Category Archives: History and Culture

Treating people with Respect, or Not

On his blog, John C Wright talks about Political Correctness and courtesy in regards to transsexuals.

Demanding Discourtesy in Courtesy’s Name

I am not going to fisk the entire thing, because I might be accused of the evil horror of quoting his post. But I am going to respond to the spirit of this post. The spirit of John’s post, as I read it is that transsexual persons have no right to be treated as they wish to be treated, because in the end they aren’t “really” the gender they identify with, as opposed to the gender they were born with. John sees a duty that speaking the truth about a person’s nature trumps the desire of a transsexual person to be identified as the gender they identify with.

So, I suppose treating people with respect and in the way they wish to be treated is less of a social good than speaking the truth of their biological nature. I am sorry, John, I don’t buy it. There are people who, by accident of birth and biology, who have gender signals which are at best confused. Don’t they deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–and if that happiness means that they identify with the opposite gender, shouldn’t they be allowed to do so, and be treated as such? Do unto others, as they would have done unto you?

Call it political correctness if you wish. I just think treating people as they want to be treated is a good thing. I have a friend who is asexual, and it pains me to get the pronouns wrong in addressing said friend. Why? Because I want to treat them with respect. Because I want to be treated with respect, myself, in turn.

Oh, and as far as “They” as a singular pronoun, the idea goes back over a century, John.

{Photography} Ostia Antica

On the Sunday of my trip to Rome, I took the subway and a commuter train to the ruins of the Port city of Ostia Antica. It was easy to get to, and it was less crowded than Pompeii. Aside from an Ugly American tour guide participant who got in my face because his tour was loud and I couldn’t help but listen.

But forget him.

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Ostia Antica was THE port for Rome during the Empire. You wanted to sail to Rome? You’d put into port into Ostia and travel overland from Ostia to Rome. So a bustling port town had it all—night life, people from all over the empire and beyond, foreign gods, and more. (Before Christianity went to Rome, it certainly came to Ostia Antica).
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There are a few places marked off, and there is a “straight shot” of some of the highlights, but there are acres, near square miles of stuff to wander through and explore. On a quiet Sunday, away from the main crowds, you can believe you are alone amongst the ruins.

Other places, like the Theater, are much more popular.

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There is a sense of deep time, wandering about, seeing what’s left.
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So what happened, do you ask? Unlike Pompeii, it wasn’t a volcanic eruption. Instead, the river changed course, and the harbor silted up. Ostia was no longer a good port. And so as the marshes moved in, the people moved away, and left the buildings, the statues, the inscriptions, the mosaics, and the ruins behind.

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So, if you visit Rome and don’t have the time for Pompeii…step back into time at Ostia instead. You won’t regret it.

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{Photography} Bernini

Before I went to Rome, I knew comparatively little about Baroque sculpture and architecture. I knew the Trevi Fountain was Baroque, but if you asked me to name a single Baroque sculptor, well, I couldn’t.

And then I met the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the guy who is widely thought to have invented Baroque sculpture.

After Rome fell in the 5th century AD, Rome was a dump for the better part of a thousand years. Sure, the Pope lived there (and even so, for a while, even the Pope decided to live elsewhere, in France!), but otherwise, Rome was a nothing place. In the height of the Roman Empire, a million people lived in Rome. In the depths of the Dark Ages, maybe 10,000 people, tops.

In the 16th and 17th century, though, the Renaissance brought money and power to the Popes, and Rome again. Art and architecture started to flourish once more. Popes thought big and dreamed big and started building projects and restoration projects. Bernini, who lived in the 17th century, helped steer the course of that restoration with his style.

You’ve already seen the work of Bernini in this space. Remember David?

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My connection to Bernini on this trip, though, started at the beginning. The Hotel I stayed at was called the Hotel Bernini.
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The reason for this turns out to be because of the Piazza in front of the Hotel. The Piazza Barberini has a fountain designed by Bernini, the Fontana del Tritone.
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Back to the Villa Borghese, where you saw the David. Scipio Borghese was a nephew of a Pope, and that gave him a lot of power to get what he wanted. He got to be a cardinal, for example. What Scipio really loved and wanted was art, and he collected it like crazy. He has a few pieces by Bernini, including a bust he commissioned Bernini to do of himself.
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This is Pluto and Prosperina, a classic story of Greek myth. Look at the delicacy of the image, with the tear, and Pluto’s fingers digging into her flesh.

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This is Apollo and Daphne, the nymph who turned into a tree to avoid Apollo’s amorous advances. You can see in this image that she’s in the moment of transformation (look at her legs)
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But like the fountain before, Bernini liked to do bigger projects. The fountains of the Piazza Navona, one of the biggest and most famous squares in Rome, are his work:

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He also had a hand in the design in and around St. Peter’s square.

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Still, even as I was wandering around museums of Rome, I randomly came across his work.

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The face of that Medusa by the way, was of his mistress. He was fighting with her at the time.

Finally, Bernini died, and was buried in one of the big churches of Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore. I didn’t find his tomb, there was a church service going on at the time. Next time.

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Hadrian, in Pictures

Meet Emperor Hadrian

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He was Emperor of the Roman Empire in the 2nd Century AD, about 50 years and several emperors after Nero. He got to be Emperor thanks to the machinations of the previous Emperor’s wife, who said that her husband Trajan named Hadrian his heir and made it stick.

He was the first Emperor to sport a beard. The style stuck, and soon lots of Emperors would wear beards, and nobles looking to copy the Emperor, too.

If you know the name Hadrian, its probably “Hadrian’s Wall”, in Northern England. He was the builder sort of person, interested in architecture, building, culture rather than war.

This is Sabina, Hadrian’s Wife.

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Poor Sabina’s bed was pretty cold at nights. You see, Hadrian wasn’t big on women. Instead, he fell in love with a young man named Antinous

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Hadrian loved to travel, and took Antinous throughout the Empire with him. Hadrian visited every province of the Empire from England to Syria. However, tragically, in Egypt, Antinous died, drowned. Why? We don’t know. Lover’s quarrel? Suicide? Human sacrifice? We just don’t know. We do know Hadrian didn’t take it well, and got real reclusive in his later years. He didn’t go cuckoo for cocoa puffs like Caligula or Nero, thankfully. But he did have lots of statues to Antinous made, and made him a god, too. In fact, except for Emperor Augustus (you know, the first Emperor), we have more busts and statues of Antinous than anyone else in the Roman world. As I said, Hadrian took his lover’s death real hard.

But even when he wasn’t traveling, Hadrian mostly stayed out of Rome. In fact, he had a big palace built outside of Rome, and made people come to *him*. Hadrian’s Villa, in Tivoli:

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Besides his Villa, and the Wall, Hadrian is most famous for the most intact building of the Ancient World—the Pantheon. It was designed to be a temple to *all* the gods of the Roman world. It’s a domed structure, and the secret of just how the Romans built it got lost in the Dark Ages. No one really attempted something like this for a thousand years.
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Inside is spectacular. It became a church in the 4th Century AD, which is why it survived. It’s still a working church.

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As all men must do, Hadrian eventually died. They built a quite large tomb for him right in Rome. That tomb didn’t remain a tomb, however, as Popes took it over and made it into a fortress, and renamed it the Castel San Angelo.

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There isn’t much about Hadrian in the tomb itself, but the views from the Fortress over the city of Rome are pretty spectacular. I think Hadrian, the building Emperor, would have been pleased. That’s the dome of St. Peter’s church in the Vatican you can see, there.
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Tune in next time for more from Rome.

The ugliness of the Xenophobia of William Lind

I got a random tweet from a gentleman who hosted a blog post from William Lind. You’ll remember i have blogged about Lind before–he’s the “From my Nightmare 1995 to my Utopian 2050”, complete with a breakup of the US, and the burning of the bishopess of Maine.

Anyway, he saw my tweet and linked me to said blog post, where Lind offers two possible futures, a Bad One and a Good one.

Go ahead, read it.

Okay?

Yeah. I don’t like either future. What disturbs me is that the “Successful” future is a xenophobic’s dream. Nuking Saudi Arabia to glass after a nuclear terrorist attack? Building a Great Wall of America? Constitutional Amendments forbidding the practice of Islam? This is your GOOD future?

“Our response did not end there. We finally resolved the immigration issue correctly: all immigration was forbidden unless someone came with at least ten million dollars (sound dollars, now). A replica of the old East-West German border was built between the U.S. and Mexico. Anyone attempting to cross a border illegally – here and in Europe — gets shot. That’s what a border means.”

On a practical level, I don’t think that Lind even contemplates just how physically impractical his Great Wall really is. The cost would be ruinous if you extended that wall across the entire border with Mexico, and the costs and logistics of maintaining it would be even more so. You’d basically have a good chunk of US Army encamped on the US-Mexico border full time.

I’m sorry, Mr. Lind. I don’t share your vision of a Successful America. Not. In. The. Least.

Confederacy and memorials

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This is the Confederate Veterans memorial on the Capitol grounds of Little Rock, Arkansas. I saw this for the first time this summer, when I visited a friend who lived
in the area.
In the wake of the mass shooting and the outcry against the Stars and Bars, I dug out this photo to take a look at it, and to share it with you.

The caption on the left side of the memorial reads:

“Arkansas Commends the faithfulness of its sons and commends their example to future generations”

The right side reads:

“Our furled banner wreathed with glory and though conquered, We adore it. Weep for those
who fell before it. Pardon those who trailed and tore it.”

The memorial was built in 1905.

Look at the symbolism of this memorial even beyond those words. We have a doughty Confederate soldier, wrapped in a Confederate flag. Above him is Nike, the Greek
Goddess of victory, with a laurel crown held over his head, showing that she favors him, that she is anointing him, that she is telling him and the world that he
is chosen, that he has in the end won.

Even more than a Stars and Bars, this memorial helps crystallize for me just how the South sees the Civil War and its results so very differently than the North.