Monthly Archives: August 2014

Aid in War: The Pros and Cons of Humanitarian Action

August 18, 2014

RAF plane airdropping food during 1985 famine (Wikipedia)

From Ebola vaccine distribution to aid for Yazidis fleeing Iraq, the scourges of war necessitate international help. However, humanitarian aid all too often comes with political and economic strings attached, bringing with it long range repercussions. In her upcoming class, “Aid and War: The Investigation of Humanitarian Action”, instructor Rebecca Timsar explores the complex world of humanitarian aid in time of conflict. We spoke with her to find out more.


WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about the issue of humanitarian aid?

Timsar: First of all, this subject is very timely in view of what is happening in the Middle East and Africa at the moment. Secondly, I will give an insider’s look at the aid world and its key players. Finally, we will look into important humanitarian principles such as neutrality and independence and investigate why these are important when giving assistance in a war zone.

For example, in Iraq, US military assistance is certainly not neutral, especially given our long history of war in this country. Thus questions regarding perception and security of the victims as well as independence from political power arise. We will delve into these and many other topics on humanitarian assistance. Another example is the recent concern over delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The international community was calling for distribution by the International Committee of the Red Cross and not Russian soldiers – we will probe the reasons behind this.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise people to know about aid during conflict?

Timsar: Aid most often comes with strings attached. It is not impartial and neutral at all, even in the most acute situations. In my class, we will use lectures, witnesses, PowerPoint slides, news media, video, and guest speakers to enrich the 8-week odyssey we plan to undertake. I have worked in the field of humanitarian aid for almost 2 decades and will certainly be calling on my own experiences to add complexity to the problems we study.

WIH Reporter: In a nutshell, can you tell us the biggest misconception we have about aid?

Timsar: The biggest misconception we have about humanitarian aid during conflict is that all aid is good aid.

The Great Empires of Southeast Asia

August 14, 2014

A Thai boy plays the thim instrument

Southeast Asia is becoming a major political and economic player in today’s world and is poised for more dominance in the future. In her class, “The Great Empires of Southeast Asia“, Melanie Urban takes us on a thousand-year journey through the history and culture of Southeast Asia so we can understand the area in context of changing world economies and political alliances that continue impact the West.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about the class?

Urban: The Pacific Rim now represents the future and Southeast Asia will play a large role in that dynamic. Our government has recognized its importance by announcing, as early as 2011, an increased interest in maintaining and strengthening ties across the Pacific. Further, the art and culture of the region has much to offer, both historically and today. The remnants of great empires are there to be explored and the material culture remains vibrant. Beautiful textiles, magnificent architecture, monumental sculpture – all speak to the continuing traditions and link the past to the present. We will explore those empires and talk about the material culture, examining the artistic heritage as well as the historical context.

I will begin our discussion with the first political states and early empires of the first millennium. After setting the stage for the arrival of the Europeans, I will explore the reasons and consequences of those events, leading into and through the colonial period. I will end the series by talking about the present day.

WIH Reporter: What things would surprise us to know about Southeast Asia?

Urban: There are many surprises in store for those who attend the lecture series. The legacy of past empires continues to amaze those who study them. In addition, and for me, the most interesting exercise has been piecing together the interconnections around the world, and realizing the extent of the role played by the peoples of Southeast Asia.

For instance, two thousand years ago, trading networks extended from Rome to Southeast Asia. Exotic spices, in particular, were shipped and carted from today’s Indonesian archipelago through the Middle East and thence to the Roman Empire. From that time through the 17th century, the spices of the East commanded high prices and encouraged merchants and adventurers to explore and profit from the wide range of goods that could be found there. As one example, sugarcane was first grown in the Indonesian archipelago. In the 18th century the demand for sugar (and later its refined products) led to the global reach of the British Empire.

We will talk about that and many other consequences of international trade, which has been truly international for more than two thousand years.

WIH Reporter: What is the biggest misconception we have about this region and its peoples?

Urban: I can offer the following thoughts. Some might think that the region is too remote and exotic to be of interest. Southeast Asia is certainly far away, but its culture while quite different from ours can be understood in a universal way. Its people have traditions and a unique heritage that are worthwhile subjects for exploration and understanding.

Others might not understand the vital role the region has played and continues to play in the international arena, a subject we will discuss extensively.


How Much Do You Know About…the Habits of Creative Geniuses?

August 14, 2014

1. Inventor Thomas Edison credited his productivity to:

A. Long walks.
B. Taking naps.
C. Working all night.

2. Don Quixote’s author Miguel de Cervantes received his best ideas by:

A. Drinking alcohol at bars nightly.
B. Sitting in freezing tub water.
C. Calisthenic exercises.
D. All of the above.

3. Leonardo da Vinci’s work ethic involved:

A. Sleeping just two hours a day.
B. Working days without sleep.
C. Sleeping all day, working all night.

4. Charles Dickens’ daily routine involved:

A. Facing North at all possible times.
B. Hanging out at the morgue.
C. Rearranging furniture
D. All of the above.

5. Balzac was addicted to the following substance:

A. Absinthe.
B. Coffee.
C. Cocaine.


B. Thomas Edison felt that napping was crucial to receiving his best ideas. He slept sitting upright in his chair, with his elbow up on the arm, his hands holding marbles. He would think about a problem until he fell asleep, and soon he would drop the marbles on the floor. The noise woke him up and he immediately wrote down whatever was in his head.

B. Cervantes routinely filled a tub with freezing water and sat in the frigid tub until inspiration came to him.

A. Leonardo da Vinci practiced something called polyphasic sleep — short naps every four hours, for a total of around two hours of sleep per day.

D. Charles Dickens sat at a desk that faced due north, and ensured that in bed, his body was aligned with the poles—head at the northern end, feet toward the south. Dickens also liked to visit the morgue, where he watched people work on incoming bodies. He had a form of OCD and rearranged furniture daily and also combed his hair hundreds of times a day.

C. For inspiration, Honore de Balzac drank specially blended Parisian coffee up to 50 cups in a day. He also ate dry grounds an empty stomach and is quoted to have said, “sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army….”

The Artist in the World: Courageous Reinvention

August 14, 2014
mendelssonAnsicht von Luzern 1847

A View of Lucerne, 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (Wikipedia)

How do unpredictable life circumstances affect great composers? Do they succeed despite adversity or does it spur them on to greater heights? In her upcoming class, “The Composer, The Performer, The Collaborator, The Visionary”, Nancy Bailey explores these questions, spotlighting events in the lives of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Debussy, and more. Bailey focuses on themes of reinvention and transformation for these composers amidst events that shaped their lives, and in the process uncovers fascinating insights. We visited with her to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about the artist in the world?

Bailey: Great works of art are not created in a vacuum. The composers of those great works were impacted by their time, place, and by events in their personal lives. I chose six people who lived in truly interesting times, had a great deal of interaction with the worlds that were around them, and wrote music that is truly compelling.

WIH Reporter: Can you give us examples of reinvention that was musically and personally transformative?

Bailey: I’m especially fascinated by Felix Mendelssohn and his wunderjahre. As was traditional for a young man of his social status, he was given the chance to travel wherever he wanted, exploring, learning, sketching, painting water colors, thinking about music that he could compose. He gathered source material that he used in some of his greatest pieces – Fingal’s Cave, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony. I imagine him thinking about that wonderful time, in his later life in which he constantly seemed to be juggling three jobs, multiple deadlines, and perpetual interruptions.

WIH Reporter: What things would surprise us to know about reinvention and the creative arts?

Bailey: Creation is a difficult, exasperating process! Artists (such as Mozart in this course) may have an internal sense of what needs to be created but they may not have the tools at that time to convey what is being heard in their heads. The process of finding those solutions, of being able to transfer the ideas from brain to paper, is so frustrating. But, when it does happen, it is like a stream that is suddenly unblocked. This is what happened to Mozart in 1791, the last year of his life. And it resulted in some of the most serene musical works that the world knows.

WIH Reporter: What are some misconceptions we have about the internal processes of creating art and the effects of external world?

Bailey: The challenge of creating art is intensified when the outside world is in turmoil. There are very few composers who were able to shut out the outside world and continue their usual life. Ballet could not be performed when the world was at war; there were no audiences, musicians and dancers were soldiers at the front; there was no money on which to live while the work was being created.

Sergey Rakhmaninov suddenly found himself in a country at war and undergoing a revolution, with no money that he could access: his bank accounts in Russia and Dresden were frozen. He had to leave Russia – but how was he going to support his wife and two daughters and keep them safe? He had three career options and the decision that he had to make was heart wrenching – and fascinating. It tells you a great deal about Rakhmaninov himself – and about what the United States was like during that decade.

WIH Reporter: What media will you use in your class?

Bailey: I use a combination of sound and visuals, so art of the period, images of the composers, recordings of the pieces we’ll be discussing, and dvd performances of the ballets. The Debussy and Verklärte Nacht classes will be especially rich since both composers were so intensely influenced by the art movements of their times. And we’ll use DVDs of The Magic Flute and a couple of Ballets Russes reproductions, complete with their Picasso sets and costumes.

For more information about Nancy Bailey’s upcoming class, click here.