Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Maya Alphabet

Today is:

Long Count:
Calendar Round:  4 Men 3 Pax
With 324 days until Baktun 13

In keeping in with the spirit the countdown to Baktun 13 here's a little post on the Maya alphabet.  Although the Maya weren't the only people who had writing in the pre-contact period, as writing appears to stretch all the way back to the mother culture later known as Olmec,  the Maya script was be far the most fully developed, considered so because all the earlier scripts were not put on almost anything, and the Maya put writing on almost everything.   The Maya script was not fully deciphered until well into the 20th century, having had been lost to the Maya themselves during the Spanish conquest of Maya territory in the 16th century.

Upon (almost) complete decipherment, the alphabet was discovered to be at least partically syllabaric in nature; meaning that some of the symbols stand for syllables instead of individual letters as in the Roman alphabet that I am writing in right now.  A nice chart demonstrating the syllabaric nature of the alphabet can be found here.  And just for the heck of it, here is a complete list of writing types, including list of all complete or partial syllabary alphabets.

Here is a really nice further reading piece courtesy, via the web, of our great neighbors to the north:  Canada.  Finally, there is a dictionary of Maya hieroglyphs that is really well put together for easy reference.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Check This Out

I don't normally put petitions for any thing on this blog, but this petition is something special and it's seriously grassroots.  This 17 year cancer survivor was suspended from school in Michigan because his hair was too long (and it's really not that long!) and violated the school board dress code for boys only.  The kicker is that he is growing his hair to donate to Locks Of Love and charity that makes wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment and loose their hair.  His mother started this petition herself.  Please think about adding your name to the list.  Many are not using their real names (one person signed as "Ragin Cajun"), so you don't need to give you real address if you don't want to.  Wado/Thanks!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Valkyrie (2008)

Wikipedia page for Claus von Stauffenberg.

The Secret Life Of Adolf Hitler (1958)

An American propaganda documentary from the late 1950's, complete with British styled pre-war news narration style.  It is an interesting document, considering what the 1950's "offered" the US:  McCarthyism.

Enemy At The Gates (2001)

Theme Recipe 2: Mamaliga

Although this is a basic recipe of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Balkans in general, it is listed with the above spelling as a solidly Vlax Romani dish.  With many Romani (it's really not cool to call them Gypsies) being confined, just like Jews, in artificially created ghettos before they were "deported" to camps, a lot of families would be living off this, and probably this alone, when they could get food at all.  Now, like Schmaltz Fried Latkes, it just wouldn't be the same meal without this basic Eastern European "polenta," what Native Americans just call cornmeal mush in English.  Fancy versions have all sorts of additives like cheese, bacon, herbs, etc or are made into molded cold breads to be cut; but the real basic stuff is what would have been eaten in the 1930's ghettos.

Basic Vlax Mamaliga

1 quart good fresh water
1 heaping tablespoon salt
2 cups cornmeal

Boil the water in a pot and add the salt (stir well to dissolve).  Allow the water to come back up to a rapid boil, then slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring constantly!  I do this with a whisk. Making sure there are no lumps, turn the heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.  That's it!

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Band Of Brothers Liberation Of Concentration Camp

Featured in the 9th episode of the mini-series entitled "Why We Fight" (a nice echo of a series of films produced in the United States in the 1940's, many of which were directed by Frank Capra), is the liberation of a concentration camp.  The real camp was located outside the town of Landsberg am Lech.  

Theme Recipe: Schmatlz And Griebens

It sort of seems a little disrespectful to start posting recipes on such a somber occasion, I was a little unsure how to approach it.  Then it hit me, the basics of what the two major groups of people who were part of the Nazi extermination programs, Jews and Romani, would be a good place to start.  All population have staples that they fall back on when things get really lean--then in better times, these same recipes have fondness attached to them, they are the essentials that a meal shouldn't be without.  First up, the good old fashioned Jewish staple of Schmaltz which also produces Griebens, also called "Jewish Candy."  What are they?  Rendered chicken fat and the resulting fried fat pieces.  Simple.

Food writer Barbara Bloch gives a loving description of what these are and how to prepare them all at the same time in her Little Jewish Cookbook.  She says it much better than I ever could.

The special flavor of Schmatlz (rendered chicken fat) is as intrinsic to good Jewish cooking as olive oil is to Italian cooking.  The main difference is that olive oil is considered healthy while chicken fat decidedly is not.  The use of chicken fat presents exactly the same dilemma as the use of bacon fat--it isn't good for you, but it certainly adds a special flavor to food. (Why should it be that "if it tastes good it's bad for you?)....You can buy it as some supermarkets, but don't.  Make it at home and save money.  When ever you clean a chicken, remove the excess fat and place it in a container in the freezer.  When you have about a pound of fat, render it as follows:

Place chicken fat in deep, heavy saucepan.  If desired, cut some fatty chicken skin into small pieces and add to the pan.  Cover with water, bring to a boil, cover pan, reduce heat, and cook until most of the water has evaporated.  Uncover the pan and cook until nothing remains in pan but rendered chicken fat and small pieces of skin.  Add diced onion and cook, uncovered, until skin (called griebens) is crisp and onion is lightly browned.  Strain fat and store it in a container in the freezer or refrigerator.  Serve griebens and onion on matzo or thick slices or bread.

In very lean times the solidified schmaltz was also spread on whatever bread or bread like stuff could be found.  In better times, it was, and is, used in cooking like oil or butter. 

Defiance (2008)

Defiance is based on the amazing true story of two Belarusian (then part of Poland) Jewish brothers who gathered a community of Jewish refugees in the frozen forest and actually fought back against the Germans.  British actor Daniel Craig (AKA James Bond) as Tuvia Bielski and American actor/narrator Liev Schrieber as the big hearted and extremely tough "Zus" Bielski.  The Wikipedia page for the film can be accessed here, it has a lot of links to the actual historical sources for the film, including other Bielski brothers biographical materials.

Some Holocaust Links

There are a lot people who want to define the word "holocaust" as strickly  referring to the systematic and evil extermination of 6 million European Jews.  Since the word derives from the Greek hol√≥kaustus, translating into English as "whole burnt"--i.e.:  completely burned or turned into ashes, and there is a separate word in Hebrew "Shoah"--catastrophe, to refer directly to the Jewish extermination, I am one of those people who feels it necessary to insist that "holocaust" refer to the entire number of people of all backgrounds that the Nazi's saw as inferior who were systematically murdered by these horrid eugenics crazed bastards.  Often people put the total number of dead at 10 million, but recent research to include homosexuals, the disabled and other people (some of whom were actual white Christian Germans) that the Nazis saw as not being fit to be part of the great Aryan thousand year reign, and thusly put in camps and dispatched in various ways (including gas) puts the total number of dead at a staggering 17 million souls.

It's often said, and I do believe it, that if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it.  On days like today, I think it's really important to face the ugliness of it all and do a little research--to remember.  The first place to start is obviously Wikipedia, which has numerous portholes to the various ethinicities of holocaust victims and to all manner of the whole horrid affair.

Here is a stark, but still chilling list of German interment camps, along with their various "functions," including extermination.  There is the important The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  This Google News Page has current stories of memorials planned in Europe and elsewhere.  Here is the statement made by President Obama.  Here  are some very basic facts of the Nazi atrocities.  And here is a more comprehensive list.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has this page on Holocaust denial with extensive links.  Also from the USHMM here is the story of Roma extermination and another page Sinte and Roma holocaust  information from the University of South Florida.  Here is the Wikipedia page on the lack of reparations for the Roma by the German government in the aftermath of the war.

Finally some did survive.  Here is a list of sites with some of their stories:

Lastly the USHMM has an online registration form for holocaust survivors--any one who survived can be added regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Conspiracy (2001)

This next film is no stranger to serious Friday Frights.  It's screenplay, at least the parts that were in the official notes in the meeting called to order, it taken directly from the transcript produced at the actual Wansee Conference.  I keep saying that this movie is not for the faint of heart, despite that it never actually shows anything horrific...it doesn't need to--as can be seen in the extended clip below.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

The vast majority of the films that touch on the subject of world war in Europe and the subject of the Holocaust are very serious war movies, including Spielberg's own Saving Private Ryan, so we thought we would get in one of the few films featuring Nazi obsession with objects of power that is more like a amusement park ride.