The Process of Belief?: Evolution, Creationism, and “Truth”

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I didn’t watch the debate about evolution and creationism between science educator Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham this past Monday, but I have had a few general thoughts about this topic lately as this seems to have stirred up a necessary conversation about the nature of science. Science is not a belief system.  People mistakenly say that they believe in evolution but that is not an appropriate way to phrase it.  We think that evolution provides the best explanation for the data we currently have on the diversity of life. It is an intellectual process that should be based entirely on what we can observe or measure.  Of course, scientists are people too so they make mistakes in … [Read more...]

Race and Racism in the Early Medieval World

invention of racism in classical antiquity

Many people have a love/hate relationship with their undergraduate or graduate introductory historiography class.  I have taken three versions of the class now and each has had amazingly insightful weeks combined with dreadfully unhelpful weeks.   In the most recent iteration, a week spent discussing race allowed me to read some classic works, but also involved sitting mutely while modernists debated the intricacies of theory, particularly as it applies to the United States.  As an early medievalist, I had little to say.  After sitting mutely for most of the session, the professor turned to the pre-modernists in the room and asked, “what about the middle ages?” I only managed to muster a … [Read more...]

The Case Against “Bodies”

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I have never gone to see the Bodies exhibit.  Although the spectacle is tempting—to see the human form revealed in its purest muscularity, in a wild variety of poses—I could never quite reconcile myself to the idea of seeing the remains of people executed by the Chinese Communist Party stripped down and put on parade for American onlookers.  If I had to meet the misfortune of a death sentence from the local Politburo (or the grinning executioner here in Georgia), I would hate to think that I suffered insult as well as injury by having my body made to do tricks for a bunch of gawking tourists. Some might say it doesn’t matter because the postured objects down at Atlantic Station are just … [Read more...]

Constructing Constructivist Change in the Iranian-U.S. Relationship

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Despite the recent myopic attention paid by the media and the Obama administration to Syria, the Iranian nuclear program remains one of the most important issues in U.S. foreign policy—or so we are told. The challenge presented by the Iranians' putative quest to acquire nuclear weapons has been portrayed as the most important security challenge facing the United States, particularly this millennium. Torn asunder by the 1979 revolution, the relationship between Iran and the United has been consistently adversarial for over 30 years. While in the West commentators and government officials accuse Iran of nefarious meddling and intransigence, the Iranian leadership views, or at least publicly … [Read more...]

How Do We Know an Intervention Has Succeeded?

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We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. – President Obama Back in late August of 2012, President Obama uttered words these in an impromptu press conference. At the time, it represented the most concrete and coherent statement of policy regarding the conflict in Syria. With the latest revelation that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on a small scale, calls for … [Read more...]

Did the Broken Windows Theory Work?

Did the Broken Windows Theory Work?

Political scientist James Q. Wilson died last week at the age of 80.  The Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, Wilson was friend to politicians like Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and a contributor to journals such as Public Interest, which promoted the notion that well-intentioned policies often have “unintended consequences.”  This idea was popular among conservatives and ex-liberals, who had grown skeptical when the once dominant philosophy of liberalism floundered in the face of inflation, crime and joblessness in the 1970s and 1980s. The idea for which Wilson is most famous, of course, is the “broken windows theory.”  It proposes that policing minor … [Read more...]

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz’s Bohemian LA

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz's Bohemian LA

What does it mean to “be” white, or black, or gay, or working-class? How might a Jewish Ethiopian-American who grew up in poverty but now has a big bank account define himself? Which identity matters most – the current status of wealth and privilege, the experience of coming from a hardscrabble background, or Jewishness or Africanness or national identity (native or adopted)? Does one dimension of identity actually have to subordinate the others? Our current president is almost always described as being black, despite having one white parent and growing up almost entirely with a white family. His own experience is far more complex than our contemporary framework of race and identity allows, … [Read more...]

Making the Spectral Real: Asian American Film in Glen M. Mimura’s Ghostlife of Third Cinema

Making the Spectral Real: Asian American Film in Glen M. Mimura’s Ghostlife of Third Cinema

“What is Asian American cinema?” asks Glen M. Mimura in Ghostlife of Third Cinema. As other scholars in related fields have addressed Asian American citizenship, housing segregation, and racialization, Mimura explores the cultural production of Asian American film and its relation to the transnational Third Cinema. Mimura describes Third Cinema as a “revolutionary international movement,” radical in its politics and form. Emerging in the 1960s, the Third Cinema proliferated over the following two decades. According to Mimura, it helped to develop community based film centers and independent Asian American cinema, while also creating spaces for previously marginalized identities, notably … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Said Said What? Orientalism and the Other

Dog Days Classics III: Said Said What? Orientalism and the Other

Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978 Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism is without a doubt a massively influential work that grad students and others sometimes use far too carelessly. Along with later works such as 1993’s Culture and Imperialism, Said established a critical insight into how Western works, fictional and historical, created a discourse about the East that conflated it with femininity, emotionality, and sensuality that left Eastern culture submissive to the masculine, scientific, and rational West. The book exploded the idea of an objective history and raised questions about the efficacy of Western histories of the East. After all, the West’s imposition of the above traits on … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Foucault’s Vision of Domination

Dog Days Classics II: Foucault's Vision of Domination

Ahhh summer. If you are not melting on the East Coast or Southeast then hopefully you are relaxing on the left coast or surviving the brutal heat of the Midwest. As such, it seems a perfect time to reflect on how we got to where we are intellectually. Here at T of M, we are revisiting some old classics that shaped our thought in our younger years along with, as is true of any work, their flaws Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1975 Foucault’s influential classic can be credited (blamed in some people’s eyes) for fueling a shift in how historians and others think about discourse and the creation of social norms. Along with works such as The History of … [Read more...]

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