Lessons #395-397: Bering, Tel Aviv, and the Tufted Puffin

Right, so…school has clearly taken over my life. It’s somehow been nearly seven weeks since my last post.

Three quick lessons today (because I don’t have time to expand on them):

1. The Bering Sea/Strait/whatever else out there is called Bering are named for late 17th/early 18th century Danish explorer Vitus Bering. I have no idea how I didn’t know Bering was a person. His explorations were part of Peter the Great’s golden age of Russian Imperialism.

2. Tel Aviv apparently has the biggest pride week celebrations in all of continental Asia.

3. There is such a thing as a tufted puffin, and it is awesome!


Lesson #394: Wagner’s Most Used Works

If you were wondering, and I’m sure you were, of 961 listed credits, by far the two most used pieces of Wagner’s work in television and film are the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin (Here Comes the Bride, you philistines), and the Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre. Neither of these are particularly surprising. They are distantly followed by the prelude to Tristan und Isolde — which is a stunning piece of music — and the overture from Tannhäuserwhich is lovely, but doesn’t do much for me. And then eventually you get a smattering of the overture from Lohengrin and Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung, which is, as previously noted, one of my favourite pieces of music ever ever. And then lagging behind you get your Flying Dutchman and your Mastersinger of Nuremburg and your Rienzi Overture (which I quite like even though it often strikes me as somewhat disjointed, especially for someone like Wagner) and more individualized pieces from the Ring Cycle and his other operas.

If you’d like to see the full list, you can find it here.

Lesson #393: Structural Violence

This is (sort of) a cheat. This is a very pared down version of something I have to turn in for class tomorrow. The original version was five pages, which for the purposes of this assignment was way, way too long, but will serve as the backbone for an upcoming paper. This one’s two, which is much more reasonable for what it is — a glossary page for my classmates. On the plus side, I got to play in my vast library of Northern Ireland titles for a bit.

Funnily, I think this is the first time Northern Ireland has ever appeared on this blog. I say funny because when I started this blog, I was doing my PhD on Northern Irish politics, specifically on the Falls Road Curfew as the instigation for the second phase (mass excitement) of revolution. I have to say, it’s been very nice to be back in a program where I can talk about NI and people (well, okay, person…my program director is well versed on the subject, though he’s more into the policy where I’m more into the grit) know, generally, what I’m talking about. I love my friends, they’re great, but they couldn’t possibly care less about Northern Irish politics and/or revolutionary theory. I’m really looking forward to the day we cover NI in my ethnic and cultural conflicts class because the first paragraph of the text talks about it as a religious conflict, which it isn’t. I’m going to have a field day!

Anyway, this is cited differently from my usual posts because it’s all academic-like.


Structural Violence

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” -Dr. Paul Farmer


Structural violence is a term introduced by Johan Galtung in the 1969 article, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research”.[1]  Generally bereft of physical violence, structural violence is a form of institutionalized, psychological, avoidable, and sometimes unintentional repression that affects a portion of a population, and there is often no one person to blame for it. “There may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung 1969).

As a rule, structural violence is instituted to keep power among those who already have it by systematically depriving those underneath of certain needs, thereby creating a system of haves and have-nots and making it difficult, if not impossible, for those suffering under some form of structural violence to raise themselves into a better socioeconomic position. In the current global landscape, this is most often seen in the form of education, medical care, and food, and in many places, structural violence and physical violence are found together.

Many scholars, including Dr. Paul Farmer, Ronald Hill and Justin Rapp, and Yunus Kaya, believe that structural violence is a natural byproduct of globalization, that the influence of the West in developing countries is keeping the rich powerful and the poor systematically repressed. With consideration for many places in post-colonial Africa where structural violence was the modus operandi for hundreds of years, and where dictatorships are still a considerable factor, there is no shortage of examples of this form of repression.

Structural violence may be seen in various forms across all cultures including, on the larger scale:

  • Racism
  • Classism
  • Sexism
  • Nationalism
  • Ethnocentrism

Structural violence on the smaller scale can take the form of:

  • Lack of access to education
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Lack of access to food and/or shelter
  • Biased hiring/firing practices
  • Gerrymandering of voting districts
  • Parades
  • Movement restrictions such as travel bans and curfews

In an applied case, the resurgence of violent conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s is directly tied to structural violence. When the period known as The Troubles began, the movement was purely an ideological push for civil rights; the IRA had been disorganized since the failed 1956 border campaigns. When the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) formed in February of 1967, its aim was to tackle the gerrymandering of Catholic voting districts, repeal the Special Powers Act of 1922 — which restricted the use of the Irish tricolour, allowed for internment without trial, and issued a ban on nationalist and republican meetings and parades while allowing unionist and loyalist meetings and parades, including the incendiary July 12th parades, which marched (and still march) through Catholic enclaves of Belfast including the Ardoyne in North Belfast and the Short Strand in East Belfast — the introduction of a compulsory points system to ensure fair allocation of public housing, and the disbanding of the Ulster Special Constabulary (B Specials), an exclusively Protestant quasi-military force.[2]

Later, in 1970, the Catholic community suffered both the mass expulsion of 500 workers from the Harland and Wolff shipyards following a shootout in the Short Strand in late June and an early July curfew in the Lower Falls Road area of West Belfast.  Between 3-5 July, the British Army contained 20,000 people in their homes for 36 hours using barbed wire barricades to block off the area, did a full arms search of each house, arrested 300 men, shot three unarmed civilians dead and ran one over with a tank, and allowed the son of former Prime Minister Brookeborough to tour the area while leaving Westminster MP for the Falls, Gerry Fitt, outside the barricades.[3] Adding insult to injury, it was later discovered that the entire operation had been illegal.

The Falls Road Curfew is the specific event that pushed the Provisional IRA, which had split from the Original IRA over ideological differences the previous December, into its active participation in the conflict. No longer willing to tolerate systematic and — in some cases, physical — violence under the Stormont government and the British military forces, nationalists began to vocalize their support for the civil rights movement and several hundred new republicans joined up with the Provisionals. Prior to the curfew, the Provos counted fewer than 100 men; by the beginning of December, they numbered 800.[4]

Further reading

Paul Farmer  – An Anthropology of Structural Violence. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/382250

Tord Hoivik – The Demography of Structural Violence. http://www.jstor.org/stable/423311


[1]Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), p. 167-191. http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690

[2] Bew, P., & Gillespie, G. (1999). Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1999 (p.1) Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

[3] Warner, G. (2006). The Falls Road Curfew Revisited. Irish Studies Review, 14(3), 325-342., Coogan, T. (1997). The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (p. 109). Boulder, Colo.: Roberts Rinehart., McKittrick, D., & McVea, D. (2002). Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland (p. 62). Chicago: New Amsterdam Books.

[4] Bardon, J. (1994). A History of Ulster (p. 678). Belfast: The Blackstaff Press.

Lesson #194 Redux: The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

The summer after I started this blog, I came across a website that looked at the more disturbing second verses of common childhood verses and songs that we all know. Today, I learned the later verses to the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, and wow are they sinister.

The second verse is innocuous enough,

“Every Teddy Bear who’s been good is sure of a treat today. There’s lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play.”

But then it suddenly takes a really dark turn in the third (and final) verse:

“If you go down in the woods today, you’d better not go alone. It’s lovely down in the woods today, but better to stay at home.”


Nothing says childhood trauma like “your teddy bears sometimes come to life, get together in the woods for a picnic, and eat the children who follow them.”

Lesson #392: Cosmic String

Every now and again I learn about something that makes me say something along the lines of, “holy f**k, that’s cool!” out loud. Today, I learned about cosmic string.

A cosmic string is a one-dimensional — they have length, but a height and width smaller than a proton — fault line in the universe that’s made up entirely of energy. Which means it has no mass. Which means that a string even a mile long would be much, much heavier than the earth. Astrophysicists theorize that cosmic strings, of which they believe there are billions, are flaws created during the Big Bang’s cooling period (which was literally nanoseconds after the Big Bang). So basically, cosmic strings are the cracks that form in asphalt after too many freeze-thaw cycles,* but way more awesome.

Serio, you guys, do you have any idea how effing cool that is?!? My head nearly exploded from the excitement of learning that.**

As of yet, there has been no direct evidence of cosmic strings, though researchers at the University of Buffalo found indirect evidence while studying quasars a few years back.

Okay, here’s the super ultra cool part — in case the rest of that was too real science for you: because of the structure of cosmic strings, anything that found itself within one would travel backwards through time because the gravitational pull is such that anything within a cosmic string would benefit from (fall victim to?) time dilation.

Cosmic string is science fiction come to life. On a very, very, very, very small scale. If it exists at all.***

If you’re interested (and you should be), you can read more here, here, here, and here.

*A thing that will make no sense to those of you who didn’t grow up in cold climates.

**True story: when you’re interested in something you’re hearing/reading, your pupils dilate. When I’m really interested in something, my head actually tingles.

***Which it probably does.

I owe you…

20140906_154404…a post or seven. School work has been keeping me fairly busy — there’s naturally a lot of reading — and I was out on Martha’s Vineyard for a four-day weekend/some college friends’ wedding this past weekend. But it turns out that four days on Martha’s Vineyard with a bunch of college friends you haven’t seen in more than a decade is really just an excuse to hang out, swim, drink on the beach*, and eat your weight in seafood. It was easily in the top three most fun weekends I’ve ever had in my life!

Anyway, my friends and I came back on the last ferry off the island, so I got in very, very late last night (okay, it was actually very, very early this morning) and had just enough time today to get done all the reading I didn’t do at the weekend because enjoying my friends and the beach was way more important than making sure I read every sentence for the second class of the semester.

You’ll have a lesson tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the inukshuk I built. I was quite pleased with it. It’s a top 10 inukshuk — though to be fair, it helped that all the rocks were so flat. Flat rocks are so much easier to build with.

*As I’ve already established outdoor beers taste better than indoor beers. And if you’re a water baby like I am, beach beers taste the best of all beers. If I can literally sit in the ocean and drink my beer, I will never want to leave.

Lesson #391: Why We Have Friends

I’ve had a particularly social week, which is in part because the football season has started up again, in part because I started classes, and in part because it’s getting toward the end of summer and my friends and I are acutely aware of the declining number of 2014 outdoor drinking opportunities. I assure you, though, that this is a bit abnormal for me. I am, after all, an introvert. I really enjoy being without other people.

As a result of my insane amount of socialization in the past seven days, including dinner with a college friend who lives across town, but I rarely see because we (mostly) don’t run in the same social circles, I was thinking about the mechanism of friendship. Specifically how that developed. I understand why humans would seek out sexual relationships; that’s pretty self-evident. But friendships are less obvious. We don’t need each other anymore in the sense that we’re not reliant on one another to provide food or shelter or clothing, so I was curious as to how the instinct for developing and sustaining friendships has remained over the course of history.

Off I went to find the answer. And now that I have access to JSTOR again, I was able to find science! Basically, despite our modern physical independence from one another, friendships still have enormous, long-lasting psychological effects; friendships are good for our mental health and we seek them out as a result. They lower our stress levels and help us live longer. They can also help us find a mate. Historically speaking, once the Industrial Revolution hit and families dispersed (I have only a dozen friends who live in the city they grew up in. Of those, every single one of the non-North Americans has lived abroad for a time), friendships became a stand-in for extended families. In a good year, I see my immediate family twice in a 12-month span. But I see my friends weekly. Sometimes, like this week, more often than that. So calling your friends “the family you choose” isn’t really inaccurate. You keep your friends around because, like family, even though there’s no outright physical benefit (in that you don’t get something tangible like a chicken in return for being someone’s friend — although they do sometimes cook you dinner, so there’s that), the emotional benefits are necessary for our own happiness. No man is an island, right?

All of this and way more can be read in the article “The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship” by Seyfarth and Cheney, which was published in the January 2012 issue of the Annual Review of Psychology. If you have access to JSTOR, you can access it here.