Mni Wiconi- Water is Life: In Memory of Caine

A year ago today our community was devastated by the death of our beloved Caine. The team here at Affinity struggled with how to honor Caine on this day and we finally decided to carry forward her message to love and honor the planet. Caine stood with the tribe at Standing Rock in their struggle against the DAPL and today we’re passing on a few stories about the continuing struggle of Indigenous communities to protect the land and water. We are in no way qualified to speak about Indigenous culture or history, but we do so today with great respect.

First, a few reminders of the meaning of Mni Wiconi – Water is Life.

Mni Wiconi – The Stand at Standing Rock

Mni Wiconi – Water is Life

Hear the message of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Honor tribal sovereignty and the Earth we inhabit by telling President Obama to deny the easement by calling 202-456-1111. We need every person to call Obama this week before Dec. 5th. Please share. For more information visit standwithstandingrock.net#NoDAPL#StandwithStandingRock#standingrock#bankexit

Posted by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Also:

In an article on Indian Country Today, Woonspe—Education Gives Meaning to Mni Wiconi—Water Is Life they tell of the origin story behind the meaning of Mni Wiconi.

An origin story of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, which make up the Lakota, Nakoda, and Dakota people, tells us that the blood of First Creation, Inyan, covers Unci Maka, our grandmother earth, and this blood, which is blue is mni, water, and mahpiya, the sky. Mni Wiconi, water is life.

The entire article is worth reading and the above link will take you right there.

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Many Standing Rocks: Three Years and Still Fighting, by Tracy L. Barnett – The Esperanza Project)

LaDonna Allard, center, and Cheryl Angel at a march led by the women of Sacred Stone to the backwater bridge one week after a brutal attack there by law enforcement. (Photo from social media) – The Esperanza Project

 

So water is in danger, globally. Right now Indigenous communities are still at risk, and they are standing up, because they have to stand up.  When you finally realize — WATER IS LIFE — you understand why you can’t sit back down.

People keep saying “after” Standing Rock – but I’m still of the same state of mind, I still have the same passion for the water,  it has to be protected. It was when I was at Sicangu Wicoti Iyuksa that I learned about the aquifers that were in danger and when I was at Standing Rock I learned about the rivers that were in danger.

We encourage you to read the article. Cheryl Angel passes on wisdom from a lifetime spent in activism for the planet. Her reflections on the movement at Standing Rock are insightful, as is her take on the ongoing struggle to protect water and land resources.

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Next, we’re providing links to 2 reports on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website.

SRST – No DAPL Remand Report Final, from February 5, 2019.

This first story is a damning and infuriating report on the deficient Corps of Engineers Analysis of the environmental impacts of the DAPL. The courts finally sided with the Standing Rock Tribe, but then decided that since the pipeline is already built they will let the oil flow.

Impacts of an Oil Spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from February 21, 2018, so that you can see just how much is at stake.
Both stories connect you to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website and we encourage you to have a look around. The About Us section contains lots of information about the history of the tribe and the reservation, as does the section about environmental issues.
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Next, we’re going to point you toward the Indigenous Environmental Network.
IEN is an alliance of Indigenous peoples whose mission it is to protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws. Adopted in 1994 by the IEN National Council, Denver, Colorado
The IEN website has a broad focus and they carry a variety of interesting stories about the ongoing fight to protect the land and water. It isn’t all just talk, though. The IEN runs several important environmental campaigns including the Keep It In The Ground Campaign run by Dallas Goldtooth. Dallas was born into an activist family and stood as a water protector at Standing Rock. He’s an accomplished activist, teacher, writer, poet and comedian who uses story and humor to tackle difficult subjects.
Here he is with his comedy troupe, The 1491’s, at Vasser College in 2018. His message is full of hope.

And finally, we leave you with a clip found on Twitter 2 days ago by rq. It’s a true message of hope from The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the it’s the perfect way to end this post.

 

The Art of Book Design: Are We a Stupid People, by One of Them

Charles Joseph Weld-Blundell. Are We a Stupid People, by One of Them. London; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1908.

A book of commentary about the social and moral conditions in Britain at the turn of the last century.

 

Cover photo via: Nemfrog

The book is available to read at The Internet Archive

YouTube Video: What Can House Elves Teach Us About Slavery? (Harry Potter Theory)

In the past, I have expressed the opinion that just about the only really decent person in the whole Potterverse is Hermione Granger and I stand by that statement. Every single wizard was way too keen on having slaves.

I found this guy’s pronunciation a bit difficult to understand, but I got over it and the video was informative. I did not know that the argument “slaves are happy” was actually really used in the UK by anti-abolitionists since education about the minutiae of slavery is not really part of the curriculum in our schools.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 31 – Freedom of Speech

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


If you have read enough of my writings and comments, you know that I am no free speech absolutists. I do think that there should be legal limits to what, where and how is discussed because unregulated free speech is actually not free at all – it allows toxic ideas to spread at the detriment of sensible ones. The old paradox about tolerating intolerance does definitively apply.

However I do on occasion wonder how much of this attitude is due to my growing up in an environment where freedom of speech was de-facto nonexistent. Oh, people were allowed to say anything they want about whatever they want – as long as it did not contradict the official party opinion on the matter. Criticizing USSR or the Communist Party was not allowed and the punishments for transgressions were not trivial either.

During my life, the regime has mellowed a lot already, so people did not just disappear overnight for saying something wrong, but they still could get into trouble if they said something critical of the regime and it got to the wrong ears. And it could be enough if one of your kids babbled in the school about how one of their relatives was criticizing the communist party.

I have found myself in this situation as a kid. One of my uncles was a fervent follower of the party in the 60s, then he got shortly out into West Germany in the 70s and after seeing the standard of living there in comparison to our “socialist paradise”, he made a U-turn in opinion. The only reasons he and his wife got back were their two sons, who were still small and whom they did not have with them – and whom they might not get back if they emigrated illegally.

Ever since that he did not have a kind word for the Communist Party and he vented often in front of the TV during the evening news. I was present a few times for that and it caused me great discomfort to hear what he said. It was in direct contradiction with the “truth” that was told in school, with the “truth” printed in Pravda, and with the “truth” on TV. He was critical of all those amazing and all-knowing party officials! At the time I had no way of discerning on whose side the actual truth lies, but luckily I did not go to our teacher for answers, but first to my parents. Who have told me that I should try not to think about this and to never tell anyone what my uncle was saying because he could go to jail.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, this was summed up in a saying “One of the most difficult things in parenting was to convince your kids to tell the truth at home, and not to tell it in public”.

Finding the right balance between unregulated speech and an iron grip on what people are allowed to say is not an easy task and I do not have the answer where the exact line lies. I have seen both extremes in action in real life and on the internet and both extremes do not work in the long run. Too much regulation and you end up with an isolated bubble, an echo chamber (and I do not mean state regulation only). But too lax or absent regulations lead to toxic environments overrun with those who shout the loudest and who have no squabbles to spout lies faster than they can be reasonably debunked. So I can only say the balance is worth seeking.

Mystery Fossil Identified

Mystery fossil, ©voyager, all rights reserved

Mystery fossil, root end, ©voyager, all rights reserved

Remember this? When I posted it I thought it might be a dinosaur tooth, but several commentators (Petern, Avalus, kestrel, Jazzlet) suggested it might be coral of some sort. It was Oggie, though, who took the time to look it up and told me it was

 think it is a rugose coral. Middle Ordovician to late Permian. Yet another victim of the PT extinction event – comment section Is this a Dinosaur Tooth?

Well, Oggie was absolutely right. I sent the photos off to The Royal Ontario Museum and they concur. Although they can’t say with certainty without seeing the piece in person, they suggest that it is horn coral, of the order rugosa from the Ordovician period. Mystery solved!

Thanks to everyone for your help and suggestions.

 

Slavic Saturday

Last time when talking about history, I mentioned the overlong prelude to World War 2 as it has played out in Central Europe. Lets now look a bit closer at what has happened afterward. And, again, this is a de-facto merging of Slavic Saturday and Behind the Iron Curtain series.

Today lets look at one of the most prominent Czech artists to date, although outside of the Czech Republic he is probably not that well known – if he is known at all – Vlasta Burian. (You might remember that I have already written about an artist with the same surname, but to my best knowledge that is pure coincidence, they are not closely related.)

Vlasta Burian was one of the most prominent comedians in Czechoslovakia between the wars. Born in a cobbler’s family, he started out in lower-middle class at the time and he indulged in classic sport activities of that class at that time – like tennis and football (soccer). He was a very devout and good athlete, he could be professional – but in his free time, he also did stand-up comedy for the amusement of his friends, to initial dismay of his parents. And this has gradually become his main occupation and through making stand-up comedy routines in pubs he became a professional comedian and actor who starred in movies and who even owned and run his own theater before and during WW2. And he lived in a villa.

But fame is fickle friend. Despite being known patriot for his whole life, he managed to live through most of World War 2 without being overtly persecuted. I say most – Nazis have tried to rope him into making propaganda for them, but after one public routine in radio (which he intentionally botched) he took to feigning illness whenever he was approached by them again. So in 1944 Nazis got finally fed up with him snubbing their attempts to make him their stooge. He was arrested and his theater was closed.

Reasonable expectation after this would be that after the war ended in the spring of 1945, he would be fully vindicated of any wrongdoing. But that was not the case. He has managed to become moderately wealthy, and that was a big no-no after the war when the Communist Party took the reins through a coup. That he has managed it truly through his own works (and was giving to charitable causes throughout) was irrelevant to the new regime. That he was just deftly snubbing Nazis the whole World War 2 was also not enough – he was not resisting enough (in his position, probably anything short of charging at a tank with bare breast and bare hands would be considered “not enough”, after all, Czech pilots who fought against Nazis in RAF were persecuted for fighting against Nazis on the “wrong” front).

So charges were made-up, a kangaroo court was called (multiple courts, actually) and in the end, he barely escaped with his life. All his possessions were confiscated for the good of the people (how convenient) and he was barred from acting – he was only allowed to do menial works. The short imprisonment and subsequent ban from acting and public appearances have seriously undermined his health, both physical and mental.

Like many artists, he suffered from depression. Sports and comedy were probably part of his self-medication. When denied the things he loved, he aged in mere five years noticeably more than he should. When the acting ban was finally lifted after five years, it was too late. He was no longer the springy, energy exuding person he used to be and his acting has suffered. It was still good enough to make a living, but nowhere near as good as it used to be. His health deteriorated quickly and in 1962 he died of pneumonia. His wife followed him in mere nine weeks, grief took her.

His popularity was such that after his death, a movie about him bearing his nickname “Král Komiků” i. e. “The King of the Comedians” was made. And in the following decades his movies were still screened at local cinemas and they are still occasionally aired on Czech TV to this day. Many can also be found on the internet. Unfortunately, unless you understand Czech you won’t be able to enjoy them. Dubbing is out of the question, a lot of Burian’s comedy was in his voice, so you would need really a top-notch dubber. Subtitles would not help too much either, because another significant part was wordplays.

In 1994, five years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he was posthumously vindicated in court. Historians extensively examined the historical sources and they found a total lack of any evidence of his collaboration with Nazis whatsoever, in any form. Despite this, for Vlasta Burian the long string of injustices and indignities was still not over. In the year 2002 his grave was adorned with his bronze bust, but it was stolen shortly afterward and probably sold as scrap metal.

Today his grave is adorned with a statue of his hands, which were after his face his most prominent feature. May he finally rest in peace.

Free image from Wikimedia Commons

 

YouTube Video: What is white supremacy? – A Response to Steven Crowder

Shaun’s videos are always excellently done, and this one is no exception.

I am a bit torn after seeing this video. I did not know much about Steven Crowder, apart from that he is a climate change denier and a typical American conservative in many other aspects. After this, I am even less interested in him.

However, one young and exceptionally talented knifemaker on YouTube is following Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro. He is only 19 years old, so there is still a chance that he grows out of that shit because legalities notwithstanding, at that age a person is not yet fully developed and I myself was definitively a twerp at that time. But also that age is definitively high enough to know that racism is a bad thing and the excuse “he’s just a kid” does not hold water anymore.

Two years ago I stopped watching one interesting blacksmithing channel after I learned that the blacksmith is Trump voter. I just could not stand the idea of supporting a person who does something as vile as voting for an open and unapologetic racist and misogynist and wannabe fascist. I am not at that stage with this young knifemaker yet, but…

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Part 2: Other Shiny Things

Coins is nice, but the Museum has a few other exhibits – it’s not a large museum or particularly stunning in its collection, but I liked the feel of it. I do have some commentary about the art depicting life in the Stone Ages, though. About half the population seemed to be missing in most paintings, and you can probably guess which half.

But the exhibit design was, as with the coins, quite interesting:

© rq, all rights reserved.

I did not take photos of everything, as it was mostly different kinds of pottery and metalwork, but allow me to present a few of my favourites:

Looking altogether too happy, if you ask me! © rq, all rights reserved.

An absolutely stunning piece of glasswork. © rq, all rights reserved.

The design of these cloakpins seemed oddly familiar. © rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

And this! Was a piece of musical notation from a few hundred years ago. Religious music, if I recall correctly, and I find it fascinating. And I’m curious as to how it should be interpreted. © rq, all rights reserved.

You can read more about the museum itself here.

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Part 1: Little Shiny Things

Also known as a coin collection. I don’t have much to comment here, except that they really know how to set the mood for learning about history:

© rq, all rights reserved.

While there was quite a bit to learn, the focus was on coins. So here we go: be as amazed as I was at the variety of designs, the visible cultural influences, the intricacy and the detail, the mastery and the metalwork.

[Read more…]

Slavic Saturday

After Slavs established themselves in Bohemia and Moravia, they prospered. Eventually their rulers became Dukes, Kings and some later on even Roman emperors. Czechs were important players on the European political landscape of that time, having significant military power and strategic position at the center of the continent, where they could trade with many neighbours with ease whilst also being shielded from attacks by mountains, especially in the west.

I have already mentioned those mountains in comments before. Their history is fascinating and it is an example of how far-reaching and unpredictable the outcome of a reasonable political decision with initially good results can be.

Czechs have primarily settled along riverbeds and in lowlands, they did not feel at all comfortable settling in forests and mountains. This was a serious drawback to ambitious rulers of Přemyslid dynasty, who recognized the importance of settling in said mountains and get their natural resources – the wood on the surface and metal ores underneath – to use. They wanted to expand their influence, and for that they needed money – but for whatever reasons, Czechs were either unwilling or unable or both to oblige and get to work felling trees and mine ores on big scale. Or maybe there was not enough of them to do that.

Thus Přemysl II. Otakar and his successor Václav II. have invited German settlers to help (do not ask me about the details and legalities, I do not know them). And the plan succeeded – German settlers have successfully managed to settle on the unoccupied land. They subdued the inhospitable mountains and tapped into the riches underneath them. The economy thrived for the centuries to follow and one of the reminders of this success is the word “dollar” which is derived from the name of silver coinage mined in Jáchymov in 1520 by these German settlers in Bohemia.

Initially there was relatively little friction between the Germans and Czechs under the rule of Czech kings. The Germans and Czechs had no real conflicts of interests and both nationalities happily intermingled at the borders. But this has begun to change at the time of Hussite Revolution. Whilst Czechs got overwhelmingly critical of Catholic church, Germans remained overwhelmingly loyal. This has increased the friction and it never got better after that – if anything, the Thirty Years War has made matters worse. Forced catolicisation and germanization have followed and it is probably in these times when the sentiment of Germans being Czech’s sworn enemies has started.

It is no wonder that when Czechs got the upper hand after WWI, after several hundreds of years of being persecuted by Germans, they responded by cutting down some of the privileges the Germans used to have. To which the Germans did not respond kindly, because like in all privileged classes every individual thinks that they themselves are not privileged, they deserve it all. So of course this has bred even more resentment and when you throw Great Depression into the mix, which has indeed hit ethnic Germans harder than Czechs, you get Nazis. Hitler has played heavily the “Germans are persecuted in Czechoslovakia” card in order to gain access to Czech factories to make weapons and to use Czechs as cheap slave labor – and eventually he succeeded. His main lackey in achieving this goal was Konrád Henlein, who despite being of mixed ancestry himself has become as rabid Nazi supremacist as they go.

WWII sealed the hate between Czechs and Germans for good. Ethnic Germans in Bohemia overwhelmingly embraced Nazism and as a result, after the WWII they were expelled from the land. An argument can be made – and is being made – that this was unjust, but whilst the expulsion has led to many personal injustices and very nasty results and atrocities, in some cases even mass murders, I fear that without the expulsion there would be even more atrocities – mass murders and pogroms – because right after the war the resentment was too deep and the memory of Nazi atrocities too fresh. To illustrate the sentiment at the time, I want to relate this story from another person with mixed ancestry like me, whose German grandfather allegedly commented after the war: “Czechs are behaving like beasts!” to which his Czech wife allegedly responded “And? They learned that from you!”.

As a result, today Germans are again just a tiny minority in Bohemia. And Czechs still largely dislike and distrust Germans.

To me this long chain of events shows how a decision in 13 century has shaped politics in 20. century. Would Přemysl II. Otakar invite the Germans had he known what will come of it? Hard to say. But it makes me wonder what the repercussions of today’s political games will be a few hundred years from now.

YouTube Video: Did people have bad teeth in medieval times?

Through the magic of recommendations, I have discovered another interesting youtube channel about medievalism. I have watched this one video so far though, because reasons. But I intend to watch more when the opportunity arises.

I have often wondered how dental hygiene was done in medieval times. It is not a topic that is routinely taught at schools, not even good ones.

Slavic Saturday

Lets talk about easter and easter eggs and associated traditions.

Most readers of this blog grew up with germanic traditions regarding this holiday. Which are completely different from what I grew up with, so when I first heard about easter bunny, I had to look up what it is. Not that easter bunnies from chocolate were unknown to us, but they did not have any special meaning and for long I assumed that they are bunny-shaped just for the cutesies. About the only thing that is common between germanic and slavic easter traditions are the painted eggs, but they are used differently.

The symbols of easter here are willow twigs, coloured eggs and a lamb. Willow twigs decorated with ribbons and painted eggshells are used for decorations and lamb is usually baked from dough, or recetnly made from chocolate etc. The willow twigs and coloured eggs are carryover from pagan times, symbolizing rebirth of the year, although christians staunchly deny this and insist on easter being purely christian holiday etc. etc. It is not. It was appropriated by christians by blending christian and pagan traditions together, just as Christmas, as a way to make converting pagans easier. There is nothing in the bible about coloured eggs and willow twigs.

The lamb however is probably later addition and it does symbolize christ and other stupidities from the bible in all their goryness. Only the cutting of its throat and smearing of the blood over door hinges or tresholds before baking it was replaced by making it from dough. Much less gory and cheaper to do, especially in big populations that diverged from raising sheep to cattle centuries ago.

So far, so good. Nothing particularly egregious about these traditions. But there is more to it, and as much as I loathe christian superstitions and traditions for their immense stupidity, one of the carry-overs from pagan times I hate even more.

Those willow twigs and coloured eggs do not serve only as a decoration. On Monday, hardboiled eggs are given by women and girls as gifts to men and boys who are supposed to go from house to house  (so-called koleda) and sing traditional songs and recite poems in exchange for the eggs. And they beat the women.

Yup. You read that correctly. In CZ and SL the men go from house to house with clubs (called pomlázka) woven from usually 8 to 9 long slender and supple willow twigs, decorated with ribbons, and they are supposed to beat the women with them, depending on region either shoulders, legs, ankles or simply their derrière. Some take it symbolically only, some take it literally and bruises can be raised, although it is expected to stop short of actually causing an injury. The beating of women with young willow twigs should magically transfer the youthfulness and freshness from the twigs to the women, or some such incredibly stupid shit. Thus the name of the club – po (prefix that can mean “to make”) mlázka (derived from “mladý” = young). Today nobody believes the magic, it is just “fun” and “tradition”. In this case, “tradition” really just means “an incredibly stupid thing that has been done for a very long time”.

In some regions today women are not completely defenseless – they can douse the men with cold water in return. But this is later appropriation in these regions, because originally it is the men who douse the women, in some regions instead of, in some regions in addition to, the beating, and there are regions where it is practiced as such still.

As a child I loved easter for the painted eggs. I loved the creative work involved with it and it was something to look forward to. But I loathed pomlázka from early on, de facto from as far back as I can remember. I did not like going about begging and beating people. I did not see how it is supposed to be good to spend a few joyful days with my sister and my mother painting eggs, and on monday beat them with a club whilst reciting some verses that have lost their meaning. Well, strictly speaking as a boy I was supposed to skip the painting and do only the begging and beating. Fuck that. Beating anyone with anything is just wrong, even symbolically, and creativity does not have gender.

I see no reason in preserving the tradition, it has no cultural value anymore and it produces nothing of value. Well, the women produce the beautifuly painted eggs, but the men are not expected to do anything worthwhile whatsoever. And in some regions even the eggs are already being skipped and exchanged for shots of booze, so the men instead of coming home with a basket of painted eggs come home drunk as a skunk. I would love for this tradition to die already. I will miss the eggs, but I think they are not worth preserving if the ritual beating is to remain too.

It won’t happen any time soon. What I find the saddest thing about this is that in loathing this despicable tradition I am the exception, not the rule. In fact, AFAIK I do not know a single other person sharing my view.


Edit: Due to my illness I have slightly lost track of time and I thougth it is saturday already. I have decided to leave it as it is.