winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter (26) Carter has always struck me as the best president in my lifetime. Not the "nicest" president or the "best person"--the best *president*. While I think he is a very *good* person, and a true Christian (as I was brought up to understand Christ's message), those are usually ways people diminish him, damning him with faint praise. "Oh, he was too honest to be president" or "oh, he was so much better as an ex-president". But, by implication, "he was an awful *president*." Nonsense. Far too many people have bought into the mythology of the Reagan era and the GOP fiction spinners who have run the White House for more than half the time I've been alive. This book (the recorded version of which, to my delight, is read by the President himself) chronicles one of his greatest achievements--the Camp David Peace Accords--but also the failure of subsequent US presidents to put the sort of pressure on all parties that Carter did, and the subsequent growth of unilateral, imperialist policy in Israel, scuttling the peace process because it can simply take whatever it wants, with the supine acceptance of the United States and the rest of the western powers. Carter is unsparing of his own naivete and ignorance, his optimism in hoping that Israeli and Arab leaders could be convinced of the benefits to be gained by working together to achieve stability. His conclusion is that, as much as Israel thinks it can simply create stability with guns and bulldozers, concrete and barbed wire, it will only continue to stoke the frustration and determination of Palestinians to resist occupation and tyranny. Both sides need to come together with honest intent before peace can be achieved; Carter is much more hopeful than I am that this will eventually happen.

Berlin Diary by William Shirer (27) Literally, Shirer's diaries of his time as foreign correspondent in Berlin from 1933 to 1940. Shirer concealed some names of persons and places to protect friends, peers, and sources in case his journals were seized by the Nazi government, but the names that remain include Edward R. Murrow (his co-worker and boss at ABC) and Joseph Harsch (an alumnus of Williams College I met briefly, who like Murrow and Shirer is one of the legends of wartime reporting from World War Two) as well as all the famous figures of European politics of the 1930s and 40s, large and small, whose deeds and words Shirer reports with unflinching candor and much insight and humour. Having read so much of went on in these days as dry history, I found it fascinating to hear the perspective of a reporter working in the middle of the events, recording day by day his perceptions of the events unfolding around him. Equally interesting, in a geeky way, were the insights one gets from his adventures about the technical side of radio broadcasting and the often remarkable lengths to which reporters had to go to get their stories on air (and the lengths that the German government would go to to control what news went out, both sly tricks--like using studio microphones that reduced background noise, so listeners couldn't hear the sounds of an air raid going on during the broadcast--to heavy-handed censorship.) Shirer saw daily life in Germany and neighboring countries before and during the war, from political riots in Paris to head of state visits in Italy, covering the Nazi seizure of Austria, traveling to Poland to see the fighting firsthand and to to France and the Low Countries to see the aftermath of the 1940 blitzkrieg. For much of the war, Shirer's wife and daughter lived in nearby, neutral Switzerland, and the contrast he observed in his visits to them between wartime Germany (literally darkened and under sever rationing) and the bright, bustling nightlife of Berne and Zurich was quite remarkable. I was glad that I had recently read Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, as a number of personalities of the time get mentions here which I would not have understood as well if I hadn't been introduced to them already.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey (28 and 29) Re-reading some YA books I enjoyed in S. Still enjoyable light reading.

Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White (30) An old family favourite, this was one of Melissa's picks when we were scavenging an awesome used bookstore in Sidney, BC. I re-read it after she was done, and found it agreeable, but a little tiresome in its heavy-handed humour. Taking some ideas and situations from classic literature and re-applying them to a YA adventure: A+. Attempted satire: C-.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan (31) A fascinating story of the first great forest fire after the creation of the national forest system in the United States. This revisits several characters whom I met in Edmund Morris's three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, like Roosevelt himself and his successor in the presidency, the hapless and feeble William Howard Taft. It even mentions William Allen White, who I'm sure was mentioned in Morris but who served as a central character in (again) Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, given his role in pushing America out of isolation and towards participation in World War Two. But most of all, this book gives gives me a broader picture of Gifford Pinchot, advisor to TR and FDR and sometime governor of Pennsylvania, but first and foremost the architect of the National Forest system and the first head of the US Forest Service. This tale conveys his passion for forestry and conservation, stoked by his ealry mentor, John Muir. Much of the story deals with Pinchot's battles with the timber and railroad barons who wanted to exploit public lands for their resources and turn them into a vast patchwork of mines, factories, towns, and cities. Pinchot (under TR and, for a while, Taft) fought a losing battle against these predatory corporate trusts and their congressional allies, trying to preserve the wild beauty of the West for future generations. While the great fire of 1910 was a disaster of epic proportions for the western forests and the homesteaders and towns that lay in its path, Pinchot used the heroic deeds of the outmatched forest rangers who tried to fight it. With an astute sense of politics and public relations, Pinchot turned the tide of public opinion and forced through reforms that allowed the Forest Service to grow and assume a more powerful role. Ironically, however, the men who went on to lead the service worked hand in glove with the timber barons in a way that horrified Pinchot. And the lessons that the Forest Service chose to learn from the fire, that all fires, no matter how small, had to be fought to extinction, actually worked against the health of the forests, as it brought to a halt the cycle of cleaning and revitalizing burns that had kept the forest ecosystems healthy.

In Progress

Dark Star by Alan Furst
Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Master and God by Lindsey Davis
1914: The Days of Hope by Lyn MacDonald
Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw
The Somme by Robin Prior and Trevor Williams
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City Ed. by Joseph S. Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut
winterbadger: (books)
Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson (18) I need to come back and give this a proper review later, but it's another excellent book about America in the 1930s, which has broadened my appreciation of the politics and society of that period and provided more material for my ever-changing impressions of FDR. Like Blackett's War, this is not truly centered exclusively on its titular protagonists, as the action covers a much wider sweep of American and European personalities than even these two larger than life men constitute. As have many books I've encountered in the last few years, it gives me a pang of longing for something now long-dead, the liberal, progressive wing of the Republican Party, featuring as it does the few remaining hangers-on to the ideals of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, among whom I think Wendell Wilkie (a man I knew almost nothing about before encountering him in this book) should be numbered.

Wobble to Death and The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey (19) and (20) Two of a series of novels about a police detective in Victorian London. I remember seeing several of these stories televised in the 1980s. They're all right, but not great; they feature murders set in two of the popular sports of the time: long-distance competitive walking and (illegal) bare-knuckle boxing. I'm still trying to drag out of memory what the other detective series by a modern author set in the Victorian era was, since this wasn't it.

The Dragon Scroll by I.J. Parker (22) A detective novel of Heian-era (11th century) Japan. I'd read a selection of one story online and bought up a couple of copies of Parker's series cheaply on the strength of it. I'm glad that they were very cheap, as I find from closer acquaintance that not only is her style heavily dependent on that of Robert van Gulik (who she credits as her inspiration), but her writing is not very good and (this novel, at least) filled with attitudes, behaviours, and physical culture that seem entirely out of place in Japan, let alone medieval Japan. Most of her characters sound and act very much like modern Western people, which is highly disappointing.

Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East by Jared Cohen (23) A travelogue by an American postgraduate student wandering through the Middle East, meeting and interviewing young people in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Considering that the author had traveled through some pretty hairy parts of central Africa and was a Rhodes Scholar in international relations at Oxford, he seems to have been remarkably, astonishingly naïve and ill-informed about the places he went during the course of researching this book. That he parlayed his experiences into a job on the US State Department's policy planning staff and advisor to two Secretaries of State is even more amazing. Despite his quite remarkable lack of understanding of the places he went and the people he encountered, his book is nonetheless quite interesting and enjoyable, both for the insights it provides into popular culture and political discourse among young people in a pivotal region, but also for the simple human interactions he engages in with ordinary people throughout the region.

In progress:

Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Berlin Diary by William Shirer
Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
winterbadger: (iraq)
from Fareed Zakaria in Time

"Those urging the U.S. to intervene in Syria are certain of one thing: If we had intervened sooner, things would be better in that war-torn country. Had the Obama Administration gotten involved earlier, there would be less instability and fewer killings. We would not be seeing, in John McCain's words of April 28, "atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time."

In fact, we have seen atrocities much worse than those in Syria very recently, in Iraq under U.S. occupation only few years ago. From 2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country. Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there. The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria. Why?

The point here is not to make comparisons among atrocities. The situation in Syria is much like that in Iraq--and bears little resemblance to that in Libya--so we can learn a lot from our experience there. Joshua Landis, the leading scholar on Syria, points out that it is the last of the three countries of the Levant where minority regimes have been challenged by the majority. In Lebanon, the Christian elite were displaced through a bloody civil war that started in the 1970s and lasted 15 years. In Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military quickly displaced the Sunni elite, handing the country over to the Shi'ites--but the Sunnis have fought back ferociously for almost a decade. Sectarian killings persist in Iraq to this day."
winterbadger: (bugger!)

from Al Jazeera English

Security forces fire on Cairo 'Nakba' rally

At least 353 people were injured, one of them critically, when Egyptian security forces attacked a pro-Palestine demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Sunday night, according to witnesses and the Health Ministry.

Activists told Al Jazeera that army and internal security troops used tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters who had gathered to mark the 63rd anniversary of the "Nakba" or "catastrophe" - the day in 1948 that Israel declared its independence and thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled form their homes.

At least two protesters were shot by live ammunition, while others were hospitalised after inhaling tear gas or being hit by rubber-coated steel bullets, some of which penetrated the skin, witnesses said.

One protester, Atef Yehia, was shot in the head, while another, Ali Khalaf, was shot in the abdomen. Both survived, though Yehia was being kept on a ventilator and would likely suffer brain damage, his friend said on Monday afternoon. 

The crackdown on the protest also marked a setback for activists campaigning to limit the military's judicial power in post-revolutionary Egypt. A senior police officer told Al Jazeera that 137 protesters had been arrested and would be questioned by a military prosecutor. As they awaited questioning, the protesters was being held in Hikestep military prison on the outskirts of Cairo, according to activists and a human-rights lawyer.

winterbadger: (coffee cup)
still reading it, but an interesting thought experiment. we know what US and European commentators are saying about the Arab Spring, but what if the roles were reversed?
winterbadger: (islam)
from my friend Dana, I got this link

Forget Fox News and CNN. To Really Get a Global Perspective We Need Our Cable Operators to Carry Al Jazeera English

Now, while I've watched AJE before, I've not watched their coverage of the Egyptian crisis. So I can't saw whether their coverage ahs indeed been "relentless, thorough and unbiased". From what I've seen of them in the past, they are often relentless and thorough, but not what I would call unbiased. On the other hand, they are pretty professional . And they don't (that I know of) just make $#^O& up. :-) Yes, they have an undeniably different perspective. But that's a good thing.

Getting all your news from pseudo-news outlets like The Daily Show and Fox News is not good. But if that's the McDonald's Happy Meal of information, only going to one source for news is a course of always eating the same meal, over and over again. Lentils have all sorts of health benefits, but if you eat nothing but lentils for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you're going to be missing out on things you need to keep going.  

Try AJE sometime--even if you don't find it fascinating, think of it as eating your carrots and broccoli. :-) And if your cable operator doesn't carry AJE, bug them until they do. And until then, catch it on the Web.

Other English-language services from the Middle East include Al Arabiya, Al Alam (English service website currently down), and Al Hurra (the USG's Arabic news service). I don't know of a cable network broadcasting from Israel, but I've always found Haaretz reliable and informative.
winterbadger: (islam)
An interesting analysis on the situation in Lebanon

Without commenting on either their facts or their analysis, I will observe that this sort of situation is what makes it impossible for most "generalist" journalists and much of the American public (IMO) to properly understand and appreciate diplomacy (or comparable situations in domestic politics): complexity.
winterbadger: (williams)
My college sponsors some students from overseas who come to Williams as language coaches in (January) winter study programs. Williams gives them an opportunity to visit the US and tour around a bit in addition to their teaching assistant stint.

I got an email asking alums if we could help out by giving one student a place to crash while visiting Washington, DC. I'd love to help, but the student in question is a 17-year-old young woman from Tunisia; I don't need the classes on Middle East culture I've taken to guess that her staying with a single middle-aged man in his one-bedroom apartment would *not* be on her family's likely list of acceptable solution. :-)
winterbadger: (islam)
courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] soccer_fox

Test out your Middle East/North Africa map skillz.

I got two wrong way 'round, other wise got them all slotted in, which is still not great for someone doing a degree with a focus on the ME. :-)
winterbadger: (islam)
The news from the Middle East is impressively bad--Christmas seems to bring out the worst in all the actors there, for some reason.

However, I can strongly recommend that if you are interested in getting a good grounding in the background and current state of politics, society, and human rights in the Islamic states of the Middle East and North Africa, I can strongly recommend Robin Wright's Dreams and Shadows. I listened to the unabridged recording and, apart from the really atrocious job the reader did of mangling Arabic and Persian names, it was excellent and had me riveted the whole time.Read more... )
winterbadger: (islam)
Well, I had to register before the end of the year for another class in my interminable master's degree if I wanted to remain an active student. So I bit the bullet and plunked down the credit card (I have to pay for them, and--if I'm lucky--work reimburses me for them).

One was due to run November and December, and I wanted to take that just to make sure that I *completed* a course this year (in case the registrar decided to get funny with the requirements). But another is actually due to run December and January, one I've been afraid they would cancel^, so I went ahead and signed up for that one also. This will be the first time I've done two that overlapped, but I didn't want to risk losing the chance to take the second one.

I think with Operation Rapid Transit in the works, I may be out of chances to take leave this year. Certainly I can't go on holiday while I've got a class active (these are online, but they take some keeping up with in terms of reading and writing). Maybe late in October, but I think the op will have used up all my leave. :-( I guess that's one way to save money...

So I'll be (re)taking 'History and Culture of Central Asia' (I started it before, but the lecturer was a total jerk, so I withdrew; it's being done by a different person this time) starting in November and 'Politics and Security in the Persian Gulf' starting in December.



^All the best courses for my degree have been gradually dropping out of their catalogue as they lose people qualified or prepared to teach them. :-(
winterbadger: (islam)
Comments from my prof on my term paper:

I fully concur with your closing note here… Your paper significantly advanced the class in their overall knowledge base of the region… at first I was concerned that it might be too regionally narrow, focused on Iran alone as it was… yet its implications for the wider politics and cultural milieu of the region became manifest early on in the reading

Well written (of course), solidly researched, and an easy and informative read… just reaching assignment parameters, but its overall quality somewhat atoned for that…
Nice work! 98%


Those barmy enough to be interested in reading ~15 pages on "The Influence Of Britain And Russia On Iran Before And During The World Wars" are welcome to a copy by email. ;-)
winterbadger: (islam)
I made the following comment to another classmate's essay on this topic.Read more... )
winterbadger: (islam)
Abu Aardvark, a blog on Arab politics by a prof at my alma mater.

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