Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Sunday, April 24, 2016


This prediction concerns not the future, but what remains unknown in the past. After watching a BBC documentary of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, I have the uneasy feeling that he slew his beloved Antinuous. The Emperor Hadrian's ego was out-sized and improper, smacking of hubris. His innumerable statues and monuments give testimony that their patron valued himself too highly. Towards life's end, he became increasingly paranoid. And he was terrible toward the Jews, making their rebellion inevitable. I believe he certainly had to have been capable of fratricide. Perhaps he was one of the so-called good emperors, if "good" means nothing more than effective. He was not a very good man, though. What emperor was?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Justified

I've been reading a biography of Dr. Richard Feynmann--Genius--and remembered the old controversy, which I first read about in the People's Almanac and later Howard Zinn, regarding President Truman's decision to nuke Japan during WW2. I think later events have confirmed Truman was right to make the difficult decision. One does not condemn entire towns to destruction lightly, but I think that leftists were wrong to ignore the fate of millions of American GI's and their allies. What we did not need in this country were more casualties and expenses from a long, expensive war that was the fault of Japan, Germany and Italy, the aggressors.

Japan should send the U.S. a thank-you note and a gift every year on the anniversary of Hiroshima and on the anniversary of Nagasaki, just to let us know how grateful they are that we ended their vicious military dictatorship and bestowed upon them a gentle, mild, republican form of government under which they have prospered. If the war had continued, then much needless bloodletting would have occurred, and many men would not have returned from that war, which would impact many generations far into the future. Sometimes the patient requires a harsh medicine to eliminate an infection.

Whenever an evil, warmongering tyranny gets its due, that is not an atrocity, that is poetic justice. In truth, we should and would have nuked Berlin, if the bomb had been ready, and it may be that Germany would have been better off for it, if it could have avoided the destruction caused by the last year of conventional warfare and the separation of their territory into two opposing sides, East and West.

I find Feynmann's life inspiring. The U.S. gained much due to its milder anti-Semitism. We were not entirely benevolent to the Jews but certainly much more welcoming than Europe. When Nazi Germany began persecuting the Jews, they lost one-fourth of their physicists, among other intellectuals. Of course it was stupid, self-destructive, pseudoscientific nonsense on their part, just like homophobia is today. Purge people at random for no good reason, and you stand to lose some of your best and brightest, as well as a lot of innocent and good people.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Islam's Prohibition of Alcohol

This 1508 engraving by Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden illustrates a story about Mohammed and the Monk Sergius. Mohammed, when in company with his lover Sergius, drank too much wine and fell asleep. Before he awakened, a soldier killed Sergius and placed the sword in Mohammed's hand. When the prophet wakened, the soldier and his companions told him that while drunk he had slain his lover. Therefore Mohammed forbade the drinking of wine by his followers.

One cannot but admire the sergian abstinence from alcohol, however. I propose a toast--of simple tea, of course--to the good Monk Sergius.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Deeper Wisdom of "I, Claudius"

There was a moral lesson in "I, Claudius," despite the overall depressing, even morbid storyline. Claudius survived a corrupt nest of snakes--the Roman palace--while the snakes fed upon one another until none were left. He was the survivor. Did he survive through courage? No. Did he survive through cunning? No. He survived by being a fool. To an extent, his was a calculated act, but he was born with a speech impediment and a twitch, minor deficiencies that were little understood in Roman times. They called him a fool, but he was wiser than they. Appearances deceive. Even in our times, there are many things that are misunderstood. The beginning of wisdom, I think, is to accept that everyone is a fool to an extent. The question is only--how much of a fool?

I sympathize with Claudius and even identify with him. I think he was an interesting character. He was the only Roman Emperor of the Julian family really and seriously concerned with intellectual subjects. He was a historian. The rest of them were concerned with power and debauchery. Claudius spent his time among old scrolls and old historians. He could have been a good Emperor if he had only pulled off a splendid succession. Instead, he permitted Nero to follow him, which was unfortunate for Rome. As portrayed in "I, Claudius," the Emperor Claudius died a drunkard, his half-baked plans for succession gone awry. Perhaps Claudius was indeed a fool, a learned fool, but still a fool.

It is human nature to procrastinate, and no one wishes to think of death, least of all their own. So plans that should be made are left unmade, and much is left to random chance or to the greediest and most ruthless of the heirs. Dysfunctional families reveal their stripes most of all when the spoils of inheritance are up for grabs. That is when the ugly truth of familial relationships becomes most apparent. Perhaps it is better to know the truth and never be deceived again. Wisdom and insight have real value. Claudius had his revenge, at least in the fictional world of "I, Claudius," if not the real world. The television show is supposedly based upon a recently discovered tell-all autobiography of the Emperor Claudius. If such priceless scrolls were found, academia would be turned upside-down. Many previous assumptions would be either confirmed or challenged. Of course such scrolls have not been found, at least not yet, but it is a pleasing fantasy of revenge for a sympathetic character, one of the few really good people in a nest of snakes. The revenge of Claudius for the many wrongs done to him was to write about his family. He told their dark and shocking secrets, some of which only he knew. That is an interesting method of revenge, but perhaps not quite so unusual. I think there have been many precedents.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I, Claudius

"I, Claudius" is an interesting 1976 BBC miniseries with twelve episodes. Its success provided an incentive for the later epic, big-budget "Rome" of the twenty-first century. The 1976 show is not nearly as refined as "Rome," but the acting and writing is at least as good, if not better.

The show is close, I think, to certain historical texts, although Robert Graves did make some assumptions. I wondered whether Augustus was really as gullible as he is portrayed in "I, Claudius." The main facts are that he did indeed imprison his own daughter, and his favorites died one by one under mysterious circumstances. One cannot conclude that he was a good judge of character. I think that Augustus was an abject failure as an Emperor, because he botched his succession. Instead of appointing anyone worthy, he permitted others to choose Tiberius, which was disastrous for Rome. Tiberius was followed by an even worse Emperor, Caligula. These two mismanaged affairs of state very badly.

I think Augustus deserves at least some of the blame for the bad things that happened under his reign. Robert Graves implies that all the evil was the fault of his wife. However, Augustus was the one with real power. I doubt he was as gullible as portrayed in the show. I think he relied upon his wife for advice and intelligent ideas, which were sometimes useful, but he failed to perceive when she was manipulating him for her own ends.

The problem with "I, Claudius" is the loud, screeching theme music that accompanies both the beginning and the end. Whoever came up with that abominable sound should have been fired. A viewer would be prudent to mute the first and last minute of each episode.

Almost every woman on the show breaks down into tears and sobbing whenever there is a crisis. In my experience, this is not how women behave, but this is how women were portrayed in film due to the notions of the men that produced the films. I think that this more than anything else dates the show. I have to wonder why those actresses behaved so. Perhaps the director put them up to it, and the fault was all his. Perhaps the producers felt they had to meet audience expectations. The only really good actress on the show was the arch-villain, Livia, but "cold snake" seemed the limit of her range. At least she didn't burst into tears every time bad news arrived. I really doubt that ancient Romans behaved so, because they dwelt in a world of sudden death, unexplained mysteries, injustice, corruption and cruelty.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Socrates Talked a Lot of Nonsense

I have trouble following Socrates. He talked a lot of nonsense. Not many of his arguments have the power to persuade. I am annoyed none of his followers ever spent the least effort at a refutation to any of his wild, rambling arguments. Nevertheless I like his story. The drama appeals to me--friends gathering about a condemned man to hear his last outpourings of what they perceive as wisdom. I think he was an ancestor to the modern mind. There would be many changes to his model in the course of history. I also have a certain regard for the intellectual integrity of Socrates. I think if Socrates knew then what we know now, his arguments would undergo vast revisions as he assimilated the knowledge and corrected his many errors.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Socrates and the Afterlife

Like many Greeks, Socrates believed in the afterlife, that is, that our individual consciousness will survive death, invisibly entering a realm outside of this world for a time before cycling back into a new human body. That must have been a great comfort to him while he was under sentence of death. I think he saw himself as a servant of the gods (my text says "God," but as his people were polytheist, I think the translator took liberties). He expected a reward of some kind or at least a better life after death, poor fellow. The belief has abiding appeal. There are many still today that do what they do because they think their reward will be great in Paradise. And it can be argued that in some cases this seems to be a beneficial illusion. That all illusions are harmful is a difficult argument with an uncertain outcome.

I can't say Socrates feels cheated now that he knows he was wrong, because he doesn't know anything, any more. He is ended. I don't accept the notion that individual consciousness survives death. I don't feel individual consciousness is all that special or deserving of preservation; it's just a complicated, beautiful machine, wondrous in its powers but temporal, fading and dying like a flower never to be seen again in this world. Beautiful things are created anew and destroyed all the time, everywhere. There is really no need in the scheme of things for human beings to be immortal. Reaching the top of the food chain has led to hubris among our people.

Socrates went around questioning people and tripping them up in logical arguments. He seems to have been a show-off and had no shortage of enemies. I don't find his arguments very persuasive, although he does raise good points. In the ancient world, I'm sure his arguments seemed strong, because there wasn't modern science or modern education around to refute them. He probably was a good speaker and a natural extrovert, to get so many followers. Although he disclaimed a desire for power or influence, I think his strongest desire was to appear wise and witty before these young men and to keep them interested. I think pride and his desire for attention and flattery were his downfall. He made political and social mistakes, apparently, because his enemies succeeded in persuading the citizens of Athens to condemn him to death. The sentence was surely unjust, which makes Socrates a martyr for freedom, specifically freedom of inquiry and perhaps freedom of speech.

The thought of science prolonging human life forever is not necessarily a comforting idea. The first people to consume the pills that grant immortality will probably be the worst people. They will seize the technology for their own and want a monopoly upon it, just as people seek sole possession of other treasures and powers.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I like to read about the dialogues of Socrates, because he offers insight into ancient Greece, morality, and questions of our existence, but I never agree with him. His conclusions seem based upon false assumptions. He takes shortcuts in his reasoning. At the end of one of his arguments, I never feel satisfied. I don't feel he has answered all possible objections, not by a long shot. His uncritical followers always reply "Yes, Socrates," or "No, Socrates." I wish someone had been around to offer a rigorous rebuttal to his proofs. I would like to see how he would respond. I think if Socrates were resurrected and introduced to the modern world and especially modern science, his opinions would change.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What was the Civil War About?

A real hero of the Civil War that I should have learned about in school was Strong Vincent, a Union colonel who, it is said, turned the tide at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg. He died during the battle, but was remembered long after death, at least in the North.

Back when I was a boy, textbooks, encyclopedias, teachers, and even my grandmother idealized the wrong man, Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederacy. He was intelligent, but wicked, because he served evil, a similar case as Rommel in WW2. How many Germans now idealize Rommel? Not many, I would think.

The Civil War was about the Southern elite defending their right to enslave other human beings. That was all the war was ever about, and yet people deny it throughout the former Confederacy because they have been indoctrinated to do so. The rich plantation owners of the 1860s were determined at all costs to do harm unto others that they regarded as "inferior" by murdering, raping, torturing, confining, forcing into labor and selling their slaves. Had the landowners ever shown the least resolve to stop committing these atrocities, there would have been no war.

The Southern elite have for hundreds of years set themselves above minorities they regard as inferior, preserving their privileged status and keeping minorities down through legislation and force. This attitude is still in evidence today. Among the Southern elite, there persists a desire to keep others down--anyone regarded as "inferior"--due to a belief that somehow the misery of others makes their own lot seem better, if only by comparison.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Victory through Nonviolence

Gays won on the legal, political, and cultural battleground because they spoke the most reasonable words with the most moderate voice. Their dialogue was one of human rights and dignity. Their opponents varied, but never made a good impression upon me. There was never a time I listened to a homophobe and thought, "Gee, he might have something there." Instead, I always wondered what variety of mental disease these haters suffered from. All too often, homophobes were exposed as closeted homosexuals, which was extremely damaging to the anti-gay lobby, rather like tossing a fragmentation grenade into the officer's tent. The Wiccan law applies: when one points a finger at others, three are pointing back. Too clear was the hypocrisy, meanness and ignorance of homophobes. As for the gay activists, why, they were for the most part non-violent, even in the face of outrageous injustice. There is value in taking blows when others must witness it, because those who watch will wonder when they will be struck next, because violence has a way of spreading, of engulfing communities, turning against minorities first, and then everyone. So when Matthew Shepard was martyred by the brutal murderers, that was one of the turning points in the battle, when people of conscience could no longer accept the injustice, hypocrisy and wickedness. That was the point when many good people said, Enough. Because there are things in life of more value than popularity, material or power. There is a spiritual and moral dimension that transcends the world we live in and life itself. Spiritual force can be overwhelming, as many a cynic has discovered at a late hour.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Carter was Ethical

I'm old enough to remember President Carter. He was our last President to really care about ethics. There are thorny questions one could pose to the other Presidents that would just dissolve any pretences they might have. I wonder about Obama sometimes, now that we know he approved spying on Americans. I don't believe anything that his spy chief says. They didn't want us to know about their spying. Now they are spending all their passion on vindictiveness, on their plans to punish whoever betrayed their secret. But it should not have been a secret in the first place. They spied on ordinary Americans on a massive scale. Now that they're caught, they say, "Oh, it's not so bad. See, we were doing because of, you know, terrorism and stuff." I just don't believe it. If they had been honest in the first place and told the country what they were doing, then that would be one thing, but they have their hand caught in the cookie jar and are just trying to deflect some heat.

When Reagan ran against Carter in '79, I switched my support to Reagan in alignment with my father, but we were wrong. Carter took the blame for a sour economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. That's why he lost the election. Reagan paid off Iran with weapons to get the hostages back and then spent his way out of the recession. All he did was spend, spend, spend. He paid off the Iranians and paid off private companies to build more bombs.

Carter was special in that he kept on working for the country even out of office. He was not afraid to state his opinions about world issues, even if these opinions sometimes made him unpopular with certain groups like the pro-Israel lobby. I am convinced he spoke from conscience more than any of these other Presidents we have had. I listen to these other Presidents speak and I read quotes from these guys and it seems to me they are calculating every word, even down to the punctuation they use, based upon political factors. They're good at politics, maybe better than Carter on politics, but not so good at ethics.

Is ethics without value? Many people think so, including those that are in positions of authority today. I think having ethics is what distinguishes a great leader from a mediocre one. People do respect ethics. Otherwise all our heroes would be villains, but they're not, are they? Our heroes are people who did what they thought was right. I think ethics bestows a generous reward on those that practice it, because ethics, more times than not, coincides with the wisest course of action. Intelligent, educated fools scoff at ethics and think they know better at their peril, because the world's complexity defeats even the most cunning. It is wise to walk in the way of righteousness and to refuse those opportunities to steal what seem to be trifling advantages.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


As I ate my gourmet luxurious breakfast this morning in ease and comfort with the nice air-conditioning and pleasant company, I meditated on how lucky we are as compared to our ancestors, both recent and remote. Our distant ancestors did not have A/C, nor electricity, nor half the foods we take for granted, nor, in some cases, salt.

Imagining meals without salt led me to think about how salt is produced. Today most is mined simply because mining and transportation has increased vastly in efficiency, but there is nothing wrong with evaporating sea water, and in fact gourmands prefer sea salt for various reasons. I pondered why our ancestors did not evaporate sea water, since England is surrounded by coastline and Western Europe certainly is not landlocked.

All that is required to evaporate sea water is a pan, preferably of dark wood to absorb rather than reflect the sunlight. The Sun will do the rest. So, why did our ancestors not manufacture their own salt, instead of paying exorbitant fees to merchants? Why was salt considered a luxury in the old days? The only conclusion I could reach was that our ancestors were mostly ignorant of the process of evaporation. That led to a feeling of smugness, which is always a mistake. I asked myself, would I have discovered evaporation if my teacher had not taught me about it in the third grade? I'm not so sure it is quite so obvious to most people.

Another complication is that coastlines tend to have more rain, which would interfere with any large-scale evaporation scheme. Also, standing water can fall prey to parasites and contamination, which ancient people might not know how to counter in an effective manner. A few cases of sickness would be enough to dissuade people from using evaporation.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Islamists Don't Understand History

Islamists in Mali are burning a Muslim Saint's tomb, which makes about as much sense to me as it might to you. You read that right, a Muslim Saint, not a Christian Saint. Setting aside history, aesthetics and scholarship, from a purely pragmatic perspective, destroying a historical site harms the lucrative tourist trade. I don't see a reason wealthy foreign tourists will visit Mali if not for its history or natural resources. Tourists aren't going to visit to see the ignorant barbarian Islamists, that's for sure. One can see apes at any zoo.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Liberal Scandinavia

In modern times, Republicans in the U.S. scorn Scandinavia (as "socialist"), because it is highly educated, healthy, wealthy, and not involved in continual warfare. One thing Republicans are correct about is that Scandinavia has had a liberal and inclusive thread in its culture for a long time. Scandinavia was liberal many hundreds of years ago, when peasants were permitted delegates in the early parliaments. At that time, the only other European parliaments to permit peasants' delegates were Switzerland and some areas in France. I am sure that Republicans, if brought via time machine back in time, would have disapproved of peasants' delegates.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Walker's Win

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) did not so much "win" as survive a recall election, and upon reflection over Wisconsin, his survival is not surprising. I do not think the recall election has major implications for the Presidential election, although it does suggest that Romney could win overwhelmingly white, Republican Wisconsin in 2012.

I am always puzzled when otherwise decent people vote for Republicans. However, I remind myself that in 1860, a large majority of the United States either was neutral about slavery or was even willing to die to defend it. Only a minority favored abolition and not many supported forcible abolition. The experience of slavery in the United States demonstrates that people in general tend to have an ill-developed moral sensibility. They will go along with whatever they are told by their social superiors to go along with. What matters to most people is how they seem to others. The people who vote Republican today are the descendents of those that fought and died for slavery. In that light, they have progressed a long way toward morality, and one should not expect much more from them. However, I suspect that they would accept slavery once again if they were told by their social superiors that it was okay.

On a different subject, Gore Vidal maintained that the Civil War was not about slavery, but was about President Lincoln waging war to force the South back into the Union. I suppose he felt that the South should have been permitted to go its own way, or else that Lincoln should have made the war about slavery from the very beginning. Vidal said he would have supported the war if it had been about slavery, but since it was about states' rights versus federalism, he did not support the war. Vidal is technically correct about Lincoln's initial intentions I think, in that Lincoln was not adamant about ending slavery in the beginning, but intentions don't matter so much as the final result. Vidal does tend to quibble quite a bit, for what reason I don't know, but he seems to favor radical opinions (the Civil War was unjust, and Lincoln was a dictator) just for the sake of provoking obscure scholars. I think he craves attention. Lincoln was a few shades closer to dictator than some other Presidents, but he was no Mussolini. The Civil War probably could not have been avoided, because the South fired the first shots and seized federal forts and lands. The South did not even wait for Lincoln to make a provocation, but acted in a precipitous fashion based on dislike of Lincoln's anti-slavery views.

I would prefer that the Civil War had been avoided, but the Southern elite was extreme and radical itself, eager for conflict and unwilling to compromise. Their ideological descendents now populate the Republican Party, weaving conspiracy theories about Obama (socialist, communist, Muslim, gay, non-American, and the list goes on) and, before him, Clinton and just about anyone who is a Democrat or liberal.

I don't know whether it would have been a good idea for Lincoln to let the South go its own way. I think that slavery would have persisted for a long time, and that the South would likely have remained a thorn in the side of the Union for generations to come, even allying with Hitler during WW2 and bringing at least one of the world wars, if not both, to North America. Where I fault Lincoln is in his poor choice of generals. Commanders should always be chosen based upon ability, not political or social connections. Lincoln was also impatient for victories and tended to press his generals to attack even when their troops were not ready or the conditions were not favorable. It takes cold blood to wage successful war, and hot heads tend to lose themselves. Conditions at the military hospitals were abominable. Either Lincoln did not devote sufficient time or thought to the prosecution of the war or else did not have sufficient ability.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Favorite Politician

My favorite politician is not Obama. He doesn't lead, he follows, and he doesn't always follow the right people, either. Obama is more Republican than Democrat.

My favorite politician is Gorbachev. He ended the Cold War, reformed the U.S.S.R., and was the answer to a personal prayer and premonition I had at the age of ten. I remember thinking about the U.S.S.R. and all of the evil associated with it and the threat of nuclear annihilation, and I felt a change was coming and that it would come within my lifetime. It was a sensation based in the heart, a feeling only, and I was not sure whether to trust it. Maybe popular music and the popular media had inspired me to feel this way. The same may have inspired Gorbachev. At any rate he has a heart, a good heart. Not many politicians, at least on the Republican side of the aisle, do.
by igor 04:20 8 replies by igor 09:32 6 comments

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Weaker Country, Thanks to Bush

There's no doubt in my mind that this is a weaker country than it was when G.W. Bush had the bright idea to invade two faraway countries. It's an error of historic proportions and combined with the general neglect, incompetence and inefficiency will cast a long shadow over U.S. history. I had the optimistic hope that he'd show half a brain at least where the economy was concerned, but in that hope I was mistaken. Not half a brain. No brain. The future went down the drain.
by igor 04:20 8 replies by igor 09:32 6 comments

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki

In regards to WW2, I don't find fault with the Allied actions against Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. I think that those who do should reevaluate the nature of the Japanese and German regimes and reconsider their judgment. If the Axis powers had won, I would not be alive to write this post, and few if any of my readers would be alive to read it, and it is likely that the Internet as we know it would not exist. My uncle volunteered for WW2 and died in a bomber performing a mission over France. I have no doubt I would have volunteered if I had been alive at the time. If life is to have meaning, and if human life is better than the life of a cockroach, then to sacrifice one's life in a measured way against absolute evil can only be a positive good, and death should not be feared in all cases, but accepted in some.

A hundred Dresdens would not bother me, nor a hundred Hiroshimas. WW2 was a terrible crisis manufactured by the Axis powers, which by doing so, signed a blank check and handed it to the leaders of the Allied powers. Sometimes a patient needs harsh medicine to eliminate a cancer. Anyone who feels resentment should ask themselves whether they would prefer to live under Hitler or under the present-day Republics. If their answer is Hitler, then they should relocate to Iran and experience the closest approximation the modern world has to offer.
by igor 04:20 8 replies by igor 09:32 6 comments

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gen. Mark Clark

I don't have a favorable opinion of the military skills of WW2-era Gen. Mark Clark. If he were a chessplayer, he's the type I could defeat within twenty moves on any given night, even if I offered pawn and move.

In his latter years, he retired to a cushy job at The Citadel, the military college of Charleston, South Carolina. Some of the soldiers he commanded were not so fortunate.

In ancient times--and let us all be thankful that we are not in ancient times--his prognosis would not have been optimal. Let's just leave it at that. Sometimes understatement is best.
by igor 04:20 8 replies by igor 09:32 6 comments
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