Book – Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species

It always me amazes that so many Americans refuse to accept the fact of evolution, a century and a half after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. It’s still a fascinating book, though of course many of the details have changed.
The full title of the book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. What’s interesting is that the ideas in the book were already under discussion before publication, and as the years went on, Darwin , worked to provide answers to criticisms he knew would occur, spending several chapters refuting his critics. So each subsequent edition of Origin was slightly different, the closest Darwin’s time could come to blogging.

What’s also amazing is the sheer number of people with whom he corresponded. The book is written in a very conversational style, and Darwin frequently uses information gathered from his many correspondents. He states his ideas clearly, then methodically brings in evidence to support them across a wide range of fields. One of the common arguments by creationists is that the eye couldn’t have ‘just happened’, but Darwin anticipated this line of reasoning, and creationists should read his discussion of the many ways in which optical apparati have evolved in multiple creatures, often for original purposes other than sight.
The final paragraph of the book bears repeating, [and Stephen J Gould used it as the inspiration for his monthly magazine columns]:

“There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
This passage also reminds us that, again, contrary to what creationists might say, Darwin did not address the Origin of life itself. Instead, he describes the scientific background that permits the development of species after life started.
Much has changed since Darwin’s time – remember that his era didn’t even know what genes were, much less had any concept of the process by which DNA encodes the entire organism. So it’s no surprise that Darwin got some of the details wrong. No scientist has ever been 100% correct, but that’s the beauty of the scientific method. Unlike religion and other dogmatic faiths, science thrives on criticism, rethinking, and experimental demonstration of hypotheses. This makes the Theory of Evolution one of the most solid intellectual constructions of all time. It is the basis for our understanding of the natural world, and supports modern biology.

India – Exploring Udaipur

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From Ahmedabad to Udaipur — 12:30:00 PM Start for Udaipur, 2:15:00 stopped for lunch -a thali with excellent paneer w red sauce, pickle, sabzi, dal, rice roti 50R.

Major roadwork underway as part of a ‘Dream Project for the Golden Quadrilateral’
signs triumphantly declare. Often these are just 10-20 km sections of toll road, a brief track of 4 lane, divided highway seemingly at random. But the larger plan is to connect the traditional Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle and Udaipur with a network of modern highways. Bypassing towns and villages isn’t considered though, so long stretches run thru villages where one side of buildings has been completely razed. Some places, one side has been finished, or nearly so, and both lanes of one side support two-way traffic which then jumps to the other side after several kilometers. Looks like the entire project is under construction at the same time. Often where the roadbed has been widened, the track is now lightly asphalted or even dirt. Massive concrete bridges span rivers and wadis and provide choke points. On the open sections we speed along at 80 km then down to 20-30 when both directions share. It’s interesting to dream about how this could change this area -transit times will be cut in half or better, so transport costs should drop, and it’ll be possible to expand day markets much farther. That’s if these faster roads don’t become deathtraps -with speeds doubling, even though the highways are divided, there will still be those who go the wrong way, and the herds of cows, buffalo and sheep will still be encountered. [In theory they won’t be allowed on some of these roads, but that will be difficult to enforce] Cross into Rajasthan -and the roadside stands proclaim ‘chilled beer’! Well after dark, we arrive about 7:30 in Udaipur. Udaipur is the jewel of MEWAR -a kingdom ruled by the Sisodia dynasty for 1200 Years. We stay at another ‘Heritage’ hotel Jagat Niwa, but not an original building. In the twisty streets of old city, a small façade opens to a large interior court with 3 stories of lovely rooms — tall ceilings, divans in alcoves.We have a leisurely breakfast on the cool veranda overlooking Lake Pichola and the Floating Palace. We’re back in tourist country now -more
westerners, lots more smokers. Our new driver, Riyaz shows up, but the rest of our tour crew are late


Walked over to the city palace for a tour, then took a boat out to the Jag Mandir, a complex of palaces and mosques.

12/2 /09 Early morning, drove up to catch light on fort walls, Then drove to Udaipur -just under 2 hrs -people carrying water, forage; bullocks turning well pump and waterwheel. We’ve finally graduated beyond simple tourists -today we drove over 5 km on the wrong side of a divided highway, keeping a moderate pace in the rightmost lane [the actual passing lane for the proper traffic]. No one seemed bothered. Tried to avoid city palace which we had already visited, but driver kept insisting
-finally ended up there, but did not go in -visited Vishnu temple nearby -singing and dance service ending just then. Several photogenic holy men strategically placed. Did some shopping and bought some miniature paintings from several local artists

Driver told us not to buy from shops outside [we suspect because they don’t give commission ] then he took us to 2 ‘better places’ – one was the overpriced cottage industries, the other equally uninteresting; visited cenotaphs of majarajahs. Then back to shops for more paintings.

This was the height of marriage season and we saw at least 12 marriages underway – groom on white horse followed by women of his family brightly dressed. A push cart looking like a popcorn stand holds drums & audio for band to link to and blast away

On way out saw a sign pointing, reading ‘child’; couldn’t figure it out til we returned, and then we the other side it said ‘beer child’

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India – Darshan in Nathdwara

Nathdwara Krishna Temple

In the 17th century outside Nathdwara, a chariot carrying an image of Krishna became stuck in the mud 26km north of Eklingji. The idol was being carried from Krishna’s birthplace Mathura to Udaipur to hide it Aurangzeb’s destruction.  Its
bearers interpreted the event as a divine sign and established a new temple where it had stopped. [In Venice there’s a parallel story, illustrated by a painting in the Academia, about a religious procession being stopped by unknown forces, then released, and a miracle declared]

 From our base at Khumbalgarh Fort, we drove about 65 km to Nathdwara the site of a temple dedicated to Krishna. Nath is another name of Krishna, a favorite avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, hence NATHDWARA means “Gateway to God” It’s the 2nd richest temple in India after Tirupati (in Andhra Pradesh). Nathdwara is a small town, and its narrow streets are filled with stalls and shops selling, beads, perfumes and small Krishna statues. In the centre of town the Shri Nathji temple awaits pilgrims. Each day, the image is awakened, dressed, washed, fed then later put to bed. The most elaborate session, aarti, takes place between 5pm and 6pm. .

There were only a few western tourists at this site. I had a guide for special darshan, which eliminates some of the queuing [500R inc guide, about $10]. He took me through a cluttered courtyard to a back entrance where I sat on some stairs, alone, in what looked to be a a warehouse as 2 men unloaded pumpkins from burlap sacks, some covered with mold, already in stored in a corner. After a short wait, my guide re-appears, from the inside and ushers me into a courtyard where a small crowd builds. The opposing doors open and everyone rushes ahead to get in line for next phase. Now we’re sitting in front of elaborate silver bas-relief doors. Again, the crowd builds. When doors open this time we run across yet another courtyard, where men & women gather in separate sections, divided by a large fence. The guide has me sit off to the side, at the back of the room, and then disappears for ½ hr (Remember – this is the express line!). When he returns he takes me to sit behind an elephant statue on the women’s side. When the next doors open and the women pass through, we become the head of the men’s line. The dividing barrier gate swings out and almost crushes my foot as the men surge forward into a small, narrow theatre, with terraces so everyone can see the sanctum at the end of the hall. A richly dressed statue of Krishna, served by 2 priests appears amid incense, candelabras, and other offerings as crowd chants. The darshan lasts much longer than our experience at Tirupati . Then we exit to halls where donations are collected; we get holy water, tikkal, Prasad, and charmed necklaces.

 

Maharana Pratap

Haldighati [turmeric valley] is a deep cut in red sandstone, just outside the town, with narrow 1 lane road about ¼ mile long; obviously long a strategic choke point for military operations.

Museum commemorates Maharana Pratap’s victory over Akbars’ General Man Singh at Haldigharti . When he attacked, Man Singh’s elephant wielded a sword which cut off one of Maharana Pratap’s horse’s legs, but the horse carried him another 20 km to get reinforcements and eventually win the battle. Small groups of tourists are ushered thru series of rooms – first with 3D map of the campaign; next with weapons and figures of various leaders, then a short movie recapping what we learned in first 2 rooms; then a dark passage, lit to reveal various dioramas – Maharana Pratap fighting tiger, Maharana Pratap’s consoling his dying horse, Maharana Pratap’s and army as guerrillas in forest camp.

Outside, several displays showed village life today with life sized dioramas showing water wheels, markets, etc that we had been seeing in real life on our trip. Indian tourists, probably urban, were fascinated by these displays.

A good lunch is served on site with several dals, gobi, chappatis, and rice, for a few rupees.

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Travel – Ferries of Europe

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  • Journal entry: 7 Sep, 2001 Thursday Athens to Santorini Ferry Up at 5:30, hotel let us into the dining room early for cakes, simit and coffee. 6:15 Transfer to Piraeus and the 7:30 ferry to Santorini. The docks make WA state
    ferry system seem puny. Ferries docked for a mile or more, large multidecked, fast catamarans, and slower hulking ones. Taxis everywhere letting out passengers. We board, and take our assigned seats. Nice interior, comfortable seats. Polished wood floors. Snack bars, reasonably priced. Once boat is underway, no one is allowed to stand outside, though (too much spray). Leave on time; come into Signos harbor about 10:15, just time to get a coupla pictures, then on to
    Santorini. First views of Santorini look like the caldera is snow capped, then the white resolves into houses and hotels cascading down the brown volcanic slopes. Unload about 11:45, met by Fantasy Travel and bussed up the switchbacking road to Volcano View Villas/Hotel. Beautifully sited, all rooms look out into the caldera and spread across the hill with swimming pools spaced among them.Journal entry: 9 Sep, 2001 Thursday  Santorini – Crete Ferry
    Had time for a refreshing swim before transfer to the port. Driver just backed into a parking place at the end of the dock, unloaded our luggage & bid us goodbye. Chaos – people everywhere, lining up for multiple ferry arrivals, dozens of others filling the local cafes while waiting. Cars & taxis spitting out more people at random, trucks maneuvering, with a few police pretending to direct traffic. Had to ask several times to find, then confirm where to go for the Crete ferry; no signs or other details anywhere. Crowd grew impatient when a first ferry docked, disgorged, then immediately backed water and took off without loading anyone. But our boat, the Minoan Lines, El Greco, was just waiting its turn, and backed into the dock, tossed its mooring lines and dropped the ramp. Might as well have cried ‘Havoc’, ’cause the dogs were loose – any attempt at lines ceased to exist as everyone surged forward and up the bumpy ramps, wheeled luggage only a slight advantage.

    Once entering the maw of the ferry, the real journey began. I was directed up and onwards, and then down a long narrow corridor with cabins, all with closed doors. Emerging at the other end, there was no one to direct traffic, and I looked briefly into several smoke filled salons, already jammed with people, many sitting on the floors. (Turned out these were only for those with cabins). When I tried to go further I was turned back, since I had dared to press into first class territory; but no signs to indicate that. Told to go up, but no immediate way to do that, other than return the way I’d come. Finally found stairs up to another deck, only to find packed video game rooms and yet another ‘pullman’ salon just as crowded as the others. After asking several uninterested and unhelpful workers, I finally made my way out to the deck, to find Audrey, Marv & Rosemary who’d fought their way up from below without the trek thru cabin land. They’d checked their bags, hoping it would be possible to recover them in the crush of the anticipated disembarking procedure. All still a hurried jumble around us.

    Finally found a place on the top deck, under cover, and commandeered several movable plastic chairs, more comfortable than those bolted to the deck in sections. Things finally started to sort themselves out, we managed to have chosen a place with few smokers, and the boat pulled out just in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset over Therissa and the volcano islands. Ferries let you settle down to read and doze for the 4 hour trip to Crete. Leaving about 7:30, we docked at Heraclion at 11:30 or so. We’d decided to wait for the first wave to cram its way thru the gates before moving down. From the upper decks I was able to use my zoom lens to find the agency agent holding a card with my name on it. When we finally emerged and regrouped about 30′ later, he took us over to the parking lot, in the dark, went thru the paperwork formalities, and gave us instructions to find the hotel “go out that road, and follow it until you see the hotel, it’s not too far”.

  • On 9/11/2001  we were on Crete
  • Rhodes, Greece to Marmaris, Turkey: Sep 16, 2001 Sunday – Rhodes to Bodrum Up around 6, allowed in early for breakfast,then picked up by taxi around 7 and down to the ferry terminal.   On board, it’s an easy ride – comfortable airplane type chairs and tables, 3 decks, with adequate air.  Luggage on ferries is stored in a central area, under cover.  Good early morning views of the harbor and fortifications, with yachts sailing past.  8:10 sailing, supposedly 50 minute catamaran ride, but took nearer 1 1/2 Probably 2/3 or more of ferry’s passengers were just heading across for the day.   So there was no big line for visas, though a bit of a wait to get thru passport control.

Book – The Soul of Battle – David Victor Hanson

Hanson’s book is subtitled “From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny. ” Its theme is “Never in human conflict have such vast democratic infantry forces appeared out of nowhere, wrought such havoc and then dispersed among the consensual culture that fielded them.”

Hanson concentrates on 3 men:

  • Epaminondas  of Thebes and his campaigns which destroyed Sparta
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea and march through the Carolinas in 1864-65,
  • Patton’s Third Army campaigns from Normandy to Czechoslovakia in 1944-45.

Jumping back and forth while discussing each leader in historical context, Hanson shows that these seemingly different men are very similar.  They all fought in ideological wars to overthrow slave or apartheid systems and each of these generals realized that merely defeating armies was not enough. Instead they found similar methods to keep casualties low while striking hard and dramatically at the underpinnings of the three slave based societies of Sparta, the Confederate South, and Nazi Germany.

These were ideological wars to overthrow slave or apartheid systems and each of these generals realized that merely defeating armies was not enough. Instead they found similar methods to keep casualties low while striking hard and dramatically at the underpinnings of the three slave based societies of Sparta, the Confederate South, and Nazi Germany.

Epaminondas of Thebes was the first of Hanson’s trio of generals to discover the need to do more than defeat an enemy army in the field.  Despite a major defeat at Leuctra, the Spartans recovered quickly and soon were as threatening as ever.  It required an invasion of their homeland. The Spartiate nobility “hid in the streets with their sobbing women and children – like the females who were left to beg from Sherman on the plantations, and the once proud German citizens who took down their portraits of Adolf Hitler and approached Patton’s army with white flags.    

The only way to end Spartan aggression was to fight it far beyond the battlefield, destroy the material and spiritual capital that fuelled the army in the first place: plunder its farmland, free its castes of inferiors, and exhibit how shallow was the entire “Spartan mystique”.  The elite of all militaristic slave states, with elaborate pseudo-scientific claims to ethnic and racial superiority, must fight and fight well when invaded.  To huddle in town, to avoid the army of the enemy, to flee his onslaught is prima facie evidence of the lie that permeates such societies, as terror quickly gives way to humiliation.  No Spartan, like no Confederate, like no German could ever claim that “a stab in the back “ had brought the enemy among his women and children;  it was now plain to see that only the failure of a militaristic society’s military was to blame. 

Hanson points out that long before Kant, Epaminondas realized democracy is the only way to avoid wars.  “For better or worse, after Epaminondas’s great invasion the free citizens of the entire Peloponnese would now vote when and when not to
go to war.”

Soul of Battle is compelling history, mixing biography, background history, and detailed military tactics and strategy.  The
Epaminondas section will be new to most readers, even those who’ve read Hanson’s earlier Western Way of War. At best, we know this short decade as the ‘Theban hegemony”, filling the gap between Sparta’s victory in the Peloponnesian War and Philip and Alexander’s Macedonian conquests.  Hanson shows that Epaminondas and the Thebans deserve more attention.  This was recognized by both Sherman and to an even greater extent by Patton. Hanson remarks, “It is more than likely
that there was not a single American general in Normandy who had ever heard of Epaminondas – a figure that had lived with Patton in the forty years before he took command of the Third Army “

The Thebans set out in 370, as they had at Lecutra and would again at Mantinea, ready and eager to meet the Spartan phalanx – but on their terms only.  They were not particularly interested in either chasing or waiting for its appearance.  Rather, like Sherman in Georgia, the strategy of the army was to march through enemy territory, destroying property and humiliating its citizenry, displaying to subject states and underlings alike the impotence of their masters, with the confidence that if the enemy chose to fight, it would lose even more dramatically


Epaminondas ‘s Thebans were not a light army of plunderers or skirmishers, nor a plodding phalanx that existed for battle alone, but rather both.  He is neither predecessor to Alexander nor successor of Pericles, but rather innovator of this new balance of movement in force against the human and material capital of the enemy – a paradigm that other democratic musters would follow in the centuries to come.  At any point, Epaminondas was prepared either to meet the Spartan phalanx in battle or to continue his march at its periphery and to its rear – thereby in Sherman’s words putting the enemy “on the horns of a dilemma”.

Epaminondas’s proper legacy is no less than the beginning of the great tradition of self-appraisal and military self-critique
in the West – which at the core is the very struggle for the Western heritage itself. … the more liberal tradition of civil rights, democracy and consensual government that must fight to reclaim the Hellenic legacy from its fringe elements and rival claimants… When Epaminondas destroyed Sparta as a military power, he helped to reassert the humanity of the West, and so established a precedent for centuries to come: when there arose a distortion of the main evolutionary course of Western civilization — Spartan helotage, Southern slave society, National Socialism – there would often be an eventual terrible
response from the more liberal societies in order to reclaim the Western legacy that was properly theirs alone.

The Sherman section brings many new ideas and insights to an oft-told tale.  The tactical innovation of Sherman’s skirmishing foragers are vividly realized:

The foragers became the beau ideal of partisan troops. Their self-confidence and daring increased to a wonderful pitch, and no organized line of skirmishers could so quickly clear the head of column of the opposing cavalry of the enemy. Nothing short of an entrenched line of battle could stop them, and when they were far scattered on the flank, plying their vocation, if a body of hostile cavalry approached, a singular sight was to be seen. Here and there, from barn, from granary and smokehouse, and from the kitchen gardens of the plantations, isolated foragers would hasten by converging lines, driving before them the laden mule heaped high with vegetables, smoked bacon, fresh meat and poultry. As soon as two or three of these met, one would drive the animals, and the others, from fence corners or behind trees would begin a bold skirmish, their Springfield rifles giving them the advantage in range over the carbines of the horsemen. As they were pressed they would continue falling back and assembling, the regimental platoons falling in beside each other till their line of fire would become too hot for their opponents, and these would retire reporting that they had driven in the skirmishers upon the main column which was probably miles away. The work of foraging would then be resumed.
Yet Hanson shows how even here slavery dictated an entire culture

The idea of states’ rights, the notion of fighting for their home ground and the common cultural ancestry of the South were
strong and understandable incentives as well.  But once again behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.  If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizen, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots, if slavery alone drew the hostility of Northern abolitionists, then it alone offered one promise to the free white man – poor, ignorant and dispirited – that he was at least not black and not a slave.  That was often a great comfort to those who otherwise had found very little material or psychological capital under Confederate plantation culture.   

To return to the classical paradigm, slavery is often cited as the reason for the astonishing absence of class conflict in the classical world, in which … the poor almost never arose in mass against the wealthy. Ancient historians.. attribute this curious absence .. to the ubiquity of chattel slavery – whatever the exploitation of the free man, he was one with his betters on at least 3 counts: there were particular menials, certain ‘slavish; work .. from which he was exempted; like the wealthy, the poor man could vote; and he was entitled as a free citizen to fight in the militia of the polis.  In general, the classical
example seems a reasonable explanation at least in part for why the poor white of the South felt the slaveholder’s cause was also his own – he would fight as if a planter, vote as if a planter, and in exchange receive assurance from the planter that he was not a member of the 44 percent of the Georgia population who really were both legally and naturally “inferior”

The Patton section is written in reverse chronological order, starting with Patton’s accidental death after the war.  These flashbacks intensify the feelings of what-if and if-only as multilayered decisions by Bradley and Eisenhower are peeled back to expose how they the lengthened the war. 

In every tactical crux of the Normandy campaign, Patton alone offered the correct advice – from the rapid follow-up on the breakout
in early August 1944, to the need to hurry on to Brest, to the entrapment of the Germans at the Falaise Gap, to the critical goal of sealing off the exists of the German armies once he crossed the Seine, to the idea of approaching and crossing the Rhine rapidly at the end of August, to the notion of enveloping the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes and slicing off the enemy salient at its base, to the desire to trap and destroy two entire German armies west of the Rhine, and to the final question of preventing Soviet occupation of eastern Europe.  In each case, had the Americas allowed the Third Army and its seemingly insane general to have his way… thousands of Allied soldiers would have been saved, the war shortened, the horror of the death camps ended months earlier, and the calamity of postwar communism for a few millions perhaps averted. 

Hanson’s piercing analysis of the fall and winter campaigns of 1944-45 adds up to solid support for Patton’s diary entry:  “I could not help but think our delay in pushing forward would probably result, after due course of time, in the erection of many other such monuments for men who, had we gone faster, would not have died.”:   (Of course, especially for the considerations of dealings with the Soviets,  Eisenhower’s decisions often had more political than military ingredients, but that’s for a different book and another review.)

In summarizing, Hanson brings all 3 men back onstage:

For a few brief months in the winter and spring of 370-369 a single man had created a vast democratic army
that changed the course of Greek history. So too in a matter of weeks Sherman fashioned the Army of the West
into the most lethal army the world had yet seen.  In less than a year George Patton had turned 250,000 amateur
American recruits into a mobile and lethal force that could charge ahead at forty miles and more a day through enemy occupied territory.  Superior discipline, pride in accomplishment, unit morale, devotion to an eccentric and brilliant general can all explain much of those remarkable victories.  But not all.  In the end, Boeotians, Northerners, and American GIs advanced so rapidly and so lethally because they saw themselves as more moral troops than their
enemies.  As agents of a long-overdue reckoning, they really did believe that they were democracy’s ultimate vengeance against a slaveholding society that they were fighting a culture, not merely an enemy army.

Hanson realizes that it may surprise and even shock or insult some readers to name Sherman, Patton and Epaminondas as marchers for freedom, but he emphasizes that their thinking led to faster and more solid peace rather than to further brutalizing war.  “True, they had no delusions about either human nature or war; but this realism grew out of humanism, not cynicism, as they practiced a brutal war-making in order to prevent casualties and establish an enduring peace. 

What Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton did was very rare in military history, for democracy itself is rare in the larger history of civilization, and rare still its great armies of victory that seek no gold or land, but rather the enemy in its heartland only
for the freedom of others. 

When a free and consensual society feels its existence threatened, when it has been attacked, when its citizenry at last understands an enemy at odds with the very morality of its culture, when a genius at war leads the army with freedom to do what he wishes, when it is to march to a set place in a set time, then free men can muster, they an fight back well, and they can make war brutally and lethally beyond the wildest nightmares of the brutal military culture they seek to destroy.

The antithesis is equally valid: democratic armies do not fight well when they are not attacked, when they are stationary with nowhere to march, when they fight to preserve privilege or empire, when they are not supported at home, when they are led by careful clerks and bureaucrats who command by consensus – in short, when they are not moving forward with every means at their disposal to destroy the enemy in the cause of freedom.  The entire American experience in Southeast Asia, like the Athenian disaster in Sicily, is proof enough of just how mediocre under those conditions – strategic, tactical and spiritual – a democracy at war can become.

An epilogue looks at how Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton might have conducted the Gulf War.

 

Civil War Images and maps:

Turkey – Hiking Selge and Aspendos

Turkey offers day hiking that combines moderate exertion with a journey into the past. We hiked along mountain paths that include parts of Roman construction for Silk Road traffic.

With an early morning start, we drive to the Pamphylonian city of Selge – one of the most isolated and dramatic of ancient cities. The road narrows as we climb out of a narrow canyon, crossing Roman bridges. The pine forest gives way to chestnut, thorn and olive trees. The conglomerate rocks form lopsided towers, creating a vast, natural stone metropolis. We arrive at the village of Zelk (modern Selge), populated by formerly nomadic people. As we hike thru the village careful observation reveals many Roman columns and capitals and other architectural elements become raw building materials in stables and farm houses.

Starting at the impressive Roman theatre, we are joined by a local guide to explore the remains of the agora, acropolis and city walls. Then we hike down the valley, dropping almost 1000 feet. After about 10K we emerge from the Koprulu Kanyon at the ancient Roman bridge. We stop by the river for a lunch of local fresh fish, at a restaurant overlooking a mountain spring.

Freya Stark Alexander’s Path

Strabo mentions these bridges in the mountainous country which abounded with precipices and ravines and kept the Selgians from being ‘at any time or on any single occasion, subject to any other people’. This one joined two cliffs with one arch across the river far below and its road, cut in the precipice continuedto show itself at intervals, in slabs of stone placed end to end for miles into the hills.

.. here solitude floated up from the vertical gorges, filled with cypress or cedar as if with black spears. The silence buried the sound of its own waters, and a thin haze, spun in the blueness of air, divided one range from another, as if the heights wore haloes… Higher up the oak leaves lifted into sunlight, and their tyrunks, and those of a tall tree like a chesnut, stood furrowed like stone among the strange hieratic stones. These ribs of rock, symmetrically ranked, descended, one felt, into the hill’s foundations, and the bare rain-washed scaffolding that shows must be a part of the hidden scaffolding of earth. … There was a human kindness about these trees; as there was in the floor of the road whose giant stones we kept on meeting, and in a cistern scooped solid through the rock at the rim of the cliff.. The symmetrical, natural rocks encircled this place and must have made it religious long before the days of known history or the knowledge of the Greeks. Small pointed hillocks were framed in these formal borders, and … we reached a cemetery of stones and marble fragments scattered under high oak trees and saw the village now called Zerk .. scattered among prostrate columns under a Roman theatre in a hollow.

It was shallow as a saucer and the ploughed fields filled it and small pinnacles surrounded it, where temples had stood on easy slopes. Beyond them, the high peaks rose with unseen valleys intervening.

The town of Zelk lies today at the end of a winding road, but in ancient times was an integral part of trade on the Silk Road. It’s a less visited place along the Aegean Coast. The amphitheatre is in decent conidtion, except for the columns and blocks of stone that now form parts of stables and houses in the village below.Don’t worry about a guide, as soon as you appear, local girls appear to show the ruins. They also just happen to have beautiful handicrafts they’ve made and you just might convince them to sell you one. From here, it’s an easy hike down through narrow gorges and fragrant strawberry trees and osmanthis.

Nearby Aspendos is a day trip from Antalya and contains one of the best preserved Greek theatres. It’s still used for performances.

Again, from Freya Stark:

The theatre stands on flat ground, like a box from which the lid has been lifted. Proud, limted and magnificent, there is a prison air about it – a difference as of death and life that one feels between the Roman and the Greek. No landscape stretches here beond a low and unobtrusive stage, for the easy coming and going of the gods. Human experience,that moved with freedeom and mystery, is here walled-in with balconies and columns; its pure transparency, the far horizon window, is lost.

In the Greek theatre, with its simple three-doored stage and chorus undertone of sorrow, the drama of life could penetrate, without any barrier between them, the surrounding vastness of the dark. I have listened to the Hippolytus of Euripides in Epidaurus where the words of Artemis and Aphrodite with the mountain pines and the sunset behind them, become a limpid fear – a play no longer, but nature and all that ever has been, anguish and waste of days, speaking to men.

India – Visiting Orissa Hill Tribes

Orissa is the home of over 62 ‘tribes’. Defined in the Indian Constitution as ‘scheduled castes’,  they have historically been outside the political arena, although some of the tribes are mentioned in ancient texts like the Mahabharata. A quick tour on the narrow mountain roads shows why. Their religion and culture were outside the traditional Hindu society, but they melded the Hindu Pantheon into their lives to produce a special masala similar to the absorption of Christianity by Mexican and South American tribal societies. [Masala is a versatile Indian word, specifically referring to a mixture of spices in cooking, but easily adapted as a metaphor.] We spent our first week in the Orissa hills using Jeypore – Koraput as our base for daily exploration.

This is mountainous country, with hidden valleys that offer prosperous conditions for farming. Weekly markets form a major communications function, as merchants bring manufactured goods from the lowlands to trade with tribal peoples who bring local produce, livestock and crafts from their hillside villages. The Bonda are known one of the best examples of this exchange, but even here only a few tourists, mostly Europeans, were present at the market. We went for days without seeing other tourists in the other areas.

They continue to inhabit their traditional dwelling places in remote areas of the deep forests and hilly interiors. Steeped in the mystery that surrounds their ancient ways, the Orissan tribal peoples continue to be a source of deep interest not only for anthropologists and sociologists but also for numerous tourists. The tribal economy is based on activities around the jungles. Hunting and fishing continue to be the main source of livelihood though some of the larger tribes such as Santals, Mundas, and Gonds have become agriculturists. The Juang, Bhuyan, Bondo, Saura, and Dhruba tribes follow the shifting cultivation practice. The Koya tribals are cattle breeders while the Mahali and Lohara are simple artisans involved in basket weaving and tool making. The Santal, Munda and other tribes have now also become involved in the mining and industrial
belt of Orissa. Though their economy is shaky, the Orissan tribal peoples enjoy a rich and varied cultural heritage, the most powerfully in their music and dance, which are as colorful as they are rhythmical. The cycle of life offers numerous reasons to celebrate and is done so with vigor and grace – either in the privacy of family home or as a community activity.

The Paraja tribe is primarily located in the Kalahandi and Koraput regions of Orissa. The language is ‘Parji’. They worship numerous gods and goddesses who live in the hills and forests.

The “Soura” tribe is one of the most ancient and they are known for being marathon walkers, expert hunters and climbers.

The “Bondos” are fiercely independents and aggressive, and continue to practice the barter system of exchanging produce from their fields for their daily needs.

The Kutias are the primitive section of the Kondh tribal community.  Dongria Kondhs, also a primitive section of the Kondh community are expert horticulturists and maintain a quite distinct cultural heritage.
Other links:

Dinosaur Museums of the World

There are amazing dinosaur collections at many universities and museums; here are some of my favorite museums with dinosaurs we’ve visited.

In the early 20th century Roy Chapman Andrews led a series of expeditions into the Gobi Desert and Mongolia. He made important discoveries including the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. He worked through the American Museum of Natural History and later became its director. Popular books of the 1950s about his life and discoveries influenced later generations of dinosaur hunters.

Explorations in China became more and more difficult, mostly for political reasons, only becoming accessible
again at the end of the 20th century. In his book, Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, Michael Novacek describes
expeditions to Ulaan Bataar, Dalan Dzadgad, Baishin Tsav, Hurrendoch,Saynshand, the Nemegt Basin, Ukhaa Tolgod, and the flaming mountains of Gurvain Saichan. The discoveries from these expeditions have shed new light on our understanding of the animals of that age. Perhaps the best specimen is the Oviraptor buried while on its nest. We saw some of the results of these expeditions along with other Chinese findings at the natural history museum in Wuhan

In Bozeman, Montana, the Museum of the Rockies is worth a journey, as the Michellin guides would say. Its dinosaur dig crew, led by paleontologist and curator Jack Horner,(who was also science advisor to the Jurassic Park films), excavate fossils which are prepared and studied at the Museum. Some of the most famous dinosaurs in the world such as Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Deinonychus (very similar to Velociraptor) are on display.

In close contention as my favorite is the Royal Tyrrell Museum at Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. Many of its exhibits were found in nearby badlands and the museum organizes family oriented tours for would be dinosaur hunters.

Those on the east coast aren’t without options. The Smithsonian in Washington DC and the American Museum of Natural History in New York have famous collections of dinosaurs, with exhibits that have been updated to show modern understandings of these behemoths. The Smithsonian includes triceratops, camptosaurus (juvenileand adult, and an allosaurus.

The 2 Peabody museums at Harvard and Yale also invite visits.. In addition to the reconstructed skeleton of Apatosaurus the dinosaur formerly known as (“Brontosaurus”) and other dinosaurs discovered and named by the Museum’s founder, O.C. Mars, the highlight of the Yale Peabody is. Rudolph Zallinger’s The Age of Reptiles. This painting, done in the Renaissance fresco secco technique, runs length of the east wall of the Great Hall. It provides a panoramic view of the evolutionary history of the earth — from the Devonian Period 362 million years ago to Cretaceous Period, only 65 mya . Based on the best scientific knowledge available at the time, there are anachronisms due to later scientific advances. The chronology of the mural reads from right to left and spanning 300 million years. The large foreground trees mark the boundaries between the geologic periods. You’ve probably seen reproductions of this painting, but The Age of Reptiles may not be reproduced without the written permission of the Yale Peabody Museum.

 

 

India – Tips for Travel

After more than 2500 years, much of the indigenous culture of India remains same in temples and much of daily life outside the cities. You see it with the casual religiosity of the guides, ganesha on dashboards of rickshaws, drivers stopping in early morning to leave marigolds at a small shrine.

The age of statues and shrines are often hard to estimate; they may be centuries old, or installed last year. Personal the reactions are similar – people halt their 21st century lives and enter the religious stream that has coursed for millennia. Nowhere else on earth do you find this profound snse of an ancient heritage, and spiritual confidence, combined with daily patterns of life. It’s as if Socrates still wandered thru Athens asking awkward questions.

Exploring India in small groups gives us the flexibility larger groups are denied. Some differences are obvious – large buses can’t go to as many places, especially the narrow roads of the hill countries. With small groups we can quickly change the itinerary and changes to fit the group, or to take advantage of opportunities for photo ops and other interactions with local people.

A valid visa is required for India and can be obrained from Indian embassy or consulate in your home country. Easier is to also get your Indian visa online. With valid visa you can visit Darjeeling & Kalimpong; but for SIKKIM a SPECIAL INNER LINE PERMIT is required but is easily available at no extra cost.

On arrival, pick up your luggage and head for the green ‘nothing to declare’ exit.  One advantage of arranging at least the initial transfer is that someone will meet you as you come out, and they’ll take you to our hotel. This is a welcome treat after the long flight to India

 

Clothing

o The weather will likely be warm wherever you go, except for the hill stations in fall and winter. The monsoons will determine how much rain you should expect. A skirt or long pants are suggested, as shorts are still not a common sight.. Take swimsuits for the hotel pools or ocean. Bring a small towel.
If trekking, low, hiking or walking shoes are sufficient, no need for heavy boots.

o A small, flat rubber stopper is helpful for washing clothes in the hotel sinks.

 

Daily Activity

o As a rule,  drink bottled water; it’s cheap and easily available. Other drinks include soft drinks, beer, juices and lassi (a yogurt drink). Be careful on the latter two items if you’d can’t confirm their provenance.

o Hotels: Air conditioning is usually available where it’s needed and along the coast.  Hair dryers are usually present. Be sure to carry adapters for electrical items like battery chargers.  Modern equipment rarely needs transformers.

o A typical day will start with breakfast at the hotel between 7 and 8. We leave the hotel between 8 and 10, depending on the itinerary. There’ll be a break for lunch, usually at a local restaurant around noon; in more isolated areas this will be a dhaba or local truck stop with mud floors and oven, and usually very tasty, food and freshly baked breads. We’ll be back or arrive at the hotel between 3 and 6 on most days, and supper will be around 7-7:30.

Traffic in India is a unique experience. It can be nerve wracking, but it seems to work – our driver’s motto: “good horn, good brakes, good luck”. We generally used chauffeured cars or vans for distance travel, and local transport like taxis and auto rickshaws in cities. The new metro in Delhi is excellent and expanding rapidly.

Hindu Sadhu At any shrine or major tourist stop there will be sadhus or other holymen. Most of these are people who have entered the 4th stage of Hindu life and have renounced worldly possessions. Usually, you’re approached and the itinerant offers a blessing – he wraps a colored thread around your wrist, says the blessing and dabs some kumkum paste on your forehead. While always denying there is any expectation of money, a small baksheesh of 10-20R is usual. Hindu Sadhu


Money

o ATM are common and you can easily get Indian rupees with a debit or cash advance card. Changing money at the airport ATM is fine; we’ve found the rate there to be reasonable

o Credit Cards are commonly accepted for large items, such as carpets and jewelry, but be careful that a reasonable rate of exchange is listed, and be prepared  to bargain.

o Now that ATM are so common, we no longer carry Travelers Checks, but you may wish to have them for security. They can be more of a hassle to cash, but in some cases (again, carpet sellers) they are preferred since it becomes a cash transaction.

o Cash – US one dollar bills are easily accepted and often preferred because of inflation. Bazaars, markets, street vendors readily accept dollars, and dollars can be handy for a quick tip if you’re on your own, for taxi fare, etc.

I try to start each day with a pocketful of carefully hoarded 10 and 20R notes. During the day, I try never to pay the exact amount for anything, always trying to break a 100 [$2] or 500 rupee bill. Yet by day’s end, most of it’s gone – given to Sadhus, random guides, altar attendants or for puja.

 

Elephants miniature painting on silk

Food

Indian food is wonderfully varied, and tasty. It ranges across the spectrum of hotness and spiciness. The south is mostly vegetarian with a lot of seafood. The north, especially Rajasthan and Punjab are more meat oriented, due to the Moghul influences. In hotel restaurants, hotness is usually toned down for westerners, but you can still find authentic dishes. In urban restaurants the food can be spicier, but you can let the waiter know. If you like hot food, it’s a pleasure, for the many different varieties of heat and spice that can be created.

 

 

Planning your trip to India

I designed a 6 week itinerary that gave us time to explore, but also to relax. We hired a car and driver/guide for the tribal areas of Orissa, since there is little public transportation there. This gave us the freedom to visit local weekly markets and small isolated villages. We selected Puri as our base, since it is right on the coast, but Bubaneshwar is another reasonable starting point, with easy air connections from Delhi or Chennai. Email let me design precisely the itinerary we wanted, with a local agent based in Agra to make most of our hotel reservations, and thus we had the added security of a local contact for the unexpected.

Our costs ran about $250 per day for the 2 of us, including 5 domestic flights. A large portion of the cost was for a private car and English speaking driver, petrol [the Indian version of gasoline], & tourist travel permits.

You can spend less and travel rougher using all local transportation.  Local transportation is good between major cities, but can be infrequent off the main tourist routes, so you’ll spend much of your time waiting for buses and trains. Good quality hotels run from $30-100 / night, and it’s often difficult to spend $25 on dinner for 2. At roadside dhabas [truckstops] a filling lunch, with unlimited freshly made breads costs about $1. Entry fees for major landmarks are reasonable, and many temples are free. We hired local guides on the spot for $5-20 depending on the length of the tour.

 

Miscellaneous

o Check your health insurance plan so you will know what will be covered in case of need. Carry phone numbers and other information with you.

o Make a copy of your passport and keep it separate from your traveling papers. It’s also handy to have copies of your credit cards, airline tickets, etc.

o Theft isn’t a major problem; just be careful as you would in any major city. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are the biggest problem, especially in the markets or on public transportation. Just be alert

 

The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh Like his previous book, In an Antique Land, The Glass Palace is about Indians living in other countries. It starts with the British invasion of Burma in the 1880’s and follows a young Indian boy, Rajkumar…

The Calcutta Chromosome – Science Fiction with a Bite… When a patient has syphilis, cure them by infecting them with malaria. This amazing piece of medical trivia drives the plot of one of Ghosh’s
first books.

Iraq, Afghanistan & the Taliban – a Review of Recent Books America’s longest wars are being fought in faraway countries that until recently were little known to
most Americans. Here are a number of recent books that help fill these gaps
.

More India travel resources

 

Travel – Mountains of the World

Evolution – Distortions & Misconceptions by Creationism Supporters

Creationism as a Distortion of Reality

Some while ago, on another forum, I joined a discussion about creationism titled The Controversy About Evolution .  A writer I’ll call Denial was one of those who actively denied basic concepts of evolution. Let’s take a closer look at  Denial‘s arguments. (Please note, there is nothing personal in these attacks. I am just using her writing to illustrate some of the problems that occur over and over in these discussions.)

Denial:What scientific community are you referring to that is virtually unanimous? I am not a scientist by trade, but my degree is in physics, and I personally know a whole lot of people who are scientists (as in, with PhDs and careers in the hard sciences) who believe things happened as Genesis says, and without having to make complicated explanations about how time was expressed in language.

There are few biology scientists who do not support evolution, and those few, such as Michael Behe, have not published their objections in peer reviewed journals. Behe’s professional work in biochemistry does not address evolution at all. Instead he and other creationists use public media to make their arguments rather than presenting actual research in support of their spurious and unsupportable claims.

It’s sad, but true, that there are a number of non-biology scientists who are ignorant of modern biology, and who take a creationist view. But just as biologists are not quantum mechanics, physicists are not automatically qualified to comment scientifically on evolution. [Of course they have every right to proclaim their religious or philosophical beliefs.]

Denial:Look, if you start with the assumption there is an all-powerful God, He could make things any way He wanted, including the way things are. There is nothing irrational about that. On the other hand, if you start with the assumption there is no God, you have to start inserting huge amounts of time to get around the real life evidence in front of all of us, that nobody ever sees things getting better on a large scale.

This paragraph illustrates the dangers of of mixed metaphors. First the concept of an all powerful god is, by definition IR-rational – that is, it is beyond rational understanding, aka ‘supernatural’. That’s why god has no place in scientific discussions or science classrooms. Beyond this, her claims in this paragraph fall apart on geological, biological AND physics misstatements. First, we know from overwhelming physical evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and the hundreds of millions of years that life has existed has been more than adequate to produce the variety of life we see. It’s only young earther’s who have a problem here.

Second, the ‘nobody ever sees evolution’ is a straw man argument — we shouldn’t expect to see processes that takes thousands of years to happen in our lifetimes and therefore science does not claim that evolution is fast enough to be witnessed overnight. But, in actuality, there are cases where we can see evolution in action, such as the Galapagos finches and cichlid fish of Lake Victoria. Of course, the ‘enlightened’ creationist response is to accept these examples of what they term microevolution while continuing to deny ‘macroevolution’. In fact, there is a continuum of evidence that demonstrates evolution over the course of millions of years.

Denial:Everything runs down. It’s one of the most fundamental laws of physics.

This is the statement that jumpstarted my need to write a full rebuttal since it encapsulates the problems I warned about before. This is an ancient, yet perpetual creationist canard – invoking the 2nd law of thermodynamics. [It’s interesting how creationists chose only the pieces of science that support their view]. It illustrates the danger of moving from one area of science to another . But there was a very important caveat that was ignored here – the 2nd law, aka entropy, only works in CLOSED systems. Earth and its life forms are not a closed system, since we’re continually bombarded with solar energy. Under these conditions, there can be local areas of decreasing entropy (that is, the organizing involved in growing living organisms), even though entropy is increasing in the entire system. So the argument that life could not make complex forms from simple ones is not supported by the 2nd Law. To say otherwise is to willfully ignore the facts of science.

As an aside, one of my favorite mnemonics for the 3 laws of thermodynamics:

  • You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t get out of the game

Denial What is really going on, is that the majority of scientists in universities say they believe in evolution, because their jobs are at stake otherwise. If you look at scientists in other careers where there is more freedom to think, you will find a whole lot of scientists who believe in everything along the spectrum from intelligent design to just plain what the Bible says.

First, this is pure speculation, unsupported by any evidence . The majority of scientists believe evolution because it is a FACT, not because their jobs depend on it. There is no evidence for this alleged conspiracy and no one has ever presented evidence of job loss because of these religious beliefs. Second, there is no evidence that biologists have less freedom to think than other scientists. Third, the ‘spectrum from intelligent design to just plain what the Bible says‘ is in fact an extremely narrow band, and is entirely outside the realm of science. And finally, ‘a whole lot’ is, at best, a nebulous term – I’ll close by throwing out my own unsupported claim that, in fact, we find very few creationists among scientists.

Book – The Evolution of God – Robert Wright

Why God Evolved

The most important lesson in Robert Wright’s latest book is that religion seems but an artifact of natural evolutionary processes. No conscious awareness is required or even necessary. The results aren’t predictable nor are they required for social life.

Discussion of the Evolution of God

Before criticizing The Evolution of God, H Allen Orr ( in his review in the New York Review of Books, Can Science Explain Religion? ) summarizes Wright’s argument for the development of religion:  Wright presents a materialist account of religion. He shows howreligion changes over time in response to real world events such as economics, politics, and war. These responses make sense, just as an organism’s adaptations to the world through evolution.

More formally, Wright argues that religious responses to reality are generally explained by game theory and evolutionary psychology, the subjects of his previous books. Subtle aspects of the human mind, he claims, were shaped by Darwinian natural selection to allow us to recognize and take advantage of certain social situations.

His criticism then is that while

the overall trend characterizing the course of Western faith is clear enough: it has grown more tolerant and has encouraged the expansion of the moral circle. Hunter-gatherers huddled about a shaman may doubt the humanity of those not belonging to the tribe but contemporary worshipers gathered in a synagogue, church, or mosque do not. Religion may be imperfect, but it has, Wright emphasizes, taken us a considerable moral distance

We’ve been told that the “pragmatic truth about human interaction” generally accounts for the waxing and waning of religious ideas. And now we’re told that something further is needed, a sight that is deeper than pragmatic.

Evolution has no Direction or Purpose

As Wright tries to explain this deeper sight, matters get murky. But there really isn’t any need for murkiness, and the perceived problem is based on both author’s fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. Orr declares that religion emerged in a way that is “reminiscent of those that characterize the evolution of life. For one thing, the history of religion has, Wright says, a discernible direction”

The problem is, there is no direction to evolution – it’s neutral. If complexity works, it survives, but ‘primitive’ lifeforms like the microorganism of the black smokers may remain essentially the same for billions of years. Similarly, nothing in Wright’s account of religion’s history requires that religion become progressively more moral. The important lesson of Wright’s book is that religion may be just the artifact of natural evolutionary processes without being predictable or required. It succeeds in providing a description of religion that does not require the assumption of anything supernatural. Occam’s Razor applauds this simpler approach but it does complicate matters for those who insist there cannot be morality without a god. In particular teleological explanations of evolution like Teohard de Chardin’s just aren’t needed.

Science Books – Reviews & Recommendations

Travel in Turkey – Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, is one of the most impressive landmarks of the world, and a major stop on any visit to Istanbul.  Over 1500 years old, it combines art & architecture of Byzantine and Islamic artists.

Download royalty free images of Hagia Sophia Hagia Sophia at night
Hagia Sophia at night

Santa Sophia possesses the power essential to any of the man-made Wonders of the World that I have seen, which is the power to sweep aside all preparations made in your mind, and to hit you amidships with an original force which makes you stop and stare.  Venice’s Grand Canal does that, and the Taj Mahal and the skyline of Manhattan seen from Central Park; and so does Santa Sophia.  First there is the hint of vast internal space glimpsed between massy columns, the effect of its magnitude broadening upon you as you advance under shadows in the half-domes like clouds, under gilt like dingy sunlight, until you are far from shore in the midst of the place, exposed to the total blow it deals you.  Reverberant, multitudinous , the crowds with their many-echoing voices pay homage to the building itself, prayers of Muslim and Christian alike arising into those dim muttering domes lie the smoke of incense mounting into the cranium of an indifferent god. Thereafter the building’s presence up there on the skyline dominating the city – knowledge of what those domes contain every time I look up and see them there – has made me feel that I have identified the genius of the place, much as you feel that Vesuvius brooding above Naples is that city’s genius loci.

Journey to Kars – Philip Glazebrook

Travel in Turkey – Istanbul

When we visit Istanbul, we try to stay in the Sultanahmet area since it’s in easy walking distance of many major attractions, including the Grand Bazaar. And  Hagia Sophia is a short walk towards the Golden Horn, while nearby is the sprawling complex of the Topkapi palace which takes a day in itself.  Topkapi host everything from the sultan’s harem, Mohammed’s sword, jeweled clothing of the sultans,to the famous Topkapi jewels and the kitchens that fed thousands of Janissaries.  And that doesn’t include time for the separate museums on its ground such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Middle Eastern Countries. Splendid imperial mosques include the Blue Mosque, the Suleymanie, and Hagia Sophia. Vivaldi played in the background as we toured the enormous Basilica cisterns.

Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Ancient columns in water

Ancient columns in water

Sometimes magnificent works of art are preserved by a quirk of fate. An Ottoman pasha had the mosaics of St. Saviour whitewashed, and they were only recovered in the 20th century. These mosaics and frescoes of the Chorae  Church form one of the visual highlights of any tour. If you’re interested in calligraphy, you’ll want to visit the small museum devoted to this artform near Bayezit.

In addition to the imperial mosques, many exquisite, smaller mosques are scattered thru the city, and display incredible Iznik tiles and other decoration.

In the Taksim area, Gezi Park was quiet on our most recent visit. There was a small protest near Galatasaray, but the police presence was much larger. Several dozen police and a water cannonvehicle nearby. A hundred yards up the road, a similar detachment of riot police; repeated several times all the way back to Taksim Square itself where there were more police and tanker trucks to re-supply the water cannon. Luckily the day ended peacefully.

Book – Gore Vidal – Inventing a Nation

American Revolution comes to life

The broadside was a common form of media during the American Revolutio.  Inventing a Nation is such a broadside – a compact melange of anecdotal history, contemporary commentary and unabashed partisan rhetoric — in other words, a great read! Vidal surveys the period from 1776 to 1800, concentrating on the personalities and writings of Hamilton, Adams, Washington, & Jefferson. Along the way, he contrasts 18th century politics and political philosophy with 21st century politics. Other times he’s satisfied with the quick jab, as when he quotes Adams’ view of the newly arrived French minister as a comparison with “our first unelected president”:

John Adams had known Genet’s family in France: he had also known the boy himself. Politely, he received the fiery minister and then wrapped him round with Adamsian analysis of the graveyard sort: “A youth totally destitute of all experience in popular government, popular assemblies, or conventions of any kind: very little accustomed to reflect upon his own or his fellow creatures’ hearts; wholly ignorant of the law of nature and nations . . . ” Adams did grant him “a declamatory style. . . a flitting, fluttering imagination, an ardor in his temper, and a civil deportment.” Thus two centuries ago the witty French had sent us an archetypal personality whose American avatar would one’ day be placed in Washington’s by now rickety chair.

But Vidal’s slyness is only a cover for his real subject — the creation of a government that could hold democracy at bay without the trappings of a monarchy. The book is not much longer than an old-style New Yorker series, and he summarizes major events like the constitutional convention to provide details of the men involved, as seen by themselves and their peers. Early on he shows the prescience of many of the founders:

At eighty-one Franklin was too feeble to address the convention on its handiwork, and so a friend read for him the following words: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administred; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administred for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other. Now, two centuries and sixteen years later, Franklin’s blunt dark prophecy has come true: popular corruption has indeed given birth to that Despotic Government which he foresaw as inevitable at our birth. Unsurprisingly, a third edition of the admirable Benjamin Franklin: His Lift As He Wrote It, by Esmon Wright, is now on sale (Harvard University Press, 1996) with’ significantly-inevitably?, Franklin’s somber prediction cut out, thus silencing our only great ancestral voice to predict Enron et seq., not to mention November 2000, and, following that, des­potism whose traditional activity, war, now hedges us all around” No wonder that so many academic histories of our republic and its origins tend to gaze fixedly upon the sunny aspects of a history growing ever darker. No wonder they choose to disregard the wise, eerily prescient voice of the authentic Franklin in favor of the jolly fat ventriloquist of common lore, with his simple maxims for simple folk; to ignore his key to our earthly political invention in favor of that lesser key which he attached to a kite in order to attract heavenly fire.

In the afterword Vidal pushes the point home, starting from his discussion of the Alien & Sedition Acts, progenitors of the Patriot Act, he follows Jefferson’s careful defense of civil rights with his orchestration of the states counterattack that resulted in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

In a sense Jefferson had made his case in the first Kentucky Resolution from which Breckinridge had eliminated the core
argument “where powers are assumed [by the Federal government] which have not been delegated [in the Constitution], a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact. . . to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of powers by others within their own limits.” Thus Jefferson in 1798 had spoken in favor of the principle of nullification. But the first resolution asked for no more than a general sense of the States that the two Federalist Acts were unconstitutional.

Jefferson had to act cautiously, for, even as Vice President, his mere criticism of the acts of Adams & Hamilton could be a violation of the Sedition Act. [Not so different from today’s Bush supporters who declare any dissent being aid and comfort to the enemy.] In this case, the ultimate confrontation was avoided by Jefferson’s electoral defeat of Adams and immediate
suspension of the 2 acts. But nullification remained an inflammatory concept lurking within the Constitution; exploding in the Civil War 2 generations later. Today, Vidal sees it as perhaps the last defense of the states when the Federal Executive abrogates power.

I’ve only traced here one of several threads Vidal ties to contemporary issues. Others include Hamilton’s creation of the financial system, and Marshall’s bold construction of judicial review. Shortness doesn’t prevent Vidal from presenting many arguments that are vital to today’s national politics. Conservatives’ knee-jerk reactions in reviews are amusing since much of the discussion in the book is of ideas any true conservative should hold as core values!

  • Washington’s Crossing – a Review  An invading force gets bogged down while fighting an insurgency.
    While it could be ripped from today’s headlines, this is actually a book about the American Revolution. This is an impressive work on many levels.
  • History as a Work in Progress History is always a subjective process and the best we can hope is that historians tell us what their particular biases are
  • Best History Book Reviews
  • Download royalty free images of History
  • American Presidents Trivia Game From Zachary to Abe and back from Adams to Wilson, how much do you know about our American Presidents? US Presidents Trivia — challenging for any ability or knowledge level.

Civil War – Battles of Manassas / Bull Run

Manassas / Bull Run campaigns and battles

Download royalty free images of Manassas battlefield

1st Manassas
Battle Other name
Location
Date
USA CSA
Casualties
Results
Hoke’s Run Falling Waters, Hainesville Berkeley County, VA July 2, 1861 Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson US 23; CS 91
Blackburn’s Ford Bull Run Prince William County and Fairfax County, VA July 18, 1861 Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard US 83; CS 68 Confederate victory
1st Manassas First Bull Run Prince William County and Fairfax County, VA July 21, 1861 Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard & Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston 4,700 total (US 2,950; CS 1,750) Confederate victory
2nd Manassas
Battle Other name
Location
Date
USA CSA
Casualties
Result
Cedar Mountain Slaughter’s Mountain, Cedar Run Culpeper County , VA August 9, 1862 Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson US 1,400; CS 1,307 Confederate victory
Rappahannock Station Waterloo Bridge, White Sulphur Springs, Lee Springs, Freeman’s Ford Culpeper County and Fauquier County, VA August 22-25, 1862 Maj. Gen. John Pope Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson 225 total Inconclusive
Manassas Station Operations Bristoe Station, Kettle Run, Bull Run Bridge, Union Mills Prince William County , VA August 25-27,1862 Brig. Gen. G.W. Taylor Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson 1100 total Confederate victory
Thoroughfare Gap Chapman’s Mill Fauquier County and Prince William County, VA August 28, 1862 Brig. Gen. James Ricketts Lt. Gen. James Longstreet 100 total Confederate victory
2nd Manassas Second Bull Run, Manassas Plains, Groveton, Gainesville, Brawner’s Farm Prince William County , VA August 28-30, 1862 Maj. Gen. John Pope Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson US 13,830; CS 8,350 Confederate victory
Chantilly Ox Hill Fairfax County, VA September 1, 1862 Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Maj. Gen. Isaac Stevens Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson US 1,300; CS 800 Inconclusive (Confederate strategic victory.)

<table


Manassas Campaign


 [July 1861]



Hoke’s Run

  



Other Names:

Falling Waters, Hainesville


Location:

Berkeley County


Campaign:

Manassas Campaign (July 1861)


Date(s):

July 2, 1861


Principal
Commanders:
Maj.
Gen. Robert Patterson

[US];
Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces
Engaged:

Brigades


Estimated
Casualties:
114
total (US 23; CS 91)


Description:

On July 2, regiments of Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade were slowly driven back by
Abercrombie’s and Thomas’s brigades.   Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson’s division
had crossed the Potomac River near Williamsport and pushed on towards to
Martinsburg. Near Hoke’s Run, when Jackson’s men were encountered. Since
Jackson’s orders were to delay the Federal advance he withdrew before
Patterson’s superior force. The following day, Patterson occupied Martinsburg
but then made no other aggressive moves for almost 2 weeks.  On July 15,
Patterson  declined to move forward but instead withdrew to Harpers Ferry.
Such retrograde movement took pressure off Confederate forces in the
Shenandoah Valley and thus allowed Johnston’s army to march in  support of
Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard who was at Manassas. Patterson’s inactivity
contributed to the Union defeat at First Manassas.




Blackburn’s Ford
  


Other Names:

Bull Run


Location:

Prince William County and Fairfax County


Campaign:

Manassas Campaign (July 1861)


Date(s):

July 18, 1861


Principal
Commanders:

Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell [US];
Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard [CS]


Forces
Engaged:

Brigades


Estimated
Casualties:

151 total (US 83; CS 68)


Description:

On 16 July, 1862, the untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell,
35,000 strong, marched out of the Washington defenses to give battle to the
Confederate army, which was concentrated around the vital railroad junction at
Manassas. The Confederate army, about 22,000 men, under the command of Brig.
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, guarded the fords of Bull Run. On July 18, McDowell
reached Centreville and pushed southwest, attempting to cross at Blackburn’s
Ford. He was repulsed. This action was a reconnaissance-in-force prior to the
main event at Manassas/Bull Run. Because of this action, Union commander
McDowell decided on the flanking maneuver he employed at First Manassas.


Result(s):

Confederate victory

 


Manassas, First  


Other
Names:

First Bull Run

Location: Fairfax County and
Prince William County

Campaign: Manassas Campaign
(July 1861)

Date(s): July 21, 1861

Principal
Commanders:

Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell [US]; Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Brig. Gen.
P.G.T. Beauregard [CS]

Forces
Engaged:

60,680 total (US 28,450; CS 32,230)

Estimated
Casualties:

4,700 total (US 2,950; CS 1,750)

Description: This was the first
major land battle of the armies in Virginia.  On July 16, 1861, the
untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington
against the Confederate army, which was drawn up behind Bull Run beyond
Centreville. On the 21st, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the
Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as
Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill.  Late in the afternoon,
Confederate reinforcements (one brigade arriving by rail from the Shenandoah
Valley) extended and broke the Union right flank. The Federal retreat rapidly
deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too
disorganized to pursue. Confederate Gen. Bee and Col. Bartow were killed. Thomas
J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre “Stonewall.” By July 22, the shattered
Union army reached the safety of Washington. This battle convinced the Lincoln
administration that the war would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was
relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Maj. Gen. George B.
McClellan, who set about reorganizing and training the troops.

Result(s): Confederate
victory


Northern Virginia
Campaign


 [August 1862]



Cedar Mountain
  


Other Names:

Slaughter’s Mountain, Cedar Run


Location:

Culpeper County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

August 9, 1862


Principal
Commanders:

Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks [US];
Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces Engaged:

24,898 total (US 8,030; CS 16,868)


Estimated
Casualties:

2,707 total (US 1,400; CS 1,307)


Description:

Maj. Gen. John Pope was placed in command of the newly constituted Army of
Virginia on June 26. Gen. Robert E. Lee responded to Pope’s dispositions by
dispatching Maj. Gen. T.J. Jackson with 14,000 men to Gordonsville in July.
Jackson was later reinforced by A.P. Hill’s division. In early August, Pope
marched his forces south into Culpeper County with the objective of capturing
the rail junction at Gordonsville. On August 9, Jackson and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel
Banks’s corps tangled at Cedar Mountain with the Federals gaining an early
advantage. A Confederate counterattack led by A.P. Hill repulsed the Federals
and won the day. Confederate general William Winder was killed. This battle
shifted fighting in Virginia from the Peninsula to Northern Virginia, giving Lee
the initiative.


Result(s):

Confederate victory




Rappahannock Station
  


Other Names:

Waterloo Bridge, White Sulphur Springs, Lee Springs,
Freeman’s Ford


Location:

Culpeper County and Fauquier County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

August 22-25, 1862


Principal
Commanders:

Maj. Gen. John Pope [US]; Maj.
Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces Engaged:

Brigades


Estimated
Casualties:

225 total


Description:

Early August, Lee determined that McClellan’s army was being withdrawn from the
Peninsula to reinforce John Pope.  He sent Longstreet from Richmond to join
Jackson’s wing of the army near Gordonsville and arrived to take command himself
on August 15. August 20-21, Pope withdrew to the line of the Rappahannock River.
On August 23, Stuart’s cavalry made a daring raid on Pope’s headquarters at
Catlett Station, showing that the Union right flank was vulnerable to a turning
movement. Over the next several days, August 22-25, the two armies fought a
series of minor actions along the Rappahannock River, including Waterloo Bridge,
Lee Springs, Freeman’s Ford, and Sulphur Springs, resulting in a few hundred
casualties. Together, these skirmishes primed Pope’s army along the river, while
Jackson’s wing marched via Thoroughfare Gap to capture Bristoe Station and
destroy Federal supplies at Manassas Junction, far in the rear of Pope’s army.


Result(s):

Inconclusive




Manassas Station Operations
  


Other Names:

None


Battles
Associated with the Operations:

Bristoe Station, Kettle Run, Bull Run Bridge, Union Mills


Location:

Prince William County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

August 25-27,1862


Principal
Commanders:

Brig. Gen. G.W. Taylor [US]; Maj.
Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces Engaged:

Divisions


Estimated
Casualties:

1,100 total


Description:

On the evening of August 26, after passing around Pope’s right flank via
Thoroughfare Gap, Jackson’s wing of the army struck the Orange & Alexandria
Railroad at Bristoe Station and before daybreak August 27 marched to capture and
destroy the massive Union supply depot at Manassas Junction. This surprise
movement forced Pope into an abrupt retreat from his defensive line along the
Rappahannock River. On August 27, Jackson routed a Union brigade near Union
Mills (Bull Run Bridge), inflicting several hundred casualties and mortally
wounding Union Brig. Gen. G.W. Taylor. Ewell’s Division fought a brisk rearguard
action against Hooker’s division at Kettle Run, resulting in about 600
casualties. Ewell held back Union forces until dark. During the night of August
27-28, Jackson marched his divisions north to the First Manassas battlefield,
where he took position behind an unfinished railroad grade.


Result(s):

Confederate victory




Thoroughfare Gap
  


Other Names:

Chapman’s Mill


Location:

Fauquier County and Prince William County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

August 28, 1862


Principal
Commanders:

Brig. Gen. James Ricketts [US];
Lt. Gen. James Longstreet [CS]


Forces Engaged:

Divisions


Estimated
Casualties:

100 total


Description:

After skirmishing near Chapman’s Mill in Thoroughfare Gap, Brig. Gen. James
Ricketts’s Union division was flanked by a Confederate column passing through
Hopewell Gap several miles to the north and by troops securing the high ground
at Thoroughfare Gap.  Ricketts retired, and Longstreet’s wing of the army
marched through the gap to join Jackson. This seemingly inconsequential action
virtually ensured Pope’s defeat during the battles of Aug. 29-30 because it
allowed the two wings of Lee’s army to unite on the Manassas battlefield.
Ricketts withdrew via Gainesville to Manassas Junction.


Result(s):

Confederate victory




Manassas, Second
  



Other Names:

Manassas, Second Bull Run, Manassas Plains, Groveton,
Gainesville, Brawner’s Farm


Location:

Prince William County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

August 28-30, 1862


Principal
Commanders:

Maj. Gen. John Pope [US]; Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen.
Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces Engaged:

Armies


Estimated
Casualties:

22,180 total (US 13,830; CS 8,350)


Description:

In order to draw Pope’s army into battle, Jackson ordered an attack on a Federal
column that was passing across his front on the Warrenton Turnpike on August 28.
The fighting at Brawner Farm lasted several hours and resulted in a stalemate.
Pope became convinced that he had trapped Jackson and concentrated the bulk of
his army against him. On August 29, Pope launched a series of assaults against
Jackson’s position along an unfinished railroad grade. The attacks were repulsed
with heavy casualties on both sides. At noon, Longstreet arrived on the field
from Thoroughfare Gap and took position on Jackson’s right flank.  On August 30,
Pope renewed his attacks, seemingly unaware that Longstreet was on the field.
When massed Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Fitz John
Porter’s command, Longstreet’s wing of 28,000 men counterattacked in the
largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war. The Union left flank was crushed
and the army driven back to Bull Run. Only an effective Union rearguard action
prevented a replay of the First Manassas disaster. Pope’s retreat to Centreville
was precipitous, nonetheless.  The next day, Lee ordered his army in pursuit.
This was the decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign.


Result(s):

Confederate victory




Chantilly
  


Other Names:

Ox Hill


Location:

Fairfax County


Campaign:

Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)


Date(s):

September 1, 1862


Principal
Commanders:

Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Maj. Gen. Isaac Stevens
[US]; Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson [CS]


Forces Engaged:

Divisions


Estimated
Casualties:

2,100 total (US 1,300; CS 800)


Description:

Making a wide flank march, Jackson hoped to cut off the Union retreat from Bull
Run. On September 1, beyond Chantilly Plantation on the Little River Turnpike
near Ox Hill, Jackson sent his divisions against two Union divisions under
Kearny and Stevens. Confederate attacks were stopped by fierce fighting during a
severe thunderstorm. Union generals Stevens and Kearny were both killed.
Recognizing that his army was still in danger at Fairfax Courthouse, Maj. Gen.
Pope ordered the retreat to continue to Washington. With Pope no longer a
threat, Lee turned his army west and north to invade Maryland, initiating the
Maryland Campaign and the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. Maj. Gen.
George B. McClellan assumed command of Union forces around Washington.


Result(s):

Inconclusive (Confederate strategic victory.)

Source : National Park Service: Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign

More Civil War books & resources:

Book – The Afghan Campaign – Into the Valley of Bones

Author : Steven Pressfield

A Macedonians soldier’s account of the long war fought by Alexander the Great’s Army in Afghanistan covering the last years of Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare. The book is told from the point of view of a ‘Mack’, one of Alexander’s veteran Macedonians.  But it could just as easily been written by Sebastian Junger in ‘War’ describing how little things have changed more than 2000 years later.

On the Afghan tribes:

It is impossible to dislike these fellows. I find myself envying their proud, free life. Labor is unknown to them. Their ponies graze on sweet grass in summer, dry fodder when the passes close. Their wives and sisters weave their garments, prepare their dal and ghee. Families shelter in stone houses, ownership of which they recite back twenty generations, whose only removable parts are the wooden doors and roofs (in case of evacuation due to feuds). Every kin-group holds two residences, summer and winter. If a rival clan raids, the khels drive them out through superior local knowledge. Should an alien power enter in force, as Cyrus in the past or Alexander now, the tribes withdraw to loftier fastnesses, sending to wider spheres of kinsmen until they assemble the necessary numbers; then they strike.

The Afghan Warrior Code:

Nangwali is the Afghan warrior code. Its tenets are nang, honor; badal, revenge; and melmastia, hospitality. Tor, “black,” covers all matters concerning the virtue of women. An affront to a sister or wife’s honor can be made spin, “white,” by no means short of death. Blood feuds, the brothers tell me, start over zar, zan, and zamin: money, women, and land.

In cases of badal, vengeance is taken by father or son. In tor, it’s the husband, except in the case of unmarried women; then all males of the family may not rest until justice has been exacted. The code of nangwali forbids theft, rape, adultery, and false witness; it prosecutes cowardice, abandonment of parents or children, and usury. The code prescribes rites for births and death, armistices, reparations, prayer, almsgiving, and all other passages of life. Poverty is no crime. Reverence for elders is the cardinal virtue, succeeded by indispensable. They crave above all to win back his love. Alexander, of course, is exquisitely attuned to this and knows how to exploit it for all it is worth. Now he adds a further element to set the country on its ear.

Corruption through Money

The wealth that has poured into Afghanistan with the army of Macedon has deformed the economy of the entire region. In the city market, a pear costs five times what it used to. The locals can’t pay. Meanwhile, a second economy has sprung up-the camp economy, the economy inside the Macedonian gates, where the pear may still cost five times its original price, but at least a man can afford it. The natives face the choice of starvation or submission to this new economy, either as suppliers or servants, both of which occupations are abhorrent to Afghan pride. Worse still, the aikas system lures their young women. Soldiers reckon every currency of seduction that can nail them dish, fig, cooch. Now they have a new plum to dangle: marriage. The native patriarchs seek to lock up their daughters. But the draw of the Mack camp is irresistible, for money, adventure, novelty, romance, and now even the prospect of acquiring a husband. For by no means are these invaders unappealing. Mack regiments parade, awash with youthful captains and Flag Sergeants, horseback and afoot, made swashbucking by the brass of their tunics and the dazzle of their glittering arms. Maids slip from midnight windows to consummate trysts in the arms of their ardent, hazel-eyed lovers. When delegations of city fathers appeal to Alexander for assistance in curbing this traffic, he makes all the right noises but takes care to do nothing. He wants the girls infiltrating. His object is to weaken, even sever, the bonds of family, clan, and tribe. He prosecutes this deliberately

Books – Alexander the Great

Steven Pressfield

  • The Virtues of War – Alexander’s story thru his own eyes.
  • The Afghan Campaign-A Macedonian solider’s account of the last years of the long war fought by Alexander’s Army in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare

Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy  holds up to a second reading after 40 years – her story is of the young boy who first takes control of a kingdom, Fire From Heaven.  He discovers the divinity deep within him. In the second book, victories come easily as he conquers ever eastwards, and the story is told by his servant/lover, Bagoas, The Persian Boy. Then, Alexander’s death is expanded from the previous book, the successors, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antiochus, begin their political and military takeovers  in Funeral Games, shattering Alexander’s empire.

Freya Stark – Alexander’s Path

  • “Eighty percent of Afghans today live in the same exact landscape Alexander the Great must have beheld when he sacked Balkh in 327 B.C., and Genghis Khan when he sacked it again in 1221: walls of straw and mud, half-gnawed away by weather and age; hand-sown fields tilled by doubled-over farmers in unbleached robes with knobbly, wooden tools. Most have no electricity. No clean water. No paved roads. No doctors nearby…” Foreign Affairs, 4/28/2010 

 

In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. By Seth G. Jones. presents the war in its historical context, beginning with Alexander the Great and the proven ability of Afghans to bring down strong empires

More on

Books – Timelines & Atlases

CHRONOS : Interactive Online Historical Timelines

The Times Atlas of World History;

Geoffrey Barraclough, Geoffrey Parker; Hardcover If you’re only going to get one history reference book, THIS IS IT! I’d highly recommend the hardcover version, since you’re going to use this book often. My copy always has post -it notes scattered throughout, and you can’t pick this book up without finding something new. The maps are excellent and innovative, with an excellent index. Besides using this volume for my researches for Chrono’s: Windows in Time, I keep it handy when reading historical novels or other works of history. Invariably it can illustrate and expand on those other books. This is the best single volume reference atlas I own.

Other recommended atlases covering specific time periods:

The following represent a variety of excellent sourcebooks for world history and geography.

 

Goats Do Roam – Cascades Adventure

Encounters with mountain goats

Over 40 years ago we were on a cross country trip in the Olympic National Park here in Washington. We hiked in to Flap Jack lakes and camped the first night.

On our second day, we crossed Gladys Divide, we’d dropped packs on the trail to climb the rotten rock pinnacle of Cruiser. All went well until on the descent we saw a group of mountain goats eagerly examining our packs. Alternately glissading and sliding on the mixed snow & scree slopes, we chased them off — all but 2 who were discussing the liberation of my army surplus wool pants by pulling from the cuff or each leg.

We finally convinced them to depart and I re-packed my slightly longer pants. The next part of our trip took us across several large snowfields on our cross-country traverse towards a climb of  Mt Skokomish and Mt Stone. . The goats had followed us, and kindly waited for us to break trail as they were going in the same direction. Audrey insists I carried on a conversation with the goat directly behind me, thinking it was her. We found a beautiful alpine meadow spot to camp, and hung our packs high on of the few scraggly conifers making its way in this near treeless shale ground. No sooner had we finished our dinner and retired to our sleeping bags than we were disturbed by the goats rasp-like tongues licking the outside of our tent. This went on intermittently throughout the night – we’d bang on the tent interior walls and they’d cease for awhile, but then be back.

Next morning, we got an early start, and passed the goat group, peacefully napping in the snow just above our camp.

  • Download royalty free images of Mountain goats
    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber\
    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack
    Curious Mountain goats,

    Curious Mountain goats

    Curious Mountain goats,

    Curious Mountain goats,

    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber\

    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack

    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber\

    Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack

    Curious Mountain goats

    Curious Mountain goats

    ;

     

Recipe – Chicken Adriatica

 

A Tasty & Easy Chicken Recipe

For this recipe I combined elements of Italian and Turkish cooking and
flavors to produce  an Eastern Mediterranean dish.

Meat from 6 chicken thighs, sliced in thin strips

1 T  of flour

3 T of olive oil

¼ cup pine nuts

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 T fresh rosemary, chopped fine

3-4 cloves garlic, minced fine

½ cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped

½ cup white wine

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

½ cup crumbled feta

 

1. Slice the chicken into thin strips. Dredge chicken in flour.  Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan  or skillet.  Sauté chicken  for 5’ on each side, letting it brown.

2. Remove chicken, to a small bowl. In same pan sauté the pine nuts, minced garlic and sliced  mushrooms for 5’, stirring.  Add wine to deglaze – scrape any brown bits from the pan. Add rosemary & tomatoes, mix, and reduce heat to simmer

3. Return chicken to the skillet, mix. Place the sliced onions over the chicken mixture. Cover and simmer for 30’.

4. Remove from heat, mix onions into chicken. Add feta, mix and serve with rice or pasta and a steamed vegetable.

 

Serves 4

 

Variations:

 

1.      Use chicken breast, reduce cooking time

2.      Substitute blue cheese or parmesan for feta

3.      Substitute yogurt for the cheese

4.      Use thin strips of lamb shoulder instead of chicken

 

Other links:

More recipes & Food images

Experience Mexico Through its Food

The variety of Mexican cuisine

We’ve visited Mexico multiple times, and a large part of our memories revolve around food. My first visit was on spring break from the East coast in 1970 when we camped on the baja beaches and bought local seafood and shrimp to cook over a campfire. Each morning we’d walk into town for a breakfast of chilaquiles.Later visits took us to Mexico city and the Yucatan peninsula, where again, in addition to famous landmarks, we wandered the markets and sampled the food.  One unique evening I dined at a small restaurant that opened at 7:30.  No menu, instead, the waiter arrived with a tray of the evening’s fresh offerings.  I chose ‘the’ fish. Next I was asked how I’d like it cooked.  The waiter proceeded to the other 3 tables, took our orders to the kitchen, then set the ‘closed’ sign on the door.  An excellent, multicourse meal  leisurely followed.

Here are some typical Mexican dishes I created based on our experiences. (Note, Mexican markets provide numerous types of dried chilies and moles. If you can’t find these in your area, chili powder and paprika make an adequate substitute)

 

 

Pollo con cuatro pimientas (4 pepper chicken)

  • 1 T ancho chile powder
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into stirps, 1/2″ wide by 3″ long
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 t fresh black pepper
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 3 med tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

1. Dredge chicken in flour, then heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or
skillet , and sauté chicken for 5’ on each side, letting it brown.

2. Remove chicken, then in same pan sauté red pepper and garlic for 10’.
Sprinkle with ancho chile powder, paprika and fresh black pepper, then add
tomatoes.

3. Return chicken to the pan, mix. Place the sliced onions on top of the
chicken mixture, cover and simmer 30’.

4. Remove from heat, mix onions into chicken.

Mexican Winter Chicken

  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 3-4 jalapeno or serrano peppers (canned or fresh)
  • 3-4 dried ancho chiles, prepared (optional), or substitute 1 T chile
    powder and 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 turnips, diced
  • 1 large parsnip, diced
  • 1 quart chicken stock

Saute the chicken pieces in 2 T olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the peppers
and chiles and other ingredients except for the stock. Saute 5 minutes.
Remove to casserole dish. Add 1 quart stock. Cover and bake for 1 hour at
350 deg.

At end mix in 1/4 cup of water with 3 T flour.

Pollo con Pina – Chicken with Pineapple

  • 1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple, diced
  • 2 zucchini, cut in thick slices
  • 2 cinnamin sticks or 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 can green chiles
  • 1 T fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 t ground, dry)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, sliced

1. Brown the chicken pieces in a skillet 5-10 min. (optionally, remove
kin). Add the onion, garlic and cinnamon and saute for 5-10 min.

2. Add zucchini, wine, chilies and oregano. Lower heat to simmer for 30′.

3. Add pineapple and simmer another 20′ or until chicken is done.

 

 

  • Famous Landmarks in Mexico City – Zocalo Despite its reputation as huge smoggy sprawl, Mexico City is well worth a visit of several days – exploring some of best museums in world, outdoor markets, great walking, easy access to outskirts by metro.
  • Images of Mexico’s famous landmark – Xochimilco Escape the big city crush and confusion by spending a day drifting the canals of Xochimilco and viewing the art of Diego Rivera.
  • Famous Landmarks in Mexico In Mexico City, alone, you’ll find numerous landmarks Chapultepec Castle and
    Park is famous from the US – Mexican War of 1846 and now hosts many museums, including the excellent Anthropology museum

More recipes & cooking

Recipe – Chilaquiles – Mexican Breakfast Favorite

 


Chilaquiles the Mexican Breakfast or Brunch Favorite Recipe

Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican breakfast or brunch menu item. Stale corn tortillas are torn in quarters and usually fried. . Green or red salsa or mole, is poured over the crispy tortilla triangles. This Mexican lasagna is then simmered or baked until the dish becomes soft. Various other items can be added, including queso fresco and/or sour cream (crema) Since chilaquiles are eaten at breakfast or brunch they’re a frugal use of leftover tortillas and salsas.

Basic Chilaquiles

1 dozen corn tortillas.

  • · 1 lb pork sausage, ground turkey or lean ground beef
  • · 1 cup chopped celery
  • · 1 green pepper, diced
  • · 1 small onion, diced
  • · 1 medium tomato, diced

Seasonings:

  • · 1 t chili powder
  • · 1/2 t cumin
  • · 1 t fresh oregano (or 1/2 t dried)
  • · 2 T fresh coriander
  • · salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated cheese, (Swiss, cheddar or Monterey Jack)

2 cups chicken stock

1. Preferably, the tortillas should be day-old or stale, but if you must use fresh ones, let them sit out for several hours to dry out.

Tear them roughly into small pieces about 2″ across. Traditionally these tortilla pieces are fried until crispy, but I skip this step to keep the fat content lower.

2. Combine meat, celery, pepper, onion and tomato in a mixing bowl. Add seasonings and mix well.

3. In a deep baking dish or dutch oven, add a layer of tortilla pieces, cover with a layer of the meat mixture, sprinkle with cheese. Continue, until all ingredients are used up. Pour the chicken stock over the dish when finished and top with cheese.

4. Bake in a 350 deg oven for 30 min.

 


Green Chicken Chilaquiles

Ingredients

  • 2T olive oil
  • 2 chicken, breasts, boned, cut aginst the grain into 1/2″ strips
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb tomatillos
  • · 1 medium onion, diced
  • · 8 oz can of green chiles
  • · 4 T fresh cilantro, chopped·

8-10 tostado shells, or old, stale corn tortillas

12 oz queso fresco (or ricotta or feta)

Instructions

  1. Saute the chicken pieces in olive oil for 3’, then add onion and garlic
    and continue to saute for another 5’. Add tomatillos and chiles; reduce heat
    and simmer for 10-15’ until the tomatillos become soft. Turn off heat, add
    chopped cilantro, let cool a bit. (This can be made ahead and stored in the
    refrigerator.)
  2. In a large casserole dish build layers of broken tortilla pieces, the
    chicken mixture, and crumbled cheese. Bake in 350 deg oven for 30’

 


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Cascoly Food, Cooking & Recipes

An interactive online database of recipes, searchable by

    • name
    • spices,
    • type of cuisine
    • ingredients
List recipes by name

Note, unless otherwise indicated, all recipes are intended to serve 4 as part of a meal of 2-4 courses.

More on herbs & spices
Best Vegan & Vegetarian Recipes
How to cook vegetables in a microwave
How to cook vegetables on an outdoor grill

Best recipes from Around the World
Best Vegetarian Recipes that are Easy to Make
Storing your excess vegetable harvest without canning

Markets & Souks from around the world

Best recipes from:

  • Mexico
  • Turkey and the Middle East
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  • India
    Organic & local not necessarily best choices

    Helping the world’s poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today’s cause celebre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most

    Foreign Policy 4/26/2010

    Food grown organically — that is, without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizers
    or pesticides — is not an answer to the health and safety issues. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  published a study of 162 scientific papers from the past 50 years on the health benefits of organically grown foods and found no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown foods. According to the  Mayo Clinic, “No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food.”