Mrs. Ancient Dan had always wanted to visit Ireland, mainly
because her dad had related accounts of his Irish ancestry. I was raised with a
Protestant British distaste for the Irish, but with a suppressed knowledge of
some Irish blood (revealed by the scattered red hairs visible when I allow my
beard to grow). But I, too, wanted to see the place. So, we planned a trip for
May of 2016.
Totally unexpected and traumatic things happened 9 days before the planned journey—events that completely disrupted our life and, perhaps worse, seemingly confirmed my cynicism about humanity. Our world was shattered. Nevertheless we decided to go to Ireland anyway, now more for escape from reality than anything else . . . and with dour hearts.
What we found there was a people of considerable politeness, kindness, and civility; just what we needed for encouragement. Mrs. A.D. and I had debated over what the “prototypical” Irish person would be (I argued for a red-headed girl). We were both right . . . and both wrong. I now think of the Irish in terms of temperament rather than outward appearance. And I thank them for challenging me to examine the way I treat others.
Oh, and Ireland itself is pretty nice too. We also “argued” over the “prototypical” Irish scene. We were both right, again. I’ll let pictures tell the story for the rest of this post.
Ireland is a great place to see things and think about life. So, I left there glad to have visited in troubling times and resolved to be conscious of how I treat people and react to circumstances.
BTW, we did DNA tests for Christmas and it turns out . . . I am more Irish than Mrs A.D., much to her chagrin (and my surprise)! Perhaps that is why , for the first time ever, I wore green for St. Patrick’s Day today.
I was asked to give the “spoken reflection” at tonight’s Celtic Worship Service at University Baptist Church, and thought I would post my reflection here with a couple of pics. The focal passage is the famous “Good Samaritan” story in Luke 10, which I find very thought-provoking in light of the increased divisiveness and media focus on racism of late in our society. I have done a great deal of introspection on these topics in recent months and even thought of making an Ancient Dan blog post entitled “Confessions of a former Racist.” But my wife and daughter wisely advised against it. The “Good Samaritan” story, I think, provides a way to express my thoughts in a better way.
First, a quick look at the “Good Samaritan” account as I see
it. Jesus tells the story in response to the question, “and who is my neighbor?”
in the context of discussing the Jewish Law. In it, a man is assaulted by
bandits and left for dead along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The
geography is important here, as it is a desolate road through unoccupied desert,
where there were no neighbors.
As Jesus narrates, a priest came along the road and we expect
that this religious man will help our unfortunate victim. But, alas, on this
road a priest would be headed up to Jerusalem where he would serve his
week-long rotation in the Temple. It was the highest religious duty in the
Jewish Law and could not be compromised by uncleanness imputed by blood from
the victim or—worse—contamination by his corpse should the man be found dead or
die whilst receiving aid. The priest crossed to the other side and passed by.
And the hearers of this story—all Jews—were not in the least surprised or
judgmental. All the same logic was true for the Levite that happened along
next. None of those listening expected that he would stop either. What crummy
luck; our victim was having a really bad day. But then in Jesus’ telling there
is another who appears and nears—a Samaritan! While we now think of “Good
Samaritans” or even just “Samaritans” as helpers, this notion destroys the gist
of the story. To the Jew, a Samaritan was the worst of rivals. Jesus’ listeners
no doubt expected this “bad” (by their definition) Samaritan to stomp on the
victim’s head and finish the job. The bad day, they thought, was now the worst
of days. He of course, as we know, demonstrated the proper action of kindness.
But this story is not about how to treat others; it is really about how we perceive them. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I perceive others. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant heterosexual man. I was raised in a “middle-class” American home which, by any world-wide standard, was a life of privilege. So I am a potential poster-boy for racist and intolerant views. Nevertheless, I’ve always denied that I was bigoted or intolerant. In my extended family, I cannot ever recall having heard the “N” word used or any other racial or discriminatory epithet. BUT, that is a poor gauge on how I have perceived others. Like most folks, I learned from my youth to categorize people with labels like, “the black guy,” “the Mexican woman,” “the gay dude” or “the Alabama Crimson Tide sidewalk fan.” So this is not so much the confession of a former racist, but the admission of an unconscious tribalist.
I am convinced that human beings have an innate tendency for group identification, like the herd or pack instincts of other mammals. Unfortunately, in “civilized” human society it is somehow easier to identify one’s group by isolating those who are not part of it—through creation of the “other.” This is easiest with obvious differences like skin color, but the principle is the same for all discriminations.
Back to the “Good Samaritan.” The key for me is realization
that the lesson is not in the story itself, but in the question asked by Jesus
at the end, to the one who asked him “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked,
“which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among
It is sometimes observed that when the “lawyer” responded to
Jesus, he was unwilling to use the designation “Samaritan” because of his
disdain for that group. He responded, “the one who showed mercy on him.” The
Jewish-Samaritan divide was severe, to be sure, but it was not due to physical
difference. The Samaritans were—as an ethnic group—half Israelite. They were
the other monotheistic minority in the early Roman Empire period, worshipping
the same God as Israel and practicing circumcision like the Jews. The Romans
could not tell the difference between Samaritans and Jews that were naked and
talking about God. Tribalism and details of theology had created the schism.
It is true that the Samaritan demonstrates that all are our
potential neighbors. But I wonder if the lawyer really got it right with his
generic description. The main point may be how we perceive others upon first
glance or knowledge. Do I continue using categories and labels for people, or
can I see them generically, all capable of good and mercy. This is the
challenge, and Jesus consistently points me—and all of us—in the direction of
Several of the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2500-2345 BC) rulers of Old Kingdom Egypt had pyramid tombs constructed at Abu Sir, 11 km southeast of Giza where the more famous Fourth Dynasty pyramids are found. The Fifth Dynasty was dominated by the solar cult of the sun god Rē, and two of the kings built “sun temples” northwest of Abu Sir. The better preserved—and, naturally, harder to get to—is that of Niuserrē (“Delight of Re”). It is 1.6 km from Abu Sir, across the dry dry desert sands at Abu Ghurob. You don’t get this on the bus tour.
The sun temple complex featured a platform rather like a truncated pyramid surmounted by an enormous obelisk, the symbol of Rē. A hieroglyph in the pic above gives an impression of the now-ruined obelisk. The monument is surrounded by a courtyard with various cult buildings and a well-preserved altar. The altar does not get much attention but is cleverly formed by four limestone blocks with upper surfaces carved in the shape of the hieroglyph for “altar.” The Egyptians were great at word/picture play!
From the top of the ruins there is a great view of the altar, the Abu Sir pyramids to the southeast, the Giza pyramids in the distance to the northwest, and the very first Egyptian pyramid—built for Djoser in the Third Dynasty—which peeks over the horizon from Saqqara to the south.
It was well over 100° F at the site when these pics were
taken and I recall running out of water quickly. Still, it looks pretty good
from where I sit now.
Here in South Mississippi it appears that Winter has largely ceded the environment to an early Spring, but with emphasis on precipitation. There does seem to be a LOT of water available up in the atmosphere. Those observations are my excuse to post this POTD of a receding glacier. Sadly, that is the current state of all glaciers. I was reminded of this by looking at my location for this pic on Google Earth, which indicates my position well within the glacier ice. Why? Google Earth’s current imagery of the area (as of this writing) is four years previous (2014-08-02) to the photo (2018-07-11), when the glacier was significantly more extended. You can see this too by zooming way in on the “South Sawyer Glacier” item in the map of POTD sites (note that the icon is where the camera was when the picture was made).
This is the South Sawyer Glacier, at one of branches at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord, some 30 miles south of Juneau, Alaska. The blue color of glacier ice is pretty cool . . . but I am not sure this pic does the scene justice.
So, I resolved to attempt to get a panoramic picture up on this blog, but discovered it is not so easy (without a more expensive account plan). Here is the pic I want in panoramic form (it looks decent on a wide computer screen, but not so much on a cell phone):
Turns out WordPress has a virtual reality image option, but this looks weird unless you have a VR headset on:
Facebook has a pretty decent panorama system, but you must upload from your phone which is pretty difficult if you make any serious edits or cropping. I hoped to beat the WordPress limitation by embedding the Facebook pano here. But, alas, you must click on it and go to Facebook for the panoramic action:
Oh Well. So here is a bonus pic of the North Sawyer Glacier. It is a little grimier with a more variegated blue light refraction, but has a more dramatic backdrop. I’ll not even attempt a panorama:
It is getting warmer and glaciers are receding
There is too much water in the air in the southern USA
I cannot make panoramic pics work as 360-degree panoramas in my blog without a more expensive plan
I spent way too much time trying to work around the problem instead of working on stuff I really need to do
Glaciers have a blue appearance . . . and are really cool (in case you didn’t get the bad pun above)
Glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate
You should go see them before they (and you) are gone
This post was mostly an excuse to play with the options and get a pic from Alaska on my POTD map
To round out my “shipwrecks” POTD posts—of which this may be last, because I think I have run out of shipwrecks—I give you “The Rachel.” After Hurricane Camille in 1969, a mysterious shipwreck appeared on the Alabama coast five miles east of Fort Morgan. Reclaimed by the sea and sand, it reappeared temporarily after Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Ike in 2008, and Tropical Storm Ida in 2009. Hurricane Isaac then exposed the wreck more than ever in 2012. Apparently, tropical cyclones with “I” names have a thing for this ship.
Despite speculation that the wooden ship might be a Confederate
blockade runner from the Civil War, Fort Morgan historian Mike Bailey is now certain
that the wreck is the Rachel, lost to
. . . you guessed it, a tropical storm in 1923.
Since the practice of naming storms by sequential alphabet letters had not yet
begun, we don’t know if that hurricane would have had a moniker beginning with “I”
(but I wouldn’t bet against it).
The Rachel has an odd
backstory. A Mississippian, Captain John Riley Bless McIntosh, was never able
to achieve his goal of owning a ship prior to his death. His daughter and heir,
Rachel McIntosh McInnis, took her $100,000 inheritance to the De Angelo
Shipyard in Moss Point, MS, to commission a ship in an attempt to fulfill her
father’s dream. John De Angelo at first refused to take Rachel’s money, knowing
that it was a futile investment. But with
hard times for business at the end of World War I, his sons accepted the job
and built a 155 foot 3-masted schooner named Rachel for Mrs. McInnis. It remained docked at her expense from its
completion in 1919 until her death in 1922. After that, the De Angelo brothers claimed
the ship for unpaid dock fees and sold it at auction.
The Rachel’s buyer
hired a crew out of Mobile to operate the schooner for hauling lumber (big
business in South Mississippi at the time). The first run successfully
delivered a load to Cuba, but ran into trouble—the storm, classified as a
hurricane—on the return journey. The Rachel
was driven aground near Fort Morgan, with no loss of life. The crew emptied the
unnamed light cargo and guards were posted to protect the impossibly beached ship
until an insurance settlement could be obtained. Unknown parties burned the Rachel down to near the keel after that,
presumably to salvage metal parts.
Thereafter, the charred hulk was lost to the sand and tide, to sporadically resurface
by the same forces that doomed her.
The Rachel was an odd and pleasant diversion on the Fort Morgan beach for a few years after 2012. It rests on private beach property, but was quite accessible from the beach. I have not seen the Rachel since August of 2014. A quick check of Google Earth reveals that the eroded beach has “recovered”—itself and the Rachel. So if you want to visit her, it seems you will have to wait for an I-named tropical storm to turn back the sands of time.
As I write this, that annual scourge of winter, flu season, is in full flower. Flu requires a seasonal vaccination to provide temporary immunity, so the cycle of projecting the strain and concocting an annual vaccine will continue with mixed results for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, in the United States there are regional outbreaks of measles. Unlike the flu, long-term immunity to measles has been possible by vaccination for decades. But in recent years, an anti-vaccination movement has taken hold and . . . yep; the outbreaks are in areas with high percentages of un-vaccinated persons.
This is an odd intro to a book-review blog, but I think relevant.
In my first “Very, Very Short Book Review”, I expressed my desire
of “recommending some books with Ancient Dan-type subject matter, but with
connections to current events.” Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome fits the bill on both counts and triggers the
second of this (obviously, very occasional) series.
Harper treats the oft-discussed subject of the Fall of Rome
from a different angle than most, focusing on the role of persistent disease morbidity
and mortality, unexpected climate change, and three decisive pandemics. With acute
rhetorical and story-telling skill, Harper has fashioned a page-turner as he builds
his case that decades of exceptionally good climate, resulting population
growth, and the extensive connectivity of the Roman world created prime conditions
for the three pandemics. The triggers, he argues, are unforeseen climate
interruptions from volcanic activity and a normal cooling cycle.
Some have challenged parts of Harper’s arguments and data, and perhaps with good reason. The thing that makes the book such a good read—its engaging style and vivid description—also creates an opening for the charge that Harper uses his rhetorical skill to cover weaknesses in the data. This objection is aided by the book’s awkward reference style. Yes, as is charged, there are a few claims for which it is impossible to find Harper’s sources; but with this crazy system oversights are practically invited. Footnotes are better. That criticism notwithstanding, The Fate of Rome is a marvel of research across a range of specialties in ancient history, climate science, and biology. The beauty and value of the volume, for me, is its attention to the workings and dynamics of systems and human behavior. Here, study of the past is quite relevant for the present.
What does all this have to do with the current outbreaks of measles? The three pandemic “plagues” were catastrophic, killing unprecedented percentages of the population. But everyone did not die. The pathogens lost their overwhelming effect when the population was dominated by survivors who gained immunity. Community wide immunity is what keeps pandemic-capable pathogens at bay. Happily, in our modern world, we have easy immunity to some threats through vaccination programs. Yet, movements have developed and persist that decry and resist such programs. This is not the place to argue the science—but the anti-vaccination people rely on disproved studies, pseudoscience, rumor, distrust of government (perhaps understandable), and disinformation planted by Russian trolls. I did not make this up and it is not “fake news!” (check the study published in the American Journal of Public Healthhere). Indeed, in the wake of the recent measles outbreaks, Facebook is reportedly considering ways to limit anti-vaccine disinformation.
The compulsory vaccination issue is complicated by concerns for individual choice, privacy, and especially religious freedom. I get that and don’t want to presume to have arguments for all angles. But a read of Harper, The Fate of Rome might bring a dose of reality about the way systems can surprise the complacent and potentially change the Fate of Us.
One of Harper’s observations is that the second Roman pandemic, the “Plague of Cyprian” in the mid-third century, is responsible for elevating Christianity to a prominent position in the Empire and paved the way for its dominance in the next centuries. This view is shared by other scholars of the late Empire. Ironically, elements of the faith that once benefited from the fear of rampant infectious disease now may be a factor in allowing one such disease to return (Rule 4).
Anti-vaxxers: the pathogen community thanks you very much (with a special shout-out to Russian trolls for their part in the Collusion).
Thanks for looking!
numbers appear only at the end of paragraphs and the corresponding notes (at
the end of the book) contain multiple references, sometimes keyed by a short
quote from the paragraph to guide the reader to the right source. As I spend at
least half of my time in reading a book like this in the notes, this is a
 David A. Broniatowski, et al, “Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Botsand Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate,” American Journal of Public Health. 108(10): 1378–1384. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304567.
The southern part of mainland Greece is the large and important Peloponnese peninsula. The Peloponnese, in turn, terminates in three finger-like peninsulas pointing south into the Aegean/Mediterranean Sea. The central one is the Mani, whose tip is the southernmost point of mainland Greece. On the east side of the uppermost part of the Mani, there are two very nice straight beaches near Githio. As you come north over the hill from Selinitsa Beach, Valtaki comes into view, with an unusual feature — a semi-beached shipwreck. It is the Dimitrios (Greek Δημήτριος).
There are other and better-known shipwrecks around Greece, notably the spectacularly-situated MV Panagiotis, wrecked in 1980 on the island of Zakinthos at now-dubbed Navagio (“shipwreck”) Beach. I’ve noted its appearance in several commercials of late. Not accessible by land, the MV Panagiotis and its small cove is nevertheless mobbed by thousands of bathers a year, brought by tour boats in crowded masses.
The seldom-visited Dimitrios, on the other hand, is well-preserved and quite accessible if you know how to get there. And, best of all, You Don’t Get This On The Bus Tour (or the boat tour). I find it picturesque and eerily enchanting.
It is tempting to further my Shipwreck of State theme by noting that the Dimitrios looks as though its captain made a wrong turn and ended up aground. One could also compliment Plato’s Ship of State analogy with the biblical warning:
Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
— James 3:4-5
It turns out, however, that the Dimitrios’ story is more mundane and apparently lacks a boastfully inept pilot (Wikipedia has a good overview here). In late 1980 Dimitrios made an emergency stop at Githio, because the captain had a medical emergency. The crew was fired after financial disagreements shut down operations and the ship languished unattended. A year later it broke loose from the dock in severe weather and eventually washed up on Valtaki Beach. There Dimitrios was abandoned.
Come to think of it, the Dimitrios still offers a poignant object-lesson.