A Student of History

March 31, 2007

Pope helped Jews flee Holocaust

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 11:08 am

Here is more reliable proof to rebut the arguments made by communists, leftists and anti-Catholics that Pope Pius XII was a Nazi sympathizer, or as a number of deeply flawed modern “histories” have it, Hitler’s Pope.  This is from The Telegraph (UK):

Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as “Hitler’s Pope”, was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.

Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius’s efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.

In one, the head of Berlin’s police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich’s foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews “both in terms of people and financially”.

The column goes on to report that:

La Repubblica, the newspaper that discovered the papers, said they were sent to the heads of the Stasi, after the Second World War.

The revelations they contain will help to clear the name of Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, who has long been criticised for turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. During the war, the British Foreign Office even described him as the “greatest moral coward of our age”.

A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: “Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius’s secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war.”

Gee, doesn’t sound like the pro-Nazi conspiracy alleged to have taken place in the 1930s and 1940s afterall.  This is the main pitfall when historians/writers engage in polemical, agenda-driven history–they get proven wrong by the documents.  The most outrageous of these attacks was John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope (1999), which suggested that Pius XII, who had been the papal envoy to Germany before the war, was sympathetic to the Nazis.

Now, of course, an historian need not be a Catholic to write the history of this man or the times in question.  That should go without saying.  Nevertheless, it is often useful when evaluating an author’s objectivity (or, as is too often the case, lack thereof) in approaching a subject.  In Cornwell’s case, he admits to a loss of faith and leaving the Catholic Church (though he came back.)  Could this be an influence on his writing about Vatican politics during WWII?

March 30, 2007

Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 7:23 pm

Princess Caraboo

“She turned up in Gloucestershire in 1817, claiming to be Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu – saying she had been kidnapped by pirates before escaping and making her way to England.” 

Alas–it was a hoax, but the story is a good one and fooled lots of folks.  She is now being recognized in Bristol, however, and the rest of her tale is here.

Circuit City: People Don’t Matter (2)

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 12:43 pm

At CNN.com today they have a short video clip on a story on Circuit City (see my post of 3/29 for details), and other corporate giants squeezing their workers.  The top 1% of incomes make 400 x average so the story goes….

I’m not shopping at CC anymore.  I found the following at a Yahoo business news page, and it described what could be a potential backlash against the retailer:

Analysts and economists said the move is an uncertain experiment that could backfire for the chain. The risks: Morale could sink and customers could avoid the stores. Also, knowledgeable customer service is one of the few ways Circuit City can tackle competitors that include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., they say.

“This strategy strikes me as being quite cold,” said Bernard Baumohl, executive director of The Economic Outlook Group. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of Circuit City as a whole.”

While other companies, such as Caterpillar Inc., have introduced two-tiered wage systems, where newer workers make less, firing workers and offering to rehire them at a lower wage is very rare.

“I don’t think you’re going to find too many examples,” of this, said Ken Goldstein, labor economist for the Conference Board, a business research group. “That certainly has not been a trend we’ve seen.”

Circuit City Stores Inc., the nation’s No. 2 consumer electronics retailer behind Best Buy Co., says the workers being laid off were earning “well above the market-based salary range for their role.” They will be replaced with employees who will be paid at the current market range, the company said in a news release.

“We haven’t done something called (a) wage management initiative before,” said company spokesman Jim Babb. “All companies at one time or another need to go through and make sure their cost structure works with market conditions.”

March 29, 2007

Circuit City: People Don’t Matter

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 9:42 am

This seems like something out of the 1880s or 1890s, but it is as they say “ripped from today’s headlines”:

“Circuit City fired 3,400 employees in stores across the country yesterday, saying they were making too much money and would be replaced by new hires willing to work for less.” 

This means that the company wanted to cut the higher paid people to save money, and hire new, inexperienced people instead. Timothy Allen, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., surmises that “I have a feeling the people they’re letting go have probably been there longer, have more experience, more product knowledge.”

At first glace I could not quite believe that–not because I don’t think big corporations are in the habit of doing things like this, but because this admission is so brazen.  It actually gets a bit worse, because as the Washington Post article describes, “the company said the dismissals had nothing to do with performance but were part of a larger effort to improve the bottom line.”  So, work hard and do well, but even so–you get the axe when management thinks that the profits are too small.  Lest we think that the Postis twisting the facts here to make for a tear-jerker of a human interest story, the facts are spelled out by Jim Babb, a Circuit City spokesman, who said on the record “we deeply regret the negative impact that was had on these folks. It was no fault of theirs.”

That must be some comfort to the thousands laid off, that it wasn’t their fault and that the bottom line has to come first.  I mean, everybody knows that, right?

Now, CC did give the fired folks severance pay and told them that after 10 weeks they were free to apply for any openings.   So, does this mean they get a 10 week vacation, with pay?  Somehow I doubt it.  What about their benefits?  And if the whole idea is to save money, these people who do manage to get rehired will of course be making less money–so why not just cut their pay rather than fire them and cause such a huge disruption in their lives?

Perhaps we could exonerate CC a bit if we could know that the way they handled this “downsizing” of people who had done no wrong (remember, CC says it was not their fault).  Actually , we do, and it does not make the corporation look good.  The Post reports that “Employees reached by a reporter said they were notified yesterday morning and told to leave immediately.”  Thus no notice, no way to plan, no way to try to figure out how to pay for stuff…

The writer also managed to speak with a fired (former) employee.

Steven Rash, 24, said he was one of 11 workers fired at a Circuit City in Asheville, N.C. The store manager broke the news during a meeting at 8:15 a.m. and escorted them out of the store. Rash said he has worked for the retailer for seven years and was one of the most junior members of the affected group.  He said he earned $11.59 an hour and worked from 15 to 20 hours a week. He received four weeks of severance pay. 

After seven years of part-time work, he gets four weeks of severance pay.  He only worked 15-20 hours per week, but the company decided he was too expensive to keep!

The CEO of the company, of course, received a salary of $716,346, along with a $704,700 bonus last year. He also has long-term compensation of $3 million in stock awards and $340,000 in underlying options.  I do not see in the article where he took a hit in any way in order to help “the bottom line.”  Last month, the retailer shut down distribution centers in Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, and closed 55 international stores; it plans to shut down seven more in the United States.  So if the company is doing so poorly, why did CEO Philip J. Schoonover get a bonus?  I thought bonuses were for the people who did well…

Thus, the store workers get fired even though it has nothing to do with performance, but Philip J. Schoonover gets a bonus even though the company he manages is doing shitty? 

CC has forgotten that even though they exist for profit, we all live in a society, not an economy.  Is CC’s way of thinking really what America is all about now?  I hope not but it reminds me of the Guilded Age quite a bit.

March 28, 2007

Museum appeals for return of ancient pottery

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 10:51 am

This is from Kilkenny People, a local paper in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.  Since it is an appeal to get back stolen goods, I will give it here in its entirety:

Museum appeals for return of ancient pottery: LEGAL action is being considered against the operator of an illegal quarry where an important archaeological find has been discovered.

The news comes as the National Museum in Dublin appealed for help from anyone who might have taken pieces of pottery from the site at Garanagully, a few miles outside Ballyragget on the road to Castlecomer.
Local people who saw the grave shortly after its discovery describe two vessels together with a large cremation deposit. They are now missing.
Kilkenny County Council confirmed that the burial chamber was tampered with some weeks before it was reported to the National Museum.
It it is considering taking legal action against the operators of the quarry for not obeying an enforcement order served on them.
A few weeks ago archaeologists with the National Museum were made aware of the discovery of the early Bronze Age cist grave in the quarry.
A cist is a simple stone-lined grave made by digging a pit and lining the sides with slabs to form a rectangular box-like structure usually about one metre or so in length. The cist is covered by a single large capstone.
These structures were used to bury the remains of one or more people.
The burials were usually accompanied by pottery vessels of specific types and are usually found by accident in the course of agricultural, drainage or quarrying work.
In most cases, there are no surface features to draw attention to the existence of the burial chambers but machinery often dislodges the capstone, allowing the interior of the cist and its contents to be seen.
A Bronze Age cremation will usually retain recognisable fragments of bone although they may be distorted because of the heat of the pyre. The bone varies in colour from white to grey to blue.
Unfortunately, in the case of the cist burial discovered at Garrannaguilly, it was not reported to the National Museum until several weeks after it was first exposed.
By the time National Museum archaeologists Mary Cahill and Maeve Sikora visited the site the contents were seriously disturbed and very little of the pottery remained although fragments from two vessels were collected.
Eye witnesses
Eye witness accounts from local people who saw the cist shortly after its discovery describe two vessels in the cist together with a large cremation deposit.
When examined by the archaeologists the remaining contents of the cist included a quantity of cremated bone and some pieces of the broken pots. However, the impressions of the bases of two pots could still be clearly seen – suggesting that they must have been substantially intact when the capstone was dislocated.
The contents of the cist have now been removed to Dublin for further study and analysis.
The cremated bone will be examined by an osteologist who will be able to identify the number of individuals buried in the cist.
Depending on the condition of the bones it may be possible also to identify sex, age and diseases that they suffered during their lifetimes.
Some diseases leave certain identifiable marks on human bone. A small sample of the bone may also be used to date the burial.
Examination of the pottery, although it is very fragmentary, will also help to establish an accurate date for the burial which the experts say is probably between 2000-1700 BC.
Natural beauty
The site is located in an area of great natural beauty on the highest point of a deposit of sand and gravel.
The views in all directions are quite spectacular with Mount Leinster and Slievenamon forming prominent landmarks towards the horizon to the south-east and south-west while the broad plain of the Nore valley spreads out to the west.
This type of location was often chosen by the people of the Early Bronze Age perhaps because of its prominence and may relate to the organisation of local tribal territories.
Several similar burials were discovered at Ballyouskill in the 1970s on another nearby high point.
These were also excavated by staff from the National Museum including the late Ellen Prendergast, a very well known Kilkenny woman.
If enough of the pottery can be collected it may be possible to reconstruct the vessels. At the very least it would help to identify the types of vessel buried in the cist.
During the weeks the cist was exposed there were many visitors to the site, many of whom may not have realised its significance.
The National Museum is appealing to anyone who may have visited the site and who has anything, either bone or pottery, from the cist to contact either Mary or Maeve by phoning 1890 687 386.

March 26, 2007

Good news from Ireland

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 12:14 pm

CNN today has an article that tells us that:

Northern Ireland’s major Protestant and Catholic parties have hailed a deal to form a power-sharing government as a “new era of politics” to end three decades of sectarian conflict in the British province.

Monday’s breakthrough followed the first face-to-face talks between the Protestants of Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party and the Roman Catholics of Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein.

Paisley, 80, who had previously boycotted contact with Sinn Fein because of its links to the Irish Republican Army, met Adams at the Northern Ireland assembly building in Belfast but the pair did not shake hands, news agencies reported.

“Today we’ve agreed with Sinn Fein that this date will be Tuesday, May 8, 2007,” Paisley, sitting next to Adams at the negotiating table, later told reporters.

The untold story of Aberlleiniog Castle

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 9:40 am

From a Welsh news site, this news:

Aberlleiniog Castle

An ancient castle which has been off limits to the public since it was built in 1088 is about to reveal its secrets for the first time.

Aberlleiniog Castle, located on the south east corner of Anglesey, has been witness to a long and fascinating series of owners and events.

The little-known castle has been the site of a murder mystery, love triangles and even fatal duels, but few people are aware of its significance and no one has been allowed to visit for almost a thousand years.

All that is now set to change thanks to a £317,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

March 25, 2007

My Trip to Ireland

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 11:37 am

As I wrote earlier this year I am going to Ireland in May to present a paper at an academic conference in Belfast at Queens.  I also will have time to do a bit of sightseeing as well, so hopefully the weather will be cooperative.  This will be my 4th trip to Ireland and my 2nd to the North.  I have done almost all my touring in the South and Ulster, so I’d like to try to get to Connaught, as I have never been to that area in my previous trips and there is much to see there.  I am especially interested in Galway, Mayo and Donegal.

One idea I have is to climb Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, five miles from the picturesque town of Westport (below).   


It is a traditional pilgrimage site, and I would love to make the trek. It is something I have been wanting to do ever since I began studying Irish history in 1998.  Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are to be had from all stages of the ascent of the mountain.  Croagh Patrick is mountain looking out on the Atlantic ocean from the southern shore of Clew Bay, and is called “the Sinai of Ireland.” In pagan times it was known as Cruachan Aigli. It rises in a perfect cone to a height of 2510 feet.  Each year, as many as one million pilgrims and visitors make the trek to the top to pray at the stations of the cross, participate in Mass, do penance (in which case the rocky journey is undertaken barefoot) or just enjoy the spectacular view.

For more on the mountain’s significance to the Irish and their Church, click here.

29-croagh patrick

March 24, 2007

OSU stomps obscure southern school

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 10:12 pm

greg oden - ohio state university

In a 92-76 victory over second-seeded Memphis, Ohio State had unleashed its superior talent for an entire game.

I love this quote:

The Buckeyes had survived a 20-point deficit and an overtime thriller to arrive here, but they slammed the door on Memphis’s 25-game winning streak thanks to a 12-2 run that began with 3 minutes 41 seconds remaining and the Buckeyes holding a 10-point lead. At that point, the NCAA might as well have brought the ladders to cut down the nets.

The biggest raw deal in history?

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 4:21 pm

“Every story needs a villain, and Judas offers an archetype with his traitor’s kiss.”  That’s the assessment of an article in The Independent today about Judas, and his role in the New Testament.  But should he be rehabilitated, the author asks?

“In Christian tradition, Judas was the follower of Jesus who betrayed him to the Jewish authorities. The four gospels leave his motives uncertain, but his name has passed into common usage as a synonym for personal betrayal.”  Kinda like Benedict Arnold in U.S. history…only bigger.

Jeffrey Archer and one of the world’s top biblical scholars, Professor Francis Moloney have just written The Gospel According To Judas, which portrays Judas as traduced by the gospel writers since he was really trying to save Jesus from “an unnecessary death”.  The book is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus’ betrayer, as told by his son.

The article goes on to state thatthe recently discovered “gospel of Judas” suggests that Judas,

far from being Jesus’s enemy, was his chief Apostle, who was acting at Jesus’s request when he “betrayed” him to the authorities. Without Judas’s help, Jesus would not have been crucified and God’s plan to save mankind from its sins could not have been fulfilled. Someone had to do it, to fulfil Old Testament prophecies, the early Christians believed. Judas was the chosen one.

That was why the early Gnostic sect known as the Cainites venerated Judas. To them he was a kind of saint. It’s a notion which has repeatedly resurfaced through history, most recently, perhaps, in the film The Last Temptation Of Christ. But this is far from the only solution offered to the mystery.

So did Judas just get the biggest raw deal in history?

A related article from the UK is here as well.

Austen Portrain to be sold

Filed under: Great books — John Maass @ 4:21 pm

From Yahoo! News:

What many believe to be the only painting of Jane Austen will be auctioned in New York in April by Christie’s, a relation of the English author and owner of the picture said.

But Henry Rice, a “sixth generation descendant” of the writer of classics such as “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice,” believes the sale of a picture that has divided experts will not be without controversy.

In 1948, a leading Austen scholar dismissed the authenticity of the portrait, saying the style of costume the subject wears does not match the date.


‘The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen’ by English society artist Ozias Humphry in an image released by Christie’s on March 23, 2007. The painting, which measures about five feet tall and three feet wide and widely believed to be the only known painting of Jane Austen, will be auctioned in New York in April by Christie’s, a relation of the English author and owner of the picture said. (Christie’s/Handout/Reuters)

March 23, 2007

Eliot A. Cohen & the Uses of History

Filed under: The Academy,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 9:18 am

In the latest issue on line of American Heritage, there is an interview with Eliot A. Cohen, who is now the new counsel to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (herself an historian.)  His main topic is “the uses of history, in Iraq and everywhere else wars are fought.”

Here is an extract:

There are a number of connections between history and policy, and not all of them are encouraging. There are cheap or superficial lessons of history. Going into Afghanistan, you had all these people saying, “Well, the British were never able to succeed, and the Russians failed, and so you won’t succeed either.” And sometimes this lesson was drawn to mean more than that we’d fail, but rather that we’d have a debacle. This lesson seems at best premature.

This tendency struck me most forcefully during the Bosnian and Kosovo crises of the mid-1990s, when you had a lot of people in the government, particularly in the military, warning against fighting the Serbs and saying, well, in World War II these folks pinned down more German divisions than the Allies did in Italy. They were falling back on a very stylized and actually incorrect version of history.

I had an excellent army officer who’s a paratrooper, fluent in German, a very, very bright fellow. He decided to do a research paper on what, exactly, the Germans had faced in Yugoslavia. He showed that most of those German divisions were about one-third strength, and most if them were not first-rate divisions or even second- or third-rate divisions. A lot of them weren’t even German divisions. And what were the German objectives? They were they trying to hold onto some critical facilities, particularly mines. Did the partisans ever prevent them from doing what they wanted to do? Never in any large way, until the bitter end. It was one of those moments that really struck me. A supposed lesson of history turns out to be no lesson of any kind, because the received version of the history is simply wrong.

And this, with my underlining of an important statement he makes:

The challenge is finding ways of making history talk to policy, but we also have to have historians who can comprehend the worldview of policymakers. Historians are appalled by policymakers either being completely ignorant of history or making gross misuse of it, usually through oversimplifications, which they indeed do all the time. But historians tend to be so detached from the world of policymaking that they make misjudgments about history. These days the only practical activity most historians have known has been grading papers, and they tend to apply that standard to their judgments about politicians. They find it quite difficult to have real empathy with what a statesman is up against, what kinds of decisions people make, what kinds of information they have, what kinds of pressures they’re under. Part of the biggest problem is that Churchill was probably right, one has to nail one’s life to a cross, either in thought or in action, and the kinds of people who do one aren’t likely to do the other. And yet it seems to me very important that the two types engage in a conversation, and that’s my project in this place.

What an interesting assessment of historians-impractical and detatched.  Could it be true?

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