Thursday, June 21, 2007

Where are the Luddites when you need them?

So my computer is down. It's telling me that it has a "disk boot error" and that I need to put some sort of a "system disk" into it in order to make it work again. Unfortunately, I don't speak technologese, so I have no idea what that means. Oh computers...just one damned problem after another. I figured the whole Y2K thing would have taught our society that running our world on computers opens up serious dangers. How can anyone feel safe in a world where your identity can be either stolen, or erased at the touch of a button? I know I don't.

When I first started this blog I mentioned that I'd rather be writing on parchment with a quill...and I was serious. I still do most of my schoolwork on paper before going anywhere near a computer. And yet, without my computer I feel I'm cut off from the world somehow. What does it say about me that I yearn to be connected to a world I distrust?

This brings me to the question in the title. Where the hell are the Luddites when we need them? Why doesn't someone come around and free us from our cyberspace enslavement? I personally would welcome a world without computers, to a certain extent. I mean...can any of us really live without the internet anymore?

Ok, I'll end this with a little bit of internet talk, "leet speak" it's called, or "teh 1337:" Omg, joo got pwned nub, lollerz, roflcopter! Horde ftw!!! STFU ALLYS!!! kkthxbye cgf =).

Um...if you can read that then your eyes are teh 1337. Oh God, why is it that I can both read and write that crap? I feel dirty...must wash. Ciao for now. Oh...locks pwn.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Breath of Life

So I have bronchitis again. This is maybe the seventh time I've had it since last spring. Add that to the fact that I have only 1.5 lungs, and a severe case of chronic asthma, and that I live in a city with almost daily smog alerts, and you see the dilemma I face: I cannot breathe, ever. Coming home from the doctor's office I started thinking abstractly about my problem. Breath is roughly equivalent to life, and thus I am almost incapable of sustaining my own life through natural means. It's kind of scary to think that in any other period in history I would have died at least 150 times before now. Modern science may be keeping me alive, but is that a good thing? Will I pass this problem on to my children? How long will a plant survive without leaves for photosynthesis? How long will a toothless old lion get his food chewed for him?

Then I started thinking in economic terms. How much does it actually cost to keep me alive? With my 3 major surgeries, lifelong medical studies, and daily medication, my total bill must be well into the tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars (thank God I live in a country with free health care, and am lucky enough to have limited health benefits). On top of that, how much money have I lost from missing days at work due to illness? That's gotta be a pretty high number as well. Is it possible to put a price tag on your health, and if so, what exactly does that mean?

Finally, I started thinking about civilization in general. The switch from a nomadic lifestyle to a settled one has been the most destructive event in the history of human health. Not only are cities dirty and stressful, but large populations living in close quarters are exactly the conditions that major diseases need to flourish. Black Death anyone? Or influenza? Does this mean that I am actually a product of civilization? If so, are the glories of civilization worth bad health sometimes? Without cities we would not have achieved any of the cultural or scientific advances that mankind has created. Is bad breathing the cost of a Michelangelo, a Beethoven, an Einstein or a Voltaire? When I look at it this way, I don't really feel all that bad. At least I am a part of something greater than myself, and maybe a lack of air is what I pay for that reward. Maybe everyone has a price to pay, and mine just seems worse to me because it is my own.

In any case, there is a single -yet stereotypical- image that comforts me. Whenever I think of my health problems, I always imagine a sickly scholar, probably a monk, relentlessly copying manuscripts by candlelight in a cold room. These men who saved western culture from the flames and the darkness often suffered as I do. Well, maybe I'm in good company. Ciao for now...and remember to breathe deeply. Enjoy it, because some of us can't.

Friday, June 15, 2007

God Grant Me Strength

One of the reasons I study history is to try and correct all the ridiculous misconceptions people have about various things, and it can be a wholly frustrating task. Not only do I have to deal with outright ignorance ("The Earl of Sandwich? That's not a person, you're a liar"), and terrible mistakes made by the education system ("Christopher Columbus set out to prove the world was round because everyone else thought it was flat"), but now I also have to contend with immoral and unscrupulous authors who intentionally manipulate the historical evidence for the purposes of propaganda (yes Hitchens and Dawkins, I'm talking about you two).

Sometimes I get the urge to go crazy on people...I just CANNOT tolerate willful stupidity, nor should I, or any other sane person, be expected to. Here is a conversation I had with a man at work the other day. I found him in the Religion section, and he started talking about how much he loved "The God Delusion", and "God is not Great", two of the most a-historical books ever published (after "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" of course).

Guy: Those books were great, they really opened my mind to new things. Now I don't just
accept what people tell me.

Me: Yeah, I hear they're good. My only problem with them is that neither of the authors are
good historians (Dawkins is a scientist and Hitchens is a philosopher I believe), and they get
a bunch of their facts wrong.

Guy: Like what?

Me: Well, for example, the Inquisition. Opponents of religion tend to claim that the Inquisition
killed all sorts of people, but that just wasn't the case.

Guy: Well, it was.

Me: No, it wasn't. The Holy Office of the Inquisition has executed less that 150 people since its
inception in the 1200s. Conversely, independent Protestant "Inquisitors" in Northern
Europe killed close to 80,000 people (though that estimate is considered low by most
experts), and the Spanish Inquisition was a state run organization, not a church run one.

Guy: See, this is what you religious people do, you delude yourselves about things.

Me: No, I did the research. I am trained to do proper research, and that's what I did.

Guy: No, you're deluded.

Me: Wait...didn't you tell me you don't just believe things people tell you any more?
Um...maybe you shouldn't just believe what Dawkins and Hitchens say about subjects they
have no experience in.

Guy: Sorry man, but you're just wrong. You religious people are just wrong.

Ok, so tell me why the state won't allow violence when one has been unbearably provoked? Please people, PLEASE, don't talk knowingly about something you don't know, and then deny actual facts discovered through real research. These atheists are getting worse than the Creationists...So please, the next time you meet a poor historian who is just trying to help society by giving it a clear picture of it's past, don't argue with him (it may be politically correct for me to add "or her", but I'm actually referring only to myself here), listen, because maybe you just might learn something. Please attack stupidity wherever you find it. Ciao.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Political Compass

I just did this amazing internet test called the Political Compass, and I think that all of you should do it too. The guys who designed it realized the inherent ridiculousness of the simple right/left wing political analysis and added a second axis; one that runs from Authoritarian to Libertarian tendencies. This provides a far more accurate depiction of where one stands politically, as well as giving you a lot to think about, and helping you learn more about yourself.

My results were no surprise to me. I was 8.5/10 to the left (farther left than many Communist leaders like Stalin and Lenin), and seeing as I've always claimed to be way out there, I'm glad to see that I was right. I was also about 4/10 to the Libertarian side of things, meaning (I think) that I don't mind people doing their own thing within certain limits. The closest world leader to me happened to be Nelson Mandela, and to be honest, that pleased me, as he is a man I greatly admire.

So, the point of this entry is to tell you all to take the test and share your results and reactions. The link can be found on the left-hand side of my page. Have fun, and be honest. Ciao.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poor Old Aethelred

Maybe by now you might be wondering who this Athelred guy in this site's address is... or, maybe it never crossed your mind. In either case, I've decided to write a short piece about the dangers of bad history, and I'm going to use poor old Aethelred as an example.

Aethelred was the king of England from about 978-1016. During his reign he had to deal with treacherous advisors, troublesome nobles, and hordes of angry Vikings. To be honest, I'm surprised that a man whom history has described as incompetent managed to last for so long. Obviously he did something right, although he certainly made some pretty dumb decisions as well.

Aethelred earned the sobriquet 'Unread' or 'Readless' either at the end of his reign, or shortly after his death. This is what I'd like to highlight in terms of bad history. Amateur historians who didn't do their research, real historians who didn't speak Old English, and common people who didn't know any better have all claimed that Aethelred's nickname means something like 'unready.' Now, I get the feeling that many of them must have been either pretty lazy, or pretty ignorant, because putting a 'y' on the end of an Old English word does not make it into a Modern English word. Nor does it adequately translate the word from Old to Modern English. Unfortunately, not many people seemed to care all that much about the word's real meaning, and so the incorrect translation has wreaked havoc on this section of English history. Allowing his nickname to colour their work, many historians have portrayed Aethelred as an incompetent king who was not prepared for the responsibility of his position, and subsequently lost the nation to the Danes...

Maybe you see where I'm going with this. 'unread' does not actually translate as 'unready.' It really means 'ill-counseled,' or in my translation; 'guy who takes bad advice.' The truth of the matter is that Aethelred was very well prepared to rule England, he just managed to allow his advisors to influence his decisions a little too often. This, more than any imagined unpreparedness, is why he was so soundly defeated by the Danes.

So what does this all have to do with anything? Well, the point I'm trying to make is that history is all too often misinterpreted, either by amateurs with no training in proper research and critical thinking, or by pros with an agenda. It is precisely these idiots whose opinions tend to influence the ideas of the general public, which confuses me, since their claims are always the hardest to believe. Sure, our perception of Aethelred may not actually have any serious repercussions, but this kind of thing is far from rare. Sadly, especially for me, it is the Middle Ages that suffer most at the hands of untrained or misguided 'historians'...but that is an issue I'll take up another time.

So, the lesson for today is that much of what we think we know about our past is actually wrong. Good historians will tell you what is as close to 'accurate' as possible, but no one seems to want to listen to them. This is why I picked Athelred as my site's address. Maybe I can set a few misconceptions right, and if not, at least I can get people to start thinking more about what they hear and read.

Until next time, remember Aethelred's plight, and try not to be so hard on him; he wasn't unready, he just had bad advice. Ciao.