So much nicer than paperwork. First a congratulations to the Boston Red Sox (they dominated the first two decades of the 20th Century -- will history repeat itself?). There's usual ideofact madness below, but the first paragraph here is a considered complaint.
I really have to buy a shredder. It's amazing how much of the mail I receive has to be destroyed. Each of the three credit cards I have (one of which I use only for business, one for personal, and the third for nothing--just keep the account open for emergencies) sends me scads of checks to transfer balances, offers of upgrades or new cards. I get unsolicited offers--many of which contain the same checks--and my fear is that one day I'll receive a bill from one of these bastard companies insisting I owe them $35,000 because someone forged my name on one of the unsolicited blank checks they sent me that I carelessly threw out. There's an opt-out number, which supposedly should end the unsolicted offers, but after I called it in July, I seem to get more than ever. I now get solicitations related to my university alumnae association, the Disney conglomerate (which I despise -- I was always a Warner Brothers fan) and a frequent flier program of an airline I haven't used--out of principle--for at least three years, to name just a few. Physical spam is much harder to get rid of than the electronic variety.
Speaking of baseball, the Red Sox swept the World Series. I think Colorado is a better team than the 2004 Cardinals were, but they were a step behind the Sox throughout the series because of their 9-day layoff. Runners advancing too far or not far enough off of second base, runners getting picked off first, but most of all, the timing of their hitters, which was consistently off.
Similar series I recall off the top of my head: 2006 (Tigers had a long layoff, and lost to an inferior Cardinals team), 1988 and 1990 (the A's swept Boston both years, and came in cold against inferior Dodgers and Reds teams, respectively).
In any case, I'm pleased to see the Red Sox win the series again. They're a fun team to watch -- as the long winter begins, I'll miss Ramirez (my favorite--he knows how to wear a uniform), Schilling (uuuhhhh--so like, who did the Phillies get for him?), Varitek and Youkilis. Amazing how baseball just suddenly ends--how you go from protecting a one-run lead in the ninth to winter on a single pitch. Fortunately, the thaw begins in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training...
Tonight's fun: Reviewing the genitive case in Latin. Serbo-Croatian conversation. Armenian genocide. And the exercises I've been doing rather faithfully for the last year and a half or so.
I have a theory about why it's so important to exercise as one grows older: all the aches and pains that first appear when one passes 40 can be attributed to one's exercise routine rather than the passage of time. It's much better to think that I'm overdoing things a bit, rather than thinking that I'm being done in bit by bit.
In any case, it's much more important to work the brain than the body. The great danger, as with the body, is laziness. There's a notion from Buddhism that the habits of the mind are a bit like a groove: the more often you react one way to a certain idea or situation, the more likely you are to continue reacting that way. I would prefer not to fall into ruts.
Which reminds me of a quote I always liked. Towards the end of his life, Jean Cocteau--the French poet, filmmaker, painter and all-around polymath--was interviewed at his final home, a few months before his death. He was surrounded by photos and objects and books, souvenirs of his friends and collaborators, his lovers and his disappointments. The interviewer asked, "If this house were to catch on fire, and you could save only one thing, what would it be?"
Cocteau, not missing a beat, said, "Oh, definitely the fire!"
It's much harder for me to watch baseball when I care about the outcome. My dad is a huge Red Sox fan, as is my nephew -- while I don't mind being disappointed myself (I'm a lifeling Philadelphia fan), it's harder to watch knowing people I love had their stomachs doing somersaults all night.
I suspect the Red Sox will prevail in the American League playoffs, but regardless of which team does, I know that the Colorado Rockies have no chance. Not because they're an inferior team, but because no baseball team can have a one week layoff and compete against a team that's been grinding it out night after night. My prediction: the A.L. team in four games. (And this is not merely sour grapes because the Rockies beat my Phillies..)
I've read a fair amount about the Armenian genocide and I'm amazed how its historical significance seems to have been sidelined. The denialists or minimisers of Turkey's actions usually ignore points such as the following:
(a) The Armenians had already been subject to tremendous slaughter. During the Hamidian massacres of 1894-6, around 200,000 Armenians had perished and 20,000 were killed in the massacres in the city of Adana in 1909. Any revenge attacks by Armenians were pinpricks in comparison.
(b) Ottoman Turkey was hardly the only empire in World War One which had a problem with "disloyal" subject peoples. Austria-Hungary had the Serbs of Bosnia and (I presume) the Romanians of Transylvania. Many Balts and Baltic Jews living under the Russian Empire welcomed the German invasion as a liberation (yes, there's heavy irony here given what happened in WWII, but there's good evidence the Germans did treat the Jews better than the Russians at this time). The British had the Irish and, indeed, the Easter Rising broke out in Dublin right in the middle of the war. Most of the imperial powers reacted to these acts of rebellion heavyhandedly - the Austrians hanged several hundred Serbs, the British executed the Easter insurgents, winning them the sympathy of the Irish public. But they did not respond by deciding that genocide was the way to deal with these troublesome peoples. Only the Turks did that. The Turks also incited the Muslim subjects of the Russian and British empires to revolt via their call to jihad. Neither the Russian or British empires reacted with plans of mass extermination.
(c) Most of the Armenians were deported from regions which were nowhere near the frontline (in other words, they had no chance of helping the invading Russians) and the Turkish war effort was hampered as resources were diverted to deal with the Armenian deportations. Sounds familiar.
(d) There's strong evidence that the "final solution to the Armenian Question" (it was described in such terms at the time) had been discussed before the war. Turkey entered WWI hoping to win. What it aimed to win was a new pan-Turkic empire which would stretch across central Asia, including peoples such as the Azeris, Uzbeks and Kazakhs. It's obvious from looking at a map that Armenia was a non-Turkic obstacle to linking all these countries together. Armenians would have no place in the new order.
To this authoritative recitation, I will only add a line I read this afternoon while enjoying a cigar in Dupont Circle, from Taner Akcam's A Shameful Act:
...at one point, after claiming Armenians were extremely wealthy, constituted a full third of the members of the Ottoman bureaucracy, paid very few taxes and didn't do military service, Abdul Hamid II said that "the Armenians are a degenerate community...always servile..." He also claimed that their advantageous position derived from their economic power...
I suppose God didn't much care for us for the first 159,000 years or so. But we seemed to do all right:
Researchers found three hallmarks of modern life at Pinnacle Point overlooking the Indian Ocean near South Africa's Mossel Bay: harvested and cooked seafood, reddish pigment from ground rocks, and early tiny blade technology. Scientific optical dating techniques show that these hallmarks were from 164,000 years ago, plus or minus 12,000 years.
"Together as a package this looks like the archaeological record of a much later time period," said study author Curtis Marean, professor of anthropology at the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.
This means humans were eating seafood about 40,000 years earlier than previously thought. And this is the earliest record of humans eating something other than what they caught or gathered on the land, Marean said. Most of what Marean found were the remnants of brown mussels, but he also found black mussels, small saltwater clams, sea snails and even a barnacle that indicates whale blubber or skin was brought into the cave.
Marean figured the early people, probably women, had to trudge two to three miles to where the mussels, clams and snails were harvested and to bring them back to the cave. Then they put them over hot rocks to cook. When the food was done, the shells popped open in a process similar to modern-day mussel-steaming, but without the pot....
Marean also found 57 pieces of ground-up rock that would have been reddish- or pinkish-brown. That would be used for self-decoration and sending social signals to other people, much the way makeup is used now, he said.
In Love and Death, Woody Allen suggested that God, if he exists, is an underachiever. When one reads of "'modern' living, humans 164,000 years ago" who "put on primitive makeup and hit the seashore for steaming mussels," and calculate that salvation only became a concern of God some 5,000, 2,000 or 1,400 years ago -- well, Woody Allen seems fairly profound...
As I grow older, I find that time -- or lack thereof -- is ignorance's main accomplice.
What I knew of the Armenian genocide was limited to a few newspaper and magazine articles, a documentary that I caught the last 20 or 30 minutes of, the excellent Atom Egoyan film Ararat, and not much else.
Today I bought a copy of A Shameful Act, by Turkish historian and humanist Taner Akcam. I have read a mere 15 pages, but already I regret yesterday's post. Akcam--a Turk--bases his views on documents from the archives of the Ottoman empire, and argues that there was an intentional effort to eliminate, not Christians, not minorities, not partisans and troublemakers and sabateurs and fifth columnits, but Armenians. Cohen's argument seems particularly flimsy to me today -- Akcam writes,
This book...is a call to the people of Turkey to consider the suffering inflicted in their name on those "others." The reason for this call is not only the scale of the Armenian genocide, which was in no way comparable to the individual acts of revenge carried out against Muslims. It is also because all large scale atrocities teach us one core principle: To prevent the recurrence of such events, people must first consider their own responsibility, discuss it, debate it and recognize it. In the absence of such honest consideration, there remains the high probability of such acts being repeated...(emphasis added)
If we accept Cohen's argument, mustn't we also presume that Kristalnacht was also justified, since, after all, a German Jew had murdered a petty Nazi official in Paris? Do a few individual acts of revenge, a few partisan operations, justify the systematic, organized elimination of more than a million people?
I don't know many things -- among them is the issue of Armenian genocide. So do not rely too heavily on my opinion. However, I was momentarily impressed by the arguments of Richard Cohen, who, writing in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen strikes many notes that seem to me to be accurate. He deplores Turkey's denial of the truth about what a prior government did to Armenians. He further deplores its current war on truth, putting intellectuals who question the official, saccharine version of the past in jail.
But Cohen also writes,
The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word "genocide," a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard -- and it need not be -- then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad -- maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered -- but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared. No German city could make that statement about its Jews.
This is true as far as it goes, but it still seems to me that intent is key. Apologists for Turkey argue that there were strategic reasons for killing Armenians (including women and children) -- that they were a fifth column, at war with the Turks, killing Turks, and thus were enemy combatants subject to all the horrors of war. Was that the reason, or was there a conscious attempt to eliminate the next generation of anonymous, distant Armenians who lived, not in the heart of the empire where they worked as butchers, bakers and candlestickmakers (the good Armenians), but those savage Armenians living in Armenia and fighting for self-determination? Germans and even some Nazis believed there were "good Jews" worth sparing (a view not shared by the leadership, though the Wannsee Conference notes seem to indicate that the question of what to do with Germans married to Jews was controversial among the leadership).
In any case, though I have long believed that the Holocaust is exceptional, more horrible than the famine in Ukraine engineered by Stalin, the great terror, the great leap forward, and other examples of totalitarian madness. The Holocaust is nothing if not singular. However, it does not seem to me that that precludes an expanding definition of genocide, especially if the practical result is that situations like Darfur could no longer be tolerated...