted to divide the nation.
The calls for autonomy -- the first in Bolivia's 179-year-old republic -- spun out of two weeks of protests against Mesa's fuel price hikes in Santa Cruz and El Alto, the militant indigenous city that overlooks the capital.
But while El Alto's indigenous leaders ended their protest, the elite of Santa Cruz drew 30,000 people to a march on Friday and announced their plans for a popular autonomous government.
Update (6:30 pm, Jan. 27, 2005): I don't have any great specialist knowledge on Latin America (and generally I feel far less comfortable talking about it than I would about the US, Europe, or the Middle East - areas that I have read a lot more about) but I figured I should do some linking to add in a bit of context and flesh out this story for my readers.
So, why not go and read "Power and autonomy in Bolivia: Santa Cruz and its sedition". Just so you know, it's from Narconews, which is an excellent site for information on Latin America. It's quite openly biased to the Left, which is ok, and at least they are upfront about it.
One thing that has been a subject of some debate over the last year in Britain has been the introduction of ‘citizenship ceremonies’ for people taking British citizenship. When my sister received her British citizenship all she had to do, besides convincing the Home Office that she fulfilled all the relevant criteria, was fill out a form while having a British citizen on hand to serve as a witness. David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, decided to change this and introduce American-style citizenship ceremonies, where immigrants would gather at their local town hall for a communal ceremony to confer their citizenship. This decision prompted some debate in wider British society, with some seeing it as 'a ceremony that makes people feel like they belong', while others described it as 'degrading and offensive to ethnic minorities'.
After twelve years of living in Britain I decided that it was time for me to get dual nationality, so, just before I came back to New York we filled all my papers out and sent them to the Home Office, because I wanted to lock down my status, since I think that at some point I would like to move back to Britain. So, for me, having followed much of the debate online over the past year it was very interesting to actually participate in such a ceremony when I was back in London over Christmas/New Year's. How was it? Quite nice actually. When my parents and I turned up at Westminster Council House, a beautiful nineteenth century edifice hulking over the Marylebone Road, we were unsure what exactly to expect. After a brief wait we were brought through to the Purple Wedding Room (there are a lot of weddings conducted at Westminster City Hall) for the ceremony. I had paid a bit extra to get the process expedited so that I could do it before I went back to the States, so I was doing it by myself, where the standard formula would be to do it with a group of ten to fifteen others. I went in to the room, signed some forms, and then stood up for the ceremony. The registrar gave a little speech welcoming me to British citizenship, said a few nice platitudes about Britain and Westminster being diverse places of all different kinds of origins and religious faiths and so on, then we had the Oath of Allegiance. She would read off a sentence or so and then I would repeat after her. After that they played God Save the Queen over the loudspeakers (fortunately for all concerned I didn't have to sing!) and I shook hands with the registrar and her assistant, and that was that.
Completing the formalities took maybe ten minutes, and I found it quite a pleasant ceremony. I didn't feel like I was having some kind of noxious British nationalism thrust upon me (and my mother is a member of Daughters of the American Revolution!) or that my 'ethnic identity' was being brutally cleansed. It was nice that there was a ceremony to it, that going that last step and actually getting British citizenship wasn't something like getting a tv license, where you filled out a form and wrote out a cheque and sent it off sort of perfunctorily, without much thought. I think it is a nice idea, and I thought the entire process was well-judged and well put together.
As ever here's a collection of links to articles of interest that I've collected as I've read my way around the internet. I do these occassional links round-ups to highlight stuff that I don't see myself using in full pieces that I nevertheless think are worth a read.
George Azar's Middle Eastern Journeys - Articles and photographs from around the region by American photojournalist George Azar.
Google Video - A new search engine that allows you to search through recent tv shows. Still in its teething stage, but quite interesting and fun to use, with the potential to be very useful.
Eurasian Invasion - A Time Asia article on the increasing prominence of Eurasians (people of mixed European and East Asian heritage) in the media, cultural, and entertainment life of East and Southeast Asia.
Letter from Chile - An article from The Nation on reactions in Chile to the news that former dictator General Augusto Pinochet has been deemed mentally fit to be tried for state crimes committed during his time in power. Also looks at the problems that Chileans have had in coming to terms with their past.
I'd also like to put a special note of support in for Friends of Democracy, which is a ground-level series of reports on the build-up to the Iraqi elections, complete with photo galleries, analysis, and regional reports. I'm quite gloomy about the long-term prospects for Iraq (not least because of the continuity of disastrous errors made by the US government), but I desperately hope things do take a turn for the better.
Go read the fascinating article at Wired on how the American armed forces are struggling to counteract the deadly effectiveness of improvised explosive devices (ied's), as used by the Iraqi rebel forces.
Almost anything that blows up can be turned into an IED, from grenades to plastic explosives to leftover mines. The most everyday of electronics -- a cell phone, a garage door opener, a child's remote-control toy -- can be recast as a trigger. And the hiding places for the handmade bombs are everywhere: in the ground, aboard a truck, even inside an animal carcass.
So far, the strongest push to silence the bombs has come from the Army, which has ordered thousands of radio-frequency jammers from Simi Valley, California, firm EDO Communications & Countermeasures. The devices, called Warlock Green and Warlock Red, intercept "the signal sent from a remote location to the IED instructing it to detonate," an Army official told military newsletter Inside Defense. The signal "cannot make contact, therefore when it can't make contact it doesn't detonate," he added. "(It's like) the cell phone never gets through, but (enemy forces) think it goes through."
Go check out a depressingly apt comic commentary by Tom Tomorrow on conservative justifications for torture at Harry's Place.
(I tried posting it here, but it's too wide for the margins of my blog and ends up looking weird).
I'm up early this morning (I went to bed at ten last night) and I've just been reading Randy McDonald's very interesting post at GNXP on potentialities for Turkish immigration to Europe depending on whether or not Turkey is admitted to the European Union. One point in particular jumped out at me in the section he quoted from a paper written for the Centre for European Policy Studies by Refik Erzan, Umut Kuzubas and Nilufer Yildiz entitled "Growth and Immigration Scenarios for Turkey and the EU" (PDF format).
Today, officially sanctioned immigration into Turkey has for all intent and purposes dropped to a trickle. Since the early 1990s, however, Turkey has witnessed a new form of irregular immigration involving nationals of neighboring countries, EU nationals, and transit migrants. Turkey allows nationals of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the Central Asian republics to enter the country quite freely either without visas or with visas that can easily be obtained at airports and other entry points. A large number of these people are involved in small-scale trade. However, some overstay their visas and illegally work as household help, commercial sex workers, and laborers, especially on construction sites and in the tourism sector.
It is very difficult to estimate the numbers of such irregular immigrants in Turkey. However, figures ranging from 150,000 to one million are often cited. To these groups must be added trafficked people, particularly women. These are people who have either been coerced or deceived into traveling to Turkey for commercial sex work, and remain in Turkey against their wishes. There is also an increasing number of EU member-state nationals engaged in professional activities who are settling in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as well as European retirees in some of the Mediterranean resorts. They, too, constitute a relatively new phenomenon in terms of immigration into Turkey, and their numbers are estimated at 100,000-120,000.
This reminded me of an article I read a couple months ago entitled A Spiritual Journey: In Muslim Turkey, A Minister's Quest: Starting A Church" about the efforts of an American minister to buy and refurbish an old chapel in the Mediterranean city of Antalya.
Upon arrival, Rev. Bultema started studying Turkish, while continuing church studies. In 1993, he became a fully ordained minister of the 2.5 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA). He took a post as part-time pastor for a Presbyterian congregation in Istanbul -- which had long met beyond the reach of Turkish law, on the grounds of the consulate-general of the Netherlands.
In 1996, he moved to Antalya, answering an ad for a full-time pastor from an expatriate group. "One day, I decided I wanted to go to church," recalls Carolyn Bulca, a former U.S. military contract worker and member of the group. "I asked my Turkish friends where there was one, but they could only point to ruins. I said 'Hey, if you can have mosques in Europe, how come there's no church here?' "
Rev. Bultema started out with an Easter service in a hotel. His congregation grew into the dozens, including everyone from Russian prostitutes to African migrants, he says. Soon, he says he noticed plainclothes Turkish police sitting in on his services -- and later asking him to find somewhere else to hold them. A police spokesman says he doesn't recall any complaints being filed. "We're civilized here," he says. Rev. Bultema says the governor of Antalya province requested photocopies of the passports of his congregation. The governor declined to comment.
When Rev. Bultema went to the mayor's planning office to ask about building his own church, "they just laughed," he says. "They said a church would never happen." The mayor at the time, Hasan Subasi, says national laws made it difficult for his office to do much for Rev. Bultema's group, although "we wanted to help them."
Islamist groups, Turkish right-wingers and secular leftist nationalists have all pressured the Turkish government for rules limiting proselytizing and on land purchases by foreigners. Americans are particularly suspect these days, some say.
"It's a defensive reflex," said Nizamettin Sagir, chief of the National Action Party in Antalya, which often takes anti-foreigner stands. "Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think America is being run by a Christian sect that has cast a hungry eye on our region. It's like a new crusade."
It's worth reading the rest of the article. Interesting stuff.
The question of Christianity in Turkey is a fascinating one. In William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain: Journeys Among The Christians of The Middle East there is a great amount of detail about the lengths to which the Kemalist governments of Turkey have gone to eradicate the Christian history of Anatolia, especially in regards to the Armenians, and especially in remote areas far from places of tourist concern, such as Istanbul, where it would be impossible to erase echoes of Christianity without a major international outcry.
(I) went to see a cousin who was working as an architectural engineer in Erzerum, attempting to reintroduce silk farming to the region. Over dinner one night I happened to mention what I had seen (note: the disappearance of Armenian artifacts from Sivas - P.), whereupon my cousin said that he had had a similar experience himself only the previous month. He told me that for four years he had been in the habit of taking an annual fishing holiday in the village of Maydanlar in the hills to the north of Tortum. On previous occassions he had admired a magnificent collection of early medieval Armenian cross-stones (known as khatchkars) which lay piled up near the village well; but this year the stones had all vanished. When he asked the villagers what had happened to them they became visibly nervous and would not tell him; it was only when he was alone with one old man that he learned what he believed to be the real story. Government officials from Erzerum had come through the village the previous month; they had asked the villagers for the whereabouts of any Armenian antiquities, and then proceeded to smash the stones up. Afterwards they had carefully removed the rubble." (p. 83)
Perhaps the current movement towards EU status will encourage the Turkish state to finally face up to the history of Christian Anatolia and, particularly, Armenian Anatolia? It is just a shame that so much has already been lost.
Having said all that, there is one area where I think that the situation in Britain (or at least in London) is better than America in terms of inter-communal relations. And that is in black/white relations.
We've been having a pretty interesting discussion at Dissensus on this topic, but I felt like writing a bit about it here.
One thing you notice when you go between London and New York is the disparity in the prevalence of black/white couples. In today's New York you certainly see far more mixed black-white couples than you ever saw when I was little, yet it is still far less common than in London, especially white male/black female couples, which are so common as to be banal in London, yet are still a relatively rare sight in New York. Having said that, I'm sure you see more black/white couples in New York, in other big north-eastern cities, on the West Coast, and around Atlanta than in the country at large. For instance, I've never seen a b/w couple in Savannah, Georgia, where my mother is from, and that city is split pretty much evenly between the two groups.
Indeed, the divide between 'black' and 'white' America is the clearest ethnic border-line in the United States, and to Americans it has lasted for so long and it is so entrenched that the self-segregation that is so widespread seems like a natural state of affairs. Indeed, African-Americans are still, by some margin, the most endogamous of American racial/ethnic minorities. The contrast with the situation in Britain is quite remarkable. Additionally, residential segregation is much more pronounced in America than it is in Britain.
It's worth going to that Dissensus link and reading Scott Somedisco's excellent insights on Chicago.
I’ve been quite bad recently about finishing up pieces for this blog. Here’s one that I actually started about three weeks ago but I’ve only just got around to finishing.
Earlier this month Randy McDonald responded to my November post about European attitudes to immigration by quoting extensively from a Financial Times article by Saskia Sassen on the history of immigration in Europe, both intra-European and from further afield. It's quite an interesting article, and so it’s worth going over there to read his extensive quotations from the article.
At the end of his post he asks the question: "What factors--social, economic, political--lie behind the creation of this yawning gaps in the national memories of Europe?"
I think the key issue here is perceptional - the question of identity is an eternally thorny issue in the modern world. My take on the matter is that, although there are quite obvious parallels between 19th and early 20th century patterns of assimilation of and native reaction to immigration in Europe (and in America for that matter) and the patterns of the post World War II period, these similarities are not seen, they are ignored. Partly this is a result of the fact that, being honest, most people have only a limited knowledge of history, and certainly social history is underemphasized in favor of the tales of the great politicians and generals and major wars. Additionally, even if the parallels between the two periods are seen, I think that (and obviously this does not apply to everyone) they are seen as less important than the differences between migration patterns of the two eras.
What are these differences? Well, the most obvious one is (as Randy mentioned in the comments section of his post) that in the early period much of the intra-European migration was temporary, with many people from the poorer parts of Europe (such as Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Balkans) choosing to return home after working in the richer parts of Europe (such as France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands). Recent re-migration rates have been much lower and they have also occurred at the same time as tremendous social changes in the host nations, such as a slow collapse of traditional family structures and a spectacular decline in birth rates, such that non-white populations have been able to grow at impressive rates in terms of their proportion of the wider population. Indeed, during the 1990's the non-white population of Britain grew by 53% (of course, the UK as a whole remains well over 90% white, but this is still an enormous change from even three decades ago).
What does this mean? Well, at this point I should say that it is very difficult to accurately predict demographic patterns more than ten years into the future. Unforeseen events can have an enormous impact on key demographic factors such as migration patterns, fertility rates, and intermarriage. Assuming that history has ended and that the patterns of today will continue indefinitely is a pretty fool-proof way of ensuring that further down the line you will be munching on a nice piece of humble pie. History is littered with demographic prophets who have proved to be spectacularly wrong. The decrease of the native populations of European nations as a percentage of the total population is a currently-occurring fact, yet beyond ten years into the future it is very very difficult to be sure as to what will happen.
Yet, this is not particularly important, because we are discussing perceptions, and perceptions are often impervious to the lessons of history or to rationally-drawn conclusions based on empirical data. The perception exists that, through immigration, Britain (and the other nations of Western Europe) is being swarmed, is losing out on what it was, is being taken for a ride by unscrupulous foreigners who see Britain as "a soft touch". How else to explain the fact that immigration is consistently one of the biggest concerns of the British public?
Of course, this is not everyone. When I was back in London I went out for for drinks with my friends Jen and Stacey. While we were at the pub Jen was saying that, having read my original article, she was very sad that I'd gotten such an impression of Britain. Yet, it's kind of difficult not to notice the hostility to immigration, the tremendous paranoia about immigration and its role in the transformation of the nation. Having personally been through the immigration system the idea, to me, that Britain is some kind of "soft touch" is laughable. Our family had to wait seven years to gain 'indefinite leave to remain' status, and this period included a point where, for about eight months, we had to live on two-month tourist visas, so that every two months we had to leave the country and then get our passports stamped on the way back in. And we're white, upper-middle-class, and American. I am sure that a working-class black Nigerian family would have at least as many hoops to jump through as we did. Yet this doesn't really matter, because perceptionally the 'problem' is enormous and an unstoppable threat to some kind of unarticulatable 'Britishness'.
Perhaps I am excessively gloomy on this point, but I do think that there has been a tremendous resurgence of xenophobia in Western Europe. Just this week, in Britain, Michael Howard, the Leader of the Conservative Party, has caused a political firestorm over his controversial plans to toughen up the UK's immigration system. It is unquestionably playing the xenophobia card, because in the popular imagination immigration is a phenomenon of, as David Aaronovitch put it today, "knife-wielding Kurds, pimping Albanians and benefit-defrauding West Africans."
An example of this can be seen in an article from The Economist from December 9th, 2004, which said that:
THE British like to think of themselves as rather enlightened when it comes to immigration and race relations. Disputes over headscarves are left to the French. Ghettos, frank discrimination and the nasty notion that Britishness is a white characteristic endure only in coal-stained northern towns, which are stuck in the past in more ways than this. Everywhere else, a multicultural consensus reigns.
It's a view that is becoming hard to sustain. A YouGov poll for The Economist this week finds that 74% of people believe too many immigrants are coming into the country. Londoners, young people and the middle classes can normally be counted on to hold more liberal views, but not, it seems, when it comes to immigration. Their sentiments are virtually identical.
Most damaging for Britain's enlightened self-image, the nation has risen to the top of the European xenophobes' league. A Eurobarometer poll earlier this year found that 41% saw immigration as one of the two biggest problems faced by the nation—16 points more than in any other European country. Forget unemployment, terrorism or crime: the real threat comes from the man with the battered suitcase.
What seems to have happened over the past few years is that immigration has become associated with refugees and illegal entrants rather than with migrant workers. That is not surprising, given the rise in asylum claimants that began in the late 1990s. Numbers are down, but it does not matter: perceptions have shifted.
A curious side-effect of this change is that the nation's mental image of the immigrant has taken on a different hue. “We traditionally thought of immigrants as black and brown, and for 40 years they were,” says Mr Phillips. Unlike America, where ethnic minorities and immigrants have always been viewed as two different things, Britons regarded them as one and the same. Now their attention has been drawn to paler arrivals who are often more disliked. Romanians, who are often accused of living off the state, are less popular than West Indians. Iraqis, who are not just refugees but also come from a country where our boys are dying, are more loathed than either. Pakistanis (a well-established but growing group) are disliked, too, probably because of fears of domestic terrorism and memories of riots in 2001.
The fact that immigration has less to do with race only makes it easier to dislike. Hostility used to connote racial prejudice, but no longer. That's modern Britain: multicultural, racially liberal and anti-immigrant to the core.
Update (8:30 AM, Jan. 26th, 2005): There's an excellent column by Joseph Harker in today's Guardian that talks about this issue of perception. Key bit:
Editors and politicians like to point out that many of the current concerns have been about eastern Europeans, so how can it all be about race? This goes to the heart of how humans cope with difference. People accept newcomers when they are perceived as relatively wealthy, relatively powerful, or "like us". With the common language, Americans and Australians tick all three boxes; western Europeans the first two. These are the migrants whom people appear unquestioningly prepared to live with.
Eastern Europeans currently meet none of the criteria. However, for them, differences begin to dissipate over time: they learn the indigenous language and accents slowly disappear. One generation on, they will no doubt assimilate seamlessly into the mainstream population - the only lasting symbol being a strange surname or a different faith. For all the talk of Muslims being vilified, this is nearly always a euphemism for "those brown-skinned people with a culture I don't understand". Let's not forget: in Bosnia and Kosovo, where the Muslims were white, they were the good guys.
Another problem is the wildly inaccurate estimates that people give for the number of ethnic-minority people in Britain. The real figure is 5 million, but many believe it to be almost 20 million. No wonder they feel "swamped". As far as perception is concerned, visible minorities are like cars. You buy a new one and suddenly you notice the same model everywhere. People see visible minorities "everywhere". They just don't notice the white faces in between.
Update 2 (9:04 PM, Jan. 26th, 2005): Reaction to this piece at Randy McDonald's blog. I put in a defence of my position. See for yourself what you think. Also, my old flatmate from Edinburgh, Rob Dinsdale, emailed last night to say, "Just read your most recent post on your blog, and I have to say that I'm with you on this one. I've been quite perturbed this week by Michael Howard tickling my nation's xenophobic underbelly. Not quite sure where the Tories are going to go after this, after they hopefully get humped in the general election. They've gone as far as ripping off Australian ideas, but how much further right can they go?"
Razib has an excellent post up at GNXP on whether Arabs are 'white' or 'non-white'. The answer: some are, some aren't (at least in terms of appearance).
The 'white race,' at least as it is understood in America and Western Europe, is essentially a cultural designation, as you can find people who are physically indistinguishable from Europeans as far east as Afghanistan and as far south as Sudan. Just to illustrate this (and why not do it with beautiful women?), here are two contestants from last year's Miss Universe competition. One is from Slovenia, and the other is from Egypt. Which is which?
As most of you, I'm assuming, know, there was a sizeable blizzard that hit the north-east and mid-west of the United States yesterday. Here in New York we were whacked with over a foot of snow, so, this afternoon, I went for a walk around my neighborhood to take some pictures of Astoria in the snow.
As ever with my photoblogs, click on the picture to see a larger version.
My brand new music blog can be seen here. Check it out.
So, yeah, I haven't been writing at all in the last week. I've been having a good old-fashioned brood about what sort of stuff I want to write about, what directions I want to go in, and all that. I've also been posting a fair amount at Dissensus, so if you are interested this link will take you to a list of my posts.
I've just got back in from wandering around the neighborhood taking pictures of the aftermath of the big Northeastern blizzard so later on tonight I'll be doing a new photoblog. I've also got a new book review, and several commentary pieces that I've started over the last couple weeks but have never gotten around to finishing. I'm also thinking of starting a music blog.
In case anyone is wondering, it's pronounced peer-sol, no pears, no sals, and the first syllable has to be peer but for the second syllable sull or sill is ok, I guess.
It's actually my middle name (my full name is Randall Pearsall Helms) but it's what my parents have always called me.
If you're curious about the origins of it as a name, here is a history of the Pearsall name. In my case, it's a family name from the Ulster Protestant part of my dad's family, so after making the jump from Normandy to England the name (in my ancestors case) went on to Ulster and then to America. In fact, and this is one of those weird family traditions now I guess, my grandfather (Rowland), my father (Robert), and myself (Randall) all have Pearsall as our middle names, and, as you've probably noticed, all share the same initials.
My good friend Robert Jubb has just started his own blog, Consider Phlebas which I'm sure will be an excellent (if beardy) analysis of politics, life, the world (and stuff). He's already off to a good start. Go check it out.
I'm back in New York now, so there I will now be (hopefully) writing both a bit more regularly again, and in more depth. I was originally only going to be in London for about two weeks, but I extended it because I had to go to Geneva to see my grandmother (and, since I've not been working since mid-November, I had the time to do it).
If you're in London and you want a nice pub to go to, you can do much worse than to visit The Salisbury Hotel on Green Lanes in north London. I was there on Sunday night with some friends and it's a beautiful Victorian pub that has been restored to its full glory, with an excellent selection of beers. There's also lots of great little Turkish restaurants on the road, if you feel the urge for that sort of thing.
Further to the Kenan Malik article on Islamophobia I linked to a couple days ago Norman Geras links to this very interesting interview with the anthropologist Adam Kuper on 'the tyranny of multiculturalism'. Like myself, Kuper has major reservations about the determinist aspect of multiculturalism. It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's a taster where he's talking about life in Apartheid South Africa, yet it is remarkably similar to much of the purportedly 'progressive'/bureaucratic interpretations of multiculturalism that are seen in North America, Western Europe, and the Antipodes.
LT You talk about the idea of ‘culture’ as being too powerful. In your book you provide a dramatic example of how the word can be invoked for quite sinister purposes. You refer to the way in which your own background in South Africa alerted you to the manner in which the concept of culture replaced that of race as an argument that could be politically employed in support of apartheid and separate development.
AK Well, that’s right. It wasn’t though something that I cleverly perceived. It was something that was hammered into us day after day by government propaganda; this was the story they were telling us all the time. They kept saying, look you’ve got it wrong. We are not racist. We don’t believe that there are these biological differences in the world. But there are real differences between people, differences which are more important than biological differences, which in a way cause biological differences. These are cultural differences and they cause biological differences because cultural groups are endogamous. And they should be endogamous. Those who share a culture should live and breed together. Because preserving culture gives meaning and direction and spiritual richness to human life. So the real differences between people in the world are cultural differences by which they meant things like ways of thinking, ways of believing, but also ways of organising and doing things. So, having chiefs, and always bowing and scraping in front of chiefs, was part of your culture and if you didn’t like it, if you thought that you wanted to be a democrat then you were not wrong, you were rebelling against your culture, you were rebelling against yourself, you were denying yourself. It was almost an impossible situation. The only reason why you might want to rebel against your culture was because you had been got at by some western liberals who’ve put these different ideas into your head. So culture was destiny. But the fact that the cultural groups who emerged from all this were exactly identical to what were once called racial groups, was, of course, as the Marxists say, no accident. I think that in a lot of the multicultural discourse we find people using very vague and meaningless terms like culture because what they really mean, what they really want to say, is race and racial difference. They want to talk about racial groups that necessarily have different ways of life, different mentalities, different cultures. And never the twain shall mix.
What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)
On the topic of John Negroponte, check out this article from Sobaka from a couple months back.
He made his name in Honduras because he made it officially a shiny, happy, little bit of Scandinavia down south of the border even though its ruler was openly discussing making the place more like Argentina back when the military ran that place.
Try and catch Negroponte on this or any other point, and he's got you nailed. Remember, he claims he doesn't believe death squads operated in Honduras. Sure, it's like saying that, in spite of a complete lack of manufacturing facilities at the North Pole, you believe Santa's elves make all the toys up there, but it's all a matter of belief. Show him the proof, and he can disbelieve it. Honduras remains a happy little square on a Candy Land board, as long as you talk to Negroponte.
Andrew Sullivan drops this quote from the pro-war Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting) consultancy:
The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts: 1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates. 2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency. 3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal. 4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible.
As Kevin Drum says:
Is there anybody left who still thinks we can win in Iraq? Anybody, that is, aside from George Bush, who apparently lives in a cocoon and refuses to allow bad news to pass through his doors? It sure doesn't sound like it.
Even if election turnouts aren't so bad I still can't see anything but a downward spiral for Iraq.
Not really had the time to do much blogging recently, but here's an excellent article from The Guardian yesterday.
Muslims are under siege. Police treat them as terrorists. Racists attack them and firebomb their mosques. Journalists and politicians revile their religion. Especially since 9/11, the Islamic community has been assailed from all sides.
That, at least, is the received wisdom - and not just from Muslim leaders. Everyone from anti-racist activists to government ministers wants us to believe that Britain is in the grip of Islamophobia - a morbid fear and hatred of Islam and of Muslims. Former Home Office minister John Denham has warned of the "cancer of Islamophobia" infecting the nation. The veteran anti-racist Richard Stone, a consultant to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, suggests that Islamophobia is "a challenge to us all". The director of public prosecutions has worried that the war on terror is "alienating whole communities" in this country.
I'm the kind of person you might expect to join this chorus. I've been an anti-racist all my life. I opposed the war on Iraq. I think that Britain's anti-terror laws are an affront to democracy. But I also think that Islamophobia is a myth - at least in the way that most people conceive of it. There is clearly ignorance and fear of Islam in this country. Muslims do get harassed and attacked because of their faith. Yet I believe that the hatred and abuse of Muslims is being exaggerated to suit politicians' needs and silence the critics of Islam.
Go read the rest.
CAIRO, Egypt - Clashes between Muslims and Christians over claims that two brothers had opened a church in their southern Egyptian home have killed one Muslim and injured three, while 23 people have been detained, the Interior Ministry said Thursday.
The violence occurred Wednesday in Damshwai Hashim, a village in the province of Minya, where sectarian tensions have flared previously, some 220 kilometers (135 miles) south of Egypt's capital Cairo.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the violence started after a rumor spread through the village that two Coptic Christian brothers had turned their house into a church and urged Copts to pray inside.
The statement said 200 Muslim villagers marched on the house, hurling stones at it before trying to storm the dwelling.
Residents in the Muslim-majority village say local Copts have grown angry since authorities last year rejected their demand to build a church, apparently because their numbers were too few. Christian villagers must travel to a nearby village to attend church services.
The violence followed clashes between Copts and security forces earlier this month at a Coptic Cathedral in Cairo during demonstrations against the reported kidnapping of a priest's wife who was forced to convert to Islam.
Coptic Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 70 million people, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. While Egyptian authorities say the country's Muslims and Christians live in relative harmony, many Copts complain of discrimination in this Muslim-dominated country.
During an Islamic insurrection in Egypt in the early 1990s, Copts were occasionally attacked by Muslim militants. In 2000, Christian-Muslim clashes in southern Egypt killed 23 people, all but two of them Copts.
I've been doing lots of reading recently, so here's a special New Year's edition of links to interesting stuff I've read recently (not necessarily all of it newly-written, but all interesting, imo).
Dan Darling's analysis of the recent Bin Laden tapes.
'Does Cosby help?' from Newsweek.
'The Media and Medievalism' by Robert D. Kaplan.
Simon Silverdollarcircle's round-up of the year in grime.
'Are the figures for recorded crime of any use?' from Civitas.
Africa meets the Middle East from The Head Heeb.
Gary Leupp on why Iraq's Christians are leaving.
'Dreaming Europe in a Wide-Awake World' from The National Interest.
Randy McDonald, 'pro-Genocide partisan'.
The terrible teaching of history in British schools.