Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter Song

Indian Nativity

In 1642 the Jesuit Missionary Jean de Brebeuf at St. Marie Among the Hurons. Brebeuf had been a missionary among the Hurons for a few years by then and had mastered the language so he wrote a hymn in Huron for his new converts. The music he used was an old French folk tune Une Jeune Pucelle.1

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Side of “Progress”
Deutscher and Trotsky

Leon Trotsky

Perhaps the most telling indication of someone’s ideological bent is how they face up to what would happen if their ideas were fundamentally wrong.

Here I will briefly discuss thought experiment played out by Trotsky. In it Trotsky considered what would be the case if his ideas of “History” were wrong; and Deutscher’s consideration of Trotsky’s thoughts on the matter.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Freedom and Doublethink
A Note

Athenian Voting Machine

Freedom is possibly the most important political value we have in contemporary Western society and by definition one would think that the opposite of “freedom” is “despotism” and “slavery”. Sadly that is not the case for it is possible to “Doublethink” “Freedom” into its opposite and in fact that was done long before George Orwell.  Just how that was done is the subject of this essay.1

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Movie Poster


What would be your worst nightmare upon sleeping? What would be the worst thing that could happen to you that you could think about upon waking up? I suppose not waking up at all would be the worst, but perhaps almost has bad would be waking up and finding out that you had been ripped away from family and friends and imprisoned. And that imprisonment is intended to last the rest of your life.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Child Killers?

The Trophet of Carthage

One of the most notorious of “facts” concerning the ancient Carthaginians is that they indulged in mass sacrifice of children.

This is because of mass burials of very young children found at the so-called ‘Trophet” or sacred enclosures at various Carthaginian sites, including the site of Carthage itself.1 Because of the sheer mass of children’s cremated bones found in this “Trophet” many have been inclined to think that the practice of infant sacrifice was widespread in ancient Carthage. This seems to be a mistake.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Love Story?

Jonathan and David

Anachronistic readings of ancient texts is one of the most annoying facets of reading such documents, for the fact is we lack the information required to make a determination about whether or not we are reading into the text what was not there to begin with.

An excellent example of this is the story of David and Jonathan from the First Book of Samuel. It has been read anachronistically for decades if not centuries. In this case was there a “love affair” between David and Jonathan? Or are we moderns reading more into the text than is warranted by the documents?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Maya Writing Tools
A Brief Note

Mayan Scribe at work

The Maya had a sophisticated system of writing. They also created some very beautiful books so what were the tools that they used in writing those books?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Eccentric and the Asshole
 A note on the Freeman / Mead controversy

Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman

One of the “joys” of our media saturated culture is that it both manufactures controversies and creates opportunities for media junkies to get a fix. The Mead / Freeman “controversy” is one such manufactured controversy and both of the participants can be described as “media pushers”.

Of course in this case one of the participants in the “controversy” was dead so that it was basically one sided. The other participant thoughtfully waited until his victim was dead before shall we say going public with his hatchet job.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Arab Warriors
20th – 21st Century Military

Map Middle East / North Africa, 1995

In the aftermath of World War II the Arab nations of the Middle East became independent and acquired their own military establishments, and further they have been involved in wars with outside powers and with each other. The results have been less than impressive. Despite up to date training, equipment etc., Arab armies have been repeatedly thrashed.1

Saturday, December 07, 2013

History as Myth
Early Rome

The Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus

One of the great works of literature is Livy’s History of Rome1 and the most popular section was indisputably the first section describing the early history of Rome. Livy was a very good writer and his retelling of the early history of Rome was exciting and full of stories of heroism and courage and winning against long odds. It was a history of heroism, courage a virtue and has stuck onto the Western tradition. The sheer vividness of the stories has led to them being accepted as history proper by many people. So that people talk about the early history of Rome in Livy’s account has if it was “real” history. Sadly it all too dubious has history, and this is particularly true of the history of the Roman Kings before the establishment of the Republic.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Long Distance Voyageurs

Polynesian Double Canoe

Probably the most extraordinary voyages ever accomplished by man on Earth were not the voyages of the early European explorers of the age of exploration but the voyages of the Polynesians after 1 C.E. Sadly we do not have the details of the voyages themselves; we merely have the indisputable results, that when Europeans explored the Pacific they found Polynesians from Easter Island to Hawaii to New Zealand.1 Obviously the Polynesians had got there, for otherwise they would not be there to begin with. The obvious question is how did they do this? The facile answer is that they sailed there; which is obviously true and frankly rather trite. The real question is how did they actually sail there?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Brick Wall 

Brick Wall - Duh!

The following is a revised version of a comment I posted at a website concerning the 2006 movie The History Boys1 with added references.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Going Nowhere
Ktesias - Conman

Conmen and fraudsters have been the bane of human existence for thousands of years but perhaps one of the most blatant is the explorer as a Conman. This is so because a faker who says he has been to place X who has not been to place X risks being found out by someone who does in fact get to place X and therefore exposed.

The reason is that if you’ve never been to a place you are almost certainly going to get something wrong and if the place is made up someone may find out that the place is in fact made up by not finding it where it is supposed to be.

Thus we get past historical accounts of places that turn out to be spectacularly wrong.

Perhaps the place to start in terms of Con Men talking about places that don’t exist is the fantasies of some early ethnographers. In some cases their accounts are so distorted that wilful distortion is obviously the case.

Thus we can start with the Greek Historian Ktesias, who should be some sort of patron deity to fraudsters and tellers of lying tales. Ktesias lived in the 4th century B.C.E., and lived for a time at the court of the Persian King, as Royal Physician. This gave him an unparallelled opportunity see things from from the point of view of the Persians and of course access to a vast number of reliable informants concerning Persian history and affairs. Well Ktesias muffed it, it seems. It appears that his Persica is unreliable and too a large extent a series of melodramatic stories of harem intrigue and frankly extremely unreliable.1