At last a use for the internet

Shakespeare’s Henry V was a “history play”. At the time the play was written, the events it showed were already over a hundred and fifty years in the past.

Now, anyone with access to the web can go one better than Shakespeare, whose detailed knowledge of the period must have been a bit limited (Well, OK, you can only better Shakespeare in certain specified ways. Nobody’s managed to get the monkeys to tap out the Complete Works yet. )

You can find out the names and jobs of the individual men in Henry V’s armies just by searching on The Soldier in Later Medieval England databases. Plus, you can learn any number of other details about medieval soldiers – such as the archers in the Earl of Arundel’s service.

There are now 250,000 medieval service records online, in a pilot project covering the period from 1369 to 1453.

You can have hours of history nerd fun with this, such as trying to guess which were the most common late medieval peasant surnames.

(Smiths are pretty rare, for instance, although maybe my search-criteron spelling was too specific. There are a mere half a dozen Taylors. Even FitzWilliams seem to greatly outnumber Smiths. There are many more chaps with the Archer surname, suggesting a possible failure of imagination by the clerks who kept these records.)

People with a less frivolous interest in local or family history can search on surnames or dates or leaders and extend their knowledge, rather than their enjoyment of trivia.

There are bits of the database that I can’t work out what to do with, especially the column labelled membrane which has entries like “m4d”

According to the BBC

The website is the product of a research project by Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton and Dr Adrian Bell of the University of Reading.

Bravo, respect to them and everyone who worked on it.

Christians as atheists

The Christians were generally designated as atheoi, as deniers of the gods, and the objection against them was precisely their denial of the Pagan gods, not their religion as such.

from ATHEISM IN PAGAN ANTIQUITY,A. B. DRACHMANN, PROFESSOR OF CLASSICAL PHILOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, GYLDENDAL, 1922

oh, the ironing.

(Atheism in pagan antiquity on Archive.org. H/t to Nullifidian’s post: Britain’s First Newe Atheiste for directing me to the delights of archive.org)

Cleopatra Was Egyptian – Shock News!

Wow, breaking news brought to us by the BBC reveals that Cleopatra was, wait for it, of african descent! It seems that the in-depth research of the 1963 blockbuster Cleopatra was wrong and the queen of Egypt was not actually a white caucasian but was native to Eqgypt. Amazing claims like this needs some fantastic research. Fortunately the headline news on the BBC rewards us:

Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharaoh, renowned for her beauty, was part African, says a BBC team which believes it has found her sister’s tomb.

Wow. Knock me down with a feather. It gets better:

But remains of the queen’s sister Princess Arsinoe, found in Ephesus, Turkey, indicate that her mother had an “African” skeleton.
Experts have described the results as “a real sensation.”

Amazing. An African skeleton… How could Liz Taylor have got it so wrong only 45 years ago. Do we need to re-cast and re-film an entire generation of epic movies? Next you will be telling me Jesus wasn’t a tall, blue eyed, blonde haired Caucasian.

Actually, I cant keep it up. This is mind numbingly insane.

First off: Who is actually surprised that Egypt is in Africa? Seriously, anyone? This is a news item that basically says “Egyptian Queen is part African.” Is it really that quiet a news day? (no). This is the Online BBC news that ignored seven hours of riots and petrol bombs in Lurgan, Northern Ireland (despite coverage being in the newspapers). This is the online BBC news that is regularly a day behind unfolding events. It is obviously wasting too much time writing copy for the department of the BLOODY OBVIOUS.

Secondly: No one is disputing Cleopatra’s lineage coming from Alexander’s generals and being predominantly Greek. However, the idea that this remained purely Greek (Macedonian?) after the first generation is simply batshit insane. Yes there was a huge amount of inbreeding, and most royal marriages were with Greek nobles, but over 250 years without allowing locals into the bloodline is unlikely. That would have been news worthy.

Thirdly: In my limited archaological knowledge, WTF does “african bones” mean? Is this 19th century casual racism where its thought that the darkies have a different genetic makeup to us “white people?”  What on Earth is there about the bones that make them “african” rather than Egyptian or Greek? Seriously, WTF!

There has been some reluctance of late for this blog to attack the blinding madness that the BBC is pushing out, mainly because it puts us in the same camp as the Daily Wail, but this is a step too far.

The BBC has seriously lost any sense of what is, or isnt, news. This is thinly veiled advertising for a BBC program of dubious merit. Shame on the BBC and I want them to refund what ever portion of my licence fee went towards this drivel.

When religion really is to blame

As anyone who reads FSTDT will know, Yahoo! Answers provides rich pickings when it comes to bizarre, crazy and downright wierd religious viewpoints. While idly browsing through it, I noticed a question asking “During the middle ages, how many were killed because they questioned the loving and kind Catholic Church?” (See original question thread)

Having a passing hobby interest in medieval history, this question appealed to me, so I read through some of the answers. A lot were standard Yahoo-fare, for example the “best answer” claims 150 million died, which seems a bit odd compared to the population of Europe in the middle-ages.  While sources are a bit made up, Wikipedia claims the population of medieval Europe peaked at about 100 million in the early part of the fourteenth century. This requires some interesting mental arithmetic to make the two sets of numbers add up, even if the 150 million deaths were spread out over 300 years.

However, the one that caught my interest the most was from Misty0408, and it makes quite a few points I would like to address here: [emphasis mine throughout quotes]

Crusades or Inquisition?

It’s easy in hindsight to judge a time and society we no longer experience or understand.

I agree with this to an extent as our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” do change over time. This is not always a path from a “bad past” to a “good present/future” though, sometimes we take a few steps back. Crucially, there isn’t any real point to judging the past – we cant change it and we cant (for example) punish the Romans for keeping slaves.

I may have misread the question, and know nothing of the person who asked it, but I didn’t really think it was trying to judge the past. This made me think that Misty0408 might have a few axes to grind.

The Crusades were a series of defensive battles against Muslim attacks. They were not organized and run by the Church, but tended to be upstart groups of Catholics who took things into their own hands. Many non-believers joined in to reap the benefits of pillaging. There was no telephone, email, text messaging, etc. to get word out and tell people to stop. It took time for the Pope to know what was going on, and time for word to get back to those who had run amok.

Interesting. This also seems pretty much 180 degrees from the history lessons I remember. So much so that this cant be a simple lack of education, this is someone wilfully taught an incorrect sequence of events.

Pope Urban II instigated the crusades. This is the fairly famous quote he made in the call to arms:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!

All the crusades were blessed by the Papacy. This is a far cry from the idea that the pope was busy running around trying to put a stop to the brutality.

It strikes me as a bit dishonest to claim that the church was not the organiser of the Crusades – yes the Crusading nobles will have gone through the actual logistics, but the Pope ordered them to and offered forgiveness for all their sins if they went.

The Inquisitions were also driven, in part, by the society and times in which they happened. Civil law and Church law were linked. If you spoke heresy you were condemned by civil law to die…not by the Church. In fact, in many cases the Church worked to get people to recant their heretical statements to save them from death. Death sentences were carried out by the civil authorities.

Again, some reasonable truth mixed with weirdness. The inquisitions were indeed driven by the time and society – however this society was intrinsically Catholic. Civil and Church law were mixed, yes, but this didn’t mean secular rules got mixed in with the religious ones. It basically meant that the Church set the law. The idea that heretics were condemned to die by secular authorities and not the church is batshit insane. Yes the Church worked to get people to recant, but not to save them from death. If the Church hadn’t declared some statements heretical (and demanded death as the punishment) I would agree they were not complicit in the torture. How on Earth can heresy even be a crime by secular standards?

While death sentences were indeed carried out by the civil authorities, they were given the moral authority to do so by the Church. The Church can not wash its hands of the crimes because the pope did not burn each heretic personally.

Its true, that at that time, the Church thought that a good way to deal with heretics was to torture them, and force them to recant. The Church has since apologized for this.

That makes it OK then.

But again, we see this error in hindsight. The medieval times were violent times for the entire society. Most punishments for breaking the law involved sentences we consider barbaric today. People were hanged in public, drawn and quartered etc. This was the society.

So why did the church apologise? How does this sliding scale of moral values lie with an inerrant word of God being handed down to the heads of the Church?

If the Church felt it was in keeping with Scripture at the time, what has changed?

The Spanish Inquistition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquistition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (catholic order) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were genarally far more educated than ordinal people.

Wow. An even bigger dose of madness wrapped around a kernel of truth. The Spanish inquisition was indeed instituted by the secular Monarchy.

First off, it was based on Papal Inquisitions (which were remarkably similar); secondly its purpose was to ensure people upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine; Thirdly it was established by a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus IV. Crucially, the Catholic Church could have stopped it, but chose not to.

Seems like the Catholic Church has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame for this.

The Church, even though the true Church of Christ, is not made of perfect people. She is protected from ever teaching heresy, but this protection does not give those in charge a crystal ball, or the power to know more than the current times in which they live.

Wow. Huge dose of irony there. The Catholic church can never teach heresy, but because there is no crystal ball its teachings may change and even contradict previous ones.

You’ve got to love the logic that belief grants you…

As far as the actual numbers of those killed, no one has a real count. But we do know that over the years the number has increased in direct proportion to the number of anti-Catholics. Those who claim in the “millions” are way off base. Not even close, more likely in the thousands. But just to give you an idea:
The Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

Again, it starts off well but then gets all conspiracy theory.

Worryingly, Misty0408 seems to be implying that because the numbers killed were “only” in the thousands this makes it OK. The idea that any people were tortured to death on the orders of a “loving” church is monstrous.

Bit of number crunching: I assume Misty0408 got the figures from Spiritus-Temprois.com, which doesn’t break down by year. If we assume each year was equal, that means there were 350 trials a year. Almost one a day. 350 people tortured each year. Just because these only resulted in between 21 – 35 executions each year doesn’t make it better. For most the period in question, Spain had a population in the region of between 5.4 and 7.5 million (source: The Population of Europe, Table 1.1, p8, by Massimo Livi Bacci, Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Carl Ipsen). This means that around 1 in 20,000 people were tortured by the inquistion – that is the equivalent of 3000 people a year in the modern UK, or 15191 people in the US – being put on trial for heresy each year.

This may seem trivial when compared with modern incarceration rates (which may be as high as 1 in 136 people in the US), but these people were in addition to all the “normal” criminals. Their only crime was not following the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy.

Yes, they may have been imprisoned under the orders of the Secular monarch, but it was done for, and with at least some blessing of, the Catholic Church.

Too often religion claims to be cause behind people doing good deeds, but then when bad things happen the nature of “Man” is blamed. This is a massive fallacy. The atrocities of the Crusades and Inqusition may not have been carried out (entirely) by uniformed members of the Catholic Church but it is fully to blame for them. Its doctrine lead to these acts. Its leadership endorsed them. Its priesthood encouraged them.

It really is to blame.

This blog is bigger than god

In what must be one of the longest waits from confession to absolution on record, the Vatican has forgiven John Lennon for saying the Beatles were bigger than god (or more popular than Jesus, or something) according to the BBC.

This was a mildly jokey casual remark made in the early 1960s, by a man who’s been now dead for decades. Has the Catholic Church been fretting about it ever since?

The BBC has a 1960s clip that shows some of the aftermath of the Beatles’ bizarrely notorious jokes about their huge success in the USA.

In this clip, a reporter with an impeccable old-style “BBC” accent talks about US fundamentalist baptists with the barely disguised distaste of someone who’s spotted another guest eating a fly at a dinner party.

The implication is that the UK saw the extreme US responses to the Beatles’ remarks as symptomatic of a strange and backward American culture. Beatle atheism was more or less taken for granted in the UK. The tolerant attitude of UK religious believers is also taken for granted. The BBC reporter could clearly assume that even UK churchgoers would see US bonfires of Beatles merchandise as exotically bizarre.

This was 40 years ago.

You certainly can’t imagine science teachers thinking that Intelligent Design should have an equal billing with Evolution in the biology curriculum, forty years ago.

The world can’t be a sci-fi novel. If it were, the hero would surely have detected by now that time is running backwards.

Terrorism in the 21st century

Go on home Osama Bin Laden, you are so last century in your, frankly pathetic, attempts to destroy western civilisation. For over five years now we have heard the mantra about how evil Islamic Terrorists want to destroy the decadent, freedom loving, west and how they will try to bomb us into submission.

Basically they are just impatient amateurs. If they wait long enough we do it to ourselves.

Lets look at the world of 2008:

In my job, I travel by air a lot (*) and as a result get constantly annoyed by the idiotic rules we suffer under the guise of “security.” I get monumentally annoyed by the fact that I have to check in hours before my flight, but should I want a drink during the inevitable two hour delay, I have to pay extortionate airport charges because 101mls of water is deadly (while 99mls isn’t). I get really annoyed at the obnoxious attitude most airport security staff have – although, in all fairness this is probably a reaction to suffering annoyed passengers day in, day out…

Outside work, I am a hobby photographer. I love taking pictures on my travels and feel that the cities and towns of my own country are on a par with anywhere else in the world. However in the new world of “Security” taking photos in public places of tourist landmarks results in a uniformed member of the public (**) coming up to me and asking me what I am doing. Thor forbid that a terrorist group be inexpert enough to need to overtly set up a large Digital SLR to take photographs rather than use a mobile phone or compact camera (the millions of people doing that get ignored…).

Travel around the UK and you will be recorded on CCTV along pretty much every urban street. Go into a shop and you will be recorded on CCTV. Drive along the road and you will be subjected to all manner of electronic surveillance – because, basically, you cant have any expectation of privacy in a public place (***). Despite the idea all people are innocent until proven guilty, the government have decided that Islamic Terrorists are different and the state should be able to imprison them for 42 days before it has to show enough evidence to make a charge, let alone convict. Thank the Lords this has been rejected (for now).

In the UK, religion has always been a minor part of public life and thank Odin, this is still pretty much the case. However, since the Evil Islamic Terrorists appeared, there has been a (so far minor) upsurge in people equating “Christian” with “British.” As such, an attack by Islam on Christianity is being sold as an attack on our fundamental “Britishness” to the point at which the tabloids and tacky local TV have people talking in all seriousness about how the United Kingdom is a “Christian nation” and “Britain was founded by Christians for Christians” – obviously these historically challenged dullards are watching too much American propaganda but that is another issue.

This is the non-religious, freedom loving, civilisation that is so threatened by Islamic terrorists. Hmm. Osama would love it here. Ironically, even our recent fear-inspired legislation wasn’t quite enough to smash western civilisation.

Trumping an army of Osama Bin Ladens, when it comes to smashing down western civilisation the real master is simple free market economics.

It is a sad state of affairs that we can pass laws regulating every aspect of your private life, but even in the face of an economic melt down the thought of regulating “The City” is beyond the pale. City traders can, effectively, lose millions of other peoples money with not even a hint of censure – still getting huge bonuses on the eve of begging the taxpayer for a fortune to cover their losses. The crazy irony of this sees us giving them money so they can give it back to us and tell us it is our own savings… Despite their monumental failings, and complete lack of anything resembling expertise, the banking sector still claims it “knows what it is doing” and should be allowed to function unregulated. Can you imagine catching a con-artist stealing your money, then giving them more money because they know how best to get your money back!!! Insane is an understatement.

The collapse of Iceland’s banks, and their governments apparent refusal to honour international agreements, has caused huge damage to the UK economy – on greater scale than any caused by terrorist attacks (if you ignore the cost of ensuing wars). If I deprived my next door neighbour of £100 I would expect to be arrested and probably jailed, however it seems if you add a few extra zeros everyone forgets about it. Iceland basically have held a gun to the governments head and taken our money. Wars have been fought over much, much less.

In an amazingly scary example of economic understanding, the Conservative shadow Chancellor said that the government should reimburse the councils that lost money to Iceland otherwise council tax would have to be increased to cover the loss. This seems sensible until you realise the effect would be to increase the tax burden on everyone to cover the mistakes made by a few. How would that be fair? Is this what we are to expect from a Conservative government?

I agree with the Government that the national banks and banking infrastructure is critical to the well being of the United Kingdom. I also accept the assertion that it is so important, spending £50,000,000,000 to shore up a system broken by greedy, selfish scumbags is in the public interest. I accept that this will mean other aspects of the national infrastructure will suffer and I accept that this is a necessary evil.

What I cant understand is:

  1. How can something so vital to the nation be outside complete government control? More importantly, how can something so vital be so heavily influenced by foreign nations which, when push comes to shove, have national self interest at stake? This really confuses me.
  2. Why is no one being punished for this? The bank failings are either malicious (in which case why don’t we invade a random country like we’ve done in the past) or negligent. Or both. The claim this is just the “market” is nonsense – the city traders claim to be financial wizards but abjectly failed to see this happening – either they are crap or they were played. Either way someone should be held accountable.
  3. Why the **** haven’t we enforced rock solid legislation to control such a critical asset? We’ve spent over £1000 per living person in the UK on them, why aren’t we having any say in them?
  4. How on Earth are the bankers getting away with claiming they “know best” on how to handle the current situation? (See 2) Blatantly they don’t or if they do, they are working against the national interest.
  5. Why are UK public bodies (Police and councils) allowed to invest money in foreign institutions? The quest for an extra percent of interest has meant public money is being sent to a foreign nation. Let me reword that – money paid by UK taxpayers has been given to a foreign country. Rather than invest in the UK economy dozens of UK public bodies chose to throw it down an Icelandic toilet and when they inevitable happened they cry to the government for more money….

I am going to have to stop here. The madness makes me want to scream. If anyone can explain this to me I would be very grateful.

* Apologies to environmentalists, but unless you are willing to pay me not to fly, my choices are limited.

** Sometimes referred to a “Police Community Support Officers” but that implies they are trained members of the law enforcement community, when in reality 75% of them are nothing more than jumped up busy bodies who get to wear a hat.

*** Well, this is true by definition. However there is a “spirit” of the law thing to consider. While you cant realisitically expect to be private walking down the street you can expect the state to not surveil your every movements. While it can be argued that the almost blanket CCTV coverage is not directed against you, the fact remains it is possible for someone to retrospectively search the databases and track your every movement. The fact the surveillance is directed against 65 million people doesn’t stop it being directed.

Time to lighten the mood

I will applogise for the last few posts here being a bit morose and screaming about the doom and gloom of our crazy world. To try and make things better (and to shamelessly get more hits on my flickr stream 🙂 ) I want you to have a look at these four castle pictures and let me know which one you think is the best – comments on flickr would be preferred but here will do 🙂

Chirk Castle Tower Scrabo Tower Killyleagh Castle Clouds over Hillsborough Fort

Thanks for your patience and the normal miserable service will resume tomorrow.