The mystery of the medieval maps

More evidence that our ancestors were not stupid:

Where and how did medieval mapmakers, apparently armed with no more than a compass, an hourglass and sets of sailing directions, develop stunningly accurate maps of southern Europe, the Black Sea and North African coastlines, as if they were looking down from a satellite, when no one had been higher than a treetop?

The earliest known portolan (PORT-oh-lawn) chart, the Carta Pisana, just appears in about 1275 — with no known predecessors. It is perhaps the first modern scientific map and contrasted sharply to the “mappamundi” of the era, the colorful maps with unrecognizable geography and fantastic creatures and legends. It bears no resemblance to the methods of the mathematician Ptolemy and does not use measurements of longitude and latitude

And yet, despite its stunning accuracy, the map “seems to have emerged full-blown from the seas it describes,” one reference journal notes. No one today knows who made the first maps, or how they calculated distance so accurately, or even how all the information came to be compiled.

“The real mystery is that if you took all the notebooks from the sailors used in making these charts, along with the coordinates and descriptions,” Hessler says, tapping the glass that covers the ancient vellum, “you still couldn’t make this map.”

via Library of Congress holds conference on origins of portolan charts.

The article reports on research using high-tech mapping technology that proves just how accurate these ancient maps were.

Multiculturalism

Michael Gerson offers a memorable quotation:

After the British army conquered the Sindh region of what is now modern-day Pakistan in the 1840s, Gen. Charles Napier enforced a ban on the practice of Sati — the burning of widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. A delegation of Hindu leaders approached Napier to complain that their ancient traditions were being violated. The general is said to have replied: “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. . . . You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

via Michael Gerson – Europe’s burqa rage.

Banning the burqa

The actual subject of Michael Gerson’s column, quoted above, is the vogue in a number of European countries to ban the burqa, the Islamic garb that swaths women so that their bodies cannot be seen.  After criticizing the practice, Gerson criticizes the atempts to outlaw it:

The motives of European leaders in this controversy are less sympathetic. Some speak deceptively (and absurdly) of a security motive for banning Islamic covering. Who knows what they are hiding? But by this standard, the war on terrorism would mandate the wearing of bikinis. The real purpose of burqa bans is to assert European cultural identity — secular, liberal and individualistic — at the expense of a visible, traditional religious minority. A nation such as France, proudly relativistic on most issues, is convinced of its cultural superiority when it comes to sexual freedom. A country of topless beaches considers a ban on excessive modesty. The capital of the fashion world, where women are often overexposed and objectified, lectures others on the dignity of women.

via Michael Gerson – Europe’s burqa rage.

If the freedom of religion is an important principle for us Christians, we need to defend the freedom of religion for non-Christians as well.  Don’t we?  Do you see how this is different from outlawing widow burning?

China needs brands

OK, maybe China won’t bury us economically after all:

Quick: Think of a Chinese brand name.

Japan has Sony. Mexico has Corona. Germany has BMW. South Korea? Samsung.

And China has . . . ?

If you’re stumped, you’re not alone. And for China, that is an enormous problem.

Last year, China overtook Germany to become the world’s largest exporter, and this year it could surpass Japan as the world’s No. 2 economy. But as China gains international heft, its lack of global brands threatens its dream of becoming a superpower.

No big marquee brands means China is stuck doing the global grunt work in factory cities while designers and engineers overseas reap the profits. Much of Apple’s iPhone, for example, is made in China. But if a high-end version costs $750, China is lucky to hold on to $25. For a pair of Nikes, it’s four pennies on the dollar.

“We’ve lost a bucketload of money to foreigners because they have brands and we don’t,” complained Fan Chunyong, the secretary general of the China Industrial Overseas Development and Planning Association. “Our clothes are Italian, French, German, so the profits are all leaving China. . . . We need to create brands, and fast.”

The problem is exacerbated by China’s lack of successful innovation and its reliance on stitching and welding together products that are imagined, invented and designed by others. A failure to innovate means China is trapped paying enormous amounts in patent royalties and licensing fees to foreigners who are.

China’s government has responded in typically lavish fashion, launching a multibillion-dollar effort to create brands, encourage innovation and protect its market from foreign domination.

Through tax breaks and subsidies, China has embraced what it calls “a going-out strategy,” backing firms seeking to buy foreign businesses, snap up natural resources or expand their footprint overseas.

Domestically, it has launched the “indigenous innovation” program to encourage its companies to manufacture high-tech goods by forcing foreign firms to hand over their trade secrets and patents if they want to sell their products there.

via Beijing tries to push beyond ‘Made in China’ status to find name-brand innovation.

Just because a country takes advantage of the market doesn’t mean it has a free-enterprise economic system.   China’s government-controlled socialist economy may be good at mass industry and mobilizing labor, but innovation and consumer-capitalist tricks such as “branding” are hard to come up with under a top-down, command economy.  (So why, one might ask, are WE moving in that direction?)

Happy belated Pentecost

Sunday was Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Easter and thus the birthday of the Church.  Something I learned from Sunday’s service:  The Holy Spirit was accompanied by miraculous language, which was not just words but powerful, life-changing words that all people could understand.  That is to say, the Holy Spirit manifested itself in the Word of God.  So every time we read the Bible, hear it preached, or otherwise experience  the faith-creating proclamation of the Gospel–all in our own language–the miracle of Pentecost continues.

Helping Haiti

The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod is doing good work in Haiti that is attracting attention.  This from WORLD MAGAZINE:

The LCMS has been in Haiti since the quake, providing for the immediate needs of the survivors: food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelter. They realize, however, that they were not doing enough to help with the sense of hopelessness in the people. After speaking with the Rev. Marky Kessa, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti, the organization leaders realized that the best way to help rebuild the survivors’ lives was to build permanent houses.

So with the help of the local church, the LCMS initiated its “Building Homes and Hope in Haiti” project by acquiring enough land to build three villages. Because of the confusion within the Haitian government, the group was unable to receive land grants, so the LCMS instead bought the land from its previous owners. The organization plans on building 300 houses, an orphanage, a school, a chapel, and a medical clinic in each of these villages.

In early April, a group of volunteers from Ohio and Missouri went to Haiti to build three model homes—one with a single room, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom—to give the people in Haiti a chance to see what the houses will look like and to encourage donors at home to support the project.

The building process, which began this week, will take a three-pronged approach. First, local professional contractors will be hired to plan and direct the building, which will also help create jobs for local Haitians. Then there will be a call for volunteers from within the community. Finally, volunteers from the United States will be brought in to help build.

“The local people are really involved in their country and their lives,” Merritt said. “They don’t want mercy organizations coming in and taking over everything, they want a say in what happens, and are more than willing to volunteer and assist.”

via WORLD Magazine | Homes and hope | Angela Lu | May 20, 10.

This is the work of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.  The leader of this effort and the designer of this kind of effective ministry is not mentioned in the article, but it’s Rev. Matt Harrison.

HT: Mollie Hemingway


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