Reading, Writing, and Walking around in St. Petersburg

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I've been in St. Petersburg for about a week now. This is the fourth time I've researched here. The first was in 2002, when I came here for two months as a second-year PhD student for language training and exploratory research in the archive. I returned for three months in 2004 during the course of an academic year spent in Russia under the auspices of a Fulbright student grant, most of which was spent in Kazan. And then, in June of 2010, I spent a month here after finishing up my first year at Montana State, doing supplemental research for my dissertation that ended up going into Turks Across Empires. So, up until the moment that I stepped off the night train from Moscow last Sunday morning, it had been nearly seven years since I'd set foot in this town. 



Moscow-Kazan-St. Petersburg

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Since getting back from Morocco two weeks ago, I've been pretty busy. Mainly, I've been finishing up work in the archives where I've been working in Moscow, but I also managed to head down to Kazan last weekend for a short visit. 

Bauman Street in Kazan



















A quick break: Morocco

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'd been in Moscow for six months, and it was time to leave the country. According to the terms of my visa, I need to exit Russia at least once every six months, even if only to turn around and immediately head back. At the same time, however, the Fulbright grant that brought me to Russia makes allowance for up to two weeks out of the country, and we're encouraged to make use of it. 


So, I decided to do so. 

Arriving in Marrakesh  













Emerging from winter...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I woke up the other day from a dream. It was a version of the classic student dream that many people have, the one where it's the day of your final exam and you haven't been to class all semester and don't know where the exam is being held, and one hurdle after another emerges to stymie all efforts to get to where you need to go.

Only in the version of the dream I'd had, it was the first day of class. I had suddenly realized that I was supposed to teach that day, but had done no preparation, had made no copies of the syllabus, let alone write one, and had not even ordered books for the class yet. And where was I when it occurred to me, in this dream, that I had to go to school and teach? A banya, of course. 















Fortunately, I soon woke up from this nightmare to realize that I was safe and sound in my apartment in Moscow, still six months away from the beginning of my next class. Nevertheless, I found the symbolism apt. A Russian bath probably would be the best place for one to realize that the school year had started without me. 

Time away and reinventing oneself

Sunday, December 5, 2016

When I was thirteen, my parents and I took a sabbatical to Paris. It was the spring semester of 1983, and my Dad was a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. We were due to stay a little over six months. I was adamantly against the idea.

A semester of eighth grade at an American junior high school in the early 1980s--who could possibly want to miss out on that? As it was, I had hardly any friends. I'd grown apart from most of my friends from elementary school, which ended after eighth grade, and hadn't made many new ones in my first year of junior high. Nevertheless, the prospect of going to France terrified me. For months before our departure in early January, every time my parents started talking about our trip at the dinner table, I always said the same thing: why not just stay in Ann Arbor?  My bitching and moaning continued after our arrival. The first couple of weeks we stayed with friends in Meudon while my parents trudged into Paris every day to meet with real estate agents and look at apartments. I'd brought one book with me, and finished it within ten days. It was called "Successful Investing," and my parents had given it to me for Christmas a few weeks earlier. In those days, I was very interested in the stock market. 

Getting Settled In Moscow

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I've been in Russia ten days so far. After leaving Bozeman at the beginning of September I was in Amsterdam for ten days, then spent a month in Istanbul. I then went back to Amsterdam for a couple of days before flying here last week. 














Sabbatical kickoff: Amsterdam-Istanbul-Amsterdam

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's been a busy five weeks since I left Bozeman. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm on sabbatical for this academic year, and I'll be spending most of my time in Russia. Prior to heading to Russia, though, I spent about ten days in Amsterdam and a month in Istanbul. 














Reflections on a summer and the past seven years

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I wake up at around 6 and glance out the window. Through the cracks in the blinds I see that the sun is up, barely. Nevertheless, once I actually get out of bed thirty minutes later, the interior of my apartment is coldish. The windows were all left open a couple of inches the night before, but with the temperatures dipping into the low forties at night that's enough to make things chilly.  


Summer vacation began with a snowy start















What we saw this weekend

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

At first it seemed like a joke. What do you mean, the Turkish military couldn't pull off a coup? Since when? It's like when the Big 3 in Detroit started turning out lemons or when Team USA lost in men's basketball in the 2004 Olympics. What is the world coming to when the Turkish military is no longer capable of executing a successful military intervention? 


Was this the Ford Pinto of military coups?












But then the humor lost force pretty quickly in the face of what we all were watching. I was glued to my computer, watching live streams of people's television sets in Istanbul. Of course, it always looks worse from outside. I was in Istanbul during the earthquake of August 1999 and the Gezi protests, and I knew that certain striking images taken in often remote locales could quickly become generalized to form a sort of intellectual shorthand for people. But if you're there, you can see that in many ways life carried on as always. In America, we just proved this point by hosting yet another mass shooting. Everything's getting back to normal, right?

Turkish coup attempt: my hot take

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Yesterday was a typically beautiful example of Bozeman in the summertime. It was gorgeous out. Cool, clear, nice and dry. I'd worked at home in the morning and then met up with a friend for beers in the afternoon. 


I'd left my phone at home, but by the time I'd returned I could tell that something weird was going on. There were a bunch of cryptic messages in my email and on Facebook, as well as a number of calls from friends. All
of them were just asking: have you heard the news in Turkey? 















Blechsit: the Breakup of Britain?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wow. Just wow. 

I have to admit, even as I was listening to news reports saying the vote was going to be close, I didn’t imagine that this would happen. And with the markets all crashing worldwide--now I understand why they held the vote on a Thursday. 


Is there any chance that this could all just be a New Coke-style promotion and they'll start rolling out the EU Classic now? 

UK to world: Just burn it all down















More than anything, I think, all of this is starting to feel like 1989 in reverse. 

News and Propaganda: Snowy Summer Fun Edition

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's been a while since we've had an N & P, but I couldn't help doing so this week amid all of the...free time that I seem to have now. 

Hang on a second, something seems somehow different these days? What is it? Oh wait--now I remember: school's out.

Things change in Bozeman pretty quickly in the wake of graduation and the end of the school year. There's still a fair bit going on downtown, but the area around the university (which is on  the opposite side of a large residential area) is so quiet these days. There's hardly any traffic, so the biking is a lot easier. That is, it's a lot easier to bike these days so long as you're not pedaling in the midst of a snowstorm. 

The "Obama Doctrine," part II

Friday, March 18, 2016

Whoa! Three JMB posts in one week? I guess it must be spring break at the Borderlands Lodge. 

”Jim
The snow has been a tad light up here lately














Earlier this week I put up a post detailing what I see as the bright side of the "Obama Doctrine" discussed in a recent article in the Atlantic. In this post, by contrast, I'd like to discuss some of the disadvantages of Obama's approach to foreign policy. 

As was discussed a fair bit in the Atlantic piece, Obama is seeking to disengage--as much as possible--from the Middle East. And frankly, I think that this could end up being good for the region. At the same time, however, I think that relative US disengagement from the region has also contributed to some issues which, over the long term, may end up being more problematic for both the US and the region more generally.  

Looking at the Bright Side of the "Obama Doctrine"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Like a lot of people, I was interested to read the Atlantic piece on President Obama's emerging approach to foreign policy

While I have often been critical of some aspects of Obama's foreign policy, the Atlantic piece serves as a reminder, I think, of how much worse things would like be now had voters made different choices during the elections--both primary and general--of 2008. In particular, I liked the manner in which he usually avoided the sort of empty and counter-productive bluster that American politicians are often so fond of. 

So here are some of the occasions references by the article in which I think that Obama's words and/or actions have made sense to me. If I get the chance, I hope to put up a second part to this post later on this week in which I explore some of the disadvantages that I associate with Obama's approach to foreign policy. 














Musings of a Montana State University Story Highbrow

Friday, March 11, 2016

Things have been pretty spectacular lately up here at the Borderlands Lodge, and I hope the same has been the case for you. Over winter break I was in Bozeman, mostly, and the spring semester began at MSU in mid-January. 

”JamesThis semester I'm teaching an upper-division class in Soviet History as well as the senior capstone seminar, and much of the rest of my time has been spent reading, writing, and submitting grant applications for a new research project that I'm proposing

Trying to stay human in a world gone mad...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Amid all of the horrible events that have been taking place recently, it's hard to feel good about the general direction of the world. The events of last weekend, and the response to it, are so sad, sickening, and predictable.

I hope people can retain their cool. 

 Let's not cave in to fear.











  










Really, though, the events of the past few weeks--and especially since the San Bernardino shootings and people's responses to them--have been particularly revealing with respect to who among our politicians can remain calm in an emergency, and who would freak out and panic. The folks who are crapping their pants and demonizing immigrants--especially Muslim ones lately--are the absolute last people that I would trust to run the country during a moment of peril. If this is how they respond to a mass shooting--something that is horrible for so many reasons but which, after all, happens on a regular basis in this country--how are they going to react during a genuine case of national emergency?

Other People's Countries: Partition Talk re Syria & Iraq

Monday, November 30, 2015

In recent days, I've seen a fair bit of talk relating to the idea of partitioning Syria. John Bolton, who was the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, made the argument for partition recently in a NY Times editorial. Observing that "Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone,"  Bolton wrote the following:
The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.
Notice how Bolton uses the term that an "independent Kurdistan" is "emerging?" Phrased this way, this process sounds very natural and organic--and not at all like the result of political decisions made in places like Washington, DC, London, and elsewhere--decisions that influence the lives of millions of people.

Anyway, here's more from Bolton: