Barberry Flowers for Caine

Something very special from Nightjar.

The Barberry shrub I planted last year in Caine’s memory (https://freethoughtblogs.com/affinity/2018/08/22/a-living-remembrance/) is blooming right now and the bees have been visiting it. This Sunday I was finally able to take a few photos and I thought I should share.

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

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Behind the Iron Curtain part 30 – Panslavism

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give 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.


A little cross-over with Slavic Saturday today, because it is not a coincidence that majority of the nations behind the Iron Curtain were Slavic nations. It was a direct consequence of history.

In early middle ages many Slavic nations were fairly influential – both Czechs and Poles were at the center of big kingdoms and even empires. As time went however, this changed and virtually all Slavic nations but one (Russians) were conquered and incorporated into empires and kingdoms ruled by other nationalities – German-speaking nations in the central and northern west Europe, Ottomans in the South and Russians in the east and north-east. The minority Slavic nations were treated poorly, to say the least, and some groups were slowly essentially absorbed by majority into non-existence. That is why there is no Polabian language today. In my country, Habsburgs attempted over these centuries to germanize Czechs in the same way and to eliminate Czech language altogether.

This has obviously failed and one of the reasons was so-called Czech national revival in nineteenth century. This was active political movement in Bohemia, aimed at what it says in the name – revival and preservation of Czech culture and Czech language. To this day some commonly used Czech words still have germanic origin, but some such words were replaced by artificial neologisms that were crafted by activists during this period and were good enough to take hold among the general populace.

In this period in time the so-called Panslavic Movement started, an active attempt to make Slavs stick together around shared identity. After all, “Slav” originates in essence from “he who speaks as I do”. The movement did and did not take off at the same time. It was and remained for long big sentiment in Czech and Slovak speaking lands, but not among Poles. Why is this? Because the movement was quickly dominated by Russia and there were many who advocated for all Slavs attempting to get under Russian leadership. But among the many Slavic nations, Poled had first-hand, centuries long experience with being ruled by Russians and they knew that they are not better off than Czechs under German rule and that voluntary russification is not the way to go.

But some sentiments took hold among the populace and when Communists took hold of power after WWII outside of Russia, the panslavic idea was incorporated into the party ideology. It was one of the reasons why Russian language was compulsively taught in all states behind the Iron Curtain, and the idea of Panslavism was part of school curriculum even towards the end of the regime short before its fall.

Today, when you look under some succesful video on YouTube made by someone of Slavic origin (like the video I shared before) you will find comments that can be interpreted as some expression of lingering panslavic sentiments in there. And as you might guess – correctly – there is some of this sentiment in me too.

But overall I think my yesterday’s post demonstrates clearly that the idea of Panslavism did not take very strong hold overall. The diversity among Slavs today is really, really big. For example on religion alone – there are Slavic nations that are predominantly Catholic, nations that are Orthodox Christian, nations that are Muslims and at least one nation which is decidedly Not Giving a Fuckist. And many of those nations tie their national identity strongly together with their religious identity which makes it hard to feel common bond with those whose religion is significantly different. Language similarities, even as big as between Czechs and Slovaks, are just not enough to build a strong common bond artificially after centuries of cultural divergence.

And thus when the last attempt to tie this identity together with political ideology of authoritarian communism failed, so did Panslavism fade into insignificance. The Iron Curtain was not strong enough to keep people apart. Unfortunately it was thus because it also was not good enough to keep them willingly together.

Slavic Saturday

The Brexit fiasco reminded me of a few events in recent history of Slavic nations, events that happened shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain – the breakups of former federate states from the eastern bloc. I am going to talk a bit about two of them, one of them is very typical and one of them is very atypical.

The first one I want to mention is the breakup of former Yugoslavia. I am no expert on this (I am no expert on anything), but from the outside it has followed up a fairly typical pattern. First multiple nations with historical tensions and grievances against each other were held together in one state where they were all supposedly equal, but in reality some were more equal than others. There was a lot of religious and national diversity, but it was separated not integrated diversity and so the tensions and grievances remained and bubbled under the surface. When the grip of communist regimes over their countries started to falter, nationalism and religious fanaticism started to rise their ugly heads in all of them, which quickly escalated into armed conflicts and full-blown wars, in Yugoslavia with genocide included. It is unlikely the wounds of this recent conflict will heal in foreseeable future as those ancient grievances got exacerbated and embedded in the minds of new generations. Even I know personally people who got displaced from their home country by this conflict, despite having had the luxury of not even being close to a military conflict my whole life.

The second breakup I want to mention is one that I have lived through – the breakup of former Czechoslovakia into two separate states, Czechia and Slovakia. This one was very atypical. It started differently – after the WWI when nation states were being formed, Czechs and Slovaks have voluntarily decided to form together one state, Czechoslovakia. An attempt was made to officialy blend them into one “Czechoslovak” nation, but this never took really hold – it was clear the two nations have their own distinct languages and cultures, and they retained them.

It was not all roses. Slovakia was significantly less developed both culturally (lower literacy) and economically than Czechia from the onset, and thus it was more rural and poorer. Unfortunately it remained poorer throughout the whole time the two nations shared one state (which was several generations with short disruption during WWII), because Czechs were a majority and power was concentrated in Prague. This has led to development of understandable resentment and nationalist tendencies among Slovaks, who wanted to take the reigns of their land into their own hands. And so they did. But not through revolution, or armed conflict, but through purely peaceful political means. Elected leaders of the two countries got together, discussed things, agreed on a separation, some money was exchanged, some treaties were signed, not too enthusiastically hard customs border was added and that was it. Most inconvenienced were people who lived along the border, who sometimes had to traverse the border on a commute to-from work, but nobody got actually hurt.

From what I know from history this is pretty rare, and my personal opinion about reasons for why this happened thus are:
1) One important factor here is the voluntary nature of the union in the first place.
2) Lack of historical conflict between the two nations. There was no past history of conflicts between the two nations anyone could remember, none whatsoever. Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Habsburgs, Czechs main grievance was against Germans (to which I will return in future musings) and Slovaks against Hungarians.
3) There was no religious fanaticism or even strong dividing religious identity involved. Technically both nations were predominantly catholic, but Czechs attitude towards religion could best be described as “meh” for almost a hundred years by that time, and Slovaks, whilst being more religious than Czechs, were no wannabe-crusaders either.
4) The party that initiated the dissolution – Slovaks – did not hold the economic majority. So Czechs had no economical incentive to hold onto the Slovak state. Quite the opposite, it was felt that it would be Slovaks who lose, so if the want to go, they should be left to do so..

I am not sure what conclusions can be drawn from this, or if any can be drawn at all, but I think both cases are worth remembering.

The Art of Book Design: Alice In Wonderland

I couldn’t make up my mind about the Alice in Wonderland books. I like several of the early edition covers and they’re all striking in very different ways. I just couldn’t choose one over the other so today I’m showcasing three cover designs for this classic book.

Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland – Through the Looking Glass. London, A. Wessels, Co.1900. –-source Blanche McManus

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were first published in 1899 as separate books. The cover pictured above is from the first edition of the combined stories. The attention to detail in the stitched cloth cover is amazing. I want to hold this one in my hand and let my fingers wander all over that gorgeous design.

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. USA, Harper, 1901 –– source Peter Newell

This cover from 1901 might be my favourite. I love the small gilded Alice boldly pointing into a vast expanse of open space, ready to write her own adventure.

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. Cassells, 1907. –source Charles Robinson

This Alice is full of whimsy and charm. She walks on a cobbled path that might be made of bubbles and she’s surrounded by stars and swirls and leaves made of lace.  The overall design has an airy, magical quality to it. I also like the gold stitching on indigo cloth. It reminds me of fireworks against a night sky.

 

If you’re interested there are a few other early cover designs to see at the link below.

From: Google Groups, The Illustrated Lewis Carroll

Jack’s Walk

Hello, my pretties. ©voyager, all rights reserved

Today is one of those ‘April Showers’ kind of days, but Jack and I got our timing right for a change and managed to stay dry for our whole trip around the duck pond.  It’s still blustery, but yesterday’s -4º has given way to today’s +13º and the change is quite pleasant. It’s also pleasant to look around and see signs of spring everywhere. Daffodils and tulips have sprouted, the swans are outdoors at the park again and the trees get slightly fuzzier everyday. Even the lawns are starting to green up. A bit of sunshine would help, but with or without it Spring will keep inching forward. I’d like to poke it with a broom to make it hurry up.

You’re a sight for sore eyes. ©voyager, all rights reserved

YouTube Video: Waking Up to Sam Harris Not Making Sense

Steve Shives puts out excellent commentary, I wish I had the time and strength to watch all of his output. This takedown of Sam Harris is particularly well done. But it is rather long, so I recommend having it in the background to some work, like doing dishes.

I was never a fan of Sam Harris as such. I thought originally he made some good points, even about Islam, and I thought that the metaphor about us striving to reach higher grounds on an imaginary “moral landscape” was very good from didactic standpoint.

Then I learned more about Islam, and I modified my beliefs accordingly. Sam Harris AFAIK did not. I still think that the moral landscape is a good metaphor for moral progress, but that is all.

Luckily Sam Harris, unlike Dawkins outed himself as an asshole before I spent a lot of money on his books.

Content warning: transphobia from 26:25-29:22 (there is also content warning in the video itself, but it is only textual so if you are only listening, you might miss it).

We’ve Been Spring Cleaning

Seasons change and so do blogs. Here at Affinity we’re making a few changes to how things look. The first change you’ll see will be the top section of the left sidebar. We’ve collected all Caine’s cancer related writings and artwork into a new page that will stay permanently attached right where it’s always been only we’ve made it better. We’ve added all  Caine’s cancer related writings that happened between Cancer Chronicles so it’s now a comprehensive list organized by date. We’ve also added Caine’s death notice and the eulogy by her husband and best friend, Rick. Beneath that you will find Caine’s cancer related artwork and then tributes made by members of Caine’s international community. The page ends with a reading recommendation from Caine herself. Comments will be left open on the page and they’ll be  monitored regularly. The page is called Fuck Cancer: Caine’s Journey and it will be posted directly after this one. I hope I’ve managed to capture everything, but if you find any errors or omissions please let me know at affiniysubmissions@gmail.com. The address is always in the left sidebar under the colourful percolating head.

The next change you’ll notice is the addition of the blogging team. Just click on the person’s name and it will take you directly to their introductory profile post. Underneath that you’ll find the addition of our Twitter account following the TNET.

Some of you may have already noticed one of the biggest changes; no more ads. Finally. The ads have been removed from all Freethought Blogs making this a great time to check out the other bloggers on the Freethought Channel, where a lot of talented writing happens. The full roster of blogs is on the left sidebar. A bit farther down you’ll find a list with the most recent postings on the channel.

One last thing. Affinity isn’t just a blog, it’s a community and we welcome you and your submissions with glee. I am happiest when I get to see what’s up in your world so please send us whatever you’ve got to share: trees, flowers, birds, rocks, fish, animals, hobbies, food… anything, really.  We’re a curious bunch and if it interests you, chances are it will interest us. Just use the address on the left sidebar.

 

Mystical Worlds

No, this will not be another black hole post, although if you haven’t seen it yet, quickly:

First ever direct image of a black hole! The supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 — 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun! The image is better than I expected!

As tweeted by Katie Mack (@AstroKatie).

Instead, I found some art! Some spooky art that speaks to me, because despite the darkness, they don’t leave me feeling sad – there’s a loneliness that I enjoy because it has strength and conviction. Anyway, may I introduce you to Dawid Planeta – Artist Illustrates His Battle With Depression as a Mystical World of Spirit Animals, via My Modern Met:

A small figure appears throughout the poignant series, perhaps representing Planeta himself. He’s seen wandering through the fog-filled labyrinth, bravely facing the ominous jungle animals who feature glowing eyes that illuminate the darkness. They seem to be guiding him through the deep jungle, “to find his inner strength, find the light and come back with it.” And, Planeta explains, “When he knows who he is, he goes there again, this time without fear. He goes there because it’s a part of who he is. It’s a part of human nature you can’t ignore. You need to know all parts of life, dark and bright.”

Despite the difficulty of dealing with depression, Planeta managed to channel his feelings into creativity. “Depression—it’s not easy to deal with, but when you try, you can stop thinking about it as a weakness and turn it into something brilliant,” he says. “That’s what I aim to accomplish with my art. Things I’m trying to depict are dark, mysterious and frightening, but if you look closely, you will find excitement, passion and joy. Just open your mind and see.”

One example before the cut, for more keep reading:

by Dawid Planeta

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YouTube Video: Turning 2 hex nuts into a Diamond ring

Pablo Cimadevila Álvarez is paraplegic from childhood, after a car run him over at 4 years age. But his mother told him that if he cannot run, he still can swim – so he did. And he went on to  compete in several Paralympics and won several medals.

But besides sports he also designs and makes jewelry and had a smallish youtube channel where he shows his skill, which is really great.

This video of his went viral and his subscriber count exploded at the beginning of this year and very deservedly. Enjoy it – if you haven’t already. And if you had, it is re-watcheable (speaking from experience).