Tag Archives: history

History in motion

I came across this cool kinetic map during lunch and thought it was worth mentioning. It illustrates thousands of years of the rise and fall of empires in the Middle East. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s worth taking a look at.

I’ve got to go interview someone now…

Geeks I admire

Working in the computer world, as I have for the last 13 years, and specifically within the world of software development, one becomes familiar with a subculture of people whose notoriety is limited to hardened geeks. These people have affected (usually for the better) the world of computer science in positive ways, sometimes revolutionizing entire technologies or industries. At heart, they are geeks, and I thought it would be interested to list those geeks I admire.

Read the list

Harbor and Shuttle

Today is, of course, the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It seems to me that a lot of people of my generation don’t realize this, but the date was burned into me by my Grandpa, and from my reading of American history.

On a brighter note, we are just about 13 hours away from the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on a mission to the International Space Station. The launch is currently scheduled for 9:35 PM EST. It means I’ll have to stay up past my bedtime, but I try never to miss a shuttle launch. It is one of the most exhilarating things I can think of to watch. And, of course, I always imagine that I am on board when the countdown hits “liftoff!”

The Dead Kennedy’s

I listened to “California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedy’s earlier today. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. I’ve never been overly impressed with the Dead Kennedy’s as a punk band. However, as my mind wandered, I started thinking about the Kennedy’s and JFK, and how long he had been dead–and I made one of those eerie connections where I realized that JFK was killed 43 years ago today.

I remember where I was when Reagan was shot. Kennedy was nearly a decade before my time.

A passage to India

At lunch today, I finally made it to India. Ancient India, anyway. I finished “book 1” of Our Oriental Heritage and am now into “book 2”, which covers India. It is the shortest of the three “books” within the overall book. At the rate I’ve been going, lately, it’ll take me a little while before I leave India and head for China.

Hooters in heaven

That got your attention, didn’t it. I’m sitting here this evening, passing the time by reading more of Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage and awaiting the Yankees/Rangers game at 8 PM. I’m well into the Persian empire and reading about the Persian religion. It seems that much of the Judeo-Christian formulation of Heaven and Hell were dervied from Persian morals. I’m reading this innocently enough, and asking various questions in my head (as I always do when I read), when I come to a squealing stop at this passage:

And yet–for it is in the nature of religion to threaten and terrify as well as to console–the Persian could not look upon death unafraid unless he had been a faithful warrior in Ahura-Mazda’s cause. Beyond the most awful of all mysteries lay a hell and a purgatory as well as a paradise. All dead souls [my emphasis] would have to pass over a Sifting Bridge: the good soul would come, on the other side, to the “Abode of Song,” where it would be welcomed by a “young maiden radiant and strong, with well-developed-bust,” and would live in happiness with Ahura-Mazda to the end of time.

When I came to this passage, I wasn’t wearing my philosophical seatbelt, and so all of the philosophical questions I’d been forming, went right through the windshield. All I could focus on was the phrase: “where it would be welcomed by a ‘young maiden… with well-developed bust.'” There are several reasons for this, which I will now present:

First, it sounded like the way a gentleman might describe a Hooters Restaurant. Anyone who has been to a Hooters restaurant knows what I am talking about. So taking the ancient Persian journey to heaven and translating it into modern American, it might go something like this: “When you die, if you’ve been good, you’ll cross the bridge on 4th Avenue and find yourself outside of Hooters. They’ll be a stacked waitress waiting out front for you.”

My second reason for stopping short here gives us an insight into the value of women in ancient history. On the one hand, women were clearly valued for their beauty, their charms, and the various pleasures they could give to men. Beyond that, I suspect that ancient Persians did not place much value. Furthermore, I suspect that women never got to heaven; or if they did, they rather wished they hadn’t. Remember the italicized part of the quote above: All dead souls would have to pass over the sifting bridge. The ones that made it would be greeted by the maiden with the well-developed bust. If a woman made it across the bridge, how was the maiden with the well-developed bust anything more than an anathma to her?

Clearly, the passage is focused on men. But it does make for a strange message, does it not? Behave yourself; live a chaste and proper life; fight for your country; pray to your god; and when all is said and done, you will be rewarded by spending all of eternity with a well-endowed maiden, doing all of those things you were not allowed to do the first threescore years and ten.

This is why I love to read history.

Superstition

I came across the following passage in my reading this morning. If one removed the reference to Babylonia, one might feel as though the paragraph referred to modern-day America:

Never was a civilization richer in superstitions. Every turn of chance from the anonalies of birth to the varieties of death received a popular, sometimes an official and sacerdotal interpretation in magical or supernatural terms. Every movement of the rivers, every aspect of the stars, every dream, every unusual performance of man or beast, revealed the future to the properly instructed Babylonian. The fate of a a king could be be forecast by observing the movement of a dog, just as we foretell the length of the winter by spying upon the groundhog. THe superstitions of Babylonia seem ridiculous to us, because they differ superficially from our own. There is hardly an absurdity of the past that cannot be found flourishing somewhere in the present. Underneath all civilization, ancient or modern, moved and still moves a sea of magic, superstition and sorcery. Perhaps they will remain when the works of our reason have passed away.

So much for 5,000 years of progress.

The story of civilization

I haven’t been doing much reading lately. I’ve started a couple of books but couldn’t get into them. For some reason, this is pretty typical for the beginning of the summer for me. Anyway, I decided yesterday that I would once again attempt Will Durant’s Story of Civilization series of history books. I have a complete set (although they are all used) and have from time-to-time in the past tried to read them. I managed to read half of Our Oriental Heritage many years ago, and back in early 2000, I completed The Life of Greece. But I’m going to give it another shot. I’ve always wanted to read the whole series, cover to cover because what I have read was so well written and so fascinating.

More details

Where’s George?

I got a $5 bill in change for a purchase on Sunday, and stamped on the bill was a “See where this bill has been. Go to wheresgeorge.com.” I’ve always wondered where bills travelled and how long they took, and so I went to the site. It’s pretty cool. I put in the bill’s denomination, series, and serial number and was able to see it’s history. I also added an entry for the bill.

If you are curious, you can see where this bill has been.

Balancing act

One reason I love reading history is that it confirms a suspicion that I’ve always held: that in day-to-day life, people throughout history have dealt with the same kind of basic problems that we deal with today, often in much the same way and with similar results. One thing I liked about Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books is that it places a good deal of focus on the lives of common people.

Yesterday, in reading Gotham, I came across a passage that hit very close to home, specifically, about how people balance the line between work and life outside work:

Livingston’s attempt to find a home insulated from the seamier aspects of urban life was as yet far from typical among well-to-do New Yorkers. Like master craftsmen, they were accustomed to living and working in the same building, and the boundaries between “family” and “business” life, between “private” and “public” spaces, were highly porous. (Emphasis added).

When I read this, I felt better for some reason. We have a terrible problem these days in finding a balance between work and life outside of work. The problem is so bad that many companies offer employee assistance programs which help employees deal with the stresses of work and balancing work life and home life. But in some ways, well-to-do people living in New York at the end of the 18th century had it worse because the lines between work and home were almost invisible. They had true home offices. In many cases, their homes were just upstairs from the shops and counting rooms in which they conducted their business. They began to solve this problem by moving outside the city and living in a place different from where they worked. That seemed to help them for a while. We, for the most part, already live someplace different from where we work and so we have to find different ways of balancing these two forces in our life.

Still, I find it fascinating that people like Robert Livingston, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton lived with the same sort of mundane stresses with which I too live.