March 16, 2003

Nestor Makhno and me

I'm still reading Hobsbawm, and just finished the chapter on the Cold War. I find Hobsbawm is best read by doing a whole chapter in one sitting, then allowing it some time to sink in before embarking on the next chapter. Usually, it's just enough to time to read another book. Today, it was Dark Light by Ken MacLeod.

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Das Alter Buch

Among the other documents included in Grandpa's magnum opus is a photocopy of the Alter Buch, or genealogy, started by my great-great grandfather, Peter Kornelius Martens. It is hand-written on unlined paper in German, using the old Fraktur script, also sometimes called "Gothic." Although I feel reasonably at ease reading German, the Alter Buch is completely illegible to me because I have virtually no knowledge of the old script - I can read it with great difficulty in print, but in hand-written cursive it's hopeless. For me, it would have been easier to read in hand-written Russian. The old German script was abolished by the Nazis in 1941 because Hitler believed it to have Jewish roots. Although after 1945 it was no longer illegal to use, it never recovered its pre-WWII popularity and nowadays it is rarely used and virtually never taught in school. It persisted among "diaspora" Germans in Canada for another decade or so after the war, but is by now forgotten most everywhere. Fortunately, Grandpa also transcribed the German into the modern script and translated it to English.

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March 22, 2003

Out of Frisia

I feel that at this point I should provide some background information about Mennonites, and how they came to be in Russia. If I had Grandpa's library on hand, this would be a piece of cake. He had dozens of books on Mennonite history and culture. However, his books are in Canada, in his last house, and I am seven time zones east of them.

I am therefore warning you: I'm working mostly from memory and this is not a complete history. It's probably not fully accurate, it's not very serious, and it should be treated in the same category of historiography as that capsule history of America in the middle of Bowling for Columbine.

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March 23, 2003

One third of the way around the world in 30 days

I've always been fascinated by travelling. Those moments in life that are between places are so full of purpose and intent and so much more a stage for the human drama than a trip to the mall or eating in a restaurant. People who would otherwise never in all their lives come into contact are - in modern times - frequently compelled to share public transportation facilities.

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March 27, 2003

Blame Canada

Americans are often inclined to describe the relationship of their country with Canada as "close friendship." The blunt, horrifying and awful truth - well known to basically everyone in Canada - is almost diametrically the opposite. No, Canadians are not likely to start sending suicide bombers into American buildings, but the relationship could be far more accurately described as intermittently acrimonious, like two neighbours who don't really see eye-to-eye very often, but have to live next to each other and usually try to remain civil about it.

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March 30, 2003

Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Those who recognise this quote know that it comes from that prototype of the Reagan conservative, Barry Goldwater. I thought it appropriate in light of the recent web dialogue brought on by a Calpundit 's post on liberal "extremism", followed up on Body and Soul, Eschaton, MacDiva, Alas, a Blog and on Pandagon, and leading to a response on Calpundit.

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Down and out in Siberia

In light of the current conflict - and because I'm not feeling very peaceable - we are going to focus on Russia and political mayhem one last time before moving on to the much happier world of Canada between the wars. I had, in fact, decided to skip this bit of Grandpa's documentation and keep the narrative focus on Grandpa himself. I had prepared a post on life in Canada after emigration, but I've decided to post this instead. The next post will go up tomorrow or the day after depending on how much time I have.

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