Derbent, the southernmost town in Russia, in Dagestan; Narin-kala, a Sassanian citadel, in the background
Archive for the 'The Oikoumenê' Category
Four-part BBC radio series on the Anthropocene geological epoch. Available permanently, starting here. Presented by Gaia Vince, produced by Andrew Luck-Baker.
Hominidae, a family of primates, include four extant genera: chimpanzees and bonobos (Pan), gorillas (Gorilla), humans (Homo) and orangutans (Pongo). Collectively great apes. Extinct genera include (for example) Australopithecus.
The word hominid is also used in the restricted sense of member or species of genus Homo. In this usage, all hominid species other than Homo sapiens are extinct.
Approximate chronological order of appearance. But not a linear progression. Some were branches and offshoots, and there was overlapping.
During all but the last 70,000 or 40,000 years of [...] two million years of tool-making, the hominid family’s potential command over the biosphere hardly began to be translated into accomplished fact. There was, of course, some technological progress during the Lower Palaeolithic Age, but in that age this progress was slow and feeble, and each of the successive technological innovations spread uniformly throughout the Oikoumenê (in the Lower Palaeolithic Age, the Oikoumenê did not yet include the Americas). The dissemination of Lower Palaeolithic technological innovations was slow; for the new type of tool had to be transmitted by pedestrians from one community to another, and, in this food-gathering stage of economy, human communities could not live close to each other, since each party required a large area to roam over in order to pick up its livelihood.
Though there was perhaps some ocean travel even by Middle Palaeolithic hominids.
Lower Palaeolithic runs from c 2.6 million years ago. Middle Palaeolithic from c 300,000. Upper from c 50,000, soon after homo sapiens had left Africa, until the invention of agriculture c 10,000 years ago.
If you distinguish only Lower and Upper, homo sapiens appears in Lower. Otherwise, he can be said to have reached anatomical modernity during Middle.
Moreover, we may guess that Lower Palaeolithic hominids, including the most successful species, homo sapiens, were conservative-minded, and that they were shy of adopting an innovation, even when they had the new pattern in their hands. The reason why, nevertheless, new types of tool spread uniformly throughout the Oikoumenê was that, though transmission was slow, innovation was infrequent. The time-intervals between successive innovations were long enough to allow each innovation to spread throughout the Oikoumenê before the next one followed.
In the history of technology the Upper Palaeolithic revolution, which broke out about 70,000/40,000 years ago, was epoch-making. From this time until the present day, improvements in tools of all kinds have accelerated, and, though there have been local and temporary pauses, and even relapses, acceleration has been the paramount tendency in the history of technology during this latest age.
But the age of relative uniformity continued until the beginning of civilisation.
During the period c. 3000 B.C.-A.D. 1500, the respective speeds of dissemination and innovation were reversed. New types of tools were invented before the previously current types had time to spread throughout the Oikoumenê. Consequently the ecumenical uniformity that was characteristic of the Lower Palaeolithic Age [and Upper] gave way, during the subsequent ages, to differentiation. New inventions did not have time to travel from their place of origin to the farthest extremities of the Oikoumenê before they were superseded regionally by further inventions.
The speed of dissemination did not overtake and surpass the speed of invention again till after the fifteenth century A.D. when the conductivity of the Oikoumenê was suddenly increased by the West-European peoples’ invention of a new type of sailing-ship which could stay at sea for months on end and could therefore reach every shore and could circumnavigate the globe.
Now uniformity has returned.
Within the last five hundred years, the speed of both the dissemination and the invention of tools has become immensely greater than it was during the first two million years of tool-making. But the Modern Age and the Lower Palaeolithic Age have one feature in common with each other. In the Modern Age [post-AD 1500] and the Lower Palaeolithic Age alike, the speed of invention has not kept pace with the speed of dissemination, and in both cases the consequence, on the technological plane, has been a high degree of ecumenical uniformity.
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
In A.D. 1952 [...] the feat that had to be performed by Western navigators on the face of the waters of History was to pilot their vessel, without disaster, through perilous straits in the hope of making their way into more open waters beyond; and in this post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.
To paraphrase and anticipate, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: abjuring war without sinking into consumerism.
Sailing between the Pillars of Hercules: negotiating a spiritual passage between a Christian heresy, Communism, on one shore and a backward-looking Christian orthodoxy on the other.
In terms of our Mediterranean maritime simile, we may compare the social and spiritual enterprise to which these Western adventurers were committed in the twentieth century of the Christian Era with the navigational task confronting Hellenic mariners in the sixth century B.C. who had bidden farewell to their Ionian homeland and had set sail westward rather than submit to the alien dominion of un-Hellenic-minded Achaemenidae. Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis; but, if, by managing to steer their course along the narrow fairway through this first danger-zone, they should succeed in making the friendly port of Marseilles, they would not there find themselves at rest in the haven where they would be; [footnote: Ps. cvii. 30.] for their bold and skilful negotiation of the Straits of Messina would merely have carried them from the inner basin into the outer basin of the Mediterranean, without having liberated them from the imprisoning shores of their landlocked native sea.
I’m not sure why the open waters of the Atlantic would have been a haven for them. Nor did the Persians reach the outer basin. But the speculation is half-fanciful. Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans, or some of them, had abandoned Ionia. Where did they sail to, in fact? Some, perhaps, to Chios, some to Phocaean colonies on Corsica and elsewhere. Massalia or Massilia, Marseille (Marseilles, the English sometimes call it), was an existing Phocaean colony: it was an independent Greek city from 600 BC until Caesar conquered it in 49 BC. Some became the founders of Elea, or Velia, in Campania. Some eventually returned to Phocaea.
If they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again from the sheltering harbour of their mother country’s daughter city in order to make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave, were visible embodiments of Imperial Carthage’s decree that no Hellenic vessel was ever to sail on through this golden gate leading out from the landlocked waters into the main.
Since Carthage controlled both sides of the straits, such a decree would not be surprising, but what source tells us that it was made? Were the Carthaginians in part protecting access to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde, the Azores? Some of these islands must have lain behind the tradition of the Hesperides, which Hercules had visited.
A Phoenician fleet had circumnavigated Africa by about 600 BC in the other direction. Herodotus describes how the Pharaoh Necho II sent out an expedition manned by Phoenician sailors. They sailed out of the Red Sea, rounded the Cape, and headed north to the Mediterranean. They paused on the African coast in two successive years to sow and harvest grain, and reached Egypt in the course of the third year.
A Carthaginian, Hanno, probably early in the 5th century BC, sailed to the Bight of Bonny, probably as far as Sherbro Island off Sierra Leone or Cape Palmas off Liberia. An account of his periplus was engraved in Punic on a bronze tablet set up in the temple of Baal at Carthage. It was translated into Greek. The translation survives, and is the only piece of Carthaginian literature we have. His account was used by Ptolemy and remained the standard guide for seafarers until the Portuguese explorations of the 15th century.
We have fragmentary evidence that a certain Euthymenes of Massalia sailed down the west coast of Africa as far as a river which was infested with crocodiles and whose waters were driven back by strong sea breezes. He thought that this river was the Nile. It may have been the Senegal River. We are not sure what century Euthymenes lived in, but there is a statue of him on the façade of the Marseille bourse.
Polybius passed them after Carthage had been destroyed. Pliny the Elder tells us that he sailed down the west coast of Africa c 146 BC in ships lent to him by the destroyer, Scipio Aemilianus. He may have seen Mount Kakulima in Guinea.
So the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and presumably Persians were aware that Africa was surrounded by sea except where it was connected to Asia. Bartolomeu Dias sailed round the Cape in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed round most of Africa in 1497-98 on his way to India.
And here woe betide the Hellenic mariner who allowed himself [if he wanted to reach his haven] to be intimidated by his adversary’s veto into following the Theban Pindar’s poor-spirited advice to his Agrigentine patron Thêrôn.
“And now Thêrôn’s achievements have carried him to the limit: they have brought him to the Pillars of Hercules on his long voyage from home; and what lies beyond this terminus is out of bounds (ἂβατον) for all men, wise or witless. I will not pursue this venture. I should deserve to lose my senses if I did this senseless thing!” [Footnote: Pindar: Odes in Honour of Victors in the Olympic Games, Ode iii, ll. 43-45.]
Theron had reached a metaphorical Pillars of Hercules by his unsurpassable excellence in the Olympic chariot race in 476 BC.
Ne plus ultra! These were the very words that a forbidding Carthaginian statesmanship had been intending to extort from defeatist Hellenic lips; and, so long as this self-imposed Hellenic psychological inhibition held, no Hellenic explorer would ever sail on to test the truth of a later poet’s intuition that the untried passage of the Ocean would prove to be the avenue to a New World. [Footnote: Seneca: Medea, ll. 364-79 [...].] More than two thousand years were to pass before Columbus’s victorious defiance of the veto once imposed by a jealous Carthage was to be commemorated, in the device of “the dollar sign”, by the first sovereign on whose globe-encircling dominions the Sun could never set. On coins minted for Charles V out of American bullion, the antistrophic words Plus ultra! were triumphantly inscribed on a scroll displayed behind the minatory pair of pillars; and the moral was one which a twentieth-century Odysseus ought to take to heart if this series of episodes in the history of the art of navigation was an apt parable of the spiritual voyage on which his sails were set.
According to a Renaissance tradition, the pillars had been inscribed with the words Ne plus ultra as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further. There is no version of the phrase in Greek.
Luigi Marliano, doctor and advisor to the young King of Spain, proposed Plus Oultre for his motto as an encouragement to ignore the ancient warnings, take risks. (The OED can find no example of the phrase Ne plus ultra from before 1637, but that means in English sources.)
Plus ultra is on the present Spanish coat of arms as an inscription on a banner linking two pillars. Its history between Charles V and now includes use thus on the Spanish dollar (current in the Spanish Empire 1497-19th century; the main currency within Spain was the real). The Spanish dollar was contemporary with the German Thaler and was the basis of the American dollar.
The wrapped pillars do not appear on US dollars, but may be the origin of the US dollar sign.
Future post: global histories of anna, cent, centime, crown, cruzado, cruzeiro, denarius, dinar, dollar, drachma, escudo, florin, franc, Groschen, guinea, gulden, Kreuzer, krone, lira, livre, Mark, penny, peseta, peso, pfennig, piastre, pound, real, rial, ruble, rupee, Schilling, shekel, shilling, solidus, sovereign, talent, Thaler, zloty.
In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. If post-Christian Western souls did succeed in threading their way between these two immediate perils, they would owe their happy issue out of this affliction to an inspiration to take Religion as the mark on which they were once more to set their course; but an impulse to return to Religion would not in itself suffice to bring the Western pilgrims’ ships out of inland waters into open sea; for the call of Religion was being uttered in diverse tongues; [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 28.] and the questions to which the agnostic Western pioneer in search of a Christian oracle would have, at his own peril, to find an answer for himself, were:
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? … Have all the gifts of healing? … Do all interpret?” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 29-30.]
In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis. But, if, at this supremely critical point in his voyage, the pilgrim were to feel his heart failing, he might recover his courage and initiative by taking his oracle from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:
“Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 31.]
OED defines petrify as “turn (an organic body) into a stony concretion by gradually replacing its original substance with a calcareous, siliceous, or other mineral deposit”, which I suppose makes “petrify into a pillar of salt” not quite a mixed metaphor.
If a contrite humility was the first of the Christian virtues that were necessary for the Western pilgrim’s salvation, an indomitable endurance was the second. What was required of him at this hour was to hold on his course and to trust in God’s grace; and, if he prayed God to grant him a pilot for the perilous passage, he would find the bodhisattva [in the Mahayana, an enlightened being who has voluntarily delayed his entry into Nirvana in order to help his suffering fellow-beings] psychopompus [conductor of souls through the underworld] whom he was seeking in a Francesco Bernardone of Assisi, who was the most god-like soul that had been born into the Western World so far. A disciple of Saint Francis who followed faithfully enough in the saint’s footsteps to participate in the saint’s gift of receiving Christ’s stigmata would know, with the knowledge that comes only through suffering, that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Lord. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 3-7.] Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor. [Footnote: Ps. l. 9, in the Vulgate Latin text, Ps. li. 7, in the English Authorized Version.]
Seville Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), reign of Charles V
A footnote after “minatory pair of pillars” advises us to
See Raymond, Wayte: The Silver Dollars of North and South America (New York 1939, Wayte Raymond, Inc.) for photographs of dollars coined for the Spanish Crown, over a series of reigns ranging from Charles V’s (regnabat A.D. 1516-56) to the break-up of the Spanish Empire of the Indies in the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, which display the pair of pillars with the motto Plus ultra. On 46 of the 67 specimens (not counting “necessity coins” [small mintings of little value]) of “pillar type” coins here reproduced, including the earliest in the series, Charles V’s coin from Santo Domingo (p. 18, No. 1), the two words are inscribed on a single scroll linking the pillars (and passing behind an heraldic shield inserted between the pillars on coins of this type minted for the Bourbons). On fifteen specimens, each of the two pillars is wreathed in a separate scroll of its own, with “Plus” inscribed on the left-hand scroll and “Ultra” on the right-hand scroll. On six specimens, including Philip II’s dollar minted in Peru (reproduced in Supplement, p. 3, No. A 1), the motto is inscribed behind or above the pillars without being mounted on a scroll.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Important and underrated, and actively maintained, historical resource at Minority Rights Group International.
Maps of the Silk Road differ and are often approximate if not inaccurate. Nor is there one Silk Road. I’ll take this one, which appears to be in the public domain, as a simple reference. It shows the main route from Chang’an, now Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, going north and south of the Taklamakan desert or Tarim Basin. The westernmost city in modern China here is Kashgar or Kashi. From there the road passes through Tajikistan (and perhaps Kyrgyzstan) into Uzbekistan – in other words, through Sogdiana – and from there into Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.
This does not show an alternative southern route which began west of Kashgar and passed through Bactria, north of the Hindu Kush, before rejoining the main route north of Merv.
Another road left China to cross the Karakoram into what is now Pakistan.
The Silk Road is not a steppe route. It runs south of the steppe. It is a mountain and desert route.
Buddhism entered China on the Silk Road via the Kushan Empire in the first century of the Christian era.
I’ve added a comment under my post about Czerski’s “Web kids” manifesto.
“Of course, living in an ‘endless Now’ is compatible with a very strong sense of history. There are signs (I think) that many people are feeling closer to the past than they used to, not more alienated from it.
“Aristocrats used to speak of events in their family histories as if they were all ‘Now’.”
Not being a “Web kid”, I only became aware of this text a few weeks ago. It seems to have been published in February. (Quaintly historical-minded of me to mention that!) Here it is in full at pastebin.
It’s Piotr Czerski’s statement about the generation that grew up with the Internet. Czerski is a polski poeta i prozaik, a także współzałożyciel zespołu muzycznego Towary Zastępcze. Polish poet and novelist, as well as a member (founder?) of a music group, Towary Zastępcze.
“We do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and broke up online. The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us. Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built, they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web; we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.”
And so on. It’s an articulate piece: We, the Web kids addressing You, the analog. It’s also insufferable, but more on that in a moment.
“There is not a trace in us of that humble acceptance displayed by our parents, who were convinced that administrative issues were of utmost importance and who considered interaction with the state as something to be celebrated. We do not feel that respect, rooted in the distance between the lonely citizen and the majestic heights where the ruling class reside, barely visible through the clouds. Our view of the social structure is different from yours: society is a network, not a hierarchy.”
The US constitution, whose preamble is alluded to in the title of his piece, is a manifesto of the analogs. He takes us, the analogs, to the springs of current protest movements:
“We do not feel a religious respect for ‘institutions of democracy’ in their current form, we do not believe in their axiomatic role, as do those who see ‘institutions of democracy’ as a monument for and by themselves. We do not need monuments. We need a system that will live up to our expectations, a system that is transparent and proficient. And we have learned that change is possible: that every uncomfortable system can be replaced and is replaced by a new one, one that is more efficient, better suited to our needs, giving more opportunities.
“What we value the most is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of access to information and to culture. We feel that it is thanks to freedom that the Web is what it is, and that it is our duty to protect that freedom. We owe that to next generations, just as much as we owe to protect the environment.
“Perhaps we have not yet given it a name, perhaps we are not yet fully aware of it, but I guess what we want is real, genuine democracy. Democracy that, perhaps, is more than is dreamt of in your journalism.”
“For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture.”
That’s the point I was making here when I said (comment): “I don’t think the young element in the audience [Royal Opera House, December 6 2008] thinks of ‘modern’ music any more, or hears it as modern, or distinguishes it from ‘real classical’.” It’s all just sounds. It’s also connected with the point I was making here: “With a world continually reminded of itself in video playback, is fashion going to change more slowly? Did styles only change because we weren’t always watching ourselves and kept forgetting what we looked like?”
The critical abilities of which Czerski boasts were acquired by analogs before the Web existed and applied by them perfectly satisfactorily to it. What’s missing with the Web kids as characterised by the polski poeta? Animal warmth? That has been leaking out of public mores for a long time now. Modesty? Charm? Kindness? Tendency not to look like Julian Assange? Humour and irony! Sophisticated humour is not developed among those who “live on the Internet and along it”. Contact me below if I need to pay an old-fashioned fee for this photograph – analog word – by T. Dąbrowski:
Thomas Friedman on Michael Sandel. New York Times Sunday Review.
Quasi-public spaces (old post).
Here I quoted Arundhati Roy on the “most successful secessionist struggle in India”. She was referring to the ominous retreat of the Indian middle and upper classes to gated residential communities.
Facebook is a gated community, though not for the rich. I prefer the public squares of the web.
Are there any arguments against him heading the World Bank?
“[The New York demonstrations have] turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: public spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti [Park, near Ground Zero] in principle is subject to Brookfield’s [Brookfield Office Properties] rules prohibiting tarps [tarpaulin sheets], sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).”
Brian Pickett, occupier in Zuccotti Park: “‘We do Facebook alone. But people are not alone here.’” Facebook users discover strangers in the flesh.
Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic of The New York Times, NYT, October 16 (words between quotation marks).
I don’t think Steve Jobs’s aim was to build a personality cult around himself or even a cult around his products. He did give credit to his colleagues. And:
“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
The respect people gave him wasn’t cultish.
“In a world of second-rate products [of corner-cutting], where people only care about the bottom line, where excellence is for pussies, I revere Steve Jobs and Apple”: Bob Lefsetz in 2009, expressing what most people felt.
Bryan Appleyard on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday:
“[Jobs] had an almost spiritual sense of his products, he believed in them being well designed in areas you couldn’t see [ie the inside and the back]. He thought design ran through the whole product.”
The spiritual analogy holds water.
“The back is left with the unfinish of commercial callousness. What does not show does not matter.”
I’m sure that the makers of icons in Orthodox Christianity paid attention to the wood that that they were about to treat and paint.
Why these things mattered in Christian art is explained by Carey and has of course nothing exactly to do with what motivated Jobs. But Appleyard’s “almost spiritual” is a valid analogy.
“If [Lambert-Rucki’s crucifix] were the idea [my italics: as distinct from representation] of Christ in a body of bronze, that body would have been finished in those parts that do not appear as well as in those that do. The nails would have been real bronze nails, and the attachment of the corpus by them would have been a real attachment. This would have been quite easy. But no. The nails are nails of appearance only, heads without any function other than visual effect. The real attachments are two rough iron pins, one in the left heel and one in the back.”
I don’t want to drive this point too hard, or be sent into pseuds’ corner, but Jonathan Ive would understand exactly what that passage meant in secular design terms.
Most of what Jobs said was memorable. He didn’t speak corporate jargon. Even on the Beatles: “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other”, and from his challenge to Sculley: did he want to “sell sugar water for the rest of [his] life or come with me and change the world?” to his Stanford commencement speech.
Substance and concision are the mark of a mind. Jobs always showed them. So is a certain simplicity, which he had. Mossberg doesn’t glorify him and mentions his “nasty, mercurial side”.
Jobs was blessed by the counter-culture of the ’60s although born too late to be part of it.
The long early Playboy interview, published in February 1985, a few months before he was fired from Apple (beginning his dreaded computer dark ages, but a seminal period for him), is interesting.
“We’re living in the wake of the petrochemical revolution of 100 years ago. The petrochemical revolution gave us free energy – free mechanical energy, in this case. It changed the texture of society in most ways. This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but of another kind: free intellectual energy. It’s very crude today, yet our Macintosh computer takes less power than a 100-watt lightbulb to run and it can save you hours a day. What will it be able to do ten or 20 years from now, or 50 years from now? This revolution will dwarf the petrochemical revolution.”
But my favourite Jobs moment is this, from 1996, I assume after Apple had announced that it would buy NeXT, but certainly before Apple’s rapprochement with Microsoft, which happened in the following year (how irrelevant that seems now):
Admittedly, there is a slight non-sequitur at the end of Jobs’s statement.
Tyler Brûlé recently.
Excessive veneration of social media by entities such as the BBC and the World Economic Forum:
“Why should it be only Facebook and Twitter that get namechecked as vehicles where people make statements or do stupid things? Why should all things digital get so much attention? What happened to people just ‘making a comment’? Do we really care where they SMS-ed it or tweeted it? If companies such as Bic, Pentel, Conqueror, FedEx and Panasonic were all more aggressive they would demand that newsreaders, copy editors and announcers stop plugging Twitter and Facebook or else ensure their brands also get a mention in relation to public statements.
“‘The politician wrote in Bic blue ink on Conqueror 100 gramme paper that he’s a confirmed family man and the name-calling must stop.’ Or ‘in a telephone conference over Deutsche Telekom landline the footballer explained …’ Anyway, you get the idea.” (FT, May 27.)
Brûlé occasionally makes serious points. This is the man who writes about Brand Nippon and Brand Beirut. (I never thought Wallpaper was the best-looking magazine ever. And why does Monocle have the fogeyish name?)
He has some stunningly superficial ideas which have a grain of truth in them. The British economy would get a boost if water-pressure was stronger and people had proper showers before going to work. But he is genuinely interested in urban planning and in public services, for old people as well as for young.
His world is essentially Canada, northern Europe, Switzerland and Japan. In his cities people lead modern lives. Monocle contains articles, never long (there are many photographs, but none full-page), about coffee-shops in Kagoshima, waste disposal in Wuhan and policemen in Porto. The first issue (in 2007) had articles on the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, Chinese investment in Africa (could that have been fresh then?), the best Portuguese-language Sunday newspapers. Monocle is staid. It is not about popular culture.
City liveability ranking in the current issue:
1) Helsinki, 2) Zürich, 3) Copenhagen, 4) Munich, 5) Melbourne, 6) Vienna, 7) Sydney, 8) Berlin, 9) Tokyo, 10) Madrid, 11) Stockholm, 12) Paris, 13) Auckland, 14) Barcelona, 15) Singapore, 16) Fukuoka, 17) Hong Kong, 18) Portland, 19) Honolulu, 20) Vancouver, 21) Kyoto, 22) Hamburg, 23) Lisbon, 24) Montréal, 25) Seattle.
A very Brûlé list. Last year the winner was Munich. BMW designer’s comment in Brûlé’s Munich podcast: (paraphasing) “If you want to attract creative people, the city must give them energy, not take it away.” That’s the difference between exciting and exhausting. It’s received wisdom in the English-speaking world that German cities are dull. They were all bombed and the architecture of their rebuilding, if it wasn’t replication, took nothing that was interesting from the German past, a past about which Germans were anyway uncertain, and much from the dullest tendencies of the mid-twentieth century. The socialist architecture of the ’20s could be depressing as well, but its best German elements could have been reused.
But the post-war buildings have mellowed. Our eyes have periodised them. They have been discovered to have their own style after all. They have been broken up and set off by newer buildings. Trees have been planted or have matured. Early and horrible Fussgängerzonen have been replaced by better ones. And a few large towns survived, such as Heidelberg.
“The English, for example, like nothing more than having a go at German cities, beating them up for being boring while failing to mention that it’s far easier and cheaper to get a good glass of wine at 2am, secure a palatial apartment and get around by bike in Berlin than it is in London.” (FT, June 10.)
Germans, on the whole, live in bigger spaces than English people do. Even if it’s a boring flat, it will have a cellar space that exceeds the total storage space of an English flat. Houses in the suburbs are big. Look at the size of German farmhouses.
“When I first travelled to South Korea seven years ago I found it grey, a little grumpy and largely unattractive. In less than a decade it’s fashioned itself into a major passenger and logistics hub, is home to some of the best hotels in the world and crackles around the clock. Korea Inc’s executives want to work and learn from the best and leaders at both the local and national level have embraced the liveability mantra to retain and attract talent.
“As I crossed Oxford Street on Saturday afternoon there was little of this sort of crackle – just a lot of crack. Up and down the street tummies were hanging out over jeans, food was being stuffed into faces, and bums were falling out of trousers. Was this a nation at rest and play on a gorgeous spring day? Perhaps. Was this also a fleeting snapshot of a nation that’s lost its dignity and sense of pride? For sure.” (FT, May 1 2010.)
Did it take a big airport and expensive hotels to make Brûlé like Seoul? I first went there in 1984 and loved it then. Occasionally you have moments when you connect with a place so much that you realise you are slipping into a life there, but life pulls you out. It was a rough place, still traumatised by the Korean War. The nightly curfew in the city had only been lifted in the previous year. Nobody wore jeans. Few people knew any English (even the word hello). I haven’t been back in the last seven years, but I’m sure I’d still love it. The Korean countryside is also wonderful. I am surprised Seoul does not get into his liveable cities list.
But his point about London touches on something true, and troubling. I walked though Covent Garden and Soho yesterday evening and I have never seen it look less attractive, further removed from any sort of urban douceur de vie. This was not even one hundredth of one per cent of what city life should be like. In ordinary liveability indeces, London always scores badly, even though it has so many points in its favour. On the other hand, it is the city of pageantry, and the city of choice of the world’s rich, nearly all of whom have a stake in it.
The causes of this dichotomy could take a book to analyse. London is not the capital of a republic and doesn’t feel like one. And what people enjoy in London is not, for the most part, the achievement of this generation or the previous one or the one before that. It’s something inherited. Other cities are improving themselves now, partly through having properly-empowered mayors.
Lance Knobel (blogrolled here) wants the FT to sack Brûlé, I suppose on grounds of shallowness, although he shares many of his interests: urban planning and progressive local government and everything that they entail, and industrial design.
I share Brûlé’s scepticism about magazines on the iPad. They look wonderful, but I suspect the renewal rates will be low. And I love Kindle for books (with reservations that could fill another post).
Most Japanese love London. If you ask them what they don’t like, you will get different answers. It’s expensive: most insist it is compared to legendarily-expensive Tokyo, the myth of whose expensiveness has been generated by Americans who don’t know what to look for. The Internet is slow. Public transport is still unreliable. People don’t recycle much. The thing they will agree on is Wagamama: no Japanese person will enter it knowingly more than once. It stands for a whole class of ersatz Asian food served in places (Yo! Sushi is another) which would not survive a day in Japan.
China and Japan (about cities of the whole and cities of parts)
In a Third World War fought with atomic or bacteriological weapons, it seemed, indeed, improbable that the Angel of Death would overlook even those nooks and corners of Man’s terrestrial habitat which, till recently, had been either so uninviting or so inaccessible, or both, as to give their poor, weak, backward inhabitants a virtual immunity against the unwelcome attentions of “civilized” militarists. In a talk given at Princeton [footnote: See Toynbee, A. J.: Civilization on Trial (London 1948, Oxford University Press), pp. 150-63.] just three weeks before the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine of American support for Greece and Turkey against Russian pressure, [footnote: The Truman Doctrine was made public on the 12th March, 1947; the writer's talk, here mentioned, was delivered on the 20th February, 1947.] the writer had given play, half seriously and not wholly in joke, to the fancy that, if a Westernizing World were to allow itself to fall into a Third World War, the sequel might be a rendering, in real life, of one of Plato’s myths in which the Athenian philosopher imagines the mountain-shepherds periodically issuing from their fastnesses in order to build up a new civilization on the vacated site of an old one that has perished in the latest of a number of periodic cataclysms. [Footnote: See Plato: Timaeus, 21 E-23 C [...].] In the imagery of a Collective Subconscious Psyche in the Age of the Civilizations, “shepherds” had come to symbolize the unspent and unspoiled primitive human potentialities for creation that God had still held in reserve after He had led a sophisticated majority of Mankind into the temptations that had worsted Cain the husbandman [footnote: Gen. iv. 3.] and Cain’s son Enoch the city-builder, [footnote: Gen. iv. 17.] and their heir Tubal-Cain the smith. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 22.] Whenever Man in Process of Civilization had come to grief in essaying this most recent, and perhaps most hazardous, of all human enterprises up to date, he had always, so far, counted on being able to draw upon the reserve power latent in still primitive brethren of his whom he had driven out of those choicer portions of the Earth that he had appropriated as his own domain, “to wander about in sheepskins and goatskins in deserts and in mountains”; [footnote: Heb. xi. 37-38.] and, in the past, these comparatively innocent survivors of the children of Abel had heaped coals of fire [no footnote, but Romans 12:20] on the heads of the children of Cain by coming to their murderers’ rescue when the Cainites’ sins had found them out. A shepherd from Ascra, on the foothills of Mount Helicon, [Hesiod] had spoken the prologue to the tragedy of Hellenic history, and shepherds from the Negeb, on the fringes of the Arabian Desert, had stood by the cradle of Christianity in Bethlehem. In his Platonizing jeu d’esprit the present writer had suggested in A.D. 1947 that, if the Western Civilization in which he and his audience were implicated were to inflict some major catastrophe on the Oikoumenê, the task of launching, all over again, a cultural enterprise that had been on foot for the last five or six thousand years might perhaps fall to Tibetans hitherto safely ensconced behind the ramparts of their plateau or to Esquimaux hitherto snugly nestling against an innocently inclement ice-cap that was a less vicious neighbour than any homo homini lupus. Within the three and a half years that had elapsed between the delivery of that address and the writing of the present lines in the still peaceful precincts of the same university town, these tentative fancies had been overtaken and ridden down by the march of historical events. At the moment of writing in December 1950, an invading Chinese Communist expeditionary force was reported to be en route for Lhasa [hardly the first invasion of Tibet, but one takes the point], while Esquimaux who had formerly been happy in having no foe or friend except Physical Nature found themselves in the fairway of a transpolar bombing-route between the basins of the Volga and the Mississippi, and of a ventre-à-terre invasion-route, across the ice-floes of the Behring Straits, from the once sequestered habitat of the primitive denizens of the north-eastern tip of Russia-in-Asia into an Alaska that was divided from the main body of the Continental United States by nothing but a Canadian “Polish Corridor”.
Thus a now ubiquitous Western Society held the fate of all Mankind in its hands at a moment when the West’s own fate lay on the finger-tip of one man in Moscow and one man in Washington who, by pressing a button, could detonate an atom-bomb.
Perhaps “the reserve power latent in [the city-dweller’s] still primitive brethren” was felt to be present in fishermen, too. Several of Christ’s apostles were fishermen. None was a shepherd. I had a friend who lived in Ghana in the ’70s and thought that the fishermen there were the exact types of the apostles.
In what way was a discovery of a moral reserve power different from nonsense about the virtues of simple folk? The ancient world was as prone to that as the modern has been.
It was a matter of recognising purity of heart and receptivity, but they are ambivalent qualities. Those who thought that the world’s previously-sleeping rural masses would be a cleansing force when old régimes were swept away in the early twentieth century were mistaken.
People still travel to find “unspent and unspoiled primitive human potentialities”, but as they arrive at their destinations the people they came to see start to move into towns. In 2008, Cains outnumbered Abels in the world for the first time. Suddenly we need to find the reserve power in townspeople.
In 2011, progressive reformers in the Middle East are hoping to find reserve power in a historically-new post-ideological, post-innocent urban maturity that hasn’t been forged through decades of painful democratic growth.
Monks were the reserve power in the Dark Ages.
Bronzino, Adoration of the Shepherds (1535-40), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (the shepherd’s back still has some medieval knobbliness, like the front of his Andrea Doria as Neptune)
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Completed single Earth orbit in Vostok spacecraft April 12 1961. “I see no God up here.”
Alexander Maitland on a new book, Wilfred Thesiger in Africa. Various contributors. No text by Thesiger, but his African photographs are there and in an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum which runs until June 5 2011.
See also Thesiger’s The Life of My Choice (1987), My Kenya Days (1994) and The Danakil Diary: Journeys through Abyssinia, 1930-34 (1996).
My Kenya Days (old-fashioned title for a book in 1994) took us to the eve of his return to London, though he said at the end of it that he hoped to die in Kenya.
No modern explorer travelled as much or for as long or so austerely, or retreated to comfort so rarely, or wrote so well when he did retreat or was a better photographer. When he travelled, his camera and, in some cases, medicines, not mainly for himself, were the only possessions which distinguished him from his local companions. No traveller was so little corrupted by voyeurism or careerism.
None has shown such detestation of modern life without being a dropout from his own society or a sentimentalist. He was a proud (his word) Englishman who spent little time in England. He knew that people, including himself, were happier in the old ways of life and that the Earth was being ruined. The British Empire would serve (he did not say this explicitly), where it ruled, as a guarantor of stasis.
When men landed on the moon, Thesiger was at Lake Turkana in Kenya.
Samburu youth, near Maralal, Kenya, 1977
“I knew that I had made my last journey in the Empty Quarter [1949-50] and that a phase in my life was ended. Here in the desert I had found all that I asked; I knew that I should never find it again. But it was not only this personal sorrow that distressed me. I realized that the Bedu with whom I had lived and travelled, and in whose company I had found contentment, were doomed. Some people maintain that they will be better off when they have exchanged the hardship and poverty of the desert for the security of a materialistic world. This I do not believe. I shall always remember how often I was humbled by those illiterate herdsmen who possessed, in so much greater measure than I, generosity and courage, endurance, patience, and lighthearted gallantry. Among no other people have I ever felt the same sense of personal inferiority.
“On the last evening, as bin Kabina and bin Ghabaisha were tying up the few things they had bought, Codrai said, looking at the two small bundles, ‘It is rather pathetic that this is all they have.’ I understood what he meant; I had often felt the same. Yet I knew that for them the danger lay, not in the hardship of their lives, but in the boredom and frustration they would feel when they renounced it. The tragedy was that the choice would not be theirs; economic forces beyond their control would eventually drive them into the towns to hang about street-corners as ‘unskilled labour’.
“The lorry arrived after breakfast. We embraced for the last time. I said, ‘Go in peace,’ and they answered together, ‘Remain in the safe keeping of God, Umbarak.’ Then they scrambled up on to a pile of petrol drums beside a Palestinian refugee in oil-stained dungarees. A few minutes later they were out of sight round a corner. I was glad when Codrai took me to the aerodrome at Sharja. As the plane climbed over the town and swung out above the sea I knew how it felt to go into exile.”
There’s a legal distinction between movable and immovable property, immovable being real estate. Here is an idle stab at a list of everything man-made that is immovable.
Airport runways, helicopter landing pads, rocket and missile launch pads
Aviaries, large cages
Bomb, shell craters
Buried and undersea cables
Cave paintings, graffiti, murals
Dams, dykes, water barriers, locks, sluices
Ditches, channels, irrigation
Gutters, manholes, drains, sewers, sewage pipes
Harbours, dry docks
Industrial plants, oil rigs and refineries, power stations
Landscaping, golf course bunkers
Megaliths (Stonehenge, Pyramids, Great Wall), colossi
Observatories, as in Jaipur; and large satellite dishes
Open air sports facilities, ice rinks, racecourses, ski runs
Parks, public gardens, zoos
Paved, bricked, tarmacced spaces
Pictures in the landscape (White Horses)
Pipelines, water pipes, gas pipes
Quais, embankments, ghats
Radio telescopes, large satellite dishes
Roads, flyovers, paths, tracks; lamps, milestones, signs, painted lines
Rubbish dumps, pollution
Steps on a hillside
Subterranean shelters, dwellings, cellars
Suburbs, urban sprawl, shanty towns
Telegraph posts and wires, pylons, towers made of iron girders, aerials, signals, public telephones
Terraces, rice terraces
Windmills, water mills
Rice field, China, location not stated, Wikimedia Commons
I remember Henri Frankfort criticizing me on a point [...]. I had apparently disparaged the ancient Egyptian civilization for being static. Frankfort said: Why on earth disparage it for that? Why isn’t the Egyptian ideal of keeping society static just as good as your wretched modern, Western idea of dynamism? And when we look at the world today we see there is a great deal in what he said, and we are beginning to think we must stabilize our civilization.
Toynbee on Toynbee, A Conversation between Arnold J Toynbee and GR Urban, New York, OUP, 1974
Recorded for the 1972-73 programmes of Radio Free Europe.
At a time when this question of the relation between the Will and Intellect and the Subconscious Psyche was much on the writer’s mind, he found himself in Southern California among the green lawns of Los Angeles. The city is so extensive when measured by the standard of mobility even of the driver of an automobile that the pedestrian visitor is prone to forget that, on the map of the continent as seen by a traveller in an aeroplane, this garden-city which, on the ground, seems boundless, is merely a tiny patch of verdure marooned in the midst of a vast desert. Moreover, the green is so perpetual that the spectator is also prone to forget that it is kept in existence only by a likewise perpetual tour de force. Though on every lawn he sees the sprinklers twisting and turning all day long, he soon comes to take the lawns for granted, as if they had been natural products of a non-existent rainfall. So it gives him a shock when on some vacant lot – kept vacant, perhaps, by a speculator in the hope of rising prices – he sees the savage desert sage-brush bristling up out of a parched and dusty ground. He then realizes that, under the artificial green lawns, the same savage Nature that has here broken its way to the surface is all the time eagerly waiting for an opportunity thus to come into its own again. This is the precarious position of the Intellect and Will.
An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956
New Delhi. “From the amount of garbage thrown outside the walls of the house, you knew that rich people lived there.”
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008).
In the age of water-transport, the main lines of communication were determined by the configuration of the water-surface of the biosphere. The most precious maritime waterways were straits (e.g. besides the Straits of Malacca, the narrow waters linking the Black Sea with the Aegean, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Dover, and the narrow waters linking the Baltic with the North Sea).
The Kanmon, or Shimonoseki, Strait, Japan, between Honshu and Kyushu
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
Wikipedia list. Covers the world, but incomplete.
In the age of water-transport, the key pieces of the land-surface of the Oikoumenê were those that offered portages from one sea or from one navigable river to another. Egypt itself was a portage area, since the Nile debouches into the Mediterranean, and, from the Nile to the Red Sea coast, there is a short portage from the easternmost arm of the Delta to Suez via the Wadi Tumilat, and another via the Wadi Hammamat from Coptos, in Upper Egypt, to El Qusayr (Leukos Limen).
These portages are the points where the Delta/Nile is closest to the Gulf of Suez/Red Sea. The second of them is a little north of Luxor. The Wadis are dry river beds that are flooded during rain.
Indeed, the portage across the Isthmus of Suez between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean is part of a wider portage area that includes Egypt to the west and Iraq to the east. In this area the Mediterranean, which is a backwater of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, which are backwaters of the Indian Ocean, are separated from each other by the narrowest extent of intervening dry land, and the passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via the Nile is duplicated by the passage to the Persian Gulf via the Euphrates.
If you look at a map, it’s obvious that the key city in the Mediterranean-Euphrates portage is Aleppo.
Two other portages have been of outstanding historical importance: the portage between the rivers debouching into the Baltic and those debouching into the Caspian and the Black Sea, and the portage across the North China plain between the lower courses of the Yangtse, the Hwai, the Yellow River, and the Pei Ho – a portage that has been turned into a waterway by the digging of the Grand Canal. However, the Chinese and Russian portages are on the fringe of the Old-World Oikoumenê; they are surpassed in historical importance by the central portage between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
In the seventh century BC, the Corinthian tyrant Periander built the Diolkos, a paved track which allowed boats to be carried across the Isthmus of Corinth between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.
He had thought of building a canal. So did the Diadoch Demetrius (336–283 BC). So, according to Suetonius, did Julius Caesar and Nero. Nero actually began work, breaking the ground with a pickaxe himself and removing the first basket-load of soil. Six thousand Jewish prisoners of war started digging. The work stopped when Nero died. The modern Corinth Canal was built between 1881 and ’93.
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
“Some cities are really successful, and present the solid and definite achievement of the thing at which their builders aimed; and when they do this, they present, just as a fine statue presents, something of the direct divinity of man, something immeasurably superior to mere nature, to mere common mountains, to mere vulgar seas. … The modern city is ugly, not because it is a city, but because it is not enough of a city, because it is a jungle, because it is confused and anarchic, and surging with selfish and materialistic energies. In short, the modern town is offensive because it is a great deal too like nature, a great deal too like the country.”
Chesterton, Lunacy and Letters, 1958, a posthumous collection of Daily News pieces, therefore probably written 1901-13. I quoted this passage in a piece on cities of the parts and cities of the whole.
The trouble is that those who live in solid and definite cities are not better, and may not even be better-governed, than those who live in confused and anarchic ones. The same energies surge.
Cf Loving your city. Chesterton, of course, loved London.
“A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales – because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.”
I predicted that the YouTube clips of The War Game in my November 1 post would not be available for long and they have already been removed. This is petty-minded of the BBC, which has earned enough by now by licensing the film it refused to show on television, while the film’s maker, Peter Watkins, has earned nothing. The BBC’s public service remit alone should require it to disseminate it free of charge. You can probably get it on other sites.
Citizens of West European countries were haunted [in the post-war world] by fears that some American decision, in which the West European peoples might have had no say, might inadvertently bring Russian atomic missiles hurtling down on Dutch, Danish, French, and British heads. Such West European fears of dire consequences descending upon Western Europe as unintended by-products of some impulsive American retort to some provocative Russian act of aggression were anxieties that might or might not be well founded, but their currency in Western Europe was a fact, and this psychological fact exposed a constitutional flaw in the structure of a commonwealth of Western nations in which all the partners, with the crucial exception of one partner whose “fiat” was “law”, were exposed to the risk of being involved in a perhaps irretrievable catastrophe as a consequence of decisions in which they might have had no voice, on issues in which, for them, the stakes were life and death.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
The films about the possible end of human life that we are being asked to watch now (October 29 and 30 posts) are divertissements compared with the docudrama that I was made to watch at school in 1968 or ’69.
The final passage must be the bleakest ever filmed. More below.
The War Game had been scheduled for transmission on August 6 1966, the anniversary of the Hiroshima attack. The BBC decided in November 1965 not to show it. Watkins asked it to allow a limited release in cinemas. This compromise was approved in March 1966. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament arranged many of the early screenings in the UK, and the film was seen on US college campuses in 1966 and ’67. It represented the UK in the 1966 Venice Film Festival and won an Academy Award in the same year. The BBC did not show it until 1985.
Watkins left Britain soon after making The War Game. He has been forgotten there and now lives in Sweden. Wikipedia links are at the top of this post. Here is his website.
The BBC retains all rights to the film, wherever shown. Consequently, these YouTube clips may not survive for long.
The US authorises tactical nuclear warfare against the Chinese, who have invaded American-occupied South Vietnam. (Against the Chinese in Vietnam or in China?) Russia and East Germany threaten to invade West Berlin if the US does not withdraw its decision. The US does not yield. Two US Army divisions attempt to fight their way into East Berlin, but the Russian and East German forces defeat them. The US launches a pre-emptive, NATO tactical nuclear attack on the eastern bloc. We are not told on what targets. Russian missiles strike Britain.
The story’s centre is Rochester in Kent, which is struck by an off-target missile aimed at Heathrow airport. Other targets mentioned are RAF Manston and the Maidstone barracks. The credits at the end tell us that much of the film was based on information obtained from the bombings of Dresden, Darmstadt, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from the 1954 Nevada Desert nuclear tests.
The film contains a quotation from Stephen Vincent Benét’s poem Song for Three Soldiers:
“Oh, where are you coming from, soldier, gaunt soldier,
With weapons beyond any reach of my mind,
With weapons so deadly the world must grow older
And die in its tracks, if it does not turn kind?”
After the Junior High School (see Judith Weingarten’s comment) emoting of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Home, I saw another film in Kuwait last week. It was called (rather weakly) Blue Gold and subtitled The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water (US, 2008). Here the emotion was about the ownership of water.
Publicity material: “The film makes the case against commodification, proclaiming water as a precious public resource to be protected for eternity. With dwindling clean water supplies, conflicts are already developing between corporations, private investors, government interests and the human race that needs water to survive.”
Website: “In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential (sic; other sics omitted) level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.
“Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.
“We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, ‘This is our revolution, this is our war’. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity.”
We know what the problems of water are. Rapidly falling water tables and drying rivers from over-exploitation by agriculture, industries and cities. Flooding caused by deforestation and poor land management. Climate change and loss of glaciers. Pollution. Declining ability of oceans to absorb carbon dioxide. Over-fishing. Social and political tensions that come from all this. Much of what the film says is correct.
But it is obsessed with one question: ownership. One of its bogeys is Nestlé. The film is in the spirit of the anti-Davos, the World Social Forum, and has scenes shot at one or more of its meetings. Here, from the World Economic Forum’s meeting at Davos in 2009, is a 60-minute panel on water in which Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestlé, argues from a position opposite to that of the film, though there is some common ground. Basic water, he says, is a human right, meaning the few litres of water that each human being needs to drink each day and for basic hygiene. Using publicly-owned, subsidised, water to fill swimming pools and water golf courses is not a human right.
Water has to be managed. Blue Gold finds it self-evident that public ownership will produce better and fairer management than private ownership.
Seventy percent of the world’s water is used not for drinking or washing, but for agriculture. (A disproportionate amount of that goes into the supply chain for producing the rich world’s beef.) Biofuels are especially water-intensive. Most of the rest is used by industry. The issue is not ownership, but use and pricing. Precisely because water is precious, it must be priced. The failure to price it properly, says Brabeck-Letmathe, is the reason it is so abused. Ecologically-disastrous experiments such as Saudi Arabia’s now-abandoned programme of wheat farming were conducted because water was publicly-subsidised. Pricing water is, politically, extremely difficult to do and to regulate, but it must be done, by both public and private bodies. (Brabeck-Letmathe would probably concede that, with proper pricing mechanisms, publicly-owned water need not be subsidised water.)
Blue Gold is partly presented by the Council of the Canadians, the Polaris Institute, Food and Water Watch, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Water Paradigm, Ryan’s Well Foundation, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Navdanya, Anti-Privatization Forum in Johannesburg and the France Libertés Fondation Danielle Mitterrand. It is produced and directed by Sam Bozzo.
Yesterday, at a sparsely-attended film festival in Kuwait (there were some impressive young Kuwaiti scientists and ecological volunteers there today; here are some of them at kuwaitturtles.com), I saw Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film Home.
Arthus-Bertrand was behind La terre vue du ciel (1999), Earth from Above, first a book, but also a film. His new film is not for profit and has no copyright restrictions attached to it. It is also shot from the air. He wants it to be seen by as many people as possible in the weeks leading up to Copenhagen.
I railed against fake beauty in relation to a historical documentary. I’m not taking that post back.
There was a sequence here about the invention of agriculture from which I snapped the picture at the top of this post. The filter that has been applied to it looks shop-bought and is probably called “Van Gogh”. Rather childish.
There are photographers’ ethics, based on what the equipment is and how they use it, that can define, at any given moment in technological history, what a real photograph is, relative as these realities are. I’d make a rougher film. But roughness can end up being an act of will too.
On Dubai: “Nothing seems further from Nature than Dubai, although nothing depends on Nature more than Dubai. Dubai is [...] the culmination of the Western model.” Questionable last-ditch use of term Western.
Toynbee did not see the environmental problem in the scientific terms in which we see it, but he knew what was coming.
Warren Buffett (Fortune, November 10 2003), quoting Herb Stein: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
Some in the audience sat texting as the message was given to them. If I were painting a crucifixion, I’d have the soldiers texting.
Here is the film.
After the Roman Empire’s economic collapse in the third century, it had been a rash act, on Constantine the Great’s part, to saddle the Empire, which Diocletian had just nursed into convalescence, with a duplicate capital city. This was all the more rash because, if the New Rome was to be a counterpart of the Old Rome, it, too, had to be endowed with “bread and shows” for its populace as a charge upon the whole Empire’s productive capacity – a capacity that was already being over-taxed by a steep increase in the size and cost of the Army. The provisioning of the new duplicate capital also doubled the strain on the Mediterranean merchant-marine, which now had to carry cereals from the southern shores of the Mediterranean to feed, gratis, the inhabitants of a pair of parasitic capitals.
It is true that Constantine had shown genius in his choice of the site for his new capital for the Roman Empire – though Constantine was not the first statesman to notice the felicity of Byzantium’s location. This had been recognized already, before the close of the sixth century B.C., by a sharp-sighted Persian statesman, according to a fifth-century-B.C. Greek historian. [Footnote: See Herodotus, Book IV, chap. 144, for the remark, attributed to Megabazos, that the founders of Chalcedon had been blind in overlooking the site on which Byzantium had been founded seventeen years later.] Constantinople was, indeed, far better placed than Rome for serving as the capital of a circum-Mediterranean empire in the Roman Age of the Mediterranean basin’s history.
Megabazos was one of Darius’s generals. Chalcedon was a Megaran colony. The site was obviously inferior to the one within view on the opposite shore. It was in the territory called Bithynia, which was an independent kingdom before it fell to Rome in 74 BC. Now it is the suburb of Kadıköy, south of Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Byzantium was founded a few years after Chalcedon, also from Megara.
Rome had been well placed for winning the hegemony over Peninsular Italy by military operations on land. But Rome’s site had become inadequate for serving Rome’s needs when Rome had taken to the sea in the First Romano-Carthaginian War, when she had gone on to win the naval command of the Mediterranean, and when she had finally brought under her rule, direct or indirect, the whole perimeter of the Mediterranean, with as much of its hinterland as could be conquered and held by Roman infantry based on the shores of the Mediterranean itself and of its backwaters. Rome had dominated Peninsular Italy thanks to her command of the lowest-down bridge over the Tiber, which was the Peninsula’s principal river, but this lowest-down bridge was too far up the river to be accessible for sea-going vessels, whether merchant-ships or warships, in the post-Alexandrine Age, when the size of ships had increased, while the lowest reach of the Tiber had been silting up. Cargoes destined for Rome had now to be transshipped into lighters that could be towed up the river, and this had to be done in the open sea till eventually – at a cost that could be met only by drawing on the public revenue of the whole Mediterranean World – an artificial port for sea-going vessels, where trans-shipment could be carried out in all weathers, had been excavated and had been linked up with the river.
This local inconvenience of Rome’s site for access by water was a serious handicap for Rome so long as communication was quicker and cheaper by water than by land, as it continued to be till the invention of railways; but Rome’s geographical position in the Mediterranean basin was a still more serious drawback for a city that had become the political capital of the Mediterranean World. Rome’s access to the sea, such as it was, opened on to the western basin of the Mediterranean, and, in the Roman Age of Mediterranean history, the western half of the Mediterranean World, including Peninsular Italy itself, was under-developed and under-populated by comparison with the contemporary development of the Levant. In that age the Levant was the Mediterranean World’s economic and demographic centre of gravity. Egypt, Syria, and western Asia Minor were the Mediterranean World’s industrial and commercial power-houses. The economic capital of the Roman Empire was not Rome-on-Tiber; it was Alexandria-on-Nile.
Constantinople was nearer than Rome to these three key Levantine regions and was also more accessible than Rome was from each of them. Julius Caesar and Augustus were believed by their contemporaries to have played with the idea of transferring the capital of their empire from Rome to Alexandria Troas or to Troy itself. These two [Asian] sites commanded the approaches from the Aegean to the Dardanelles, as well as the ferries, across the Dardanelles, between Asia and Europe. Since Augustus’s day, the main crossing between the two continents had shifted northward, by Constantine the Great’s time, from the Dardanelles to the Bosphorus, and accordingly, if the Mediterranean World was to be given a new capital on one of the two straits linking the Aegean with the Black Sea, Byzantium was now the inevitable site. Byzantium was singled out not only by its geographical location but by the local topography. Troy, like Rome, was not on the coast; Alexandria Troas had no natural harbour; Byzantium had a uniquely serviceable natural harbour in the Golden Horn, a deep-water inlet into which a ship coming from the Black Sea was wafted by the current of the Bosphorus unless its steersman deliberately set its course for the Sea of Marmara. The Golden Horn was the topographical treasure which the founders of Chalcedon had been thought by Megabazos to have overlooked.
Byzantium could be reached by sea-going ships from anywhere in the Mediterranean basin and its backwaters, and, conversely, a government seated in Byzantium could send soldiers or administrators by sea to any point on the Mediterranean coasts of the Roman Empire. Byzantium also commanded the ferries across the Bosphorus on the shortest route between the lower course of the River Danube and the middle course of the River Euphrates; and, in Constantine’s day, these were the two sections of the Roman Empire’s frontier that were under the heaviest pressure from external enemies.
This Danube-Euphrates portage is not mentioned in the passage on portages which I quoted here.
Thus by Constantine the Great’s day the site of Byzantium had become still more important strategically than it had been in Megabazos’s day, rather more than eight centuries earlier. On the other hand, the economic importance of the waterway on which Byzantium stood had diminished by the time when Constantine decided to plant his New Rome there.
In the pre-Alexandrine Age of Hellenic history, the water-route between the Aegean and the Black Sea had been one of the two main thoroughfares of the Hellenic World. It had, indeed, surpassed in economic importance the route from the head of the Gulf of Corinth across the Straits of Otranto to south-eastern Italy and Sicily. The narrow seas between the Black Sea and Aegean had been the route by which, from the seventh century B.C. onwards, the industrial and commercial Greek city-states in the Aegean basin had imported cereals from the Black Earth zone of the Ukraine in exchange for exports of Greek manufactures. The rapid increase, in and after the seventh century B.C., of the population and wealth of Corinth and the other circum-Isthmian city-states of Continental European Greece, and the corresponding contemporary development of Meletos and other city-states on the west coast of Asia Minor and on the adjoining islands, would have been impossible if their food-supply had continued to be limited to the meagre produce of their own territories. In that case they could not have made their economic revolution from the agrarian economy of the ordinary Greek city-state to an industrial and commercial economy with distant markets and sources of supply. The development of these Greek city-states was made possible by their access to sea-borne imports of grain from the Black Earth zone of the Ukraine.
The import of cereals into the Roman Empire from the north shore of the Black Sea through the Thracian Bosphorus past Byzantium had come to an end nearly a hundred years before Constantine the Great selected Byzantium as the site for his new Levantine capital of the Roman Empire. [Ended by Gothic incursions into what we call the Ukraine.] So long as this trade had survived, Byzantium had had the first refusal of the grain that had been the cargo carried by the ships on their southward voyage. “First come, first served.” If cargoes of grain had still been entering the Bosphorus from the Black Sea in Constantine the Great’s time, the creator of the New Rome would have found a food-supply for his new city ready to hand without needing to poach on the sources of supply previously drawn upon by the Old Rome. However, this deterioration of Byzantium’s once unusually favourable economic circumstances did not deter Constantine the Great from enlarging this small colonial Greek city-state into a duplicate capital for the Mediterranean World.
Even after the temporary collapse from which it was recovering in Constantine the Great’s day, the Roman Empire still had vast sources of food-production. Constantine the Great provided the bread-dole for Constantinople by diverting to the new capital the cereals exported from Egypt, leaving to the Old Rome the export from North-West Africa and Sicily. After Justinian I had reconquered the Roman Empire’s Vandal successor-state, these sources, too, of cereals were at the Constantinopolitan Roman Government’s disposal, if required, for the provisioning of Constantinople.
After Justinian I’s death in 565, his successors held, for a few years, about two-thirds of the area over which the Roman Empire had extended in 395, the date of the death of the Emperor Theodosius I. But the strain that had been put on the economy of the Empire’s previously prosperous Levantine dominions by Justinian I’s wars brought its nemesis in 602, when the Constantinopolitan Roman Empire collapsed [or when the troops, asked by Maurice to stay for winter beyond the Danube, mutinied, Phocas killed Maurice and declared himself emperor, and the last round of wars with Persia began]. The Persian occupation of Egypt in 616 suddenly cut off Constantinople’s source of food-supply, and the bread-dole was discontinued, provisionally in 618 and definitively in 626.
In this crisis, the populace of Constantinople would have welcomed even a trickle of grain from the northern hinterland of the Black Sea, but the export of grain from that quarter was not resumed, on any appreciable scale, for another twelve hundred years. In the tenth century, when Constantine Porphyrogenitus was compiling his De Administrando Imperio, Cherson (i.e. the Megarian colony Chersonesus), which by that date had been for many centuries the only surviving Greek city-state on the north shore of the Black Sea, was importing food-supplies, not from the Ukraine nor even from the Kuban basin [the Kuban flows into the Sea of Azov from the Caucasus], but from northern Asia Minor. The Chersonese were paying for this food by serving as middlemen for handling goods exported by the Pechenegs, who, in the tenth century, were the pastoral nomad occupants of the Black Sea Steppe, but the Pechenegs, unlike their long since vanished Skyth predecessors, did not export grain from the Ukraine; their exports were hides – presumably those of animals bred by the Pechenegs themselves on the Steppe – and wax, which they must have obtained, by raiding or trading, from the northern forests, but which was an unprofitable substitute for the grain that the Skyths had once drawn from the Black Earth.
Flickr credit: beside_the_seaside
Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World, OUP, 1973
The Toynbee convector is three years old today.
A capital city could neither become nor remain a capital if it could not import large supplies from distant sources by water. Rome was able to satisfy this condition without difficulty so long as she was the capital of a commonwealth whose area was limited to Peninsular Italy. Standing, as she did, on the bank of the Tiber, which is the biggest and longest river in the Peninsula – a river that was navigable for barges far up its course – Rome, in this first phase of her history as a capital, was able to supply herself with grain from higher up the Tiber valley, as well as with timber from the Appennine forests overhanging the Tiber’s source. When, however, in the course of half a century ending in the year 168 B.C., the Romans expanded the area under their political control from Peninsular Italy to the whole perimeter of the Mediterranean basin, the population of the City of Rome consequently grew to a size at which it could no longer live solely on the river-borne supplies that it could draw from Central Italy. The City now had to draw the major part of its food-supplies from overseas; the military and political ascendency (sic) that Rome had established by this date over Sicily enabled her to requisition food-supplies from there; the granaries of Sicily were subsequently supplemented by those of North-West Africa and Egypt, and the export of grain from Sicily and from Egypt presented no problems, since no cornfield in Sicily was far from the coast, while every cornfield in Egypt was close to the waterway of the River Nile or one of its arms. The City of Rome’s problem at this stage of its history was the conveyance of these sea-borne supplies on the last stage of their journey.
The costly work of excavating an artificial maritime harbour, Portus, connected by a water-link with the Tiber above the river’s mouth, could not eliminate the clumsy and still costly operation of trans-shipping the sea-borne cargoes into river-barges that could reach the City’s riverside quays. This handicap, under which imperial Rome laboured, did not afflict Constantinople, the New Rome by which the Old Rome was eventually superseded in the role of serving as the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantinople possesses a first-rate natural maritime harbour in the Golden Horn, a sheltered deep-water inlet of the Bosphorus that runs inland for the whole length of Constantinople’s northern waterfront, and an obliging current automatically diverts into the Golden Horn a ship drifting down the Bosphorus laden with a cargo of grain grown in the Ukraine and carried from there, down any one of half-a-dozen navigable rivers, to sea-ports on the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Rome’s inferiority to Constantinople in point of accessibility for the delivery of sea-borne supplies was one consideration, though not the only one, that led to the eventual transfer of the capital to Constantinople from Rome in spite of the enormous prestige that had enabled Rome to hold her position as the capital of the Mediterranean World for the five centuries that had elapsed between the Roman state’s crowning victory at Pydna in 168 B.C. and the laying-out out of Constantinople in A.D. 324.
Portus superseded Ostia. It was built by Claudius and extended by Trajan.
Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970
In the Ancient Italian religion, the god of forests, the god Silvanus, was also the god of international relations. This was because the areas inhabited and cultivated by human beings were originally simply clearings in a continuous forest. The forest made an insulator between one clearing and another. The god of forests became the god of international relations when the forests were gradually cleared and the inhabited clearings met; the rival makers of the clearings then began to fight each other for possession of the fields that had now replaced the forest. In his two capacities as the god of forests and god of international frontiers and relations, Silvanus embodies a whole chapter of Ancient Italian technological, economic, and political history.
Surviving the Future, OUP, 1971
When a city becomes defined as part of an emerging market, tall buildings go up. The old streets, over which they loom, become survivals. The poor of these streets and their possessions look swept up, as if they are ready for the brush and pan. The old streets had grown like crystals. The tall buildings spread like drifting spores.
There’s a novel by Georges Simenon, Le déménagement (1967), translated into English as The Move in the US and The Neighbours in the UK, which looks at the unsettling psychological effect on a Parisian family of a move from the narrow, poor streets of the Marais (rue des Francs-Bourgeois), a district the Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux was then redefining, to a high-rise (eight storeys!) near Orly airport. The new building looms not over old streets, but over ancient, surviving, countryside.
Martin Wolf in the FT yesterday. Nothing new in his points, but they are worth taking seriously. He is speculating about two years hence.
“Now think what will happen if, after two or more years of monstrous fiscal deficits, the US is still mired in unemployment and slow growth. People will ask why the country is exporting so much of its demand to sustain jobs abroad. They will want their demand back. The last time this sort of thing happened – in the 1930s – the outcome was a devastating round of beggar-my-neighbour devaluations, plus protectionism. Can we be confident we can avoid such dangers? On the contrary, the danger is extreme. Once the integration of the world economy starts to reverse and unemployment soars, the demons of our past – above all, nationalism – will return. Achievements of decades may collapse almost overnight.”
Competititon for natural resources is also bringing back nationalism.
Samuel P Huntington of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), which was in part an answer to the doubtful ideas of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992) – both books offered nice easy catchphrases – died on December 24. I’ll compare his ideas with Toynbee’s in another post.
The pictures I posted the other day of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, with its scaffolding, reminded me of the interior of the Catedral de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.
The pierced saint is the patron of Rio. He is the other protetor, with O Cristo Redentor on Corcovado mountain.
The site of Rio had been reached by Gaspar de Lemos on January 20 1502. January River was not a river, as supposed, but a bay; the city was founded on its western shore on March 1 1565 by the knight Estácio de Sá, who called it São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro in honour of Saint Sebastian, who is said to have died on January 20 287, during the Diocletianic persecutions. For centuries, the settlement was often called São Sebastião. It was the capital of colonial Brazil, which became a Portuguese viceroyalty in 1714; in 1815 of the Kingdom of Brazil, part of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarve; in 1822 of the independent Braganza Empire of Brazil; and in 1889 of the Republic. In 1960 the capital was transferred to Brasília.
The Catedral de São Sebastião was built between 1964 and 1979. The architect was Edgar Fonseca. It replaced an old cathedral.
The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos composed an a capella Missa São Sebastião in 1936, whose sections have both ecumenical and locally-significant titles, like the sections of the Bachianas. The ecumenical titles are very charmingly juxtaposed with the local ones:
Kyrie; Sebastião! – O Virtuoso
Gloria; Sebastião! – Soldado Romano
Credo; Sebastião! – Defensor da Igreja
Sanctus; Sebastião! – O Martir
Benedictus; Sebastião! – O Santo
Agnus Dei; Sebastião! – Protetor do Brasil
This is a “radiantly beautiful” work, as Simon Wright says in his book on the composer, if a shade monotonous. It is obvious that Villa-Lobos had been studying Palestrina. So, one remembers, did Brahms. This is audible in some of Brahms’s choral works.
I don’t know how much the writing in this mass owes to the traditions of Brazilian church music, but it reminds one of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Rachmaninov’s Liturgy and Vespers, Milhaud’s Service sacré pour le samedi matin. In these works the composer partly suppresses his style and writes in the style of the religious music which has been part of his background. The suppression is not complete. We can recognise Villa-Lobos fingerprints in it.
The Missa is not his finest choral work. The six slight a capella songs called Bendita Sabedoria, setting plain words from the Proverbs and Psalm 90, as Milhaud might have done, are sometimes spoken of as a late and wise statement. Simon Wright ranks them alongside the last quartet, saying “Villa-Lobos finally confronts God”. I do not know what he means by this: the texts are simple words about wisdom, set to simple, (as he reminds us) triadic harmonies, but not a confrontation of God, which suggests Schoenberg, or something Judaic or more ambitious. On the other hand, they say something about the composer’s own humbler attainment of wisdom. I think Wright is overly keen to find companions for the last quartet, which may partly account for his praise of the late opera, Yerma.
I bought a record of Bendita Sabedoria at the Museu Villa-Lobos and have recently listened to the Hyperion recording (you can get it on iTunes). It is a fine work, certainly, at its heart a lovely and haunting Beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam from the Book of Proverbs. It is more emotional, or perhaps more stirring, than Villa-Lobos usually is, and simpler, but in a state of wisdom, even of wise imbecility; it contains the magical intervals which we hear in the string quartets. There is a photograph (1959) of Villa-Lobos leaving one of his last concerts, with his wife Mindinha, in Rio, drawn, with a visible courage, and in the state of sanctity – of virtual sanctity – of a man who has worked hard and creatively for a long time.
The problem with the Hyperion record, which also contains the Missa São Sebastião, is the English Latin pronunciation, the ugly and exaggerated English ex-ch-elsis, instead of the German ex-s-elsis, and so on. I don’t care what academics say on this.
At about the time that he wrote the Missa Villa-Lobos directed the Brazilian premieres of the three greatest masses: Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, the B minor Mass and the Missa Solemnis. His own musical dramatisation of the first mass in Brazil, on the shoreline in 1500, five hundred miles northeast of Rio, juxtaposing Gregorian and Amerindian chants, was made in 1937 as music for a rather inept film by Humberto Mauro, dignified by Villa-Lobos, O Descobrimento do Brasil.
The Iconography of Saint Sebastian is a comprehensive database of images.
The Allies which had defeated the Ottoman Empire in the First World War intended to carve up Anatolia into zones of influence and offered the western regions of Turkey to Greece under the Treaty of Sèvres. On May 15 1919 the Greek Army occupied Smyrna (İzmir), but the Greek expedition which was sent into central Anatolia, with the intention of taking Ankara, turned into a disaster for both the Anatolians and the Greeks of Turkey. The Turkish Army retook Smyrna on September 9 1922, ending the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22. Part of the Greek population of the city, together with the departing Greek troops, fled to nearby Greek islands. The rest left under the ensuing 1923 agreement for the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations, which was part of the Lausanne Treaty. It may have been departing Greeks who started the Great Fire that broke out in Smyrna on September 13 1922.
In Athens on August 14 1921, Toynbee wrote an account of visits to two Greek prisons there.
When I was at Smyrna the other day, I visited two prisons, one being the Central Prison near the konak (Government buildings) and the other an extemporised house of bondage in the Rue Maltaise. The former was decent as far as I penetrated – and that was only to the “no-man’s-land” between two parallel lines of bars, across which the prisoners were allowed to talk to their friends from outside. The second prison was not decent. It flanked both sides of one of those cul-de-sac passages which branch off at right angles from the narrow streets of Smyrna, and the principal cell on the ground floor had been a private warehouse under the Turkish régime. The bars which once protected the produce of the interior now penned in human beings. When I walked up to the bars and talked through them, there were about forty men inside, and I was told that at times the number rose to a hundred. Their misdemeanours varied from being suspected of a wish to join the Nationalist Army (if Turks) or not to join the Greek Army (if Greek Ottoman subjects), to being taken up drunk and disorderly in the streets, but they were all subjected to the same filthy and insanitary conditions. When I inquired about sanitary arrangements, the Greek warders burst out laughing and enlightened me by pointing to a corner of the room – undrained and on the same level as the rest of the floor, on which the prisoners slept without bedding. Several of these unhappy people told me that they were ill, and certainly most of them had the appearance of being so. They told me further that the prison was never visited by a doctor, and that they were not provided with sufficient water to drink. I must do this much justice to the Greek warders, that they let me look and talk as much as I pleased, but then I do not think it occurred to them that there was anything to be ashamed of in the condition of the people and the building under their charge.
In the other and more decent prison, I visited two prominent Turkish inhabitants of Smyrna whose imprisonment since about two months previously had created some stir. With one of them (like myself, a professor and journalist) I managed to exchange a few words in the presence of the prison authorities. To the second – a provision merchant – I only succeeded in shouting across “no-man’s-land” through the bars, but I afterwards made inquiries about his case from several sources, and give my results, with the necessary reservation that I had no time to verify them and that they represent only the prisoner’s side of the case.
There seems no doubt that, rather less than two months ago, this gentleman had suddenly been thrown into prison (where he still remains without trial) on the ground that he had been selling sugar in Smyrna at a price several piastres per “oka” below that of his fellow-merchants, who are of course mostly Greeks. He imported his sugar from Constantinople, not on his own account, but as commission-agent for an Armenian merchant in business there. Sugar so imported does not pay duty on arrival at Smyrna, because Smyrna is still juridically Ottoman territory, and the sugar is supposed to have paid the Ottoman customs-duty when it originally enters Ottoman territory at Constantinople. His accusers declared that the duty on this sugar had not in reality been paid at Constantinople; that, by making a false declaration to this effect, he had evaded paying duty altogether; and that this was how he had managed to undersell his competitors. The prisoner, on his side, maintained that duty had been paid at Constantinople; explained the lower price on the ground that the sugar sold consisted of old stocks originally bought below the current wholesale price; and pleaded that in any case he was not responsible, since he had not sold the sugar on his own account but merely as agent for a principal in Constantinople. He had memorialised the Greek High Commissioner, and in support of his contention had submitted, six weeks before my visit, twenty-four business letters, addressed to him by the merchant at Constantinople for whom he had been acting. But the Greek authorities had postponed the case pending inquiries in Constantinople, and these may take months, while the merchant remains in prison and his business goes to pieces. It appears that he has offered to find sureties up to L.T. 12,500, or to deposit that sum himself as bail in a bank, but the Greek authorities refuse to release him on bail unless the money is paid over to themselves. This is natural, but it is also natural that the merchant should refuse, in the belief that if once he paid the sum over to the authorities he would never recover it. So in prison he remains. Turkish circles in Smyrna believe that he is the victim of a plot by the Greek merchants to ruin his business. This may or may not be true, but certainly it is not incredible.
This is all that I was able to see of the Greek prisons in Smyrna during a short visit. Of course the question is one of comparison. How do these Greek prisons compare with those of the civilised countries with which Greece claims to rank, and with those of the Ottoman Empire over which she claims so great a superiority? The comparatively decent prison was originally built and equipped by the previous Ottoman authorities. The obscene prison is a new creation of the Greek régime. Perhaps the Greek authorities will claim indulgence for the conditions which I observed in the Maltesica prison on the ground that it is an emergency arrangement. But, then, how is it that the Greek administration in Smyrna needs more prison accommodation than its predecessor?
The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922