Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: A History of the Arab People by Albert Hourani

Book Review:
 A History of the Arab People
by Albert Hourani
Belknap Press at Harvard University
p. 1991

  You want to get a sense of the American mind, walk into a book store and look at the history section.  You've got like, 50 percent World War II/Civil War books, 25 percent American History and 25 percent "every other subject in history."  What, exactly is the historical relevance of World War II and the Civil War relative to the histories of other cultures that are increasingly important to our own culture?  I don't get it, but there you go.  That makes it hard to learn the right away about subjects in "World History."

     Also, it's expensive.  So basically for world history subjects you are looking for cheap survey course level books that are aimed at a general subject.  Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press. And it's ok if they are decades old, like A History of the Arab People because you don't exactly need to keep up on new trends in the history of the Abbaysid Caliphate because THERE AREN'T ANY NEW TRENDS.

   The history of the Arab people begins, at least with this book, with the advent of Islam in the seventh century.  After that, the history of the Arab people isn't exactly equivalent to the history of Islam, but only because Islam expanded into different ethnic groups: Persians and Turks specifically.  They hey day of Islamic/Arab culture lasted through the European middle ages, and the Islamic/Arab conquests made it all the way to Spain, Central Asia and India before the Europeans got their shit together, and the Turks go their shit together, gradually creating a situation where the Arabs were largely under the domination of Turks and their elites until the Europeans took over in the 19th century.

 The situation between the Arabs and the Turkish speaking Ottomans is roughly equivalent to the United States taking over England, or maybe closer even to the Aztecs conquering Spain.   Throughout the History of the Arab People the major action is split between Egypt, Damascus and Lebanon up until the 20th century, when previously peripheral regions like the Arabian peninsula and Maghrib (Arab North Africa) begin to assume greater importance.

  Perhaps the biggest surprise is simply how late in the day Arab peoples began to even notice Western cultures.  Unfortunately, this was probably more attributable to the lack of literacy outside of the religious/intellectual elites until late in the 20th century.  Outside of Cairo and perhaps Damascus, the modern aspects of life like mass communication and transport were also late in emerging.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Show Review: Dum Dum Girls Record Release @ The Echo

Show Review:
Dum Dum Girls Record Release @ The Echo

  I feel like the current album promotion cycle for the Too True (Sub Pop LP) is going well. I don't think it breaks any kind of rule to say that I heard second hand they re upped with Sub Pop for another record, which is a strong vote of confidence in the future of Dum Dum Girls.  That happening on the eve of the album release is the equivalent of an NFL head coach getting a contract extension before the first game of the season.

 With Coachella booked and a full touring slate on the horizon, my gut, and the analytics I can track both tell me Dum Dum Girls will be around for as long as they want to be, which is a nice spot to be in for an Artist.  The crowd last night was straight "Ghost World": equal parts Steven Buscemi and Thora Birch.  It was crowded but mostly with fans, I couldn't spot any obvious industry types, which is probably due to the fact that Dum Dum Girls aren't part of any major label shit fest.

 The band has added another guitarist, none other than ex-The Prayers member "Handsome" Andrew Miller. The show last night was a success, with plenty of hard core fans in evidence.  I'd say everything is go.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review: The Rise of Modern China by Immanuel C.Y. Hsu

Book Review:
The Rise of Modern China
by Immanuel C.Y. Hsu
Oxford University Press
p. 1970

  Considering the role that China plays in the modern world, my own ignorance of recent Chinese history is breath taking.  Here is what I knew prior to reading The Rise of Modern China:  The Communist party, led by Chairman Mao, came to power after World War II, and then, in the sixties there was a "cultural revolution" that was bloody and insane.  Before that China was poorly governed and the Western powers treated China like a sort of semi-colony.

  What I learned from The Rise of Modern China is that until about the 1850s, the Chinese made ZERO- ZERO effort to learn ANYTHING about the west because they felt it was beneath their dignity.  Well into the 1890s knowledge of anything western was restricted to a small minority of educated scholars and students sent abroad.  Under the Ch-ing Empire (which held onto power until the early 20th century), the Chinese were ruled by a different race, the Manchus (from Manchuria.)  The Manchus had their own language and conquered the Ming dynasty in the early 18th century.  Thus, the early modern period in Chinese history has a heavily racial element- with "foreign" Manchus ruling over, and discriminating against, the much larger Chinese population.  This gave the Chinese little reason to support their own government during the increasingly chaotic 19th century, as Western powers imposed their will on the decrepit Ch'ing.

  The racial element of the Ch'ing dynasty is, I think poorly understood in the conventional "the Chinese Empire was sad in decrepit in the 19th century" narrative.  The fact is that it wasn't a Chinese empire at all- it was a Manchu emperor ruling over China, so their own royal family was about as foreign as the foreign invaders.  The Manchu's obviously adopted Chinese customs and language to the point where the Manchu language essentially no longer exists, but they maintained their separate racial identity to the bitter end.

 In terms of the 20th century power struggle between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists- what is clear is that the Chinese Nationalists were simply out manuevered by a more intelligent opponent: Mao Tse Tung.  Mao's decades long rise from library assistant to supreme ruler of China is obviously a story unto itself, but it is hard not to have an appreciation for what he accomplished, especially if you look at China post his death.

 True, China lacks many of the cultural nicieties of the West: a free press, freedom of speech, an impartial justice system, but China was never about being exactly like the West, and furthermore it is clear that they have never, ever had any ambitions to rule outside of their immediate sphere of influence, so my take is that we should give them whatever the fuck they want in Asia and just keep them at bay everywhere else (like in Africa.) Simple!

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