The Holes in the Boat

Ancient Athens, at the height of its power, commanded an empire of millions, covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Nominally, they were the foremost city of an alliance, but in practice, they dominated and extracted tribute from settlements in the Cyclades, Ionia on the west coast of Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, Cyprus, and various points on the north coast of Africa.  They even had a couple of colonies in Spain.  This whole maritime empire was held together by the trireme, a 120-foot warship alternately propelled by sails or three banks of rowers, with a vicious battering ram on its tip.  I’ve mentioned the trireme before, in my Darkened Ages post.  It was a mighty weapon, but it had its limitations; it was strictly a coastal vessel, which had to make landfall every night to restock with food and water.  Also, very expensive.  At its aforementioned height, Athens could only build three or four triremes per year.  Usually this was done by selecting one of the city’s richest citizens for the “honor” of funding it, in the form of a charitable endowment called a liturgy (lit. “work for the people”; also an apt term for our religious service, but one wonders exactly how the term got transferred!).

Anyway, suppose you were to go to one of Athens’s busiest shipyards and tell them that, at some point in the past, a man and his three sons, possibly assisted by their wives, had built a ship three times the length of a trireme, and far wider–a boat the size of a modern American football field.  That these men had then loaded down said ship with massive amounts of heavy cargo–live animals, and plenty of fodder–and kept it afloat through forty days of nonstop storm conditions, plus an indeterminate period of calm afterwards. Continue reading

In the Name

I apologize for the lengthy interval since my last post–with the proviso that there will probably be just as long an interval before the next one.  Ordinary life calls, I have children, and so on, plus I have been bitten by the novel-writing bug yet again.  But, since I don’t have access to my novel-writing PC right now, I might as well do my duty here, right?

Since I’m feeling lazy, I’ll tackle another of the internet’s common attacks on religion: the argument from atrocity.  Here I mean extra-biblical atrocities: certain incidents from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, various pogroms, the Thirty Years’ War, etc.  Those weird little bits from the dusty back corners of the Pentateuch, which all go something like, “And the Lord commanded Jerushaphat to slay seven and fifty of the Edomites, together with their wives, and their children, their slaves, and the slaves of their children, the children of their slaves, the children of their slaves’ children, and their oxen, and their sheep, and the sheep of their neighbors, but not the sheep of their neighbors’ slaves, etc.”–well, those are a different matter, which I will probably not bother over, because those bits are only ever read by infidels with chips on their shoulders, and these days said infidels tend to focus more on obscure anecdotes from the Koran.  Also, it’s not clear whether any of the early Biblical atrocity anecdotes ever even happened. Continue reading

Revolutionary Privilege

I think that, in general, militants and revolutionaries come in three types:

  1. Idealistic, intelligent men (no theoretical bar to women, but typically men), usually educated and from the middle or upper classes, dedicated to the achievement of their ideals, with some idea how to achieve them, and willing to sacrifice for them.  The ideals are not always good–think Mao–but these folks know what they’re doing.
  2. Mercenary types clever enough to attain power, but not interested in any higher principle.  Saddam Hussein comes to mind.  The revolution ends when the leader is able to use tax money to build himself an art collection, or some palaces.  The best you can say is that this type knows not to kill the goose who’s laying the golden eggs.  They’ll keep their country together enough to continue sucking the lifeblood out of it.
  3. Violent, desperate men who have no particular skill beyond sudden, spastic outbursts of cruelty.  At this they may be very skilled–they live from murder to murder, gaining momentum from the chaos they make–but, when and if they win, they have no idea what to do with their victory.

Continue reading