Sunday, January 25, 2009

Karl Ferdinand Werner, RIP

K-F Werner, RIP

I just found this out from Magister et Mater.

K-F Werner died several weeks ago. I can't find an obituary anywhere, except the one that Magistra links to, which is rather puzzling. My own relationship with the man was entirely through his books, of which there were so many, and about which I found myself saying, over and over again when hitting a research hurdle, "Shit. This is in Werner, isn't it?" Even if he said something you didn't agree with, there are so many times when it seemed like he was there first, and there was never a way to ignore him.

That's Hedley

That's Hedley

There's a documentary on right now I'd really like to watch. Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood. I'd always known about people like Peter Lorre and Billy Wilder, but I hadn't realised just how many others had come over. Apparently, most of the cast of Casablanca, for example. And there's lots of interesting stuff on Ernst Lubitsch and how influential he was, really an important node in the network of emigrés and exiles. Must try to catch this sometime.

Lawrence Summers

Lawrence Summers

He's on Meet the Press right now. I was very much on the bandwagon to see him lose his job when he said women were just not as good at science and math. But He sounds pretty good talking on the economic plan. I don't feel like finding my login info for the WaPo today, but apparently the editorial is complaining about the plan, and uses the example of more money being put into Pell Grants (federal college need-based aid) as not efficient.

Summers rightly points out that not only are college prices driving out students, which has long-term effects, but also that, if students are currently at uni, they'll not have to scrimp as much. OK, maybe some will just work a little less, but honestly, one of the big reasons why students from poorer backgrounds don't do as well is because they are working too much to to the learning they need to do.

When even community colleges (free in my day) are often charging a couple of thousand dollars in tuition, grants could really make a difference.

Of course, this won't help a bit if higher ed institutions do what they often do when grants go up -- and raise tuition.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Call for posts

Call for posts

Hey all --

Notorious, PhD is hosting the next Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesque Logo.

Since we had a hiatus, you can actually submit posts all the way back to December! Please send her your suggestions, either via the submission form, or by emailing her at notoriousphd ~at~ mac ~dot~ com.

She'll be putting it up In February.

In the meantime,

Carnivalesque 46!!!!!

The newest Early Modern Carnivalesque is up now at Chronologi Cogitationes

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A different Medievalist on Gaza, from Israel

A different Medievalist on Gaza, from Israel

I haven't written about what's going on in Gaza because it depresses me and pisses me off far too much, and honestly, I just didn't want to go there and end up writing something that ended up being taken in ways I didn't mean.

A few days ago, Caroline Walker Bynum sent the following two items to the Mediev-l listserv. The first is a blog post by Gadi Algazi, an Israeli scholar of Arab descent (the post is translated from Hebrew). The second is a fund-raising statement for Tarabut–Hit’chabrut, an Arab-Jewish social movement.

I'm posting both here, not because I'm trying to push things on you, and not even because I particularly agree, although honestly, I can't find much to disagree with. I'm posting mostly because we hear little about what is going on besides the conflict -- in fact, as I write this, NPR is broadcasting an interview with a policy expert who is using a sledgehammer to get the point across that Hamas has support from Iran, and we all know what that means (and if we didn't, the commenter is making sure that we know that Iran is entirely evil) -- and I've seen LJ comments that indicate people do want to know more. So here they are.

Update: A reader has contacted me offline to point out that this could be considered soliciting political donations. I'm not. I'm passing on information. But just in case it violates Blogspot's policy, I'm going to leave the contact details and remove the donation information. You are smart enough to find it again if you want to.

(If anyone can remind me how to do cuts, I'd appreciate it

The blog post

Free the hostages from the hands of the politicians of death

Gadi Algazi

The following text was published in Hebrew on was of Israel’s most popular blogs, ‘The Sting’ ( on 29.12.2008; the author is a long-time peace and social activist, member of the Israeli Arab-Jewish left movement Hit’chabrut-Tarabut ( and one of the Tel Aviv organizers of the campaign against the bloodshed.

And here we go again to another round of killing, without pomp and fanfare, but with a herd of proud corpse counters (“the balance is still positive, there’re more dead on their side,” the commentators assure us). Israeli TV tells us not to watch the horrific images on Al-Jazeera. You should not look at the outcome, the wounded, the parents and the children; Jews must not share the Arabs’ feelings, you should not think of the suffering, or the future. The ‘final blow’ will bring the next counter blow.

From Kadima to Labor, from Olmert to Barak, they recommend not to think of the past either, of that which was wrought by the previous bombings in the Second Lebanon War (July 2006, Prime Minister: Ehud Olmert, Public Relations: The Labor Party), in “Operation Accountability” in 1993 (Chief of Staff: Ehud Barak), and in Operation “Grapes of Wrath” in 1996 (Foreign Minister: Ehud Barak). All were “proper responses,” achieved through blood and flames, “Once and for all,” which have lead, time and again, to the next round.

The conflagration was predictable. The months of ceasefire, the Tahdi’a, did not lift the siege from Gaza, did not prevent the deprivation of pencils, food, and books from children, fuel and electricity from families. Those who have tormented the residents of the Gaza Strip so that their suffering would “put pressure on their leadership” – have engaged in state terrorism against civilians. Months of Israeli terrorism have only spread despair in Gaza and emboldened those who promise deliverance through the force of weapons, and have strengthened the sense, that the only way out of life in terror is counter-terror, exacerbating the suffering of the Israeli residents of Sderot, and adding the residents of Ashkelon, Netivot, and their environs to the circle of those directly threatened.

Even now, when the call for revenge is heard everywhere, it must be said: the airplanes that bomb Gaza do not guarantee peace and quiet in Sderot, Netivot, and Ashkelon. Those bombs that spread terror and death all across the Gaza Strip while school children headed to the streets after their early classes—these will not bring quiet. On the contrary: the poor and the oppressed of this land, the residents of hungry Gaza and the Israeli periphery, who, against their will, have been turned into a “safety belt” for the occupation—all of them, Arabs and Jews, are being held hostage by unscrupulous politicians, who will not spare their lives. They exploit civilian misery to justify the misery and death they bring on others. At the end of this round of killings “indirect” talks will be held, and cynical politicians will reach “understandings.” Neither agreements, nor solutions—only temporary understandings that will enable the arms race towards the next round. Vague understandings will allow those whose hands are on the trigger to lead to another conflagration at any given moment. As long as we remain hostages to such security managers we will not be able to live in peace, and we will not be able to expect a different life, free of constant threats.

The two people of this country are hostages of the politicians of death. But they are not all being held hostage on the same terms. The lives of Arabs are considered very cheap in comparison to the lives of Jews, but there are cheap Jewish lives too. Not by accident, the poor of both peoples, the disenfranchised, the ones who are “cheaper” from the perspective of the rulers, are the ones usually sent to serve as hostages and cannon fodder. For the politicians’ war is the cynical war of the merchants of death and the elites, the well-protected privileged, while the people, both peoples, do the fighting for them.

* * *
Anti-war protests in Israel:;;
* * *
Please feel free to circulate the text further. Contact Hit’chabrut – Tarabut in Tel Aviv:


What is Tarabut? Tarabut is a joint Arab-Jewish social movement seeking to address the most burning issue – the division in Israeli oppositional politics between struggles against the occupation and struggles against inequality and for social justice within Israel itself.
Its members come from very different backgrounds: long-time activists against the occupa-tion, activists involved in projects against unequal access to education, Arab activists involved in campaigns for empowerment and equal rights for the Arab minority within Israel, experienced activists against the exploitation and discrimination of oriental Jews and the delegitima¬tion of Arab culture, young refuseniks, feminists involved in local campaigns for women’s empowerment, students involved in campaigns to defend public higher education against creeping privatization, etc.

All of us have felt that activism requires a broader vision and grounding in concrete analysis of the links between different forms of inequality – for example, between the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and rampant privatization within Israel, which has drawn tens of thousands from among the poor into the colonial process in the West Bank and to enjoy government subsidies in urban settlements. Tarabut seeks to build a non-dogmatic context for thinking from practice, for trying to forge alliances and strategies that bring together isolated struggles. Hence the name (‘come together’’ ‘associate’ in Hebrew and Arabic): Ad-hoc coalitions can hardly withstand the enormous pressures and daily racism in Israeli society. We seek to bring together people, not organizations, to think together without dogmatic certainties, and to work for social change.

Tarabut was formed in October 2006, in the aftermath of the campaign against the War in Lebanon of the summer. Until its formal founding meeting, in January 2008, some 250 people have joined. It has been active in several campaigns: against house demotions of Arab residents in Wadi Ara, in the student’s strike in Israeli universities (Spring 2007), against the eviction of poor inhabitants of Tel Aviv’s popular neighborhoods in the interests of real-estate developers – and that of the Arab residents of Jaffa, which faced a combined campaign of gentrification with nationalist discrimination; in labor struggles over the recognition of local unions in unorganized branches, and so on. At the same time, it has sought to bring new ideas and analysis to public discussion: Tarabut has warned that the Annapolis summit did not spell peace for Israelis and Palestinians but an attempt to consolidate American hegemony and an exacerbation of divisions among Palestinians and imposing Israeli demands on the Palestinian leaders. It has urged the Israeli left to support the demand of the Arab minority for full equality – including recognition of its collective rights, and to realize that the democratization of Israeli society demanded by the representative of the Arab minority is in the interest of all under¬privileged groups in Israel.

I am thinking about it a lot, and may post something, because I have to teach the second part of World Civ this semester, and I'm reconstructing the course to make sure that I spend plenty of time on 19th C imperialism and colonialism, and on post-colonialism. I may not get past the 1970s, but this time I will get there. To me, it means teaching relatively current events, but if one of the points of a university education is to understand the world around us, and I can show them the kinds of things that give direct background to what's going on in their world, AND it's in the scope of one of my service courses, why not?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What kind of Medievalist am I?

What kind of Medievalist am I?

JJ Cohen asked that the other week or so, and I started to write something else, which I shall no doubt post later. Because really, Jeff asked what kind of medievalist I yearn to be. This last week has put that a bit clearer in my mind.

On Saturday, I went to AHA. I went for an interview. I went for an interview for Dream Job. Now, I need to make it clear that I'm not looking to leave SLAC. I have a good position, and I feel very settled. I get a lot of support, physical and moral, from my Dean, and it does look like I can be continually successful there. My colleagues are mostly lovely people, and I have made good friends.

But realistically speaking, I'm the only non-US historian in my department. I don't spend a lot of time being a medievalist. I spend most of my time being a generalist, and worrying about falling behind in my research and writing. I teach a 4-3 load -- plus an additional course that isn't quite a course. I manage to crank out a couple of conference papers a year, one usually pedagogical, but the other definitely medieval. I have a book in the works -- and advance advertising on it has begun. I have two articles in the works, and two book projects I'd like to work on. In my head, and I think more and more among my medievalist colleagues, I think I might be working towards what I'd like to be -- someone who is known to produce reasonably interesting, solid research, and is a really good teacher.

The thing is, smack in the middle of my interview on Saturday, I realised that that wasn't what I'd like to be -- it's what I yearn to be. At the moment, being a medievalist is like a reward for doing a lot of grunt work. As I sat and talked to the nice people at Dream Job, where the load is 3-2, there is automatic access to R1 libraries at no extra charge, where the students are capable of reading Anglo-Saxon, and faculty collaborate, I realised that Dream Job was a place where I could actually be the kind of medievalist I want to be -- or at least, it would be a hell of a lot easier. At the moment I'm rather on tenterhooks. I'm pretty sure I bollixed up the interview. They opened with, "We have 2 hours of questions and have half an hour," and despite bringing in 3 pages of notes and questions of my own, I think I came off as someone who alternated between deer-in-the-headlights and someone who might have been too assertive (or even bossy?) for a person applying for a junior position. I just don't think I managed to come off as competent and special enough. I really hope to hell I'm wrong.

And if I'm not? That's OK. Because interviewing reminded me that I have a list of things that are important to me. They remind me of the path I stepped on when Phlebas offered to let me give a paper on his panel, and I started meeting more and more of you lot IRL, and LDW and I got together, and he convinced me I was capable of being a lion cub, at least. After the book contract came through (as much as it has), I ended up being so focused on that, and the collapse of some of the more important parts of my life, and the hell of the last semester and the stress of a tonne of committee work, more new preps, and advising, that I kind of forgot that I do have a research agenda, I do have an image of the kind of medievalist I want to be. It's a lot like the medievalist I am, but an even better teacher in my specialty and more productive. How I'm going to get it done at SLAC is an interesting question, but I expect it can be done -- I just don't want it to kill me. So Provost, if you're reading this, I hope you've got some good ideas :-) I'll tell you what I told Dream Job -- I'm damned good at what I do. I am a good colleague and dammit, I'm managing to keep writing even though I seldom teach my field, let alone my research. I shoulder at least my share of service. And dammit, I do like the fact that we seem to be turning a corner and I could be in on some really fantastic changes. If, by chance, I didn't screw things up and end up heading to a campus interview, and don't screw that up, I'd still have lots of thinking to do. SLAC isn't a place I want to run from, after all. If it were, there were lots of jobs I could have applied for; instead, I limited myself to a very special one. But either way, I'm going to have a lot of work to do to be the kind of medievalist I yearn to be.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Public Service announcement -- environment

Defenders of Wildlife Petition

If you're interested in this sort of thing ...

Protect the Endangered Species Act
Target: President-Elect Barack Obama
Sponsored by: Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund

For more than 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has protected wildlife at the brink of extinction. From our national symbol, the bald eagle, to grizzlies, wolves and California condors, our nation's wildlife continue to survive in the wild thanks to these protections.

But the Bush administration is making a last ditch effort to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Currently, federal agencies are required to consult with expert scientists at US Fish and Wildlife or National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure proposed actions will not jeopardize threatened or endangered wildlife. Now the Bush administration wants to remove this fundamental check and balance, putting wildlife in harm's way.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home. Please sign our petition urging President-Elect Obama to stop the Bush administration's last ditch efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act.

Sign Here

Prince Caspian (2008)

Again, in lieu of the identities post and a post on AHA ...

Prince Caspian (2008)

I did not like this movie. It was very disappointing. Prince Caspian is one of the better Narnia books, I think -- or it least, it's one of my favourites. The book has interesting characters, and opens up all kinds of questions about Narnia for people who like to pick at such things. The book has moments of real tension, and moments of wonder. The movie? Not so much.

From the beginning, it's clear that there will be little loyalty to the book. Peter is cast as the kind of boy who gets into fights for no apparent reason. He's still a boy, not someone who has grown up and ruled Narnia as High King. Susan is treated similarly -- the unnecessary scene where Susan blows a geeky student from another school off seems silly in all kinds of ways. Fortunately, Edmund and Lucy remain relatively unscathed, at least; Caspian does not. One of the best things about the Caspian in the book is that he is close to pure of heart. We know from the beginning that Caspian will eventually be king, because he loves Narnia and he acts like a Narnian. But he's too young, and helpless. The film Caspian is not too bright, seems petulant, and cares much more about himself -- and revenge -- than Narnia. Part of this is that the makers of the film have decided to accentuate the details of Miraz's usurpation. Lewis tells us about the regicide (and fratricide, for that matter), but as though to reinforce what a thorough bad guy Miraz is. Caspian is at first driven more for survival, and then later by his need to save Narnia. Being king isn't a goal, but a burden, or perhaps a means to a more important goal.

The meetings between Miraz and his council are additions, but in some ways, they are sensible. The allow the audience to see that there is conflict among the Telmarine nobles and, should the series continue, help to lay the ground for the search for the 12 lords in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. On the other hand, they distract from the overall flow of the story, as well as from the message. One of the things I never really liked about Prince Caspian was the Christian message, which in part is that one should keep believing in a benevolent God even when he seems to have abandoned us, in part is that even the meekest of us should stand against friends and family for our faith, just as the early martyrs did (although Lewis doesn't really obviously consign anyone to a martyr's fate). Since the film was presented by Walden Media, I was surprised by the change. I was also surprised at how disappointed I was. Christian message or not, Lucy's Aslan sightings are an important part of the story, if only because they increase the tension, expose the physical and social changes wrought by time and the Telmarines, and give us a chance to learn more about both Edmund and Trumpkin. It might have been much better had the section been left out altogether, rather than limiting it to one vague sighting and a nonsensical chiding by the lion much later. It also means that much of the film is taken up with events that never happen in the book, 'action' inserted to make up for the fact that the trip back from Cair Paravel takes up 2/3 of the book, more or less.

Meanwhile, back in Aslan's Howe, which was much bigger than I ever imagined it, Caspian has assembled an amazingly large contingent of Narnians, some of whom should not have been there -- critters who sided with the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I'm a bit shaky on the continuity of the film (I can't quite remember when the Pevensies show up), but the fact that the Caspian who was at least nominally in charge of the Narnians when the Pevensies arrive at the Howe was much more grown up, and really didn't seem to need the older kings and queens. It's also unclear why they all decide to launch a night attack on the castle. In the scheme of the film, I suppose it makes sense. Peter is a hothead, and seems to be trying to prove himself against Caspian. Caspian is initially motivated by a desire to rescue Dr. Cornelius (what sensible king or commander would go to such risks?? and besides, in the book, he'd already escaped!) and also, possibly, by wishes to impress Susan; finally, he is motivated by revenge. The sequence ends in a horrible defeat for the Narnians, in ways that should have removed any confidence they have in Peter and Caspian. It only gets worse when they return to the Howe, where Nikabrik, the Hag, and the Werewolf convince (sort of) Caspian to conjure the White Witch.

There are many things wrong with this scene. First and foremost, the witch is actually conjered,and tries to convince Caspian and Peter both to release her fully. She plays to a their hopelessness and to their egos. I suppose it shows that they have no faith that Aslan will come, but eh, it really doesn't work. Part of this is that Edmund saves the day by shattering the ice wall that entraps the witch, looks at Peter, and says, "I know. You had it sorted." Any intimation that Peter and Caspian were being tempted by evil or some such thing is gone in that moment -- again, it's all about Peter the hothead, who will take the easy way.

This makes the last part of the film more jarring. All of a sudden, we have Peter the Magnificent, High King, and warrior able to fight against the bigger, more seasoned, and nastier Miraz. Where did he come from? He's certainly more responsible and adult than Caspian, who leaves the scene of an impending battle to rescue Susan from some of Miraz's soldiers. This is a Susan who, up to this point, seems to need very little in the way of rescuing. For the girl who supposedly had no place in battle, she's pretty scary with a bow -- and yet, she needs Caspian to rescue her from the last man of one of Miraz's patrols. Go figure.

Lucy is by this time pretty much an afterthought. She makes her way to Aslan -- we never know how she figures out where to find him, though. And not much happens on that end until he lets the ents know it's all right to be pissed off, and Birnam Wood walks spirits of the trees and the waters loose. Of course, this doesn't happen till there has been much more fighting, first a single combat between Miraz and Peter, then between the forces of Narnia (which include female centaurs, which seems a bit wrong) and the orc Telmarine armies. The fight between Peter and Miraz is interesting. For all that Peter has been shown as anything but a king -- let alone High King, this scene is believable, as is the scene where Edmund delivers Peter's challenge. Again, it's interesting that not only is Edmund much more like the Edmund of the book, but he is simply just more interesting. Not only does he seem more like the Edmund in the book, who at one point is described by one of Miraz's lords as a dangerous knight, but he seems to be the only character who lived through the events in the previous film (and book). To be fair, Edmund is the character who went through the most, but it surprised me that he seemed so strong and steadfast in this film. Given the portrayals of Peter and Caspian, though, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.

The film ends predictably, given what we've seen to that point. There is an entirely gratuitous and ridiculous goodbye kiss between Susan and Caspian, and then it's back to wartime England for the Pevensies, and Narnia in the hands of some long-haired Telmarine.

Caspian is also a long-haired Telmarine with an accent. All the Telmarines have accents. Who knew that they were swarthy Mediterranean types? Not me. When I read the books, it never occurred to me that the Telmarines were anything but English. Yes, they were supposedly the descendants of brigands and pirates, but it never occurred to me that they weren't English since, well, there are lots of English pirates, and I think I was pretty much thinking of the whole 'shipwrecked till they found a door in a cave' thing as a reference to the folks on Pitcairn Island. But mostly, I just didn't get why they were swarthy and had accents vaguely Iberian. I am really uncomfortable with the 'dark and oily foreigners with thick accents' portrayal, and it grated on me throughout the film.