Mar 31, 2007

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. This is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil. --Albert Schweitzer

Mar 30, 2007

Faye Turney is Not Worth a World War

British leading seaman Faye TurneyLeft: British leading seaman Faye Turney in Tehran

(Tehran) The images coming from Iran are unsettling to Western viewers, British sailors purportedly confessing their entry into Iranian waters while on an anti-smuggling mission in the Arvandrud/Shatt al-Arab. With Faye Turney's scarved face now the symbol of this incident, many in the West are calling for retaliation.

There is certainly a "blast them back to the Stone Age" reaction being voiced by members of the media and throughout the blogosphere. China Confidential is exemplary of this type of rhetoric:
The choice is simple and stark: (1) mass death in Iran, or (2) mass death in Israel, the United States, and Europe, and on US bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Either the mullahs die, or we die.
Hyperbole aside, there are voices within the Bush administration who are in agreement with these sentiments. My suspicion is that the war hawks probably fell all over themselves at the fortunate arrival of this provocative Iranian action.

The seizure of the British sailors, though, might signal a political split between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leaders of the Revolutionary Guard. As much as Ahmadinejad has been demonized in the Western press, he is far from the most fundamentalist or war-mongering among the Iranian leadership. An attack on Iran would simply send the Iranian war hawks into the ascendancy.

Full text of letter purportedly written by the captured British sailor Faye Turney and addressed to the British people. Left: Third letter from British sailor Faye Turney; click for larger image

The third letter from Faye Turney certainly sounds like it was coached, or even coerced. There is little doubt that Turney is being used by the Iranians for propaganda and/or bargaining value, but it is important to set aside our momentary disgust and ask an important question:

Is this worth a much wider regional war, one that might lead to a worldwide conflict?

There is still time to work a deal, free the British sailors, and avoid turning a relatively minor international incident into an excuse for full-scale war in the Middle East.

Or worse.

Rapid Rhetoric: VERNISSAGE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

vernissage (vehr-nih-SAHJ) n. Private preview of an art exhibition; the opening of an art exhibition.

Vernisage is derived from the French verb vernir ("to varnish"). One of the last tasks an artist might perform before the opening would be to varnish the finished work. The ceremonial ending of art exhibitions, for those who need to know, is called "finissage."

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity. --William Wordsworth

Software Tip for Sluggish Computers

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One such package is the jv16 PowerTools system, which includes a registry cleaner and manager, software uninstaller, and Windows optimization tool. Macecraft software is compatible with the new Windows Vista operating system.

You can download the free trial version from this Macecraft link. You can also take advantage of this discount coupon to save a few extra dollars. This was a sponsored post.

Same Train, A Different Time

Cover of the 1969 album 'Same Train, A Different Time' by Merle Haggard There are certain albums that never fail to reconnect me with the distant past, and I listened to one today that took me back to the little bungalow I grew up in on Mettetal Street on the west side of Detroit in 1969.

My parents bought the Merle Haggard album Same Train, A Different Time that year. This is a tribute to one of Haggard's musical heroes, Jimmie Rodgers, who was known in the Depression era as "The Singing Brakeman." Haggard's plaintive vocals capture the raw emotions in the brilliant blues of Rodgers without delving into mimicry.

Rodgers died young of tuberculosis in 1933, a brilliant songwriter and performer whose short six-year career saw him recording over 120 tracks, most of which he penned himself. His last recordings were made in less than a week before his death, and he had to rest on a cot in the studio in between takes.

Haggard sang these sad songs simply because he loved the music of Jimmie Rodgers. These were tales of hoboes, people with broken hearts, and and lonesome travelers who wanted nothing more than to be home again. As a young boy this melancholy music resonated with me, and I have always gravitated toward tunes that tell the tales of despondent people and desperate times.

And yet there remained hope in the crestfallen songs of Jimmie Rodgers, hope of better days, or the woman he lost who might some day return. Haggard captures this side of Rodgers, and brings a touch of self-deprecating wit to some of the lyrics.

The 'Father of Country Music,' Jimmie RodgersThe "Father of Country Music," Jimmie Rodgers

As I listen to "Waitin' for a Train," I imagine I am sitting on the old brown couch we had in our living room in that little house in Detroit. One of our cats is sitting on the couch with me, my mom's in the kitchen with my sister, my dad and brother are playing catch out front, and I am listening to Merle sing this forlorn Jimmie Rodgers song about a traveler in the middle of nowhere:
Nobody seems to want me
Or lend me a helping hand
I'm on my way from Frisco
Goin' back to Dixie Land.

My pocketbook is empty
My heart is full of pain
I'm a thousand miles away from home
Waitin' for a train.
Thirty-eight years have passed since I first heard this wonderful music, and Same Train, A Different Time never fails to send a few of those reminiscent echoes bouncing around my head.

There is little of modern country music that captures my attention, and most of the music that passes for "country" these days is just pop with a twang. This, however, is an album that transcends categorization, other than to say it holds an important place in American culture. Find it. Buy it. Enjoy it.

Mar 29, 2007

Swiss Man Gets 10 Years for Insulting Thai King

(Thailand) Swiss citizen Oliver Jufer was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges of insulting the Thai king. He faced a maximum sentence of 75 years, but was given leniency for confessing to the crime.

Jufer, 57, was taped by surveillance cameras on December 5 spray-painting over five outdoor posters containing images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where Jufer resided. Jufer's lawyer said that he was intoxicated during the act, and that he was angry about alcohol sales being prohibited during Bhumibol‘s 79th birthday.

The Thai laws banning such criticism are examples of the archaic principle of lèse majesté ("offense against a sovereign"), long forgotten in much of the West, but still a feature of life in some monarchies.

It appears that Jufer's best hope is a pardon from the Thai king. Other foreigners convicted of similar crimes in the past have been deported.

On Recyclables and Opportunism

Left: unidentified entrepreneur raiding the county recycling bins

(Toledo, OH) I originally thought I would post a short missive on the importance of recycling; I planned to take a few photos of Lucas County recycling bins at the Secor/Monroe Kroger location.

A rustling in one of the dumpsters, however, confirmed that the West Toledo Recyclable Bandit was hard at work.

I have seen him in and around the bins several times; I am not sure if he is collecting metal containers for scrap metal, or if he is driving across the border into Michigan to redeem containers for the $.05 and $.10 deposit (Ohio is not a deposit state).

Left: A sampling of the income potential in county bins

As a person who generally adheres to the principle of "live and let live," it does not cause me much chagrin to see this man gleaning a few dollars from the refuse of other people.

That being said, this represents some income loss for the county, and ostensibly my taxes underwrite this man's extra-legal behavior.

What do you think? Should people like the Recycling Bandit be viewed as criminals, entrepreneurs, or in a larger sense, evidence that there is an underground economy fueled by people who struggle to succeed in mainstream America?

A discussion on Toledo Talk prompted the rerun of this post.

Mar 28, 2007

Napoleon's "Three-Bee" Flag of Elba

Napoleon's bee flag of Elba, also known as the bumblebee flag of Elba or the three bee flag of Elba Image of Napleon's "bee flag" provided courtesy of James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine

During a recent lecture that I attended, Dr. Glenn Ames of the University of Toledo referenced the flag that Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned during his short reign as Emperor of Elba as his "bumblebee flag." This was before his brief return in 1815 as the Emperor of France during the Hundred Days.

My curiosity was piqued, but my initial searches failed to turn up anything more than a computer-generated drawing of the flag. Today, though, I found a photograph of one of the few remaining "bee flags" of Napoleon. This one was expected to fetch nearly $100,000 in an auction of military memorabilia.

Bees had been a symbol of royal families in France since the Merovingian era. Napoleon believed the bees represented "a sting, but also producing honey," sort of a dualistic symbolism.

Here, then, is the infamous "bee flag." I am sure all of you can now sleep better after finally seeing this piece of European history.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Buy the sky and sell the sky
And lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky and ask the sky
Don't fall on me.
--R.E.M., "Fall on Me"

Book Review: Voyages into ye East and West Indies

Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naar Oost ofte Portugaels Indien ... 1579-1592, also known as Voyages into ye East and West Indies, by Jan Huyghen van Linschoten Van Linschoten, Jan Huyghen, and Wolfe, John (editor, translator)

Amsterdam: Walter J. Johnson, Inc. /Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd (1974), 462 pages

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten was a Dutch merchant and traveler who was appointed in 1583 as secretary to Dom Fray Vicente da Fonseca, the Archbishop of Goa. During the six years that he spent in Goa Linschoten copied Portuguese maps, recorded trade information, and collected detailed sailing instructions to India, Southeast Asia, and China, as well as less reliable information about Spanish possessions in the New World. Returning to the Netherlands, Linschoten composed an itinerary of his travels entitled the Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naar Oost ofte Portugaels Indien ... 1579-1592, which incorporated all he gleaned from the Portuguese, and this information helped the English and the Dutch break the Portuguese monopoly on the Indian Ocean trade. An English edition of his Voyage was published in London in 1598, and the 1974 edition is a facsimile of the original English version.

Linschoten noted that the reason he decided to serve the Archbishop and leave Lisbon was that “the trade of Marchandise there not being great, by reason of the new and fresh disagreeing between the Spaniards and Portingales [Portuguese]…” , a reference to the Battle of Alcântara and the capture of the Portuguese crown by Philip II of Spain. Linschoten provided a wealth of information about every place he visited in his travels; the following is his description of the Portuguese fortress of Diu and the reasons for the city’s importance in the Estado da India as a regional breadbasket:
This land aboundeth, and is very fruitfull of all kinds of victuals, as Oren [pine], Kine [cattle], Hogges, Sheepe, Hennes, Butter, Milk, Onions, Garlicke, Pease, Beanes, and such like, whereof there is great plentie, and that very good, and such as better cannot be made in all these Low Countries…of all these victuals, and necessarie provisions they have so great quantity that they supply the want of all the places round about the, especially Goa and Cochin…

Portrait of Jan Huygen van Linschoten, from the princeps edition of his Itinerario16th-century portrait of Jan Huygen van Linschoten, from an edition of his Itinerario

One of the strengths of the Voyage is the author’s insistence on providing the most accurate information he could gather. Linschoten knew of the existence of the Korean peninsula, but believed it to be an island and had little else to share with readers:
A little beyond Japon under 34. and 35. degrees not farre from the coast of China, lyeth another great Iland called Insula de Core, whereof as yet there is no certaine knowledge, neither of the greatnesse of the countrie, people, nor of the wares that are there to be found.
Still, Linschoten was as eager to believe in the myth of priest-king Prester John as any other early modern European traveler, and he located the realm in Abyssinia. His descriptions of the kingdom of the fabled Prester are nearly as fanciful as those of Sir John Mandeville:
Now to say something of Prester John, being the greatest and mightiest prince in all Africa, his countrey beginneth from the entrance into the red sea, and reacheth to the Iland of Siene… so that to set down the greatnesse of all the countries which this Christian king hath under his commandment, they are in compasse 4000. Italian miles… his government is over many countries and kingdoms that are rich and abundant in gold and silver, and precious stones, and all sorts of metals…
Despite the claims of publisher John Wolfe that “we in our times are thoroughly learned and instructed by our own experience,” there are quite a few regions around the globe that remained unknown to Europeans at the end of the sixteenth century. Several of the maps depict a well-defined Northwest Passage that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the interior of Africa contains little in the way of accurate details. Linschoten described the existence of a little-known stretch of land that would later turn out to be the continent Australia, simultaneously also referencing the unnamed continent of Antartica:
This land beginneth under 7 degrees on the south side [of the island of Java] and runneth east and by south 150 miles long, but touching the breadth, it is not found, because as yet it is not discovered, nor by the Inhabitants themselves well knowne. Some thinke it to be firme land, and parcel of the countrie called Terra incognita, which belong to, should reach from that place to the Cape de Bona sperãce [Good Hope], but as yet it is certainly not known, and therefore it is accounted for an Iland.
The 1974 edition, as a facsimile, uses an Old English font that takes some time to get used to. In addition, there are inconsistencies in the spelling throughout the text (such as country, countrie, countrey), and the translation is in Early Modern English. This edition does not contain an index, table of contents, or footnotes; readers who seek an easier read would be well advised to cast about for the 2001 Elibron Classics edition, which is a reprint of the 1885 Hakluyt Society translation. Both versions, however, provide 21st-century scholars with a wealth of information about how the world looked to Europeans, and how much of the world remained unknown to them.

Mar 27, 2007

Gimlet-Eyed Thoughts on Tough Times

While driving through Ottawa Hills today - the last bastion of what wealth has not already been sucked out of Northwest Ohio - a car pulled in front of me with an interesting bumper sticker:


The well-dressed man drove a late model Lexus LS (I think it was a 460), and chatted on his cell phone as we turned onto Secor Road.

I looked at the bumper sticker again. Then back at the Lexus. And back at the bumper sticker.

What sorts of "tough times," I wondered, was this man thinking of when he affixed the aforementioned message? Did his foursome at the Inverness Country Club get rained out? Bad quarter for the half-million stashed in the old 401-K, dude?

True, 'tough times' is a relative term, but I couldn't help feeling this Lexus-driving person might not be the best qualified to offer advice on surviving said tough times.

Then again, at the time I was driving my 11-year-old heap of a Saturn, going home to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I was broke and it's three days until payday and I just spent over $700 at the vet and I still have to line up some kind of summer employment because my last UT paychecks hit the first week of May and we still owe about $1000 for my kid's tuition and the mortgage company - despite $3000 worth of monies in escrow - didn't pay my property taxes on time and now I get stuck with the late fees and I have to put off getting my teeth cleaned for another two months because none of my employers offer dental and I STILL haven't fixed my wiper blades so I'm driving in a mist with dysfunctional wiper blades and none of the resumes I sent out to local colleges has gotten me even one promising phone call and I'd hate to cut into the savings we have worked so hard to set aside.

And don't even get me going about the remote for the ceiling fan that got dropped and now will cost $60 to replace or the brand-new screen on the back door that one of my goofy kids pushed out or the hole in the pond in the garden that was created by a well-meaning but impulsive teenager who dug it up to "clean" it but which now leaks like a New Orleans levee.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Time sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail; but a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly. --Ivan Turgenev

Mar 26, 2007

Listening to the Birds

The American Robin, Turdus migratoriusThe American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Many mornings start for me with one of the cable news programs, as I am something of a news junkie. I chose instead to start this day by listening to the sounds of the birds in my neighborhood.

One of the first birds to start singing this morning was a Northern cardinal, which has an unmistakeable collection of songs. I next noticed several American robins singing to each other, faint echoes bouncing between the nearby houses.

Mourning doves can often be heard at dawn and dusk in my neighborhood, and a pair of these lonesome-sounding birds answered each other several times a minute. We have a seemingly endless supply of House wrens that gather near my house, and their rhythmic chirping served as background to the solos of the other birds that sang today.

If you click on the above links you can hear the individual songs of the birds. I think I will record the collective avian symphony some morning to share the music of my neighborhood with others.

For me listening to birds is a form of meditation, a way to temporarily clear my head of anxieties and stress. I only wish I had more time to while away in the reverie of the natural music that surrounds us.

Mar 25, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: PERSIFLAGE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

persiflage (PER-sih-flazh) n. Light banter; frivolous talk; treating a serious topic with a alight-hearted dismissal, sometimes out of contempt.

Persiflage traces its roots directly from the French word persifler , meaning "to banter." notes that persifler is in fact a French compound word, combining the per- intensive prefix with siffler ("to whistle"). Siffler comes from the Latin sibilare , meaning "to hiss."

The NYPD and Political Repression

Some of the estimated 500,000 protesters to the Republican National Convention in New York City, August 29, 2004 (AP)

I just read a disturbing article in the New York Times about teams of undercover New York City police officers who conducted covert observations of protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Known as the "R.N.C. Intelligence Squad," the New York officers traveled to Europe, Canada, and at least 14 states to infiltrate groups that were believed to be participating in the mass protests in New York.

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the NYPD overstepped its authority in the covert surveillance program.

"The police have no authority to spy on lawful political activity, and this wide-ranging N.Y.P.D. program was wrong and illegal," he said. "In the coming weeks, the city will be required to disclose to us many more details about its preconvention surveillance of groups and activists, and many will be shocked by the breadth of the Police Department’s political surveillance operation."

I think that police surveillance of lawful political groups infringes upon freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, and sets a frightening precedent for other governmental bodies. That being said, too many Americans are content to sit back allow government entities to usurp their civil liberties.

Just make sure that nothing preempts their American Idol episodes, because nothing is more important than keeping up with the mindless inanity of the likes of Melinda, Lakishia, and Sanjaya, as we have become a nation of drooling imbeciles who can really get fired up only when our favorite manufactured AI star gets axed.

Mar 24, 2007

Reading Iranian Tea Leaves

British marines patrolling the Shatt Al Arab waterway outside Basra (AP)

Reports that 15 British marines were seized Friday by two Iranian vessels in the Shatt al-Arab waterway sparked outrage in the Britain and the United States. Coming on the heels of the news that the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions on Iran, the detention of the British military personnel has the potential to be a spark leading to a wider regional conflict.

Some see the two events as connected, believing that the Iranians may be using the 15 men as bargaining chips against the UN sanctions. Under this scenario, Iran could be seen as sending a signal to the West about the future consequences of sanctions.

It is more likely, though, that the actions by Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Quds forces were to secure the release of five Iranians who were arrested by US troops at the Iranian embassy in Irbil, Iraq.

Official word has not been delivered by the Iranian government on the status of the British marines, but the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted an Iranian military source who said that the aim was to trade the Royal Marines and sailors for the Iranians detained at Irbil.

The incident between Iranian and British military personnel occurred in the Shatt al-Arab waterway (known in Persian history as the Arvandrud), which begins at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and continues some 125 miles to the Persian Gulf. Control of this strategic waterway has long been a source of conflict between Arabs and Persians, and was one of the most hotly contested items in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Both Iran and Iraq use the river as a commercial thoroughfare, and officials in both nations fear losing access to the Gulf through the waterway. With the 1975 Algiers Accord, both sides agreed to honor a median boundary in the Arvandrud/Shatt al-Arab.

Some pundits will see the Iranian act as an excuse to escalate the growing conflict between the United States and Iran, and possibly justify a military attack on Iran. "Wild Bill" at the far-right Passionate America sums up the metality of the war hawks, and I'm not sure he is using hyperbole:
Tony Blair I beg you, stiffen your spine, readjust your sack, and turn sand into glass. Call Israel, call Bush, and call the thunder from down under and give these sand monkeys what they want, nuclear weapons.
I can only pray that the views expressed by "Wild Bill" are not shared by American and British leaders.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. --Aeschylus

Mar 23, 2007

On the Drudge Report and Misleading Headlines

From time to time I scan the Drudge Report, especially when I am in a mood for quick headlines. I know that a trip to the world of Matt Drudge means that I need to be skeptical of his tendency to manipulate the news, but my most recent visit was an exercise in journalistic deception that exceeded even the low standards to which Drudge is often mired.

One headline screamed "Justice Breyer Goes 0-3 on NPR News Quiz," implying that a Supreme Court justice displayed evidence that he is out of touch with important information. The real story was that Breyer didn't know that David Bowie "once tried to exorcise Satan from his swimming pool," Iggy Pop "spent a year eating nothing but German sausages," and that Ozzy Osbourne "once asked for directions to the bar immediately after checking in to rehab."

Another headline proclaimed a "Body Found Hanging From Tree in Alabama," perhaps leading a person to think that KKK-style lynching returned to the deep South. Following the link we learn that a white man committed suicide in an Alabama town called Bessemer.

One of the most outrageous headlines read that "New York City environmentalists eliminate toilet paper in effort to save the planet," implying that this was some kind of radical conspiracy to deny New Yorkers the right to wipe. Instead, the link pulls up a story in the Home and Garden section of the New York Times about a couple who are conducting an urban experiment they call "No Impact", in which they eat only organic food grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan, minimize consumer shopping, produce no trash (excepting compost), use no paper, and use no carbon-fueled transportation.

Another provocative headline declared "Women covered up skimpy clothes at Bill Clinton fundraiser," leading the casual observer to conclude that this was somehow related to Clinton's sexual misbehavior. A closer inspection of the article, though, turns up the fact that the Clinton fundraiser was held in a fitness center, and that those who "covered up" did so with special T-shirts emblazoned with "Exercise Your Vote."

Admittedly, Drudge is far from the only media outlet that manipulates the news through misleading headlines, but he seems to have elevated the practice to an art form. One wonders, though, how many people draw erroneous conclusions from this deceptive practice.

Caveat lector!

Thinking About the Human Costs of War

(Toledo, OH) I spent some time today thinking about the people who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the reality of which was reinforced by the Arlington Midwest memorial on the Lucas County Courthouse lawn. I quickly regretted leaving my coat behind in the car, as temperatures dropped into the thirties overnight.

I became briefly acquainted with some people like Army Specialist Travis R. Vaughan, originally from Reinbeck, Iowa. This 26-year-old soldier died in Afghanistan on February 18, little more than a month ago.

At the Memorial I met soldiers like Nicholas C. Mason, from King George, Virginia. He was a 20-year-old Army National Guard specialist killed on December 21, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq.

I also learned about young men like Army specialist Kyle Ka Eo Fernandez, from Waipahu, Hawaii. Fernandez died at the age of 26 in Afghanistan on October 14, 2004.

The Arlington Midwest memorial forces you to consider the human costs associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I struggled to take a picture that would capture the effect of viewing thousands of symbolic headstones.

Even with a wide-angle lens it is difficult to include all of the rows of markers, unless you stand across the street and settle for a picture that looks like a sea of tiny white dots. When you stand in front of the marker of soldier William Davis - a Michigan man who died in Iraq March 20 and who had a wife, a 3-year-old daughter and a baby due next month - you see a human being, someone with dreams and a life somewhere far removed from the bloodshed overseas.

While I was talking with one of the memorial's volunteers, word came in of the deaths of three more U.S. soldiers. What an odd sensation; one minute we were discussing the history of the memorial, and the next we had to silently watch three new markers get placed, each of which carried carried the briefest pieces of information:


The cold March wind continued to blow, downtown motorists went about their business, and three more American troops were dead. My missing coat now seemed pretty trivial.

The Arlington Midwest memorial will remain in front of the Lucas County Courthouse through Saturday. There will be an event sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition called "Peace Sounds" at 6:30 this evening, featuring live bands and poetry readings.

On Losing, Finding, and Secretly Hating My Phone

Found, but not turned on

I have an annoying habit of misplacing my cell phone. Some might attribute this to my disdain for telephones in general, and I think a convincing case could be made that my tendency to lose my phone is really a passive-agressive effort to sabotage the efforts of friends, family, and acquaintances to reach me via cellular. Admittedly, I have been known to cuss under my breath when the blasted cellular ring goes off.

My cellular's latest trip to Lostville lasted about nine days, so if you have tried to reach me on my cellular in that time, you have probably been irritated at me. I would be, if I were you; most people consider their telephones to be an extension of themselves, and do not understand how someone like me can detest a cell phone.

Mea maxima culpa.

I much prefer the mode of electronic mail, which does not jar me out of a contemplative reverie with a shrill noise. With email I am able to return messages when I have time, and I am not distracted by callers whose idea of urgency may not be in sync with mine.

There then sits my cellular phone, complete with all sorts of features my wife so thoughfully made sure I had when she bought it for me. I have made use of the phone book option on occasion, but I'm afraid most of the other extras sit unopened, with the same programming that the kind folks at Sanyo installed.

Now, the most important question is whether or not to turn on the cellular now that I have found the missing device. Maybe I'll pour a cup of coffee first, before I listen to the piled up messages from in my voicemail.

(historymike leaves to pour coffee, pet a dog, and load the dishwasher)

"18 new messages" was the tally from the computerized Sprint lady. Phew! It may take me a few days to get up the motivation to listen to all of those - if I were you, and you were trying to reach me, I'd send an email.

Rapid Rhetoric: OEILLADE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

oeillade (uhl-YAHD) n. A glance of the eye; a flirtatious wink; an amorous look.

The word oeillade (alternately spelled œillade ) comes to English directly from French, and the translation carries the same coquettish connotations in both languages.

I would suggest that married men refrain from giving or receiving oeillades, especially when their observant wives are within 100 miles of the oeillade in question.

Book Review: The Journal of Christopher Columbus

16th-century portrait of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) by unknown painter Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón), translated by Cecil Jane.

London: Anthony Blond, 1968 (English translation), Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, Ltd., 1990 (Spanish version)

Doubtless convinced that he was on the verge of a momentous voyage, Christopher Columbus kept a record of the trip through ship logs and charts. This was somewhat unusual for its time, since this was not a requirement of captains of Spanish-flagged vessels until 1575.

Queen Isabella of Spain had the original journal transcribed, giving the copy to Columbus and keeping the original for herself; the original manuscript has not been seen since 1504. The copied journal had a storied life, passing through the hands of numerous descendants of the Great Invader, allegedly being sold by Columbus’s ne’er-do-well grandson Luis to pay off debts. This copy, too, has disappeared.

The text that has survived the ravages of both time and debauched progeny is that produced by the Dominican historian and former conquistador Bartolomé de Las Casas. This account is most likely a summary of the second copy, with extensive word-for-word quotes at places “he thought were particularly interesting or worthy of quotation in full.”

Thus, historians face considerable difficulty in ferreting out which parts were pure Columbus, and which show the hand of Las Casas. Unfortunately, barring the sudden rediscovery of the original text or the Isabella-financed copy, this is as good as it gets. I have chosen two texts – both of which are translations of the Journal – to compare word choice and to educate myself on translation techniques; the second book has the original Spanish plus an English translation by B.W. Ife. I added the second book out of curiosity, and I wanted to compare some pages of the new translation with the Jane version to note any significant changes in the text.

There are some linguistic issues with this text about which readers need to be aware. Columbus was Genoese, and likely spoke a northern Italian dialect as his first language. He lived in Portugal for nine years, gaining fluency in Portuguese, although any extant Columbian writings in Portuguese have not survived. Columbus moved to Córdoba in Spain, and spent the rest of his non-voyage years there until his death in 1506.

Christopher Columbus, aka Cristobal Colón; 16th-century portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón); 16th-century portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo

The only language in which Columbus could demonstrably exhibit written competency was Castilian, although some letters exist from Columbus to Italian relatives that were composed in a badly written Tuscan. The Journal is written in a serviceable Castilian, with elements of Portuguese and Genoese terms interspersed. The navigational and sailing terms, according to Ife, are the words most likely to exhibit Lusitanian influence; this makes sense, as Portugal was the hub of 15th-century European seafaring activity. Finally, readers should consider the university-trained hand of Las Casas, whose efforts at transcribing, translating, and summarizing add an additional level of participation into the mix.

The motivations for the voyages of Columbus are similar to those expressed by the Portuguese in their explorations. He indicated that, like the Portuguese fascination with the mythical Prester John, the Spanish sovereigns hoped to link up with a powerful eastern ruler who might aid them in their conflicts with the Saracens:
…and then in the same month [that the Spaniards reconquered Granada] from information which I had given Your Highnesses about the lands of India and a prince called the Great Khan, which means in our language King of Kings, and how he and his ancestors had many times sent to Rome for learned men to instruct him in our holy faith…
This eastern potentate, who Ife argues is most likely the Mongol emeperor Togon-temür, would provide a valuable ally against the spread of Islam. Indeed, there is a realm of research into the evolution of the Prester John myth that links powerful Mongol rulers with the European belief in great eastern monarchs who reigned over lands with incredible wealth. Whether called Gran Can, Prester John, or Genghis Khan, the European conviction that potential partners existed in the Indies was a primary motivation for explorers such as Columbus.

Economic motivations were certainly a component of the voyages of Columbus, and few entries after landfall fail to show evidence of the admiral’s desire for the riches of the Indies. He wrote on 13 October 1492 that he “was attentive and labored to know if they had any gold;” two days later the ships reached Santa Maria de la Concepción (Rum Cay in the Bahamas), where he noted in his journal that he “anchored off the said point to learn if there were gold there.” On the same day his obsession with gold reaches a fever pitch in the following entry:
These islands are very green and fertile and the breezes are soft, and it is possible that there are in them many things, of which I do not know, because I did not wish to delay in finding gold, by discovering and going about many islands.

Columbus mentions the proselytizing motivation in the text a few times, particularly in his salutation to King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella. He was certainly charged by the sovereigns with carrying out this Gospel mission. However, his focus throughout the Journal remained firmly on profit-generating commodities, such as gold, spices, and wood.

The differences between the translations tended to revolve around syntax and word choice, rather than any substantial thematic changes. The following passage is typical of the differences between the Jane and the Ife translations:
(Jane) Monday, Decmber 17th. That night the wind blew strongly from the east-north-east; the sea was not very rough, because the island of Tortuga, which is opposite and forms a shelter, protected and guarded it.
(Ife) Monday 17 December. The wind blew strongly that night from the ENE; the sea did not get up very much, as it is protected and shielded by the island of Tortuga which is opposite and forms a shelter.
The Ife text has a reputation for doing a better job of translating seafaring terms, flora and fauna names, and providing better translations for Portuguese words that Columbus tried to Castillianize.

Mar 22, 2007

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Few things are more satisfying than seeing your own children have teenagers of their own. --Doug Larson

When Parents Want to be Buddies

(Toledo, OH) One of my teens came home last weekend after spending the night at a friend's house and complained that she thought she had food poisoning. When my wife checked her MySpace page later that day, however, she learned that the source of the illness was the alcohol she drank the previous night.

What's worse, the mother of the kid hosting the party was the provider of the booze. This "parent" is of the mindset that "kids are going to drink, so I may as well have the party here where I can supervise it."

What bunk.

Ma'am, your job is to parent your child and to set clear boundaries. At sixteen, your kid is hardly ready to make informed decisions about intoxicants, and frankly, neither is mine. I resent the fact that you are an irreponsible idiot, and that you set such a lousy exmple for my daughter.

And, while you are free to turn your house into any kind of debauched adolescent saloon you want, be advised that I will have no qualms about passing along information to the police should I catch wind of another adult-sanctioned teen drunk fest at your abode.

Finally, look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: "Do I want to be my kid's buddy, or do I want to do the hard- but- necessary job of parenting?"

End rant.

Site Improvements

Several people wrote me recently to inform me that the site has been slow in loading, and a check with some diagnostic tools at Alexa and Google confirmed this.

In response I jettisoned a bunch of things that cluttered up my sidebar, reduced the number of posts on my index page, and yanked some dead links. On my end the page seems to load quicker (at least twice as fast), but I do have a pretty ramped-up laptop.

As much as I love imagery, I will also toy with the idea of reducing the number of images I post.

I am curious if: a) you have experienced slow loads in the past; and b) the site seems to load more quickly now. Thanks!

On the Inadequacies of the Microsoft Word Thesaurus

As a college instructor and a writing tutor I encourage the people with whom I work to develop their vocabularies. The two most important books a writer can own, in my opinion, are a quality dictionary and a cross-referenced thesaurus.

Unfortunately, many people rely on the puny selection of words offered by the thesauri that accompany their word processors. My least favorite of these is the enfeebled thesaurus that Microsoft throws in with their MS-Word software.

I have students who turn in papers with the occasional odd word choice, and invariably they tell me that "Microsoft Word recommended this word" or "I picked it from the list of synonyms in MS-Word." Most of them have never touched a thick book like Roget's Thesaurus, and students often use words whose meanings or connotations they do not understand.

Moreover, the MS-Word thesaurus provides a limited choice of synonyms. For example, Microsoft listed eight synonyms for "beautiful" when I looked for a word this morning, while the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus gave me a whopping 39 from which to choose. My Roget's Thesaurus, however, listed over 100 different synonyms for "beautiful," including a quote from Chaucer: "fair as is the rose in May."

No wisecracks from Apple users here; I have sampled the Apple iWork thesaurus, and it leaves me unimpressed (I resisted the urge to create a metaphor along the lines of "I have tasted that sour Apple" - no purple prose from me today, sorry).

The cynical side of my brain fears that MS-Word is not only dumbing down its faithful users, but is also turning us into efficient, unthinking technicians who sacrifice art for the sake of expeditiousness.

For the sake of all that is holy, throw off those rhetorical Microsoft shackles and invest in Roget's Thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary! The future of the humanities might just depend upon you, dear reader.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Life's splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. --Franz Kafka

Book Review: The Armada

Mattingly, Garrett

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959 (2005), 443 pages

Garrett Mattingly specialized in European history at Columbia University and he received a special citation from the Pulitzer committee in 1960 for The Armada. Despite its age, the book remains an essential component of early modern European historiography. Combining political, military, and diplomatic history, The Armada debunks some long-held myths about the 1588 conflict between the naval forces of Spain and England. Moreover, Mattingly brought a human dimension to many of the historical figures about whom he wrote, and readers leave the text with a greater appreciation of the struggles faced by such personages as Elizabeth I, Philip II, and Henry III. Finally, Mattingly was a brilliant writer whose works read more like novels than historical monographs, bringing a resplendent sense of prose to a genre whose practitioners often eschew aesthetics in their development of historical literature.

One of the most important contributions of The Armada is the effort by Mattingly to place the 1588 naval battle between Spain and England in a wider European context. Unlike earlier works – such as Julian Corbett’s Drake and the Tudor Navy (1899) – that oversimplified the conflict as a two-nation struggle for naval dominance, Mattingly recognized that there were many other factors that ultimately influenced the decision by Philip II to launch his fleet, including the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain, the War of the Three Henrys, and the effects of the Counter-Reformation on European politics. In addition, the author avoided historical hyperbole in his evaluation of the significance of the English victory, noting that the English possessed a formidable navy long before the Channel battle, and that Spain continued to be a dominant naval power in the decades after the loss. More importantly, Mattingly noted that “more American treasure reached Spain in the years between 1588 and 1603 than in any other fifteen years in Spanish history.”

Alonso de Guzmán El Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina SidoniaAlonso de Guzmán El Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia

One of the principal aims of the author was to rehabilitate the historical reputation of Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, the oft-maligned Duke of Medina Sidonia, appointed by Philip II to lead the Armada. Mattingly noted that Medina Sidonia assumed control only after the sudden death of the marquis of Santa Cruz, a mere one week before the original launch date of the Armada. He inherited a fleet in disarray, and many of his ships did not have sufficient food, water, or ammunition for the upcoming battle. In addition, the assitance that the Duke of Parma was supposed to provide Medina Sidonia never materialized, and the invasion force that Philip II expected Medina Sidonia to protect remained stranded on the shores of Dunkirk. Finally, the storms that lashed the battered Spanish ships in the North Sea and around the coast of Ireland – wrecking dozens of ships and taking the lives of thousands of Spanish soldiers and sailors – could hardly be blamed on Medina Sidonia.

Mattingly’s text does not contain footnotes, although he provided extensive notes for each chapter as appendices. The author included a brief historiographical essay on primary and secondary sources, and there are over a dozen pages of photographs of relevant artwork. The text also includes a cross-referenced index and several detailed maps that help readers become familiar with the precise geography of this epic battle in the English Channel. Mattingly also makes a convincing case for the importance of the behind-the-scenes role played by Bernardino de Mendoza, Philip II’s ambassador to France from 1584-90.

Henry III of France, also known as "Henry of Valois"

Perhaps Mattingly’s greatest strength, though, was his ability to tell a compelling story. The author filled the pages of The Armada with engrossing details about the people and events surrounding this historical drama; rather than, for example, simply noting the sexual attraction that French king Henry III displayed for men, Mattingly’s words bring this historical character to life in a way that few authors can pull off:
That carnival season in 1587 was feverishly gay… At intervals the merrymakers would froth out from the light and the music of the Louvre to cut capers in the public streets while His Most Christian Majesty in one odd disguise or another, but most often in that of a maid of honor, whopped and giggled in the center of a knot of those handsome young courtiers the Parisians called his mignons.

One leaves The Armada with much more than another dry analysis of military history, learning as much about the people who planned, executed, and waited for news of the battle as one does with ship formations, artillery devices, and military strategy.

Mar 20, 2007

On the Value of a Brisk Walk

I awoke today with a stiff neck and a sinus headache, not quite fitting the definition of "ill" but perhaps only running at about 80 percent of my physical potential. Words were not forthcoming on any of my writing projects, as I managed only a couple clunky paragraphs on a 4,000-word article I am churning out on the nineteenth-century unification of Germany.

It was time to go for a walk.

There are well-documented health benefits to taking walks that I will not spend any time here discussing, save to say that you should spend less time on blogs like this and get that blood pumping, folks.

Rather, I am intrigued with the connection between exercise and mental acuity. I left for the walk in a bit of an intellectual fog, and while I am still feeling a bit sluggish, my 20-minute walk did wonders for my thinking. In that period I came up with a few blog-worthy topics (including this one), and had a moment of clarity that helped me rethink how I want to organize the aforementioned article on the German Empire.

Moreover, I returned with an ounce of motivation to make some phone calls that I need to complete, and with an eye toward being productive today. The fresh air and my accelerated heartbeat are but two of the benefits of a brisk walk, and my day is better because I took the time to get my body moving.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.

Mar 19, 2007

On Patience, Hard Days Ahead, and the Imperial Presidency

President Bush today marked the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war by urging Congress to pass an emergency war-spending bill, and he warned of "hard days" that lurk in the future. He asked for the "patience" of American citizens in the months ahead.

The President's remarks anticipate the efforts by House and Senate Democrats to introduce measures that would create a timetable on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. These bills, however, are full of administration-friendly loopholes, and are little more than window dressing by 2008-looking Democrats.

The truth is that the American presidency has been on a century-long cruise toward ever-increasing power, and the half-measures proposed by congressional Democrats reflect the weakened position of Congress in the Washington balance of power.

More power is wielded through Executive Orders and National Security Directives - none of which require Congressional approval - than through the thousands of pieces of Congressional legislation that are passed each year. The idea that an enfeebled Congress will actually pass legislation that can check the President is naïve.

The last time Congress collectively asserted itself was in 1973 with the passage of the War Powers Act of 1973, but Presidents since that time have found plenty of ways to get around this piece of inconvenient legislation.

Partisan politics are partly to blame for the rise of the imperial Presidency, and Democrats are surely as much to blame as Republicans. FDR was perhaps the epitome of the imperial President, but he was far from the first to enhance presidential powers at the expense of Congress. Ultimately, Congressional partisans in both parties sat idly by as their party colleagues in the White House augmented presidential powers.

Yes, there will be hard days ahead, but I suspect that the turmoil in Iraq will pale in comparison with what life will be like under the first President who assumes dictatorial powers via Executive Order 12919. And - I have to say - that President will be as likely to have a "D" after his or her name as an "R."

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear. --Socrates

Mar 18, 2007

Cardinal at Dusk

Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

(Toledo, OH) I post most of my photos at my photo blog, but I was particularly taken with this image of a cardinal. The bird was about 40 feet in the air, and I didn't have my zoom lens with me, but his brilliant red feathers glowed against the cobalt blue backdrop of the fading early spring sun.

It had been months since I last heard a cardinal in this area. Click here for a 55-second clip of the Northern cardinal song.

Book Review: The Permanent Crisis: Essays on Russo-Chechen Relations

Fowkes, Ben (ed.)

London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1998, 188 pages

Fowkes was most recently a senior lecturer at the University of North London, and he previously taught at the University of Sheffield. The author has written extensively on communist and Soviet history, and is perhaps best known for his English language translations of the writings of Karl Marx, including an acclaimed version of Das Capital. This particular text – subtitled The Permanent Crisis – is a collection of essays that use the First Chechen War as a backdrop for analyses of the turbulent history between the Russians and the Chechens.

Fowkes himself contributed a length introductory essay that serves to quickly bring non-specialists into the historical discussion of Russo-Chechen relations. Fowkes argued that the historic absence of feudal nobility among the Chechens – who pride themselves on being an egalitarian people – is an important reason for their “unusual steadfastness in resisting Russian occupation,” as there did not exist a class of indigenous leaders with whom the Russians might make alliances. Fowkes also argued that Islam arrived late to Chechnya, and the Chechens embraced the Sufi mysticism espoused by the likes of Sheikh Mansur, whose brand of religious rebellion against the Russians found receptive ears in the Chechen people. The author sketched out an evolving pattern of Russian control of the lowlands and Chechen rebel dominance in the mountainous regions that remains a strategic feature even today.

Eighteenth century Chechen leader Sheikh MansurEighteenth century Chechen leader Sheikh Mansur

Fowkes argued that the Bolsheviks, whose strengths could be found in the peasants of the Chechen plains and in the emerging cities, continued to operate in this highland-lowland dichotomy, albeit with the exception of a brief alliance with the Sufi militants in a campaign against Denikin and the White Army. The Bolsheviks then engaged in an openly anti-Islamic campaign to close mosques, religious schools, and murids, and encouraged the influx of a Russian industrial proletariat to the oil city of Grozny, continuing the pattern of political fragmentation begun by Alexander II in the 1860s.

Using a pretext of alleged collaboration between the Chechens and the Germans during World War II, Stalin ordered in 1944 the deportation of nearly 400,000 Chechens from their homelands to the Kazakh SSR and portions of Siberia; Fowkes estimated that 132,000 people died in the period of exodus and resettlement. Although Khrushchev allowed the Chechens to return home in 1956, the memory of the forced deportations remains strong in Chechnya, and Fowkes argued that this period continues to be a source of friction between the Russians and the Chechens. During the fall of the Soviet Union, Chechen separatists used the horrors of deportation to stir up support for secession from the Russian Federation.

Fowkes maintained that the Russian forces during the First Chechen War were ill-prepared to fight, citing inadequate war preparations, poor troop morale, and a lack of quality units. He also argued that the switch from a conventional war to guerilla tactics by the Dudayev forces prolonged the war, and that the mountainous regions provided the ideal terrain for resistance actions. Fowkes also argued that rampant corruption among anti-Dudayev factions was well known among the Chechen population, and that the lack of a non-criminal opposition to Dudayev helped prolong his hold on power.

Nineteenth century Chechen leader Imam Shamil in an undated photoNineteenth century Chechen leader Imam Shamil in an undated photo

Bülent Gökay provided a historiographical essay on the legacy of Imam Shamil, leader of the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War and the third Imam of Dagestan and Chechnya. Shamil’s nineteenth-century movement was so successful in curbing Russian advances into the Caucasus that a de facto state, the Imamate of Shamil, existed for nearly 30 years. Gorkay argued that the Imamate might have survived Russian imperialism had not the Crimean War ended in such rapid fashion, as Shamil envisioned a coordinated alliance with the Ottomans and the Western powers.

Gökay argued that Marx set the parameters for the historical legacy of Shamil, portraying the Imam in 1853 letters to the New York Tribune as an anti-imperialist and as a democratic nationalist. The early Bolsheviks continued to depict Shamil in a favorable light, holding up the example of the Imam as an ideal of “progressive national liberation movements fighting against the oppression of tsarist imperialism.” The Stalin era, argued Gökay, brought a new approach to examining the nationalist movements of the Caucasus peoples: tsarist imperialism became seen as a “lesser evil” to annexations by the Turks and Persians, and was thus a necessary component of historical development. Shamil’s legacy took a subtle shift away from being a hero of resistance toward a “historical necessity.”

Gökay argued that the rise of “Great Russian patriotism” during the Second World War set the stage for the historiographical minimization of national struggles by Soviet historians, and postwar historians began to depict Shamil as a tool of “Ottoman imperialism and reactionary Persia.” Gökay noted that, by the 1950s, Soviet historians viewed Shamil as an enemy of socialism:
The Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, and France were named as the major imperial powers that initiated a number of intrigues to separate the peoples of the Causcasus from Russia. Shamil was portrayed as noting more than a ‘deputy’ of the Turkish commander-in-chief, Ömer Pasha, and at the XIXth Party Congress Shamil was denounced simply as an agent provocateur paid by foreign imperialists.

This view of Shamil as the leader of a “reactionary feudal-clerical resistance movement,” argued Gökay, continued until the short-lived glasnost movement in the mid-1980s.

William Flemming contributed an essay that critically reexamined the Chechen deportation, arguing that the Soviet deportations “stand out because of the brutality of the operations” and the fact that “hundreds of thousands of ‘special settlers’ perished in the process of deportation.” Flemming noted that there exist a number of discrepancies between official reports of the deportations and those of Chechen and Ingush eyewitnesses especially in the areas of NKVD atrocities, conditions during transportation of the deportees to Central Asia, and casualties that resulted from the deportations. Despite the optimistic reports to Stalin provided by Lavrentiy Beria – who headed up the deportation operations – survivors painted a grim picture; typical of the accounts cited by Flemming was this excerpt of a testimony by a Kh. Arapiev, an Ingush man who was a former Communist Party official:
In the ‘cattle’ wagons, which were full to the limit, and without light or water, we travelled for almost a month to the unknown destination assigned to us … Typhus stalked the wagons … During short stops at dark, uninhabited railway halts they buried the dead in the snow next to the train (to go more than five metres away from the wagon was punishable by death on the spot)…

Russian helicopter downed by Chechen forces near Grozny in 1994Russian helicopter downed by Chechen forces near Grozny in 1994

Pontus Sirén provided a detailed political and military history of the First Chechen War, focusing on the one of the key periods of the conflict, the Battle for Grozny. Sirén argued that a failed covert military action in November 1994 – formulated and initiated by war hawks in his Cabinet - put Yeltsin in a precarious position, as he had long denied that Russia planned to invade the Chechen Republic. When it became obvious that the “official secrecy and blatant lies” could no longer hide the fact that Federal Counter Intelligence Service and Minstery of the Interior forces had been operating in Chechnya to topple Dudayev, argued Sirén, Yeltsin was forced to escalate the conflict as a means to save face.

Each of the articles contain extensive footnotes of the primary and secondary sources used in the essays, and several of the authors provided tables and charts for concise condensation of statistics. Fowkes and Sirén also added a lengthy chronology of the Russo-Chechen conflict, helping readers keep track of the activity before, during, and after the First Chechen War. The Permanent Crisis: provides some unique persectives to the outbreak of hostilities in 1994 between the Russians and the Chechens, and one that peels away some of the simplistic explanations offered by the mainstream media for the First Chechen War.