The Blessings of a Soviet Education

That’s the title of this article by Michael Galak in the Australian web-zine Quadrant. He later immigrated to Australia, but here’s a sample of what he learned: “When I was living in the Soviet Union I did not believe the state’s newspapers when they told me Americans were thirsting to conquer the USSR. I did not believe Khrushchev when he said it was the Americans who triggered the Cuban missile crisis. No, I thought, if they are telling me the Americans are to blame then it must have been the Kremlin’s doing because lies were our leaders’ stock in trade. I did not believe Pravda when it said the murder of Israeli athletes in Munich was a legitimate blow against the oppressors of Palestine, which I knew didn’t exist. I did not believe them when I was told Israeli commandos who rescued the Entebbe hostages were instruments of a Zionist plot to take over the world. Most of all I did not believe that the Western proletariat was groaning  in poverty beneath the chains of capitalist bloodsuckers, whereas the Soviet workers lived and worked in freedom and prosperity. That one was a no-brainer. I could look out the window and see it wasn’t true.” 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

Show Museum or Teaching Museum?

You probably can tell without my saying much that I am a sucker for museums. Art museum, science museum, history museum, folk-life museum, botanical garden, I’ll probably at least poke my head in to see if it looks promising. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to visit, and re-visit, many of the great art and history museums north of the Alps, like the Kunsthistorischesmuseum [Art History Museum] in Vienna three times, the Gamäldegalarie [painting gallery] in Berlin twice, and a few others, like the Louvre (twice over two days. Don’t bother with the southern art section, IMHO). 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

Disappointed, not Surprised: Doctor Who and the BBC

So it was announced that the Doctor, the humanoid alien main character of the TV series Doctor Who, will be played by a woman beginning next season.

I’m a little disappointed, not in the BBC’s choice of people to play the role, but in their apparently bowing to pressure to have the character change sexes. I am also not surprised in the least, because the last two times the Time Lord regenerated, activist fans demanded that the character be played either by a minority man or by a woman. One person said she was disappointed when the current actor was cast, because the BBC “missed an opportunity” et cetera et cetera. And that’s what irks me about the decision. Continue reading