Category: History & Politics

Snowden’s Memoir Reignites Controversy Over Gov. Surveillance

Six years ago, Edward Snowden shocked the world when he revealed the U.S. government was secretly implementing a plan to collect and monitor every phone call, text message, and email. Now, he’s telling how he helped create this system of mass surveillance and why he chose to expose it in his memoir, Permanent Record. 


Image via


The book’s release is not without its controversies, though. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit Tuesday, Sep. 18, alleging that the whistleblower’s memoir violates a non-disclosure agreement he signed while working for the CIA and NSA. Strangely, the lawsuit does not seek to prevent distribution of the Permanent Record. Rather, the DOJ asks the court to seize the financial proceeds from the book. G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement:


Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit.



Typically, government employees with access to sensitive information have to submit any published work to their agency for review. Permanent Record contains no secrets that haven’t already been published by other news organizations. Snowden did not submit the book to the government for review prior to publication, preferring to publish his uncensored story. Ben Wizner, an attorney for Mr. Snowden who runs the American Civil Liberties Union’s speech, privacy and technology project commented on the circumstances of the lawsuit:


Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review. But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified.



It’s understandable why the U.S. government might want to stifle Permanent Record‘s release seizing its profits. The story he leaked in 2013—of the government’s vast surveillance network capable of monitoring the activity of every person on the Internet—is still shocking today. In a section of the book describing the XKEYSCORE system which is “perhaps best understood as a search engine that lets an analyst search through the records of your life,” Snowden writes:


It was, simply put, the closest thing to science fiction I’ve ever seen in science fact.


But perhaps the lawsuit will have the opposite effect, driving more attention to it than it originally attracted. Anyway, Permanent Record is set to be one of the most important political books of the year. Still living in exile in Russia, this is Snowden’s chance to tell his story truthfully.



Featured image via Getty Images, Justin Sullivan 

Have You Read This Book About The Ridges?

Better known as Athens Asylum, the history of this abandoned asylum is detailed in Katherine Ziff’s book, Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape. The Amazon description reads:

Asylum on the Hill is the story of a great American experiment in psychiatry, a revolution in care for those with mental illness, as seen through the example of the Athens Lunatic Asylum.


Cover for "Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape"

Image Via Amazon


…but what the heck is Athens Asylum? Why should you know about it? And is it called Athens Asylum or the Ridges?

And why should you care? Well, I’m not going to cover everything, but I am (hopefully) going to give you enough to grab your attention and (hopefully) get you to buy this amazing book.


Athens Asylum-Exterior

Image Via


To start, Katherine Ziff is not only a scholar but also a counselor in the Athens City School District. Don’t be mistaken, however, that doesn’t mean she had an easy task ahead of her when crafting this book.



Known by a mix and match of different names, this asylum, or state hospital, or haunted-place-you-should-definitely-stay-away-from, the then-known Athens Lunatic Asylum today exists as an asylum you’d typically see in a horror movie.


The Ridges-Exterior

Image Via Athens County Visitor’s Bureau


With its many abandoned corridors, a graveyard filled with unmarked graves because the families of patients couldn’t afford a proper funeral, a place where one doctor notably performed “more than two-hundred frontal lobotomies he performed at the Athens State Hospital in seven visits between 1953 and 1957,” and even a corpse stain made by a female patient who lost her way inside the many rooms and died only to be discovered a month later by a maintenance worker in the late 70s. Athens, given that it was closed down in 1993 but never torn down, stands as both a haunted house and a tourist spot for prying eyes.

Ziff wanted to find the true face behind this horrific facade.


The Ridges

Image Via Pinterest


It’s a tough task, to say the least. National Endowment for the Humanities writes how numerous buildings were added to the asylum, including a farm office, a new amusement hall, additional wards and residences, laundry building, power plant, garages, stables, mechanics shops, a firehouse, therapy rooms, just to name a few. To put that into perspective, Legends of America writes that, “by the 1950s the hospital was using seventy-eight buildings and was treating one-thousand-eight-hundred patients” and by “the 1960s the total square footage of the facility was recorded at 660,888 square feet. It was also at this time that its population peaked at nearly two-thousand patients, over three times its capacity.”


The Ridges-interior

Image Via


Why would Ziff take this task on in the first place?

Well, Ziff told Athens News she wanted to see the constant changes “in how we were going to treat people with mental illness.” As a result she compiled, “a wealth of documentary sources including patient admission documents, case histories, medical notes, the writings of patients and their families, and the letters and files of the institution’s superintendents.”

Even with those notes, Ziff had to put herself in the mindset of people she had no way to contact anymore.


The Ridges-Throughout the years

Image Via Abandoned Spaces


Despite this challenge, Ziff paints a long history of the asylum since its opening in on January 9th 1874 and its 1993 closing. She expounds on the medical changes made since there, giving new light to when National Endowment for the Humanities wrote that “the asylum once represented the gold standard of treatment.”



It was a once beautiful place and a bright spot for the future. Completed with ballrooms and amusement parlors, the asylum had not only a stunning interior but a beautiful facade, so beautiful in fact that the Board of Trustees of the Athens Asylum for the Insane’s 1880 annual report reads, “…that our poor unfortunates who are necessarily confined in the wards may look out upon a landscape with pleasure and delight.”


The graveyard

Image Via Court Street Stories


While that statement hasn’t aged well, it paints a picture of the past, of people looking forwards to the future. In their review of the book, Athens News admirably wrote that Ziff “puts the Lunatic Asylum firmly into historical and political context, and even-handedly examines both the bright and dark aspects of 19th-century mental health treatment.”


Katherine Ziff

Image Via The Post Athens


For more, read the book. The Amazon description reads:

“Katherine Ziff’s compelling presentation of America’s nineteenth-century asylum movement shows how the Athens Lunatic Asylum accommodated political, economic, community, family, and individual needs and left an architectural legacy that has been uniquely renovated and repurposed. Incorporating rare photos, letters, maps, and records, Asylum on the Hill is a fascinating glimpse into psychiatric history.”



Image Via Athens County Visitor’s Bureau


On the record, it seems Ziff has succeeded in her efforts, given that since the book’s publication there is now a two-hour tour every month from 2pm to 4pm led by George Eberts, an expert on the history of the asylum. The dates are available here.

If I were you, I’d go on the tour. It’s a chance to get educated and to look into the past and to see, how people back then, looked towards the future. While Athens hasn’t aged well, it stands as a monument for people trying to do better.



Featured image courtesy of Megan Bomar

The New Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was maybe the greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world. Located in Alexandria, Egypt, right on the Mediterranean, the library was burned by Julius Caesar in 48AD, and centuries worth of written wisdom were lost.

If you’re as upset about this fact as the rest of the internet, it’s probably too soon, but I come bearing good news: though we’ll probably never know exactly the magnitude of what we lost, there is now another library on the site of the burned one.

Image via Ancient World Magazine


The Maktabat El-Iskandarīyah (or… Library of Alexandria, in English) opened in 2002, and can hold up to eight million books, though it holds only about 100,000 now. This is equivalent to what scholars believe the Great Library, held in its day. Experts estimate the library won’t be full for another eighty years. The new Library of Alexandria is also home to seven specialized libraries, four museums, two extensive permanent collections, and access to the Internet Archive, a massive digital library.

Image via Pinterest


The ancient library was important not only in itself, as one of the most prestigious libraries of its age, but in that it was a model for other libraries which proliferated throughout the area in major cities and even in smaller ones. The new library, though modern, is both a memorial to the one that burned, and proof that knowledge is still valued as it was then. The library houses books in Classical Arabic, English, and French.

Featured image via Travel and Leisure 

The Charybdis of Literary Meme Culture

Hello internet denizens. Do you Like Homer? Sappho? Memes? Allow me to introduce you to the swirling vortex that is the classics fandom. It may have been two-hundred years since they got any new material, but the community is still going strong. Let’s take a look.

Here, a meme about the greatest intellectual tragedy of all time.


Image via TheAmazingPeggyCarter



But it’s not all about history. Here are some about the Iliad.


Image via Classically Classical Classics Memes


Alright, so it wasn’t a gift, it was a sacrifice to the gods that the Trojans were foolish enough to steal, but I’m not mad about it. Trojan horse memes may be antique, but they’re classic (heh).

How about another Iliad meme, this time thanks to Parks and Rec.


Image via SymposiumAndChill



No opinions on the Iliad? No worries! There are general interest memes as well, about things like the Greek gods.


 Image via Classically Classical Classics Memes


Zeus is a thot. That’s the real takeaway. There’s actually a lot of comedic Zeus hate, which is honestly incredibly valid. Try this one on for size.


Image via PaleoMonarchy


Of course, it didn’t work out very well for Prometheus, but at least he got a burn in before being chained… to a rock… and having his liver… repeatedly eaten. Yikes. He’s definitely going to need more than aloe.



Just one more history meme before I go.


Image via JustHistoryStuff


March fifteenth may have come and gone somehow, but jokes about stabbing Caesar don’t have to be contained to one date, and next year, when you see this last meme, you’ll know it’s come.


Image result for caesar dressing stabbed
Image via Reddit