Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward







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Recent Posts


Palestine and the West: A century of betrayal

Avi Shlaim writes: Noam Chomsky described settler-colonialism as the most extreme and sadistic form of imperialism. The Palestinian people have suffered the unique misfortune of being at the receiving end of both Zionist settler-colonialism and western imperialism for the last century. The first and most crucial betrayal was the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It committed the British government to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people

Auschwitz survivors warn of rising anti-Semitism 75 years on

The Associated Press reports: Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp prayed and wept as they marked the 75th anniversary of its liberation, returning Monday to the place where they lost entire families and warning about the ominous growth of anti-Semitism and hatred in the world. “We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told

How to be a dictator

Adam Gopnik writes: Dictatorship has, in one sense, been the default condition of humanity. The basic governmental setup since the dawn of civilization could be summarized, simply, as taking orders from the boss. Big chiefs, almost invariably male, tell their underlings what to do, and they do it, or they are killed. Sometimes this is costumed in communal decision-making, by a band of local bosses or wise men, but even

More than 750 American historians call for Trump to be impeached

Historians on Impeachment write: We are American historians devoted to studying our nation’s past who have concluded that Donald J. Trump has violated his oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His “attempts to subvert the Constitution,” as George Mason described impeachable offenses at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, urgently and justly require

The accidental book review that made Jack Kerouac famous

Ronald K.L. Collins writes: In early September 1957, Jack Kerouac achieved the dream of every writer. Around midnight he and his girlfriend, Joyce Glassman, left her brownstone apartment in New York City for a nearby newsstand at Broadway and 66th Street. They waited while the nightman cut the twine around the morning edition of the New York Times. Rifling through the paper, they found on Page 27 an expected review

The dark history of colonialism behind the Thanksgiving myth

David J. Silverman writes: Generations of Americans have told themselves a patriotic story of the supposed first Thanksgiving that misrepresents colonization as consensual and bloodless. The story goes like this: English Pilgrims cram aboard the Mayflower and brave the stormy Atlantic to seek religious freedom in America. They disembark at Plymouth Rock and enter the howling wilderness equipped with their proto-Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, and the confidence that they are

Thoreau, the scientist

Curt Stager writes: Much more has been said and written about Thoreau’s philosopher-poet side than his naturalist side, but as a scientist I am more interested in the latter. The journals that he kept from 1837 to 1861 were so full of natural history observations that they might have become a major scientific work if he had not died of a lung ailment at age 44. He probably thought so,

Climate change fueled the rise and demise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, superpower of the ancient world

Ashurbanipal, last major ruler of the Assyrian Empire, couldn’t outrun the effects of climate change. British Museum, CC BY-ND By Ashish Sinha, California State University, Dominguez Hills and Gayatri Kathayat, Xi’an Jiaotong University Ancient Mesopotamia, the fabled land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, was the command and control center of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. This ancient superpower was the largest empire of its time, lasting from 912 BC to

A big-data approach to history could help save the future

Laura Spinney writes: In its first issue of 2010, the scientific journal Nature looked forward to a dazzling decade of progress. By 2020, experimental devices connected to the internet would deduce our search queries by directly monitoring our brain signals. Crops would exist that doubled their biomass in three hours. Humanity would be well on the way to ending its dependency on fossil fuels. A few weeks later, a letter

The night the Cold-War world turned upside down

Christopher Dickey writes: At the end of World War II, Europe had been divided between the Allied forces coalescing as NATO and the Soviets under Joseph Stalin. Defeated Germany was split between East and West, and Berlin itself partitioned. In the summer of 1948, Stalin imposed a blockade to try to bring the Allied-occupied part of the city to its knees, but the United States responded with a massive airlift

The forgotten mass destruction of Jewish homes during ‘Kristallnacht’

A looted Jewish shop in Aachen, Germany on the day after Kristallnacht, Nov. 10, 1938. Wolf Gruner and Armin Nolzen (eds.). ‘Bürokratien: Initiative und Effizienz,’ Berlin, 2001., Author provided By Wolf Gruner, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Every November, communities around the world hold remembrances on the anniversary of the Nazis’ brutal assault on the Jews during “Kristallnacht.” Also known as “the Night

Why was it believed that the Aztecs greeted Cortés as a deity?

Camilla Townsend writes: It would become an accepted fact that the indigenous people of Mexico believed Hernando Cortés to be a god, arriving in their land in the year 1519 to satisfy an ancient prophecy. It was understood that Moctezuma (also known as Montezuma II), at heart a coward, trembled in his sandals and quickly despaired of victory. He immediately asked to turn his kingdom over to the divine newcomers,

Most witches are women, because witch hunts were all about persecuting the powerless

Seventy-eight percent of the people executed for witchcraft in New England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries were women. Jef Thompson/ By Bridget Marshall, University of Massachusetts Lowell “Witch hunt” – it’s a refrain used to deride everything from impeachment inquiries and sexual assault investigations to allegations of corruption. When powerful men cry witch, they’re generally not talking about green-faced women wearing pointy hats. They are, presumably, referring

The violent racism that produced Columbus Day

Brent Staples writes: Few who march in Columbus Day parades or recount the tale of Columbus’s voyage from Europe to the New World are aware of how the holiday came about or that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892 — in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants. The proclamation was part of a broader

Why more places are abandoning Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day

Marchers celebrate the first Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley, Calif. on Oct. 10, 1992. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma By Malinda Maynor Lowery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Increasingly, Columbus Day is giving people pause. More and more towns and cities across the country are electing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to – or in addition to – the day intended to honor Columbus’ voyages. Critics of

History isn’t a good guide for understanding Trump’s impeachment case

David Greenberg writes: The internet is awash in historical explainers and hot takes trying to make sense of our sudden constitutional crisis. Marshalled on behalf of a range of competing viewpoints, the arguments are sprinkled with references to Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—the three presidents who faced impeachment proceedings before Donald Trump. Which one applies to the current president and his apparent effort to enlist Ukraine in going