Of Libya, Anarchists, and Academic Freedom in Wisconsin…

For some reason, there seems to be a lot of…instability…in the world today. I don’t know where it came from, but at some point in, say, December, humans became restless, I guess.  While I was in Normandy with my friend Dylan, London apparently was in an uproar…or at least central London. “The Battle of Trafalgar Square,” the Daily Mail is calling it. Lots of photos and links there, for what that’s worth. I’m not familiar with the issues involved, aside from impeding “spending cuts,” but 500,000 people is an impressive number, for sure. What I find impressive and disturbing is the violence involved. A lot of violence; “ammonia lightbulbs,” smashing stores and damaging public monuments and buildings? Wow.

Libya, of course is still going full-swing. Apparently the rebels are moving toward a “final clash” around Surt, as Allied air strikes have given the rebels a breathing space and they’re advancing west again. Someone remarked that the movement back and forth along the coast road is reminiscent of the 1940-42 campaigns. Probably true.  In the last few days, I seem to be reading a lot more about the U.S. role in the conflict than the conflict itself. Which is also interesting, I guess, and certainly apropos, as the French would say. Jake Tapper had a good column on Defense Secretary Gates’ assessment of Libya, and, let’s be honest, he’s right.  As one may have surmised, the Small Wars Journal is hopping with different opinions (I’m assuming they’re informed ones) on the issue. Robert Haddick claims that, in his speech the other day, President Obama “Avoids George W., but becomes George H. W.” Well, perhaps, but we won’t know that for a while, now will we? And besides, see Sec Def Gates’ remarks above. So I think that’s rather unfair. On a very interesting related note, especially for those of you interested in international law, Charli Carpenter has a short piece on the “R2P” (Responsibility to Protect) doctrine, and its application to the Libya situation. I didn’t even know that that was an official doctrine, and a facet of international law.

Other news I’ve picked up is more random, yet related to the political and military unrest in the Middle East and Mediterranean basin. Apparently a majority of Egyptians are in favor of bringing back the caliphate, in one form or another. I don’t answer for Corn’s rather condescending tone in the article, but it’s interesting.  Those disturbing pictures of soldiers in Afghanistan, published by Rolling Stone, elicited a strong, seemingly forthright response from the Army, which is investigating the incidents. Interesting article deriving from Harvard’s Belfer Center on counter-insurgency as state-building. Syria is having its own internal unrest, with the army being deployed to Latakia, among other places.  And apparently Israel is attempting some kind of rocket-defense system, called “Iron Dome,” to stop rocket strikes from Gaza (and also, as the article hints, from the Lebanese border–though I haven’t been reading much about that part of the world lately). Strikes me that it would be difficult to identify, activate, and counter quickly enough to make the system worthwhile…  And I haven’t remarked yet on Japan, though I’ve been reading a lot about that situation. The most recent news indicates that radiation is spreading faster and in greater quantity than was anticipated.  To say that one’s “heart goes out to the people of Japan” is nearly a cliche at this point, but it is earnestly meant. For myself, as a student of karate, there are somewhat closer ties as all roads ultimately lead to Japan. The different federations are doing significant relief work, the JKA among them.

In a couple religion-related postings, you might have seen some news stories about lead books “discovered” in Galilee or Jordan, depending on who you believe. The BBC carried the biggest story so far, and I was getting cautiously excited. Until my friend Rabia posted a link to this excellent review of the entire story, and, sadly it seems that a huge dose of caution and skepticism is warranted.  I keep waiting for new discoveries, but the St. James ossuary a couple years ago was a huge disappointment, and this one will probably be the same.  And in somewhat more controversial fashion, the battle between monotheism and polytheism in ancient Israel is getting new prominence again. Why I’m not entirely sure, as scholars have known for a while that the Asherah cult was part of Israelite worship when the monotheists weren’t in power (which was frequently, at least until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians).  Eh, worth reading.  Oh, and the Pew Forum has done a survey of U.S. religious knowledge. This qualifies as trivia, rather than “news,” I think, as statistics are as statistics go.

Finally, there’s been a growing kerfuffle about the “Cronon Affair,” that is the Wisconsin Republican Party’s apparent attempt to strike back at Professor William Cronon’s research and criticism of the ALEC, which he argued “had played a major role behind the scenes in Governor Walker’s attack on public employee unions in Wisconsin. He also argued that this sort of political work, though legitimate, should be done in the open.”  The New Yorker, from which that quote derives, has an excellent article on the situation (apologies for not remembering who first posted this link on Facebook). It’s not that the WRP is issuing counter-statements, it’s that they’re using some kind of freedom-of-information act to get access to Professor Cronon’s email account, to go, as the New Yorker puts it, on a “fishing expedition” and intimidate someone who’s said something they don’t like. I have to say, while I don’t know the particulars, my sympathies are entirely with Cronon on the matter, and I hope that the WRP backs down, and the University of Wisconsin system steps up. Otherwise, it will send a bad message concerning the potential to damage and muzzle academic freedom in U.S. higher education (which, despite most horror stories you might hear, is actually in fairly good shape).  Professor Cronon’s blog, Scholar as Citizen, is well worth looking at. Oh, and he is going to become the next president of the American Historical Association, which published a strongly supportive statement on March 27th.

Wow, that’s a lot of links.  Well, they do pile up, and sometimes you just need a “clearing house” post to get rid of them!  Tomorrow I’ll do a Civil War rant, with some of the recent posts from Disunion.

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