HARD TIMES AND NEW DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times are not when we create solutions to problems. I was sitting here today thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody sits around thinking about the 1400s, but I do and fairly often. It’s part of the pleasure and burden of a deep passion for history. Right now, I’m reading a series of books about the Tudors. The early Tudors. Owen, Edmond, and Jasper. And, of course, Henry who became the seventh of the many Henrys of England.

The 1300s were a horror show for the old world.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe.

Beginning in 1346 and continuing through 1353, the number of deaths — from war, disease, or anything — is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. And the world was much smaller, so 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was as much as 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed through Europe. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved because there was no one to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor. The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and death by war, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

The golf ball (1400)
The piano/spinet (1400)
The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
Hoisting gear (1421)
Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
Engravings (dry) (1465)
Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
The copyright (1486)
Bell chimes (1487)
The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
Whiskey (1494)
Sometime during this same period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Historians are still arguing this issue.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive

And everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s.

These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central government among nations. It elevated the peasant and middle classes. It advanced banking and industry and art. Towns grew as guilds developed. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads. Better roads made it easier for people to take their goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people forget that before the first world war, it wasn’t a caring Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.

I’d like to think that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

UNHINGED – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Captured

My marriage is fine. My house is not falling apart. The car was repaired and runs well. Yet I feel quite unhinged. A prisoner of war in my own country. Or that’s how I feel.

From Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens”

The World is killing me. I live in a country where the courts think it’s okay to kidnap and cage children. To put five-year-olds in front of a judge — without a lawyer.

There was another mass shooting today.

If somewhere there exists a particularly reactionary and stupid lawyer, Trump will appoint him or her and while I won’t live forever, my kid and granddaughter will spend the rest of their lives in this oppressive world we have created.

My world is crumbling. So is yours, even if you don’t know it.

I am troubled. I have nightmares. Small things which would normally not bother me are making me crazy. I feel damaged as if I’d been in a car accident.

I have trouble finding anything funny because today there was another mass shooting and there are thousands of children in cages.

The world is broken; I am bruised all over. I feel helpless to fix anything. It’s a bad way to feel. It’s also weird. I’ve always been able to separate the personal from “the rest of the world.” Somehow, I can’t seem to do that anymore.

WHO ARE WE? WHAT ARE WE? – Marilyn Armstrong

HOW DID WE GET TO THIS PLACE?

Just like other countries, we’ve hidden our ugliest history in the backs of closets. We wrote phony history books and made sure our kids read them.  Now we wonder how come they don’t understand history. We could start by teaching them what actually happened. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Andrew Jackson President of the good old U.S.A. wiped out entire tribes of Natives. But that was only one part of the slaughter. They kidnapped children and beat them until they were “American.” More to the point, too terrified to be anything else.

Does that sound familiar in some strange way?

Then, of course, there was slavery, over which we fought the bloodiest war ever in this country, followed by a never-ending cruel inequality that still remains and continues — with the help of our disgusting president — to grow.

In an image provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, immigrants taken into custody at the border sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection / AP)

And let’s not forget interning Japanese citizens — many of whom were born here — during World War 2.

So yesterday, when it looked like at least 70% of surveyed Americans thought this was a terrible idea, Trump (theoretically), backed off. Note that 30% of Americans didn’t think it was a bad idea. I try not to think about that 30%. I hope they aren’t my neighbors.

He didn’t really back off. He said was that we are going to keep the kidnapped, interned kids and do who-knows-what with their parents. They probably didn’t keep proper records about which children belong to which parents. Reuniting the kids and adults may not be possible, especially if they already deported the parents.

So what are they going to do with all the kids they’ve locked up? Keep them interned forever? Secretly murder them? Is that entirely out of the question? It’s not like it hasn’t been done before.

We’ve always felt we were morally superior to Those Other Countries who slaughtered and mass murdered people for whatever idiotic reason they held. Here we are, doing the same thing. We haven’t started killing them yet, but hey, who knows? Trump is just being Trump, so if he thinks it’s a great idea, I’m sure his sycophants will step right up and follow his orders.

You can bet Sean Hannity will be explaining how it’s not even happening anyway. And 28-30% of all Americans will smile because mass murder sounds like a good idea to them. They will volunteer for jobs in “the camps.”  A job is a job.

With a president who has so little conscience that he thinks kidnapping foreign children is good politics, does killing foreigners if it seems that might help him get reelected sound too far out? If it really might help get him re-elected — assuming he isn’t planning to bypass that whole annoying election process — why not?

What are you planning to do about it? Has it come to a point where evil is our inability to do anything about a world spun completely out of our control?

This morning, he said (who knows what he is really saying?) we are returning to the old-fashioned method we’ve been using for the past 50 years. We’ll stop refugees at our border and say “Sorry, no room. Go home.” This is what we used to before you-know-who moved to the White House. It may not be very nice, especially when you consider how desperately many of these women and children need someplace safe, but it’s nominally better than locking them up and kidnapping their children.

Someone — Tom? — asked me why we can’t make room for them. I don’t know. This country is built on the sweat of hungry immigrants, but we’ve lost our way. As long as we have borders, we seem to feel we are obliged to keep track of who comes and goes across them.

I’m too far down the line of brilliant thinkers who have turned our world into whatever it currently is, but don’t you wonder ever what would happen if we didn’t have artificial lines around “countries” and lived in a single world? Then we could just hate each other for personal reasons.

The authorities released this image of illegal migrants inside a large cage – reporters said they saw unaccompanied children in similar conditions.

If we accept this living nightmare of “Trump being Trump,” then we’re as bad as any other mass murderers. It’s easy to be morally superior when no one is testing your fiber

Now that our fiber is indeed being tested, where and how do we stand? Do we refuse to cross that line after our consciences scream NO? Do we refuse, even if we are threatened?

At what point is it too much? When is enough really enough for us?

HISTORY OF THE GREAT LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA by EMILY WATTS

Emily Watts | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's bookThis is a guest post by writer and blogger Emily Watts. Emily is the author of multiple articles concerning mysterious and intriguing historical facts and theories. However, she also writes about problems of education, business, modern technology, personal relationships, and other topics.

History of the Great Library of Alexandria

Alexandria | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

World history is full of terrible losses. No, I’m not talking about people who fell in numerous wars and battles. This post is devoted to another sort of loss: a cultural one. Unfortunately, humanity has lost too many antiquities, and cultural heritage can be irreplaceable. One such tragedy is the burning of the library of Alexandria.

The great library of Alexandria is one of the most discussed historical buildings. The main reason why there are so many theories and debates concerning it is lack of evidence. We know very little about its history and the way it came to ruin and, as a result, you’d be surprised as to how many students leave us online requests with, “I need help writing my research paper on the ancient library of Alexandria.”

So, how does one define the truth and separate it from legend?

Let’s start with what made it so great: from what ancient sources tell us, no other library could match its majesty and importance. It contained numerous irreplaceable books. It was all destroyed by a fire which obliterated these precious writings and devoured the whole structure. Today, there are no ruins left; not a single brick. Only stories, theories, and myths remain.

Concerning its founding

From these stories, we can determine that the Alexandria library was founded in Egypt around 330 BC. However, this date is only an approximation, as no one can name the exact date of library’s foundation. We only know it was founded after Alexander the Great was assassinated in 323 BC.

A similar fog surrounds its founder. It is believed that Ptolemy Lagides was its founder. He was one of Alexander’s successors. The library was named in honor and tribute to the great emperor, warrior, and cultural leader, Alexander, who adored the arts, history, and science.

Pretty soon, the library became a keeping place for all rare writings. According to one theory, one of Aristotle’s students named Demetrius initiated the organization of this marvelous endeavor. According to another, Ptolemy’s son was the one who stood behind its creation.

Whom to Blame?

Alexandria | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

So, what happened? How was it all destroyed?

What is really known is that the library was burned down and its contents lost forever. The first person who was accused of this terrible crime was one of the most famous persons in the world history – Julius Caesar. In 48 BC he pursued Pompey who ran to Egypt. An Egyptian fleet intercepted Caesar, and he was forced to use fire to fight back. This happened near the shores of Alexandria. It is said that the Library was in the part of the city that got burned down.

Another theory implicates Theophilus, then Patriarch of Alexandria, and his great success in converting people to Christianity. This found a strong opposition amongst the city’s pagan followers, who rioted after Theophilus’ death. His successor, Cyril, wasn’t able to hold back the riots and quite soon the fires were all around the city, finally reaching the Library. Some accused Hypatia, one of the world’s first women philosophers, for the destruction, leading to her death.

A third theory accuses the Moslem Caliph, Omar. The Caliph said that the habitats of the city ought to honor the Koran. As the Library contained great numbers of manuscripts which belonged to other religions, religious intolerance induced the burning. In Omar’s alleged words, anything contained in the Library was either in accordance to the Koran, therefore obsolete, or against it, in which case it was heretical. Either way, there was no reason for its existence.

Just like everything else surrounding the Library, these are the main theories surrounding the Library’s destruction. However, there are multiple factors which contradict one another. Sadly enough for a place of learning, it is unlikely we will ever uncover the full truth behind the legend of the Great Library of Alexandria.

via History of the Great Library of Alexandria

TRACES OF THE PAST YEAR 4 – MAY 2018 – Marilyn Armstrong

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: TRACES OF THE PAST Y4-05

This time, it’s something old, in color.

Lacking cathedrals and mansions, we’ll have to settle for just old things. Like me?

Okay, not me.

Something else, but what? How about the old mansions along the dock in Rockport, Massachusetts. This picture was taken at sunrise on July 4th, at five in the morning.

Old houses along the dock in Rockport, Massachusetts

jupiter najnajnoviji

THE RUSSIANS IN LIBERTY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I have been watching “Reilly – Ace of Spies” starring Sam Neill. It’s a really good, long mini-series. Very detailed, complex, and absorbing. Since it’s more or less historical, I know how it’s going to end … which is one of the few things I don’t like about watching history. You know it’s going to end badly. You have to decide if you want to watch that final episode or maybe take a shower.

On this evening’s episode, Sidney Reilly quit the British Secret Service and committed himself to ending the Bolshevik reign in Russia at any cost. Which was when I realized I’d met a whole bunch of these people a long time ago in a world I’d nearly forgotten.

This is a strange story, so bear with me.

Russian Communism was not one or two easily understood “things.” It was an idea that became a revolution that fractured into multiple parts. Americans have typically seen it all as one thing: Communism. Khrushchev. Stalin. Soviet Union. For most Americans, that’s how we’ve been taught to think about it.

It was a lot more complicated than that.

A lot of people fought the Czar to end their reign and bring Communism to Russians. Many of those fighters were very unhappy (and many of them also wound up dead) because the Communist government they got was nothing like what they fought for. They fought for justice and equality, but what they got was tyranny and fascism. The ironic part of the story is that the fight to get rid the world of the German fascists basically cost them the country.

Getting rid of the Germans was pretty much the one thing on which everyone in Russia agreed. Get rid of the Germans. We’ll sort out the rest later.

It turned out Lenin wasn’t such a nice guy and by the end of the war, he was in power … and then, he was dead and chaos reigned. The British didn’t provide the anti-Bolsheviks the weapons or troops they had promised. The planned coup to take over the Russian government failed as did the attempted assassination of Lenin. By the time the Germans surrendered, Lenin and his wing-man, Stalin, owned Russia.

Sidney Reilly, the star of the series we’re watching, left the British Secret Service and dedicated the remaining years of his life to trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government. Many of his people — including Sidney — moved to New York where the FBI  stuck to them like super glue. The FBI was not then or now a group who understood the complexities of Russian history.

Eventually, many of these Russians moved to small towns in upstate New York. Monroe. Liberty. Woodstock. Monticello. Roxbury. Places that once were home to huge Jewish resorts like Grossinger’s and where so many stand-up comics got their start. Today these towns are doing pretty well, but there were dark days during which they were nearly ghost towns.

Except for the Russians.

Liberty, New York – the old days

I was 17 in the summer of 1964. My goal in life was to leave home and never come back. My mother still thought she might somehow lure me into staying a while longer … like until I was 18. Or got married. Or had a job. Thus when summer rolled around, she decided we needed a family vacation in the Catskills. Liberty, in Sullivan County, was our destination.

To say that this was not what I wanted doesn’t come close to it. I hated my father and disliked my sister. My brother had married and left home, so my only ally was gone. Family vacation? Seriously? I could look forward to a couple of weeks of being harangued by my father and probably threatened with near death beatings.

I never entirely understood my mother’s reasoning. Why would I want to go to the mountains with the family?

Regardless, that’s what we did. I don’t remember the name of the “resort.” It was old and rundown. The reason mom picked it was because they had a concert pianist. I was a music major with piano as my instrument. Mom apparently thought the music might grab my interest. In response, I brought enough dope with me to stay high the full two weeks.

But the mural was in full, blazing color

That first evening, we went to dinner. Big dining room  intended for a much larger crowd. Two walls were painted. Murals. On the wall facing me (I’m not making this up) was the head of Trotsky. From chin to forehead he was maybe 12 feet high? No body, just a head. I was really stoned and that huge head just hung there on the wall.

But wait. There was more.

On the right wall was something that looked like a chariot but was probably a troika which is usually pulled by three horses. In this case, it was being pulled by three workers. You knew they were workers because the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed across their laboring bodies. In the chariot — or whatever it was — there was a Corporate Rich Guy (dollar signs painted all over him) beating the workers. With a giant whip.

Holy shit.

That was some dinner. I don’t know what they served, but I ate it all.

That night, I could hear my parents whispering. “Albert, you better get cash. We can’t sign anything. The FBI is probably here. Watching.” Come to think of it, the FBI probably was there. Did they also eat the gefilte fish?

It turned out everyone in the resort except me, my sister, and parents, were in their 70s or older. All of them had been in the White army trying to take down the Bolsheviks — or something like that. Here’s a good jumping off point for the history. It’s Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t be your primary source.

The road to Liberty

These were Sidney’s people. They carried around books of pictures of pictures of them young, in the army. Guns. Boots. Snow. Tanks. If I had been more astute, a bit more into Russian history — and less stoned — I could have asked so many questions. I’m sure they would have told me everything.

As it was, they tried to tell me everything, but I was 17. We all know that 17-year-old girls don’t listen to old people, even when they have books full of pictures of themselves when they were kids, fighting Bolsheviks and tanks. In Russia. In the snow.

Until we started watching this series, I had no idea who these folks were. I knew they were Russian because they said so. They had pictures and they giggled when they talked about it. I remember Greenwich Village. They remembered fighting with the army in Russia.

Ah, memories.

At 17, I didn’t know the difference between one Bolshevik and another and probably, at that stage in life, didn’t care.

Tonight, watching that show, it came together. Those people were the last of the crowd of anti-Bolsheviks who’d come up from New York city to live in those quaint towns in the Catskills — to get away from the FBI and HUAC.

Pity I didn’t get the story. What a story it would have been!

Dad paid cash. He never signed anything. I think he used a fake name, too. I stayed stoned and ate gefilte fish, which I usually hate. How could I say no to fish with Trotsky staring at me while the guy with the whip beat the workers?

BRONZE ORIENTAL FIGURINES – Marilyn Armstrong

I decided to try to see if I could get some better photographs of two of my old bronze figurines. I’ve pretty much pinned down the provenance on Vishnu riding Garuda as being most likely 17th or 18th century Chinese — or possibly from Tibet.

He has his original medallion from Chinese authorities indicating his status as an antique. It’s a small piece, as most of these items are. It has been certified by the Chinese government as an official authorized antique.

Bhoddivista buddha – a perfected soul returning to help others achieve perfection. The stuff that looks like gold on the figure is actually gold. Probably 1700s, but possibly 1800s.
Bhoddivista -(Corrected colors) If anyone recognizes this fellow, I’d appreciate the help!

The other item has been harder to pin down. I have no provenance on him. he is a buddha — what is called a “Bhoddivista” — a perfected soul that has returned to be a help to others seeking perfection.

When I talk about provenance, that is the issue. Identical items may come with “official” a government or museum insignia. Even though they are identical to items which do not have the same insignia, their value is significantly lower because without it, proving provenance — where the piece came from and its likely age — is difficult.

This does have the Chinese government insignia. Probably 1700s, but could be 100 years earlier. Possibly from Tibet, but claimed by the Chinese (who are also claiming Tibet)
Vishnu riding Garuda the power of whose wings were said to allow Vishnu to circle the planet in a mere two beats of his wings.

It’s easier when you are dealing with porcelain because porcelain was fired in kilns that often leave specific markings on the base of pieces fired within.  Most of my pieces came without provenance because getting them certified would have cost me at least three more money.

Identical piece, but the seller didn’t want to battle with the Chinese government for their insignia. And who could blame them?

That little metal tag is the Chinese government’s seal of authenticity. This piece is old. How old? I don’t know. 1500s? 1700s? Somewhere in between? Hard to tell with anything made of bronze.

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