thirty things tagged “history”

I am 20

In 1967, the Films Division of India1 asked all kinds of 20-year olds about their dreams and how they felt about the future of a nation that was, itself, 20 years old. Here’s the original video. A lot of the kids who speak English in the video (starting at 5:00) attend the august Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

A colorized and edited version of that video went viral. Here’s a most fascinating “Where are They Now?” follow-up by the author where he tracks down seven people in the video. It’s a mix of Hindi and English. Lessons learned: Life is way too short, way too fickle, and almost never pans out the way you think it will. Privilege helps a lot.

  1. Which I just realized is a thing. ↩︎

On Old Gods

In the succession of religions, there are only so many ways the old gods can end up. They can fade away, in which case they are lost to us for good; they can be held up to scorn as pagan demons who persisted in their old, evil ways; or they can be recruited into the new faith as its servants and defenders.

[…] This pattern of subjugation and conversion had already occurred during the rise of Buddhism in India with the Vedic gods and demons (the deva and the asura). Indra, the storm god of the warriors, became Sakra, who piously requested teachings from the Buddha. Brahman, the creator god, turned into a defender of the Law. Lesser deities too resurfaced in new roles. The nymph-like yaksi came to decorate the gates of the stupas at Sanchi, and heavenly nymphs became angelic musicians, scattering flowers in the air (they remained scantily dressed, as fertility deities should). Satyr-like yaksas ran errands for Yama, the old moon god who now supervised the Buddhist hells, and so on. Their fate is not unlike that of the gods of Old Europe. Those who did not fade away ended up either as denizens of hell or as saints in the Christian calendar.

[…] This is not an uncommon fate for the old chthonic gods. In India an equally insatiable “Face of Glory” is stationed outside temples, supposedly to scare away the evil spirits. In Rome, the griffin was the guardian of the sarcophagus (which means “meat-eater”). In medieval Europe, gargoyles likewise crouched watchful on eaves. In Egypt, Anubis the Jackal – Dog-Man by another name – witnessed the weighing of souls. In Buddhism, Mara the Devil holds samsara in his jaws. In Tang China, a pair of life-size hounds with human heads (and sometimes single horns) stood guard near the dead.

Whalen Lai, "From Protean Ape to Handsome Saint: The Monkey King, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29-65

Fundamentals of Lambda Calculus for People Who Love Birds

This (beautifully formatted and well-paced-and-delivered and surprisingly sparsely attended) talk by Gabriel Lebec on the fundamentals of Lambda Calculus is one of my favorite talks ever.

As Lebec explains, the lovely bird names come from this book called “To Mock a Mockingbird” by mathematician and logician Raymond Smullyan. The naming is simply delightful. As Matthew Gilliard explains:

The premise is that there are enchanted forests which contain many (or sometimes very few) talking birds. Smullyan dedicated the book to Haskell Curry - an early pioneer in combinatory logic and an avid bird-watcher. The birds, which I suppose represent the combinators, have an interesting characteristic:
Given any two birds A and B, if you call out the name of B to A it will respond by calling out the name of some bird to you.

This bird whose name A calls when you call B is denoted as AB. Once you have several birds in place, a single call can cascade around the forest with each call following rules depending on who produces it.

The very first bird we are introduced to is the Mockingbird whose characteristic behaviour is that whatever name you call to the Mockingbird, it will reply as if it is the bird whose name you called. This is denoted:

Mx = xx

For any bird x we can say that Mx (the result of calling x to a Mockingbird) is the same as xx (the result of calling x to a bird of type x). It really does mock other birds! And what’s more, the existence of the Mockingbird, in combination with various others, unlocks some really fascinating group behaviour from these birds.

And!

Soon we discover that birds have certain properties: The can be fond of other birds, they can be egocentric if they are fond of themselves. The can be hopelessly egocentric if they only ever talk about themselves. There are happy birds, normal birds, agreeable birds and many others. We also meet other types of birds with specific properties - the Lark, the Kestrel, Sage birds, Bluebirds, aristocratic birds, Eagles, the list goes on and on. Luckily there is a Who’s Who list of birds in the back to keep track.

On ‘Deliberate’ Genocide in the Americas by CommodoreCoCo

Responding to this chilling comment:

You are failing to understand genocide itself. INTENT, is the word, DELIBERATION. Deliberation to destroy an ethnic group. There was NEVER a deliberate attempt to destroy native culture in the Americas. In fact, you have laws since the 1512 protecting their rights and equalising them to Iberian Crown subjects, “Las Leyes de Burgos”.

Because, you see, unintentional genocide is A-OK.

The Iyers, The Iyengars, The Lowells, The Cabots, and God

This is the city of Madras
The home of the curry and the dal
Where Iyers speak only to Iyengars
And Iyengars speak only to God.

I’d read this years ago some place and forgot where. Thought it would be in some Religious Studies textbook back from when I was (briefly) a Religious Studies major. Nope! It was the great Paul Erdős!

Erdős said he’d modelled it after this ditty about the privileged New England families famously known as the ‘Boston Brahmins’.

This is good old Boston
The home of the bean and the cod
Where the Lowells speak to the Cabots
And the Cabots speak only to God.

From Vijaysree Venkataraman’s article.

An Annoyed, Shivering, Nude Woman with Large Lapis Lazuli Glasses

Carved by someone in Ancient Egypt between 3700–3500 BCE.

Bone figure of a woman c. 3700–3500

[…] most of them represent nude females with their feminine attributes emphasised by carving and careful drilling. With their slim figures, narrow waists and full hips they present an ideal of the female body that will change little over the course of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Their enduring concept of beauty also included a full head of hair (the bald ones may have had wigs) as well as large and alluring eyes.

Google Arts and Culture

The Medieval Friendzone

A young Elizabeth I found herself on the throne of England immediately “besieged by suitors” to whom she made “no firm promises” but sent very nice-sounding letters. One such suitor was a young Eric XIV of Sweden. He was so thirsty, he offered to come to England to visit her. That’s when she fired off this missive on the 25th of February, 1559.

Elizabeth I to King Eric XIV of Sweden

Translation:

Most Serene Prince, our very dear Cousin,

A letter truly yours both in the writing and sentiment, was given us on 30 December by your very dear brother, the Duke of Finland. And while we perceive therefrom that the zeal and love of your mind towards us is not diminished, yet in part we are grieved that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection. And that indeed does not happen because we doubt in any way of your love and honour, but, as often we have testified both in words and in writing, that we have never yet conceived a feeling of that kind of affection towards any one. We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in future… I have always given both to your brother, who is certainly a most excellent Prince and deservedly very dear to us, and also to your ambassador likewise, the same answer with scarcely any variation of the words, that we do not conceive in our heart to take a husband but highly commend the single life, and hope that your Serene Highness will not longer spend time in waiting for us.

Source

Chamunda from Odisha

This is one of the most seriously badass representations of Shakti I’ve seen in a while.

Chamunda from Odisha

The goddess is shown seated on obsessed boy (Corpse or Preta). The corpse is placed on a pedestal. The deity has a skeletal body, veins can be seen clearly. Its face is ferocious and wrathful; eyes are popping out with open mouth and frown on face. This may be influenced by the concept of Yogeshvari as third eye shown prominently over the forehead. The hair stands are erected (urdhvakesha) which look like fire flames (jvalakesha) (Rao 1989). The hairs are tied firmly with a snake and skull. On the right side of headgear a small hand in abhayamudra is depicted; same feature can be seen on left but it is an eroded condition. The goddess is wearing a skull garland, mundamala consist of 44 skulls and sarpakundalas in ears. A snake encircling around the neck. The deity is shown wearing a bajubandh made by the design of snake, Same ornaments are replicated at wrist and ankle. It is an artistic excellence where snake is shown holding its own tail in mouth which has formed a beautiful circle. The deity is shown wearing ornate mekhala. The parikara of the image is ornate depicting the elephant skin in low relief. The representations of pair of owls carrying garland is shown on portion of elephant’s ear on a left side. The depiction of peacock, bell and conch shell can be observed on a right side. The depiction of devotee is seen beside the right foot of the deity. The devotee is shown sitting in vajrasana has a prominent headgear with circular karnakundalas. It is holding a sword in its right arm shown wearing an ornate bajubandha and keyur. The devotee is in namaskarmudra, head is shown slightly raised upwards watching a divine appearance of the goddess. The five jackals are shown fetching flesh from corpse which is beneath of the deity. The small female attendant (11.5 cm) of the goddess is shown on a left side of the pedestal below the left foot of the corpse. This female attendance replicates the main goddess shown in skeletal form holding dagger and kapala in right and left hand respectively.

Unkule R, Joge G, Mushrif V, “Early Medieval Representation of Human Anatomy: A Case Study of Chamunda Stone Image from Dharamsala, Odisha”, Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology 5 (2017): 191‐200

Ghost Structures

This is such a wonderful idea. Stand opposite the glass and you’d know what Kruševac Fortress in Serbia looked like in its heyday:

Kruševac Fortress

Franklin Court in Pennsylvania is another example of how one could illustrate architectural history.

Franklin Court was the site of the handsome brick home of Benjamin Franklin, who lived here while serving in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin died here in 1790; the house was torn down 22 years later. Today the site contains a steel “ghost structure” outlining the spot where Franklin’s house stood and features the Benjamin Franklin Museum […]

National Park Service

Franklin Court

Dorothy Counts

04 September, 1957

Dorothy Counts, the first and at the time only black student to enroll in the newly desegregated Harry Harding High School in Charlotte (NC), is mocked by protestors on her first day of school. Bystanders threw rocks and screamed at Dorothy to go back to where she came from.

The man walking beside her is probably Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a friend of the family and a professor at the black college Johnson C. Smith University. After a string of abuses, Dorothy’s family withdrew her from the school after only four days. Children had been enrolling for the new school year and tension was particularly high in the south for districts trying to comply with the US Supreme Court’s ruling that states should desegregate their schools with deliberate speed.

World Press Photo

I cannot imagine what she must have felt.

“There was unutterable pride, tension and anguish in that girl’s face as she approached the halls of learning, with history jeering at her back,” he later said. “It made me furious. It filled me with both hatred and pity. And it made me ashamed. Some one of us should have been there with her.”

Michael Graff, quoting James Baldwin, “This picture signaled an end to segregation. Why has so little changed?”, The Guardian

Photos by Douglas Martin.

Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin

Bas Uterwijk’s ‘Post Photography’

Bas Uterwijk’s AI portraits1 look just like photo shots, but are largely generated by an algorithm. He uploads drawings and paintings, often images of people who lived before the invention of photography. With the help of a neural network he creates realistic interpretations that appear as if they were made in a photographic process.

Each work is a quest for the visual character of the person portrayed. By combining art-historical and archaeological elements, Uterwijk achieves a layered and fascinating result.

Website (Google translation of Dutch text)

First came by this remarkable generation of the DOOM guy’s face:

Bas Uterwijk - Doom Guy

And here are Alexander, Caesar, Zuck, and Jesus.

Bas Uterwijk - Alexander

Bas Uterwijk - Caesar

Bas Uterwijk - Zuck

Bas Uterwijk - Jesus

More of his work on Instagram.

  1. Looks like he uses ArtBreeder with StyleGAN2. ↩︎

Ottoman Food

I found out I am to thank the Ottomans for a lot of my favorite things to eat and drink:

  • Baklava (which dates back two thousand years, to the Assyrian Empire)
  • Coffee made the Right Way™
  • The modern kebab
  • Shawarma
  • Sherbet
  • Dolma (stuffed food) and Sarma (wrapped food)
  • An ancestor of the hummus: a chickpea spread flavored with cinnamon, pine nuts, and currants. Consumed with bread and popular in the 15th century
  • Ayran: My absolute favorite thing to drink on a hot day. Couldn’t find many differences between ayran and the laban I grew up drinking.

The Song of Seikilos

This is the "the oldest surviving complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world" and dates from “either from the 1st or the 2nd century AD.” It was found engraved on a tombstone and was “dedicated by Seikilos to Euterpe, who was possibly his wife.” (Wikipedia)

While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and Time demands his due

😭 💗

The Korn Shell

Good talk by Siteshwar Vashisht at FOSDEM 2019 on maintaining the Korn shell and old codebases in general. I came by his work while reading up on the fish shell. Featured this nugget

He talks about how they removed dead/inapplicable code and micro-optimizations, refactored a lot of legacy code, improved tests, switched to a new build and CI system, and so on.

Began with this baffling one-liner that won the International Obfuscated C Contest in 1987

main() { printf(&unix["\021%six\012\0"],(unix)["have"]+"fun"-0x60);}

And reminded me of this Aaron Sorkin-esque story about David Korn which I heard via BLN

Greg Sullivan, a MicroSoft product manager (henceforth MPM), was holding forth on a forthcoming product that will provide Unix style scripting and shell services on NT for compatibility and to leverage UNIX expertise that moves to the NT platform. The product suite includes the MKS (Mortise Kern Systems) windowing Korn shell, a windowing Perl, and lots of goodies like awk, sed and grep. It actually fills a nice niche for which other products (like the MKS suite) have either been too highly priced or not well enough integrated.
An older man, probably mid-50s, stands up in the back of the room and asserts that Microsoft could have done better with their choice of Korn shell. He asks if they had considered others that are more compatible with existing UNIX versions of KSH.

The MPM said that the MKS shell was pretty compatible and should be able to run all UNIX scripts.

The questioner again asserted that the MKS shell was not very compatible and didn’t do a lot of things right that are defined in the KSH language spec. The MPM asserted again that the shell was pretty compatible and should work quite well.

This assertion and counter assertion went back and forth for a bit, when another fellow member of the audience announced to the MPM that the questioner was, in fact David Korn of AT&T (now Lucent) Bell Labs. (DavidKorn is the author of the KornShell).

Uproarious laughter burst forth from the audience, and it was one of the only times that I have seen a (by then pink cheeked) MPM lost for words or momentarily lacking the usual unflappable confidence. So, what’s a body to do when Microsoft reality collides with everyone else’s?

“Calcium-Carbonate Concretions”

Michael LaPointe writing for The Atlantic on The Pearl of Lao Tzu

But elsewhere in the Miner letter, the curator terms the specimen a “pearlaceous growth,” and stresses that it ought not to be classified as a precious pearl. The gems we commonly know as pearls are formed within the organic tissue of saltwater oysters, whose inner shells possess nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which generates a pearl’s signature luminescent sheen. Compared with these gems, Tridacna-clam pearls are more like porcelain. Indeed, the Pearl of Lao Tzu cuts an ugly figure. Some might liken it to a lump of white clay; others might think it’s an alien egg.

Under U.S. trade law, it’s perfectly legal to call such objects pearls; any shelled mollusk—even a snail—can make a pearl. But gemologists traffic in precious pearls, and discard the rest with a pejorative classification: calcium-carbonate concretions.

I think it looks like a big ‘concretion’ of hardened, polished, chewing gum. Like a misshapen mozzarella ball.

Pearl of Lao Tzu