Archive for January, 2014

Biased Anti-Iran Expert Testimony In House Hearings

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

I was watching hearings on Iran in which every one of the experts were opposed to the deal with Iran made by the Obama administration. I decided to look up the four experts. One is a right winger Mark Wallace who is head of United Against A Nuclear Iran, Gregory S. Jones, whose connection to the Rand Institute is tenuous and has produced material of dubious quality.

From “The RAND Report That Wasn’t One”

But back to the issue of Mr. Jones. I finally found his report via a link at Business Insider. It is a simple five pager issued on June 2 without any letterhead or mentioning of RAND. It does some very simplified calculation of possible enrichment scenarios Iran could take in Natanz or elsewhere. Its exaggerated time-line calculations totally ignore that any higher enrichment in the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz would require a serious reconfiguration of the enrichment cascades working there as well as the need to solve other technical problems and details of building a bomb. Jones also includes this falsehood:

since the FEP is not continuously monitored by the IAEA, the process could be well along or even completed before it was discovered.

Anyone with a bit of knowledge on the issue knows that the plant is Natanz is under 24/7 IAEA video observation. There are radiation detectors installed which immediately would let ring bells in Vienna should they sniff some higher enriched stuff and IAEA inspectors regularly visit the plant unannounced. Joshua Pollack, who certainly knows more about nuclear stuff than any BA program in biology will have taught, finds that safeguards at Natanz are sound and cheating them impossible.

David Albright is head of ISIS his own organization, he also has dubious qualifications. This is from SourceWatch.

“Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote an extensive critique of Albright’s posturing for the media on nuclear issues. Ritter writes:

There was recognition among most involved that bringing an outsider such as David Albright into the inspection process was a mistake. Not only did he lack any experience in the nuclear weapons field (being an outsider with only secondhand insight into limited aspects of the Iraqi program), he had no credibility with the Iraqi nuclear scientists, and his questions, void of any connectivity with the considerable record of interaction between the IAEA and Iraq, were not taken seriously by either side. Albright left Iraq in June 1996, and was never again invited back.
This is the reality of the relationship between Albright and the IAEA, and the singular event in his life which he uses as the justification for prominently promoting himself as a “former U.N. inspector.” While not outright fraud, Albright’s self-promoted relationship with the IAEA, and his status as a “former U.N. inspector,” is at best disingenuous, all the more so since he exploits this misleading biographical data in his ongoing effort to insert himself into the public eye as a nuclear weapons expert, a title not supported by anything in his life experience.

Mark D. Wallace and Olli Heinonen are both involved with Wallace’s group. So four out of four experts are either of dubious expertise, anti-Iran, right wingers and amazingly allowed to testify before Congress.

This was the:

“Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Implementation of the Iran Nuclear Deal
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa | 2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jan 28, 2014 2:00pm”

If I wasn’t up to my ears in school work I would write more but the P.R. being spouted on CSPAN, as it rebroadcast the hearings is incredibly biased and unbecoming of a supposedly bipartisan committee. I suspect the hand of AIPAC in this. When I have more time I will research the influence of AIPAC on the sub-committee members. This is politics as usual in the US, lobby groups often write the talking points used and in this hearing there were plenty.

Short Comments On Transfering To CSULB

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

The Walter Pyramid is a collegiate athletic facility located at Long Beach State University in Long Beach, California. It officially opened on November 30, 1994, and cost approximately $22 million to construct. It rises 18 stories high and measures 345 feet along each side of the base.

I am back in school, and having switched from junior college to a four year institution, last week was mostly spent getting used to the new campus and the different way of dealing with the institutional bureaucracy. At Cal State Long Beach, the department advisers are critical. They make determination on what classes can be accepted and which cannot. I have found that the dept. secretaries and assistants are critical also. I have already switched majors, and am looking at a minor. Adding classes is a matter of also contacting teachers and petitioning for enrollment in many classes. The first day, at the orientation one is expected to take classes as they are available with a few guidelines, for me that was a series of fortuitous accidents and bumbling about with a vague outline.

Campus viewed from above. The hilltop portion on the 322-acre campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Eighty permanent buildings house the various colleges, 63 academic departments and programs, 24 centers, four institutes and four clinics.,

Having been dealt this hand the enrollment is shut off later the same day, not really time to reconsider and research options. Similar to poker, the next step is to trade cards, which is a laborious process of attending desired classes, petitioning the teacher, waiting to see if the petition is accepted and then taking a chance by dropping a less desired class in the hopes that the desired one is available. This is a gamble and I hedged my bets by consulting instructors about when they would send the petitions to the department for the class to be added. Then I went to the department and asked the assistant who does the enrolling if it had been done. In my case the assistant, being helpful enrolled me there on the spot. But this is not the case in all classes, some, are open on the first week of class and if there is room all one has to do is add them. I assume that is the case with all classes that do not have an instructor permission required note next to the class listing.

Roundance - American Indian Pow Wow at Cal State Long Beach, located on ancient native American burial ground.

Each day I became more savvy and I parlayed my hand to add a minor, in my case Geography or Geographic Information Systems or GIS as it is known. I will find out on Monday I assume if this is working out. Meantime I have a full 18 units, and as I can see from just the initial assignments I will probably have to drop at least one class this week. Problem is I like all the ones I have, even the intimidating computer lab GIS class I am taking which is most likely to be the toughest for me.
So before I actually start playing this semesters hand, I will have to attempt one more trade of cards, er, classes.

GIS modeling of environment

Despair had overwhelmed me Friday night as I listed all the reasons in my head why this was futile. Primarily due to my age, my disability, the IRS hassling me, and my undoubted poverty once the props of attending school are withdrawn. One part of me, the fearful one says simply drop it all and take whatever job I can get, another part the proud one says, you have made a mess out of your life and you should, in the immortal words of little Alex from A Clockwork Orange, simply snuff it. Instead, feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to Hamletize myself, I simply had a glass of some decent Italian Chianti and slept on it.

Warner © Bregenzer Festspiele/Karl Forster 2013

Feeling ready to take on the world the next morning, instead of chucking it all as I had felt I would do the night before, I pressed on preparing to draw new cards into my hand. After all I am no Miniver Cheevy, although I do admit a more than passing pleasure in burying myself in a good history, medieval or Roman preferred, as a solace. I even considered taking a History minor, but self denial is part of the puritan ethic, and as a son of New England, I determined not to give into the temptation of taking literature and history classes to the exclusion of more practical matters, and so I forage on taking classes to prepare myself for a reentry into the world of business that I so loathe. I consider working as my punishment for unspecified past misdeeds, karma so to speak. Or perhaps the white mans burden that was inculcated into my young mind in suburban Connecticut public school where most parents worked in Manhattan serving the corporate mega-machine.

As a son of a dissolving farm family and horse people I had a sense of being landed gentry of a sort that was unjustified by life experience in which my family was evicted by an uncle with a scheming wife who wanted the cash. Such devious machinations robbed my youth of an inheritance, more imagined than real. Ah if only I were one of those Russian Gentry living off of my estates. Then I would have it made, right? Ha, fantasies from a bygone age. I read Tolstoy, and have reached Book 13, Chapter 11 of War and Peace, I will probably get no further as school responsibilities press for attention.

Marshal Kutuzov on the battlefield - illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914.

The big question in my mind is am I betraying my nature by going for practical classes or am I following an instinct for survival that trumps romantic desire? In either case I doubt my own bravery and wonder if I am living a worthy life or a trivial one? Questions like these have no real answer and only serve in my mind to provide devilish pitchforks to prod my suffering soul to further efforts in the world of man. Prabhupada, the Hare Krishna guru called this the life of an ass or a donkey. Ass that I am its back to the books.

Those who stay there will realize that those acaryas are still living there. And if one is actually advancing in the spiritual field, they can still take instruction from the acaryas living there. It is up to the individual, how he realizes this by his devotional service. By staying there you must realize how pure the environment is. The environment itself gives a high taste of consciousness. Radha-Damodara is there and the great acarya’s samadhis are there (Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada, Sri Jiva Gosvami Prabhupada, Sri Bhugarbha Gosvami Prabhupada, Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami Prabhupada, etc). There cannot be any better place to live than at Radha-Damodara. (Srila A.C Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada)

Barbie-ization, Ennui Vs. Spirit of History & Struggle For Consciousness: Cracking The Egg

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

I am half asleep, drugged by the lethargy of knowing I am preparing for a period of great activity and not wanting to start, rather watching the mental processes move like molasses, hovering here in my own bubble of consciousness, feeling the thoughts burbling around, not in any directed pattern, but in a random process of secretion from the springs of mental activity, that swamp of trapped sensation, the superficial memory.

That comic balloon quote got me going. Heraclitus’ vortex when googled, turned up this book by Martin Cohen, Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. A mouthful of a title and when I found his section on Heraclitus, there was this bit:

“But Plato himself was echoing Cratylus, who had only earlier decided for himself what Heraclitus must have meant. Cratylus’ idea that everything was changing all the time was then taken up by Empedocles, who embellished the other Heraclitian notion of a world continually torn between the two evocatively named forces, ‘love’ and ’strife’, in order to reveal its essential character. The world is a sphere of perfect love in which strife, like a swirling vortex, has infiltrated” (Cohen 42).

Cohen goes on to mention Hegel used Heraclitus to form the kernel of his new world philosophy and from there I decided to check out some Hegel and found this on a Marxist site with Lenin’s notes on Hegel and Heraclitus:

“Heraclitus says: Everything is becoming; this becoming is the principle. This is contained in the expression: Being
no more is than not-Being….” (p. 333)
“The recognition of the fact that Being and not-Being are only abstractions devoid of truth, that the first truth is to be
found only in Becoming, forms a great advance. The understanding comprehends both as having truth and validity in isolation;
reason on the other hand recognises the one in the other, and sees that in the one its other” (NB “its other”) “is contained—
that is why the All, the Absolute is to be determined as Becoming.” (334)

I am interrupting Lenin for this from “hegel & the logic of ‘the real’ barbie” to help you dear reader appreciate the concept of becoming. beach-fun-barbie.jpg

the explanation below is from the blog site

“g. f. hegel has a telling paragraph in his logic, under the title “being determinate”:

in becoming, the being which is one with nothing, and the nothing which is one with being, are only vanishing factors; they are and are not. thus by its inherent contradiction becoming collapses into the unity in which the two elements are absorbed. this result is accordingly being determinate (being there and so). (p. 133)

this is no galimatias: “being there and so” is in fact valerie, “the real” barbie. she finally absorbed flesh&bones into what used to be a mere doll/ideal. but things are never static. we should expect a new becoming, i.e., the next more than to come.

meanwhile valerie “the real” barbie is petrified in her own determinate being category. and as such, valerie’s more than is no more. she’s not unsurpassable by another more than.”

And now that you understand we return to the Lenin interpretations of Heraclitus and the meaning of becoming.

“Aristotle says (De mundo,[26] Chapter 5) that Heraclitus ‘joined together the complete whole and the incomplete’ (part)” … “what coincides and what conflicts, what is harmonious and what discordant; and from out of them all (the opposite) comes one, and from one, all.” (335)

Plato, in his Symposium,[27] puts forward the views of Heraclitus (inter alia in their application to music: harmony consists
of opposites), and the statement: “The art of the musician unites the different.”

Hegel writes: this is no objection against Heraclitus (336), for difference is the essence of harmony:
“This harmony is precisely absolute Becoming, change,—not becoming other, now this and then an other. The essential thing is that each different thing, each particular, is different from another, not abstractly so from any other, but from its other. Each particular only is, insofar as its other is implicitly contained in its Notion….” (Lenin).

Heraclitus (LXXv) From the Nuremberg Chronicle Morse Library. Beloit College.

Looking for some real words of Heraclitus, I found this old book on line edited, translated or at least introduced by this guy named Patrick. Since all the quotes of Heraclitus are from Aristotle, I find these fragments to be somewhat doubtful.

XLVL Aristotle, Eth. Nic. viii. 2, p. 1155 b 1. In reference to these things, some seek for deeper principles and more in accordance with nature. Euripides says, ” The parched earth loves the rain, and the high heaven, with moisture laden, loves earthward to fall.” And Heraclitus says, “The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife” (Patrick 96)

Aristotle, Metaph. iii. 5, p. 1010 a 13. Context : From this assumption there grew up that extreme opinion of those just now
mentioned, those, namely, who professed to follow Heraclitus, such as Cratylus held, who finally thought that nothing ought to be said, but merely moved his finger. And he blamed Heraclitus because he said you could not step twice into the same river, for he himself thought you could not do so once” (94).

Damn my curiosity anyway. I am waking up. Still there are doubts, lingering shadows, lethargic melancholia, and I don’t even want to go there…. a dream of being a trickster salesman/gardener… nothing good would come of this, but still I persevere into the flux of Plato’s forms and all that, see what a cartoon can do.

We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought …

Is this failure? A cursed dependency on mythologizing my own experience has become one of denigration. Becoming not a barbie but first a model failure, in my attempts to become a ghetto denizen, and later my artificial redemption via the miracle of modern medical science, my psyche screams fake! But my Hegelian prospects are of more becoming and thus hope is sustained.

My friends keep telling me to write, write my novel and I have attempted, several times only to give up in disgust with my lack of organization, loss of interest, and overwhelming sense of the futility of the endeavor. In my creative writing classes I realized that most of the references I was making, fresh and vital in the 1980’s, were now history, and for the young reviewers of my material, barely relevant, largely incomprehensible, after all who knew or cared about people like Allen Ginsberg, Anselm Hollo, the Poetry Wars of Boulder in the late 1970’s, Rock Against Racism, the early days of punk rock, my experiences with the Yippies, and so on and so forth. Only a small circle of friends, otherwise a novelized life was uninteresting, unless there was fame, great tragedy, and supreme sacrifice. Who cares about the life of a mediocre failure. Not to become weepy and disconsolate, but I knew I had to have some reason to write besides my own self aggrandizement.

… that it might be lacking when it comes to its ability to be profane, …

Listening to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I am not very impressed with Tolstoy’s grasp of the motivations of historical process that he ruminates upon in the beginning of Book Nine, chapter one, where he states “Consciously a man lives on his own account in freedom of will, but he serves as an unconscious instrument in bringing about the historical ends of humanity” (Tolstoy 565). This sense of a goal in history is reminiscent of the Hegelian spirit of historical process. And yet not so purposeful as Hegel, for in Tolstoy we see the randomness of history as his description of the battle of Borodino states “Kutuzov and Napoleon acted without design or rational plan. After the accomplished fact historians have brought forward cunningly devised evidences of the foresight and genius of the generals, who of all the involuntary instruments of the world’s history were the most slavish and least independent agents” (705).

Napoleon on the battlefield Bonopart at Borodino. Illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914.

This is from a blog Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History

We assert then that nothing has been accomplished without interest on the part of the actors; and — if interest be called passion, inasmuch as the whole individuality, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests and claims, is devoted to an object with every fibre of volition, concentrating all its desires and powers upon it — we may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion. Two elements, therefore, enter into the object of our investigation; the first the Idea, the second the complex of human passions; the one the warp, the other the woof of the vast arras-web of Universal History. The concrete mean and union of the two is Liberty, under the conditions of morality in a State. We have spoken of the Idea of Freedom as the nature of Spirit, and the absolute goal of History (Hegel on line 26).

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) Date Unknown pre1831

Reading the text of the lectures in the book version The Philosophy of History, Hegel states “The History of the World begins with its general aim - the realization of the Idea of Spirit - only in an implicit form (an sich), that is, as Nature; a hidden, most profoundly hidden, unconscious instinct; and the whole process of History (as already observed), is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one…. This vast congeries of volitions, interests and activities, constitute the the instruments and means of the World-Spirit for attaining its object; bringing it to consciousness and realizing it. And this aim is none other than finding itself-coming to itself-and contemplating itself in concrete reality” (Hegel 25).

Hit & Miss, the English television series “about a hit woman who’s a preoperative transsexual”… it’s title exudes Lautreamont’s famous definition of beauty as the “chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” (

And again in the “Introduction” which seems to be what most people are interested in, as the actual history is for the most part forgotten, “The destiny of the spiritual World, and-since this is the substantial World, while the physical remains subordinate to it,… the final cause of the World at large, we allege to be the consciousness of its own freedom on the part of Spirit, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom” (Hegel 19).

Lenin: page 100 of his notebook for “Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic”

Tolstoy says “In historical events great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection to the event itself.
Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity” (Tolstoy 566).

This statement takes Tolstoy outside of the Spirit of History in Hegel, striving to realize itself, into some more static view, closer to Calvin perhaps? Perhaps not, he certainly in his own form of historical determinism sees more of the flukes and randomness in history than the spirit of history, and perhaps he was a supreme critic of the Hegelian belief that the spirit of history lay behind the actions of men.

Because the city of Jena was occupied by French troops under Napoleon in 1806, G.W.F.Hegel was forced to leave the city. But he did witness Napoleon’s entry into the city and, as an admirer of the French Revolution, was delighted to witness first-hand this “world spirit on horseback” passing by. Image from Harper’s Magazine, 1895.

Hegel states “For that Spirit which has taken this fresh step in history is the innermost soul of all individuals; but is in a state of unconsciousness which the great men in question aroused. Their fellows, therefore, follow these soul - leaders; for they feel the irresistible power of their own inner Spirit thus embodied (Hegel 30-31). For Hegel even though the “fate of these World - Historical persons, whose vocation it is to be the agents of the World - Spirit - we shall find is to have been no happy one” and he goes on to cite the fates of Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon (31). Thus he shares with Tolstoy the conception of leaders as tools of history, but without the cynicism of Tolstoy. For Hegel this is serving the Spirit of History, a noble duty, not a cursed fate, even if it results in being discarded when history has no more use for the personality.

This is perhaps one basis for Marxist ruthlessness as is bemoaned by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man, when the protagonist is taken down by the “Brotherhood” for acting on his own initiative to regain a following in the black community by leading a protest of the police shooting of a black man. They accuse him of adventurism and clearly state “We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (Ellison 408). The protagonist is angry at this and sees it as a lost organizing opportunity, but because it was not sanctioned by the Communist Party, called the Brotherhood in the novel, it is not a bold act of initiative but a reprehensible breach of party discipline. Demonstrating dramatically, the leader of the party committee, Jack Tobitt, takes out a glass eye and tells the protagonist “you don’t appreciate the meaning of sacrifice. I was ordered carry through an objective and I carried it through. Understand? Even though I had to lose my eye to do it… And do you know what discipline is, Brother Personal Responsibility? It’s sacrifice, sacrifice, Sacrifice!” (410). Ellison is describing the blindness of party loyalty to an opportunity to organize in the black community, as well as the fact that a man, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police. For him the party is out of touch as his protagonist says “Ask your [black] wife to take you around to the gin mills and the barbershops and the juke joints and the churches, Brother…. You’ll learn that a lot of people are angry because we failed to lead them in action” (407).

Ellison in chapter 22 of his novel is describing the circumstances that lead to his protagonists breaking with the Brotherhood, their blindness to the realities of life among the masses, as Tobitt says, “The committee makes your decisions, it is not its practice to give undue importance to the mistaken notions of the people” (407).
This reflects the Marxist belief that the correct interpretation of the Hegelian Spirit of History, or as Marx transformed it into the material conditions of history, trumped the experience of every day life, and thus theory trumping empirical data leads to disasters like the ultimate fate of the Russian Revolution, although there certainly were other factors. But I digress.

Jeff Wall After “Invisible Man”…
First shown at Documenta 11, After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001, represents a well-known scene from Ellison’s classic novel. Wall’s version shows us the cellar room, “warm and full of light” in which Ellison’s narrator lives, complete with its 1,369 lightbulbs.

I am getting all worked up over the past, and this whole question of what is history? Does it have meaning, and purpose?

Tolstoy saw randomness and predestination. Yet his novel abounds in profoundly interesting personal stories full of insight into human nature. I sought out some more expert opinion on the man, and doing a google search constantly found references to THE HEDGEHOG AND THE FOX An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History by Isaiah Berlin. Rather than reading it I decided to cheat and read a review in the New York Times by William Barrett “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things,” an almost incomprehensible title but from the review I was able to drag some quotes that state the problem fairly well.

The theory maintains, very simply, that the human understanding can never comprehend history, since the historic process involves an infinity of causes that lie beyond our grasp. Mr. Berlin seems to me to be altogether right in rescuing his theory from the charge of “mysticism.” It is, rather, an entirely lucid and intellectually cogent theory, and a deterministic one to boot, though rather discomforting to the facile determinism of some historians. The individual, from the point of view of history, is never free, since he is caught in a web of infinite circumstances and causes.

On the other hand, “War and Peace” as a novel swarms with an extraordinary number of vivid personal lives each of which throbs with its own sense of decision and choice. This conflict between the feeling of freedom and the rational truth of determinism Tolstoy never succeeded in resolving for himself during his whole life.

Dissatisfied with the patness and artificiality of the historians’ theories, Tolstoy was led in turn to distrust all theory as the falsification of the fullness of life itself…. Indeed, “War and Peace” is one of the most formidable attacks upon rationalism ever penned (Barrett).

Tolstoy himself relates in War and Peace, in the persona of Prince Andrey who upon being assigned to the main battle front in 1812 with Barclay de Tolly, commander of the First Russian Army, but having no particular duty spent time assessing the camp, Tolstoy has him reflecting “He had already, from his own military experience, formed the conviction that in war the most deeply meditated plans are of no avail (as he had seen at Austerlitz), that everything depends on how unexpected actions of the enemy, actions that cannot possibly be foreseen, are met; that all depends on how, and by whom, the battle is led” (Tolstoy 590). Hence his continued criticism of the vanities of the commanders in the Russian army, due probably to his own experience in the Crimean war.

Ah so I am not alone in my indeterminate determinism. I perused some interpretations of Tolstoy’s beliefs and I especially liked reading some of the fundamentalist Christian views of him who saw him as a liberal believer in the good works Jesus promoted as opposed to the mystical and more literal views. I don’t know enough about Tolstoy personally although a lot of pacifists and anarchists seem to like him. I think that more to do with the later experiments, when writing War and Peace, Tolstoy was a recent war veteran, having served in the Russian artillery during the Crimean War, “April 1855, in the midst of the Crimean War, a twenty-six year old Russian sub-lieutenant, Leo Tolstoy, was commanding an artillery battery in the besieged Black Sea city of Sevastopol” (Moss). Having been on the front line of defense as Moss describes, Tolstoy had seen death in warfare at first hand, “Lieutenant Tolstoy’s private attitude toward the Russian military and the war was ambivalent and confused. It is true that in a letter to his brother Sergei he wrote of the heroism of the troops and thanked God for allowing him to live in such a ‘glorious time,’ but in his diary in late 1854 he was much more critical of the way the Russian leaders conducted the war, of corruption, ignorance, and poor training, weapons, hygiene, and food” (Moss).

Grigoryi Shukaev. Siege of Sevastopol 1855. 1856

As a young man, Tolstoy, adrift in Russian society, he knew first hand the dissolute lives of the upper classes that he describes so well in the novel. But it is not the rest of the novel I am concerned with but the nature of determinism and purpose in history. A question that naturally cannot be resolved in a short blog posting, but it is fun to bring up and perhaps I will continue this at a later time, as it is I have spent much too much time, wasting an entire afternoon on this particular folly, but at least I am no longer stuck in mental lethargy.

Works Cited

Barrett, William. “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things.” The New York Times on the Web. 14 Feb. 1954. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Cohen, Martin. Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub. 2008. Google Books. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Ellison, Ralph. The Invisible Man, New York: New American Library. 1952. Print.

Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History. “Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History.” Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History, Trans. J. Sibree. Amherst: Prometheus Books. 1991. Print.

Lenin, Vladimir Illyich. “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures On the History of Philosophy: Volume XIII. Volume I of The History of Philosophy. History of Greek Philosophy.” Lenin’s Collected Works. 4th Ed. Trans. Clemence Dutt. Ed. Stewart Smith. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1976. 38. 247-268. Lenin Internet Archive (2008). Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Moss, Walter G. “Classics Revisited: Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Stories.” Michigan War Studies Review. 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Patrick, G. T. W. Ed.The fragments of the work of Heraclitus of Ephesus on nature; translated from the Greek text of Bywater, with an introd. historical and critical. Baltimore: N. Murray. 1889. Perseus Archive. Open Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.

Evil Medieval Comets: Astrology, History & Portents

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

A fanciful interpretation of the Salem Witch Trials. Is that light a comet or some other malignant force?

Comets in pre-modern belief were harbingers of ill. They wandered into the affairs of the orderly cosmos of man and brought about disruption. H. G. Wells wrote his In The Days of the Comet as a utopian vision of how mankind could benefit from an alchemical like transformation in which elements in the comet affected the atmosphere of the earth and humanity breathed in sanity and out irrationality. Certainly with World War One hovering over the heads of humanity, those were wistful and wise thoughts. Unfortunately, not to be, war resulted and la belle epoch had been consumed in bloodshed and the modern era, was born. The world of the Gatsbys, self made men, hucksters, and flim flam artists arose, the Great Depression resulted and the Second World War in which the old world powers were swept away leaving the Soviet Union and the United States to struggle for the hearts and minds of humanity, Equality, Liberty and Pursuit of Profits, over Equality, Community and Pursuit of Perfection. Profits, at least temporarily, won out over perfection, liberty and community still struggle with Equality, remaining a common value of the age, if only given lip service.

From BRITISH ART SHOW 7: IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET. Anja Kirschner & David Panos.

I found an interesting blog of Margherita Fiorello that deals in medieval astrology and it had a piece about an astrologer’s view of Hailey’s Comet’s appearance in 1301. This anonymous astrologer seems fairly typical, writing with some exactness about the position, and reading into it portents that can only be called interesting.

About the comet motion from North to South, I believe it’s the attraction motion, i.e. the Comet is attracted by Mars, from which was generated. Mars in fact, which was not exceeding the zodiacal southern latitude, was in aspect with the Comet, whose latitude was more than 20 N degrees. For these reasons the Comet seemed to move from North to South toward East, so its eastern longitude grew and grew while northern latitude decreased and decreased.

In the same way and for the same reasons its tail moved. In fact in the beginning of its appearance, its tail stretched toward North and following its motion moved Eastwards, inclining towards South to the stat which is called Altayr, i.e. Vultur Volans, which has a longitude of 21.15 Capricorn and a latitude of 29.25 N. And in this way, slowly, it moved towards Mars.

Medieval Astrologers

So, after having carefully considered the nature and the temperament of the producing planet and of the receiving sign of the comet and its motion and every other detail about its nature, which I omit in order to be brief, I will go to the judgement.
So I say that this comet, for its different and several causes, it means several accidents.
It means in fact strong winds and earthquakes in the regions which are in familiarity and sometimes a dryness of the air preceding profuse rains, but this because of “accidens”, i.e. because southern and western winds, which will cause clouds and rains.

And because of the corruption of the air, death and plague, famine and illness to the genitals, to the bladder and lungs and pains for parturient women and miscarriages and difficult deliveries and plenty of visions.
It means that there will be many fights between powerful people, wars and murders, and the religion of Moors will be weaker, and on the Earth thieves and robbers will be more and more.
It means wars, quarrels and massacre, the death of the kings, princes and nobles, the coming from the West of a King’s enemy and the King violence on his people and his lust for money. It means at last the destitution of courters and the unfairness of their acts that will correspond to a great hardship for them. So, Mars was in Scorpio, in which it has many rights because it has here the triplicity and the domicile: having 8 points (5 because of domicile and 3 of triplicity) will make stronger the meaning of the comet.
These judgements are based on the most important astrologers, Ptolemy and Albumasar and Aly Habenragel.

Giotto, Adoration of the Magi

Giotto’s Comet. This beautiful fresco named Adoration of the Magi on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, completed by the great Florentine Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) has always been regarded as the Halley’s comet in its 1301 apparition. In 1993 Hughes et al.(Q.J.R. Astr. Soc. 34. pp.21-32) suggested instead that it could be the comet seen at the beginning of 1304 (C/1304 C1).

And many poets talked about the meanings of a comet. Virgil in facts wrote in the ninth book of the Aeneid:

“Sanguinei lugubre rubent de nocte comete”

Lugubre, gloomy: he used the name as an adverb. And he calls the comets “sanguineos”, bloody because they mean bloodshed.
Claudianus adds, talking about the comet:

“Et nunquam celo spectatum impune comete“

A comet was never seen in the sky without a disaster.

And Lucanus, talking about the wonders when the war between Pompeus and Caesar was near, says that the appearance of a comet means a change in the kingdom (Margherita Fiorello).

Drawing by Peter Apian of the Comet of 1532.

A more pedesrian interpretation sums up the ancient and medieval view of comets. This is from “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the influence of Comets.”

The ancient Greeks had a method to anticipate them from ingresses and ideas about their significance based on their colors and shapes but theirs was an astrology and astronomy of the naked eye and far freer of pollution and night light than ours. Atmospherics certainly played a role in their observations and their interpretation. The Greeks and later traditional Medieval and Renaissance astrologers thought them wholly malefic. These same astrologers held that comets and other portents in the heavens were fleeting appearances of the sublunary sphere. An event for our punishment or (very rarely) benefit from the Logos appearing in the space between the Earth and Moon. In their model of the heavens, change does not occur beyond the sphere of Luna except for the movements of the planets. The effects of comets were supposed to last for 1/8 of their period; to the ancients this would most likely have been their period of visibility, and to begin in earnest when the Sun or Mars transited their place of closest approach to the Sun or perihelion. Their appearance was heralded by disturbances in humans, animals, and the weather. The comets then dispensed, by perihelion position and their dispositor, their good or ill effects - usually ill. They also often heralded the rise of an agent. This agent could be a war leader but might, depending on the position of the comet, show a religious leader, reformer, or great trader (Jonathan Flanery).

I couldn’t resist adding this image of the reputed cause of the most famous conflict in Florence and Italian medieval history. I don’t know if it was preceded by a comet, but Villani does refer to the fatal statue of Mars, and Villani is a firm believer in astrology.

The Buondelmonte murder, from an illustrated manuscript of Giovanni Villani’s Nuova Cronica
in the Vatican Library (ms. Chigiano L VIII 296 - Biblioteca Vaticana)

“In the year of Christ 1215, M. Gherardo Orlandi being Podestà in Florence, one M. Bondelmonte dei Bondelmonti, a noble citizen of Florence, had promised to take to wife a maiden of the house of the Par. xvi. 136-144. Amidei, honourable and noble citizens; and afterwards as the said M. Bondelmonte, who was very charming and a good horseman, was riding through the city, a lady of the house of the Donati called to him, reproaching him as to the lady to whom he was betrothed, that she was not beautiful or worthy of him, and saying: “I have kept this my daughter for you;” whom she showed to him, and she was most beautiful; and immediately by the inspiration of the devil he was so taken by her, that he was betrothed and wedded to her, for which thing the kinsfolk of the first betrothed lady, being assembled together, and grieving over the shame which M.-122- Bondelmonte had done to them, were filled with the accursed indignation, whereby the city of Florence was destroyed and divided.

Here’s Giovanni Villani himself. Florence lost this gifted (if not always nonpartisan) historian in the terrible Black Death of 1348.

For many houses of the nobles swore together to bring shame upon the said M. Bondelmonte, in revenge for these wrongs. And being in council among themselves, after what fashion they should punish him, whether by beating or killing, Mosca de’ Lamberti said the Inf. xxviii. 103-111. Par. xvi. 136-138. evil word: ‘Thing done has an end’; to wit, that he should be slain; and so it was done; for on the morning of Easter of the Resurrection the Amidei of San Stefano assembled in their house, and the said M. Bondelmonte coming from Oltrarno, nobly arrayed in new white apparel, and upon a white palfrey, arriving at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio on Par. xvi. 145-147. this side, just at the foot of the pillar where was the statue of Mars, the said M. Bondelmonte was dragged from his horse by Schiatta degli Uberti, and by Mosca Lamberti and Lambertuccio degli Amidei assaulted and smitten, and by Oderigo Fifanti his veins were opened and he was brought to his end; and there was with them one of the counts of Gangalandi. For the which thing the city rose in arms and Cf. Par. xvi. 128. tumult; and this death of M. Bondelmonte was the cause and beginning of the accursed parties of Guelfs and Ghibellines in Florence, albeit long before there were factions among the noble citizens and the said parties existed by reason of the strifes and questions between the Church and the Empire; but by reason of the death of the said M. Bondelmonte all the families of the nobles and the other citizens of Florence were divided, and some held with the Bondelmonti, who took the side of the Guelfs, and were its leaders, and some with the Uberti, who were the leaders of the Ghi-123-bellines, whence followed much evil and disaster to our city, as hereafter shall be told; and it is believed that it will never have an end, if God do not cut it short. And surely it shows that the enemy of the human race, for the sins of the Florentines, had power in that idol of Mars, which the pagan Florentines of old were wont to worship, that at the foot of his statue such a murder was committed, whence so much evil followed to the city of Florence. The accursed names of the Guelf and Ghibelline parties are said to have arisen first in Germany by reason that two great barons of that country were at war together, and had each a strong castle the one over against the other, and the one had the name of Guelf, and the other of Ghibelline, and the war lasted so long, that all the Germans were divided, and one held to one side, and the other to the other; and the strife even came as far as to the court of Rome, and all the court took part in it, and the one side was called that of Guelf, and the other that of Ghibelline; and so the said names continued in Italy” (Villani).

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Woodcut showing destructive influence of a fourth century comet from Stanilaus Lubienietski’s Theatrum Cometicum (Amsterdam, 1668).

The above will give the reader some insight into Florence. There was no lack of disasters in Italy and in that year, 1301, the occupation of Florence by the French representative of the Papal authority and the loss of power on the part of the White Guelphs of which Dante belonged, to be replaced by the Black Guelphs who allied themselves to the Papal legate in order to gain control of Florence and persecute their enemies, the Whites. I also find the reference to Virgil to be satisfying and intend to return to that revolutionary period in Roman history with an eye to the literary angle, and focusing so much on the politics. Certainly Virgil, initially something of a pacifist and spiritual idealist, going off to live in an Epicurean community in Naples, to escape the conflict between Caesar’s adherents and those of the old Republican order. In my own life, after the conflict in Vietnam had ended, I temporarily left the life of radical politics to retreat to a commune in Colorado in an attempt to create some idealized cooperative society under the sheltering parental guidance of a gnostic spiritual vision. I eventually rebelled at the direction of the community, a certain Maoist anti-intellectualism and my own impatience with sitting out of world affairs, at least as I saw it, by not participating in the radical politics of the day. Perhaps that is what drove Virgil into the affairs of state, or perhaps it was merely self interest, desiring to regain properties that had been confiscated and given to war veterans of the victorious Octavian in his native Mantua. Dante, had upon exile from his native Florence, joined briefly in White and Ghibellines conspiracies to regain control of the city. He soon became disillusioned with their vain efforts and spent the rest of his life writing his famous literary works and advocating for the return of a worthy Emperor to restore order to Italy. I am now in my own way retired from active battle, and doing my part as a literary warrior.

Masonic initiation. Paris, 1745

I am still somewhat obsessed with medieval Florence. But this is about comets, and the times. Although I cannot say much about our own times, not aware of any particular comet, although I am sure there are comets galore with the advances in astronomy. Listening to an audiobook version of War and Peace as I write, I am captured from time to time by the plot and distracted from my writing. I found the descriptions of Pierre’s spiritual journey with the Masons, reminiscent of my own adventures with the Ministry. He also wanted to work on the political level rather than the boring and tedious task of self improvement. Youth wants change to be rapid and revolutionary, and for a young man to live in interesting times is not a curse but a relief. And as I have indicated previously, I in my own way continue my spiritual quest, expecting less, and with many regrets over failures especially in the personal realm of family. Family as Tolstoy constantly reminds us in his great work, is of such importance. Having just returned from the east coast and visiting my own mother and sister, confronting the remains of those youthful devils that still cling to the soul, like Pierre’s dream dogs biting at his heals (Tolstoy 408).

Pierre Bezukhov at Noble Assembly - illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914. - stock photo

But back to the comet issue Pierre riding home on a sleigh, observes the comet of the winter of 1811-1812, reflecting on its portending disaster, yet falling in some kind of love with the foolish Natasha, “in Pierre’s heart that bright comet, with its long luminous tail, aroused no feeling of dread” (Tolstoy 562). As well it should not have for the Russians, but for Napoleon, it was of course a very bad year.

Now I must move on, leaving Pierre to his thoughts, and consider, could the plague have come from outer space, via comets? I love digging around on the web and finding all these other people who are pondering the different angles. Makes it hard for copyright protagonists and academics will decry such public pandering without any fees attached, but I use my access to university sites as a student for some material, and google for the rest, seeking other seekers.

This is from Joseph and Wickramasinghe’s article “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.”

[P]lagues are all bacterial diseases which are spread by infected fleas, by contact with the body fluids of infected people and animals, and by inhaling infectious droplets in the air. How did fleas come to be infected? Were they also contaminated by pathogens in the air?

Bacteria and Viruses From Space?

Yersinia pestis is one of the causative agents of plague. Yersinia pestis are anaerobic and must live within host cells during the infective phase of its life cycle (Brown et al., 2006; Perry and Fetherston 1997; Wickham et al., 2007). Infection takes place through a syringe-like apparatus by which the bacteria can inject bacterial virulence factors (effectors) into the eukaryotic cytosol of host cells. Yet, as they are anaerobic, Yersinia pestis (and other pathogenic bacteria) are completely dependent on their host species, and cannot be propagated over evolutionary time if the host dies (Brown et al., 2006). Thus it must be asked: what is the origin of these plague-inducing bacillus which periodically infect and kill huge populations over diverse areas, and then reemerge hundreds of years later to attack again? In fact, Yersinia pestis is the causative agent responsible for at least three major human pandemics: the Justinian plague (6th to 8th centuries), the Black Death (14th to 19th centuries) and modern plague (21st century).

Yersinia pestis infected flea.

The keys to unlocking this mystery may include the fact that these microbes are anaerobic (Brown et al., 2006), resistant to freezing (Torosian et al., 2009), and they periodically obtain many of their infective genes from other bacteria and viruses such that their genome is in flux and undergoes periodically rearrangement following the addition of these genes (Parkhill et al., 2001). A major anaerobic, freezing environment is located in space. Therefore, could these microbes have originated in space?

A variety of microbes have been discovered in the upper atmosphere, including those who are radiation resistant (Yang et al., 2010), and at heights ranging from 41 km (Wainwright et al., 2010) to 77 km (Imshenetsky, 1978) and thus in both the stratosphere and the mesosphere which is extremely dry, cold (−85 degree C (−121.0 degree F;), and lacking oxygen. It is the mesosphere where meteors first begin to fragment as they speed to Earth (Wickramasinghe et al., 2010). Could these upper atmospheric microbes have originated in meteors or from other stellar debris? Or might they have have been lofted from Earth to the upper atmosphere?” (Joseph and Wickramasinghe).

Contours of the spread of the Black Death.

The Black Death (1334-1350AD) for example, has all the hallmarks of a space incident component or trigger. That this disease spread from city to city has been well documented (Kelly 2006; McNeill 1977). However, the progression of the disease did not follow contours associated with travel routes, displaying a patchiness of incidence including zones of total avoidance (Figure 6). Moreover, the pattern of infection appear to travel the course of prevailing winds (Figures 7 and 8). This does not accord with straightforward infection via a rodent/flea carrier as is conventional to assume. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) interpreted these patterns as indicative of a space incident bacterium.

1577 Great Comet Woodcut by Jiri Daschitzsky, Von einem Schrecklichen und Wunderbahrlichen Cometen so sich den Dienstag nach Martini M. D. Lxxvij. Jahrs am Himmel erzeiget hat (Prague (?): Petrus Codicillus a Tulechova, 1577).

I am not so sure I am convinced by this, but it is from an academic source, and so should be taken seriously. It certainly puts a different twist hon my previous posting. I am not going to list all their sources, so if you want to see them go find the article on line, I have info about it below.

I am also reading volume two of Hajo Holborn’s A History of Modern Germany, reading about the after effects of the Thirty Years War, the later I had read about in the last year or so. Incipient Germany and the shattered remains of the Holy Roman Empire, are such a complex jigsaw puzzle. It is impossible to read this history without recourse to a map, simply to place oneself in the setting, at least mentally. Only being a few chapters into the book, I find my pedantic side attracted to the satisfactory experience of placing the pieces of the German jigsaw in the appropriate places. And now I shall quote a line more or less at random, actually not, some comments about the aftereffects of the Thirty Years war reminds me of our own times.

The miseries of war; No. 11, “The Hanging” Jacques Callot 1632 (published in 1633).

In many respects it had been a new discovery to find that it was physically possible to siphon off so much money from the population. Public finance, including taxation, had been in its infancy before the war. Now it became a deliberate, if still clumsy, art. A century earlier it had been a widely held opinion that the prince was to defray the expenses of government with his own income from domains - mining rights, monopolies, tolls, etc. - usually called the ‘camerale,’ and that taxes were to be levied only for extraordinary purposes, such as defense… Throughout the war taxes had gone up, and even at the end of the war it was impossible to return to the earlier level. Payment of debts, resettlement of the population, land improvement, and maintenance of troops - all these called for revenue…The princes now demanded them as a matter of right and also claimed discretion in the use of the tax income (Holborn 43-44).

Comet of 1618 was associated with the coming “end of the world” and spreading death and disease, during the Thirty Years War.

Through concessions and compromises, the princes won the battle to establish standing armies. Once a standing army - a ‘miles perpetuus’ as it was called at the time - had been created with the assent of the estates, it became self perpetuating; it gave the prince a weapon that could be used against the estates, especially since it could sometimes be financed by foreign subsidies (45-46).

Bonus Army marchers confront the police.

This naturally brings to mind the military industrial complex, but even more, thinking back to history, Hoover called out the army to destroy the Bonus Marchers in 1932, who had Marched on Washington, DC to demand immediate payment of the Veteran’s Bonuses promised to soldiers who had participated in World War One. The DC police could not remove them from their encampments, and the army was called in led by Douglas MacArthur, who ordered Major Patton to clear the campsites. Patton did so with a cavalry charge followed by six tanks and then infantry who had fixed bayonets and used tear gas. Without a standing army this might have had a negotiated solution. Certainly it was one factor in Hoover’s defeat in that years elections. Roosevelt, the next year, upon another march, gave them a campsite, and meals. He sent Elanor Roosevelt to meet the marchers and she was able to offer them entry into the Civilian Conservation Corp. “One veteran commented: ‘Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife.’” (Wikipedia Bonus Army).

I am not even going to look for a comet to determine the fate of the Bonus March, perhaps an intrepid astrologer can look up predictions from the time and see if they can post-prognosticate on this.

Credit: NASA/JPL

This photograph of Halley’s Comet was taken January 13,1986, by James W. Young, resident astronomer of JPL’s Table Mountain Observatory in the San Bernardino Mountains, using the 24-inch reflective telescope.

Works Cited

“Bonus Army.” Wikipedia. Bonus Army-Wikipedia.Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Fiorello, Margherita. “A Medieval astrologer about Halley Comet in 1301.” 24 Feb. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Flanery, Johnathan. “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the Influence of Comets.” Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany 1648-1840. Princeton: Princeton U. P. 1964. Print.

Joseph, Rhawn, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra. “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.” Journal of Cosmology. 7 (2010). 1750-1770. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.

Villani, Giovanni. Villani’s Chronicle. Trans. Rose E. Selfe. The Project Gutenberg eBook, Ed. Philip H. Wicksteed. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Wells, H. G. In the Days of the Comet. London: The Century Co. 1906. In the Days of the Comet-Wikipedia. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Were Medieval Cities Inherently Unhygienic? Some Notes On Florence

Saturday, January 11th, 2014


I was just reading in Medieval and Renaissance Florence Vol. 1, by Ferdinand Schevill that medieval Florence was incredibly unsanitary. He states “Water was supplied first, from public fountains, of which there was one for each of the fifty-seven city parishes, and second, from numerous private wells with a capricious action and of a very doubtful purity. Not only was there no underground sewage system but the government recognized no obligation to collect and dispose of the city refuse. Everybody tossed the household waste into the street, where it lay until eaten by wandering hogs or washed by the rain into the river. Only the houses of the well-to-do had cesspools, while the mass of the population, without causing the least scandal, utilized for their needs the less frequented streets, the plentiful ruins of the houses of magnates destroyed under the Ordinances of Justice, and the vast circle of the city walls” (Schevill 237-238). This in a city of some 90,000 according to Giovanni Villani in 1339, who based his figures on grain consumption (qtd. in Schevill 211).

Breugel detail.

How could a city this large, considered by many to be the most advanced in Europe of its time in terms of developed commercial and civic urban institutions. Villani was a contemporary member of the merchant class, three times a member of the priory (city council), an official of the mint and on the committee to finish construction of the third city walls who was born in about 1280 (226) and died in the bubonic plague 1348 (240). Villani who was proud of his Roman past “being on that blessed pilgrimage in the sacred city of Rome and seeing its great and ancient monuments and reading the great deeds of the Romans as described by Virgil, Sallust, Lucan, Livy, Valerius, Orosius, and other masters of history… I took my prompting from them… in view of the fact that our city Florence, daughter and offspring of Rome, was mounting and pursuing great purposes, while Rome was in its decline” (qted. in Schevill 227-228). He could not have missed the aqueducts, among the monuments of Rome. The Cloaca Maxima was still functioning, as it does to this day.

Leonardo Bufalini, Roma (Rome, 1551). Go to the site “Waters of the City of Rome” for an enlargeable version of this map.

When the humanist Pier Paolo Vergerio recorded his first impressions of Rome in 1398, he described the legendary hills overlooking the Tiber as deserted, while the modern population clustered along the riverbank, erecting flimsy houses among the massive ancient remains. He also observed the fundamental division between the abitato, the low-lying, densely-inhabited part of the city immediately adjacent to the Tiber, and the disabitato, the uninhabited, elevated regions beyond. This division would persist into the sixteenth century and was largely fixed by the range of the water-sellers, or acquarenari, who delivered water in barrels collected from the Tiber.

London Water Carrier similar to acquarenari of Rome.

The only ancient aqueduct that continued to function in Renaissance Rome was the Acqua Vergine. It supplied water to the Trevi fountain at the foot of the Quirinal hill, and in turn the surrounding district remained populous, despite its relative distance from the Tiber.

The first major disruption to the Roman aqueduct system occurred during the attack of the Goths in 537 CE. Evidently the damage was not catastrophic, for the system continued to function under the Byzantine administration. Significant restorations were again made in the eighth century under Hadrian I, providing enough water to satisfy “almost all of Rome.” The peculiar advantages of the Aqua Virgo became apparent during this time of limited resources and political turbulence. The aqueduct was easier to maintain than any of the others, as it traveled only a short distance, and its submerged conduit was insulated from damage.

Roman Aqueducts used gravity for water flow.

The earliest records of the Capitoline administration that still survive expressed specific interest in the maintenance and care of the Aqua Virgo, or the Acqua Vergine as it was called in Italian, and the Trevi fountain. Already in the new city statutes issued in 1363, six paragraphs were dedicated to the care and maintenance of the Acqua Vergine, to be administered by the marescalci curie capitolii, or the subordinate officials appointed by the Capitoline magistrates. These officials were entrusted with supervising the conduit along its length from its entry point at the northern gate of Rome to the Trevi fountain. They were also authorized to protect the conduit from secondary siphons and penalize all offenders. The 1363 statutes expressly prohibited all unsanitary practices at the Trevi that might contaminate the water supply, such as bathing, washing animals, or laundry; the statutes further stipulated that all property owners who possessed spiragli or openings into the channel were responsible for sealing these openings to prevent their contamination by rainwater. The extraordinary attention devoted to the care of the Acqua Vergine in the civic statutes emphasized its vital importance for the life of the medieval city (Karmon).

Taddeo di Bartolo, Trevi Fountain, 1414

Medicine was already emerging in Florence with one of the earliest hospitals the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. “Founded in 1288 by Folco Portinari, the father of the Beatrice beloved by Dante Alighieri, the hospital represents an early and efficacious example of health care in Italy and in Europe” (Gozzoli).

Institute and Museum of the History of Science / Eurofoto

Print depicting the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, Florence, much later image.

Tatjana Buklijaš in his article “Medicine and Society in the Medieval Hospital” describes the early development of secular hospitals in cities where the merchant classes had emerged in Northern Italy in the High Middle Ages.

Italian merchant urban communes, such as Florence, Padua, and Venice, spearheaded urbanization and partial secularization of hospitals, which were being increasingly established by local governments, confraternities, and rich individuals. Hospitals guarded the social order and enabled uninterrupted running of commerce and manufacture in cities. Considered as institutions of social prevention, they simultaneously protected marginal social strata from homelessness and hunger, and the society from the marginal social layers. They brought under the same roof all those who could not afford better accommodation – abandoned children, travelers, the sick, and the poor. In contrast to monastic institutions, they employed university-educated medical practitioners. This was the period when early-medieval type of religiousness, marked by asceticism, withdrawal from the worldly life, and contemplation, was replaced by the late-medieval “secular” type, which emphasized the need to act socially and charitably. Thus, the number of hospitals was often higher than what the population size required. The representatives of the secular type of religiousness were confraternities. These associations of citizens practicing the same craft or inhabiting the same area performed religious and social activities, organized processions to honor protector saints, and ensured financial and other support to its members and the wider community.

In this period, hospitals preserved both the symbolic and material link to the Church and religion, based on the idea that the body and the soul were closely connected and mutually influenced. Physicians refused to treat patients who had not made a confession, as the sacrament of confession purified the soul from sins. Hospitals frequently emulated monasteries. Patients were occasionally required to follow the monastic rules and some hospitals admitted 12 male patients in an obvious reference to 12 apostles. Even the hospital architecture was supposed to inspire religious devotion—the leading European hospital, the Florentine Santa Maria della Nuova, had a cross-shaped ground-plan, with the long axis serving as the male and the short as the female ward. The monastery-like hospital interior included frescoes with Biblical motives and altars adorned with Christian iconography.

Medieval view of influence of the stars on fate.

Thus we have this interesting cultural mix of secular and sacred that permeated the society. Schevill points out that Villani “suspects that the abundant filth has something to do with the recurrent plagues, but in the end he falls back for their explanation… on the will of an offended God supplemented by the astrological mysteries.” He goes on to point out that the “grande mortalita” of 1340, in which Villani clams some 15,000 persons died, is attributed to the appearance of a comet in the eastern skies earlier in the year (Schevill 238). Astrology was the secular reason of the day given by philosophers. After the great flood of 1333, Schevill states “that the theologians, who categorically explained the flood as a judgement of of God upon the wicked, no longer had it all their own way… a group of ‘philosophers’ put up a stiff fight in favor of the view that the flood was just a natural event. The position signified a notable measure of rational enlightenment, although the arguments… were borrowed from astrology” (233, 235). This mixture of magic and realism is a reflection of the pragmatism mixed in with the influence of the Church and the general illiteracy of the times. Yet that did not prevent the development of appropriate technologies when understood and the technical ability was at hand.

According to Paolo Squatriti in his Water and Society in Early Medieval Italy, cities like Florence did not get most of their water from aqueducts even in the Roman period, only for baths, the rest came from wells. He further states when the aqueducts were cut during the sieges of Rome and Naples in the sixth century, quoting Procopius, the wells provided sufficient water for drinking, only the baths and mills lost their supplies (quoted in Squatriti 22).

Late Medieval Baths at Brothel

The public baths were still in use in many Italian sites in the so called dark ages, of the early medieval period in Italy with Lombard lords going to baths with a retinue in ninth century Salerno, and were frequented by women also, although as a rule separately from men. They were not allowed in the Episcopal baths of Ravenna, Rome or Naples during this period. There is also literature berating women for getting dressed up to go to the baths where they might be accosted by men along the way (50).

What this shows is that although there may have been a Christian injunction against bathing, but for as long as the Roman aqueducts functioned, they provided for baths that were used, at least by the upper classes and higher clergy of the period immediately proceeding the high middle ages of which Schevill writes. Possibly medieval cities were not as unbathed as previously thought. Although sewage was a different story. But with the collapse of the aqueducts, if there were adequate sources of water then there was no pressing need to replace them. This might be a more reasonable explanation as to why they fell into disrepair and may not have been maintained in smaller cities.

Roberta Magnusson in her book Water Technology in the Middle Ages: Cities, Monasteries, and Waterworks after the Roman Empire, indicates that there was a degree of transference of Roman technology but the cultural environment in which the hydrological technology was used was different by the High Middle Ages. Also the old Roman systems had mostly collapsed by the ninth or tenth century and the revivals in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were mostly innovations for monasteries and to a lesser extent palaces. It wasn’t until the thirteenth century that significant municipal water supplies in the form of fountains had become more common. Only a few fountains are indicated in the twelfth century Sienna (Magnusson 3-6). This would seem to be indicated by the prevalence of fountains in fourteenth century Florence.

Pianta prospettico - assonometrica di Firenze di Petro del Massaio, nella Comographia di Tolomeo del 1469 (Cod. Vat. Lat. 56999).
Plant perspective - perspective view of Florence Peter Massaio in Comographia Ptolemy of 1469

Lewis Mumford in The City in History, indicates that the Medieval city was essentially rural and not like the concentrations of people in the nineteenth century. “A change for the worse certainly came about toward the close of the Middle Ages, despite sanitary regulations… Until overcrowding began, the normal smells of a medieval town were probably no more offensive than those of a farmyard; and it was not for the 19th century, with its hideous sanitary misdemeanors, to reprove the earlier period” (Mumford 293). It could be recent experience in overcrowded Europe had colored the view of writers in the earlier part of the twentieth century such as Schevell who could not imagine a city like Florence smelling anything but horrible, imagining the sanitation to be more like the modern conditions of many cities of his own childhood. In any case since Giovanni Villani in his fairly meticulous account of early fourteenth century Florence does not even mention the odors, perhaps they were not so bad as a modern would suspect. Epidemics of the age, influenza for one, named in Florence as Schevell points out where typhoid, tuberculosis and influenza were common indicates that the city may have reached the point where better sanitation was required and could have been a major reason for the rapid spread of devastating diseases in that century (Schevell 238).

Later estimates also lower the population of Florence to more like 45,000 at the eve of the plague. This would also give some greater credence to the notion that sanitation systems were not a high priority simply due to the lower population density and semi rural character of medieval cities. The excerpt below is from an article on the black death by Ricardo Olea, and George Christakos.

Florence is another interesting case. There is not much disagreement about the duration of the epidemic, which is set to 8 months at most (Biraben 1975, pp. 77 and 103; Cohn 2002, pp. 167-168; This duration was typical of cities with 40,000 to 50,000 residents, such as neighboring Bologna and Pisa. This city size, though, is in contradiction to estimates of at least 90,000 residents coming from none other than the reputed Giovanni Villani. In the opinion of Ziegler (1969, pp. 51-52), Villani was misled by his sources, which were primarily based on the number of bread tickets issued during the famine of April 1347. Apparently, corruption was rampant during the distribution, leading posterity to believe that Florence was a larger city than it actually was-an opinion that is reinforced by the 100,000 casualties reported by Boccaccio (Deaux 1969, p. 85). Equation (1) gives Florence a preplague population of about 45,000 residents, a finding that is in agreement with the opinion that Florence reached a maximum population of 60,000 in 1300 (Chandler 1987, pp. 16-18); the population decreased over the next 47 years by 25-50% (Gottfried 1983, p. 46).

Agricultural cycle

In an effort to have an independent assessment of the population of Florence, we compared its city wall with that of Bologna. In 1333 the city of Florence completed construction of its sixth and last city wall, which had a perimeter of 8.5 km enclosing an area of 430 hectares (data from http://www.aboutflor On the other hand, the third and most recent wall of the city of Bologna had a perimeter of 7.8 km and an enclosed area of 410 hectares (data from It was started and completed at about the same time as the Florence wall. We regard it as highly unlikely that two cities with similar characteristics, in the same part of the country, with the same duration of the Black Death epidemic and almost identical urban areas would have had greatly different populations. In our opinion the value of the population for Florence derived from the scaling law of Eq. (1) is correct: On the verge of the plague, Florence had about the same population as Bologna (i.e., 40,000 residents or 10% more at most).

Equation (1) is a convenient and rigorous way to bring consistency to reported values for population sizes and durations of the epidemic (Olea and Christakos 299, 300).

This is also confirmed by Morrison, Kirshner, and Molho, whose article “Epidemics In Renaissance Florence” lists the population of Florence to be in the 40,000 range during the fifteenth century when they describe deaths due to epidemics using the Florentine Dowry Fund created in 1425 and extending to about 1570 in their study which they chose due to its having more complete data about the birth and death dates for some 25,000 women whose families participated in the investment fund created during an extended war with Milan, it paid 2.5 times after 7.5 years and 5 times after 15 years of the initial investment if the girl married, to her husband or a designated third party. While most of the participants were from wealthy families some 50%, not all were with 14% coming from lower income families (Morrison, Kirshner, and Molho 528, 529). Although this study is from a slightly later period, the city of Florence was not at that period a major metropolis, certainly not on the scale of ancient Rome.

The Dance of the Black Death in a medieval allegory

William McNeill in Plagues and Peoples presents a picture of population growth in the extreme west of Europe and East Asia that coupled with the increased trade that was encouraged by the Mongol Empire resulted in the encounter with the plague carrying rodents resulting in the great epidemics of the fourteenth century (McNeill 161-163). This was also influenced by the availability of food which in Florence was always a touch and go matter with only five twelfths of the bread supply coming from locally controlled sources, the rest coming from elsewhere in Tuscany or imported overland from the Po Valley or by boat from southern Italy (Schevill 235-236). According to Georges Duby in Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West, “Prosperous [land owners], nearly all its wasteland cleared, teaming with laborers and covered with growing crops, the countryside of Europe on the brink of the fourteenth century was really overpopulated and was burdened with a growing number of peasants in a condition of near starvation. We can believe, too, that the economic activities of a small band of entrepreneurs - lords and their agents, and townsfolk attracted by speculation in grain and cattle - slowly, but inevitably, exhausted certain soils, lowered the level of wages and reduced the purchasing power of nearly all the peasant families. Thus this basically vulnerable world, with its few reserves of wealth, unconsciously built up for itself difficulties for the future years” (Duby 286).

Bread rationing in times of scarcity

Thus we can conclude that medieval society was capable of developing fairly sophisticated technology as it did its best to meet the requirements of the time. Disease was not well understood, but efforts were taken to both protect the water supply and deal with disease in a mixture of faith based and secular remedies. Hygiene in this period was probably no worse than during all of pre-industrial history, but material conditions of over population, unsound agricultural practices, and the diseases brought about by the very extension of trade that brought prosperity to the merchant classes of the cities of the time, resulted in a perfect storm of disease that culminated in the great Plague. This was not simply a case of poor hygiene, it was a culmination of trends and a lack of adequate understanding of historical and natural processes, something that in our own times has not been mastered.

Medieval Farming

Works Cited.

Buklijaš, Tatjana. “Medicine and Society in the Medieval Hospital.” Croatian Medical Journal. 49.2 (2008): 151–154. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Duby, Georges. Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West. Trans. Cynthia Postan. Columbia, S.C. U. of South Carolina P. 1968. Print.

Gozzoli, Antonella. “Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova [Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova].” Trans. Catherine Frost. Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova. Web. 10 Jan. 2014.

Karmon, David. “Restoring the Ancient Water Supply System in Renaissance Rome: The Popes, The Civic Administration, and the Acqua Vergine.” The Waters of Rome, 3. (2005): n.p. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

MacNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Anchor Books. 1976. Print.

Magnusson, Roberta J. Water Technology in the Middle Ages: Cities, Monasteries, and Waterworks after the Roman Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P. 2001. Google Books. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Morrison, Alan S., Kirshner, Julius, and Molho, Anthony. “Epidemics In Renaissance Florence.” American Journal Of Public Health 75.5 (1985): 528-535. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Mumford, Lewis. The City in History. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. 1961. Middle Ages 5th – 15th centuries Environmental history timeline. Web 11 Jan. 2014.

Olea, Ricardo A., and George Christakos. “Duration of Urban Mortality for the 14th-Century Black Death Epidemic.” Human Biology 77.3 (2005): 291-303. ProQuest. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Schevill, Ferdinand. Medieval and Renaissance Florence Volume 1: Medieval Florence. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row. 1963. Print.

Squatriti, Paolo. Water and Society in Early Medieval Italy, AD 400-1000, Parts 400-1000. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. 2002. Google Books. Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Discussion Of Zionism, Women’s Rights in Afghanistan, 1973 Oil Embargo, & Mideast Oil

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Original photo from this post is missing this is my substitute.

This is part of a debate on Facebook I participated in during August 2013. Interestingly since then most of the Pakistani and Iranian posters have disappeared from my Facebook page. I don’t know if they simply deleted themselves or if other posters have simply dominated the conversation but I notice that most of the serious posters from that time have disappeared and I am seeing more personal and trivial posts. All images have been added on Jan. 7th 2014.

Vision of restored Caliphate.

Brian B: too many fools in the west is the problem..
Aug 11

Patrick H: Many non-Americans assume we support our country’s war, I’d say a majority of us do not want to be in the Middle-East. When it comes to supporting Israel, it’s a bit more controversial.
Aug 11

Pandora H: Pull every foreign troop out of Islamic nations I say.
Aug 11

Brian B: it will never happen.
Aug 11

Pandora H: I know and that sucks. No one else other than citizens of those countries need to be there. Let the men and women involved come home and be with their own families I think
Aug 11

Eric W: I actually agree with something mustafa posted! lol
Aug 11

Pandora H: So you think it’s Americans and Jews are to blame for everything in the middle east?
Aug 11

Muhammad Q: The space in picture didn’t allow some other countries to be mentioned I guess..
Aug 11

Muhammad H: Only Pakistan, Iran and Turkey are protected in muslim world.
Aug 11

Muhammad Q: Hammad bro Pakistan is suffering a lot due to America…we love American people but almost the whole Pakistan hates American policies against terrorism that are producing more and more terrorists day by day attacking Pakistanis…every week and usually every day their drones hit the civilians and it is very less that some terrorist is killed in that attack..
Aug 11

From Guardian Commentary about Drone strikes

Muhammad H: Dear Muhammad Q you don’t know the power of Pakistan ARMY and ISI. Just wait and watch. If USA can lost war in Afghanistan so Pakistan is much powerful than Afghanistan. Having nuclear missiles and 7th world nuclear power.
Aug 11

Muhammad Q: I was saying something else…as uu said Pakistan is one of the protected countries, I don’t agree..
Everyday on average a dozen of people are killed by terrorists…America was never serious to eradicate this terrorism…pakistan’ s army has suffered more than America against terrorism…our whole socio-economic system has been destroyed and blah blah..
Aug 11

David O: Wow. So simplistic, even an illiterate Saudi could understand it.
Aug 11

Richard L: Well David… you’d actually be describing most of the Middle East…Not just the Saudi’s
Aug 11

RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan was founded in 1977 by Meena and other women in Afghanistan as a political/social organization fighting for human rights and social justice.

Gary C: Interesting, so will the women of Afghanistan be better off under the Taliban? Or was the whole argument about being in Afghanistan to protect women’s rights just propaganda? Certainly the Saudi model of women’s rights is not exactly a model of equality and it is not opposed by the US in way shape or form. That is considered to be cultural diversity. Hypocritical, you bet, but both on the part of the left and the establishment.
Aug 11

Ibrahim A: They didn’t came to bring democracy nor to help the Afghans. In fact the Afghans were forced to help them.
Aug 11

Gary C: True but there was some benefit for women, just as when the Secularists ruled in Afghanistan.
AUG 11

Ibrahim A: This women rights issue was just a mean to justify the invasion. If something has changed than it is surely not because of the government but then it was about a cultural change. I actually believe nothing have changed.

I mean to throw acid in a woman’s face is not Islamic. It’s barbaric. But abuse of women happens everywhere but only in muslm countries they link it to islam while when it happens in the west the perpetrator is just a lunatic and not catholic, mormon or whatever.
Aug 11

Martin R: That should be an Islamic symbol, not Jewish
Aug 11

Gary C: Soviets used similar arguments to justify coming to the aid of the Afghan socialists, about aiding female rights, etc. USA shows how little it cares about women’s rights, and I don’t want to single out Islam, Christian fundamentalists are when it comes to Abortion rights just as barbaric, blowing up clinics and killing doctors. But the US did make it an issue and thus it is right to call them on the issue of woman’s rights.

“In Afghanistan, U.S. shifts strategy on women’s rights as it eyes wider priorities”

“Changes stem from a desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict, a senior U.S. official said.”
Aug 11

Remembering American Afghan Policy

Martin R: Gary C; but without the excuse how else would they ‘invade’? Had the issue not been present there would have been no excuse.

And do you know how much better like was before the West got involved? Life there was far greater but that was before Islam infected the lands.
Without Islam the middle-East would know peace
Aug 11

Gary C: Lest we forget…

“Nov. 8, 1959 During an independence day celebration, women from the royal family appear unveiled, marking the end of state-enforced veiling.
Jan 1, 1964 Marxist Anahita Ratebzad forms an offshoot of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). They pressure the Afghan government to combat illiteracy and to end forced marriages and walwar, a payment made by a prospective husband to a woman’s parents.
Oct. 1, 1964 A new constitution creates a modern democracy with free elections, equal rights, freedom of speech, universal suffrage, and allows women to enter into politics.
July 17, 1973 Shah takes an official trip overseas and Mohammed Daoud Khan seizes power in a bloodless coup. Khan installs himself as president instead of King and attempts to pass some liberalizing reforms, but they’re not enacted outside of urban areas.
Jan 1, 1977 A jirga – a traditional Pashtun council – approves a constitution that establishes a presidential one-party system of government.
Jan 1, 1978 The PDPA takes over the government, resulting in further social reforms including separation of religion and government, banning burquas and raising the minimum age of marriage.
April 28, 1978 The PDPA assassinates Mohammed Dauod. Tribal leaders incensed over social reforms begin an armed revolt in rural Afghanistan.
May 1, 1978 After a period of political infighting within the PDPA, Nur Mohammad Taraki becomes president, prime minister and general secretary of the party. The country is renamed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Oct. 1, 1978 A decree from the PDPA-controlled government requires education for girls, abolishes walwar and sets the legal age for marriage at 16.
Sept. 16, 1979 Taraki and another PDPA leader struggle for power as countryside revolts continue. The Soviet Union offers military aid and personnel to the government.
Dec. 27, 1979 The PDPA government, led by leftist Babrak Karmal, encourages women “to further their education and to take jobs, often in the government.”
Dec. 29, 1979 The Soviet Union officially topples the Afghan government. Their occupation lasts nearly a decade.
Jan. 1, 1981 Afghanistan becomes a major Cold War pawn between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The CIA pours money and advanced weaponry into rural Afghanistan to support the guerilla fighters known as mujahideen.”
Aug 11

Ibrahim A: Martin R

The root of war and trouble in the Middle-East is Zionism and before that colonialism. Not Islam.

Islam was just a motivation to fight oppresion and invasion.
Aug 11

Muhammad H: Yes, What USA is doing here?
Aug 11

Middle East Before Islam

Gary C: Before Islam, ie in 600 AD, the Persian Empire and the Roman Empire dominated in what is called the Mid East, Afghanistan was more part of central Asia or a borderland between the Indian Subcontinent and the Persian Empire, ruled by Greeks for a few centuries even. Persians were Zoroastrian, Romans Christan, the Romans were pretty intolerant and the Persians alternated between repressing other religions and supporting sects that were out of favor among the Romans to gain influence.
Aug 11

Gary C: Zionism is a symptom of a greater problem, western imperialism, but in the long run it is nothing but a temporary issue. As soon as Europe and the US decide to switch alliances Israel will be making up with all its neighbors.
Aug 11

Martin R: Ibrahim A; it isn’t Zionism it’s the current religion and what it instilled within its people.

Consider the Oil Embargo of the early nineteen hundreds. After America discovered oil the Muslim populace fought back saying that we were ‘leading’ you away from ‘true Islam’. We were at peace and trading openly but your religious extremists prevented it from continuing.
Aug 11

Gary C: Are you talking about the oil embargo of 1973? That was a result of the USA supporting Israel against the Egyptians and their allies. It was a rare example of Arab solidarity.
Aug 11

Martin R: Gary Crethers; I’m speaking of the entire century and chain of events
Aug 11

Scene from 1973 Oil Embargo

Gary C: Time line for Oil Embargo from Wikipedia article Chronology

“January 1973—The 1973–1974 stock market crash begins, as a result of inflation pressure, the Nixon Shock and the collapsing monetary system.
August 23, 1973—In preparation for the Yom Kippur War, Saudi King Faisal and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat meet in Riyadh and secretly negotiate an accord whereby the Arabs will use the “oil weapon” as part of the upcoming military conflict.
October 6 – Egypt and Syria attack Israeli occupied lands in Sinai and Golan Heights on Yom Kippur, starting the Yom Kippur War.
night of October 8 - Israel goes on full nuclear alert. Sec. Kissinger is notified a few hours later the morning of October 9. United States begins to resupply Israel.
October 8 – 10—OPEC negotiations with major oil companies to revise the 1971 Tehran price agreement fail.
October 12— The United States initiates Operation Nickel Grass, an overt strategic airlift operation to provide replacement weapons and supplies to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. This followed similar Soviet moves to supply the Arab side.
October 16 – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar unilaterally raise posted prices by 17% to $3.65 per barrel and announce production cuts.
October 17—OAPEC oil ministers agree to use oil as a weapon to influence the West’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur war. They recommend an embargo against non-complying states and mandate a cut in exports.
October 19—US President Richard Nixon requests Congress to appropriate $2.2 billion in emergency aid to Israel. This decision triggered a collective Arab response. Libya immediately proclaims an embargo on oil exports to the United States; Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil producing states follow suit the next day.
October 26—The Yom Kippur War ends.
November 5—Arab producers announce a 25% output cut. A further 5% cut is threatened.
November 23—The Arab embargo is extended to Portugal, Rhodesia, and South Africa.
November 27—U.S. President Richard Nixon signs the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act authorizing price, production, allocation and marketing controls.
December 9—Arab oil ministers agree to another five percent cut for non-friendly countries for January 1974.
December 25—Arab oil ministers cancel the five percent output cut for January. Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani promises a ten percent OPEC production rise.
January 7–9, 1974—OPEC decides to freeze prices until April 1.
January 18—Israel signs a withdrawal agreement to pull back to the east side of the Suez Canal.
February 11 – United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger unveils the Project Independence plan to make U.S. energy independent.
February 12 – 14—Progress in Arab-Israeli disengagement brings discussion of oil strategy among the heads of state of Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
March 5—Israel withdraws the last of its troops from the west side of the Suez Canal.
March 17—Arab oil ministers, with the exception of Libya, announce the end of the embargo against the United States.
May 31—Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger produces a disengagement agreement on the Syrian front.
December 1974—The 1973–1974 stock market crash ends.”
Aug 11

Gary C: I remember the gas rationing. I planned a trip during that and saw lines, and armed guards at gas stations.
Aug 11

Gary C: Martin you have to be more specific. That is too broad a statement to be responded to sensibly.
Aug 11

Martin R: Gary C; I was speaking of the oil discovery of the early nineteen hundreds to today
Aug 11

Gary C: Nice clear description of oil discoveries with map in Middle East. The USA first discovered oil in 1859. Persia 1908, Saudi Arabia 1938.
GEO Expro The First Oil Discoveries in the Middle East
Aug 11

Masjid Sulaiman and Well No. 1 in 1908. Photo: Anglo-Persian Oil Company

Gary C: But the oil companies dominated and took most of the profits until OPEC united in the 1973 oil embargo and flexed its muscles. The British had dominated Iraq and Kuwait, the Gulf states were protectorates and Iran had an uncooperative regime overthrown by the US and British in the 1950’s when the elected leader threatened to nationalize.
Aug 11

Melvin O C: I can make a meme with sharia law as death as well but I agree that the US should stop supporting Israel and change its foreign policy. It does more harm than good to the world and the US.
Aug 11

Gary C: The world keeps changing. 100 years ago the Ottoman Empire was still a major force

Introduction of the Savior

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Nut Egyptian Sky Goddess

The Introduction of the Savior

The Egyptian gods described in the article “Egypt: The Seasons of the Nile” in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, are initially created by Atum from the mound of slit that emerges out of the “boundless chaos” (Davis,Harrison, Johnson, Smith, and Crawford, 94). Utilizing the “fundamental principal of MAAT, the idea of ‘right order’ or ‘justice’ that manifests in a moral society based on laws, rules, and customs” (94), Atum creates the gods and goddesses from his own body. The original gods and goddesses, are nine in number, or Ennead from the Greek. Indicating that the gods not only represent the forces of nature, but also the bringing of order out of chaos.


This concept of order, and justice is a common thread that runs through the ancient literature of both Mesopotamia and Egypt accordingly in the “Epic of Gilgamesh” when the people complain of the injustice of Gilgamesh they appeal to the gods for a force to balance the excesses of Gilgamesh, to which purpose Enkidu is created (63). The universe as created out of the primordial chaos is a representation of order and inherent in order is a sense of justice to which the kings of early Sumer and the pharaohs of Egypt were the earthly representatives. In Egypt the pharaoh is “literally considered to be a god” (95). Whereas the kings of Sumer were at best children of gods. Their gods resided in the temples, men, even Gilgamesh went to their temples. In Egypt the Pharaoh was god manifest and thus could wield unlimited power, as the early pyramids would suggest. The pyramid of Khufu was for a long time the tallest man made objects in the world (96).

Gilgamesh and Enkidu battle Humbaba

A major difference comes in the treatment of the dead and the afterlife. Gilgamesh is told by the god Enlil “You were given the kingship, such was your destiny, everlasting life was not your destiny” (90). The life of kings and wise men is likened to the waxing of the moon (90). This is very different from Egypt where the Pharaohs and all Egyptians expect their day of judgement before Osiris where their heart is put on the balance against that of a feather. (107). Osiris, who like Gilgamesh may have been based on a historical king, had a very different fate, he is granted immortality (106-107). In this we see a major difference, in Sumer the origins of the God of justice and balance is predominant, humans can not expect more than to live well and die. In Egypt there is the beginnings of what could be seen as the divine dispensationalism and an almost democratic opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the afterlife, all one had to do was “to have worshiped Osiris and lived a virtuous life according to maat” (107). This is very different indeed, the introduction not only of the Hero as we see in Gilgamesh, but the Savior as we see in Osiris. This short paper addresses one noticeable aspect of the question of differences between the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian gods.

Statue c. 1792 - 1750 BC that represents an ancient Babylonian goddess, possibly Ishtar or Ereshkigal

Davis, Paul, Gary Harrison, David M. Johnson, Patricia Clark Smith, and John F. Crawford, eds. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Vol. 1. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. Print. 2004. 6 vol

My Trip to Florida

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Gainesville, FL. circa 1900. Crackers going to a Gators Game?

This is something of a ramble, impressions mostly. I drove across country on the I-10 from Long Beach to Gainesville, FL and back over the Christmas holidays. I saw my mom, sister, niece and her husband. They all have horses. Florida is for the most part incredibly rural, low wages prevail and land seems to be cheap. My mom lives in a senior government apartment in Gainesville and keeps her horse on some rich guy’s play farm. My sister and niece have their own places with piles of dogs and horses. It seems many people live in trailers in rural Florida. My female family members always placed having animals and the luxury of land for their horses over suburban comforts, although my sister has done a reasonable job of attaining both the agrarian and modern ideas. I got to ride a horse for the first time in 9 years.

Florida State Park where my sister and I went riding. A Spanish mission existed there back in the 1600’s.

By contrast my father who lives in California, has no animals, or land, he lives in a trailer in a retirement community in the foothills of San Gregorio mountain, wears old worn out clothes and only dresses up when he leaves his trailer to go visit old rodeo friends in Vegas. My own kids are urban, and have values similar to my own urban propensities as do their mothers. I have always been anti-fashion in my own way, although I understand proper job interview style, what was once the dressing up for church, weddings and funerals. I have always been obsessed with material symbols of wealth, as a child I was jealous of the suburbanites in their cookie cutter split level houses, with plumbing that worked. Our old farm, with dozens of animals and rich in land, fruit trees, all seemed nothing to me who had to struggle carrying buckets of water from a well when the pipes froze and when the well dried in the summer we had muddy water. But I am wandering into my childhood in Connecticut.

American Alligator at Paynes Prairie. I didn’t see any gators, but I heard some in a small swamp by the Post Office in Gainesville.

My sister and I took her horses, in her trailer and Ram tough Dodge out to some state park a few miles from her place where we saw feral pigs, not boars, no tuskers there, lots of deer and walkers as she calls the pedestrians, (she is very big on that zombie show on AMC). It was nice to be on horseback, feeling the energy of the horse, this one wanted to follow the pigs, she was curious, a quarter horse named “Sugar” I let her have her head and we had a good ride. Florida has a lot of forested land. Dirt roads go off into the back country where homesteads and farms exist. The land around the paved roads being more expensive is for the most part divided into what seem to be a few acre lots where people have mini-farmlet’s working at day jobs and coming home to their rural retreats, large enough for horses and in many cases a cow or two. Developments of more traditional suburbs rapidly fade a few miles from the City of Gainesville, which is mostly a college town and medical research center. There are lots of trees in Florida, Spanish moss, ponds and lakes full of gators. When I took a drive with my mother to the open country around Ocala, Florida, where there are lots of racing horse farms, I felt a relief, and hadn’t realize how oppressive hanging oaks blocking the sun as in the area around Gainesville can be.

Photo taken 2009 at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park: courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Former southern maximum range of the American Bison in it’s wild state east of the Mississippi river.

New homes are available for $130,000. My sister has 5 acres, a barn, double wide trailer home, and pays $500 a month mortgage, that seems like a fantastic deal from urban California where land is so expensive. But wages are low, RN’s make $15 an hour there, and most people work for little more than the federal minimum wage. The state seems to find that too high and one hears of agricultural workers working for much less, mostly Hispanic, the area has emerging retail stores catering to a Spanish speaking population. Even the local Hardees chain now has Mexican food on the menu. Gainesville as a university town has a diverse population. A block from my mother’s place is an Indian Market, Greek and Thai restaurants, an Asian market catering to Japanese, Thai and Chinese food, where I got miso, tofu and fresh made ramen style noodles to make soup. My mother calls my food weird and wouldn’t eat it. She likes a place called Cracker Barrel, where they have amazingly cheap meals with American food. A meat and potatoes place, lots of vegetable sides, with prices cheaper than Denny’s. She made a mean kielbasa with carrots, cabbage and potatoes, which she boils all together in stages. I was impressed, considering my mother doesn’t like to cook.

Mom’s Kielbasa looked something like this.

On the road prices varied. I went to an I-Hop in San Antonio Texas for breakfast, $15 for an omelet, hash browns and a glass of OJ. But it was fresh and a good omelet. On the other hand stopping at a local place, not part of a chain, on the east side of San Antonio, had great Mexican food for around $10 served by a tattooed rocker waitress. Orange Juice is an extra at the McDonalds in Florida, a plastic cup of it costs a buck extra. In California OJ is an option not an extra with the breakfast. Truck stop food seemed better, with salad bars and a general emphasis on a more varied diet than previously, the salad bar at one place was $9 for all you can eat soup and salad, and $13 for a full buffet, this was in Arizona. Driving to Florida I had riders who shared expenses and driving, an older trucker and his girlfriend. They told me that anyone can now use the facilities at truck stops where for $10 you can take a shower, use the laundry and generally rest up and get cleaned up. The facilities I saw were very well maintained. In fact all across the country, rest areas and facilities seemed generally better maintained than I remember from my last cross country drive in 2004. The roads also were much better, perhaps a result of the stimulus spending.

Mississippi River at I-10. When I drove across it was always dark, not lit up like in this photo.

Gas in Florida ranged from $3.24 to $3.45 a gallon. It seems near Gainesville to have been more expensive than in other parts of the state. I got gas in Louisiana for $2.99 a gallon, it was cheapest of all. Texas seemed to be $3.09 all the way across, New Mexico was $3.05 off the road a bit, they wanted $3.59 at this rip-off Chevron station right on the freeway, I just drove into the town of Deming and found the cheaper one within a few blocks. Arizona wasn’t much more where I paid $3.11 at a station in Buckeye west of Phoenix. California is universally more expensive; my local Food 4 Less charged $3.46 with a $.10 discount. What does it mean, California has higher emission standards and thus gas has to be refined to California standards, the highest in the nation. We pay more to breathe easier.

I went to Ocala with my mom and there were tons of beautiful large horse farms.

I like animals, and I always wondered why I am so adamant about living in the city, having urban interests, politics and such. My sister and mother have rural values, and are suspicious of the government and complain about the local county where apparently taxes are the highest in Florida and according to my sister corruption is rampant. She particularly dislikes the biomass plant. She blames it for the increase in the local utilities cost. Perhaps I will look into it. I am no fan of corn ethanol it is largely responsible for the increased cost of corn in the supermarkets. Speaking of food, it is very expensive in Florida compared to California and I played the dumb transplant complaining to cashiers about how much more expensive things were in Florida. They have a new Trader Joe’s there and I was wondering why things were so much more expensive there, one of the clerks told me transportation from California was the main reason. I asked why they didn’t buy locally, and he said perhaps when they get a local warehouse. Food is such an industrial process, in Florida tomatoes are grown for catsup in fast food restaurants and oranges are grown for pulping into juice. They are expensive for consumers there because production is geared for industrial distribution not individual consumption. Thus oranges in the form of juice are cheaper there than oranges in their natural state. I am not really all that knowledgeable about food production but the bits I do know make for some interesting outcomes. Policy makes a difference too. In California the tax base is more progressive, in Florida more regressive. They have wonderful highway rest areas in Florida, cheap housing and expensive food. California has cheap food, expensive housing and mediocre rest areas. But part of what I am seeing is the difference between urban and rural, in California rural areas have less expensive housing and urban areas in Florida are more expensive, it has a lot to do with the cost of the land, real estate values more than anything else. I would have to do a research paper on state intervention and cost of living in California versus Florida to see whether progressive or regressive work out better in the long run.

Florida cheaper housing, low wages, expensive groceries, California expensive housing, higher wages, cheaper groceries

Radio basically sucks across the country along the I-10 corridor, with the exception of New Orleans which is a beacon of culture compared to the rest of the south. The supposedly public air waves full of Jesus talk and gospel rock and gospel metal etc. The few NPR stations seemed to be valiantly struggling to retain that candle in the wind of culture, but there were whole stretches of Texas where there was nothing but the Bible. I grabbed onto an ESPN signal and listened to football talk for hours in West Texas. Even as far west as Blythe, CA I got a dose of smug fundamentalist preachers proudly talking about how their college was not accredited, didn’t want their preachers tainted with secular humanism. I can imagine their science curriculum, some kind of creationist horror story straight out of A Handmaiden’s Tale.

Scopes Monkey Trial seems to be going on non stop on Christian radio all along I-10, most irritating is its presence in the so-called public end of the fm dial where I expect public radio not fundamentalist radio.

Got nothing done artistically, not on the surface, observed, basked in familial bliss and read most of Great Gatsby, tried to listen to audio books I had downloaded to my laptop but it didn’t work well, I got through the first part of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight while driving through the Texas hill country but it would not automatically go on to the next part and I didn’t want to stop every 20 minutes to link to the next part. So it was the crappy local radio for company. The hot spot I got to have internet service didn’t work, and my sister lives in a dead zone so even cell phone service was erratic.
Florida Cracker homestead.

Driving by a small cabin my sister mentioned that it was a cracker house. Now I was familiar with the Maryland term for Crackers which was a derogatory name for dumb rednecks. But in Florida it has a different meaning. So I went to the trusty Wikipedia to find some quick semi-factual info. I say semi factual because Wikipedia often changes its facts from one link to another.

By the 1760s the English, both at home and in the American colonies, applied the term “cracker” to Scots-Irish and English American settlers of the remote southern back country, as noted in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth: “I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”[citation needed] The word was later associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of them descendants of those early frontiersmen who had migrated South.


A cracker cowboy
artist: Frederick Remington

I could go on about the history of Florida. Crackers showed up after the French and Indian wars when Spain temporarily ceded Florida to the British in 1763, who ceded it back to the Spanish in 1783 after the end of the American Revolution. And then sold the land to the USA in 1821. The Spanish were in Florida from Ponce De Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth in 1513, to the establishment of St. Augustine in 1565 as the first permanent settlement by Europeans in the continental US, to the eventual sale to the USA in 1821, that is a long period of time and constitutes the majority of recorded Floridian history. The park I went riding in was part of that history. Interestingly enough the French had established a settlement in 1564, the year before St. Augustine, but were driven out by the Spanish a year later.


Trail in San Felasco State Park. Looks like one I rode horseback on, I saw some feral pigs in a place that looked like this.

The origins of San Felasco is a corruption of San Francisco, there was a Mission there to convert the local Indians who mostly died off from epidemics due to the presence of these white ’saviors’. You don’t hear much about native Florida Indians who had mostly died out. The Seminoles are mainly a mix of Creeks and other tribes escaping from the American settlers in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi with run away slaves who found safety in Florida until it was bought from the Spanish by the Americans.

The mission of San Francisco de Potano was founded in 1606 by the Franciscans Father Martín Prieto and Father Alonso Serrano. It was the first doctrina (a mission with a resident priest) in Florida west of the St. Johns River. The mission was at the south edge of present-day San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park (”San Felasco” is derived from the 18th-century Seminole pronunciation of “San Francisco”).

The Potano Indians were enemies of the Spanish for some 30 years after the founding of St. Augustine in 1565. In 1597 the chiefs of the Potano and other Western Timucuan tribes had pledged allegiance to the governor of la Florida in St. Augustine. Franciscan missionaries began visiting Western Timucuan villages that year, but a rebellion in Guale Province disrupted missionary efforts in Florida for a decade; missionaries continued to make occasional visits, but permanent missions were not established, even though chiefs requested them and returned to St. Augustine to renew their vows of allegiance to the Spanish authorities. The arrival of additional Franciscan missionaries in 1605 allowed the establishment of permanent missions in Western Timucua to proceed, beginning with the mission of San Francisco de Potano in 1606.

The Potano being defeated by Chief Utina with the assistance of French forces. This image supposedly based on an original etching by Jacques le Moyne is unlikely to depict Native American warfare accurately (from Wikipedia article on Potano).

Another thing I was fascinated with while in Florida was finding the highest spot. I drove very close to the Sugarloaf Mountain in Lake County, the highest spot in peninsular Florida, at some 308 feet I would hardly call it a mountain. But it has an uplift of some 200 feet from the surrounding region which makes it the most impressive landmass height in Florida.

Sugarloaf Mountain

The highest spot in Florida is called Britton Hill and is in the Panhandle in Northern Walton County at 345 feet, this place has barely a visible rise above the surrounding farmland. Florida has the lowest high point of any state. This spot doesn’t even rate as a hill. I was thinking of climbing it with mountain gear and pretending it was Everest.

Britton Hill.

To sum up, lots of driving, radio tuning, eating out of a bag of Trader Joe’s sunflower seeds and drinking bad gas station coffee, punctuated by my sisters tales of her asshole boss and my mom’s heath issues, talk of animals and relatives not present, lots of dogs jumping up on me, licking my head and cats sleeping in my lap, horse riding, petting, and feeding, all in all a rather relaxed family Christmas.

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