A Brief History of University Center at Point Park University

I know, I know. My attempts at multimedia for this blog have been absolutely terrible… But these projects for school, (unfortunately) must come first. In this week’s attempt at multimedia bliss, I made a short 2 minute documentary of the Campus Library at my University, Point Park. This library has an interesting history. It started as one of the largest banks in Pittsburgh, then it became a mall. After this project failed it was bought up by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Point Park University, who both ran it jointly until 2004 when the CLP moved their downtown location elsewhere. Since then it has remained firmly in the hands of PPU. While the finished product is not as bad as I thought it would have, I had to spend 2 1/2 hours on iMovie to complete it. In all my days I have never experienced a worse software. Seriously, whoever says Apple is “user friendly” can go suck an egg.

Prague Writers’ Festival

Courtesy: Pointpark.edu

Courtesy: Pointpark.edu

I’m happy to say that tomorrow I shall be attending one of the seminars at the Prague Writers’ Festival at Point Park University. This festival will play host to a number of historians, writers, poets, and other authors who will come together and discuss such subjects as the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic at the end of the First World War, discussions on the freedom of writing, as well as a reading from famed author E.L Doctorow’s book Andrew’s Brain by the author himself! I will be attending the discussion about the creation of Czechoslovakia through the Pittsburgh Agreement which was signed here in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I will be live tweeting this event and I hope you will follow Interesting Book’s twitter (https://twitter.com/Intersting_Book) for live updates from the event! The event is from 3-430 PM United States Eastern Time. I will also later be writing a proper blog post about it. I hope you will be able to join us!The link for the festival:http://www.pointpark.edu/News.aspx?id=1027

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Ian Kenny is a senior psychology major, tutor, and bookstore lurker. He listens to a shitload of music, reads ravenously, and is teaching himself several languages and musical instruments when he can tear himself away from Khan Academy. He recently founded a religion with the sole intent of messing with the future.

Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” recounts the life, exploits, and impact of the homeless, illiterate, reactionary, rabble-rouser, known to history as Jesus of Nazareth, and how he was gradually transformed over a period of several hundred years into the ethereal, divine, pacifistic religious figure known to billions of Christians today as Jesus Christ. While very little definite information exists about Jesus of Nazareth, “Zealot” summarizes an exhaustive quantity of historical analysis, documentation, and biblical research in an effort to clarify and describe the man Jesus actually was to the best of our modern ability (because, surprise, surprise, he is almost nothing like Jesus Christ).

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which establishes the historical and political context in which Jesus lived. But fear not, loathers of history, there is more than enough rioting, protesting, civilian slaughter, bloodshed, beheadings, crucifixions, mass suicides, roving assassin gangs, wandering prophets (dozens), political drama, warring armies, insurrections, widespread destruction, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious zealotry to make you think you’re reading Game of Thrones. Rome occupies the Jewish homeland and uses the center of the Jewish cult’s faith (the Temple of Jerusalem) to maintain hegemony over the Jewish masses, many of whom are royally resentful of Rome for daring to occupy the land their God said they could have (the same land that their God also told them to keep free of non-Jewish foreigner scum). In a cycle that repeats many times over, prophets decry the heathen hegemony emanating from the Temple of Jerusalem, then declare the Temple, the priests, and the rule of Rome invalid, then try to inspire an organized Jewish revolt before they are killed by Rome. Jesus was one of several illiterate, homeless, acetic peasant leaders (the book mentions another 5 or 6 by name who are known to history) claiming to be the one prophesized to liberate the Jews from Roman rule and set up the Kingdom of God on Earth who were killed without fulfilling a single one of these prophesies.

It isn’t until the second part of the book that we abandon the macro-historical analysis of the time period and focus in on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the impact he made in this period of time in the world. Details are sketchy, but Jesus of Nazareth was very much interested in resorting to organized revolt and employing violence to free the Jews from Roman rule. The book casts doubt upon the historical accuracy of many of the more famous tales associated with Jesus Christ the religious figure, including the born-of-a-perpetual-virgin claim (Jesus had several brothers, one of whom, James, is a fairly well known Jewish historical figure, who was instrumental in preserving Jesus’s teachings after the death of his brother), or his discussion with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate before his execution. The book clarifies the context of many of his more famous sayings, for example, his “love thy neighbor as yourself” line was intended to tell Jews how to treat other Jews, not how to treat everybody. The books suggests that Jesus did actually ride into Jerusalem and trash the Temple in a badass fit of rage, and was executed (though he likely had no touching conversation with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, a cold and cruel man who hated Jews with a passion and had executed many thousands of Jews for protest or sedition, and would have had no reason to personally see Jesus for anything beyond signing his execution paperwork). The book frequently emphasizes that none of the famous biblical accounts of Jesus were written during Jesus’s lifetime, nor were any of them written by people who knew Jesus when he was alive.

This brings us to the third part of the book, which describes how Jesus of Nazareth, unlike the many dozens of other failed Messiahs, came to be remembered for thousands of years after his death and spawn one of the most popular religious movements in the world. The reasons mostly boil down to his followers being scattered and dispersed throughout Rome after Rome finally lost its patience and leveled Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth, having been a reactionary protester, was not nearly as popular after the failed Jewish revolt, and was thus recast as Jesus Christ the pacifist, an otherworldly vessel of God incarnate who was above caring about worldly affairs. The third part of “Zealot” describes how little by little, over the course of decades after Jesus’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was re-invented as Jesus Christ, and all traces of Jesus of Nazareth’s roots in the Jewish independence movement were obscured and forgotten. It was in this period when the Jesus Christ we know of today was formed, and huge religious trends associated with mainstream Christianity were set in motion that still effect our lives today on a massive scale. One of the most disturbing revelations for me was the fact that Jesus’s famous talk with Pontius Pilate, in which he explicitly blames the Jews for killing him, was added to the gospels during this time to take the blame of his death off of Rome (for these books were being written by Christians trying to convert Romans). Images of the Holocaust and of Mel Gibson’s drunken ramblings flew through my head at this point, and I marveled with loathing at how such inconsequential editing choices made today can contribute to massive waves of racism, ignorance, hatred and death thousands of years in the future.

Zealot” is relatively short (216 pages, followed by 60 pages of copious notes) and would be a great read for anyone interested in getting an introduction to the obscure, surprising history behind one of the world’s most beloved religious figures. To anyone who heavily relies on the Bible being an infallible historically accurate account of the life of Jesus, this book will likely piss you off beyond measure. To accomplished religious scholars, this book will likely come off as a brief summary that could have gone into much more detail and analysis, but there is plenty of information on historical accounts, historical and religious documents, and translation discussions in the vast notes section of the book. This book humanized Jesus in a way the gospels never could (which is understandable, considering the point of the gospels is to convince you that Jesus is God and perfection incarnate). To any who feel that I’ve included too much plot summary in the book, I assure you I have barely scratched the surface; there is far more information, drama, and intrigue beyond what I have told. In addition to recommending this book, I also recommend you check out the absurd and unintentionally hilarious Fox News “interview” with Reza Aslan on the topic of this book.

A Timeline of American Classics

American-Literature-CLEP

http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/694565

As a part of a project for school I was required to make a timeline. I figured that it would be a good idea to make this timeline about the dates in which several of American Literature’s most famous novels were published. One thing I noticed in this project was that I never realized exactly how new some of these books still are, especially when compared with famous stories like that of Shakespeare or the Classical Epics, like the Aeneid. I mean. Huck Finn was barely written over a hundred years ago, and The Good Earth was only written in the midst of the Depression. It’s very interesting to see how far American Literature has evolved in so short a time as in 150 years.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

One of my favorite places to visit and vacation in is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the most defining moments in American History. This is for a myriad of reasons. First off it’s a beautiful city and surrounding area, with amazing buildings, a rolling countryside, and the monuments are amazing to behold. Another reason is, of course, the rich history of the town. There are few places in the US where, in only three days, so much history, raw fury, and passion have come together.

As any American high school student can tell you, the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3 1863) was the major turning point of the American Civil War. Up until that battle the Union was facing major defeats against the upstart Confederacy. The battle marked the farthest northern point that the Confederacy ever go into the US. A Union loss there would have left the population hub of Harrisburg and the great population center of Philadelphia open to Confederate occupation and some historians believe that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have meant an inevitable Confederate victory for the entire war. Thankfully this was not the case.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is an amazing account of the battle told from the viewpoints of some of the key fighters in the battle. I enjoyed this much better than having the battle told from the viewpoints of a fictional soldier or two as it helps to humanize the historical giants such as Robert E. Lee or Joshua Chamberlain who stand like immovable marble statues in the text books of schools across the American Republic. I find that it is often hard to identify with historical figures as we often put both the heroes and villains of history on high pedestals, where they feel more like inhuman demigods rather than the human beings with both morals and defects like the rest of us that they truly were.

Much of the events in the story are also accompanied by maps of the battlefield along with the positions of the two feuding armies. This was also an enjoyable aspect of the book for me for two reasons. The first is that when studying battles in any context, I find it hard to picture where everything is. With the accompanying maps it was easier to picture where all the characters were and their movements throughout the story. The second reason I enjoyed the maps so much is due to the fact that because I’ve been to the actual site of the battle several times the places and the actions that took place there were more perfectly formed in my mind. At several points in my reading I shivered with excitement due to the fact that I’ve been in the exact spot Robert E. Lee once stood or have walked along the roads where great armies once made their march to destiny.

I feel that one of the shining moments in this story is the feelings and emotions that many of the characters felt as the fought or planned to fight. While we will never know the true thoughts and feelings of the proud warriors who fought at that battle, what Shaara did in this story in regards to thoughts and feelings is nothing short of amazing. It is almost as if he brought the mentality of the 19th century into our time through books form. The gentile mentality of honor and sacrifice for ones beliefs are no strangers to us today, but how the people of the 19th century took such feelings and beliefs seriously is in sharp contrast to how we see them today. Back then honor was everything to a man, while today only a small minority still even attempts to follow a code. The fact that Shaara was able to pull this off while still writing in the modern style and language we use today was also quite impressive.

If you are a fan or military fiction or American History and its accompanying drama is the is definitely the book for you.

The Early History of Moveable Print

Civilization is the printed word. This is because printed literature, both fiction and non-fiction, not only spread knowledge more easily and readily to the masses, but it also makes political and societal governance more easily to achieve as well. Imagine if your local government was attempting to send you a notice through verbal message or if you had to file your taxes all through hand-written documents. What if the messanger got the message wrong, or the writer of your tax documents made a mistake or left something out? The level of literacy in your nation would probably be much lower than it is today as well. Organized society as we know it would not be possible. The fact that civilization has progressed to the point it has today, with me typing this essay on a computer, is largely thanks to the organized printing of words centuries ago. The following is a history of moveable print from its beginnings in Asia to the beginning of Moveable Type in Europe.

The first instance of printing in any form appeared centuries ago in Asia. This was block printing. This is where a wood block with a letter, image, or pattern carved in its face is covered in ink and pressed on to cloth or paper (an example of a woodblock used for making patterns can be seen above). The first instance of this form of printing first appeared in Korea during the Silla Kingdom.

Movable type, which is the process of using movable metal components, each with a letter or grammar mark to create an entire document was first used in China around the year 1040. It’s inventor, believed to be Bi Sheng, used porcelain components rather than metal. Unfortunately, China never took complete advantage of this process. This is most likely due the exceptionally large Chinese Alphabet. This process was also developed in Europe around 1439. It’s inventor is believed to be the famous Johannes Gutenberg, creator of the famous Gutenberg Bible (of which one can bee seen above), however claims that he was not the first have arisen over the years, in some cases with evidence supporting the claims. This process was fully utilized by the Europeans and helped to begin the Renaissance.

From the invention and adequate use of movable print in Europe printing literally took off and became widely used across the continent. When colonies were established in the New World across the sea printing presses followed the thousands of colonists on their journeys. The importance of printing cannot be understated. The use of movable print was absolutely necessary to the success of the American Revolution as pamphlets in support of the revolution were able to be printed en mass to garner support from the revolutionaries. Without the printing press the common citizen would have never heard the words of Thomas Paine and other famous revolutionaries.

The world we know today would be impossible without moveable print. Without it we would not be able to spread different ideas as easily and our collective worldview would have a much smaller horizon than we do today. Indeed, the world we would know would be more akin to what was had in the Middle Ages with only a select few being able to read. Our world would have barely advanced and we would still be fighting wars on the backs of horses, and the height of architecture would be fortress castles that we would cower behind in our ignorance. Indeed we have a better world with moveable print.

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford


Spoilers

Relations between the West and Russia has always been on the cold side. This is despite the fall of the Soviet Empire over 20 years ago. Because of this we in the West (and I’m sure those in Russia as well) have a very stereotypical view of our former opponents. This is due to propaganda released by both sides as well as the indoctrination schools used to convince their students that the opposite side was the personification of physical evil in this world. Because of this it was and continues to be very hard for us in the West to understand what life was like in the Soviet Union and what life is like in Russia today. Red Plenty by Francis Spufford gives a brilliant view of what life was like in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev Era. He does this through a series short stories that show views of life from the point of views of various Soviet citizens, from upper politicians to regular factory workers. The stories range from funny to downright depressing. All the stories attempt to explain what exactly led to the Soviet System to collapse a few decades later in the late 80’s. The reasons presented not only include the oppression that the Soviets were never able to completely rid their system of, but also due to the lack of imagination of the Soviet Leadership. One story tells how Soviet Leader Alexei Kosygin makes a crucial decision that leads to the collapse of the Soviet Computer industry. This is due to the fact that he opts to buy Western computers rather than allow the Soviet industry to develop. This allows their own industry to fall behind.

A common theme in the book is disillusioned optimism. The Soviet Experiment was meant to be the final step towards a perfect utopia. This optimism is similar to the post-war optimism that the US experienced. The US optimism, however was tempered by the numerous problems that occurred during the 60’s and 70’s such as the counter culture and the Civil Rights Movement. These problems never occurred in the Soviet Union and optimism was propagated by the state. Reasons for the disillusionment are demonstrated as to be the lack of social mobility, the lack of consumer goods, as well as the harsh oppression committed by the government. One point in the story that is particularly harsh is the dramatization of the Novocherkassk Massacre of 1962, in which government and KGB forces massacred protesters asking for better working and living conditions.

This book is a must for anyone trying to better understand the Soviet State and the culture it propagated. It is also a good read for those who are trying to understand the Post-Soviet Russia. It is written clearly and is well researched. I also found it a highly entertaining read.