Tag Archives: history

Notes from: Lies my Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen – Chapter 1

The following entry constitutes my notes and thoughts as I read:

Lies my Teacher Told Me. Everything your American History Teacher got Wrong.
by James W. Loewen

While this entry covers much of the same material that is presented in the book, it should not be considered a replacement for the book.  Those with an interest in the topics presented should avail themselves of the original source material.  It’s available for 1 cent plus shipping on Amazon.

Firstly, from a personal and philosophical viewpoint I think the use of the word ‘lies’ in the title is a bit more provocative than it needs to be.  Yes, clearly the history books are guilty of many, many instances of omission and even outright invention, but I don’t tend to think the teachers are the ones necessarily at fault for promulgating this information.  To be even more whitewashed, lies is such a dark word that I’m not sure it has a place here.  Though doubtless it was viewed that “Factual Omissions” had much less marketing sting to it.

Why would anyone want to lie to schoolchildren about their history?  The author points out a few basic reasons but primary is that telling them the truth might have an undo negative influence on them.  If we told our kids everything about how our forefathers womanized and carried on then it seems a lot more likely that they might grow up to do the same.  Not that people don’t do that anyway but why set them a bad example right off the bat?  Secondly, taking out the white paint to history reinforces the idea that anyone can grow up to do anything, that matters of social class and birth just don’t matter.  If children realized that they are already at a disadvantage right out of the canal then they’re less likely to strive to be something more than their birth assigned to them.  I can see some grain of truth in both arguments but I’d humbly suggest that it’s nowhere near that simple.  I’m guessing the author will illuminate at length.

The author points out early on three examples of historical wrongness that have made it firmly into our history books.

Helen_Keller_with_Anne_Sullivan_in_July_1888

Helen Keller [wikimedia]

Helen Keller, as is well known, was born deaf and blind but still went on to earn a college degree and became a productive member of society.  What is less well known is what she did later in life.  Many assume that she was a great humanitarian but few realize she was a vehement socialist and stern suffragette.  Initially, she became an advocate for the blind but quickly learned that blindness was a condition that afflicted poor factory workers who lost their sight in workplaces with unsafe working conditions.  This realization turned her towards socialism and support of the Russian revolution.  When asked who the three greatest men in the world are Lenin was at the top of her list.  Because of the unpopularity of her position, newspapers simultaneously praised her accomplishments at having overcome her personal obstacles and derided her for her misguided beliefs that must, they insisted, be foisted upon her by her close confidants rather than consisting of well-reasoned personal beliefs.

wilson

Woodrow Wilson [wikipedia]

Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, is similarly cleansed by the sponge of history.  Credited with creating the League of Nations and ushering in the era of Women’s suffrage, history books tend to forget that he was a profound racist and interfered with legitimate elections in Central America.

Wilson was an outspoken white supremacist who worked to segregate government jobs and even worked to re-segregate restrooms and cafeterias that had previously been desegregated.  Outside U.S. borders, Wilson placed troops in Nicaragua to control the government and force ratification of treaties favorable to the U.S.   Wilson even went so far as to put boots on the ground in Russia to influence the Russian revolution.  This prolonged the war significantly and contributed to decades of Cold War enmity between the two countries.  Meanwhile, back at home Americans are serving lengthy prison sentences for violating the Sedition Act.  In one case a filmmaker served a 10-year sentence for producing a film about the American Revolution that dared to cast our now British allies in a negative light!

betsy.jpg

Betsy Ross [wikipedia]

Lastly, and saddest to those of us who grew up with the apocryphal tales of the American Revolution ringing in our ears, is the case of Betsy Ross. Commonly accepted history reports that she crafted the first American flag but truth be told, if you’ll pardon the pun, the whole story was made up out of whole cloth.  There’s no documentation of any sort that says she had anything to do with it.

So suffice to say that Chapter 1 is off to a roaring start.  While I’d suggest that the author’s text, like his title, is a bit overblown for dramatic effect, the spirit of the text is correct enough and does remind us that history and our commonly held beliefs about it do bear some close inspection and verification.

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 10: Women and Change in Islam

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 10: Women and Change in Islam

The West judges Islam’s treatment of women in terms of the extremes we see in the news.  In reality, the conditions are widely varied from country to country (Note that this lecture is somewhat dated and some of these may no longer be strictly true):

  • Egypt – Women can serve in parliament, but can’t be judges
  • Morocco – 20% of the judges in the country are women
  • Saudi Arabia – Can own land, but are restricted to feminine professions and cannot drive
  • Kuwait – Could not vote until 2005 (after this lecture was recorded)
  • Iran – Wear chadore or hijab, but are professionals and serve in parliament
  • Pakistan – A woman served as prime minister
  • Afghanistan – Cannot attend school; must be accompanied by a male outside the home at all times

The veil or hijab, burqa or chadore is seen as a sign of repression by the west.  The practice varies widely from a simple head scarf to full body covering.  When the tradition started in early Islam it was seen as a sign of high rank within the community.

While the west sees it as a sign of submission, Muslim women for the most part view it as an act that allows them to be free from exploitation as sex objects.  Western women in short skirts and makeup are seen as the ones who are victims of a male society.  In fact, some modern Muslim women have taken up the burqa again despite the fact that their mother’s eschewed them just a generation before.  To the modern Muslim woman, wearing of the veil means that they are valued for who they are and what they have to contribute, not there mere physical characteristics.

Early in its history, Islam gave women rights they’d not had under previous systems.  The Quran is emphatic that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah and both are equally responsible for upholding the five pillars of Islam.  It gave women the right to own property and restricted divorce and polygamy.  Even more importantly it ended the practice of child marriage.

If this is so, then why the inequality we see today?  It must be understood that even with the Quranic edicts in place to establish equality, the larger Muslim society was still largely patriarchal.  In the very earliest days of Islam many women leaders arose and were held up as examples to be emulated.  In fact, it was typical for women to be the first within a household to convert to Islam.  Over centuries, however, the older and more traditional patriarchal tendencies eroded this foundation to the more erratic one we have today.

Much disagreement about this continues even today as old rules are brought under scrutiny.  The law, for example, that in a trial the testimony of two women counts the same as one man still holds sway in over a dozen countries including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The reasoning for this being that women, it is judged, are not of the proper “temperament” to make these judgments.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

Note: This lecture was quite heavy with lots of detailed history but my real take-aways from it were higher level and more conceptual.  If you want the history, you’ll need to to watch the course.

The Muslim faith is divided into two groups.  The Sunni, which comprise 85% of the population and the other 15% are Shia.  The two only disagree on one key point which pertains to the selection of a leader.  The Sunni believe the most qualified person should lead but that his powers are limited to only the political realm.  Shia believe the direct descendants of the prophet should lead and that this leader should be both a political and a religious one.  Early in Muslim history the preferred Shia leader was martyred by the majority Sunni and thus the Shia have a long-standing feeling of being disenfranchised.

During the first few hundred years of its existence, Islam expanded quickly by assimilating its neighbors and by 750 the Umayyad Caliphate stretched from Spain and North Africa to Iraq and Pakistan.  Rather than destroy culture and infrastructure during conquest, the Caliphate preferred a process of assimilation in which local custom was adapted and the conquered could choose to either convert to Islam, pay a poll tax or if they refused even that they would be killed.  This policy was much less strict than that exercised by the Byzantine or Persians during their conquests of the same area.

The Golden Age of Islam stretched from the 8th century through the 13th and saw a great surge in the development of art, architecture and the sciences.  In fact, during the last half of the era, Europeans gained key knowledge from the the Caliphate including the recovery of some key Greek works that were previously lost and only found again through their Arabic translations.

The Crusades stretched from 1095 though 1453 and represented, among other things, an attempt by the Papacy under Pope Urban II to advance the political position of the church in Europe.  By 1099 Jerusalem is captured and Muslims, Jews, women and children are butchered and much of the city destroyed.  When the city was recaptured in 1187 the proceedings were much less bloody.  The Crusades ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 3 – Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 3: Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman

Before Islam, the Middle East was a pretty rough place.  The Persians and the Byzantine Empire fought over the trade routes that crisscrossed the region while the locals formed tribes that raided each other for material wealth.  These raids avoided bloodshed if possible but still degenerated into open warfare from time to time.

Religion at the time was polytheistic centered on sacred objects and local Gods.  Even at this time, however, the tribes already had a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca to venerate the kaaba which contained 360 idols, one for each day of the year.  Even Allah was already installed as the head of the pantheon of Gods.  The Christian and Jewish faiths too existed in the region.

Muhammad lived from c570-632 and was an orphan who grew up to become a business manager for caravans.  It wasn’t until 610 that the angel Gabriel called to him in what has come to be known as the Night of Power.  Muhammad denied Gabriel twice but on the third time he understood and complied with Gabriel’s requests.  Afterwards he thought himself insane but his wife reassured him and believed him and she is said to be the first convert to Islam.

For 22 years Muhammad received the revelation of God and all that he said was first carried by oral history and then written down in the form of the Quran as we know it today.  At the time, what Muhammad had to say was distinctly unpopular.  He stood up against the polytheism and avarice of the times and advocated for a complete revolution of society.

In particular, he fell afoul of the Meccans themselves.  They profited greatly from the influx of pilgrims each year and Muhammad stated quite clearly that these people should not be used as a vehicle to line the city’s pockets.  As a consequence, the Meccans starved Muhammad out of town and bankrupted him but not before Gabriel came to Muhammad with a mystical steed.  Together they traveled to Jerusalem and then to heaven where the prophets and Allah himself instructed Muhammad on how the faithful should pray five times a day.  This event of revelation is known as the Night Journey and occurred in 621.

Bankrupt or not, in 622 Muhammad is invited to Medina to act as an arbiter in a dispute.  Muhammad and his people travel to Medina and there start the first Muslim community.  This event is known as the hijra or migration and marks the official beginning of the Muslim faith.

Having established himself in Medina, Muhammad begins to move militarily against Mecca.  In 624 the Battle of Badr occurs and the Muslims rout the Meccans but the victory is only temporarily as in 625 at the Battle of Uhud the Muslims are defeated and Muhammad is wounded.  Resolution is not reached until 627 at the Battle of the Ditch at which the Muslims fend off the Meccans and come to an uneasy truce.

During this time Jewish and Christian faiths are welcome in Medina and each person need only pay a small tax.  However at the Battle of the Ditch the Jewish population is seen to side with the Meccans and Muhammad has them slaughtered for their treason.

The truce between the two great cities carries on until 630 when some skirmishes between neighbors escalate and eventually Muhammad conquers Mecca entirely.  He is magnanimous in victory, however, and Mecca is incorporated into the Muslim community and Islamic law.  By 632 at Muhammad’s death, the entire Arabian peninsula is united under the Muslim faith.

Terms:

jahiliyaa – Term for pre-Muslim society in the Middle East.  Also used to describe the decadence of the current age.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.


Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.


A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.


And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.


My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?


Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.


Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own


If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.


When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.


And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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How to be a Victorian – Notes, Chapter 2 – Men’s Fashion

g2573Everything below came to my attention because of one little book. Well, a rather large book. If you want the real stuff and not my notes, go buy a copy here.  I won’t be held responsible for any loss of productivity you might encounter because of it, however.

So what was life like in Britain between 1837 and 1901?  Chapter 2 describes the fashions of the era.

  • Men’s Undergarments tended to be practical and geared towards keeping out the cold.  Sleeved vets and full length pants were the fashion of the day.  A man of this era would have found it disgusting to not wear full pants and vest between his skin and his outer garments
  • In shirts, among the wealthy, only the collars and cuffs were visible.  Taking off your jacket was something done in only the most casual environments.  Many colors were available but white was the mark of the rich since they were so difficult to keep clean.  Checked and striped were popular with the working people.
  • Collars were an essential part of any moneyed person’s attire.  Typically these were detachable from the shirt and starched very high.  Collars were such a pain to do at home that often they were sent out to be done by a professional even if the rest of laundry was done at home.  Often they were so starched that if one attempted to bend them they would crack.  A turned down collar was reserved for only the most informal occasions.
  • Offices and homes were typically kept around 50 degrees so fabrics of the day were much more substantial.  Waistcoats were made of very stiff, thick material that was often embroidered.
  • Gaiters, waterproof fabric wrapped around the ankles, was worn to protect the pants.
  • Slim waists were the fashion of the day even for men.  Many men wore corsets.  Trousers for men too were slim fit often with stirrups that went under the heel of the shoe.
  • The introduction of the sewing machine in 1845 changed the world of fashion considerably.  Previously the only ready-to-wear fashions available were baggy and any fashionable person would have to have their clothes custom made.  With the introduction of the sewing machine the available ready-to-wear lines became much more varied.
  • The 1860s saw the introduction of new chemical dyes to replace the previously plant and animal derived ones.  Men of fashion tended towards black for both fashion reasons and also for practical ones since the black did not show the ubiquitous coal dust of the city so readily.  Women tended towards bright eye-catching colors like never before.
  • No respectable man of the day would be seen without a hat.  Commonly they were only removed to show respect to another.
  • Hats had a strict social hierarchy with the top hat standing alone as the most aristocratic.  These hats stood up to 14 inches tall and could cost up to 3 months of a normal worker’s wages.
  • The Bowler hat was introduced by the Bowler brothers in 1849 at the request of a customer who wanted a hat that was “robust and easy to keep on”.  This replaced the top hat in many situations but still was a sufficient sign of status that a factory worker who attempted to wear one would likely be dismissed from his position.
  • Straw hats also saw wide use.  A high quality hat might last a lifetime.  These were considered rather luxurious items until cheaper imports of straw mats from China in 1880 made them more affordable.

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How to be a Victorian – Notes, Chapter 1

g2573Everything below came to my attention because of one little book. Well, a rather large book. If you want the real stuff and not my notes, go buy a copy here.  I won’t be held responsible for any loss of productivity you might encounter because of it, however.

So what was life like in Britain between 1837 and 1901?  Chapter 1 describes basic personal care from the era.

  • Most people in the Victorian era rose with the sun.  If you were a factory worker or someone who had to get up earlier, you could hire a knocker-upper to come wake you up at the appointed time since timepieces were rather expensive.
  • Windows were left open no matter the weather because stale air was considered deadly.  Therefore a nice bedside mat was considered a wonderfully luxury for those that could afford to keep their feet warm when first rising from bed.
  • The majority of people washed in a water-filled basin beside the bed.  Once a week the luxury of using hot water was common in many households.  Since the windows were wide open, most washed in their clothes to keep from freezing.
  • Before Victorian times, people didn’t wash with water at all as this was thought to invite disease.  Instead they rubbed themselves down with a dry pad and changed their underwear with greater frequency.
  • Scientists at the time thought the skin contributed greatly to respiration.  In one experiment they varnished an entire horse.  It quickly died from heat exhaustion.
  • Soap was expensive with a 4oz bar of soap costing as much as a joint of roast.  Washing and laundry could consume 5% of the typical household budget.
  • Ammonia or vinegar was a common deodorant.
  • Carbolic acid was a common disinfectant and even today its sharp smell is considered an indication of cleanliness
  • Tooth care products were often home made; their key ingredients were soot, salt or charcoal.  More expensive products purchased from apothecaries had many other added ingredients to make them taste better but tended to be pink rather than white.
  • Women’s sanitary needs were suspended from a belt or even slung over the shoulders since bloomers were not supportive enough to keep them in place.  Sanitary napkins were sometimes mail ordered or simply rags that were washed month after month.

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