Archive for September, 2016

Travel Delays c. 1066

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

On September 27, 1066, William the Conqueror and his fleet set out for England.

BayeuxTapestryScene38

William’s forces had been ready since July, but strong north winds prevented them setting sail. The winds eventually shifted, but once William’s ships were at sea, the weather turned again and they were forced back. Many of his ships wrecked along the coast of Normandy near Saint-Valery and the shore became littered with the bodies of William’s drowned men.

Morale was pretty low after that.

To raise the men’s spirits, William exhumed the body of Saint Valery, presented it to his crew, and asked the Saint for a favorable wind. That night, the wind changed, so the ships were off and the rest is history.

William’s troubles may have been hard on him and his troops, but they were nothing to those of the English King Harold. In early September, the Vikings launched a surprise attack and forced Harold and his troops North. This left the Southern coast of England completely vulnerable to, say, a conqueror.

Had William attacked in July as he’d planned, his army would have faced much more resistance. On the other hand, the drowned sailors would have been perkier.

It’s hard to know which life lesson to take away, but we’ll give it a shot:

Today, take a moment to reflect on any important step you plan to take in your life. Always be on the look-out for Vikings.

Are you facing delays? Be patient. A delay might lead to a favorable outcome.

(Plan B: exhume a Saint.)

UPG Picks – David

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

My favorite Philosophers Guild product these days is The Proof is in the Pudding Bowls.  They’re smart and very useful.  I ate my granola in them this morning, and then cooked a Crème Brûlée at night (they’re oven safe!).  And I love seeing the mathematical proof when I finish my meal.

A Pretty Great Wall

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

On September 13, 122, Roman legions began building a wall in Northern England. It wasn’t really high enough to keep out invaders and people aren’t exactly sure why it was built, although there are several theories.

Whatever its purpose, Hadrian’s Wall still stands nearly 2,000 years later!

800px-Hadrian's_wall_at_Greenhead_Lough

We really like Hadrian’s Wall. Look how pretty it is as it rolls along the rolling British countryside, not making a fuss, ever holding up its end of the bargain.

Whatever it was supposed to do – hey, for all we know, it’s still doing it – as far as we’re concerned, Hadrian’s Wall is the best wall ever!

Skeptical? Let’s see how other walls compare:

800px-Babylon,_1932

The Walls of Babylon were monumental and impenetrable. But note that word “were.” Guess someone penetrated them after all. Stupid Babylon. Hadrian’s Wall is noble and not too big for its britches.

image courtesy Vlad Lazarenko, Wikicommons

image courtesy Vlad Lazarenko/Wikicommons

“Wall Street” was named after an actual wall the British took down in 1699, but now all that remains is a street named after the ghost of a wall. Though a fitting memento mori for the invisible foundations of the New York City’s Financial District, it’s still not better – or more tangible – than Hadrian’s Wall.

The_Great_Wall_of_China_at_Jinshanling-edit

image courtesy Severin.stalder/Wikicommons

The Great Wall of China is the world’s longest wall. Parts of it are older than Hadrian’s Wall, but most of its construction began in the 14th century. You might think we’d consider the Great Wall the best, but you’d be wrong. It’s pretty full of itself, probably owing to people calling it “Great” for so long. No, you can’t see it from space. And it’s way too crowded with tourists.

image courtesy Golasso / Wikicommons

image courtesy Golasso/Wikicommons

The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a holy site. But as walls go, it’s not much of a wall. Look how short it is.

670px-Berlin_wall_1990

Sure, the Berlin Wall is a pretty famous wall. But where is it these days? Also it was made in East Germany so it’s probably full of asbestos or something.

Happy Birthday, Moses Mendelssohn!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time before there was such a thing as a “German-Jewish” intellectual.

From the 19th century to the Nazi era, Jews were ingrained in German life and culture. And we owe a lot of that to the remarkable Moses Mendelssohn.

Moses_Mendelson

Mendelssohn was born into a poor Jewish family in Germany when Jews were kept out of government, education, and everyday life. Jews were rarely allowed out of the ghettos and they were not allowed to travel.

Jews weren’t necessarily looking to mingle with Christians either. For the most part they very religious (there was no reform movement yet) and shunned secular education. In fact, reading secular literature could get a Jewish boy thrown out of the Yeshiva. (As for Jewish girls, that’s a whole different megillah.)

Moses Mendelssohn was somehow able to bridge both worlds. Though he was on the way to the rabbinate, he secretly taught himself Greek, Latin, German, French, and English. Then a series of lucky circumstances brought this brilliant student into the mainstream. Not since Spinoza had a Jew become a prominent intellectual in a Christian society. But unlike Spinoza, Mendelssohn was able to do it without getting excommunicated by the Jewish community.

Mendelssohn’s rise to fame coincided with the height of the Enlightenment, and he is considered the father of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment). Mendelssohn valued reason above all, and saw Judaism as a divine revelation of a code of law. He translated the Hebrew Bible into German and became a celebrity regardless of the novelty of his Jewishness. Known as the “Socrates of Berlin,” even Catholic monks wrote to him for advice.

That’s not to say the Jewish issue went away. Mendelssohn evaded a public battle over religious faith as much as possible but was forced to devote energy and time debating his Jewish identity nonetheless. Missionaries saw him as a prime candidate for conversion. A Swiss theologian challenged Mendelssohn to refute the logical “proof” of Christianity or convert. Mendelssohn countered that “revealed” dogmas work against reason and proudly declared that he would remain a Jew.

Frederick the Great gave Mendelssohn the status of “Jew under extraordinary protection,” but Mendelssohn didn’t want an exemption as a Jew – he wanted equal rights and tolerance towards all Jews in Germany. and argued for the assimilation of Jews into German culture.

On that last point, Mendelssohn was too successful. His descendants, including his grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn, all abandoned Judaism for Christianity as a condition of full acceptance into German society.