Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, Osprey Men at Arms 471.

Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, Osprey Men at Arms 471.
Written by Sean McLachlan, and Illustrated by Raffaele Ruggeri, Copyright 2011, 48 pages.

Scope - big
Completeness – fair
Appeal – high 
Accuracy  --not able to judge

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the age of imperialism. It was during this period that many of the more developed, more powerful, primarily European nations engaged in campaigns of conquest and control throughout the lesser developed, primarily African and Asian portions of the world. Few really understand that in Asia, for instance, every nation except Japan (which modernized quickly and became a colonial power itself) and Thailand (which managed to maintain independence by playing the French against the British) were colonized in whole or in part. In Africa, the exceptions were Liberia (which had a strange history as it became dominated by returning African-Americans) and Ethiopia which maintained its independence until the Italian conquest shortly before world war two.

Which begs the question, how did Ethiopia maintain its independence? The answer lies in this book.

In the late nineteenth century, Italy was a recently united nation, not terribly respected by many of its neighbors and considered to be behind its peers in terms of gaining colonies. The Italians sought to gain colonies in the region of Ethiopia, Eretria, and Somalia as well as portions of north Africa. In Ethiopia, the Italians began a large campaign of conquest and colonization. Although it was common for African and Asian people to resist such colonization efforts, the Ethiopians not only fought back, but they fought back successfully, defeating and humiliating a large Italian army (composed largely of African Askaris recruited on the continent) and keeping their nation independent from Italian control. Many claim that of all the colonial battles this is the only incident where a European nation was defeated and never returned to avenge that defeat.  (Which, incidentally, is one reason why the Italians came back and conquered Ethiopia in the 1930s, partially to reverse the humiliation they’d experienced at the hands of the Ethiopians. But that’s another story told in a different Osprey book.)  
Like most of the Osprey books on obscure conflicts, this one begins with a 24 page overview of the conflict. In this brief space it gives a fairly good description of what happened and why the two nations involved were fighting.)

The Ethiopian army is covered in 13 pages.  Logistics, weapons, and composition of the army is covered fairly well.

The Italian army is covered in 6 pages.   Again, logistics, weapons, and composition of the army is covered fairly well.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: The Conquistadores, Osprey Men at Arms

The Conquistadores, Osprey Men-At-Arms 101.
Written by Terence Wise, Color Plates by Angus McBride, Copyright 1980, 40 pages.  

Scope - Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal –high
Accuracy –I know of no mistakes in this work.

First, just to get it out there, the copy I am using to form my opinion is an old one, apparently a first printing.  The newer copies have both a number for the work’s place in the series and a different cover, although the cover print is still one of the color prints included in the work. I’m assuming the contents are otherwise the same. Should someone know otherwise, please let me know.

This is an old school Osprey book, over 30 years old. When written it seems to have been an attempt to provide an insight, a glimpse, into a very colorful and little known episode into a difficult to research historical conflict. Although it definitely served this purpose with me, it’s worth mentioning that today there are other, deeper, more far reaching sources for the same material, including new publications from Osprey. Nevertheless, this one stays in print, and with good reason. –why shouldn’t it stay in print?

So? What’s included in these mere 40 pages. As one would expect, a lot, but not much of it.
Okay, we have a few page introduction to the “age of the conquistadores,” the period during which Spanish soldiers contacted, explored, and conquered much of the Americas including the powerful and wealthy empires of the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. To me, this has always been one of the most exciting and amazing episodes in history. Next we have a roughly ten page description of who these Conquistadores ( “conquerors” as the term would be translated into English) were and what they wore, and how they fought, and how they were equipped. This is followed by a roughly eight page introduction to the same information about the Aztecs and some of the neighboring peoples who fought in their conflict with the Spanish. Next we have 10 pages on the Incas. At the very end of the book, we have roughly three and a half pages on the Mayans of Central America and southern Mexico. 

Clearly, one cannot cover the arms, armor, tactics and logistics of the Aztecs and their neighbors in 8 pages. (As an aside, let me recommend the University of Oklahoma book, “Aztec Warfare –Imperial Expansion and Political Control, by Ross Hassig, if you wish more detail and depth on this. Although I can’t guarantee it’s the best book on the subject, it’s one I have read and did get a lot from.)  But what it does say is quite interesting and a good introduction.

The illustrations are quite nice, both the black and white line drawings and photos as well as the color plates.

I was disappointed, however, as at least some of the Spanish Conquistadores exploits, notably Ponce De Leon’s explorations of Florida in search of the fountain of eternal youth, or Coronado’s exploration of the southwestern USA in search of the fabled seven cities of gold, are not mentioned at all. This book is a good, yet light, introduction to the topic. Be aware, however, that there’s so much more there.   

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: American Frontier Lawmen, 1850-1930. Osprey Elite -96.

American Frontier Lawmen, 1850-1930. Osprey Elite -96.

Written by Charles m. Robinson III, and Illustrated by Richard Hook, Copyright 2005, 72 pages.

Scope – Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal – High (to me)
Accuracy -- *

This is sort of an oddball title for Osprey as it deals with a non-military subject. Instead it covers law enforcement figures of the western USA during the period 1850-1930. (It does not cover Canada during this period.)

For better or worse, what it basically offers is a very interesting survey of gunfights and lawmen of the period. It does not specifically focus on uniforms (which were rare, more on this later) or weapons (which were largely a matter of personal choice selected by individuals.) Even when it states that a law enforcement agency was uniformed and equipped with issued weapons, such as with the Native American Indian police forces described, it does not take the time to focus and give a detailed description of what exactly it was that the force wore or carried. For instance, on p. 49 he states the Apache tribal police were at one incident issued with “defective” .50 caliber, government issue, Springfield rifles, but he does not say in what way were the weapons specifically defective, and although he does give a couple pictures, one a period photo in black and white, the other a painted illustration, of the tribal police in uniform, the exact details were left unexamined.    

So what does the book give? It offers a very readable and interesting history of gunfights of the old west along with representative photos of some of the events and people and places described. Many of these are so well known that they could be considered almost a house hold word, at least in the USA, i.e. the gunfight at the OK Coral, the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Wild Bill Hickock among others. However, there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories again, (although in common Osprey fashion, its done without footnotes) and if they were not included they would be conspicuous by their absence.

Other incidents, such as the aforementioned story of   John P. Clum and the creation of the Apache tribal police in 1874, were new to me, as was the story of the Johnson County war, a range war between various factions of ranchers, farmers and governmental groups in Wyoming of the late 1880s, early 1890s.

In conclusion, this book is a good introduction to the subject but if the reader wishes to do much with the period, including wargaming some of the gunfights, they should expect to have to do supplemental research elsewhere.   

Book Review: The Mexican Adventure, 1861-1867, Osprey Men at Arm Series 272.

The Mexican Adventure, 1861-1867, Osprey Men at Arm Series 272.

Written by Rene Chartrand, Illustrated by Richard Hook. Co. 1994, Osprey Publishing.  48 pages, widely illustrated in black and white with color prints.  

Scope - Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal  - High
Accuracy - *

In the 1860s, the French government found a pretext to seize control of Mexico and install their puppet, the Archduke Maximillian of Austria. The intent was to create a vast French controlled, Catholic empire to the south of the United States. French control of Mexico was never complete, however, nor was it long lasting. The result was years of conflict.

This book provides a good introduction and overview of the conflict, along with a cursory yet fascinating overview of the uniforms of some of the units that fought. These units were often quite colorful and exotic, often composed of ethnic groups and dressed in ways that one would never expect to see on the North American continent.

In addition to the various Mexican units that fought both for and against the French installed government, there were also units raised by France composed of Belgians, Austrians, and others, even Sudanese Egyptians and later Confederate army veterans, as well as the famed French Foreign Legion. Some may know that an important part of Foreign Legion history took place in this conflict at the Battle of Cameron, where a small force of legionnaires fought to the death rather than surrender to a much larger Mexican force.

In conclusion, the scope of this large, multi-year conflict with its wide variety of troop types and complex politics, is really not suited to a small 48 page booklet of this type. However, in the absence of other, more accessible English language sources, this book does provide a good starting point and a way to spark interest in this event among English language readers who are not familiar with it. Therefore I recommend it highly.    

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to Choose an English language school –part one of many --Student Ethnic Composition

How to Choose an English language school –part one of many
Student Ethnic Composition

Greetings. This is the first of a series of posts aimed at prospective English as a Second Language students who are trying to decide how to choose an English language school. In other words, if you are considering coming to Boston or some other city in the USA to study English then these articles are aimed at you. They are intended to provide you with some useful information that will help you select a good school from among the many available.
There are many factors involved in choosing an English language school and this series each article should focus on a different part of choosing the right one.  
When seeking a language school I think that one factor that should be considered is ethnic composition and diversity.
In a good English as a second language school, there are students of many nationalities. The teacher teaches using the English language and the students learn using the English language.  This is called the “immersion method” of learning English. As one school I once worked at used to advertise “English, English, everywhere.” (Now, whether or not they actually fulfilled this is another matter, but that was the goal.) In this environment, students must communicate with each other in English unless they have another common language, but since they are mixed, they usually don’t have a common language other than English. Therefore English is required for daily interaction among students.
Now, of course, other systems of education are possible for teaching the English language. Sometimes it is desirable for students to be taught in their own language. For instance, I know of a fine not for profit English as a second language program located in Boston Chinatown where the lowest levels are taught in a mixture of English and Mandarin Chinese. The program is aimed at immigrants who speak Chinese, and the first two levels of the program’s E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) classes are almost or entirely Chinese speaking students. However, once the students get beyond the first two levels, the classes are much, much more integrated, containing students from all backgrounds and the instruction is entirely in English.
Such a system works best when the students are integrated and contain many diverse languages.
If students contain a predominant ethnic or language group, then the system can sometimes break down.
For instance, the teacher will try to explain a grammar point or a vocabulary item. A student will find it difficult to understand. Instead of working with their teacher and using English language interaction to resolve the problem they might turn to a classmate and ask them, using their native language, to explain the issue or vocabulary item.
Unless the teacher understands the language being used, he or she has no way of knowing if the information was transmitted correctly unless he interrupts to check with the student and test their comprehension. The student, missing a chance to practice their English and having their belief in the need to use their native language for communication reinforced, loses out too.
In extreme cases, a teacher can find it difficult to teach a student or a class without having him or herself interrupted by an unappointed interpreter. As an aside, sometimes this problem is not limited to a whole class. More than once I’ve had this problem with married couples, where one spouse learns and the other is content to look at their partner and ask them for the answers class after class, day after day, week after week, until stopped.
In a highly motivated class, where students are learning English for a purpose and to achieve goals, this won’t happen.  
But in some classes, if a single ethnic or language group predominates, then it can make teaching difficult.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

University at Albany --Confucius Institutes

Several months ago, the University at Albany announced that, like many colleges world-wide, it will soon house a Chinese government run “Confucius Institute.” The event went largely unnoticed. Although I’ve been concerned about the rise of Confucius Institutes for years, I only recently heard. Although university spokespeople are quick to say the new institute is a good thing, a very good thing, in fact, a very, very good thing, there are few details available on what, exactly it will do. Which could be funny except for global reports that Chinese government Confucius Institutes monitor campuses for allegedly anti-Chinese government activities and are an important part of propaganda efforts by the Chinese Communist Party.
            Chinese Communist Propaganda? Surely, Pete, readers say, you’ve gone nuts. Who, exactly, says these institutes spread foreign Communist propaganda?
            The answer is the Chinese government. Li Changchun, a former Chinese propaganda chief and the 5th-highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, perhaps the highest decision making body in China, said the Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” This quote is from The Economist magazine and has been accepted as fact by the Wall Street Journal, the Nation magazine, and Inside Higher Education magazine.
            I am not inventing this. The University at Albany Confucius Institute is one branch of an international network of Chinese government funded and managed organizations that are considered an important part of the Chinese Communist Party’s international propaganda network and part of its “soft power” initiative, soft power being a term that covers ways to influence and control the behaviors of other nations without military force. Although these institutes are sold abroad as an inexpensive way for colleges to obtain China related classes and speakers, they have raised great concern among China scholars globally. Sometimes called “Trojan Courses,” some colleges in the USA, France, Canada, Japan and elsewhere have closed their Confucius Institutes (CI’s) calling them “a mistake” while the Indian Ministry of External Affairs simply prohibited them from India outright. The American Association of University Professors, an organization with 47,000 members and 500 chapters, has urged US colleges to cease involvement with Confucius Institutes.  The Canadian Association of University Teachers, an organization with 68,000 members at 120 universities, has also called for severing all ties with Confucius Institutes.
            If these institutes do not spread propaganda then we must ask why China, a nation troubled by great wealth inequity, widespread unemployment of college grads, environmental degradation, and other expensive problems, funds the institutes, and they do. According to the Wall Street Journal, in the past 10 years, in a feat much boasted in the Chinese media, China has established 1,100 Confucius institutes and classrooms in 120 countries, including not just U. Albany but also 450 US grade schools to educate 220,000 American students with official party  images of Chinese history, culture and language study. The Chinese government does not just give away things like this without expecting benefit.
            The exact agreements between host universities and Confucian Institutes vary but are generally kept secret under a non-disclosure agreement. More prestigious universities get better terms.          
            The mere presence of Confucius Institutes discourage, at least indirectly, impartial and wide ranging discussion on many issues involving China at host institutions. (This one reason some Canadian and French colleges closed theirs.) To properly explain the issues often avoided would require more space than this op-ed piece but include Tibet, Taiwan,  and Tiananmen. Forbes magazine and some academics have accused the Cis of being responsible for the lack of attention paid last year on US college campuses to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The issue of Falungong, an outlawed Chinese sect with local members, and the CI’s has  become prominent too, particularly in Canada, and expect distortions on Chinese-Muslim internal relations and the South China Seas territorial disputes.
            I expressed this fear to a contact at U. Albany close to the project. Although he, at least publicly, disagreed with my views and was positive about the project, he did admit it was important to “be watchful.”
            However, the people most trained to recognize problems and biases with the institutes will be prone to self censor themselves, particularly as the Chinese government has been known to refuse visas to critics, including journalists and academics, people whose very career is risked by not getting China visas and therefore extra careful, and the language used by CI’s often masks and hides such controversies from people unfamiliar with China.
The U. Albany Confucius Institute is supposed to sponsor talks on subjects such as the business climate in China. However, a talk organized by the Chinese government on conditions under the Chinese government is similar to a talk organized by the Schenectady Police on Schenectady Police Corruption problems. You might get lucky and hear the truth, but . . .
            I admit, I do not like the Chinese Communist Party, the organization that runs the dictatorship of China. Why? Because they kill a lot of people and lie a lot. (Did anyone notice this month’s reports of fake twitter accounts with false names spitting out Chinese government propaganda on the Tibet issue?)   Some will say, “Yeah, but the US government lies and kills, too! So?” –well, would these people keep quiet if the Department of Homeland Security or the NSA set up “Jefferson Institutes” to teach its side of US government policies and simultaneously keep tabs on students and professors? Close analogy.
            But don’t take my word.  Get on your computer. Go to Google (which, BTW, is often blocked and censored by China’s government), get on the internet (again much censored in China by something called “the Great Firewall of China”), and do your own research on Confucius Institutes.  You might start with .   Look at all sides of the issue. Then ask yourself if it’s a good thing that one exists by the side of I-90.