Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Dumb marketing or dumb market

Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-02-06

On the back of today’s Age "Sunday Life" fluff liftout is an ad that made my jaw drop – mentions St Valentine’s day, romantic picture of a couple walking under blossoming trees, picture of the products (jewellery)…

… but the brand name… "Pandora"!

Ever heard the common phrase "Opening up a Pandora’s Box"?

I wondered if the person suggesting that name was an idiot, a cynic after a very ugly marriage, or thought it a nice sound while assessing the wealthy demographics as untutored… or probably two out of three.

The message for the guy buying the ring? "The girl might have a lot going for her, apart from trustworthiness – things will get really ugly with the worst things happening – things so bad you’d never heard of them before – and there won’t be even a glimmer of hope."

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Posted in Economics and Business, Education, History, Humor, Language Use | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gilgamesh hits over 1000

Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-09-05

While not realizing it recently, one of my favorite and most effort-intensive posts, a discussion of Gilgamesh and an extremely short rendering, has climbed over 1000 reads.

The reads come in bursts, with each burst having similar searches, but searches different for each burst ("gilgamesh moral lessons", " gilgamesh enkidu friendship", etc), that I reckon the bursts reflect some school assignment somewhere in the world.

So… if you don’t know of Gilgamesh and it’s importance in the history of literature, the history of histories, and indeed, where it fits in the history of words being written, give the post a quick read.  If you do know Gilgamesh, pointers to what you see as the weakest parts of my rendering would be helpful… I’d still like to make it better.

So, for a tucked-out-of-the-way blog like this one, having a post that took some effort to put together, that just keeps doing the job it was designed to, is quite gratifying.  If I’ve given people a little of the feel of this important epic, some basic history, and lots of links that have helped people, that single post has made this entire blog has been worthwhile..

Posted in History, Language Use | 1 Comment »

Medieval Australia perhaps

Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-07-17

Perhaps there is something of the Medieval political order emerging in Australia.

In England, two houses fought for supremacy and the ability to collect and redirect taxes and natural resources, both needing support of the same group of people, feudal lords who could switch sides with the promise of greater wealth.

To the peasants, which house was in power made little difference, for both houses had little difference in general policy, although you might occasionally, if only by chance, get a monarch who had a slightly more noble vision of the country, slightly greater intelligence, and/or slightly greater diligence, when not concentrating on battling opposing forces.

We now have the ALP and LNP with only marginally different policies, acting not dissimilarly from the contending medieval houses.  We have them courting well-resourced individuals for support against the other party, but now, we have those commanding capital for donations rather than men-at-arms.  The objective and fickleness of this financial fealty is unchanged – it is determined by the prospect of short-term gain, both from promises of the contenders for power, and the probability of the contender gaining or retaining power.

If trying to find the equivalent of the priestly caste, it would probably be the liberally educated elites of right and left, capable of exerting a kind of moral power, something considered a threat by both medieval kings and the modern major political parties.  Then again, the liberally educated elite also have similarities with the officers of chartered cities.

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Posted in Australia, History, Politics, Society | 3 Comments »

Hypatia, Logos, Rise of Christianity, etc

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-28

(First, I’ll point to a good review of Primary Sources on Hypatia, and then there is the "modern" well-structured form Hypatia and her dad Theon apparently put Euclid’s "The Elements" into.

Flattered by SL’s great post on Hypatia/Classicism/Feminism/Christianity/Hellenism ("There’s something about monotheism" 2009-07-28) referencing a few posts of mine, and the resulting traffic, I’ve been thinking about the many interesting issues touched on between us and our commenters.

So… here is a series of related posts here on Balneus (and some pretty good comments by others, and I’ll admit to drawing a longish bow occasionally):

  • Mentioned in SL’s post:
    • "Hypatia makes New Scientist most inspirational woman scientist list" (2009-07-25), with a few ‘tubes from the upcoming film about her.
    • "Athena, Hypatia, et al" (2008-03-08) talks not only about classical male attitudes to scientific, military and monarchical expertise of females, but wonders why all the decent virtues (including the arts of war in a just cause) were embodied in a female deity, Athena.  LE’s musings on Hildegard of Bingen are great!
    • "Roman or Athenian" (2009-07-22) started as a bit of fun, although SL gets into Roman Law and feminism – didn’t expect such erudition in response to such a trivial post!
  • Similarly themed issues:
    • "Founding Father of Femmo-Bolshevism" (2008-02-09) discusses Aristophanes and his play (admittedly a spoof of Republic by his mate Plato) in which the women vote themselves into power and establish a communist state – with a bawdy twist
    • "Hier Stehe Ich" (2007-06-16) goes into non-Abrahamist monotheisms (and the implied authority granted by John 1:1 to secular scientists!)
    • "Do the classics created people with progressive politics?" (2007-05-10) and "Do the classics created people with progressive politics? (2)" (2007-05-21) touches on SL’s discussion of classifical thinking and the modern world (Mill, Jefferson), although I’m thinking more about the influence of the classics on ordinary voters.
    • "Pell’s QuadRant essay is sooooo wrong!" (2007-09-05) is a review and rebuttal of Archbishop Pell’s praise of Constantine – a key figure in the fall of non-Abhramist civilization in the West.  It also points to the letters between Trajan and Pliny the Younger, as they try to sort out what the secretive Xtians were actually doing, and what the law’s response should be." To paraphrase Trajan: "What’s this I hear about worshipping a child god, and having a baby’s blood and flesh mixed into bread?  That’s awful!" and "Well as long as one of them hasn’t actually been to one of those cannibal feasts, does the incense and ‘God save Me’ thingy, and promises not to go to any more meetings with baby-eaters, then let them go… but you’d better keep a close eye on them!"
    • But it’s also worth looking at the dawn of history to see early concepts of justice and duty, a time where there was certainly political conflict between male and female, the palace versus the priestess, as well as an annual public display of intimacy between the two, so I’ll refer to one of my all-time big-hitting posts, "The First Literature – The Must Read" (2007-08-10) which introduces Gilgamesh/Bilgames and has a very short rendering (and I’m still after pointers to the ugliest bits to encourage me to improve scanning).  Its themes are still worthwhile exploring today.  When will they turn this into a good film…. PLEASE!

By the way, I’d really appreciate any links to similarly themed material in your comments – preferably with a sentence or two about what the link covers.  These topics fascinate me, and I’m sure I can learn a lot from you.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | 2 Comments »

Hypatia makes NS most-inspirational woman scientist list

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-25

Recently (I was offline), New Scientist gave out the the results of the "Most inspirational woman scientists of all time" poll.

And Hypatia of Alexandria made it to a well-deserved number 3!

Hypatia was a key part of a post I’m proud of, and a detailed comment thread with LegalEagle, a little while back ("Athena, Hypatia et al" – 2008-03-08).  Actually the comment thread goes into much more detail than the post.

I suspect that a couple of the nominations were for best scientist of all time were based not on inspiration but what they did.  Ros Franklin at number 2 sadly died before probably getting a Nobel.  "Amazing" Grace Hopper (famous early programmer, laid foundations of COBOL – and the term "bug" -see the photo of the actual insect) didn’t get a guernsey.  However, Marie Curie (1), Rachel Carson (9) and Jane Goodall (10) were inspirational to me as a kid.  Carson and Goodall have been inspirational for many non-nerds, male and female alike: Carson as the person who probably kicked off the modern worries about destruction of the environment with "Silent Spring", Goodall for her work with chimps, which hopefully will lead to quasi-human rights legislation.

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Posted in History, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | 5 Comments »

Roman or Athenian?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-22

In response to the stimulating post and discussion over at Skepticlawyer ("Roman or Celt" 2009-07-20 by LE), I’ll ask the question "Roman or Athenian?".

It’s hard to say "Greek" when so much of that civilization happened outside the bounds of what we call Greece – and even outside Europe.  It’s doubly hard if you imagine yourself in Alexandria under Roman occupation.  It’s triply hard if you want to decide whether "Greek" means Spartan or Athenian (although I’m sure some readers might prefer to have lived Sybaris at the height of it’s wealth!)

So… 5th/4th century BCE Athens (except for the rule of 500) or Rome (last century of the Republic)?

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Posted in History, Reader Poll | 8 Comments »

Python, Brian, grammar, accents, and the fall of Empires

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-20

"Monty Python’s contribution to Classics" (2009-07-20) from LatinTeach has video clips of the classicist’s favorite parts of their Python’s most intellectually incisive movie: "Romans Go Home" (where the centurion forces the protester to "do lines" after taking him through the correct grammar in the manner of the stereotypical Latin teacher) and "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

"To go" is always a pain to learn.  It’s almost guaranteed to be irregular (even in English, the past participle is "went", and a smart toddler will naturally used "goed" instead).  The most used verbs tend to be short and irregular.

Do any readers know of a language where "to go", or especially "to be" are regular?

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Posted in History, International, Language Use, Society | Leave a Comment »

Pliny, Gibbon and Voltaire on History

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-04-22

Two books I really enjoy are "Naturalis Historia" by Pliny the Elder and Edward Gibbon’s magisterial "Decline and Fall…" (although it gets too depressing soon after Justinian).

Both seem to have a similar view of what gets turned into "History" (although that by Herodotos doesn’t deserve such criticism):

Because of a curious disease of the human mind, it pleases us to enshrine in history records of bloodshed and slaughter, so that those ignorant of the facts of the world may become acquainted with the crimes of mankind.

– Pliny the Elder

Antoninus diffused order and tranquility over the greatest part of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.

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Posted in Environment, History, Media, Politics, Society | Leave a Comment »

Politicians don’t “get” Herodotos et al

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-07

The Grauniad published a great piece on Herodotos a few days back, which I heartily recommend.

There was one aspect of The Histories that Charlotte Higgins missed:

Herodotos posited that the local land and weather are significant determinants of a society (which is why he’d go all geographical at the start of a discussion many particular civilizations), and this would in turn drive the currents of history and the clashes between empires.

Our political leaders are yet to grasp this basic insight, even though according to many, we’ve already had our first climate-change war (in Darfur/Sudan) and rainfall patterns could be used to predict violent conflict (New Scientist, "Rainfall records could warn of war", 2007-05-30).

The de-facto climate-change denialism (despite his rhetoric) of KRudd for short-term political gain proves that the most critical person in Oz who should understand Herodotos for his job, doesn’t.

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Posted in Arts, Australia, Environment, History, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Io Saturnalia!

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-12-20

It’s time to wish all readers a safe and enjoyable festive season, as we are now in the middle of Saturnalia, which is as good a way as any for a skeptical ex-Latin-student to label this period, especially one who’ll be off-line during other seasonal festivals.

For those who don’t know, Saturnalia is an ancient Roman festival, running from (depending on calendrical oddities) the 17th through the 23rd of December.  It was a time for mucking about, gift giving, and, almost unique in human history, a time when masters and slaves swapped places… and therefore a good reason NOT to be unkind to your butlers, cooks, et al during the year.

Maybe that’s a tradition worth reviving, but with the wage slaves ordering their slavedrivers about for a week, or at least with the wage slaves getting on with things without managers interrupting with useless meetings.  You never know, it might even be the time for the best business decisions!

Posted in History, Society | 2 Comments »

Crowdsourcing history

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-11-03

The National Library of Australia’s Newspaper Digitisation Program will be a great resource for students, and also more mature researchers: although some of the "translations" of images from older papers is pretty bad (see this munged news of Melbourne Markets from 1919).

However, you can help clear up the text for others, especially if you sign up.

Now… there’s something that could be a useful exercise for secondary students, who would learn some social history, be exposed to more complex grammatical forms and help the country… all at the same time!

Even reading the advertisements can give great insight into the attitudes of the times.  I wonder what people a century from now will think of us when perusing today’s ads.

Posted in Australia, Education, History, Information Management, Society | Leave a Comment »

Athena, Hypatia, et al

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-03-08

International Women’s Day comes in the same week as the Australian Literary Review had a bias towards classical literature: it’s a good time to look at something a little strange about western culture given that for most of the last 1600 years of Christian supremacy, it has viewed women as worthless.

But for Christianity, the need for an International Women’s Day might have passed a millenium ago.

Consider this: of the Olympians, the most likeable, the cultivator of all that was admirable in mortals, the only decent role-model for civilized men, was female.

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Posted in History, Society, Theology and Religion | 14 Comments »

Founding father of femmo-bolshevism

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-09

Looking at Hoyden About Town’s call for nominations for "Femmo-Bolshie" blogging excellence, I couldn’t help thinking about whether they should award a posthumous gong to the at-first-oxymoronic "Father of Femmo-Bolshies", Aristophanes.

Back in the time of, and good mates with, Plato, Aristophanes was an award-winning comic poet (a bit like a cross between Shaun Micallef and Benny Hill) who wrote about the fundamental aims and arguments of femmo-bolshies with quite a lot of sympathy.

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Posted in Arts, History, Humor, Politics | 3 Comments »

Pell’s Quadrant essay is sooooo wrong

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-09-05

The current (2007-09) issue of QuadRant has more pieces deserving challenge than usual, but Archbishop Pell’s encomium of Constantine I is a particularly dangerous essay, providing arguments for those who call for cataclysmic overthrow of the state and the introduction of a world-wide Caliphate.

His selective marshalling of facts and interpretation of history in "Constantine: The First Catholic Emperor" are barely less twisted than the holocaust-denying David Irving.  Like Irving, Pell cannot fall back on the lame excuses of poor education or lack of intellectual capacity.

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Posted in Arts, Australia, Ethics, History, Philosophy, Politics, Society, Theology and Religion | 14 Comments »

The first literature, the must-read: Gilgamesh

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-08-10

If you read only one story to wrestle with your human nature as an ordinary person, or your duties as a leader, it’s a tale from the dawn of writing, uncluttered by the complications we’ve created for ourselves in nearly 5000 years, when you were well-off if you possessed a woven cloth large enough to cover yourself.

My shortened version is below.

Then, the only issues to write about were the fundamentals that still challenge us:

  • Living, only to die
  • The (then relatively recent) separation of humans from nature
  • The role of true leaders
  • Justice, including treatment of prisoners.

It’s also a ripping yarn, the first story of our civilization, the adventures of the first superhero.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, let me give you a (very) short version of the story of Gilgamesh (or Bilgames), an (exaggerated) account of the 2700 BCE (approx) King of Uruk (in modern Iraq), when writing couldn’t describe action or emotion, merely tally sheep and bricks.  About 500 years later, writing matured, and tales of Gilgamesh formed the standard training of scribes and moral education of middle-eastern rulers for well over a thousand years.

The Short Version

The Young King

Gilgamesh, Uruk’s king,
two parts god, one part man
had superhuman strength,
but was still mortal.

Not an evil king, he didn’t
understand his people couldn’t:
dig canals as fast as he,
play sport as hard as he,
make love all night.

Uruk’s exhausted people
prayed for a saviour.

Man of Nature, Man of Society

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Posted in Arts, History, Review | 21 Comments »

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