Posts Tagged ‘Herodotus’

Radio Programmes on the Anniversary of the Birth of Israel Next Week

May 8, 2018

This year it’s the 70th anniversary of the birth of Israel, and Radio 4 are broadcasting a number of programmes next week marking the occasion. At 8.00 pm Tuesday, 15th May 2018, there’s Present at the Creation. The blurb about it in the Radio Times runs

On 14 May 1948, a few hundred people crammed into the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to hear a proclamation that would change the course of history-the establishment of the state of Israel. Jonathan Freedland meets the last two surviving eyewitnesses of the ceremony and gets a rare glimpse of the original document containing the declaration. Contributors include Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath and Israeli novelist Amos Oz, both children on this momentous day.

Then at 11.00 am Thursday morning, 17th May 2018, the foreign affairs show Crossing Continents is on ‘Shades of Jewish in Israel’. This tackles the very controversial issue of Israeli racism. The blurb for this runs

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has seen itself as a safe haven for Jews from anywhere in the world who are seeking to escape persecution. But now that policy is under threat. As Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are finding, a debate has arisen about who is “Jewish enough” to qualify. David Baker investigates claims that decisions are being made not on the basis of ancestry or religious observance but on the colour of people’s skin.

And then at the same on Friday, historian Simon Schama is giving his personal view of the foundation and history of Israel. It’s entitled Israel at 70: A Personal Reflection, and the blurb runs:

Simon Schama was three in May 1948 when the state of Israel was born, and here he offers a personal account of the nation’s troubled and often bloody history, featuring contributors from Israeli and Palestinian historians and writers, a rabbi, entrepreneurs, and people working across borders for the exchange of resources. (p. 131).

The additional paragraph about it on page 130, by Simon O’Hagan, also states

Simon Schama presents this programme from the perspective of a British Jew who was three years old when the state of Israel came into being in 1948, and who feels that the Israel story and that of his own life have always been intertwined. He has, he says, followed Israel’s evolution with a mixture of “pride, anxiety, joy, and sometimes profound exasperation”. Arab voices share time with Jewish voices, and the tone of the programme is exemplary. Israel, Schama says, was made from a “dark crucible”, while for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, its formation was “Nakba”-“The Catastrophe”. The existential threat to Israel has never gone away, but there’s a striking note of optimism with which Schama concludes. An extremely moving half-hour.

Some of the Black African Jewish communities are likely to be extremely old. Herodotus in his Histories records an instance where the Jewish squaddies in garrison in Southern Egypt deserted, and headed over the border to Nubia. When their commander called out ‘What about your wives and children’, they pointed to their crotches to show that so long as they had everything down there, they’d also have wives and children.

The Falashas, who were a sect of Ethiopian Jews famously rescued from persecution by Israel in the 1980s are the most famous of the African Jewish communities, but there are many others. The kings of Ethiopia traced their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Each Ethiopian Orthodox church has an ark, though this term can cover any kind of box, so don’t get your hopes up about the Ark of the Covenant. These facts have been cited by some historians as indicating that the country may well have been Jewish before it converted to Christianity.

Tony Greenstein has reported on and discussed the immense racism in Israel against Black African Jews, as well as African asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, as part of his campaign to show just how racist the country is.

Simon Schama’s programme could also be interesting. Very interesting. The Palestinian Nakba is part of history. Amox Oz talks about it in his book, The Israelis, though it’s definitely not widely known. And I’ve no doubt the Israel lobby in this country, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the rest of them would very much like that to stay. It’ll be interesting to hear if the programme mentions that the Palestinians were subject to a series of terrible massacres, and that 400 villages were destroyed. Or if the Beeb will simply go along with the old Zionist lie that they all left in terror of their own accord, and there were only a couple of massacres. Either way, I expect the Israel lobby will be listening very closely, ready to accuse the Beeb and Schama of ‘anti-Semitism’.

The Beeb probably feels that Schama may well have a better chance of escaping this smear. He’s a very well respected historian, and has presented his own ‘History of the Jews’, now being repeated on BBC4. I wish him the best of luck with that, as the Israel lobby and Likudnik politicians have also smeared very definitely self-respecting Jews and Beeb foreign correspondents as anti-Semites when they’ve mentioned awkward facts. Like Israel’s massacres of the Palestinians, or those of its Christian allies in Lebanon. As Mike pointed out, Natalie Portman was accused of it after she was awarded the Genesis prize for being such an excellent role model for Jews. Portman wouldn’t go to Israel because of the dodgy situation at the time to collect it, and so Likud and the rest of them went berserk. She was accused of being self-hating, part of the BDS movement – she isn’t, and made that very plain-and one Likudnik Member of the Knesset demanded that she be stripped of her Israeli citizenship.

Likud and the Israel lobby in Britain demand absolute obedience to the narrative they want to present, even when it contravenes well-established historical fact. And no matter how big or respected someone is, no matter if they’re Jewish or gentile, and how sincere they are fighting racism and real anti-Semitism, they will attempt to smear and destroy them.

These programmes sound fascinating.
The Israel lobby and their smears on the other hand, are utterly despicable.

Norman Tebbit Claims Air Pollution Making People Transgender

October 29, 2017

Mike’s put up a lot of material on his blog, which deserves to be read and commented on. But I really couldn’t let this one pass.

Norman Tebbit, the noted opponent of LGBTQ rights, has risen once again to show his ignorance and bigotry.

Pink News reported that the elderly Thatcherite appeared in the pages of the Torygraph to claim that transgenderism is a new phenomenon. He said he couldn’t remember there being any other children, who were unhappy with their sex at his school, or amongst his intake for National Service or in his children’s school. He wants research conducted into it to examine its extent in time and geographical space. He also states that it’s unknown whether ours or other species are affected, and stated that some scientists believe it could be caused by air pollution. Pink News concluded that it was unclear what scientists he was referring to.

Mike makes the point that there have always been people unhappy with their gender, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were people at his school or amongst his cohort for National Service, who weren’t happy with the sex into which they were born. They kept silent, and hid it, because of the very strong hostility towards it. Those were more primitive times, and what has changed is that society has become more tolerant.

He concludes

The current situation is far from enlightened, but progress has been made – as a result of decades of campaigning against oppressive prejudice such as that displayed by Lord Tebbit.

And it is oppressive. It is an attempt to tell other people how to live. How would you like it?

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/28/lord-tebbit-thinks-air-pollution-is-making-people-transgender-is-that-as-opposed-to-narrow-minded/

There are a number of aspects to this, which do need to be carefully dissected and commented on.

First of all, I think somewhere along the line Tebbit has come across some entirely respectable research into the growth of reproductive abnormalities and intersex conditions in male animals, and then got it somehow twisted in his weird, bigoted little mind. Scientists have become worried about the increase in malformed sexual organs and female characteristics amongst some animals, such as frogs. I can remember reading an article in New Scientist back in the 1990s that reported that scientists had found an increase in these, as well as other birth defects, in areas in Canada and America that were particularly heavily polluted. I don’t think this was air pollution. It was chemical pollution from factories entering the water table. Amongst the human population, there was a growing gender imbalance with an abnormally low incidence of male births.

In short, there is plenty of evidence which shows that industrial pollution is feminizing animal populations, including humans. And I think it is reasonable to conclude that this process is connected with the fall in sperm vitality in developed, industrial countries, that will leave half of all men classified as clinically infertile by the middle of this century.

But this is not the same as transvestism or transgenderism. This has always been present in human societies. It’s condemned, along with homosexuality, in Leviticus in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Other cultures have been more accepting. For example, in Polynesian culture there were homosexuals, who dressed as women and did female tasks, and were accepted. Herodotus, the Father of History, states that the upper class of the Scythians were not only impotent, but they also dressed as women and did women’s work. The Scythians were a nomadic people on the steppes of central Asia and Siberia. And many of the shamans in Siberian spirituality were transvestites.

In the west, transvestism and transgenderism remained very illegal until very recently. Not only was it frowned upon, but it could also get the transvestite thrown in jail. There was a notorious case in the 19th century of two men, who dressed in drag as part of their music hall act, who were prosecuted because they went out in public wearing their female togs ‘for immoral purposes’, according to the prosecution. Transvestism has also been called Eonism, after the Chevalier d’Eon, a French nobleman and spy, who was also a transvestite. He was also very good at it. He lived as a woman for 20 years, and the woman, who shared his accommodation with him said that in all that time she didn’t know he was a man. One of the small press magazines that emerged in the great flourishing of independent zines in the 1990s was entitled Eon: The Magazine of Transkind, which was dedicated to defending transvestite/ transgender people and their rights.

Western society has become more tolerant towards the transgendered as part of the gay rights campaign that began in the 1950s and ’60s. And at the popular level a strong influence was David Bowie and Glam Rock. Bowie in the ’60s and ’70s adopted a very strongly sexually ambiguous persona. There are photos on the web of him with long hair wearing a man dress. Bowie inspired parts of the pop and rock scene to adopt a similarly androgynous image. Thus the number of Rock and Heavy Metal bands, who also sported long hair and the spandex clothes they’d bought from Chelsea Girl with their sisters. This whole attitude could be summed up in Twisted Sister’s old maxim, ‘Dress like women, sing like men, play like Motherf***ers’. These ’80s monsters of metal arguably achieved their ambition when, in 1987, they were voted America’s ‘worst dressed women’.

It wasn’t just down to Bowie, of course. And despite the massive hair, make-up and spandex, Rock and Heavy Metal are very aggressively masculine musical genres, although certainly not without their female fans and stars. The Goth subculture, or parts of it, also took up the androgynous look as well as a certain tolerance towards bisexuality, which was also becoming increasingly common across popular music generally as part of the changes in sexual attitudes amongst young people.

As for the prevalence of transvestism and transsexuality across different cultures through time, there have been a number of histories of sex written by serious anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, one of whom was also interviewed about his work and book by New Scientist. These issues have also been explored by some of the gay historians. A friend of mine used to have one lying around, which did cover homosexuality and related queer issues as a global phenomenon, from Asia and Europe to Africa and elsewhere.

If Tebbit wants to know more about the Scythians and their sexual habits, he can read Herodotus: The Histories, and the collection of ancient Greek medical writings ascribed to Hippocrates, The Hippocratic Writings. Both are, or were, in Penguin Classics. I’m afraid I can’t remember the titles and authors of the books on the history of sex, although one of them I think was simply titled, The History of Sex, and published by a mainstream publisher. The gay history book was, I think, published by one of the gay publishers.

The Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2017 also contains a recent book, Exploring Sex and Gender in Bioarchaeology, ed. by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Julie K. Wesp (University of New Mexico Press 2017).

The blurb for this runs

Archaeologists have long used skeletal remains to identify gender. Contemporary bioarchaeologists, however, have begun to challenge the theoretical and methodological basis for sex assignment from the skeletons. Simultaneously, they have started to consider the cultural construction of gender roles, recognising the body as uniquely fashioned from the interaction of biological, social, and environmental factors. As the contributors to this volume reveal, combining skeletal data with contextual information can provide a richer understanding of life in the past.

(Page 6 of the catalogue).

This book ain’t cheap, however. The hardback edition is £88.95. But as Tebbit was a Tory cabinet minister, he can probably afford it. As for the other books, he could simply go on Amazon to find them, or simply look round his local branch of Waterstones.

As it is, it looks as if Tebbit has simply been watching too much Alex Jones, the bonkers American conspiracy theorist, and his foam-flecked rant about ‘the globalists’ putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay!’

And here’s some light relief at the great conspiracy theorist’s expense:

The Ancestors of Democracy in Ancient Iraq?

March 14, 2015

Ancient Greece is rightly venerated as the place where western democracy began. However, Daniel E. Fleming, in a book published in 2004, suggested that the origins of western democracy may lie even further back and to the east, in ancient Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq. In his book Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, Fleming examined 3,000 letters from the archives of the ancient city of Mari, finding in them evidence for collective leadership and early democratic ideas and vocabulary in the city’s myths and literary traditions.

I haven’t read the book, but I think I can see where Fleming is coming from. The cities of the Babylonian Empire were ruled by three different layers of government. There was the governor, appointed by the emperor; the city’s local ruler, the mayor; and the karim, or chamber of commerce. This last could be the popular assembly of a limited kind that provided the proto-democratic element in the Babylonian political system.

The Babylonians were also rather like us, in that they also expected their rulers to act in their interests, and had a cynical contempt for them when they didn’t. There’s one Babylonian story about a citizen, who gives the mayor a golden cup, expecting a suitable favour in return. When he doesn’t get it, the citizen arranges a series of four incidents, in which the mayor has the living daylights beaten out of him in consequence. Okay, so it isn’t democracy so much as a bribe, but it does show that there were limits placed on the actions of their rulers, and the citizenry considered it their right to mete out appropriate justice when their rulers didn’t govern on their behalf.

Aside from this, since Edward Said’s Orientalism, there has been a move by some historians to challenge the simplistic notion of a free, democratic West versus a despotic East. Said traced this idea back to Herodotus’ The Histories, and the Father of History’s account of the Persian War as a battle between Greek democracy and Persian absolute monarchy. Sasan Samiei, for example, in his book Ancient Persia in Western History: Hellenism and the Representation of the Achaemenid Empire , wrote a measured attack on this view, in particular examining and contrasting the works of Goethe and Gibbon.

Said’s Orientalism was an attempt to challenge what he viewed as Western imperialist attitudes towards Arabs and their cultures, attitudes, which justified American and European imperialism and domination. The same attitudes have been seen as influencing Frank Miller’s 300, about the Spartan victory over the Persians at Marathon. Clearly histories like Samiei’s are important as they challenge the assumptions about the Near East and the Arab and Iranian worlds, which see them as a terrible ‘Other’ implacably hostile to the West and democracy, and which partly justify Huntingdon’s theory of renewed ‘culture wars’ between the democratic, free West, and a despotic, Muslim East.

And I wondered if Fleming’s book also didn’t provide another key to explaining the destruction of the priceless Assyrian artefacts by Isis a few weeks. They weren’t just trying to destroy the remains of a civilisation they considered to be pre-Islamic and therefore idolatrous. They were trying to destroy the reminders that Iraq had a history and culture going back thousands of years, in which democracy, rather than the rule of force, may have played a part. This last might provide a point a rapprochement between the West and Iraqi Islam. ISIS despise the West, and would like to provoke us into further attacking Iraq and its people further, in order to create more chaos. This would, they hope, further cut the rug from under the moderates and radicalise more of the people against us. Smashing those artefacts was part of that process, in the hope it would incense the West, as well as destroy the ancient, and possibly democratic legacy, of that ancient civilisation.

Mechanical Limbs Before the Machine Age

October 19, 2013

A few days ago, I post up here a review of a collection of texts on Cyber culture and information technology published by Phaidon almost a decade ago. I’ve also got an interest in cybernetics, which was originally the attempt to reproduce in machines the functions of human organs, such as arms and legs. Since Norbert Wiener in the 1940s and ’50s much of the research into such devices has been based around electronic ‘command and control’ systems. The attempts to replace missing limbs with artificial devices long predates the terrible carnage and injuries inflicted during the Second World War. The classic example of the artificial limb in history, is Long John Silver’s wooden leg and Captain Hook’s eponymous replacement for his hand from Treasure Island and Peter Pan, respectively. In fact, such replacement limbs were made long before this, back into ancient Persia.

According to the Greek historian and anthropologist, Herodotus, the first artificial limb was a foot made by Hegistratus of Elis in the middle of the sixth century BC. Hegistratus was a Persian soldier and seer, who had been captured by the Spartans. Sentenced to death, he escaped from the stocks by cutting off part of his own foot. He then made a part to replace the section of foot he had cut off to help him walk 30 miles to Tregea. He was unsuccessful in this, and was captured by Zaccynthius and beheaded.

The ancient Egyptians were also replacing lost parts of their feet. One of the mummies from ancient Egypt possessed an artificial big toe, presumably to help the wearer to walk after he lost the real digit. The Roman naturalist and historian, Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century BC, also records how the Roman general Marcus Sergius had his hand replaced with an artificial one during the Second Punic War against Carthage, from 218 to 210 BC. During the battle, Sergius received 23 different wounds and his right arm had to be amputated. This was replaced with an iron hand so that he could his shield. He returned to the battle, and fought a further four more against the Carthaginians, during which he had two horses killed from under him.

The oldest known artificial limb was found in a Capuan tomb In 1858, and dated to about 300 BC. This was the period of the Samnite Wars, and the leg was presumably made for a Roman soldier, who had lost his own in battle. It was made from a mixture of copper and wood. It ended up in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, where it was unfortunately destroyed in an air raid in 1941. It has since, however, been replaced by a copy.

Roman Leg

Copy of Roman Leg dating to 300 BC

During the Sixteenth century physicians and engineers across Europe attempted to construct artificial limbs to replace those of the soldiers, who had lost theirs in the numerous wars of the time. An iron hand was made in 1509 for the German knight, Goetz von Berlichingen, who was the later the hero of a play of the same name by the great German dramatist, Goethe. It was not entirely successful. Goetz remarked of it that ‘My right hand, though not useless in combat, is unresponsive to the grasp of affection. It is one with its mailed gauntlet – You see, it is iron. Later in the sixteenth century the great French military surgeon, Ambroise Pare, also designed and built a number of artificial limbs, including a leg, hand and arm. Some of the artificial hands were operated by an ingenious system of ratchets and levers so that they could extend and flex their fingers. These artificial limbs promoted the development of springs, ratchets and gear. In the opinion of Geoff Simons, a contemporary writer on robots and cybernetics, they also contain important clues for designing modern, robotic artificial hands. This is particularly impressive as it has proved very difficult to design artificial hands with the range of movement and dexterity of the original. R. Pawson in his 1985 book on robots even suggested it would be easier to build an artificial brain than a robotic hand.

Pare Hand Leg

An artificial hand and leg built by Ambroise Pare (1510-90)

Pare Arm

Another of Pare’s creations: an artificial arm

The design of artificial limbs has made truly incredible advances over the past few decades. Scientists and doctors have produced a number of artificial limbs that respond to impulses from the wearers nerves, and can even feel certain types of sensation. These awesome developments in medical engineering are built on the solid foundations of the ancients and their search for artificial replacement limbs.

The Australian performance artist has also explored the new dimensions and possibilities for augmenting and even redesigning the human body offered by modern cybernetics. AS I mentioned in previous posts, he has given himself an artificial third hand, and connected himself to the internet, so that his body could be operated remotely and automatically by a cybernet search engine through galvanic stimulators. I found this sequence of videos in which he talks about his work and disability in a conversation with the stand up comedian and disabled rights activist, Liz Carr, at a disabled arts conference at Warwick University. I object to Stelarc’s statement that the human body is now somehow obsolete, but his work is a fascinating exploration of the transhuman condition. In the interview with Carr he talks movingly of the hope some of the technology used in his performances have given the disabled. The wife of one of the scientists, with whom he has worked, tragically suffers from ‘locked-in syndrom’, and can only communicate with her right eye. Stelarc recalled how delighted she was when they fixed galvanic stimulators to her arm, and for a moment she briefly had the power to move her arm slightly again. Here’s the interview below.

Stelarc on Experimenting on His own Body

Stelarc: Would having a Prosthetic Arm be enough for You?

Stelarc: Is the Human Body Obsolete

Stelarc on How Do We Cope with Change to the Body We Can’t Control?

Liz Carr’s Conclusion and Surprise for Stelarc

For all that his work is frequently disturbing in its implications for the future of humanity, Stelarc himself comes across as surprisingly normal, with an engaging attitude and ready laugh. It’s fascinating seeing him and Carr find that they have a common ground in their exploration of what philosophers call ‘the human condition’.

Sources

Jack Challoner, (ed.), 1001 Inventions that Changed the World (London: Cassell 2009)

Michael Pollard, Felicity Trotman, Merilyn Holme, The Illustrated Dictionary of Inventors and Inventions (London: Claremont Books 1995)

Geoff Simons, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines (London: Cassell 1992).