IMG_3038.JPGJust finished reading Anthony Doerr’s historical novel, All The Light We Cannot See. This was a wonderful reading experience; Doerr’s writing is so expressive and beautiful. The book is the story of two parallel lives just before and during WWII. One is the story of a German boy, Werner, “recruited” into Hitler’s Nazi Youth. An orphan, he is accepted into an elite school because of his genius with radios. It is there he is trained as a soldier (he is 14 when he starts ) and hones his electronics skills.

Meanwhile, the other parallel story is about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and her life with her father and uncle during the same period. WWII starts, and thus the lives of both Werner and Marie-Laure intersect and change drastically. Such wonderful, evocative prose; I could not put this book down. Highly recommended.

I read an entry on Benjamin Banneker from the book, “The Freedmen’s Book” (1865). This entry is about a man born in Ellicott City (then Ellicott Mills), MD in 1732. He built the first clock in America, after only having seen a watch. Then taught himself astronomy and developed an Almanac (again, first in the country):

“When he was fifty-nine years old, he made an Almanac. It is a very difficult job to calculate all about the changes of the moon, and the rising and ebbing of the tides, and at what time the sun will rise and set every day, all the year round; and it was a much more difficult task then than it is now; because now there is a great improvement in astronomical books and instruments.”

I so would have liked to meet him!

Many other passages in the above book are great; I just started reading it…

I found the above after reading a letter sent by a former slave, on the Letters of Note blog. These interWebs are just great for finding information you didn’t even know you were interested in!

The Walters Museum in Baltimore has some leaves from the Archimedes Palimpsest on exhibit (through Jan 1, 2012). I took the kids to visit the exhibit today.

Very nice venue, and the exhibit was well laid out. While the museum is kid-friendly (they hand out satchels with crafts/activities related to the exhibit for the kids to work on), looking at “old books” didn’t hold the attention of a 5-year old for more than 30 minutes (which I thought was a lot). Granted, about 10 of those were a video presentation. Little Olivia fell asleep in her stroller…

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a Medieval parchment manuscript. The currently visible part of the manuscript is a Byzantine Prayer book, written around 1229 AD. What makes it interesting is that the parchment used for the prayer book is actually comprised of previous manuscripts from about the 10th century. The scribe in the 13th century used a knife and scraped off the older text so as to reuse the parchment for the prayer book (“Palimpsest” is from the Greek, meaning “scraped again”). You can do this with parchment (sheep skin) as it is quite durable. The previous manuscripts comprise some 7 treatises by Archimedes – and for 2 of these there was no known existing text. Now there is!

The underlying Archimedes text is revealed via a technique called “multispectral imaging”. Basically, many digital images are taken of the parchment, each at a different wavelength of light – some in the ultraviolet, invisible to the eye. These images are further processed to get the best resolution of the underlying text. Not every page of the manuscript was in great condition, so sometimes images were enhanced by using high-intensity X-rays (which would basically scatter off the iron in the older ink). All-in-all this was a very time-consuming process, not the least of which was actually dismantling the palimpsest so the imaging could be done.

Non-flash photography is allowed, so:

Archimedes Palimpsest
Normal (left) and multispectral (right) image of a leaf from the Archimedes Palimpsest. Archimedes’ hidden text shows up in red (in two columns, vertically) on the multispectral image. In the right-hand image you can make out a mathematical diagram in the bottom of the first column. Click to enlarge…

Why is the older Archimedes text perpendicular to the overlaid text? Because the previous manuscript was folded/creased, so the scribe would cut it in half for re-use, then re-fold it again after turning it.

Jaguar - from adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru.
Last Saturday I attended a very interesting all-day seminar in Washington, DC. The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington DC has an annual symposium at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Naval Heritage Center. At right is the design on the symposium T-shirt. It is a feline character (I’m going to assume a jaguar) from an adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru (something like > 1500 years ago). Neat.

This location is very convenient; right at the Archives Metro stop on the Green line. This year’s topic was “The Dawn of the Andean Civilization. The link above goes to the symposium website; here is a synopsis:

Chavín de Huántar, the massive ceremonial center constructed more than 3,000 years ago high in the Peruvian Andes, attests to the great antiquity of Andean civilization, but the roots of this florescence occurred at least two and possibly three millennia earlier. During this one-day symposium some of the world’s most renowned Andean scholars will present new research that challenges current notions about the genesis of Andean society. Did a singular, linear progression emanating from one early center lead to the magnificence of Chavín de Huántar and, later, the splendor of the Moche kings and the majesty of Tiwanaku? Or did the many pinnacles of achievement that make up the rich tapestry of ancient Andean culture emanate from multiple centers? Did different traditions emerge along the coast and in the highlands? In the north and in the south? Did these developments occur everywhere at the same time? This symposium will examine these and other questions, revealing a dynamic period that witnessed the first large-scale monumental architecture, large permanent settlements, intensive food production, social stratification, and widespread distribution of shared art forms and religious practices. So please join us for a day of new insights into the dawn of Andean civilization.

I really enjoyed the seminar; I have visited Peru (on my honeymoon) but that was basically to see Machu Picchu (Incan, ca. 1500 AD). This seminar focused on the northern coast of Peru (north of Machu Picchu), from about 1200 BC to 600 AD – much earlier. Prior to this series of talks, I had almost no knowledge of the Pre- Moche civilizations of the Andes so this was a very enlightening day.

Plenty of breaks, and for lunch I visited Teaism (right across the street) for a delicious “chicken curry” dish and an IPA. Then back for more talks. I’ll post a synopsis of the talks from my notes at a later time…

8:15 a.m. — REGISTRATION, Morning Refreshments
9:15 a.m. — Playing in the Dark: Archaeological Analysis and Evidence at the Dawn of Andean Civilization *Tom Dillehay
10:15 a.m. — BREAK
10:45 a.m. — Household Archaeology and the Emergence of Social Complexity at Peru’s North Central Coast: New Perspectives from the Late Preceramic Site of Bandurria, Huacho Alejandro Chu
11:35 a.m. — The Role of the Casma Valley in the Development of Early Andean Civilization Tom and Shelia Pozorski
12:25 p.m. — LUNCH
1:45 p.m. — The Settling of the Landscape: What This Meant to Formative People in the Titicaca Basin, Bolivia Christine Hastorf
2:35 p.m. — Changing Views on the Andean Formative Period: The Perspective from Chavín de Huántar John Rick
3:25 p.m. — BREAK
3:50 p.m. — The Dawn of Andean Civilization as Viewed from the Shores of Peru’s Central Coast Richard Burger and Lucy Salazar
4:50 p.m. — Panel Discussion All Speakers (Moderated by Dr. Dillehay)

Bruce Riedel: The Intelligence War with al-Qaida.In line with the Topic for Chautauqua this week (Week Three [July 10-16, 2011] — American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage, and Alliances), this morning the lecture in the Amphitheater was by Bruce Riedel, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, former CIA officer. The title of his talk was: “The Intelligence War with al-Qaida.

While I was familiar with a fair bit of what he said, I greatly enjoyed the outline he gave for the history of al-Qaida, as well as Pakistan’s role (past and current) regarding that terrorist organization. He is a very dynamic speaker, and gave a quiet engaging talk. Made me reconsider whether we should pick the Pakistan-themed week next year. Briefly.

Some highlights (from my notes; any errors are mine):

  • Estimated that $5 Trillion has been spent on the war with al-Qaida (inc. the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). $5 Trillion!
  • Drones in Pakistan used (as “covert action” by CIA) against terrorists. Not very covert now, as everyone knows about them!
  • It is hard for al-Qaida to operate in NW Pakistan due to the drone attacks. They are terrorizing the Terrorists.
  • Last *good* intelligence about the whereabouts of bin Laden before this past year or so was NOV, 2001. As of ~JAN 2009, his trail wasn’t just cold, it was frozen over.
  • Pakistan is the new focus of al-Qaida.
  • Pakistan has the 5th largest nuclear capability in the world (after US, Russia, China, and France. The UK comes in 6th).
  • A Major “syndicate of terror” is based in Pakistan. It is also a major base for al-Qaida, and al-Qaida makes use of this Pakistani terror syndicate. The syndicate also provided support to bin Laden at his compound in Pakistain.
  • The major Pakistani Military academy is about a mile from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Very hard to believe that the Pakistani army/intelligence didn’t know anything about it.
  • If Pakistani intelligence did know about bin Laden, how can we trust them?
  • If Pakistani intelligence did NOT know about bin Laden, that’s almost worse – as is speaks volumes about their (lack of) security – and they are a nuclear state!
  • It is almost certain, however, that the civilian government of Pakistan *was clueless* about bin Laden’s whereabouts. The Pakistani army/ISI is out of their control. Did I mention that Pakistan is the 5th largest nuclear capability? That is scary.
  • al Qaida in Iraq is not defeated, but is significantly diminished.
  • Saudi Arabia drove al-Qaida out of their country, but they fled to Yemen. Now Yemen is the fastest growing al-Qaida franchise. Yemen is a failing state, with poor government, major water shortage, etc. Nevermind the uprising earlier this year…
  • Pakistan’s ISI HELPS al-Qaida (though they deny it).
  • It is al-Qaida’s ideology (that the West is leading a conspiracy against Islam and Muslim nations) that primes the terrorist movement. But the Arab Spring is in direct contradiction to this, as it is the people of those Muslim nations themselves that are rising (mostly non-violently) up against their repressive governments/dictators.
  • al-Qaida is a Sunni Muslim fanatic organization. Iran is a Shiite Muslim fanatic nation. Iran is neutral on Pakistan. Shia Iran is not a fan of Sunni al-Qaida. But sometimes the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy (America). Thus Iran and al-Qaida have a complex relationship.
  • How to help Pakistan? Trade, not Aid. Pakistani textiles (Pakistan’s chief export) are tariffed by the US at 3x the rate of other importers, like China. Best way to help Pakistan is not direct aid, but to make the tarifs more fair, and in-line with those imposed on other importing countries.
  • The best way to destroy al-Qaida is to undermine the al-Qaida narrative, so (young) Muslims *know* that America is NOT the enemy; not Imperial.

Catholic Mass was at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at 12:10. Nice to be able to go to daily Mass:

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” — DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

The Costly Grace of Christian Discipleship in the Life, Writings and the Espionage Activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” was the afternoon Interfaith lecture in the Hall of Philosophy by Geffrey Kelly, Professor of Theology, LaSalle University.

I only had (have) a cursory knowledge of Bonhoeffer, and Prof. Kelly’s talk just served to make me even more interested in pursuing Bonhoeffer’s writings. I’ve been contemplating taking a course on the writings of Bonhoeffer this Fall at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. Now I’m thinking about it even more. Just have to work out the logistics, as there are two (very active) little kids at home…

Geffrey Kelly: The Costly Grace of Christian Discipleship in the Life, Writings and the Espionage Activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Highlights from the lecture (from my notes; again, any errors are mine):

  • Bonhoeffer was an ardent supporter of Operation Valkyrie – the plot to assassinate Hitler.
  • Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a crucial influence on Bonhoeffer.
  • Bonhoeffer became a Pacifist during his study at the Union Theological Seminary in NY (he was there on a Sloan fellowship). He also met his first black man there (a seminarian). Not really sure yet how to reconcile his pacifism with his support for Valkyrie…
  • Bonhoeffer denounced “Cheap Grace”, i.e. Grace obtained with no cost. This is in contrast to “Costly Grace:, which will cost us out lives (“he who loses his life will live”).
  • The drive for National Security at all costs is Idolatry
  • The Church renounces Christ when it supports war. The Church must look after ALL victims, not just fellow Christians.
  • Christians should take a stronger stand for the weak.
  • Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law was the Assistant Minister of Justice for the Nazi party. Thus, all of the letters, etc., denouncing Bonhoeffer went by him, and thus he could dispose of them before they got any further – thus protecting Bonhoeffer from the Gestapo, among others.
  • From one of Bonhoeffer’s writings: “The trouble with Germany is that they have taken in Hitler and rejected Jesus Christ.” The agents that (finally) arrested him ignored the manuscript he was working on, which was laying on a table in his rooms…the manuscript(s) survived because his niece ran upstairs, grabbed them, and buried them in the backyard.
  • Bonhoeffer was a double agent. He was ostensibly working for the Nazis, but was actually working on ways to undermine Nazi Germany.

Ants at Chautauqua
Some Ants by the side of the brick walkway between Hall of Philosophy and Amphitheater:

Our Chautauqua Digs, 2011.  Only a few blocks from...everything!

We are in the top apartment of this building. Quite nice digs! And only a few blocks from…everything!

« Previous PageNext Page »