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“The Hawaiian flag…is suggestive of the prominent political elements of the Islands. It is part French, part English, part American, and is Hawaiian in general.”

 - Mark Twain, Letters from Hawaii

There’s something strange about the sight of the Hawaiian flag, about seeing a banner with the Union Jack so prominent flying over a part of the United States. And yet, the more I travelled in Hawaii, the more appropriate its design seemed to be, the more its presence seemed to sum up the history and character of the islands.

It’s not the only American state flag to incorporate elements of a foreign country’s ensign; Iowa is built around a French tricolour, while Florida and Alabama uses the old Spanish Cross of Burgundy. But Hawaii seems different to them – the Spanish connection in the latter two are too obscure to stand out, while Iowa adds a bald eagle to proudly indicate its American identity. Hawaii, though, the British flag remains recognisably unchanged, and while the stripes feel American, the addition of blue to the familiar red-white pattern gives a sense that this is a culture still not entirely American.

The borrowed crosses of the Union Jack seem quite at home as symbols of Hawaii. They form an eight-pointed star to go with the eight stripes for eight islands. And as the symbol of a foreign nation, they also make it hard to forget that Hawaii was itself a sovereign state, that this is not just the flag of an American state or territory, but of a nation outside the American sphere, whose people did not wish for annexation or absorption, but wished to carve out their own identity, like that of the other empires and kingdoms they'd encountered.

For that matter, the Union Jack in the corner calls to mind less Britain itself, but so many other flags built around that design. It almost seems like a symbol of Pacific identity, a reminder of the ancient connections between Hawaii and its neighbours - Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, New Zealand, and the other nations of Polynesia that use such a design.

The more I saw the flag, the more I liked it. Kamehameha I could not have planned it when he designed his new kingdom’s banner, but the symbolism of it still works beautifully.

4thofeleven: (Default)
Anyone who does serious work in history has probably gotten into a discussion-slash-argument with someone who doesn’t approve of the current historical standard of using “BCE/CE” instead of “BC/AD”.

It occurred to me during a recent such argument that critics have gotten entirely the wrong end of the stick. Far from trying to excise Christianity from history, the modern standard is putting an end to a long standing anti-Christian message!

After all, what does BC stand for? “Before Christ”! It’s clearly an endorsement of the Arian heresy, implying that there existed a time where the Father existed but the Son did not, in violation of all good orthodox trinitarian theology! True Christians everywhere should be glad that we’re finally doing away with that vile heresy and removing it from the history books, in accordance with Constantine the Great’s edict of 333 CE!
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There’s a Falun Gong/Anti-Communist China protest pretty much permanently set up near where I do my shopping, and I took a look at their signs today to see what, specifically, they were protesting. There were, as you might expect, signs protesting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and the lack of respect for human rights in China, but the largest single sign was not exactly what I was expecting.

As far as I could tell, their primary complaint about the government of the People’s Republic of China was that… it agreed in 1991 to cede its claims to parts of Outer Manchuria and Mongolia lost to Russia by the Qing Empire in the mid-nineteenth century.

Truly, the most contemptible act committed by the PRC.
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Via Slate, a copy of a 1964 Louisiana 'literacy test', designed to prevent minority citizens from voting.

Trying to parse some of the questions gives me the same headache that trying to read spam messages or deliberate nonsense like the Sokal hoax induces. There's something particularly nasty about assigning these people ambigous or meaningless questions like this purely so you can fail them for not understanding them.

It makes Australia's 'literacy tests' look almost fair by comparison - under the 'White Australia' policy, immigrants could be assigned a literacy test... in any European language. At least if you've been told you need to prove your fluency in Welsh or Basque, you know you're being screwed over, whereas this comes just close enough to solvable to make you think you're stupid for not being able to work it out...

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Cerberus, the name of the three-headed dog that guards the river Styx, is the Latin form of the Greek 'Kerebos'. Some etymologists speculate that name is related to the Sanskrit word ‘karbarah/karvara’, and may be either derived from it or share a common root from the proto-Indo European language.

And what does that word translate as? ‘Spotted’.

Because, after all, even if you’re the god of the underworld, Spot is still a good name for your dog...
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So, one of the Boston bombers was called Tamerlan. Am I right in assuming he was named after Tamerlane/Timur? Is he viewed positively in the Causcuses?

I mean, sure, one man's 'brutal conqueror' is another man's 'brutal conqueror, but OUR brutal conqueror!'. Ol' Temujin has plenty of fans still in Mongolia, Attila still gets some respect in Hungary... but still, I'd always assumed pretty much everyone put Tamerlane in the 'bad guy' category.
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Well, it’s new pope time, and that means it’s time to pick a new papal name! Unfortunately, in recent centuries, the list of names chosen has become rather staid and boring, with Pius after Pius broken only by the occasional Paul or Leo. Benedict was a good change, but still not going far enough – looking back only a mere hundred years. For the next pope, might I suggest looking a lot further back, and picking one of the underused names that haven’t seen much attention in the last millennia? So many to choose from!

He could be any of these if he wanted:

Sixtus VI
Lando II
Cletus II
Dionysius II
Hilarius II

Should none of these catch the pope’s fancy, might I suggest he at least pick John XX, and finally fill the gap created by a nine hundred year old numbering error?
4thofeleven: (Default)
Found this WW1 Propaganda poster:



I must say, it's not very effective to my eye. I can't imagine being inspired to fight to stop Melbourne being renamed "Zeppelinburg"; quite the opposite. "Kaisermania" sounds like an improvement too!

Not quite sure what "Bernhardburg" was referencing in a WW1 context. Any ideas?

4thofeleven: (Default)
Been doing research for my thesis on the American occupation of Haiti. One thing that struck me was noticing that, as late as the 1920s, ‘Zombies’ were still unknown in America – a fair number of writers, talking about superstition in Haiti, seem to think zombie is a type of ghost.

It’s weird to realise zombies have only been part of English-speaking pop culture for less than a century. They don’t feel that recent – zombies feel perfectly at home in medieval European-style fantasies, they don’t feel like foreign intruders like monsters from middle-eastern or Asian folklore would. They’ve certainly lost any specific connection to Voodoo or Caribbean culture.

Then again, most of the modern ideas about Vampires and Werewolves entered popular culture through film at about the same time; the 1930s was a remarkably influential era for horror. One wonders if the Zombie would have gone on to have the same impact had the early film industry developed in another country, or if the United States hadn’t been occupying Haiti at the time the industry was looking for new supernatural beasts…
4thofeleven: (Default)
A fun little toy I found the other day:

http://orbis.stanford.edu

Essentially, it’s a route planner of the Roman Empire. You plug in two locations, and it gives you a route, and you can select what sort of transport your traveller would have access too – on foot, ox cart, horseback travel, or whatever. It tells you how long it would take, and a rough idea of the cost of the journey in denarii.

One thing it really illustrates is the importance of the Mediterranean to the Roman world – we’ve come to think of seas and oceans as barriers to empires, but by looking at the actual travel times, it becomes obvious that Alexandria and Carthage are practically next-door neighbours to Rome compared to inland Europe. And Londinium is completely out in the boondocks – it’s fairly obvious when looking at the distances this way why the Romans never pushed on to Scotland or Ireland. They were already well beyond reasonable administrative distances from Rome in the first place…
4thofeleven: (Default)
Was walking down the street today, and a guy commented on my Che Guevara T-Shirt I was wearing.

It was kind of awkward, because my actual feelings towards Che are rather ambivalent. I own the T-shirt more for the kitsch value than anything else. The man’s ideals cannot be criticized, I feel, but his methods ranged from the brutal to the incompetent; his attempt to lead a revolution in Bolivia that lead to his death was almost comically inept. And the cult of personality that developed around him after his death is very much about the romantic image of the revolutionary ideal at the expense of the more complex reality of his life.

So, as I said, it’s awkward when I’m wearing the shirt and someone comments on it, because I am sympathetic to the point of view that he wasn’t an individual that should be immortalised in the way that he has been, while at the same time, the right-wing Latin American governments and their American backers weren’t really open to any sort of compromise with the left, so I’m not willing to complexly condemn Che’s revolutionary socialism either. It’s a complex issue, and not one that it’s easy to have with strangers I meet on the street.

Of course, as it turned out, the whole situation ended up a lot less awkward – for me at least – once it became clear that the guy thought Che was a musician…
4thofeleven: (Default)
In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound...The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot.
- The Smithsonian

Great collection of classic advertisments as part of this campaign, which was, of course, completly succesful in destroying the scourge of souless pre-recorded music once and for all!

One thing I find interesting is that this is only ten years after R.U.R., but the term 'robot' for a mechanical humanoid had already clearly entered the English language and popular culture. Metropolis was 1927; what other iconic representations of robots had there been by 1930?

4thofeleven: (Default)
Disappointment of the day: Finding out that the Immortals film I saw a poster for the other day isn't a remake of 300 from the Persian point of view...

Incidently, while checking on Wikipedia, I found the Byzantine Empire at one point fielded units known as 'Immortals' in reference to the Persian soldiers - because, apparently, being a Roman Empire based in Greece defended by an elite force of Viking mercinaries wasn't enough of an anachronism stew for the Byzantine emperors.

4thofeleven: (Default)
Neat stuff found while browsing the net – an 1874 American chart of the world’s flags.

Note the very western dragon on the Chinese flag – one suspects the artist was working from descriptions and hadn’t actually seen most of these flags. Similarly, the mangling of the Mexican coat of arms and the Hawaiian flag missing the blue stripes.

Don't know what the 'Moorish' flag is supposed to be, since Morocco is listed separately.

I’d also love to know what the ‘Cochin China’ flag really was. I’m pretty sure at best it’s a misidentification of some sort of personal standard as a national flag, but I have no idea where it could be from. I’m not even sure what the author thought it was – Cochin China could mean a lot of things.

Cover-up

Apr. 13th, 2011 06:02 pm
4thofeleven: (Default)
Anyone got any theories why the McKinley assasination is such an obscure part of American history? I mean, sure, the Lincoln assasination gets more attention because, well, Lincoln, and Kennedy's still in living memory - but McKinley seems to struggle to get attention even compared to Garfield...

Is it just that McKinley himself tends to be completly overshadowed by Teddy Roosevelt in histories? Or is this a recent change, and sharing a name with a cartoon cat has given Garfield a sudden boost in prominence in the popular mind?
4thofeleven: (Default)
Alright, seriously? If you're going to be running a tutorial on the Mexican-American War, it behooves you to know enough about the subject not to confidently assert that "There weren't any Africans in Mexico then."

*sigh*
4thofeleven: (Default)
Had a debate the other day over whether Latin or Ancient Greek would be a better language for a time traveler to learn, assuming they had no idea where or when they'd end up... Greek's more useful in the ancient world and the middle east, but if you end up in medieval Europe or the Americas post-Columbus, Latin might be more likely to be recognised.

Anyway, what are the East Asian equivalent languages? Would modern Chinese be enough to scrape by in, say, Kublai Khan's court, or is there a better choice? Sanskrit? Would that be well known enough that someone in China would at least be able to identify it?

Hmm - or would Hebrew be the best overall choice?
4thofeleven: (Default)
From Wikipedia's entry on Abelard and Heloise:

"Héloïse became pregnant and was sent by Abélard to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son she named Astrolabe after the scientific instrument."

What would be the modern equivalent? Naming your kid "Large Hadron Collider" or something?
4thofeleven: (Default)
A decent film, rather disappointed that it’s not getting a proper release anywhere. Hypatia’s story is one that deserves to be repeated, and the collapse of Alexandria’s intellectual culture in the face of fanatical uncompromising religion is one that still resonates today.

On the most shallow level, the visuals are <i>gorgeous</i>... )
4thofeleven: (Default)
Sitting my exams today, one of the questions is on the American Revolution. Don’t remember the exact phrasing, something about whether economics or ideology were the biggest influence on the revolution. I argued economic, pointing out as part of my argument that the American colonies were hardly united and that the revolution’s ideology was largely incoherent, varying greatly depending on who among the revolutionaries you asked. Pretty much the only thing they all had in common was opposition to taxes…

Then, in a later question, about the Haitian revolution, I wrote something along the lines of that Haiti differed from the American revolution in that it really was a mass revolt, while the American revolution was largely led by the established elite, those who were already rich and powerful…

While rereading my answers, it hit me. Holy crap, I thought. The Tea Party really are the heirs of the American Revolution.

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David Newgreen

August 2017

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