So Far Away And So Saddened

I’m far away from both Paris and my home as I read about the horrible attacks. I wish I could write something profound and inspirational, but I’m not there. Right now I’m split between my heart – that desires bloody, violent retribution – and my head – which knows that is exactly what the terrortists want.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembrance Day

The poppy is ubiquitous in Canada around 11 November, which is our Remembrance Day, when we are supposed to remember the sacrifices made in wars great and forgotten. The poppy is used based on the poem “In Flanders Fields,” which is worth reading.

And it’s remembering the people who have suffered and died around the world fighting to make this world a better place. Wars are not great, but sometimes great people serve through them.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – the Nubians

As you might imagine, my favourite episode of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt has to do with the 25th dynasty. The Nubians, the Kushites, the Sudanese, call them what you will, the 25th dynasty is the focus of Nefertiti Overdrive. More specifically, the fall of the 25th dynasty is the focus.

Dr. Brier considers the whole dynasty great because, for a brief moment, they brought Egypt back from the brink. It had been in decline since Rameses the Great. By the time of the Kushite invasion, Egypt had already seen a 200-year period in which it was ruled by Libyans, then it fell apart, leading to a factional struggle for control among a collection of petty princes.

Then the Kushites swept in and made everything better.

Maybe not, but the 25th dynasty restored Egypt to its former glory. And they did not impose a foreign religion or culture. The Kushites had their differences, but they admired and copied Egyptian culture and worshipped Egyptian gods. And yet they were foreign occupiers who didn’t last as long as the Libyans thanks to the coming of the Assyrians to back up a rival from the town of Sais.

In Nefertiti Overdrive, after the initial adventure, there is a discussion of possible story hooks and characters the player characters might encounter. In that discussion, one possibility is that the Saite dynast – the prince whom the Assyrians backed to remove the Kushites – was a patriot who was trying to liberate Egypt from foreign rule. In history, the 26th dynasty did turn on the Assyrians after accepting their help in removing the Kushites. Maybe the Saite dynast was a patriot, but in removing the Kushites, he removed the last great dynasty that would rule Egypt as Egyptians, even were they foreign. The next major dynasty is the coming of the Greeks, and the end of an Egypt ruled by Egyptians.



Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Rameses, the Decline and Fall?

This is very, very late, and I hope you’ll forgive me. However, I’m afraid that’s going to happen again. I’m heading off on an adventure on 10 Nov and won’t be back until Dec. I’m hoping to get a couple of episodes ready for later release, but seeing as I also have two assignments for a course, I’m afraid this is taking a backseat.

However, all that aside, let’s talk Ramses the Great. As related by Dr. Brier in the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, he honestly doesn’t seem that great. I really wonder if his longevity is the basis of his reputation. In the last episode, Dr. Brier indicated Rameses was known as the great chiseller because he replaced other pharaoh’s name with his own on many edifices. Then he lives into his eighties, giving him eighty or so years to build more stuff. Is that all it is?

Maybe I’m just way too cynical.

Okay, so this episode charts Rameses decline from his heyday as the “victor” of Kadesh – see the last review for my comments on that. And I loved it. Dr. Brier said from the outset he wanted us to see the pharaohs and other subjects as people, and this episode certainly does that. I again have some issues with how the history is presented (more on that later), but the portrayal is amazing. Even if much of this is projection by the historian, the character created is fascinating. With each event related, I was going through plot points and story hooks in my head.

But there wasn’t a lot here about Rameses being great other than he built a lot. Listen, the more time and money you have, the more you can build. And that money is likely because he signed a peace treaty with the Hittites. That treaty, though, was desired by the Hittites who were being pressured by the Assyrians (Assyrians! It had to be Assyrians). Rather than take advantage of an old enemy’s weakness, Rameses made an ally.

And maybe that’s what makes him great. Dr. Brier takes about this as Rameses decline, but maybe it’s just him becoming wiser. Seriously, he’s been on the throne for about twenty years. He’s seen some stuff. Maybe he finally figured out that war just wasn’t that awesome. And because of that, he had money and manpower with which to build stuff. That’s an analysis I’d buy.

But my problem with this episode is the amount of weight Dr. Brier gives to the Exodus. While admitting there is absolutely no archaeological evidence of either a large Hebrew population in Egypt at the time or for the movement of a large number of people, Dr. Brier uses textual clues within the Book of Exodus to claim it likely happened during Rameses time.

So, again, I have to reach back to the episode on Hatshepsut and how Dr. Brier deemed it impossible that she led an army because women did not and compare that with “we have no archaeological evidence, but I’ll twist some textual evidence into a shape I like and declare victory.”

I honestly like Dr. Brier as a presenter even though I’ve had some real issues with his presentation of history. This is just something that really annoys me.

But I’ll be in a better mood next time, because the next episode is the 25th dynasty. Nefertiti Overdrive y’all!

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Kung Fu Killer

Kung Fu Killer (also known as Last of the Best and Kung Fu Jungle) is another Donnie Yen action vehicle from Hong Kong. Apparently, it has won a bunch of awards, including one for action choreography. That one, I can understand. As with most – though not all – Donnie Yen movies, this has great action. Everything framing that action? There’s the rub.

So Donnie Yen’s character, a martial arts master named Hahou, turned himself in when he beat someone to death and starts the movie in prison. While he’s on the inside, someone starts hunting down masters and killing them using their own style. Hahou contacts the police and makes a deal to help them hunt down the killer.

The framing story is pretty convoluted and honestly doesn’t bear much scrutiny, nor does the movie’s own internal logic really help. I mean, I read that it won some awards, so someone is digging its narrative vibe, but I didn’t find the story compelling.

And who cares? The fight scenes are imaginative and kinetic. One of its awards was for fight choreography, and that I can agree with. The storyline allows scenes with different fighting styles – like certain weapons or specific open hand/foot techniques – which I like. Many of the scenes don’t include Donnie Yen, which I generally consider a mistake, but the action is always excellent.

This is from the director of Bodyguards and Assassins, another Donnie Yen movie in which he is the star but doesn’t bear all the action workload. Like that movie, Kung Fu Killer’s action doesn’t let up, even when it isn’t Donnie Yen laying on the beat-down.

I give Kung Fu Killer 4 bamboo poles spilling out of truck on the freeway out of 5. The action is excellent, but the framing narrative isn’t so hot and that can make the movie drag in some places.

You can find out more about Kung Fu Killer at IMDB and Wikipedia.

You can find out more about Bodyguards and Assassins at IMDB and Wikipedia.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Rameses the Great

The Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt course embarks on an episode about a pharaoh known as “the Great,” which is only fitting.

Wow, that’s a tortured opening. Meh, I’m going to leave it.

This time we are looking at Rameses the Great. There are a lot of high points to this episode, from a discussion of the dynastic difficulties following Tutankhamen’s death, to the naming conventions for pharaohs, to a discussion of Egyptian military practices.

And you know that last one is going to get me to prick up my ears.

But part of that last topic also raised my ire. Dr. Brier talks about the Battle of Kadesh in detail. He can do that because Rameses left lots of details regarding his great victory, something Dr. Brier expects he “dined out on” for quite some time: “Did I tell you about the time my army was outnumbered two to one and I was a no-shot super-hero? Oh, you’ll love this. So, you know the Hittites, right? . . .”

I’m going to save my ire for later. This is one of the episodes that overlaps with my other interests a fair amount. It has a lot of good stuff about the army in this episode – from the structure and hierarchy to the camp life on the march. Logistics, as always, was very important in the Battle of Kadesh, though it doesn’t sound like we have a completely clear idea how Egypt projected force into the Levant, but it did – sending an army of 20,000.

The Battle of Kadesh is pretty iconic as ancient battles go, but almost all of our sources – and as far as I know, all of our detailed sources – are Egyptian. This isn’t a problem for relying on them for information such as types of troops, organization of camps, and even order of march, but to accept everything the Egyptians claim about the battle as true – to me – seems like using Shakespeare’s Henry V as a primary source for the Battle of Agincourt.

Then again, I’m not a famed and successful professor.

In the end, I came out of this episode with a lot more knowledge than I went in with, and – as always – it held my attention and got me excited. I think, like other episodes, this one has a lot of grist for the mill when it comes to basic knowledge and inspiration. I love listening to Dr. Brier talk about Egyptian history, and he is definitely a fan of Rameses (though not as much as he is a fan of Sneferu). And Rameses was so great he gets two episodes, so there’s more where this came from.

That makes me happy.

Yet as I mentioned above, I’m not 100% happy. This is what irks me. In relating the Battle of Kadesh, Rameses depicts himself as a super-hero – and whomever actually did the carving or wrote the papyrus or whatever other evidence we get from the Egyptian side, it’s Rameses’ perspective. He describes his “victory” (and minimal further research leads me to believe that this might not have been as complete a victory as he claims) in terms that wouldn’t be out of place on a North Korean biography of its first communist leader – Kim Il Sung. Rameses is surrounded and outnumbered, and not only does he rally the troops, he personally leads them and possibly shoots fireballs out of his arse.

Dr. Brier relates all this as fact. Unquestioning. Remember when we were talking about Hatshepsut? Remember how he made the claim – without explanation – that there was no way she actually led her troops into combat? Now he’s relating with complete sincerity – again, without explanation – something that sounds like utter bull$h!t. Okay, maybe there is good evidence that Hatshepsut was full of it while Rameses was not, but without providing that, it really sounds like assumptions and biases are at play.

And given that the main character of Nefertiti Overdrive is both a woman and the chief counsellor of the pharaoh, I do have a horse in this race. Even if I didn’t, even if I accepted that because she was a woman Hatshepsut could never lead an army, I would damn sure want to hear the strong corroborating evidence that Rameses hulked out and beat the Hittites, possibly with their own severed limbs.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Tutankhamen’s Murder Mystery

Here we are to chat about the second Tutankhamen lecture from Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. You were expecting this earlier, I know. As I mentioned over at SEP, between my job, my family commitments, and starting a Master’s program, my free time has plummeted. I’m moving forward with the listen-through. While through the week, I’m pretty much busted by the time my kids are in bed, I have time on the weekend to do some writing after I finish my course work (calling it homework makes me think of being in high school).

This second Tutankhamen lecture is called “A Murder Theory,” and it has very little about the boy pharaoh, and a lot more about the discovery of his tomb and the excavation. Even when Dr. Brier does turn to the history, we learn much more about Tutankhamen’s sister and wife (man, that is one thing I will never get used to in regards to Egyptian history), Ankhesenamen.

You see, Tutankhamen didn’t last long once he became an adult, and an X-ray examination of the body indicated he had received “a blow to the back of the head” which could have led to his death. More, his widow wrote to the Hittite king asking him to send a son whom she would marry and make king of Egypt. In her letter, she makes reference to being afraid and refusing to marry a servant.

As Dr. Brier relates it, Ankhesenamen was likely afraid of the Vizier, Aye, who is believed to have been the guardian of the children after the death of Akhenaten – the heretic pharaoh – and who became the next pharaoh. Dr. Brier also relates that a ring found in the 1930s included the cartouches – or royal symbols – of Aye and Ankhesenamen. His theory is that Aye murdered Tutankhamen and forced Ankhesenamen to marry him, becoming the next pharaoh. In fact, at the time of Ankhesenamen’s letter to the Hittite king, Aye may have already taken the trappings of a pharaoh as he is depicted in Tutankhamen’s tomb as both high priest and pharaoh.

Ankhesenamen disappeared from history. If Aye had murdered the last pharaoh and usurped the throne, getting rid of the wife wouldn’t be a stretch. It sounds very Richard III – at least Shakespeare’s portrayal of him. It’s also great fodder for a game.

Maybe Ankhesenamen wasn’t murdered. Maybe she married Aye, buying time while she planned her escape. She escapes then spends the rest of her life opposing Aye from a secret location, blaming him for the death of her brother. The Hittite prince sent to marry her was murdered in transit, possibly at Aye’s orders. Maybe he survived, or his loyal bodyguard or general. Ankhesenamen might take on a new identity, remaining in Thebes, working against Aye and his henchmen, along with her Hittite ally and other cool characters.

Sounds like a story ripe for Nefertiti Overdrive (hitting stores 19 Oct).

And apropos of nothing, every time I heard Dr. Brier mention Ankhesenamen, I couldn’t help but think of the the Mummy’s lover from the 1999 film, the Mummy – Anck-Su-Namun. Maybe that name was a bad transcription of Tutankhamen’s widow’s name.



Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment