How Free is Speech?

Expression has never been truly free, so long as two or more people were involved. The moment Thag threatened to punch Og’s nose for insisting that mammoth tasted better than sloth, a limit existed. Og could continue to declaim the virtues of mammoth, but he also understood that there would be a reaction to his words and it might involve physical rebuttal, so to speak. However, the State did not attempt to prevent him from opining. That would come later, with the advent of the State and, I suspect, of state religions. Continue reading

Inevitable Empires?

Ancient Rome. China from the time of the First Emperor until 1912. The Mughals in South Asia. The Ottomans. The Inca, Aztecs. The Holy Roman Empire and its successor, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations, 800 – 1806. The British Empire. The Russian Empire. We humans seem to have a habit of building super-kingdoms and calling them empires, to the point that science fiction and fantasy have absorbed the pattern. What causes people to do this? And are they all truly empires? Continue reading

Green Beer Day

OK, not really. For some this is a day to honor one’s Irish ancestry and heritage, and to eat corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, drink good beer (Guinness, Harp, et al), listen to Irish music, and honor the efforts of an early Christian missionary who is associated with Ireland although he is a Briton. If you are a politician in Boston or New York City, you’d better be seen at an Irish event, or your absence Will Be Noted.

Yes, this is an Orthodox icon of an Irish saint from Britain. Next question?

Continue reading

Scribble, Scribble, Scrunch into Corner

So there I was, peering over Old NFO’s elbow, trying to read the accession number on the little tag hanging off the 1878 Smith and Wesson .44 Russian, so I could record it along with the fountain of information pouring forth, but the floodgate had opened, hands were moving and it was all I could do to write down numbers, names, and details. Peter Grant was looking at another revolver, inspecting some modifications, and I couldn’t remember if I’d written that one down yet or not. Five more revolvers lay on the counter in front of us, swords and spears and a few maces hung from brackets on the wall, and Dorothy Grant had wisely tucked herself into the corner with a book, well clear of overflows of enthusiasm. The curator alternated between making note of what had been looked at and asking questions. I had unleashed a monster: knowledgable experts with nearly unlimited examples to inspect, poke, and teach from. What hath Alma wrought?!? Continue reading

Cheap Clothes: Musing on the Luxury of Modern Life

While picking up something at Le Mart du Wal (as we refer to it around Redquarters), I started thinking about the price of clothing, comparing now to history. The short version? Incredibly, unimaginably inexpensive to cheap in terms of time needed to make it, labor needed to make it, and the amount that can be produced. When it comes to textiles, Earth has never been so fabulously wealthy. How we got here is a fascinating story. Continue reading

A Haunting Movie

I’m trying to prep a few weeks worth of lessons in advance, because things are about to get very crazy at school, due to a conjunction of Spring Break, then music, academic, Latin, and sports activities that will have me filling in for almost everyone else for a week, while 4/5 of the students will be out on some field trip at any given point during the week. So I sat down to re-watch Triumph des Willens, or in English Triumph of the Will. It creeps me out every time, and also makes me sigh for lost history. Continue reading

Yes, I know. And I still don’t like!

“If only you really knew them, you’d understand them better!”

“By exposing our [students/customers/employees/children] to a diversity of cultures, we ensure better understanding and a greater appreciation for members of diverse communities.”

Often, with this sort of pronouncement, there is an unspoken but understood “and you [they] will like them and get along with them and stop being judgmental about them (and give them what they ask for).”

Except, historically, that’s not always what happens. In fact, historically, the reverse is often true. When exposed to a strongly different culture, the response frequently is to enforce strict separation of cultures/religions/ethnicities on all sides, get one’s back up, and be even more [culture/religion/ethnicity] than before! Oops. Continue reading