Dissemination of Information

Chinese Typewriter

In every era, in every area, there emerge individual geniuses.  In economic terms the success of society lies in harnessing the output of these individuals, and this seems to come down to three major considerations:  Dissemination, Collaboration and Enabling.

Europe had no great advantage in the world of the High Middle Ages.  China and the Ottoman Empire enjoyed many advantages over the Europeans.  What changed the game for Europe was the printing press, which disseminated information widely.

The printing press was a chinese invention.  The chinese long used wood carved block prints to copy books and playing cards etc.  They even invented a moveable type block printing press.  But the technology was unsuited to the Chinese alphabet.  As an example look at the photo of a Chinese typewriter above.  It is a laborious and time consuming process to hunt down the correct character and type it onto the page.  Touch typing is not an option and speed typing is out of the question.

Out of pure serendipity the moveable type press was perfectly suited to European alphabets.  Once it was trialled it became clear immediately that printed books, pamphlets and periodicals were here to stay.

What followed was an explosion in the availability of knowledge.  When Petrarch wanted books in the 14th Century he had to delve into the basements of churches all over Europe to unearth old copies of Roman and Greek originals.  150 years later Erasmus was able to buy books from a printer.  Universities could expand their libraries from 100’s to 1,000’s of texts.

Universities were the centres of the second consideration; collaboration.  Before the arrival of the university collaboration occured only when a wealthy patron collected scholars in his court.  Usually this was done by rulers because few people have the resources to bankroll a room full of scholars.

A university is a financial model which takes income from students to bankroll the collaborative research of the senior academics.  It is the perfect collaboration engine.  These days we also have collaboration in other forms, but behind closed doors.  When the military brings “intelligence” together they have no intention of sharing the results widely.  Similarly private corporations are motivated to protect their intellectual property from the competition.  Only Universities, with the “publish or perish” mantra are motivated first and foremost by collaboration to expand the human body of knowledge.

Enabling is the final consideration of the three.  A salutory lesson in how important enabling is lies with the Arabic world.  When the first European presses were printing bibles and selling like hot cakes a printer in Venice looked east for a fresh market.  He printed a Koran.

When the Ummah, the controlling body of Islam, saw this first attempt they were horrified.  As with early bibles the printed Koran contained errors.  Instead of working to fix the errors the Sultanate banned printing in the Ottoman Empire.  The result of this decision was to plunge the Arab world into a technological backwater.  From being one of the most advanced centres of maths, astronomy, physics, geography etc they lost pace against the West becoming the “Sick Man of Europe”.

Enabling academics involves accepting that they can have some theories that people find uncomfortable.  During the “McCarthy Era” with Reds under the Beds and the Hollywood blacklist in operation many academics with socialist leanings in the USA found themselves under investigation.  That is not the environment that stimulates research.

Today, in particular in the USA, certain pressure groups use social media to “expose” academics in an attempt to close them down.  These attacks mostly come from the religious right and many are motivated by a distinctly anti-academic faith based approach to learning which runs exactly counter to scientific method.  The 1925 Scopes trial on the teaching of Darwinism in Highschool is the most famous instance, and these attacks persist to this day.

Anti-intellectualism is a universal tool of populism of both the left and the right.  Nazis and Communists are equally enthusiastic in the burning of books they dislike.  They share this fetish with religous fundamentalists of all creeds.

Beware anyone who opposes the dissemination of information.

 

Happy Birthday Hadrian

Busts of Hadrianus in Venice cropped.jpg

Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

Retreat from Kabul

Remnants_of_an_army2

Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler

The painting above immortalised the moment, on the afternoon of Jan 13th, 1842, when Dr. William Brydon reached the British outpost at Jellalabad, 140 km east of Kabul.

He was the first survivor of an army of 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians who left Kabul on January 6th under a promise of safe passage out of Afghanistan.  For seven days they were set upon by Afghan tribesmen as they tried to struggle through snowbound mountain passes.  Their column was broken up, groups became separated, snipers fired constantly and they were subjected to massed attacks when the terrain permitted.

Brydon arrived at Jellalabad on a horse which collapsed and died when it was stabled.  He had a sword cut on his scalp and was saved more serious injury because his hat was stuffed with pages of a magazine in an attempt to keep him warm.  The paper absorbed much of the sword cut.  He became famous as the “only” survivor, although others subsequently made it back to safety.

The subsequent defence of the fort at Jellalabad became the stuff of legend in the British Army and was celebrated in boys story books for the next century.  The 2,000 men of the 13th foot (Somerset light infantry) held the fort for five months until a relief force reached them.  Under the command of General Robert Sale the troops turned an old ruined fort into a defensible position.  Instead of sitting behind the walls they sortied out to raid the Afghans.  On one occassion they stole a herd of sheep to keep themselves suppllied.  Then they raided the Afghan camp and stole all the supplies.  So successful were they in this that the Afghans gave up and returned to Kabul.  Sale also personally freed his own wife and daughter from captivity.

When the 13th returned to India every garrison on their path celebrated them with a 10 gun salute.  Queen Victoria had them designated as a Light infantry and they were called “Prince Albert’s Own”.

 

From “The Young British Soldier” ; by Rudyard Kipling

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

A pair of cows

Image result for io and europa

On January 7th, 1610 Gallileo Galilei made his fateful observation of the moons of Jupiter, giving them the names Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa; collectively known as the Galilean Moons.  Previously observed by Copernicus, who did not flag the implications, it was Gallileo who pointed out that not everything was in orbit around the Earth.  The Roman Inquisition forced him to recant publicly but that’s a funny thing about science:  You may say it’s not true but…. it just is.

So who are the cows?

Io was a mortal lover who beguiled Zeus (the Greek equivalent of Jupiter) with her beauty.  The consort of Zeus, Hera, transformed Io into a pretty white heifer.  This did not disuade Zeus from his trysts with her.  But then Zeus loved animals… in all the wrong ways.  So Hera set a gadfly to sting Io and drive her out of Greece.  She crossed the bosphorus into Asia and made her way down to Egypt.  She had many children of Zeus and was an ancestor of Heracles.

Europa was a Phonecian princess who was whisked away by Zeus when he turned himself into a white bull and asked her to take a ride on his back.  He hopped over to Crete where they founded the Minoan dynasty, where Bull Worship was a central myth of the civilization.  In Greek Mythology Europa is a descendent of Io, and therefore of Zeus himself.

Callisto was also raped by Zeus and Hera transformed her into a bear.  Ganymede was a Trojan prince abducted by Zeus to be his cupbearer; so I’m guessing there was rape there too.  How many ancient civilizations were founded by stealing Cattle and Women?

 

Happy Birthday Rudyard Kipling

Kipling in 1895

Despite being a nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in the modern world.  Many of his poems, novels and short stories are schoolboy classics.  But he represents the most obnoxious, biased and jingoistic elements of British Imperialism.   One thing is certain; he was a prolific writer and he has left us a wealth of poetry, not all of which is doggerel.  Born in India, December 30th, 1865, in the days when the sun did not set on the British Empire, and when the world map was a sea of pink, the colour used to pick out the Empire.

 

My Boy Jack? ; by Rudyard Kipling

‘Have you news of my boy Jack? ‘
Not this tide.

‘When d’you think that he’ll come back? ‘
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him? ‘
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find? ‘
None this tide,
nor any tide,
except he did not shame his kind –
not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
this tide,
and every tide;
because he was the son you bore,
and gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Bloody Christmas

Nicosia airport

Abandoned Airport in Nicosia, Cyprus

On the night of the 20th and 21st of December, 1963 the newly independent Republic of Cyprus erupted into a frenzy of violence between the Orthodox Greek Cypriots, Armenian Christian Cypriots and Turkish Muslim Cypriots.  The events became known as Bloody Christmas (Turkish; Kanli Noel).

The violence was sparked by increasing tensions from Greek Cypriot demands for Enosis; union with Greece.  The gradual build-up of tensions erupted when Greek Cypriot police tried to search the persons of Turkish Cypriot women in a taxi.

By the end of the violence Turkish participation in the Cypriot parliament ended.  Deaths included 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots.  Isolated properties became too dangerous for their inhabitants and the rural populations became displaced into enclaves.

The ultimate outcome of the divisions between the communities resulted a decade later in the Turkish invasion of 1974, dividing the Island north and south to the present day.  The “green line” keeps the two parts of the island divided and in the middle of the green line, and in the middle of the capital city the airport of Nicosia is a permanent reminder of the invasion.  The aircraft grounded on that day by the Turkish invasion remain rotting on the tarmac.  The Departures and Arrivals building crumbles away with disuse.

EU Membership is hoped to encourage the Turkish North to reunify the island but the most recent talks stalled over rights of return and property ownership.  Over the years access through the green line has improved and more crossing points have opened.  But it may take another generation before a stettlement can be agreed.

 

Failing Gracefully

Drip Rifle at Bandiana 2007

The Drip Rifle

In modern computer programming we speak of a “graceful failure” or a “graceful exit”.  It refers to a piece of coding which recognises a failure in a routine and closes the routine down with an error log that signposts a data quality analyst where to look for the problem.

Back in December 1915 the allied forces faced a different kind of an exit challenge.  Winston Churchill’s idea of knocking the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe, out of the war with a knockout punch failed.  After 11 months of move and counter-move the allies acknowledged that the Turks were equal to the task of defending their homeland.

It was a campaign that illustrated how one bad step can follow another bad step embedding you deeper and deeper into an entirely unintended situation.  The plan was to force a fleet up the Bosphorus to Istanbul and force the surrender of Turkey under the Big Guns of the combined British and French fleets.

The actions of a single Turkish mine laying ship blocked the entry of the fleet.  When the navy sent in minesweepers they were shelled by Turkish shore batteries.  So the Navy needed to send in ground troops to clean out the shore batteries.  The Turks opposed the landings and the Dardenelles campaign descended into a hellhole of trench warfare.  Up close and personal trench warfare, with only the narrowest strip of no-mans land between the front lines.

When the Allies decided to evacuate lance corporal W.C. Scurry presented them with a piece of genius.  Scurry had arrived in Gallipoli only one month prior with the Australian Imperial Force.  He rigged up a delayed firing system using two mess tins and a bit of string.

The top tin was filled with water, the bottom empty and suspended from the top one.  A hole was pierced in the top tin and the water dripped slowly out, falling into the bottom tin.  When the bottom tin became heavy enough to pull the top tin down both tins fell and pulled the trigger string, firing the rifle.

By using different size tins, different hole positions, different size holes and different amounts of water it was possible to set up multiple different timings.

On the 20th of December, 2015, as the Newfoundland rear guard of the evacuating forces silently departed from the trenches they triggered the mechanisms on dozens of these rigs.  As long as the rifles kept firing the Turks believed the allies were still there.  The evacuation of 80,000 men was achieved with only a half dozen casualties.

Gallipoli was an unqualified failure, but one with a graceful exit.

 

 

After Court Martial; by Francis Ledwidge

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
of horror and loud sufferings,
at dawn a bird will waken me
unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
and all my dream companions gone,
’tis I the soldier bears the shame,
not I the king of Babylon.