poland and the new world


I have always felt uneasy when historians or politicians sound off about sea-changes in history, claiming that the emergence of Islamism, terrorism, globalisation, climate change or whatever has transformed the world. I could not repress a snort of derision when I heard that Francis Fukuyama had published The End of History. But lately, I have been obliged to accept that fundamental changes have taken place in the past two decades, mainly as a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet imperium. The catalyst for this reassessment came from an unlikely quarter: I was asked by my publisher to revise and update The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and their Culture, a history of Poland which first came out in 1987. When I began writing that book, more than a quarter of a century ago, the study and writing of history had changed little since my schooldays, despite the fashion for microhistory, gender studies and Marxist revision (Eric Hobsbawm was at the height of his reputation). The perspective was relentlessly British, and European history was hardly touched on. When it was, the only countries that figured were those that impinged, one way or another, on British interests: France, Russia, Prussia and, at various points in their history, Holland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal.

more from Standpoint here (via bookforum).



It was in my late teens that I fell for Donald Barthelme. No passing adolescent fancy this, but a palpitating obsession of the first water. In his essay The Beards, Jonathan Lethem writes of Talking Heads that “[at] the peak, in 1980 or 1981, my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album Fear of Music in place of my head”. In 1993 I felt much the same way about Forty Stories, the first Barthelme collection I owned. That book and its predecessor Sixty Stories were Barthelme’s self-selected “best-ofs”, their contents culled from nine story collections and work first published in magazines such as the New Yorker and Esquire. His fiction resulted in more letters of complaint being sent to the former publication than any other writer, a predictable result of its audacity. His postmodernist aesthetic, however, is not of the sort that revels in being problematic for its own sake. “Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult,” he wrote in his 1987 essay Not-Knowing, ‘but because it wishes to be art.”

more from The Guardian here.

Wednesday Poem

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
Sherman Alexie

The eyes open to a blue telephone In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.
I wonder whom I should call? A plumber, Sherman Alexie
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. “Hey, Ma,

I say, “Can I talk to Poppa?” She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. “Shit, Mom,”
I say. “I forgot he's dead. I'm sorry–

How did I forget?” “It's okay,” she says.
“I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table–
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years–

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon.” My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

from Thrash; Hanging Loose Press

The Darfur the West Isn’t Recognizing as It Moralizes About the Region

Howard W. French in The New York Times:

Mamdani190 For many who survey an African landscape strewn with political wreckage, nowadays merely to raise the subject of European colonialism, which formally ended across most of the continent five decades ago, is to ring alarm bells of excuse making. Clearly, the African disaster most in view today is Sudan, or more specifically the dirty war that has raged since 2003 in that country’s western region, Darfur. Rare among African conflicts, it exerts a strong claim on our conscience. By instructive contrast, more than five million people have died as a result of war in Congo since 1998, the rough equivalent at its height of a 2004 Asian tsunami striking every six months, without stirring our diplomats to urgency or generating much civic response.

Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan-born scholar at Columbia University and the author of “When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and Genocide in Rwanda,” is one of the most penetrating analysts of African affairs. In “Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror,” he has written a learned book that reintroduces history into the discussion of the Darfur crisis and questions the logic and even the good faith of those who seek to place it at the pinnacle of Africa’s recent troubles. It is a brief, he writes, “against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.”

More here.

Is Life Too Hard for Honeybees?

From Scientific American:

Bee “For almost two years we've been documenting and sampling colonies that are dying and examining healthy colonies in the same area, trying to determine what factors are involved,” Pettis says. “I think there are interactions going on, like low-level pesticide exposure and poor nutrition weakening the host honeybees and then pathogens doing the killing. It's similar to a human who might not be eating, or is frail and traveling too much, and as a result is more susceptible to pathogens. If you go into a hospital in excellent health, you don't contract pneumonia, but if you go in weakened, pneumonia kills you.”

Pesticides and fungicides
How much pesticide exposure is too much for a honey bee? Traditionally, Pettis says, manufacturers seek clearance for pesticides by using the LD-50 test, which “essentially applies toxic stuff to bees and sees if half or more of them drop dead.” This brute force test does not, however, gauge long-term systemic effects. “The general feeling is that we need to move beyond mortality testing to sublethal testing that looks at the shortening of life span, disorientation, reduced vigor, and other things,” says Pettis, who has been in discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about developing newer, more sensitive pesticide tests.

More here.