Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Marxism we can believe in

"Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside a dog, it's too dark to read."

Julius Henry Marx (1890-1977)

Monday, May 25, 2009

A large number

At 4:11 today, someone at an unknown location in the United States was the 200,000 to archy. Whoever you were, thanks for coming by. I hope you liked what you saw and that you come again.

The strange case of Teutobochus, king of the mastodons: Part 2

The discovery

In January of the year 1613, a group of stonemasons set out to dig a well near the ruined castle of Chaumont not far from junction of the Rhone and Isere Rivers where Marius had prevented Teutobochus from following Hannibal's path into Italy. The spot the masons chose was a sandpit on a piece of level ground that the locals called the Field of Giants. Eighteen feet down they found some large bones. The masons notified the landowner, the Marquis de Langon, of their find and, after doing the heavy lifting to remove the bones from their well, exited stage right. They were mere bit players in this drama. Langon called in the professors at Montpellier to examine the bones and the governor of the province sent some of the bones to the professors at Grenoble for a second opinion. The decision of the experts was unanimous: Langon's workers had unearthed the bones of a giant.

The belief in giants was still very strong in seventeenth century France. Giants are part of all the world's mythologies where they fill many different roles. Many giants are cast in purely symbolic roles as representations as the forces of nature and creation. Other giants fill more down-to-earth roles in the history of a community. These giants represent the challenges that the group faced in the past and the heroes who overcame those challenges. It was only reasonable to assume that the great men of the past must have had great stature to match their great achievements. Respected authorities reenforced local legends. The Bible spoke of Giants such as Goliath, Og of Bashan, and the sons of Anak. Herodotus, Pliny, St. Augustine, and Bocaccio all wrote about the discovery of giant's remains. Many of the bones in the past were identified as belonging to specific individuals, such as Orestes, Theseus, and the cyclops Polyphemus. Closer to home, large bones were regularly kept in churches as relics of the saints. The bones of large, unknown quadrupeds, regularly discovered in the earth, provided proof of the truth of the community's legends even as the legends provided an explanation for the bones.

In living memory, just such a giant had been discovered nearby in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1577, a storm uprooted an oak tree near the Abby of Reyden. When some workmen investigated the damage, they found large bones between the roots. The bones were taken to the city hall, where the leading citizens of the city admired the find and debated their origin. Some thought they were the remains of fallen angels. After seven years, they turned to Fleix Plater, a well-known anatomy professor in Basel, to settle that matter. Plater examined the bones and pronounced that they were not from angel, but instead, the skeleton of a giant nineteen feet tall. He provided the town council with a drawing of the giant, which they incorporated into the arms of the city. Other bones of giants had been discovered even closer to Chaumont in 1456, 1564, and 1580.

Comparative sizes of historical giants
From: Mundus subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher, 1678. The largest figure, on the left, is based in the bones of a 300 foot giant described by Boccacio as having been discovered in Sicily in 1371. Kircher thought that number was a typo and that the Sicilian giant was really only 30 feet tall. The tiny man next to his ankle is a normal man of Kircher's day. Next comes Goliath, then the Lucerne giant, and, on the far right, a giant Kircher called Gigas Mauritanae.

The usual fate of giants' bones was for them to be put on display at the local church or town hall and to be brought out for special occasions until they fell to pieces. Alternatively, they might be picked up by a wealthy collector with an interest in the new natural philosophy and displayed in his cabinet of curiosities, also until they fell to pieces. In either of those cases, the Chaumont bones most probably would have vanished from history. What saved them from historical oblivion was their coming to the attention of two entrepreneurial souls in a neighboring village.

Pierre Mazurier (or Mazuyer), the barber-surgeon from Beaurepaire, and David Bertrand, the town clerk, watched as men of influence and means traveled to Chaumont to view the giant's bones. It's possible that the two had been involved with the bones from the very beginning as the first two officials called by Langdon to identify the bones or it may be that they didn't hear about the bones until the traffic to Castle Chaumont began. In either case, they reasoned that people all over France would pay to view the remains and gained permission from Langon to take the bones on a tour. To supplement the exhibition, the entrepreneurs contracted to have pamphlet written by Jacques Tissot, a Jesuit in the nearby town of Tournon. The title reveals the story that Mazurier and Bertrand told their audience.
True history of the life, death, and bones of Giant Teutobocus, King of Teutons, Cimbri and Ambrones, defeated 105 years before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With his army of four hundred thousand, he was defeated by Marius, the Roman consul, killed and buried near the castle called Chaumont, and now Langon, near the town of Romans in Daulphiné.

There his tomb was found, thirty feet in length, on which his name was written in Roman letters, and the bones therein exceeded 25 feet in length, with one tooth weighing 11 pounds, all being monstrous in both height and size, as you can now see the in the city.

In an official record of the discovery, Mazurier gave a detailed description the tomb and each of the bones including the skull, which he described as being five feet long, ten feet around, with eye sockets the size of dinner plates. Unfortunately, Mazurier wrote, most of the bones turned to dust after being exposed to air, and the only parts that remained of the skull were two fragments of jaw, two complete teeth, and fragments of maybe four others. Mazurier also described two silver medals that he claimed were in tomb, each bearing the likeness of a man on one side and the letters M A on the other, all of which he took to mean Marius.

The show was a resounding success and soon orders came that they were to proceed to Paris and present the bones to eleven year old King Louis XIII. On seeing them the king asked a courtier if there really had been such giants. Yes, the courtier replied, imagine what a great army they would make. The king was less enthusiastic. They would soon eat the country clean, he commented. The boy-king’s skepticism may have been shared by some of his court. A few weeks after the bones arrived, a secretary to the king wrote to Langon requesting he send more evidence from the discovery: the silver medals, the inscribed stone from the tomb, a detailed drawing of the tomb, and the official report of the discovery.

The terms of the agreement with the court allowed the king to keep the bones for at least eighteen months. During that time, Mazurier stayed in Paris and capital society debated whether of not the bones were authentic.

Don't pay the Ransom, I've escaped

I've been away from Blogistan and ignoring my e-mail and phone for the last week in the hopes of getting some work done on the book. I'm back now and have a nice story to share (above and below). Meanwhile, I seem to have missed a few things.

The two Cheneys, Dick and "Don't call me a lesbian" Liz, have been on the teevee way too much. Since they just keep telling the same lies over and over again, why does anyone think they're newsworthy. They should at least be required to come up with some new lies before they get any more camera time.

Newt Gingrich says Nancy Pelosi claiming the CIA lied about her could cause a nuclear holocaust. Good thing he never exaggerates for effect like Al Gore.

Dollhouse has been renewed for another season.

It's Memorial Day. Most people will be thinking about combat veterans and casualties. So am I, but I'm also saving some thoughts for my mom who was a Rosie the riveter during WWII. In our wars, America's industrial might has been just as important as our armies. Send a little love to the people who made our armies possible and buy union.

I had a piece selected for the Scientia Pro Publica carnival hosted over at The Primate Diaries. I'm in some pretty impressive company this week. Go read the other pieces and give them some traffic love.

I'll write more this week, I promise. After all, it's summer and someone will have to pick up the slack when the people who have lives go on vacation.

The strange case of Teutobochus, king of the mastodons

Teutobochus fell, and was buried on the field. His sepulchre was discovered in A.D. 1613, near the confluence of the Rhone and Isere, built of brick, and within it was written, "Teutobochus Rex."

History of Rome for Young Persons
By Mrs. Hamilton Gray, 1858

Once upon a time there was a giant who died and was buried in France, or so they say. He wasn't really French; he was just passing through on his way from someplace to someplace else when he came to a bad end there. He wasn't a real giant and he might not have died or been buried in France. But why let such quibbles get in the way of a good story.

Part 1: The invasion

Sometime around 113 BC, a group of tribes left their homes in the neighborhood of modern Denmark and headed south looking for a new home. No one is sure why they left the North. Some ancient sources say it was because the sea had swamped their old lands. Some later writers suggest overpopulation had reached a tipping point. No one is sure what language they spoke. Some say Germanic. Some say Celtic. Some say both. Everyone agrees that there were a lot of them, but no one agrees on the definition of a lot. No one is even sure what they called themselves. The Romans called them the Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambrones.

The tribes spent a decade trying out different lands and fighting with the peoples already inhabiting those lands before setting their hearts on the rich farmland of Northern Italy. The Roman Senate was understandably less that thrilled by this and sent armies to repel the tribes. The first army was defeated in Slovenia. The second army was defeated Southern France. A third army was defeated by some Swiss tribes who decided to join the Northerners. The Senate now sent two strong armies to stop the tribes on the Rhone river in Southern France. The commanders squabbled and both armies were annihilated.

Rather than invade Italy now that it was defenseless, the tribes went off the check out Spain and those parts of France that they hadn't invaded yet while the Roman Senate took advantage of the reprieve to engage in some very important finger pointing. When not engaged in passing the buck, it occurred to some Senators that they should do something about the war across the Alps before the Northerners returned. Fortunately, they had a tested general on hand in the person of Gaius Marius, who was just then completing a victorious war in North Africa. Marius was a Great Man™ whose turn in power would hasten the death of the Republic. But that's not what's important here; we're interested in how he handled the crisis in the North. Marius put together a new army staffed by veterans of the North African war and headed for the frontier. When he got there, the Northerners were nowhere to be seen--they were still in Spain--so he used his free time to give his new army some practice by slapping a few local tribes who had revolted back into line.

After almost three years of mixed success on the road, the Northerners decided to finally make their move into Italy. In the summer of 102 BC, one portion of the migrating tribes, made up of the Teutones, Ambones, part of the Cimbri, and one the revolting Swiss tribes, headed for the passes defended by Marius' army while a second portion, made up of the rest of Cimbri and Swiss tribes, headed for passes further east. The horde that met Marius was led by a Teutone chief named Teutobochus (that's the Latinized form; he would have called himself Teutobod). Not much is known about Teutobochus except that he was very large. The early Christian historian Paulus Orosius wrote that Teutobochus could "vault over four or even six horses" and towered above other men.

Gaius Marius
The victor of Aquae Sextiae and seven times Roman consul. From: Young Folks' History of Rome by Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1880.

Teutobochus' first attempt to cross the Alps was along the same route Hannibal had used a century before. This involved crossing the Rhone River and following one of the tributaries of the Isere to a pass where they could enter the Po Valley from the Northwest. Marius anticipated this route and had placed his army in a well fortified camp at the junction of the Rhone and Isere. The tribes under Teutobochus fought the Romans for three days but couldn't break through Marius' fortification. Rather than continue the attacks, Teutobochus broke off and led his people south hoping to take the coastal road along the Riviera and invade the Po Valley from the Southwest. Marius caught up with the Northerners near the Roman settlement of Aquae Sextiae, the modern Aix en Provence outside Marseilles. After another three day battle, Marius lured Teutobochus into attacking a well-fortified Roman position on a hilltop. A Orosius, reports that "as the sun grew hot, the flabby bodies of the Gauls melted like snow." Though it's unlikely that their bodies actually melted, their attack did and, in the Roman counter-attack, the Teutones were defeated with most of them dying on the battlefield. What happened to Teutobochus is unclear. Orosius says he was killed in the battle. The Roman historian Lucius Annaeus Florus says he was taken alive to Rome for Marius' triumph where "being a man of extraordinary stature, he towered above the trophies of his defeat" (and, presumably, then executed).*

This should have been the end of Teutobochus. As real as the danger was at the time, the invasion of the second century BC never caught the imagination of classical and later writers in the way that the invasions of Hannibal, Alaric, and Attila did. Almost no details of the life and person of Teutobochus have been carried down to us. At best, he was one name on a list of dangerous barbarian leaders. That's how things remained for seventeen centuries until the Renaissance.

* I have based this account primarily on that of Theodore Mommsen's History of Rome, vol. 4.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jindal birth certificate watch - day 77

Eleven weeks have passed since I raised the question of Bobby Jindal's citizenship. Jindal admits to having been conceived in a foreign country by foreigners. Why does the MSM refuse to look into this? If Jindal has nothing to hide, why won't he address my perfectly legitimate concerns about his citizenship? His handlers still refuse to give us the state's original copy of his birth certificate to subject to exhaustive font and kerning examination? Their silence has gone beyond damning and is now damned damning. The American people wait, but their patience is not unlimited.

Friday, May 15, 2009

This just in from the Department of Who Gives a Damn

Joe "The Unlicensed Plumer" Wurzelbacher doesn't like watching gay men kiss. CNN will be interrupting its scheduled programming (of wall-to-wall interviews with Dick Cheney and his very relevant daughter Elizabeth telling the same lies over and over again) to give us minute-by-minute coverage this breaking story.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

GOP open to gay supreme

At least that's what I take away from this story.
[C]onservative leaders have warned the nomination of a gay or lesbian justice could complicate Obama's effort to confirm a replacement for Souter, and another Republican senator on Wednesday warned a gay nominee would be too polarizing.

"I know the administration is being pushed, but I think it would be a bridge too far right now," said GOP Chief Deputy Whip John Thune. "It seems to me this first pick is going to be a kind of important one, and my hope is that he'll play it a little more down the middle. A lot of people would react very negatively."

Look at what he says; it's filled with all that secret code language we hear so much about. "I think it would be a bridge too far right now." That means he'd be open to it later. "[T]his first pick is going to be a kind of important one, and my hope is that he'll play it a little more down the middle." Only the first pick has to be "down the middle." That means he'll be okay if the rest of Obama's appointments are true liberals. Who says the Republicans aren't willing to accept the judgment of the voters and play ball with the new administration. A new era of bipartisan cooperation and compromise is upon us. Can't you feel the love?

Friday, May 01, 2009

You guys are the best sorts of people

In my experience -- and I'm just generalizing here -- the more intelligent, perceptive, and morally pure a person is, the more they agree with me. Certainly less dim witted and embarrassing. Most of the people I admire most uphold my beliefs. This brings us to Jay Nordlinger of The National Review:
In my experience -- and I'm just generalizing here -- the better the person, the more positive he is about George W. Bush. Certainly the less snarky and narrow. Most of the people I admire most, admire the 43rd president.

I'm sure you all agree with me in in detecting a wee bit of self-congratulatory nincompoopery in Mr. Nordlinger. I might even go so far as to say he's a complete ass. In fact, I think I will go that far. Jay Nordlinger is a complete ass.