Magical Severed Arm

April 20, 2007

From Stephen Mitchell, ‘Conversion to Christianity and the Politics of Religious Identity’, in A History of the Later Roman Empire AD 284-641.

[The Melitians argued that Athanasius] was responsible for the murder of a respected confessor, Arsenius, whose severed arm was then used for magical purposes. The murder charge was dropped after Arsenius was discovered by Athanasius’ men alive and well…

…so where did the Melitians get the magical severed arm from? Did it actually belong to Arsenius? When Arsenius was found alive and well, was he missing an arm? If the arm did not belong to Arsenius, who did it belong to, and was the armless man dead or alive? If dead, did the Melitians mistakenly believe him to be Arsenius, or did they hack it from a living man and then claim it to belong to a dead Arsenius, even though they knew Arsenius wasn’t dead. And what was Arsenius’ reaction upon being told that the Melitians were waving around his supposed magical severed arm? And was the arm magical before it was severed? So many questions.


South Australia

April 14, 2007

From the excellent Encyclopedia of South Australian Culture. Some spot-on entries here. Check this one for ‘interstate rivalry’…

There is an intense rivalry between people who live in South Australia and people who live in Victoria. Victorians just aren’t aware of it.

I can’t tell you how true that is. South Australians have this idea that there’s a rivalry between SA and Victoria along the lines of the (supposed) Melbourne-Sydney rivalry. But ask any Victorian about it and they’ve never heard of such nonsense. And the description of fritz is also fantastic…

A bland luncheon meat, possibly derived from pork, and sold encased in wide, sausage-shaped plastic tubes. Usually eaten in sandwiches (composed of fritz, margarine, tomato sauce and white bread).

I grew up on those sandwiches. It must have confused my parents when they first moved to Melbourne and asked the butcher for fritz, only to be met with a puzzled face. And then there’s ‘trombone’, which is Adelaidese for pumpkin…

A trombone is a variety of pumpkin (shaped not awfully much like the musical instrument) which was at one time so common in South Australia that many people used the word trombone instead of pumpkin.

And on the tap-water…

One of Adelaide’s biggest claims to fame is that it has the worst drinking water of any city in the developed world.

So true.


Tragedies and Comedies

April 11, 2007

Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.

Horace Walpole


Communist Robots

April 9, 2007

From Richard Vinen, ‘How Communism Lost’, in A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century;

The communist failure in computing was sometimes illustrated in farcial terms, especially in East Germany, where leadership invested much prestige in its ability to master the new technology. When factory managers were given orders to install a certain quota of ‘robots’ in all plants, they responded by redefining existing devices – such as lifts and vacuum cleaners – to fit this new category.

…and some more…

Cheap Western personal computers flooded into eastern Europe; often they were bought on the black market and used to facilitate black economy enterprises. Poland, where there were said to be half a million private computers, was the most affected by this wave. Computers facilitated the dissemination of information by opposition groups. The days when the state could ensure that it controlled every typewriter in the country were over when any seventeen-year-old with an Amstrad could produce samizdat publications. When the leader of Warsaw Solidarity went underground, he took his Tandy personal computer with him.


Monte Punshon

April 7, 2007

From Ruth Ford’s ‘Speculating on Scrapbooks, Sex and Desire: Issues in Lesbian History’, in Australian Historical Studies (#106, 1996);

Monte (Ethel May) Punshon was born in 1882 in Ballarat and died at 106 years of age in 1989. She worked as a teacher but aspired to be in the theatre and, later, completed a degree in drama and was involved in an amateur theatrical group. Monte also worked for a wireless manufacturing company, a photographic studio and did radio talks on fashion for the Melbourne retailer, Buckley and Nunn, during the 1920s. She joined the Australian Women’s Army Service during World War II, and worked as a warden in the Tatura alien internment camp. After the war, she taught English at Bonegilla migrant camp. Monte learnt Mandarin and Japanese in the 1930s and helped maintain Australian links with Japan for sixty years. She ‘came out’ publicly as a lesbian in the gay press in 1985, at 103 years of age, recalling her emotional and physical relationships with women in the early part of the twentieth century.


Right and Left

April 5, 2007

From Roderick Stackelberg’s Hitler’s Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies;

What is the nature of these differences? The essential difference between left and right lies in their attitude toward human equality as a social ideal. The more a person deems absolute equality among all people to be a desirable condition, the further to the left he or she will be situated on the ideological spectrum. The more a person considers inequality to be an unavoidable or even desirable, the further to the right he or she will be. On the extremist fringes of this spectrum are persons or movements who will go to any length to achieve their utopian ideal: on the left the egalitarian utopia in which the weak and the strong share equally in the benefits of their society; on the right the inegalitarian anti-utopia in which the strong receive the benefits due to them by virtue of their natural superiority and the weak, however perversely defined, are dispensable, deprived, and excluded.


The Stickiness of History

April 4, 2007

From Roderick Stackelberg’s Hitler’s Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies;

All interpretations are bound to generate some controversy as they provide a particular perspective that not everyone may share. That perspective is determined by the historian’s values, particularly political values, which are usually, but not always, the values of the society or subgroup he or she lives in or identifies with. If the disagreement is about facts, it can usually be readily resolved. But more often the disagreements between historians involve the meaning and importance of those facts. The same facts may be evaluated quite differently by different historians. That is why there are still many historical issues on which serious historians disagree, even though the basic facts are known and accepted on all sides and the contending historians are genuinely committed to sound scholarly practices and the objective evaluation of the evidence.