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Creationism as a Distortion of Reality
Some months 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Head of Medusa as column decoration
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.
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
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- 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.
Manassas / Bull Run campaigns and battles
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|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|
|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.)|
Manassas Campaign (July 1861)
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.
Manassas Campaign (July 1861)
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.
First Bull Run
Location: Fairfax County and
Prince William County
Campaign: Manassas Campaign
Date(s): July 21, 1861
Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell [US]; Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Brig. Gen.
P.G.T. Beauregard [CS]
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.
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
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
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
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.
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
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.
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
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.
Prince William County
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
August 28-30, 1862
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.
Northern Virginia Campaign (June-September 1862)
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.
Source : National Park Service: Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign
More Civil War books & resources:
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
- 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
- Phaselis and Termessus
- Persepolis – Captured and sacked by Alexander
- Download royalty free images of Persepolis
- “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
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:
- West Point Atlas of American Wars
- Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars
- The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare : The Middle Ages, 768-1487
- The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare : Renaissance to Revolution, 1492-1792
- War in the Holy Land
- Historical Trivia games
- More History resources
The following represent a variety of excellent sourcebooks for world history and geography.
- National Geographic maps
- The New York Times Atlas of the World ; Paperback
- The New York Times Atlas of the World/Concise Edition; Duncan MacKay
- The New York Times Traveler’s Pocket Atlas; Paperback
- The Times Atlas of European History; Thomas Cussans; Hardcover
- The Times Atlas of the World : Comprehensive Edition; Hardcover
- New York Times Atlas of the World/New Family Edition; Hardcover
- The New York Times Traveler’s Pocket Atlas; Paperback
The Times Atlas of European History; Thomas Cussans;
- Cultural Atlas of Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific (Cultural Atlas…); Richard Nile, Christian Clerk;
- Cultural Atlas of China; Caroline Blunden, Mark Elvin; Hardcover
Cultural Atlas of France (Cultural Atlas Series); John Ardagh; Hardcover
- Cultural Atlas of India : India, Pakistan, Nepal, Butan, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka (Atlas Of…); Gordon Johnson
Cultural Atlas of Japan; Martin Collcutt, et al; Hardcover
- Cultural Atlas of Spain and Portugal (Atlas of …Series); Mary Vincent, R. A. Stradling; Hardcover; <Cultural Atlas of the Viking World; Colleen E. Batey, James Graham-Campbell; Hardcover; .
- The Shaping of America : A Geographical Perspective on 500 years of history. Vol 1 — Atlantic America 1492-1800 – D W Meinig
- The Chronicle of Impressionism : A Timeline History of Impressionist Art Vol 1 ; Bernard Denvir
- Dorling Kindersley Visual Timeline of Transportation; Anthony Wilson
- Native Time : An Historical Timeline of Native America; Lee Franci
The Timeline Book of the Arts; Melinda Corey, George Ochoa
- Visual Timeline of the 20th Century; Simon Adams
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.
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Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack
Curious Mountain goats
Curious Mountain goats,
Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack
Mountain goats, licking salt from climber’s pack
Curious Mountain goats
A Tasty & Easy Chicken Recipe
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.
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
The variety of Mexican cuisine
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)
- Download royalty free images of Mexican food
|Pollo con cuatro pimientas (4 pepper chicken)
1. Dredge chicken in flour, then heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or
2. Remove chicken, then in same pan sauté red pepper and garlic for 10’.
3. Return chicken to the pan, mix. Place the sliced onions on top of the
4. Remove from heat, mix onions into chicken.
Mexican Winter Chicken
Saute the chicken pieces in 2 T olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the peppers
At end mix in 1/4 cup of water with 3 T flour.
Pollo con Pina – Chicken with Pineapple
1. Brown the chicken pieces in a skillet 5-10 min. (optionally, remove
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
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.
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
- · 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
- 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)
- 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
- In a large casserole dish build layers of broken tortilla pieces, the
chicken mixture, and crumbled cheese. Bake in 350 deg oven for 30’
|An interactive online database of recipes, searchable by
Note, unless otherwise indicated, all recipes are intended to serve 4 as part of a meal of 2-4 courses.
Markets & Souks from around the world
Best recipes from:
- Turkey and the Middle East
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.”
George Orwell on British food
Not many of us have a standalone enclosed clay oven nearby, so some thought is needed to produce an Americanized
version of the Indian classic tandoori chicken
- Download royalty free images of Tandoori chicken
Start with 6-8 chicken thighs
- 1 cup yogurt
- juice from 1 lime
- 1 t – cayenne
- 1 t – cumin
- 1 t – turmeric
- 1 T- paprika
- 3 cloves – garlic, minced
- 1 inch -ginger root, minced
- 1/2 cup – parsley, minced
- 4 T- fresh cilantro, chopped
- Lime wedges
1. Combine marinade ingredients and mix in a blender or food mill or food processor.
2. Remove the marinade to large bowl, fold in the yogurt, then add to chicken pieces. Marinate for 1-2 hours
3. Place a double sheet of aluminum foil on the grill so chicken is not exposed to flames.
4. BBQ or grill for 45-60’ or until done (preferably in a covered BBQ), turning every 15 minutes, and basting with extra marinade. If using an oven – place chicken in oven proof pan, bake at 400 for 10′, then reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake for 45′ or until chicken is done.
5. Garnish with coriander leaves and lime wedges. Serves 3-6, depending on number of courses – eg, 6 in an Indian dinner with many courses; 3 with a simple side dish and salad
More recipes & Food images
Arni Kleftiko is quick and easy way to prepare lamb, even if you’re not on the lam….
Greek bandits didn’t usually have time for leisurely lunch breaks, so they combined their ingredients in a fireproof pot, and laid the pot in the middle of a cooking fire and went tabout their business. When they returned later, a tasty meal was ready to eat – arni kleftiko!
- 1 lb Lamb pieces, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 12 oz can tomatoes
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1 t fresh oregano
- 3 medium potatoes, cut into thin slices
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Combine lamb, onions, tomatoes and spice and divide among 4 individual casserole
bowls or a shallow baking pan. Top with potatoes sprinkle with mozzarella, cover with foil.
Bake 1 hr @ 350 until meat is tender; uncover for last 15′ to brown.
Other links: More recipes
Orwell’s War in Spain
George Orwell gives a close up view of the attempt to set up anarchist and socialist governments during the 1930’s in civil war-torn Spain
Fragmentation of the Left in the Spanish Civil War
“The danger was quite simple and intelligible. It was the antagonism between those who wished the revolution to go forward and those who wished to check or prevent it – ultimately, between Anarchists and Communists….
Given this alignment of forces there was bound to be trouble.” Such is Orwell’s succinct analysis of the problems facing those who would resist Franco’s right wing coup in Spain in 1936.
Opposed to the Franco-led Fascists (supported by Germany and Italy) was the Popular Front, “in essential an alliance of enemies“. Further complicating the mix was the emerging fact that in Spain, “on the Government [ie, anti-fascist] side the Communists stood not upon the extreme Left, but upon the extreme Right. ” Orwell justifies this counter-intuitive claim with a detailed discussion, summarized by noting that the International Communist movement at this time had forsaken the goal of world revolution to chase the chimera of the completion of a revolution in the USSR. This Stalinist position (including alliances with capitalist democracies at the expense of workers and unions) caused Trotsky and others to seek other venues. Recently, the formerly Maoist (nee ‘Trotskyite’) rulers of China similarly shifted from totalitarian extreme left to authoritarian right (socialist ideals sacrificed to entrepreneurial capitalism, without significant political liberty.) [Compare similar ideas presented in China Wakes -The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power – Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn]
Why the Communists dominated
The Communists focused on winning the war no matter what –without collectivization that would alienate the peasants, or worker control of industry that would push the middle classes into Franco’s arms. Their stated goal was parliamentary
democracy, with strong central government, and a fully militarized government under central, unified command. The POUM position was that such talk was just another name for capitalism, and ultimately the same as fascism. Their alternative was worker control, with workers militias and police forces “If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers”. The Anarchists (actually a multitude of parties) had comprised in even considering this alliance, but insisted on direct `control over industry by workers, “government by local committees and resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism” Orwell’s summary of this bewildering political situation is “Communist emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality”. Combining forces seemed like a reasonable solution for the duration, “But in the early period, when the revolutionary parties seemed to have the game in their hands, this was impossible. Between the Anarchists and the Socialists there were ancient jealousies, the POUM, as Marxists, were sceptical of Anarchism, while from the pure Anarchist standpoint, the ‘Trotskyism’ of the POUM was not much preferable to the ‘Stalinism’ of the Communists.”
One example of how these rivalries frustrated an effective opposition to the Fascists:
“.. the Russian arms were supplied via the Communist Party, and the parties allied to them, who saw to it that as few as possible got to their political opponents. …by proclaiming a non-revolutionary policy the Communists were able to gather in all those whom the extremists h ad scared. It was easy, for instance, to rally the wealthier peasants against the collectivization policy of the Anarchists. … The war was essentially a triangular struggle. The fight against Franco had to continue, but the simultaneous aim of the Government was to recover such power as remained in the hands of the trade unions. It was done by .. a policy of pin pricks…There was no general and obvious counterrevolutionary move.. The workers could always be brought to heel by an argument that is almost too obvious to need stating: ‘Unless you do this, that and the other we shall lose the war’.”
Spanish Civil War & the Cold War
Modern parallels, from the arguments made during the cold war to modern appeals by the Democratic party to its leftward elements and other progressives– ‘work with us or get something worse’. Or, in his descriptions of the Communist crack down on the other Leftist factions after the 1937 Barcelona street fighting, a comparison of the broad and unchecked abuses of a police force which has no worries about habeas corpus — why worry about producing evidence at a trial when it can merely arrest or ‘disappear’ opponents without any legal representation or outside communication.
But this book is also a very personal one, written less than a year after these events took place, Orwell paints indelible images of life in the muddy trenches, and even the moment when he is shot in the throat:
“Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing. The sand-bags in front of me receded into the immense distance… I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang, which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.”
|In the old days vegetarian potluck dinners were dreadful – bowls of undercooked, tasteless veggies, or tasteless rice – bean – tofu casseroles, with no spice or interest. Today there’s no excuse – there are hundreds of places to find easy to make and tasty recipes. Vegetarian dishes form a major component of many cuisines, including Chinese and Southeast Asian, Indian, Mexican and Middle Eastern. I’ve been cooking for over 40 years and have collected some of my favorites here. I also keep an interactive online database that lists recipes by ingredient, spice or nationality. Details for the recipes in this table can be found there.
(Also known as the Dictionary Game)
It’s really easy….
|Each round, an unusual word is presented, along with a series of definitions. One of them is correct, the others are bogus, some submitted by other players. Choose the definition you think is right, then click submit. (The game is on the honor system, so please don’t check the dictionary before playing). You get a point for selecting the correct definition, or when someone else chooses your fake definition.We started this game in 1996 but it’s been neglected — we’d like to start again, but we need your help to get going.|
We’re soliciting new words for the first round — as we get words, we’ll also need fake definitions for them.
We’ll allow private games — email us if you’re interested in a private game with your friends or school class
This is a trilogy consisting of:
- Byzantium – The Early Centuries
- Byzantium – The Apogee
- Byzantium – The Decline and Fall
There’s also an abridged version, in one volume, but I find it difficult to consider missing out on so much. Norwich writes for the lay reader, but relies heavily on primary sources, often with intriguing quotes. Despite the potential for dry history, he instead presents a lively and fascinating account of the millennium of Byzantine history, starting with Constantine and ending with the Ottoman conquest. Beginning with a quote from W.E.H. Lecky, 1869,
- “Of that Byzantine empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed.. …The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude of perpetual fratricides.”, he comments, “This somewhat startling diatribe… although to modern ears it is perhaps not quite so effective as the author meant it to be — his last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining — the fact remains that, for the past 200 years and more, what used to be known as the Later Roman Empire has had an atrocious press. “
Norwich proceeds to prove that point in 3 volumes of readable history filled with tales both heroic and despicable.
The footnotes are as intriguing as the main text. After describing how
- “the soldiers everywhere proclaimed that they would accept on none but Constantine’s sons, reigning jointly. With Crispus dead, that left the three sons born to Fausta; the Caesar in Gaul Constantine II, the Caesar in the East Constantius, and the Caesar in Italy Constans”,
- “The distressing lack of imagination shown by Constantine in the naming of his
children has caused much confusion among past historians, to say nothing of
their readers. The latter can take comfort in the knowledge that it lasts
for a single generation only — which, in a history such as this, is soon over
His style is brisk and interlocking, writing on the broader European history, he’ll follow one thread for several years, then return to the main branch and continue on. The current year under discussion is always in the upper right corner of the page, making it easier to follow the twists and turns of the plot. The book is so well written that one can easily jump in anywhere and pick up the flow.
One of the major benefits of this leisurely treatment is the ability to correct historic misunderstandings and mistakes. The first and most interesting is his emphasis on the fact that the ‘barbarian’ invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries were almost always led by christianized tribes (Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Visigoths) looking for a land to settle their people.
And in many cases, these were not invasions, but uprisings and revolts of peoples who had been promised land and security by the emperor(s) and then been ignored. The case of Alaric is of particular interest — history books typically spend a paragraph at best and describe him as an invading brute, whose invasion of Italy is stopped only by a courageous pope. In fact, Alaric and his Visigoths had been alllied with the Roman Empire for some years, and it was only after they had been continually denied their promised lands that Alaric invaded. (He was opposed by the Vandal Stilicho who led the Imperial forces. Another interesting view is the ‘fall’ of the Roman Empire (western) in 476. The last Western emperor, Romulus Augustulus abdicated in favor of Odoacer, whose goal was to continue to rule as a subject of the Eastern Emperor. Rather than a major turning point in history, Norwich explains
- it is also undeniable that most people in Italy at the time, watching the young ex-emperor settle himself into his comfortable Campanian villa, would have been astounded to learn that they were living through one of the great
watersheds of European history. For nearly a century now that had grown used to seeing barbarian generals at the seat of power. There had been Arbogast the Frank, then Stilicho the Vandal, then Aetius — who, though a
Roman, was almost certainly of Germanic origin on this father’s side — then Ricimer the Suevian. Was the Scyrian Odoacer, they might have asked so very different from these?
The answer is that he was — though for one reason only. He had refused to accept a Western Emperor. In the past those Emperors may have been little more than puppets; nevertheless they bore the title of Augustus, and as such they were both a symbol and a constant reminder of the imperial authority. Without them, that authority was soon forgotten. Odoacer had request the rank of Patrician; but the title that he preferred to use was Rex. In less than sixty years, Italy would be so far lost as to need a full-scale reconquest by Justinian. I would be two and a quarter centuries before another Emperor appeared in the West; when he died, his capital would be in Germany rather than in Italy, and he would be a rival rather than a colleague — not a Roman but a Frank.
It’s always difficult for modern readers to fully understand any previous culture, and for the Byzantine case, Norwich spends extra time trying to convey a sense of the importance of religion in every day affairs. Many of the political arguments revolved around the propagation and extermination of various heresies. Despite the attempts of various councils convened by the Emperors, heresies such as the Arian, Nestorian and monophysite continued to prosper. What’s particularly interesting is that the history is not a simple progression of orthodox emperors and allied
clergy fighting a successful battle against heterodox opinion. Rather it’s a much more complex situation in which Arian or monophysite ideas would control the state and church for long periods. Only after the fact can one look back to see the emergence of the orthodox. Splits between east and west were also common, but sometimes even comical:
In 482, the Emperor Zeno’s attempt to
- heal the breach by means of a circular letter known as the Henoticon, had proved spectacularly unsuccessful. It had sought to paper over the differences .. and, like all such compromises, it had aroused the implacable hostility of both sides. Most outraged of all were Pope Simplicius in Rome and his successor Felix III, whose anger was still further increased by the appointment to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, with the bless of both Zeno and Acacius, of one Paul the Stammerer, a cleric whose utterances, when comprehensible at all, were violently monophysite in character. At a synod held in Rome in 484, Pope Felix had gone so far as to excommunicate the
Patriarch of Constantinople — a sentence which, in default of any orthodox ecclesiastic courageous enough to pronounce it, had been transcribed on to a piece of parchment and pinned to the back of Acacius’s cope during a service in St. Sophia, when he was not looking, whereat the Patriarch, discovering it a few moments later, instantly excommunicated him back, thereby not only placing the see of Constantinople on the same hierarchical level as that of Rome but simultaneously confirming and open schism between the two churches that was to last for the next thirty-five years.“
The Byzantium trilogy contains a good index, and excellent tables of the emperors, and family trees for the often confusing lineages. The maps are adequate, but as so often happens, fail to contain many of the important place names contained in the text. Luckily there are many excellent historical atlases available as complements. While expensive ($45 each in hard cover), Byzantium is well worth the price.
In Dunnett’s unique retelling of the Macbeth story most resemblance to Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ is purely incidental. Like the re-visioning of the Arthur tales by Bernard Cornwell, Mary Stewart, and many others, the
barebones of what we think we know of the story become mere background whispers. Here, the death of Duncan occurs as a minor tremor in the plot. Instead, we’re dropped into the tightly wound world of medieval politics, trade and family feuding so familiar from Dunnett’s two historical fiction series – the Niccolo and Lymond books.
Once again, her hero is an underestimated young man, bright and adept in both trade and politics. This time the setting is the northern portion of Great Britain, the Orkneys and Scandinavia at the height of the Viking successor empires. They squabble to control Denmark and England culminating, after this narrative, in 1066 and all that. Tight, intricate
plotting is her trademark, and once more, allegiances and kingdoms bloom, thrive and then are shattered in the course of a paragraph. And there are the expected setpieces – races along the oars of speeding Viking longships, and ice skate
races in the wintry Orkneys. The only downside is that this is a standalone tale, with no sequels. Never light reading, Dunnett is at the top of my list of historical novelists.
Among the other ideas she incorporates are the concepts of the pre-capitalist, pre-mercantilist kingdoms [in Philip Bobbitt’s terms, Princely states rather than Kingly states as described in The Shield of Achilles, ] where the ‘monarch’ might actually hold little land. His power relied on holding together an amalgam of territories that had no natural borders. Instead ties of tribal nature still held, while the mechanism was held together by new economic concepts like cash money:
Nowadays, money was something all men had need of. The church required it, to pay armies to push the Saracens back in the Mediterranean; to fight off the heathenish tribes of the Baltic; to establish churches and send her missions
abroad. Kings required it, to bribe their enemies and to pay their friends for services rendered where land was wanting or inappropriate; to hire fleets with, and foreign fighting-men; to buy the luxuries that their status demanded.
And since not every country could make money or, having made it, could protect the place where it was kept, a trade in money was always there: money that did not go rotten or stink or require great ships to carry it backwards and forwards, or fail altogether if the weather was bad or some tribe of ignorant savages wiped out the seed and the growers. Money which grew of its own accord: in Exeter, in Alston, in the Hertz mountains where the Emperor Henry had made his new’palace
- GLOBAL CHALLENGE – based on the CIA World Fact Book
- Civil War
- Chronos: Ancient History
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- American Presidents
- Questions of State — US Geography
Halls of Fame
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- Chronos: Ancient History
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- Download royalty free images of Eggplant
- Eggplants are native to southeast Asia and are produced in a variety of shapes and colors – the most familiar to Westerners is the oblong ‘aubergine’ colored fruit, or the long, tapered ‘Chinese’ or ‘Japanese’ varieties. The Turks have a special love for it, and a bride is said to be unfit for marriage until she knows at least 2 dozen recipes.Eggplant is on of the tastiest and versatile vegetables, but many people underappreciate it. It’s used in European, Middle Eastern , Chinese and Indian cuisines
Prepare the eggplant for frying or grilling
- Cut into rounds or long strips: 1/2″ thick if frying, or 1″ if grilling. Some people find eggplants are bitter. If so, use this next step: place paper towel on a plate, sprinkle lightly with salt, add a layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with salt, then add more eggplant. Top with another layer of paper towels. Let this sit for about 2 hours, during which time the salt will extract much of the water in the eggplant. Then pat dry with additional paper towels and proceed to the next step. (Remember that paper towels compost easily!)
- To fry eggplant, heat 1 T of oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat, then fry the slices for about 2′ each side until nicely browned. Fry the next batch without adding any more oil. This method of dry frying uses almost no oil, and is best for recipes where the eggplant is later layered with moist ingredients. Alternatively, use about 1 T more oil for each batch of slices to produce a richer result.
- Or grill or roast the entire eggplant until its skin is almost charcoal for a unique smoky taste. The result is excellent for baba ganoush and other recipes calling for mashed eggplant. Usually the skin is discarded. Prick the eggplant with a fork several times before cooking, or you’ll discover how to turn an eggplant inside out! I’ve tested, savored and experimented with eggplants for years, discovering recipes in travels to China, India, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Here are some of my favorites:
- Eggplant with red pepper in bean sauce
- Eggplant with Mushrooms & Onions
- Zucchini — Eggplant Casserole
- How to cook vegetables on an outdoor grill
- Eggplant with YuXiang sauce
- Melanzane arrostiti
Simple eggplant Appetizer
This first recipe is simple, yet elegant and makes an eggplant starter or side dish:
•1 eggplant sliced into 1/2″ slices
•3 cloves of garlic
•3 T chopped parsley
•1 T lemon juice
•1 T olive oil
Fry the eggplant slices and arrange on a plate.
Combine the other ingredients in a food processor [or chop extremely fine], then drizzle on top of eggplant slices. Can be served warm or cold.
IMAM BAYILDI (The Imam Fainted)
•2 medium onions, chopped fine
•3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
•3 medium tomatoes, chopped
•3 tablespoons chopped parsley
•Salt and pepper to taste
•2 medium eggplants
•2 teaspoons sugar
•3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
This is one of the most famous Turkish recipes and varies everywhere – it’s always one of my favorites to order in the smaller Turkish Bufes.
Cut eggplants in half, and hollow out the centers, leaving a shell of about 3/4 – 1″.
Chop the extracted eggplant. In a cast iron skillet, heat 3 T olive oil over high heat. Add the onions and reduce to medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, chopped eggplant, salt, and pepper.
Cook for 5′, stirring occasionally, then reduce to low heat and simmer for additional 15′. Toss in the chopped parsley.
Stuff each eggplant half and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup oil.
Bake, covered, in pre-heated moderate oven (350 F.) for about 40 minutes, or until tender.
Imam biyaldi can be serve hot, or cold with yogurt. Makes 4 to 6 servings depending on the size of the Imam’s appetite.
More eggplant recipes:
|194||Baked Eggplant||EGGPLANT + ONIONS + RED PEPPER + PINE NUTS + PARSLEY|
|49||Chicken-Eggplant Stew||TOMATO SAUCE + GARLIC +
CINNAMON + OREGANO + PARSLEY + THYME
|47||Dry-fry Eggplant Parmigiana||EGGPLANT + OREGANO||Italian|
|148||Eggplant Canelloni||EGGPLANT + POLENTA + CAPERS + GORGONZOLA + NONE||Italian|
|192||Eggplant Lamb Casserole||EGGPLANT + + LAMB||Mideastern|
|173||Eggplant Lasagna||EGGPLANT + FETA + YOGURT + PORK||Mideastern|
|25||Eggplant Lentil Soup||CARROTS + EGGPLANT + LENTIL + GARLIC + PARSLEY + PAPRIKA||Mideastern|
|4||Fettucine w Eggplant & Sausage||EGGPLANT + OREGANO + PORK||Italian|
|191||Lamb Eggplant Stew||EGGPLANT + POTATO + SAFFRON + LAMB|
|87||Moussaka Stew||EGGPLANT + TOMATO + OREGANO + YOGURT + LAMB||Mideastern|
|157||Ratatouille Nicoise||EGGPLANT + CELERY + GARLIC||Italian|
|174||Twice Cooked Eggplant||EGGPLANT + CARROT + CUMIN||Mideastern|