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Matt Warren

The oldest story ever written - 1 views

  • David Damrosch’s artful, engrossing new history, “The Buried Book,” relates how “The Epic of Gilgamesh” was lost and found — or rather how it was found and lost, since he tells the story backward, from the present to the past, in an archaeological fashion.
  • Think of it: He asks you to be excited about what the characters in his story are discovering even before you know quite how important it is.
  • The recovery of the “The Epic of Gilgamesh” was less dramatic, mostly because it was drawn out over decades, but the prize was even more fabulous than the treasures of King Tut’s tomb: the oldest story ever told — or, at least, the oldest one told in writing.
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  • It is the tale of a king, and full of sex, violence, love, thievery, defiance, grief and divine retribution. It’s the first buddy picture, the first depiction of the Underworld, the precursor to the legend of Noah and his ark.
  • If it were like hundreds of other great and ancient stories — the death and resurrection of Osirus, the quest of Orpheus, Sigurd’s slaying of the dragon Fafnir — it would have reached us through countless retellings, gradually morphing and splitting and fusing with other stories over the years.
  • Those stories come to us like the DNA of our ancestors, still present within us, but reshaped by generations of mutations and ultimately as familiar as our own faces.
  • Instead, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” preserved on 12 clay tablets, fell into a kind of time capsule in the fabled cradle of civilization.
  • much of the epic feels both fresh and alien, a piece of the past all Westerners (and many Asians) share, unsmoothed by the passage of the centuries.
  • The announcement that some of those old, broken slabs of clay seemed to confirm the biblical story of the flood and Noah’s Ark made headlines and instantly catapulted the brand-new discipline of Assyriology to public attention.
  • Smith, too, seized upon the scenes of the flood as validation of the Old Testament account; many early archaeologists were obsessed with biblical verification. Not everyone agreed, however.
  • The New York Times suggested that the inscription “may be regarded as a confirmation of the statement that there are various traditions of the deluge apart from the Biblical one, which is perhaps legendary like the rest.” (In fact, stories of global floods crop up in all sorts of disconnected mythologies.)
  • Certainly, the epic didn’t point to human sinfulness as the cause of the flood, as the Bible does. According to Uta-napishtim, the gods wiped out humanity because the exploding population was making too much noise and disturbing their sleep.
    • Matt Warren
       
      I love ancient gods. They have such personality.
  • largely because he wasn’t mentioned in the Bible.
  • The story of the story, though, is something else again. Luck most definitely played a role. Had a roof beam or a column fallen a different way during the sacking and destruction of Ashurbanipal’s palace in 612 B.C., the tablets might not have been left broken but largely intact.
  • Had “The Epic of Gilgamesh” been taken to another library, the tablets might have been worn out by use and discarded or lost in other disasters like the burning of the great Library at Alexandria
  • Damrosch reminds us that only seven of Aeschylus’ 90 tragedies have survived to modern times. Without the work of dedicated Assyriologists we might have the tablets but be unable to read them.
  • To the ancient Mesopotamians, it probably seemed impossible that one day Gilgamesh would be forgotten — for us, that would be like forgetting Heracles or Superman or Little Red Riding Hood. After a while, people stopped telling his story, and if it weren’t for those buried tablets and the men who dug them up, his name would have vanished forever. In a way, Gilgamesh got his immortality after all.
    • Matt Warren
       
      I purposely didn't highlight the stories. You have to *read those* on the page to truly appreciate them.

      The Epic of Gilgamesh was one of those stories that I learned about during my difficult recovery from adolescent Fundy-Xtianity.

      In youthful, rebellious glee, I enjoyed that I could dismiss The Flood. With age, though, I see both - and many other heavily borrowed from stories - as part of a continuum of folklore and wisdom. Quite fascinating.
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    "There's no better illustration of the fragility and the power of literature than the history of 'The Epic of Gilgamesh,' the oldest known literary work, composed in Babylonia more than 3,000 years ago. About 400 years later, after one of the ruthless, bloody sieges typical of that time, the epic was buried in the ruins of a Mesopotamian palace. There it lay, utterly forgotten along with the name of the king who once reigned in that palace, until a British archaeologist and his Iraqi assistant unearthed it not far from the modern city of Mosul in 1840."

    Hat tip to George Station (originally from Hsiao-yun Chan), both on Google+
Matt Warren

Boston 1775: Things Americans Used to Complain About - 2 views

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    "So what did George III and his government do that was so wrong?"

    A look at the snits and quarrels back in 1775.
Matt Warren

Sources: Raiders knew mission a one-shot deal - 0 views

  • U.S. officials believe Pakistani intelligence continues to support militants who attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and actively undermine U.S. intelligence operations to go after al-Qaida inside Pakistan. The level of distrust is such that keeping Pakistan in the dark was a major factor in planning the raid, and led to using the high-tech but sometimes unpredictable helicopter technology that nearly unhinged the mission.
  • The decision to launch on that particular moonless night in May came largely because too many American officials had been briefed on the plan. U.S. officials feared if it leaked to the press, bin Laden would disappear for another decade.
  • The plan unraveled as the first helicopter tried to hover over the compound. The Black Hawk skittered around uncontrollably in the heat-thinned air, forcing the pilot to land. As he did, the tail and rotor got caught on one of the compound’s 12-foot walls. The pilot quickly buried the aircraft’s nose in the dirt to keep it from tipping over, and the SEALs clambered out into an outer courtyard.
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    "Those who planned the secret mission to get Osama bin Laden in Pakistan knew it was a one-shot deal, and it nearly went terribly wrong."
Matt Warren

Thanksgiving guilt trip: How warlike were Native Americans before Europeans showed up? - 0 views

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    "The approach of Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday, has me brooding over recent scientific portrayals of Native Americans as bellicose brutes. When I was in grade school, my classmates and I wore paper Indian headdresses and Pilgrim hats and reenacted the "first Thanksgiving," in which supposedly friendly Native Americans joined Pilgrims for a fall feast of turkey, venison, squash and corn. This episode seemed to support the view-often (apparently erroneously) attributed to the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau-of Native Americans and other pre-state people as peaceful "noble savages"."

    By John Horgan at Scientific American on November 22, 2010.
Matt Warren

Maps from 1942 of the never-was Nazi invasion of North America - 0 views

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    "These diagrams from the March 2, 1942 issue of Life detailed the Nazi invasion of America shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Check out such alternate reality battles like the bombing of Detroit and invasion of Norfolk, Virginia.

    These maps were created as a follow-up to an article about an American defeat in WWII by pioneering science fiction author Philip Wylie, who wrote the proto-superhero novel Gladiator. These maps were made in the early days of US involvement in World War II, so there was a sense that this invasion was a real possibility. You can read more about these maps at Ptak Science Books."
Matt Warren

Middle-Aged Columnists Think America Is In Decline. Big Surprise. - 0 views

  • A Google search for the phrase “America’s decline” turns up 42,500 hits. Comparisons to Rome and other once-powerful empires abound, as in Cullen Murphy’s popular 2007 book Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. From the Tea Party right comes the constant, screeching cry that President Obama and the Democrats are “destroying America.” The National Intelligence Council itself, a few years ago, predicted the “erosion” of American power relative to China and India. Clearly, the most popular classical figure in America today is that high-strung Trojan lady, Cassandra.
  • Twenty-two years ago, in a refreshingly clear-sighted article for Foreign Affairs, Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington noted that the theme of “America’s decline” had in fact been a constant in American culture and politics since at least the late 1950s.
  • What is particularly fascinating about these older predictions is that so many of their themes remain constant. What did our past Cassandras see as the causes of America’s decline? On the one hand, internal weaknesses—spiraling budget and trade deficits, the poor performance of our primary and secondary educational systems; political paralysis—coupled with an arrogant tendency toward “imperial overstretch.” And on the other hand, the rise of tougher, better-disciplined rivals elsewhere: the Soviet Union through the mid-'80s; Japan until the early '90s; China today.
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  • What the long history of American “declinism”—as opposed to America’s actual possible decline—suggests is that these anxieties have an existence of their own that is quite distinct from the actual geopolitical position of our country; that they arise as much from something deeply rooted in the collective psyche of our chattering classes as from sober political and economic analyses.
  • nations do not in fact behave like individuals.
  • But the psychological impulse to see the country in decline leads writers again and again to neglect these differences, and to cast the story of a huge, complex nation as a simple individual morality play.
  • Would Rome not have fallen if a group of clear-sighted, hardheaded Roman commentators had sternly told the country to buck up in the late third century, lest the empire share the fate of Persia? Was Great Britain’s decline in the twentieth century a product of moral flabbiness that a strong dose of character-building medicine could have reversed?
  • We would do better to recognize that calling ourselves “the new Romans” is really just a seductive fantasy, and that our political and economic problems demand political and economic solutions, not exercises in collective moral self-flagellation.
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    "Yet again this Sunday, Thomas L. Friedman used his column in The New York Times to issue an ominous warning about America's decline. Quoting from Lewis Mumford about the moral decadence of imperial Rome, he commented: "It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine-way, way too close for comfort." He ended the column with a call for a third-party candidate in 2012 with the courage to say to the voters: "I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world's leaders, not the new Romans.""

    By David A. Bell on October 7, 2010.
Matt Warren

What will future generations condemn us for? - 0 views

  • First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn't emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.
  • a look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation.
  • Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, "We've always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?")
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  • And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn't think about what made those goods possible. That's why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.
  • four contenders
  • Our prison system
  • Industrial meat production
  • The institutionalized and isolated elderly
  • The environment
  • Roughly 1 percent of adults in this country are incarcerated. We have 4 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners. No other nation has as large a proportion of its population in prison; even China's rate is less than half of ours.
  • People who eat factory-farmed bacon or chicken rarely offer a moral justification for what they're doing. Instead, they try not to think about it too much, shying away from stomach-turning stories about what goes on in our industrial abattoirs.
  • Other elderly Americans may live independently, but often they are isolated and cut off from their families. (The United States is not alone among advanced democracies in this. Consider the heat wave that hit France in 2003: While many families were enjoying their summer vacations, some 14,000 elderly parents and grandparents were left to perish in the stifling temperatures.)
  • Look at a satellite picture of Russia, and you'll see a vast expanse of parched wasteland where decades earlier was a lush and verdant landscape. That's the Republic of Kalmykia, home to what was recognized in the 1990s as Europe's first man-made desert.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, is the author of "The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen."
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    "Once, pretty much everywhere, beating your wife and children was regarded as a father's duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense, and waterboarding was approved -- in fact, invented -- by the Catholic Church. Through the middle of the 19th century, the United States and other nations in the Americas condoned plantation slavery. Many of our grandparents were born in states where women were forbidden to vote. And well into the 20th century, lynch mobs in this country stripped, tortured, hanged and burned human beings at picnics.

    Looking back at such horrors, it is easy to ask: What were people thinking?

    Yet, the chances are that our own descendants will ask the same question, with the same incomprehension, about some of our practices today."

    By Kwame Anthony Appiah at The Washington Post on September 26, 2010.
Matt Warren

America's "Natural Aristocracy" and the Triumph of Elite Reason - 0 views

  • Who should rule America, the revolutionary and Constitution-writing generations of American leaders asked? Should it be an aristocratic elite bred to rule by the best families of the land? Or should it be direct representatives of the people whose knowledge of statecraft might be slight but who were reflective of the popular will?
  • America needed an aristocracy, they reasoned, but let it be a natural one drawn from the ranks of people like them, those whom in their conceit they decided were the best and the brightest.

    And so the concept of a “natural aristocracy” was born.

  • to the Federalists matters of government were quite different: government was a ‘complicated science, and requires abilities and knowledge, of a variety of subjects, to understand it.’ Only if the respected and worthy lent their natural intellectual abilities and their natural social influence to political authority could governmental order be maintained.
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  • That they worship in the temple of merit only obscures the fact that they are an elite convinced of their divinity like every other.
  • Forty years have passed since I was told to pay attention to early American history, and I finally understand why, petticoats and Pilgrims aside, it was such good advice. For it was their great concern about who should rule America that should now become ours.
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    "Who should rule America, the revolutionary and Constitution-writing generations of American leaders asked? Should it be an aristocratic elite bred to rule by the best families of the land? Or should it be direct representatives of the people whose knowledge of statecraft might be slight but who were reflective of the popular will?" By Michael Blim at 3 Quarks Daily on September 20, 2010.
Matt Warren

The Look of Time - 0 views

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    "What we can learn from the eighteenth-century wooden ship below the World Trade Center?" By Rochelle Gurstein at The New Republic on August 5, 2010.
Matt Warren

Against Evil - 0 views

  • it is more likely yet another example of the refusal of liberals to acknowledge the success of Reagan's Cold War policies: first, rebuilding a disastrously diminished security establishment (diplomatic and political as well as military), then challenging the Soviet Union in a way that surely hastened the demise of the "evil empire."
  • What many of us who served in the Reagan administration do argue is that the delegitimization of the Kremlin dictators (accomplished, in part, by what Beinart calls "virulent Cold War rhetoric"), the rebuilding of American military capabilities, and a skillful arms control strategy (that eventuated in Soviet acceptance of Regan proposals they began by categorically rejecting), led to the Western victory in the Cold War.
  • Reagan barely took notice of what was an insignificant "demand" for détente.
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  • Reagan knew what he wanted and he knew how to achieve it. He was rock solid in defining -- and sticking with -- policies he believed were right. This was especially true with respect to arms control, where, often against the advice of the experts, the liberals, and much of the media, Reagan stayed the course until the Soviets gave him the agreement he wanted. 
  • What the article calls Reagan's "sudden infatuation with arms control," is pure invention. Beinart refers to the failure to conclude a U.S.-Soviet arms control treaty in Iceland in 1986 and implies that Reagan, his heart and mind changed by political expediency, had abandoned the tough policies to which he had been committed.
  • But Reagan, following his own beliefs and proceeding in his own way, achieved results no liberal foreign policy has approached -- or is likely to achieve.
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    A rebuttal against Peter Beinart's "Think Again: Ronald Reagan." By Richard Perle at Foreign Policy on July 27, 2010.
Matt Warren

"Stuff" by squid314 at LiveJournal - 0 views

  • I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II".

    Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

    I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.
  • So it's pretty standard "shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide" stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics.
  • ...and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin' unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you're starting to wonder if any of the show's writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.
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    Eventual Money: On the cliche implausibility of World War II."
    I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II"."
Matt Warren

Mark Twain's Unexpurgated Autobiography - 0 views

  • Twain’s decree will be put to the test when the University of California Press publishes the first of three volumes of the 500,000-word “Autobiography of Mark Twain” in November.
  • Versions of the autobiography have been published before, in 1924, 1940 and 1959. But the original editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, was a stickler for propriety, cutting entire sections he thought offensive; his successors imposed a chronological cradle-to-grave narrative that Twain had specifically rejected, altered his distinctive punctuation, struck additional material they considered uninteresting and generally bowed to the desire of Twain’s daughter Clara, who died in 1962, to protect her father’s image.
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    "But in his unexpurgated autobiography, whose first volume is about to be published a century after his death, a very different Twain emerges, more pointedly political and willing to play the role of the angry prophet." By Larry Rohter at NYTimes.com on July 9, 2010.
Matt Warren

What If 9/11 Never Happened? - 0 views

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    From New York Magazine. By John Heilemann on August 14, 2006.
Matt Warren

Locating Ourselves Historically: Why We Are Not Living in Western Civilization - 0 views

  • A crucial part of the self-consciousness of individuals and the way they define themselves socially is a perception of their location in a historical narrative, however vague. For most people in North America and Europe the narrative in question is that of 'Western Civilization' - this is true for all parts of the political spectrum and includes those who see this narrative as one of triumphant success and others who perceive it as a much darker story. However, the picture that emerges from historical research does not support any of these accounts. Rather they lead us to the conclusion that historic Western Civilization no longer exists but has perished or been transformed. This should make us think about how to understand our historical location and lead us to see past, present, and future in a new way.
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