Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some Thoughts About History

Why History? What is it about the past that inspires us to turn our heads from the present and gaze into human memory? Perhaps the toils and humdrum of everyday life get to be too much. Perhaps the never ending barrage of input thrust upon our fragile senses conflicts fundamentally with our natural selves. We all seem to be screaming "Enough! No more flashing lights, beepers, and neon! No more commuter lanes, rush hour, and ‘construction for the next 5 miles’! No, we don’t want to be asked at the airport if our luggage has been handled by anyone else, we don’t want to be put on hold, and for God's sake, please stop making such fast-paced, fast-cutting, ‘hip’ commercials!" Yet it keeps coming, endless and escalating, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

So where does history fit in? History can give us a glimpse into what was and what was meant to be. It can fill us with perspective and, if we are lucky, meaning. It teaches us that we don’t have to ignore the past, but rather embrace it, and let it guide our present with the simple truth that part of who we are, is who we were.

There are some who believe that we should live entirely in the present, that to study history is to study a colossal waste of time. They say the only thought of any value is a thought in the present, the only efficient action is one taken toward the future. How hopelessly bored these people must be. History is not just a bunch of distant facts and obscure references (although as an eight-year-old once put it, it is filled with a lot of "dead guys"), it is a journey which we are all part of. It is the record of an entire race of beings, with all our love, compassion, fears, laughter, and outcries. History shows our tremendous capacity for good as well as evil, our accomplishments, our shortcomings, our reason, and our insanity. It is a map to the very nature of man, where we have separated from other animals, and where we are sometimes too similar.

Perhaps above all, history is a gift. It is precious knowledge that results from time and existence. If we use it, we can find perspective on who we are as a people, where we are going, and why. History gives us the ability to see ourselves as clearly as we choose to, whether it be finding out who invented shoelaces, or figuring out where our instincts end and our souls begin.

History, in the end, is not separate from the present or the future. It is as real as our lives are real. By allowing the past into our lives, we allow all the knowledge, work, and experience of our ancestors into our lives. That is not something we should ignore, but something we should cherish, learn from, and honor. If we allow it, it can show us the very best of our humanity, the very best of ourselves, and ennoble us with faith in our fellow man, hope for our future, and illumination in our daily lives.

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Crazed Beast, Mr. Cat

Sorry for the sappiness, but I found an old picture (I think 2002?) of me and Mr. Cat when I first got him. Isn't he cuuutte? Awwww (gags, apologizes). What you don't know is that he is HUGE, fully capable of taking out a small army of possums, and has been known to attack actual trucks.

He is, however, a "people person". For example, when I lived in Greensboro I was awoken at 3:00 am by a huge fight at a party next door. I looked out the window, and there were probably about 10 people scuffling around in a drunken fervor. Interesting to be sure, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a large gray object. Sure enough, Mr. Cat walked straight into the middle of the mêlée, with his usual "Hey guys, what's up?" look on his face (I'm talking RIGHT into the middle of it). They were oblivious, legs stomping and arms flailing. Mr. Cat obviously felt it was his duty to record such odd human behavior. I ran outside, and the cops showed up. Mr. Cat sat right next to them, fascinated by the flashing lights and random yelling. The cops got a big kick out of it!

Anyway, the legacy of Mr. cat is far from over, and he continues to astonish me in one way or another!
(note: I apologize for the typical blogger "look at my cat!" post! Carry on)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Romance in a Mass-Produced Envelope: The History of Valentine's Day

It could be the most important decision of your life. You stand there, pale and sweating, your eyes besieged by the endless aisles of red-satin boxes and cheaply-made plastic flower bouquets. Should you go with chocolate, or is that "so 2007"? Should there be roses, tulips, or carnations....hmmmm, which one of those is for funerals? And didn't a commercial just inform you that you are completely worthless unless you buy some sort of chain with a series of pretty rocks attached? My GOD, What do you do?

You begin to convince yourself that a nice set of fishing lures will last longer, AND have the added benefit of creating quality time for the two of you. Yeah, that's right - fishing lures! But wait, something is telling you..yes, there is definitely a distinct part of your primitive brain that is actually resisting this new theory. Your face flushes, your hands twitch, your feet begin sweating with frustrated vigor.

"Wait a minute!" you exclaim, "What has led me to this loathsome circumstance? What monstrous alchemy of human mechanism evolved itself into these wretched circumstances? Whose idea WAS this, Anyway!!'

Well, noble explorer of bath-stores and cheap seasonal holiday carts, here are some highlights from the bounteous and scented history of Valentine's Day:

- The ancient world often associated mid-February with fertility. The Roman holiday of Lupercalia was held on February 15 to purify new life and increase fertility. The Greek Month of Gamelion was dedicated to the blessed marriage of Zeus and Hera (without swan references, of course).

- 23,019 BC Gogak the Hog-Killer was the first to romance his potential mate by picking flowers. Although poisonous and resulting in an embarrassing rash, the flowers were appreciated and spun the phrase "It's the almost-thought that kind-of counts"

- 100 AD Valentinius of Alexandria was born. An early Bishop of Rome, Valentinius believed that the marriage chamber was actually important, causing numerous huffs and puffs and an occasional fainting.

- 496 Pope Gelasius I declared the "Feast of St. Valentine", referring to an earlier martyred saint (different than Valentinius) whose birth and death are not confirmed. Little is known about this early saint, although it may be a priest who was executed in the 3rd century by Cladius II. Incidentally, no cards were sent.

- 1382 Chaucer writes the first recorded correlation of Valentine's day with romantic love in his "Parlement of Foules". It is possible that the traditions of modern Valentines Day did not exist before Chaucer's writing, but rather started to come into their own around this time.

- Earliest surviving Valentine was a poem written by Charles the Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415. Of course, being imprisoned in the Tower of London tends to bring out the romantic in you.

- English settlers bring the concept of Valentines day to North America in the 19th century. Hundreds of chocolate executives gathered in a dark room to laugh maniacally and rub their hands together (with actual organ music playing in the background).

- The first mass-production of Valentine cards began after 1847 by Esther Howland of Worchester, Massachusetts, whose father owned a stationary store.

- 1891 first case of "Valentine Insomnia", as New Jersey third-grader Herbert Bard debated whether Susy from school loved him based on the size of a mandatory Valentine card. Also first recorded case of broken heart by "cooties".

- 1929 In a sweeping gesture of romance, ol' softy Al Capone guns down seven members of a rival gang, forever known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

- As television and mass production sink deeply into the American psyche during the 20th century, Valentine's Day becomes increasingly associated with gifts and the gift-card industry. Some husbands claim this is good, as they can sum up all their love in one convenient, logical gesture. Other's claim this is bad because now they have to remember their anniversary AND Valentine's day. Two whole days? "What is this," they claim, "some kind of cruel joke?"

- 1980's The Diamond Industry begins actively courting the American public to associate Valentine's Day with their product. Although they aren't edible, diamonds are generally considered "interesting to look at", so the plan, of course, works.

- 2007 Valentine's Day is a worldwide phenomenon. For many, it is a day of love, generosity, and appreciation. Sappy? Yes, but heartfelt....and in the end that is all that matters.

- 2008 Sushi executives gather in secret chamber to plot their new wave of association advertisements. Coming soon: "Sushi: Because Romance is in the Guts"

Well, there you have it. Now quit being a wimp and buy something. And make it nice, will ya? Ol' St. Valentine is watching!

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Historical Short-Story: "The Mechanism"

The Mechanism
By Jarod Kearney

"My Emperor, we MUST impel the device. Our paths are ending… we have no choice!"

General Rubicus stood in the central hall of the Roman capital Ravenna, the massive tiered columns and white stone walls echoing faintly with sounds of feet and metal. His field officers stood lined with him, their bodies still wet with sweat and dragged mud from the ancient swamp surrounding the city.

Emperor Romulus Augustus stood, his youthful face contorted in a slight sneer.

"Ridiculous. I'm not touching that....MACHINE."

Romulus moved down from his throne, his eyes passively gazed above the General's head.

"It was made by a madman. My advisers tell me he is a rube from the borders of Britannia."

General Rubicus clutched his hand tighter around the bone-pommel gladius.

"He has come through for us before. His adjustments to our balistas, his orientations of tactical siege equipment. He is the finest craftsman I know, regardless of his various and questionable methodology. If he asserts this device will beset our enemies and ultimately oppress their ranks, I have to grant him that reason, despite its apparent peculiarity."

Romulus' advisers, backed crudely into a corner, clicked their tongues and shifted. The Emperor looked sideways at them, then quickly upward again.

"Repelling barbarians with a barbarian. It is an insult, it's so trite. My heritage and blood cast down upon this city, that is what will save us, not some geared mechanism of bronze and gold. You are a fool to put your faith in such crafts."

Rubicus stepped forward, straining slightly in his bow. Between him and the emperor lay a small bronze box, its polished inlays revealing a single out-cropped button of turned gold.

"Odoacer is upon us, that is the truth of things. My columns cannot hold such audience as to repel the impossible. The Heruli have breached the palisade, their assemblage pressing without relief or hope of relent. There is nothing left now but faith...Nothing! We must activate it. If Orestes were alive he would have understood this."

"My Father" interrupted Romulus, his teeth exposed with anger, "was an idealist who would have his Empire ruled through puppetry and gimmick! What was the end of all his orations? He was befouled by the very primitives who violate us now. And you would have me contaminate my breath with actions of faith? It is you who are the puppet, general. You wish me to step down from my blood and beg the vulgar workings of a lunatic?"

Romulus kicked the box hard into the wall. It did not break, but tumbled sideways and fell back into a marble recess. General Rubicus started, his eyes open with disbelief. Romulus smiled, turning his back on the General.

At that moment, the air opened with the sound of distant drums. Faint screams began to rise, and the sound of hoofs increased rhythmically. General Rubicus looked toward his men, nodding slightly. In cessation, the officers turned and wearily walked out of the hall toward the oncoming noise. Rubicus followed, unsheathing his sword. As he crossed through the doors, he paused and glanced back toward the abandoned box.

"Fool" he muttered. Gathering his armor tighter against his chest, General Rubicus sharpened his eyes deeply and walked toward the oncoming battle. The Heruli army swelled before him in a great moving mass, the warriors howling and pulling their Germanic locks like a thousand unhinged savages let loose upon the scattering city.


(1,600 years later...)

Archaeologist Michael Castellucio's hand shook as he carefully removed the bronze box from its covered recess and resting place for the last 15 centuries.

"It's unprecedented! Don, have you ever seen such perfect preservation?"

Assistant Archaeologist Don Lucana sat crouched in the palisade excavation strata, his hands folded in front of him as if he were praying.

"No, no...Michael, look at the patina, even the ends layered in the earth. Wait, don't move it any more, I want Carl to get that angle."

Carl remained silent, his student camera documenting every inch of the dig plane. Instinctively, he leaned toward the left side to get a better shot.

"Thanks, Carl. If I'm not mistaken, this artifact will be the pride of the National Museum of Ravenna."

Michael moved the box up out of the final inch, setting it gently in the open.

"True, and we don't even know what it is." He chuckled. "Carl, I hate to tell you, but I think we just eclipsed your English archeology for the next ten years!"

Carl smiled, snapping another picture. The Ravenna Historical Society had fully funded the dig on the condition that any objects found would remain within the city. Michael and Don immediately offered their services, eager to excavate the area seen by many as the last life-thralls of the Western Roman Empire.

"Don, come here, look at this." All three men leaned in. A round button-like protrusion could easily be discerned protruding from the top surface.

"Is that gold? Don, is it? Here, clean it off."

Don began carefully removing residual dirt from the surface, his brush delicately swabbing in parallel strokes. Suddenly, the button depressed into the box with a sharp click.

"What did you do? What..."

"I barely touched it...you saw, I was just brushing the dirt! Shit!"

All three men sat back on their haunches. Carl lowered his camera, his face contorted upward into faint trepidation. The men sat back for a moment, then jumped as the box emitted a sudden, deep whir.

"What?" Don whispered.

The whirring grew louder, the sound of obvious gears grinding to life and spurring within. The men could not move, but stared in disbelief at the vibrating chastity. With a loud inner collision, the whirring stopped. The sounds of moving taxis and street vendors filled the air over the unexpected silence. Within seconds, an earsplitting vibration discharged from the box, its high intensity tossing the men back as they covered their ears.

"Don! What....is that....coming from the BOX?"

The men clenched down as the vibration resonated high above the dig. It pitched higher and higher, pulsing out in waved inflection. Its strength seems to increase as it moved to higher and higher scales, shrieking out with mechanical tenure. The men could barely keep from collapsing, the shrill intonation penetrating through their covering hands despite their best efforts. Eventually, the pitch rose above human hearing, and, as quickly as the vibration started, they could no longer hear it. Cautiously, they removed the hands from their ears.

"I don't....Michael...what just happened?"

Michael gathered himself, breathing out sharply.

"Look, the box is still vibrating. We just can't hear...." Michael stopped. His body shook slightly as he felt a swift rush of energy. He backed up, his muscles tightening. He could feel his face flush as sudden and uncontrollable waves of adrenaline coursed through him. He looked over at Don, who also paused and backed up, obviously affected in a similar fashion. Carl just stared at the two men, confused by their new expressions.

"Don, I just...."

"Yeah, I feel it...I...what is that?"

Michael stood. His body urged forward almost involuntarily, his arms swinging out. He began to stomp his feet despite himself, in what he could only discern as pure, complete aggression.

In the streets above, cars began to pull over and bicyclists stopped as men made their way onto the sidewalks, some huffing uncontrollably, others swinging their fists into the empty air. Others could be heard laughing, stomping their feet with pugnacity and moving about in circles. Throughout the city, honking and the sonorous voices of men cascaded out in increasing diameter, the effect moving forward, outward, until the entire metropolis was turbulent with the sounds of emulation and archaic outcries.


"WPIX, NY. This is Channel 12 with the Six O'clock News. I'm Cindy Reynolds."

"It has been three weeks since the sudden and deliberate attack on southern Germany and eastern France by the Italian National Army. The undisputed and consistent victories by the previously moderate-grade army was at first attributed to the element of surprise, yet despite military intervention by several allied European countries, the Italians continue to push forward with unstoppable force. Tonight, we have breaking news which may explain this phenomenon. Our guest is head of the ARWA think-group Dr. Julian Tarhri. Dr., welcome to the program."

"Thank You"

"It has been much debated these last weeks on the political reasons behind the invasions, but I understand you have evidence to explain the seemingly invincible nature of what most would consider a small to mid-sized army."

"Yes, Cindy, our group has discovered a resonant frequency placed hidden through a previously unknown spectrum of sonic carriers. This wave has been undetectable until now, and stimulates brain activity by mimicking the chemical vibrations of neuro transmitters. By doing this, the frequency directly targets the areas of the brain associated with aggression and the adrenal glands. By our estimation, the vibrations compound the release of adrenaline into the body by at least 200%. This would account for the reports of increased strength and stamina seen in the Italian nationals."

"Wait, wait Jules -- may I call you Jules? Are you telling me that a radio wave is doing this?"

"No, it's not a radio wave; it's a resonant frequency piggy-backing on a higher..."

"Well, why is it only affecting Italians? You've heard the reports of Italian Americans returning to Italy in masses, some even sabotaging American equipment before they go, but only the full-blooded Italians seem to be affected. How do you explain this?"

"We can't, not officially. However, some of our geneticists have theorized that the frequency may be so finely tuned that it has activated dormant sequences somehow particular to those of Italian decent. Others believe it has within its wave-length tiny distortions that associate with human genetic codes by geography, relating to the original migrations of Homo-Sapiens and their adaptation to their local environment, in this case the peninsula of Italy. It could be however, that...."

"Thank you Julian, but we have breaking news from our correspondent Tom McDirmond live from Rome. He has finally been allowed limited access to the central square where President Giorgio Napolitano is addressing the country. Tom....can you hear us?"

Tom McDirmond stood on the sides of a massive crowd swaying and chanting into the mid-summer air. President Napolitano stood on a tiered platform, the speakers echoing loudly into the square. Tom was being shoved back and forth in the frenzy, and occasionally someone pushed him deliberately yelling something in Italian. He did his best to maintain his composure as he spoke into the microphone.

"Cindy....can you hear me? Yes......I am here at President Napolitano's State address....Cindy....I have never seen anything like this. The fervor is deafening....Cindy; the citizens of Rome have come out by the thousands, exhibiting behavior which can only be described as powerfully manic, almost savage. They are shouting something....Cindy, hello...."

Tom was knocked violently to the ground, his microphone tossed backward. The camera fell to its side, continuing to show images of the uncontrolled horde swarming in unison. President Napolitano shouted through the speakers, raising his arms in sudden and bursting gestures.

"Tom? Tom? It seems we lost him. What?...the feed is still showing. I can't quite make out what they are saying."

The camera bumped as the crowd moved back and forth, the howling shouts overcoming the President's speech. For a moment, the feed cleared, showing Napolitano screaming into the microphone.

"Conquisteremo il mondo e riprendiamo, il nostro impero legittimo!!!"

Raising his arms upward to the sky, Napolitano gazed fiercely into the crowd, the voices of a thousand Roman citizens chanting and frothing madly in response:

"Desidera in tensione l'impero!! Vive Caeser!! Vive Caeser!!! VIVE CAESER!!!!"

- End

Ivory Handled Custom Sgian Dubh

Here is a custom sgian dubh I made for a customer. I kind of like this design, it was fun to make!
Here are some more: