Tomorrow’s History: Brexit – Should We Be Surprised?

So the hammer has fallen, the vote was taken, and England (the United Kingdom as it presently stands: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) will depart from the EU. The uproar has been, understandably, intense. Millenials and Gen-X blame Baby Boomers for voting to leave. For wanting sovereignty as a nation and cutting off the socialist ideal of the supranational confederation called the European Union.

As an aside, it seems ironic that the very generation that has voted strongly to withdraw were the same age as the present Millenials and Gen-X are when Britain first joined the EU in 1973. Perhaps, through the hard won wisdom of experience, they have learned something and upon that experience have made their present choice? It’s a thought.

A few questions about the dynamics surrounding Brexit arise: Is Britain floating out there all alone in the North Atlantic with no safety net? Is there such a thing as a long-term “supranational” league? What will happen to Europe? Who will the “big-cheese” of the continent be? What does it take to make a “united” Europe?

Leagues of nations

In our day and age, we have had experience with supranational organizations, in other words, confederations or treaty organizations in which nation states have agreed to subsume their individual sovereignty (to varying degrees and sometimes unwillingly) in favor of a power or structure that issues oversight and force upon said states. In other words, the United Nations, a kind of world congress or parliament with the power to enforce its will upon various nations. Governed purportedly by those it represents, by those very nations in congress and committee. (I question the success of this. Is there really one nation that can with objectivity judge the actions of another?)

Though the ideal of world unity, in the best of circumstances, has a ring of hopefulness to it, I remain a cynic about the actual success of this endeavor under human auspices. I believe it will take a more Divine benevolence to affect the change to peace among the peoples of the world. Peace comes with a price tag of obedience.

Returning to supranational organizations, the UK does already belong to a league of nation states that is larger in number than the EU. This financial safety net is called the Commonwealth of nations and is a vestige of much of the economic power that was wielded by Britain in the heyday of its Empire. That commonwealth has 53 member states, some of which were part of the former empire and some which were not, and it stretches around the globe, particularly in Africa and Asia. It wields, through economic cooperation and shared ideals regarding the rule of law, a considerable amount of power and influence. It counts among its members India, which has developed significant economic momentum in recent decades.

The immediate financial destruction of the UK is therefore not guaranteed, as many Brexit opponents and foreign observers have predicted.

Supranational on the long term?

Do these multi-national leagues or confederations have significant longevity? I have my doubts.

If we step back to look at ancient Rome, we see a supranational organization called…the Roman Empire. It ruled other proto-nations, peoples who gave up their sovereignty mostly by force to obey the Emperor (a religious figure it should be noted) and to some degree benefit from the financial advantages of the trade within the empire. This usually came after thousands of people from whichever ethnic group were slaughtered to prove to them how superior life (or in their case, death) by empire was.

Before Rome came other empires, Greek, Persian, Babylonian, Assyrian. None of them, Rome included, has significant longevity as a supranational conglomeration for very long. Rome strung out the original empire (with fluctuating borders here and there) for about 500 years (a good run), albeit a fairly bloody one. Persia, in various degree and conglomerations for longer than that (kind of). China as an entity went back and forth from a confederation of conquered nations to merely a group of ethnically related, but separate kingdoms just as Egypt did through the centuries. The 13th and 14th centuries A.D./C.E. being the heyday of Chinese empire, and possibly an argument could be made for the present.

Large alliances of peoples have the fluid capacity to shift and lurch in shape and form. They become, unruly. And in the ancient world unruliness was put down by force. A lot of very, violent force. The likes of you and I being the fodder of such force, and odds are, if we shift back to such a militant world climate, we will again be so. Sad to say.

Modern times

What about the United States of America as a confederation? Well, first of all the “states” are as currently defined, really just provincial organizational units of the centralized government, and aren’t peopled by individuals with a long-standing unified ethnic and/or language heritage, as one might describe the European “nation” states. We are a melting pot with a shared history of “coming to America” (even the Native Americans) through the centuries, particularly the 19th century. As a national alliance we are coming up on 240 years of history this year. Not a bad run, historically speaking, but with recent mismanagement (both politically and morally) the future looks, at present, bleak.

Bringing together actual nations which indeed have their own long-standing history, a specific ethnic history, and a unique language is more complex. In part because somebody has to admit that somebody else is in charge. One nation has to take the lead. We idealize the thought that it is possible to have shared power, but the reality of human nature and interaction proves that, throughout history, to be a fallacy. At best we can create balance of power, or mutually assured destruction to withhold us from the brink.

We are usually left with, on the positive side benevolent, enlightened dictatorship or oligarchy (often dressed up as a republic). On the dark side, this descends into the worst atrocities of the 20th century (as was seen in Germany and Russia, and other places).

So, supranational organizations do indeed have term limits. Sometimes they run long and other times they run very short. I think the EU, as it stands, has run short. Europe has never been a particularly non-violent place. Its history is layered with conflict as is not surprising when many peoples with long-standing histories jostle in close quarters.

Nationalism is alive

This brings up another reality. The renaissance of nationalism. The media called it the “Arab Spring” a couple of years ago, but really it is a spirit of nationalism that has moved the peoples of the world to recognize that they are unique and demand respect as individual nations, and can’t be combined into one “world” through the auspices of a socialist paradise. In fact, the dream of the socialist ideal in which individuals and individual nations subsume their identities for the “greater good” as defined by someone important ruling from somewhere else, has turned into a nightmare. Economically certainly and now spiritually.

The “Nationalist Spring” has descended upon us, and is the right wing swing following on the left wing sweep of the past several decades. It is reactive, violent, and purposeful (compared to the limpid alternatives) and won’t be going anywhere for a while.

So where does “Brexit” fit into this?

It is a part of the ethos that is emerging, the recognition of national identity. It is a sign that the EU, as a whole, is a failure. The UK, despite the slams against it as a puny island nation, is actually a significant economic engine and banking state. It funded a significant portion of the EU, but mismanagement (iconized by the March 2016 terrorist attacks that took place right outside the headquarters of the EU and at the Brussels airport – ie. an entity that cannot even protect itself from existential threats), the ineptitude of the handling of the refugee crisis by the other driver of the EU, Germany, through its weakening political leadership under Angela Merkel, and petty, but punishing policies handed out to member states make for an ultimately untenable internal dynamic.

Europe cannot be unified or centralized through economic bureaucracy alone, it must have a spiritual identity around which to develop oneness of mind and ideals. The indelibly anti-Europe force of the moment, the Islamic confederation of co-religionist nations has that unified calling (for better or worse). In the course of time Europe (with a strong central Germanic core) will develop something similar and then, batten down the hatches, we’ll be in for a world-halting rodeo.

Without this eventual unity of calling and religious fervor, Europe can’t fulfill its destiny. The aimless atheism and agnosticism of socialism doesn’t even have the force to coalesce that ardent, atheistic Communism did. Religious fervor goes above and beyond even that, it has the power to change the earth for the better…or worse. It really depends on in whom you place your faith.

A surprise?

We all wondered what the outcome of the Brexit vote would be. Many assumed that things would remain as they are, but a spirit of change is sweeping around the globe and to expect the status quo to remain ad nauseam is naive. We must learn to expect the unexpected.

Does this mean that England is a lost cause? Perhaps, not yet. Taking the long view and waiting to gather additional evidence is a necessary part of analyzing current events in the light of history.

As the old curse goes: “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s fair to say that we do!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Tomorrow’s History: Marriage to the Sea Ceremony – and – DNA Links Europe and the Middle East

So, this week we take a quick look at where history collides with the present, which, strictly speaking happens every day since the present becomes the past at sunset or midnight, depending on how you view the beginning of the next day. However, sometimes these little tidbits get buried under the sand and need fishing up in order to help us examine what is happening in the present.

So, speaking of sand, did you hear the one about the professor who had her students “marry” the ocean?…

Marriage to the Sea: A New Age or an Ancient Thing?

Alas, it isn’t a joke. A group apparently held a ceremony to be married (or at least take a vow) to the sea and then consummate this “marriage” by splashing around in the water. The ceremony was organized by UC Santa Cruz professor Elizabeth Stephens and pornographic actress and educator Annie Sprinkle to encourage a passion for the ecosexual movement (yes, it exists), one presumes, as a way to worship the earth.1

In light of the recent gender-confusion movement (a destabilizing ideology that will have onerous consequences), this news item just sounds like more of the same. It is tempting to yearn for the “old days” when such things didn’t happen and when the “traditional values” were upheld. There are periods of time when more biblically aligned values have prevailed. Presently we are moving away from such an era (having lasted for almost three hundred years, plus or minus) and into a dark age – possibly the final dark age. However, as a rule, human moral and religious history has been nearly a constant mixture of darkness and the light of truth.

To get to the point, marriages to the sea are nothing new.

Let us go back in time, to about the year 1000 A.D. and to the Republic of the city of Venice. It was then that the yearly religious, political, even “magical” ceremony began in which the duke or Doge, the leader of Venice married himself (and the city) to their bride, the Adriatic Sea. The ceremony (Sposalizio del Mare) took place on Ascension Day, a Catholic religious day purporting to celebrate the ascent of Christ to heaven, and was led by the Bishop of the city, as a means of propitiating the sea for a year of fair winds and favorable sailing conditions for the vast armed merchant fleet that made the Venetians the rulers of world trade from the 1200’s to the 1500’s.2

Venice’s marriage to the sea is pretty mild compared to some of the other fertility rites of past history, of which the most recent iteration is merely a regurgitation.

What can we draw from this, besides absurdity? As a wise man once said:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.3

Phoenician Genetic Connection with Portugal

Part of the fascination with history are the movements of peoples through time. We are seeing right now, with the hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria, for various reasons, into Europe, and soon to be the U.S., that it is entirely possible for huge groups of peoples, even entire ethnic groups, to move from point A to point B thousands of miles across the globe.

Indeed, this has been the case long into the past of human history. At various points throughout time, with pressures from wars, famines, and persecutions, extremely large numbers of people have shifted around the globe from the Middle East to far abroad, even into Europe, the Americas and beyond (as we see repeated with the current Syrian refugee crisis). So it is interesting when current genetic research about the past shows that, indeed, these vast movements of people were a real deal.

Research from the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that DNA samples from a Phoenician man buried in the North African city of Carthage, is strongly connected to the European DNA identifiable with the Portugeuse. Interestingly, the Phoenicians were an ancient people originating out of the area of modern-day Lebanon, though DNA tests find that ancient Phoenician DNA is no longer present en-mass in present-day residents of the ancient cities and surroundings of Sidon and Tyre.

The conclusion? The Phoenicians were a well known merchant and trade empire that established cities around the Mediterranean, and possibly the Atlantic coasts, and beyond, during the time of King Solomon’s united Kingdom of Israel in the 900’s B.C. If we look at Biblical history we can see that King Solomon formed a trade agreement with King Hiram of Tyre (a Phoenician king to the north of modern-day Israel).5 The two kingdoms, sailed in partnership around the globe (a feasible postulation).6 Where did they go? What did they do there? Did they establish colonies? Did they merely trade with existing populations? All fascinating questions.

This new DNA research is a fascinating confirmation of what archeology and ancient documents have already established. We live in a great age for archeology, new discoveries, and growing, improved understanding of the ancient past!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver


1 Katherine Timpf, “Prof Took Students on an ‘EcoSexual Sextravaganza’ Trip to Marry and Have Sex with the Ocean,” The National Review at NationalReview.com, May 26, 2016.

2 Colin Thubron, The Seafarers: The Venetians, Time-Life Books, 1980, page 8.

3 Ecclesiastes 1:9, The Bible, KJV.

4 “DNA from Ancient Phoenician Stuns Scientists,” Digging History at FoxNews.com, May 27, 2016.

5 1 Kings 5:12, The Bible, NKJV: “So the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him; and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty together.”
6 1 Kings 5:22, The Bible, NKJV: “For the king [Solomon] had merchant ships at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys.”

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Austria Moves Right-wing – Unphotogenic: The ‘Not-Kate’ Effect)

Austria’s Far-right Party Loses Election, But Wins As A Movement

While Americans continue to be entranced by the ongoing boxing match between U.S. Presidential candidates, another election has just thrown a spotlight on political conditions across the Atlantic. Austria, which for many people is associated more with Edelweiss and Von Trapps than political innovation, has just given the rest of the world a rare opportunity to see a political future in advance.

Ironically, Austria has, in many ways, been right at the heart-beat of European politics, from the Holy Roman Empire on to the time of the First World War, and most definitely during the Second World War and the short-lived Nazi supremacy, it has often shared the fate of its neighbor, Germany.

In this case, jubilation has broken out across most of the European Union after Alexander Van der Bellen, a leftist and academic took the election for the Austrian Presidency. Interestingly, he won by a miniscule (only 31,000 votes) majority following the counting of absentee votes, a unique and curious circumstance that is likely only to feed the fires of the political opposition that barely lost (Bernd Riegert, “Opinion: Black Eye for Austria as Van der Bellen Wins Presidency,” Deutsche Welle at DW.com, May 23, 2016).

The opposition candidate, Norbert Hofer, is a right-wing politician who supports a nationalist, EU-skeptic state and opposes whole-sale entry of refugees from the Middle East. And while he may not be seated in government, the real news is that a right-wing party has gained enough momentum in Europe to take and nearly win a presidential election. And where Austria goes, Germany may follow, a well acknowledged relationship governs these two language-sharing states. The centrist Social Democrats of Austria lost the election in a big way (the same party with which German leader Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat [which is a political party, not just a statement of faith], has a ruling coalition), indicating Austria may have just become a harbinger of the political winds that are about to change in Germany.

The refugee crisis has served on the one hand, to highlight the precarious nature of the European Union and it’s fragile infrastructure of allied nations. On the other hand, it has shown that when large numbers of people (in the millions) begin to shift around the globe there will be wars. This has happened from the very ancient past onward. If a million people move from one place to another, and there is not enough room where they are going, they will bump others to the side and be perceived as a threat. That threat has been perceived in Europe, and the beginnings of a militant reaction are evident, even in this latest Austrian election.

It is well to remember the purported Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s safe to say that interesting times have arrived!

The Awkward Ones: Being Unphotogenic In The Age Of Digital Cameras

And now, let’s go lighthearted for a change.

I recently read an amusing article by British journalist Sarah Vine. She commented on the unfortunate fashion choices of the Princesses of York, Beatrice and Eugenie, that clashed with the willowy grace of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) at a recent garden party held at Buckingham Palace. Kate, in a beautiful cream suit flowed gracefully in the direction of adoring party-goers, whilst trailing behind were the York sisters, who with less statuesque height chose frocks that were somewhat unusual in shape (read: ill-fitting), and bold in print and color. In the framed image, they follow behind the Duchess looking as though they are glaring daggers at the back of her head. Sigh, such is life for the imperfectly photogenic.

In reality, in the image, the sisters were undoubtedly looking elsewhere (and do in fact possess their own brand of beauty), but in the “click-click” nature of digital photography that one frame caught what looked like both a fashion and a deportment faux-pas. The author of the article goes on to discuss the challenges of those who don’t look good on camera, or who always look slightly goofy, while others always seem to be perfectly composed. I can relate to the former! (Sarah Vine, “I Know Exactly How Beatrice and Eugenie Feel When They’re Photographed Next To Kate: I’ve Been There Too, Says Sarah Vine,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, May 25, 2016.)

But it brings up an interesting historical question (one the author also posits): What must it have been like before cameras were around? Back when the best you could hope for to perpetuate your physical appearance was a painting or sculpture? It’s a thought, isn’t it.

Imagine a time when animation of features, expression, and voice were valued over the angles of cheekbones and thinness of limbs. Imagine that strength of arm, determination of mind, aptitude of intellect, ability to cultivate and grow plants and animals, keep a clean, healthy, productive home, cook nutritious, delicious meals, and raise healthy, balanced children was the stuff of which virtue was made, and didn’t take a back-seat to some rarefied, hormone-driven vision of what feminine “beauty” is. Difficult isn’t it?

Let Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame help us, when the subject of his contemplations are demanded of him by the hovering Miss Bingley, he replies, “…My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

Fine eyes, no less! When was the last time I heard that?!

Difficult as it may be, I think we need to spend time in that past world, imagining it more often. I have nothing against the photogenic, beauty adds to our world, but we need to find a better balance! Beauty of virtue is a thing, too (for more info, please read the book of Proverbs, chapter 31 in the Bible). If we let it, history can remind us that there is more to this life than just surface value.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

May the Sword be with You

(Image: Morguefile.com)

I just watched a fantastic documentary entitled Reclaiming the Blade. Narrated by John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark fame, it is an excellent journey into the history of western martial arts.

The film covers the choreography of sword fights on stage and screen, sport fencing and sporting events among the Society for Creative Anachronism, comparisons with eastern martial arts, and finally the resurgence, study and practice of western, particularly Renaissance, martial arts based on written materials from that era.

It isn’t a how-to on sword basics, but if you watch closely you will pick up on a great deal of the varied techniques. On the whole it gives the interested viewer a very cool documentary that also happens to explain the history of a weapon that is infrequently used outside of action-filled adventure movies or Shakespearean plays.

Sitting on a powder keg

Swords were high technology in their day, but the western tradition of sword fighting and dueling shriveled into the tameness of modern day sport fencing with the introduction of gunpowder and gun culture. If you have ever been to a gun show at your local fairgrounds you will see the domination of explosive powder based weapons compared to blades. Sure there are always a few stands that feature knives of various kinds, but knife and sword shows tend to be subordinated to the world of rifle and revolver.

One point made very well in the film was that what you generally see in action-adventure films with any amount of swashbuckling is a strange mixture of fencing and kung fu or something similar. Not true to the western tradition in which many of these films are set. However, movies like Gladiator, Troy, Rob Roy, and a few others have been produced with a bent to historically accurate fighting sequences.

Unexpected swords

On a biblical note, if you have ever read the “armor of God” section of the last part of the book of Ephesians and wondered what a soldier did with all those weapons, this documentary will help fill in your understanding of what it took to successfully wield a sword. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (NKJV),” will take on a whole new meaning: the seriousness with which a scholar of the Bible needs to approach and handle the words of that historic book.

As interviewee John Howe, a well-known illustrator, says in the film, “Now, we’ve reached a point [in time] where we’re looking all around trying to find meaning to what’s happening… [so look to history because] …There’s nothing like history. History is all of us over thousands of years.”

Take the opportunity to watch Reclaiming the Blade, a genuinely interesting documentary film that just might become your gateway to history.

– Amanda Stiver

The Great Museum Debate

Narrowing the itinerary, I had decided on four museums. The Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum, the Imperial War Museum, The Churchill War Rooms, and lastly, the grand poobah – The British Museum.

Sadly, on that trip to the UK I had no time for the first three-fourths of the list, but I made it to the British Museum. The edifice is impressive – a wide yard with steps that lead up to a long portico of sturdy, grey columns.

Fetch your hiking boots…

When I think museum, I think a small, well organized place with five or six rooms you can see in a fairly short time. This is not the right impression for the British M. The £2 map you can buy to keep you on track is a maze of room upon room of antiquities.

With only a few hours to see a tiny sampling of what it has to offer, I strolled through the main exhibit hall of Egyptian artifacts (the Rosetta Stone among them) into the Parthenon sculptures and back down the Assyrian hall. I looked in vain for a Scythian exhibit, only to find out it was closed for repair, so I took a short turn in the temporary display of 18th century exploration. I entirely missed the ancient British artifacts, Asian, and African exhibits, among all the rest.

It’s hard to take in the scale of so many ‘things’ housed in the museum complex, but it helps to imagine a very classy warehouse where you can see into most of the boxes. To learn more about the museum, the web address is http://www.britishmuseum.org.

I recommend going because it’s the abode of bits and fascinating pieces of ancient civilizations, but also because the building itself is an historic landmark. Frankly, most of London is an historic landmark.

Museums draw you to the past. Coming face to face with an ancient Egyptian carving brings reality to your sense of history – something that looking at a picture in a book cannot do. You may be surprised at how your assumptions are burst by seeing how much smaller or larger a famous artifact is from the way you imagined it would be.

Who owns what?

On a related note, there is a continuous debate about the ethics of major European museums keeping ownership of items discovered in other countries (mostly former colonies or protectorates). British, German, and French museums, among others, house some of the seminal pieces representing Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Many nations want their items returned, and fairly enough, as they exemplify the cultural history of those places. On the other hand, with the instability, politically and religiously of many nations of origin, some argue that human history is best protected by keeping the items where they have been for the past century or more.

Arguing in favor of this sentiment was the 2001 destruction in Afghanistan of two giant statues of Buddha by Islamic extremists. Likewise the ensuing chaos and devastation of Iraq at war has resulted in the pilfering and destruction of many Assyrian and Babylonian artifacts from Iraqi museums.

Consensus eludes the world on this issue at present, but compromises have been suggested. Returning the originals to their homes, but not before precise copies can be made to remain in place at western museums. Not unlike the copy of the Lascaux caves in France that was made to protect the original from too many respirating tourists.