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26 Oct 2003

I started with Kabhi Kushie Kabhi Gham and now I'm in deep. Me and my wife are now buying up big Bollywood blockbusters and are loving them! Not only did we pick up K3G, we also got Devdas and Chalti Chalti. We're bidding on eBay for Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenga, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and a couple others we've fallen in love with.

What's the reason behind our Bollymania? Great movies. We wouldn't want them if we didn't love them. They're typically three hours long, melodramatic, and often have unusual juxtapositions of locations... but we see those as assets, not liabilities. The singing and dancing in these films is great stuff. You liked the dancing in Chicago? Try the fancy hoofing in Devdas. You like the singing in Grease? Check out the musical numbers in K3G.

Which brings me to a sidebar on how these films are identified. If you take the first letter of each word, you get the abbreviation for the film, which is a lot easier to bandy about than the full-blown Hindi title. You just can't do that if the movie's only got one or two words in the title, but all the others lend themselves to such brevity. So some of the movies I listed earlier would be K3G, DDLJ, and KKHH.

Those three movies are also a great way to start getting into Bollywood yourself, if you're uninitiated. I was lucky in having Indian students recommend these titles to me, but now I'm venturing into various online reviews to find other movies to check out. But I'd start with one of these because they feature the pairing of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, and those two have an amazing chemistry onscreen. I watched KKHH without subtitles of any sort and those two were able to carry the story with their expressiveness. They're awesome and fun to watch.

For those of you who think a 2-hour movie is a bit long, don't worry. There's an intermission in every one of these. Pause the DVD at that time to run and get yourself some popcorn, Jujy Fruits, samosas, or whatever treat you want. Go to the bathroom. Check your messages. Stretch and compare notes with the other people watching with you. Then, after your rested and relaxed, you're ready to dive into the second half of the movie. If you can't devote three straight hours to the film, do it in 90-minute shifts, like a miniseries where you sacrifice commercials for subtitles.

A note on the subtitles: I've been told to ignore them completely during the songs, and I have to agree with that advice. Forget reading when there's such delicious movement and color on the screen! If it's a happy song, they're singing about love or their family or something nice like that. If it's a sad song, the subject matter's pretty much the same as the happy songs, just in a sad way. Just don't worry about it: these films have to be accessible to people who speak neither Hindi nor English, and they can deliver on that if you stay alert.

After seeing about 7 or 8 of these films, I've noticed my Hindi is getting better. I can listen to the dialogue and compare it to the subtitles and notice some subtle variations in the Hindi that don't come through in the subtitles. And if I'm really stumped as to why they're hiding the groom's shoes, what the festival of Holi involves, or what the heck the rules of cricket are, I can always ask my students or go online to find out.

So be adventurous and try a little Bollywood next time you rent a movie!

by Dean Webb

19 Oct 2003
Later in the day...

I copied the Christian conversion stuff to another page off my "Long Story Short" online book. It's at this page.

More ambitious, though, is the project me and some of my students are working on to transcribe the 220-page Ryan report on the United States and Klaus Barbie. It's online, at least up to page 70, and it's quite a read so far.

For any teachers interested in the idea of transcribing primary source documents, let me offer the following:

Basically, I got my hands on a document formerly only available in print version. That's nice and open and all, but isn't readibly accessible to the world at large. Scanning each page as an image makes it available once I post the images, but then the text in the images isn't searchable. OCR could be done on each page, but that is very time consuming and requires a good going-over if the progam doesn't like the way a character is printed.

I wanted the doc online, so I had my students type it up in 20-page chunks. In return, I granted a goodly dollop of extra credit, even allowing it to carry over to the next six weeks. I justified this on the grounds that, one, as they type it up, they're reading the history, and, two, I'm not paying them in money, so I have to give them an incentive to do the job right. They delivered a huge amount of grunt work in a very fast time. A few lessons learned for anyone who wants to try this:

1. Make a copy of your copy. If you hand out packets to the kids, you may never see them again. Only hand them copies of your copy.

2. Use reliable students. I had one guy say he was going to do it, but never delivered. I ultimately gave his work to another student. I think the kids should *earn* the right to do the extra credit.

3. Pay well. This is hard work. Make it worth their while. If their average is sagging, this is a good way to give them a chance to shore it up so they don't lose hope and bail on you -- and that can happen in AP or regular classes.

4. Don't throw their work away. I hated grading projects and then never seeing them again. If a student does outstanding work, it should be shared with the world, permanently. They didn't copy a document and say, "Wow, the whole Klaus Barbie thing was messed up!" Their work is now part of an online archive of documents, and researchers everywhere will be able to find it on web searches and use it, free of charge.

5. Learn a little HTML. Next time around, I'm having my typists do the HTML formatting, in the interests of saving time. I can convert a DOC to HTML (the *right* way, not via MS Word) pretty easily, but then I have to go back and edit for style and such. All in all, this one's not the deal-breaker, and I can deliver #4 all the same.

6. Proofread it. Pobody's nerfect, and even if they make one mistake per page, it's still easier to correct small errors than to type the whole thing yourself.

In a sense, this is Open Source development meeting historical research. There's a lot of primary source stuff in the world that needs to be online, and this is a great way to get it up there. If you've got any more questions on how I got this project done, let me know. If you'd like web space to host a doc project you've done, I'm happy to donate it off this site. Just send me the docs and I'll post them for you, your kids, and the world.

by Dean Webb

More on Christian Conversions

OK, so someone asked about how Pliny the Younger wrote in the second century after Augustus (between 100 and 200 AD/CE, not yet in AM years... see this page for more stuff on dating systems) about Christians all over the countryside. Wouldn't that go against the comment I made earlier about Christianity focusing primarily on the cities?

Not really. Christianity started out in the hinterlands, but went through a number of changes over the years. The second century after Jesus was a rough one for the Christian church. It was in transition from a prophetic faith to a philosophical one. The Apostles and their appeal to faith based on eyewitnessing Jesus had died out and Christianity had begun to take on Greek philosophical language to present itself in a better light to the urban world. (More info on this in Dodds' "Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety") During that time Christianity is still on the outside of accepted society, and is yet to face its most severe persecutions.

Once Christianity became firmly established in the Empire, it had become an urban religion and there are a number of late antiquity tracts written by bishops about why it was as foolish to teach peasants as it was to teach animals. Most women were also excluded from active conversion: one early council voted on whether women were animals or human... the "women are human" faction won by a single vote. St. Martin of Tours began to reverse this trend, and Irish monasticism spread Christianity to the countryside, as well, but both were mid-4th century CE and beyond.

Even among later European conversions, rural areas accepted Christianity after urban centers. Lithuanian paganism remained alive, if ailing, in the mid-seventeenth century, and there are many Protestant letters decrying having to disabuse some remote populations of both Catholic and ancient pagan traditions.

At any rate, the key to the rural conversions was the Christianization of healing places. People would attribute healing powers to a lake, pond, spring, grotto, or some such place and construct a shrine there. They'd leave behind graffiti praising this god or that for his wonderful healing power. When Christian missionaries moved in, they'd replace images of said god with those of Jesus or Mary, but the healing reputation for the site remained. Over time, the graffiti gives way from praising the old god to praising Jesus or Mary. The author of "The Barbarian Conversion" asked how sincere the conversion had been, but had to also counter that question with a question about how sincere their original beliefs had been. Whoever provided healing, that's who they'd pray to. Rarely did rural conversion have anything to do with doctrinal issues unless it was converting an Arian warlord to Catholicism. Then, the missionaries focused on the court and let the ruler carry it to his people.

It should also be noted conversions were not done lightly. Abandoning old gods meant abandoning the powers which had previously provided harvests, victory, and fertility. It was not uncommon for sons of converted kings to switch back to the old ways to appease a nervous court. Even the Roman Empire had such an experience with Julian the Apostate.

Conversion of an area never was as simple as flicking a switch. It was a lengthy, generational process. That's why I dislike maps that show Christianity spreading in discrete chunks. Instead of saying "Christian by 600", they should say "Mostly Christian by 600".

by Dean Webb

15 Oct 2003
Christian Conversions Before 1300

The spread of early Christianity after its recognition by Constantine was largely an urban phenomenon. Rustics were often ignored by early clergy as being unable to handle the subtlety of Christianity, just as they were unable to handle the subtlety of Greek Philosophy. After Theodosius established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, all other faiths were outlawed, including unorthodox variants on Christianity. During the time of Christian-on-Christian persecutions in the Empire, conversion of heretics was more important than proselytization.

The Empire refused to acknowledge the validity of other forms of Christianity, and would not recognize Arian, Nestorian, or non-Chalcedonian creeds as Christian, even though they flourished on the fringes or outside the pale of the Empire. Nestorians, for example, rejected the hellfire-and-damnation style of Roman Christianity and made tremendous conversions among peoples to the East of the Roman Empire. The Coptic and Ethiopian churches existed outside the range of the Roman emperors and did well expanding their base in Africa. Arian Christianity spread throughout the Germanic tribes making their way through the Western part of Rome, and a top order of business for the Roman administrators and clergy in that region was getting their rulers to convert from Arianism to the Orthodox faith. Of course, they spoke Latin, so they'd use the word Catholic instead of Orthodox.

Western Christianity in Gaul began to focus in earnest on peasant conversions starting around 450 AD. After that, moves into England, Germany, and beyond followed.

Back East, the Roman Empire had its hands full dealing with internal affairs. By internal affairs, I mean they were completely overwhelmed by Slavic and Bulgar invasions, even losing pretty much the whole of mainland Greece. Heraclius then had to contend with first the Persian, then Arab overrun of Palestine and Egypt. The Romans then had to contend with shoring up their Eastern frontier and retaking the Balkans. In such, the retaking of the Balkans would involve proselytization.

Around the same time, Jewish proselytization was viewed as a severe problem in Spain and Southern Gaul. The Frankish rulers of Gaul began to forbid persons converting to Judaism to get a tax break (many tax collecters in the region were Jewish and would cut some slack for their co-religionists). The Gothic kings of Spain were planning to exterminate the Jews there to end the conversions to Judaism when the Arab invasion caught them off-guard. Part of Judaism's appeal lay in both the simplicity of its monotheism (no trinitarian esoteric conventions there) and its well-established tradition of pedagogy: they were much better preachers than their Catholic counterparts.

Western Mediterranean Christianity was also breaking with Eastern Mediterranean Christianity at this time. The Pope in Rome at first served with leave from the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, but after the collapse of the 6th-7th Centuries, the Pope needed a local champion to replace the non-existent Byzantine protection. That champion arose in the Carolingian dynasty and allowed the Pope to break the tradition of having to have his election approved by the Emperor.

The rise of the Carolingians meant there was now a political counterweight to the Roman Empire, and both powers sought to extend their spheres of influence. St. Cyril and Methodius were sent by the Romans when the Slavs in Bohemia requested Christianity -- not from the adjacent Holy Roman Empire, but from a potential protector in Constantinople. Likewise, the Bulgars sought salvation in Catholicism when the Romans began to flex muscles in their direction. Eventually, the Bulgars went Orthodox and the Slavs in Bohemia went Catholic due to military and political realities faith alone could not change.

Catholic Christianity could spread over large areas due to the sparse populations of Northern Europe. The Orthodox church, meanwhile, worked its way through the Southern Balkans and on into Russia, largely through trade contacts with Kievan Rus. Neither branch of Mediterranean Christianity was lax in missionary moves.

Meanwhile, back in the Muslim world, heretical Christians as well as pagans could pay taxes to keep their faith: a refreshing change from the Roman policy of convert or die. This also meant the Greek books they had kept safe from Roman censors survived to eventually be handed over to the Arabs. It was the Nestorians of Persia who did more to preserve Greek science than the violent remnants of the Eastern Empire. Over in Spain, Jews experienced a respite in overt persecution and could even hold positions of high government in the Arab kingdom. One such vizier even once sent letters to the Emperor in Constantinople that if he didn't quit persecuting Jews, something bad would happen to the Christians in Spain. Also during this time was the existence of the Khazar Kingdom, which embraced Judaism as its official religion.

But Christianity could not grow in the Muslim world. Conversions were allowed only one way: from another faith to Islam. Converting in the opposite direction meant death. Interestingly, conversions still happened, but were frequently done in the open so as to invite immediate martyrdom. Such conversions happened to an extent so great that local religious leaders began to doubt the authenticity of such conversions (perhaps the converter had a suicidal wish), or would disown them, as they did not want to upset their precarious relationship with their rulers.

By 1300, there were few areas of Europe not yet Christian or Muslim. In Spain, the Reconquista forced all in its path to eventually convert or leave Spain, and Catholicism and Orthodoxy converged on opposite sides of Lithuania. Christians in Africa and Asia either existed under Muslim rulers, or were surrounded by them, so conversions were not an option for them at this time.

Some excellent resources on this topic include "The Barbarian Conversion" by Richard Fletcher and "Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries" by Ramsay MacMullen.

by Dean Webb

11 Oct 2003
Salvo d'Acquisto

Updated page.

An update of the page and more info on Salvo d'Acquisto. I'd just like to say I'm happy to have been proven wrong on this account. Thanks to Morace Lucio for telling me about his esteemed ancestor.

by Dean Webb

07 Oct 2003
Italian Military Hero Found...

Name of Salvo d'Acquisto. More to come on this. Short version of the story is that he sacrificed his life so innocent lives wouldn't perish in a Nazi reprisal. He's got schools and roads and stuff named after him, had movies made about him, and is up for sainthood - I checked at the Vatican website myself. So he's a hero, he's Italian, and he was in a military unit. Put 'em all together and you got a bona-fide Italian Military Hero celebrated as such in his homeland of Italy. I'll update the relevant webpage shortly...

by Dean Webb

06 Oct 2003
Slight Right

I will never use Mapquest again.

Well, I'll use it for directions where I know there won't be any "slight right" or "slight left" instructions on them. They always nail me and get me loster than I would have gotten if I'd stopped to ask the locals. I can do fine with their rights and lefts and straights are no trouble at all. It's the slight business that throws me off.

Don't they know the word "merge"? As in "merge left on to the freeway" or "merge right on to the access road". Or maybe they could say, "change lanes". That would help, too.

Nobody I know says the phrase "slight right" when giving directions. They always say things like, "you wanna get all the way over, 'cause it's a left-hand exit, but be careful, 'cause it splits real soon, so you hafta get back over to the right so you don't wind up in Tulsa." That's a lot more informative than "slight left 0.12 miles" followed by "slight right 0.08 miles". Why can't Mapquest come up with directions like that? There are certain intersections and freeway merges and/or splits that people commonly take. They could get ready for those and post real directions instead of misleading lines that get folks lost.

And it's not like I drive past all the unnoticeable slight lefts and rights. Sometimes, I over-compensate. I had a slight right once get me to take a left turn one step ahead of when it was supposed to happen, and I wound up 8 miles out of my way somewhere in the middle of Texarkana. That didn't need to happen. Had I realized the "slight right" in question was actually a little more than a lane change off the freeway in that case, I would have been just right. But NOOOOOOOO, Mapquest gotta go and screw me up with that fershlugginer phrase of doom.

Next time I travel, I'm pulling over when I'm in unfamiliar parts and buying a dadgum map. That's what I did last trip I took. I went into the Exxon, found a three-dollar map of the area, bought it, opened it up, and found where the heck I was going right there on the map. Worked like a champ.

All we had to do was take a slight left for 0.0666 (repeating) miles to get back on US 75, and we were on our way. Drop the "quest", I say, and stick with the "map".

by Dean Webb

02 Oct 2003
Bowling For Columbine

This is an incredibly important film. I could live without Mr. Moore getting preachy, but aside from a few soapbox moments of his, he assembled a great movie.

What do I get out of it? I think I know the reason why America has so many murders each year. It's not the violent media, it's not the Marilyn Mansons, it's not our past history, it's a lack of compassion. As a people, we tend to see violence as a preferred means of conflict resolution. We shut our doors on problems. We mock the different.

Will an infusion of federal dollars solve the problem? I don't think so. Too often, way too often, those dollars get hijacked and diverted to purposes for which they were not originally intended. When federal programs don't work, taxpayers still have to throw money at them because it's the law. Once the corruption is institutionalized, there's nothing more we can do.

Besides, there's no care when a check is just handed over. There's nobody saying things will be better or asking if there's something more they can do to help. We need to look around and be more personally responsible in our giving.

So what am I gonna do to be more compassionate? I'll go visit around my school with the kids. They know what they need some times. Other times, I have to pick up on their needs. But I need to listen to them, actively. What good will I be doing if I sit alone somewhere with other teachers and wonder why the kids are the way they are and wait for the next one to lose his mind and take that violent path?

Maybe, just maybe, if I actually care about the kids and demonstrate that care through my unfeigned actions... if I do things from my heart and not because I want a photo op or a pat on my back... if I follow what my religion teaches me that a good sheperd cares for all his sheep, not just the 99 who are in the fold, but also the one who is lost... if I smile and cry when I think of them and what I know of their lives... maybe then I can teach the most important lesson of all: compassionate love.

If guys like Michael Moore disturb you, I would contend it's not because of his political stance or economic views: I disagree with him on a number of issues, but he doesn't disturb me. If Moore gets at you, maybe it's because you're hiding behind a "what can I do" excuse for your own personal lack of compassionate service.

You can do a lot. Don't make an excuse. Step out of your doors, go out and get to know people and take an interest in their lives. Don't lord it over them. Just become a friend, a mentor, a smiling face... if nothing else, you can be a smiling face.

by Dean Webb

01 Oct 2003
Truly Insane Dress Code

Duncanville, Texas... a fast-growing community just south of Dallas with a no-nonsense zero-tolerance take-no-crap attitude towards discipline. In the first six weeks of the 2003-04 school year, they've suspended 700 kids for dress code violations. That's 24 per day. And that's not detentions, suspensions. As in kicked out of school.

It's not like the youth of Duncanville are hordes of evil incarnate. They're kids, and they forget to tuck in their shirts at times.

I'm not being metaphorical there, either. They literally don't tuck their shirts in when they go to the bathroom every time. It happens to adults, too. But instead of getting a friendly little, "Hey, your shirt's untucked", they get blasted with at least one day of suspension. As in kicked out of school for not tucking in their shirt.

This is stupid. Not just a little bit stupid, but pure 100% USDA-inspected Grade A STUPID. Are these guys trying to jump-start the home schooling movement in their community? Do they want to push the kids with trivial rules with outrageous consequences to see who will become the next Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or are they hoping more for an Abbie Hoffman?

I know kids at my school who have got a lot more problems in their life than tucking in their shirts, and I'm sure they're at Duncanville High, too. Dressing them up pretty doesn't make the problem or the pain go away. They're not little glass dolls, sitting perfectly on the shelf. They're kids, and they break easily. No matter how tough and crusty they may seem, they still break easily and when they get in a fight with their mom's boyfriend because he kicked them after snorting a line of coke he bought off the guy in the house next door, well, they don't hold up so good on the inside.

I talk with those kids now. I used to wave at them when I saw them, now I talk with them. I don't do it because someone told me to do it. I just started one day, and I've been listening and talking ever since. Maybe I listen more than I talk, too. It's hard to think of something to say when I get stories like the one above.

The last thing these kids need is to be sent home for a day. School may be an institutionalized hell-hole for them as is, but it can sure beat what they go home to. I'll save my rant about institutionalization for another day, but I'll curse Duncanville today for leaving those kids behind. I don't quote George Bush when I say "No child left behind." I quote Jesus Christ instead.

by Dean Webb

Posted at:10 Jan 2009 06:21:10 PM

No Words portraits and romantic illustrations.

What's there to say?

I got words and pictures.

I got a message board.

Like I said, what's there to say?