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1  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: September 19, 2014, 02:46:32 pm
Mikado, have you by chance read Paul Johnson's Modern Times? If so what are your thoughts on it?

(This was one of my texts I had to read last year)

I have not read it.  Reading the Amazon reviews, my assumption is that I'd have a fair amount of characterizations I'd dispute, but often with historical writing one person's positive development can become another's negative by shifting adjectives and using certain key words without disagreeing on the actual course of events.

I'm certainly not of the opinion that right wing figures can't write decent history, or that their works should be discounted: I found Richard Pipes' works about the Russian Revolution an extremely useful counterbalance to the other historians I read on the subject, and I'm quite fond of the late Francois Furet, who, if he wasn't exactly right-wing by contemporary standards, was certainly viciously critical of left wing historians.

From what I can gather by the snippets available on Amazon (always rough to judge a book by that), Johnson's main contention is that the defining characteristic of 20th century thought is the death of certitude and the belief in one single truth, whether the Marxist certainty that the world is dominated by class war or the Christian belief in absolute morality, and celebrates the death of the former while bemoans the death of the latter.  If that's an accurate assessment (and again, I've only just scanned what's available in the free preview), that's not a bad starting point for the intellectual track of the world, though there were serious challenges to moral certainty even before the First World War: Nietzsche is a useful figure to point to, but even figures like the Futurists were preaching a doctrine of the destruction of the art, culture, religion, and morals of the past to make way for superior doctrines of a new age.  If any true benefit came out of the two World Wars, it was to make people far less sure of themselves and of the doctrines they held.

Apparently Modern Times came out in 1985, and I'd be curious to see how its arguments could be presented today, when one more certainty, that of the neoliberal return to free trade dogmatism and economic deregulation and the power of the private sector, can itself no longer be taken for granted quite so easily.  Does the 2008 economic crisis spell the end for the self-confident assumption that Reagan and Thatcher's solutions are always right to the same extent as the late 20th century totally discredited the central planning doctrines of the old Communist bloc?
2  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / 2016 U.S. Presidential Election / Re: Will Hillary be better off if Republicans take the Senate? on: September 18, 2014, 02:47:42 pm
Nothing is going to happen in Congress for the next two years whether the GOP takes the Senate or not.  The only real difference would be if Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or another Justice, but let's be serious here) retires.  A Democratic Judiciary Committee will have a far easier time getting the replacement to the Senate floor while a Republican Judiciary Committee will just start serial-Borking Obama's picks and hope that the seat remains vacant until they can get a Republican president elected.
3  Other Elections - Analysis and Discussion / International Elections / Re: Scottish independence referendum results thread (Sept 18, 2014) on: September 18, 2014, 11:33:00 am
Polls end at 5PM EDT, a perfect excuse to turn it into a drinking game.  A shot of Highland single malt for every no precinct; a shot of Lowland for every yes precinct.  Something like that.  Any takers?


A shot per precinct?  Forget you likely dying half an hour into the results returning, you'd spend tens of thousands of dollars.
4  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of *some random politician that no one has heard of* on: September 15, 2014, 03:10:01 pm
I don't know...let me consult the first paragraph of his Wikipedia page so I can come to a knee-jerk assessment via certain loaded words ending with "-ist" and "-ism" and the presence or absence of the word "controversial."
5  General Politics / Political Debate / Re: Would Edward Snowden deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? on: September 15, 2014, 12:36:29 pm
None of the above.  Presumably a Nobel Peace Prize activist should be taking steps towards world peace, and I'm not sure how causing a series of international scandals and damaged relationships advances that goal.
6  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: Perhaps the most out-of-touch video ever on: September 14, 2014, 10:08:31 pm
Eh, if I were them I would live beyond my means. Might as well enjoy their money while they can, because they'll likely be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

It's been a while since I saw someone using that phrase.  Whenever I read an older book I mentally change "when the revolution comes" or "come the revolution" or whatever to "when Jesus returns" or "on the Day of Judgement."  It produces much the same effect as a convenient synonym for "never."
7  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / 2016 U.S. Presidential Election / Re: Hillary run looking more and more likely on: September 13, 2014, 03:33:14 pm
Clinton will likely announce, if she does announce, sometime in February or March.  If she's not in by April Fools Day I'll start assuming she's not running.  Until that day, I'm just taking it for granted that she will.
8  General Politics / Political Debate / Re: Is overpopulation and the human breeding the root of all evil on the planet ? on: September 12, 2014, 11:07:09 pm
Has the Club of Rome come back from the dead or something? 
9  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of James K. Polk on: September 10, 2014, 04:00:09 pm
Precipitated a brutal and immoral landgrab of the northern third of our neighbor republic's land over an issue (the exact southern border of Texas) that didn't need said result.  I don't see how a positive view is possible.

That landgrab combined with the territory he secured in the Northwest made the basis for Americas great power status and access to the Pacific.

No doubt.  The argument then becomes whether or not that was a worthwhile or desirable result.
10  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Opinion of James K. Polk on: September 10, 2014, 03:55:22 pm
Precipitated a brutal and immoral landgrab of the northern third of our neighbor republic's land over an issue (the exact southern border of Texas) that didn't need said result.  I don't see how a positive view is possible.
11  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: September 10, 2014, 03:25:00 pm
Mikado, any good book recommendations from various parts of European history? I doubt I'll have time to do any extra reading this semester, but just in case...

You'll need to be more specific about the topic, and I'm sure Al would be happy to help out here.

In terms of specifics, if there are books out there that are on post-Fall of Rome and pre-1300, I might be interested. I took a European History course in high school that started off in 1300 and I was quite disappointed by that, given I was hoping for more "dark ages" type stuff (I know this sounds incredibly crude and uneducated, but bear with me).

Funny Cassius should mention Peter Heather, I'm currently reading his Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe.  I'm not far enough in to know whether or not I recommend it, but I had previously read his The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians and that is pretty good.

Chris Wickham's book The Inheritance of Rome is indeed pretty fantastic and, though long, still reasonably accessible and filled with information.

I'm not sure if I'd recommend it, per se, but a few months ago I read Jonathan Riley-Smith's The Crusades: A History.  It is filled with information on the economic, social, military, and political nature of the Crusades.  All of them.  Right down to every random holy war called down on any random Ghibelline princeling in northern Italy.  It's exhaustive...and exhausting.
12  Other Elections - Analysis and Discussion / International Elections / Re: Scottish independence referendum prediction thread on: September 10, 2014, 09:00:59 am
No idea about turnout.

I've been thinking roughly 52-48 for No, so...I guess I'll just pick that as the decimal point.

52.0 No
48.0 Yes
13  General Discussion / Religion & Philosophy / Re: Buddhism on: September 09, 2014, 11:52:42 pm
Was there ever any contact between Buddhism and early Christianity (and, for that matter, other eastern cults popular at the time), especially considering the far-reaching range of Roman trading routes?  



When you look at the practices of Christianity (particularly monasticism), there is much to suggest that.  

During the second half of the first millennium, Buddhism, like Christianity and Islam, tried hard to evangelize the nomadic tribes of Central Asia and the great steppe, and there was a similar competition between the three over the souls of the Mongols in the 13th century.  There's a great story from the reign of Mongke Khan (1251-1259) where he hosts a huge debate between Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist clergymen, and drafts the papal legate who is visiting Karakorum on diplomatic business to go take the side of the Christian team which is otherwise all Nestorians whom the papal legate would normally consider heretics.  If you go before that, there's the famous story of "St. Barlaam," which was literally the Buddha story lifted wholesale and turned into a Catholic saint.

EDIT: Oh, early Christianity, missed the word early.  For the longest time, there have been groups of Hindu monks and rival groups of Buddhist monks who claimed that Jesus had studied in (for the Hindus) Varanasi or (for the Buddhists) in Tibet, and that he learned there to merge Jewish law with dharmic religion.  The idea of a working-class Galileean  walking to Eastern India, let alone Tibet, is kind of ludicrous, but the concept's out there and has been popularized especially by Hindus who were trying to make their religion seem less foreign to Western audiences.
14  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: September 09, 2014, 11:12:29 pm
Mikado, any good book recommendations from various parts of European history? I doubt I'll have time to do any extra reading this semester, but just in case...

You'll need to be more specific about the topic, and I'm sure Al would be happy to help out here.

If you needed just a random suggestion, you could do worse than Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies mentioned above.  It's a book about countries that once existed but no longer do, and its 15 chapters are all basically stand-alone (and if you're an e-book guy you can actually get the chapters of that book a la carte).  That nature makes the book go from its rather intimidating 700+ pages to basically a collection of 15 reasonable-length essays.
15  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: September 08, 2014, 07:57:07 pm
I'm reading Norman Davies' Vanished Kingdoms atm. I believe you have also read it? Opinions?

Highly positive.  I'd recommend (as always) remembering that Norman Davies is a colossal troll (see the entire Ireland chapter, also using the Prussia chapter to talk about how pre-Brandenburg union Prussia was a Polish vassal).

I love how chronologically free the book is.  Visigothic Toulouse straight up to the USSR.  Norman Davies can write, and write well.

He did lead me to think that Rzeczpospolita was just the accepted English version of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth before I realized...no, it's just him.
16  General Discussion / History / Re: Chat with The Mikado about cool history topics that interest you on: September 08, 2014, 03:23:39 pm
In your view, why has the Saudi government, i.e. the House of Saud, not been overthrown, and replaced by a more modern government, one in which a family does not own the country?

The family, in essence, owns all the wealth.

Is it because the government keeps the citizens in a good standard of living?

The days when a family rules a nation is a concept from the middle ages.

The House of Saud is impossible to understand without looking at its origins as the military wing of the Wahabbi movement.  The austere desert tribes of Nejd and this pious, fierce rejection of any kind of "shirk" or attribution of divine properties to things besides Allah had built up legitimacy in raiding into Ottoman-protected Hedjaz and modern southern Iraq throughout the 19th century, destroying shrines and such, and when Ottoman power and protection evaporated after the First World War, Abdulaziz ibn Saud and his followers quickly conquered and annexed the Hedjaz, the old Islamic holy land, and promptly began demolishing everything they saw as pseudo-pagan. 

The House of Saud's legitimacy (and, remember, king Abdullah is the son of ibn Saud himself...they're still only one generation in despite the kingdom existing for 90 years now) based its legitimacy on its firm commitment to Wahhabi tenets like destroying the shrines of the Prophet's companions and imposing that austere radical monotheism on the people of the Hedjaz, who had traditionally been far more willing to go to the graves of various major early Islamic figures to ask for intercession when praying.  If you wonder why Saudi Arabia's laws are so harsh, it's because, despite how party-animal-ish the Saudi princes themselves are, their entire rationale for power is the imposition of Wahhabi austerity on the Arab holy land.  Their decadent oil-wealth driven lifestyle does erode their credibility, but it leads them in turn to go back to their founding principles to the extent of spending massive amounts of money to promote Wahabbi principles abroad, even to the extent of funding "missionaries" of sorts to other Sunni Islamic countries to tell them about how they've been practicing Sunni Islam "incorrectly" for the past 1000 or so years.  Basically, ibn Saud inspired his followers and conquered the Islamic Holy Land on the principles of commitment to impose radical, austere, absolute monotheism on said Holy Land, and as corrupt as the House of Saud is in its personal conduct, they take care to outwardly pay lip service to that original mission.

How did the Great Powers of Europe view post-Meiji Japan and (later) Nationalist China? Were they regarded as equals to any extent or was it more like "oh isn't that cute the natives are pretending to be like us"?

After 1906 and Japan's defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, there was a growing "Yellow Peril" panic with the fear that the massive manpower of Asia, coupled with their adoption of European technology, would create a "tidal wave" of Asian masses of humanity that would end European supremacy.  You can find very scared rhetoric about the coming "race war with Asia."  Japan's ambitions to conquer the chaotic mess that was China provided a double dose of panic because of similar Japanese technology + Chinese manpower = unstoppable Yellow tidal wave thoughts in the 1920s, and Chiang Kai-Shek was able to leverage that fear of Japan dominating China to China's diplomatic advantage in the 1920s to obtain far better treaties with the West.  On the Japanese side, particularly after World War I, there was a growing disenchantment with the West.  First, the Western governments collaborated to shoot down the Japanese-backed racial equality clause in the League of Nations charter, which the Japanese reasonably took as a very offensive sign that they weren't considered equal, and then growing immigration walls in the USA, Canada, and Australia were seen as signs of intense disrespect by those powers.  The end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902-1921) left the Japanese feeling left out of the post-World War I international system and the Western condemnation of their conquest of Manchuria in 1930 ensured that Japan would end up in the orbit of other other resentful powers that wanted to overturn the post-World War I international system like Germany.

I've been thinking of race relations in the USA, specifically between the black minority and the white majority (but not necessarily including the white elite power brokers) post-1965.  It seems like things were becoming normalized from about the mid-60s through the 70s and into the early 80s.  Then, starting sometime in the mid- to early-80s, things started getting weird.  By the 90s identity was strong.  Society has become increasing fragmented along racial and ethnic lines.  Nowadays, I can't even turn on the television without hearing about some race riot or other, or about racially-motivated criminal or civil actions.  What was the turning point?  Was it a single event 30 years ago?  Was it a series of events?  How did we s start moving in the wrong direction with regard to race relations?


This is a very tricky question that I'll have to get back to later, but the short answer is that the process started in the 1970s and early 1980s with growing disillusionment about the actual effects of desegregation, as the initial luster of the civil rights movements' legal victories in the 1960s wore off and the reality that there were limits to what the effectiveness of changing the laws would mean.  African Americans were still poorer than average, more widely incarcerated than average, less represented in the white collar professions than average, etc. and it caused the discussion to shift to the question of "if ending legal segregation wasn't enough to fix the situation, what is?"  White figures like Daniel Patrick Moynihan start pointing to the breakup of the African American family as a leading cause of social decay and inner-city poverty, as opposed to legal discrimination, while African American leaders alleged that the end of segregation didn't actually change the economic power structure in America and that, because blacks were disproportionately poor, they were likely to end up disproportionately poor as a self-reinforcing underclass.  The new challenges, though obviously less odious than segregation, are far more difficult to combat because they can't be overturned as easily as passing a law ending active government discrimination was.
17  General Politics / Book Reviews and Discussion / Re: What Book Are You Currently Reading? on: August 23, 2014, 06:46:48 pm


The third Mazower book I've read.  Drier than Dark Continent and Salonika: City of Ghosts, but a good read nonetheless.
18  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / 2016 U.S. Presidential Election / Re: Could Democrats be divided again at the 2016 DNC over Israel & Religion? on: August 23, 2014, 02:47:23 pm
Not likely. I expect American Jews to 100% anti-ISIS. 

What's ISIS have to do with the Israel/Palestine issue?
19  General Politics / International General Discussion / Re: "Death to the Jews"... on: August 22, 2014, 11:19:38 pm
Considering there's a vast mountain range in Afghanistan named "The Killer of Hindus," (the Hindu Kush) I'm never surprised about the more un-PC place names in the world.
20  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: RNC Condemns AP Exam's 'Radically Revisionist View' Of U.S. History on: August 16, 2014, 01:10:05 pm
I hate this use of the word "revision."  There's a reason history is revised...new information comes to light and previous narratives are reconsidered with the additions of new perspectives and in light of subsequent events.  The history of an event taught in 1900 should not be the same as the history of that same event taught in 1950 or 2000 or 2050, changing perspectives due to archaeology, archival research, declassified documents, new historical schools, and more need to be taken into account.  The bold new theory of today is the conventional wisdom of tomorrow is the hidebound reactionary school of the day after tomorrow (hello, Marxist history).
21  General Politics / U.S. General Discussion / Re: RNC Condemns AP Exam's 'Radically Revisionist View' Of U.S. History on: August 16, 2014, 10:38:51 am
You'd think the Republican Party would be fond of the College Board, what with its structure as a self-perpetuating monopolistic corporation whose services people must avail themselves of if they wish to get into a decent university. 
22  Presidential Elections - Analysis and Discussion / 2016 U.S. Presidential Election / Re: Nate Silver: Hillary does not have a problem on her left on: August 14, 2014, 03:31:15 pm
Yeah, there's no left credible left challenge to Clinton because there's no figure with the stature to become a voice for that challenge.
23  General Politics / Individual Politics / Re: Texas 2006 Gubernatorial on: August 12, 2014, 04:07:21 pm
People voting for Kinky Friedman clearly didn't follow that race.

Kinky Friedman holds a special place in my heart as the only politician to ever insult me to my face.  EDIT: I forgot, Barney Frank came pretty close to doing that as well.

Chris Bell, obviously.
24  Forum Community / Forum Community / Re: Threads that just scream NO on: August 11, 2014, 07:32:40 pm
Should (obscure congressman/Senator no one has ever heard of) be the Vice Presidential nominee?  Why not?
25  General Politics / International General Discussion / Re: Green Zone surrounded by tanks in suspected coup on: August 11, 2014, 09:57:37 am
Simfan: I notice you're avoiding mentioning the Arif brothers in your list of Iraqi tyrants of the 20th century, one of whom lived quite comfortably in exile for decades and the other died in a helicopter crash.  Also, you didn't mention Saddam's predecessor, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam's dear uncle who was merely...forced into a very quiet retirement by his nephew.  He still died peacefully of natural causes, though.

Not all Iraqi leaders end up meeting gruesome fates.  Just...most of them.
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