Turning the Yellow River Yellow

One of the assumptions, or perhaps tropes is a better word, of certain parts of the environmental movement is that only Western countries, or only capitalist economic systems, cause environmental degradation. Or they might stretch it to argue that only countries that have experienced the Industrial Revolution destroy their physical and biological environments, because it takes steel and machines to really ruin the landscape. This idea comes in part from where the modern environmental movement originated, in part because of lingering fumes of the “noble savage” idea, and in part because English, French, German, and Spanish-language sources are a lot more common and easier to work with for most researchers. However, in the past 15 years or so, people have been looking outside the European sphere-of-influence, and digging into archaeological and geographic information to show that no, humans have been “degrading” their environment for a very long time. Continue reading

Where does Russia Fit?

Last week, I mentioned that the last natural (i.e. caused by crop failure from weather as opposed to warfare or political intervention) famine in Europe was in 1846-47. Rich Rostrom said I’d forgotten Russia. But is Russia Europe? Or is Russia Russia?

There are arguments many ways, some saying that Russia really is part of Europe historically and culturally, some that argue that Russia is Asian but with a slight Western cultural overlay, and others that say “Yes,” “No,” and “Try Again Later,” (aka the Magic Eight Ball school of cultural studies). I’m not a Russian specialist. I tried to learn some basics of the language and bounced, hard. But based on my reading and observations, I tend to think of Russia, meaning modern Russia and the Muscovite core, as being Russian, not European. Ukraine, Poland, Novgorod, those are or were European, but Russia is Russia, neither quite European nor Asian. Continue reading

Wandering Around Ein Feste Burg

One of the places we used as a “home base” this past June was Bad Pyrmont. It is a town with fascinating geology, in the Weser River Valley, tucked away in some hills. It has limestone around it, and a great deal of natural faulting, probably related to the Rhine Graben, or rift-valley, not too far away. Because of the faulting, there are a number of mineral springs that bubble up, and some sinkholes of interest, and a CO2 cave where people used to go and “dry bathe” in CO2 up to their chins. In 1556-1562, it became a princely seat, and a Baroque hunting lodge was added in 1706, and then a spa developed. Goethe and a few other minor German cultural figures spent time there, as did Peter the Great of Russia, and today it is a very nice, quiet, city with good historical guides, lovely parks, and several spa hotels. And a water-castle. Continue reading

Does History Move Upward?

The history of writing history, or “historiography,” includes a phase that is sometimes called the Whig School of history. Historians in the late 1700s and increasingly in the 1800s assumed that things were getting better, and had been improving since the Renaissance. If you were to draw their view of humanity as a line, it started on a high note with Creation, dropped into a hole after the fruit incident, climbed some, dipped with the Flood, crept up again to Greece and Rome, dipped after AD 475 “when the barbarians kicked in Rome’s door” as one of my mentors likes to say, then inched up again. The line begins to shoot near vertically after 1815 or so. Humanity was moving upwards and on wards and things could only get better. Of course, like most things in academia, counterarguments arose, mostly from the Marxist side of the aisle once there were enough Marxist historians to become well known. Continue reading

Where’s That in the Bible?

One of the fascinating little churches I poked my nose into on this past trip was St. Thomas in Tribsee. Although it is now Protestant (Lutheran), like every other church in the region, it began as Catholic and during the Reformation, the parishioners saved some of the artwork, including a fascinating altarpiece. The church was affiliated with a Cistercian Monastery. It was Cistercians who first moved into the area and developed farming and livestock-raising. You are in the swampy part of Germany, and the Cistercians looked for empty wilderness to move into. They found lots of it up in this area, between Hamburg and Rostock.

Focus on the central panels.


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That Didn’t Take Long


“Take Down Monuments to Native American Oppression” states the opinion essay by Julian Brave NoiseCat (Secwepemc/St’at’imc) in the High Country Journal. The author argues that once Lee, Jackson, Forrest and other statues are gone, streets re-named, schools re-named, and the human face and valor of those who fought for the Confederacy or who owned slaves have all been eradicated, it is time for Columbus, Father Serra,* Juan Oñate, and others to vanish as well, lest any honor be given to the perpetrators of genocide, slavery, and racism. Continue reading