Lesson #371: Blue-eyed People Are All Related

It turns out that if you look far enough back in time, you find that every single person with blue eyes who has ever lived in the history of ever is related to every single other person with blue eyes, however distantly, because of a single common ancestor from as far back as 10,000 years ago. Science is kind of awesome. So Tom Hiddleston and Michael Ealy (who are freaking beautiful*) are related to Franck Ribery and Alice Cooper (who are not) if you look far enough into it. Logistically, this means that half of Hollywood actors are related one to another.

Anyway, you can read all about it here.

*My deep love of Tom Hiddleston is well-documented. He’s pretty much the awesomest at life.

Lesson #370: Hitler’s Record Collection

I absolutely love this kind of history. In part because I find the way things change hands over time fascinating. Like how a painting by one of the masters gets written off as a forgery and then spends 200 years in someone’s personal collection before being stuffed in an attic. Or how Hitler’s classical record collection wound up in Moscow. But I also find it interesting because I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a person by what books they have, what’s on their iPods, what TV shows/movies they watch religiously, and what football club they cheer for.*

The story itself isn’t particularly exciting. After Hitler’s bunker was captured, a bunch of Russian Intelligence officers took it upon themselves to liberate some of Hitler’s possessions. For strategic sheep purposes or whatever.** Anyway, 60 years later, upon the officer’s death, his daughter came across the records in the attic (naturally).

What I find most interesting in this is the inclusion of the Russian greats like Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky (who wrote my favourite piece of music ever), Borodin, and Rachmaninov (who is responsible for a surprising piece of pop culture), as well as some recordings of other peoples’ work by prominent Jewish artists like Huberman and Schnabel. In case you’ve all forgotten everything you learned in school, Nazism considered both the Jews and the Russians subhuman.

So it turns out that if you’re a brutal dictator spearheading a campaign to rid Europe of all the groups of people you don’t like, you don’t actually have to take your own orders. You can listen to Russians, Jews, and Russian Jews to your heart’s content. Because who is going to complain and to whom?

You can read more here, herehere, and here.

*I like things that are very, very dark. Which you probably should have picked up on by now if you’ve been reading for a while. But also, come to my house, take a look at my library, skim my iPod, and/or have me list off my favourite TV shows for you; you won’t be at all surprised by most of what you see and hear. Except for where Clueless is concerned. It’s the Zdeno Chara of my collection — the outlier that’s going to skew all the rest of the data.

**I love the internet. I literally just googled “strategic sheep” and it came back with exactly what I was looking for. Technology!

Lesson #369: The Sin of Deafness

I was reading an article the other day about the challenges of being a sign language interpreter. It was interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the problem of dialect that is inherent in sign language, but the article happened to mention that deafness used to be considered a sin, which…okay?

St. Augustine wrote about how a child’s deafness was a sign of God’s anger with sins of the parents and taught that those who are deaf are unable to be saved because they can’t hear the Word of God. Weirdly, this makes perfect sense to me.

And, lest you think that this is another nail in the proverbial Christian coffin as regards my own relationship with the Church, the Talmud prevented deaf people from owning property at all. Or being witnesses in court. So there’s that.

For more, see here, here, and here.

Lesson #368: The Roman Short Sword…is Spanish.

I learned today, in my reading of random things, that the official name of the Roman short sword you’ve seen in every movie about the Roman army ever is the gladius Hispaniensis. I’m a native French speaker; I have a pretty good grasp of Latin etymology.* And I know — and so should you if you paid attention to any colonial Caribbean history in school — the root of the word Hispaniensis. 

So, as I am wont to do, I went digging.

It seems that while it was developed on the Iberian peninsula, the strength (iron) and efficacy of the sword made it so popular that it was already in use by a large swath of the Rome’s armies by 200 BCE. Because of it’s durability and ability to be used both to stab, and in the right hands, to lop heads off — or limbs, whatever — the gladius Hispaniensis‘ design remain unchanged for the duration of the two hundred years it was in fashion as a Roman weapon.

More on the gladius Hispaniensis here, here, and here.

*Greek, not so much.

Lesson #367: The Lebensborn

As you may or may not have learned in school,* the Germans did some pretty unconscionable things during the Second World War.** Among their more horrible attempts at perfecting a race of tall, blond, blue-eyed*** people was the Lebensborn program.

The Lebensborn program an office within the Schutzstaffe (the SS) and was born of the concept of racial purity and incorporated a two-prong attack, as it were, in perpetuating that purity. It was put in place in 1936 with, according to Heinrich Himmler, the express purpose of:

1. Support[ing] racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children;

2. Plac[ing] and car[ing] for racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor’s families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children;

3. Car[ing] for the children; and

4. Car[ing] for the children’s mothers.****

However — and this is a big however — it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and taking care of women and children. Though Lebensborn was implemented as a form of social welfare, especially for unmarried women, two of the main modus operandi for the program were a. removal of Polish children (anywhere from 10,000 t0 200,000…all records were destroyed, so there’s no way to come up with an accurate count though the most likely number is somewhere around 20,000) from their parents — though some were orphans — and b. the impregnation of often unwilling, but genetically desirable, women, especially outside of Germany. The Norwegians fared especially poorly in that regard. Though literally all of the German records of the program in Norway were destroyed, the Norwegians, it turns out, kept very good records; according to Eva Simonsen’s article “Into the Open — or Hidden Away?: The Construction of War Children as a Social Category in Post-war Norway and Germany“, while about 8,000 children were counted among the Lebensborn in Germany, there were roughly 12,000 in Norway.

The first clinic opened in Munich in 1936; the first clinic outside of Germany opened in Norway in 1941. It should also probably be noted that the clinics were often housed in homes that had been confiscated from the Jews. All told, there were eventually facilities — though some were merely field offices — in nine countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.

For more, see here, herehere, and here.

*Seriously, I read an article yesterday about a poll done by the Anti-Defamation League that found that nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t know the Holocaust is a thing that happened. To some extent, that makes sense. But half?

**It should go without saying that this doesn’t mean other parties didn’t also do unconscionable things. The Russians, for example, threw under-armed soldiers at the Germans during the Siege of Leningrad and when some of them said, essentially, “f**k this noise!” and opted for desertion, the Russian commanders ordered their troops — who, let’s remember were already dealing with a shortage of ammunition and, if they had a rifle at all, were equipped with a Moson Nagant, which isn’t the easiest weapon in the world to operate when you’re at the shooting range, nevermind being shot at — to shoot any Russian soldiers abandoning their posts in the back. It’s just the the Germans are the best-known offenders.

***Fun story: I have a friend whose ancestry I had just assumed was Scandinavian, because like the overwhelming majority of my Scandinavian (actually Scandinavian, not Scandinavian-descended) friends, he’s very tall, very blond, and very blue-eyed. But it turns out, his family are mostly Austrian. When I expressed my surprise at this last week (my exact words included, “you’re like the poster child for the Volkish Movement” — for more on that, read George L. Mosse’s superlative work, The Crisis of German Ideology), he said, “I know. I’m Hitler’s wet dream.”

****That can be read on page 465 of the 5th volume from the Nuremberg Trials, which can be found here in its entirety.

Lesson #366: The Long, Long Musical History of the Dies Irae

Last night, I came across this wonderful little video from the CBC. It’s a brief examination of the Dies Irae throughout the history of music. It’s delightful…and made me realize how little attention I pay to movie scores. The only one of the titles mentioned where I noticed it was The Lord of the Rings, which has a phenomenal score.*

*In fairness, I say this because I’m a fan of anything that so blatantly uses the leitmotif.

Lesson #365: A Couple of Space Notes

A couple of space-related things for you today.

1. NASA and the ESA have released an image of Saturn’s rings captured by Cassini’s Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph. It shows a 10,000km span of the C and B rings (the two closest to Saturn itself) in colour that indicates the purity of the ice that makes up the rings, and it is very cool. The closer to blue, the purer the water.

2. The ISS has a live stream of what the astronauts are doing (when they’re awake) and of Earth (when they’re not). It’s really neat.

Space is awesome, you guys!