Tag: history


So today is 9/11, six years later. The day has faded a great deal in my mind and if it weren’t for my diary, I probably wouldn’t remember any details. And sometimes, I think it’s better that way.

Here in the office, it’s a poignant day for many people. The north side of our building looks down directly on the Pentagon and there were many people in the building who saw the plane go into the Pentagon. It’s a kind of somber day here, therefore, not helped much by the rain.

Also, it’s Tuesday, and if I remember correctly, September 11, 2001 was also a Tuesday.

62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima

Today, August 6, marks the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I have read 3 books on the history of the atomic bomb, those involved in building it, and those involved in trying to prevent its proliferation thereafter. It gives me a bit of hope that in the 62 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, governments have been smart enough not to use them in anger again. And while no one can say for sure that they won’t be used again (whether by sovereign nation or terrorist group), restraint seems much the way it would be in a 12-step program. You take it one day at a time, steadily building a history and before you know it, you’ve got 62 years sober.

It’s all Greek to me

I finished Barry Malzberg’s Breakfast in the Ruins on the train ride home this evening and it was absolutely terrific! While I don’t necessarily agree with his positions on science fiction, he is an amazing writer with incisive insights into all aspects of the genre. He writes with emotion and gravitas and I completely enjoyed this “extended” version of The Engines of the Night

Next on tap: a couple of history books, first on Greek history and then Roman history. I have an almost complete set of history books that Isaac Asimov wrote for Houghton Mifflin over the years (beginning in the 1960s and well into the 1970s). I’ve only ever read one of them (The Land of Canaan) and seeing how I will be in Italy and Greece soon, I thought boning up on my Greek and Roman history was just the thing. I’ve read Will Durant’s The Life of Greece and portions of his book Caesar and Christ, but I was looking for something a little bit lighter and I think these two books will fit the bill perfectly.

(And if they really work out well, I’ll add The Shaping of England and The Shaping of France to the list, since I will also be in London and Paris during my trip.)

I’m starting with Asimov’s The Greeks and therefore, for the next couple of days, it’s all Greek to me!

Geeks I admire

Working in the computer world, as I have for the last 13 years, and specifically within the world of software development, one becomes familiar with a subculture of people whose notoriety is limited to hardened geeks. These people have affected (usually for the better) the world of computer science in positive ways, sometimes revolutionizing entire technologies or industries. At heart, they are geeks, and I thought it would be interested to list those geeks I admire.

Read the list

Harbor and Shuttle

Today is, of course, the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It seems to me that a lot of people of my generation don’t realize this, but the date was burned into me by my Grandpa, and from my reading of American history.

On a brighter note, we are just about 13 hours away from the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on a mission to the International Space Station. The launch is currently scheduled for 9:35 PM EST. It means I’ll have to stay up past my bedtime, but I try never to miss a shuttle launch. It is one of the most exhilarating things I can think of to watch. And, of course, I always imagine that I am on board when the countdown hits “liftoff!”

The Dead Kennedy’s

I listened to “California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedy’s earlier today. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. I’ve never been overly impressed with the Dead Kennedy’s as a punk band. However, as my mind wandered, I started thinking about the Kennedy’s and JFK, and how long he had been dead–and I made one of those eerie connections where I realized that JFK was killed 43 years ago today.

I remember where I was when Reagan was shot. Kennedy was nearly a decade before my time.

A passage to India

At lunch today, I finally made it to India. Ancient India, anyway. I finished “book 1” of Our Oriental Heritage and am now into “book 2”, which covers India. It is the shortest of the three “books” within the overall book. At the rate I’ve been going, lately, it’ll take me a little while before I leave India and head for China.

Hooters in heaven

That got your attention, didn’t it. I’m sitting here this evening, passing the time by reading more of Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage and awaiting the Yankees/Rangers game at 8 PM. I’m well into the Persian empire and reading about the Persian religion. It seems that much of the Judeo-Christian formulation of Heaven and Hell were dervied from Persian morals. I’m reading this innocently enough, and asking various questions in my head (as I always do when I read), when I come to a squealing stop at this passage:

And yet–for it is in the nature of religion to threaten and terrify as well as to console–the Persian could not look upon death unafraid unless he had been a faithful warrior in Ahura-Mazda’s cause. Beyond the most awful of all mysteries lay a hell and a purgatory as well as a paradise. All dead souls [my emphasis] would have to pass over a Sifting Bridge: the good soul would come, on the other side, to the “Abode of Song,” where it would be welcomed by a “young maiden radiant and strong, with well-developed-bust,” and would live in happiness with Ahura-Mazda to the end of time.

When I came to this passage, I wasn’t wearing my philosophical seatbelt, and so all of the philosophical questions I’d been forming, went right through the windshield. All I could focus on was the phrase: “where it would be welcomed by a ‘young maiden… with well-developed bust.'” There are several reasons for this, which I will now present:

First, it sounded like the way a gentleman might describe a Hooters Restaurant. Anyone who has been to a Hooters restaurant knows what I am talking about. So taking the ancient Persian journey to heaven and translating it into modern American, it might go something like this: “When you die, if you’ve been good, you’ll cross the bridge on 4th Avenue and find yourself outside of Hooters. They’ll be a stacked waitress waiting out front for you.”

My second reason for stopping short here gives us an insight into the value of women in ancient history. On the one hand, women were clearly valued for their beauty, their charms, and the various pleasures they could give to men. Beyond that, I suspect that ancient Persians did not place much value. Furthermore, I suspect that women never got to heaven; or if they did, they rather wished they hadn’t. Remember the italicized part of the quote above: All dead souls would have to pass over the sifting bridge. The ones that made it would be greeted by the maiden with the well-developed bust. If a woman made it across the bridge, how was the maiden with the well-developed bust anything more than an anathma to her?

Clearly, the passage is focused on men. But it does make for a strange message, does it not? Behave yourself; live a chaste and proper life; fight for your country; pray to your god; and when all is said and done, you will be rewarded by spending all of eternity with a well-endowed maiden, doing all of those things you were not allowed to do the first threescore years and ten.

This is why I love to read history.


I came across the following passage in my reading this morning. If one removed the reference to Babylonia, one might feel as though the paragraph referred to modern-day America:

Never was a civilization richer in superstitions. Every turn of chance from the anonalies of birth to the varieties of death received a popular, sometimes an official and sacerdotal interpretation in magical or supernatural terms. Every movement of the rivers, every aspect of the stars, every dream, every unusual performance of man or beast, revealed the future to the properly instructed Babylonian. The fate of a a king could be be forecast by observing the movement of a dog, just as we foretell the length of the winter by spying upon the groundhog. THe superstitions of Babylonia seem ridiculous to us, because they differ superficially from our own. There is hardly an absurdity of the past that cannot be found flourishing somewhere in the present. Underneath all civilization, ancient or modern, moved and still moves a sea of magic, superstition and sorcery. Perhaps they will remain when the works of our reason have passed away.

So much for 5,000 years of progress.

The story of civilization

I haven’t been doing much reading lately. I’ve started a couple of books but couldn’t get into them. For some reason, this is pretty typical for the beginning of the summer for me. Anyway, I decided yesterday that I would once again attempt Will Durant’s Story of Civilization series of history books. I have a complete set (although they are all used) and have from time-to-time in the past tried to read them. I managed to read half of Our Oriental Heritage many years ago, and back in early 2000, I completed The Life of Greece. But I’m going to give it another shot. I’ve always wanted to read the whole series, cover to cover because what I have read was so well written and so fascinating.

More details

Where’s George?

I got a $5 bill in change for a purchase on Sunday, and stamped on the bill was a “See where this bill has been. Go to wheresgeorge.com.” I’ve always wondered where bills travelled and how long they took, and so I went to the site. It’s pretty cool. I put in the bill’s denomination, series, and serial number and was able to see it’s history. I also added an entry for the bill.

If you are curious, you can see where this bill has been.