Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy May Day

Today is May Day. Through much of history, this has been a mostly benevolent holiday celebrating pagan traditions or those who labor. However, in the 20th century, May Day became a Communist spectacle where the military might of communist nations was paraded through the streets.

I grew up with TV images of Soviet armies parading through the streets of Moscow. I would see tanks, missiles, and armed men marching proudly and menacingly every year on May 1st. In the days when there were only three evening news programs every night (at 6:30), the marching communist military might was always shown every year.

I have to wonder how true believers in Communism feel now. Is May Day a let down? As the reds were so closely identified with May Day, do current events make them feel depressed when the day roles around every year? No matter how many men march in Moscow today, is it the same?

Communism has proven to be a failure. Only a few states continue to be ruled by Communist parties. China is communist in name but is clearly a quickly evolving capitalistic state. Cuba is just the death of a few people named Castro away from probably losing communism. North Korea is an anachronism (good communists in an age when communism is basically dead) and one of the poorest states in the world.

Yeah, the world is still in danger. There are states around the world which can cause mass destruction. There are countless nuclear weapons unaccounted for from the Soviet Union which may show up anywhere. The apocalypse may still happen in my lifetime.

However, I feel good today. The Cold War is over. The communists lost. My TV is not showing Soviet armies parading down the street. Happy May Day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: The Zombie Survival Guide

I just finished reading The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks. It was published in 2003. I realize this book is a stretch for this history blog. However, I have a good rationale for reviewing it. The book makes a wild stab at alternate history! And it is very enjoyable to boot. Many history oriented people would like reading this work.

Here is a description of the book from Amazon:

"The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain."

"Top 10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack: 1. Organize before they rise! 2. They feel no fear, why should you? 3. Use your head: cut off theirs. 4. Blades don’t need reloading. 5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair. 6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it. 7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike. 8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert! 9. No place is safe, only safer. 10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on."

"Don’t be carefree and foolish with your most precious asset—life. This book is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now without your even knowing it. The Zombie Survival Guide offers complete protection through trusted, proven tips for safeguarding yourself and your loved ones against the living dead. It is a book that can save your life."

This parody is immensely entertaining. It has become rather popular and already has a Wikipedia entry which would normally be unusual for a book such as this. I learned about the book from one of my undergraduate students. I got an inter library loan of the book from another library and have now ordered a personal copy for myself.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the history section. Brooks wrote in a section titled Recorded Attacks, "This is not a list of all zombie attacks throughout history. This simply chronicles all attacks for which the information has been recorded, survived, and been released to the author of this book. Accounts for societies with an oral history have been more difficult to acquire" (p. 182).

In the alternate history laid out by Brooks, zombies have had a big impact on human history. Starting with his account of archaeological evidence from 60,000 B.C. up until 2002 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it relates zombie influence on historical events. In all, Brooks presented 80 pages of alternate history in this book. It is very amusing. Zombie outbreaks can explain many things including why ancient Egyptians took the brains out of mummies (so they could not become zombies!), the end of the Norse Greenland colony, and the gruesome fate of the Roanoke colonists and their Croatan allies.

You will be hearing more about this book in the coming years. Brooks wrote in 2006 a book titled World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The book chronicles a theoretical zombie apocalypse using oral history interviews with survivors. I have yet to read it but have ordered it from Amazon as well. A movie version of the book will be released in 2010.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alexander the Great's Shield Found?

Has the shield (and crown) of Alexander the Great been found? Some archaeologists believe they have. Alexander the Great is regarded by many as the greatest general who ever lived. He died young at 32 and probably his biggest mistake was overextending his empire and failing to leave it to a single capable ruler.

An article titled Light cast on ancient Greek tomb has the details. It notes, "Archeologists say an ancient Greek tomb thought to belong to Alexander the Great's father is actually that of Alexander's half brother. Recent studies show that the artifacts found in the tomb are a generation more recent than previously thought, said Eugene N. Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University. Archeologists say the iron helmet, ceremonial shield and silver crown belonged to Alexander the Great himself but were then claimed by his half brother after his death."

Borza said, "We have several surviving coins issued in his own lifetime showing Alexander holding what appears to be a scepter of about that height."

If true, this is indeed exciting. I realize it is not possible to handle these items but I sure would love to touch something that Alexander owned and used.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The New York Times Learning Network

Following a link from the Yahoo! Directory, I came upon a great teaching resource. It is the The New York Times Learning Network. It includes free news and education resource for teachers of grades 3-12, their students, and parents. It also includes current events, lesson plans, vocabulary and geography builders, daily news quiz, On this Day in History, and forums.

Obviously, the site exists to promote the New York Times. As this is a good resource, I do not care about that too much. Good teachers can help teach around any commercial or partisan bias which may be evident in featured articles.

From the site:

Students can read the day's top stories using Knowledge Tools, take a news quiz about today's world, and play special crossword puzzles. Students can also submit a letter to the editor, ask a reporter a question, or submit a science question and search through the Science Q&A archive. They can also expand their vocabularies and practice their verbal test-taking skills, and even take a Web Exploration on a variety of topics.

Teachers can access a daily lesson plan for grades 6-12, written in partnership with The Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Each lesson plan and the article it references can be printed out for classroom use. Previous lessons are available in the archive and in thematic lesson plan units. Teachers can also use News Snapshot, aimed for grades 3-5, to explore current events through New York Times photos and related questions. The site additionally provides teachers with the latest education news from the newspaper.

Parents can enhance their child's understanding of current events using Conversation Starters, join an online discussion, explore the family movie guide or participate with their children in the activities in the student section.