Chainies

Chainies

My mother grew up in Dublin city.  Along with the many street games they played as kids they used to collect chainies.  These were pretty pieces of broken ceramics and pottery.  They were collected and traded by the children like a form of currency.

Ceramics are an amazing paradox because they are at one time one of the most fragile and one of the most enduring elements of human civilization.  Ceramics are man made.  They are almost an integral part of human civilization, occuring all round the world from Ancient Japan in the East to Mesoamerica in the West.  The earliest pottery dates from 30,000 BC.

Pottery developed independently in different human civilizations.  In Asia, Europe, Africa and in the Americas.  I don’t want to write a history of ceramics, but I do want to say that ceramics are integral to archaeology because of the fragile/durable paradox.

Fired clay ceramics can create beautiful vessels.  These vessels are delicate and fragile.  If you drop a bowl, a cup or a vase it will shatter and the vessel is lost.  But the chainies, the smashed pieces of ceramic are not.  They are pretty much indestructable.  Because they are durable they hang around.  They do not rot or crumble.  They don’t wash away or burn up.  They don’t rust or oxidise.  Those little broken shards endure.

And because they don’t go away they are brilliant markers.  If you can read the code of the chainies you can rapidly understand much about a culture.  You can assess the age of the civilization that created the pottery.   You can tell much about that civilization.  Is the pottery made with utility in mind or is it artistic.  Is it plain or glazed?  Earthenware, stoneware, porcelain or bone china?  Is it coloured, decorated?  How?  Are the images scratched into the clay, painted into the glaze or painted and glazed with a slip?  The pottery tells you a tale of the people.

So what do the chainies tell you of the little girls in Dublin who collected them?  At once you have a highly sophisticated society which can produce stunningly beautiful ceramics, and at the same time you have kids who collect stashes of smashed cups and saucers.

Do rich kids collect chainies?

 

 

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The 5th Estate

tennis_court_oath

The Tennis Court Oath, Versailles, 1789

In the traditional model of rule, dating back to feudalism, there were three powers in the realm.  These were called the “Estates General” in pre-revolutionary France.

The first, and foremost was the Lords Temporal, made up of the hereditary royalty of the realm.  In effect these were the main landowners.

The second estate was the Lords Spiritual, the Cardinals and Bishops who ruled the church and wielded the power of “God” on earth.

The third, most numerous, and also the weakest estate was traditionally made up of commoners.  This is not to say they were poor peasants.  In fact the “Commons” were merchant princes, bankers, lawyers and aldermen selected to represent the interests of the middle classes.

Three great events in the 17th and 18th Centuries changed the dynamics of the Estates General forever.

  • In 1649 the British Parliament ordered the execution of King Charles, shattering the concept of “Divine Right” to rule.
  • In 1776 13 colonies of the United States of America declared their right of self-determination, a right of the 3rd estate to be free of the rule of the 1st estate.  No taxation without representation!
  • In 1789 the French 3rd estate seized power from the 1st and 2nd estates and firmly issued in the age of enlightenment.

Never again were the 1st and 2nd estates to hold power in the Western world without the agreement of the 3rd estate.

In the midst of this redefinition of the balance of power Edmund Burke, an Irish peer, made an address to Westminster on the reporting of parliamentary business by the Press.  He pointed out that the Press represented a 4th Estate which potentially wielded more power than the 3 estates general.  It proved to be a prophetic prediction.

Today almost every coup d’état begins with the seizure of the organs of the media, the presses, the radio stations and the TV stations.  Politicians and their military arms know that the media battle is as important as any conflict of arms.  Tight autocratic rule is only possible where the rulers control the media, the 4th estate.

The concept of a 5th estate, non mainstream media, emerged in the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s, originally as the eponymous Detroit Newspaper.  It spread to a variety of media, but was restricted by traditional constraints on output.  The odd piece of output made a splash, such as the “Anarchists Cookbook”, but most of the small publications and independent radio broadcasts were lost to tiny circulations.

Then the internet arrived.  The 5th estate has blossomed on media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and in the darkest corners of the deep web.

Despite the best efforts of autocratic regimes it is very difficult to control the 5th Estate.  China is the best example of a state that exerts tight control.  Even the great firewall of China is porous.  The regime cannot control all the information that filters in and out of the nation.  People import smartphones from abroad, or use various tricks to bypass state control of the firewalls.

The “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Middle East were made possible by the 5th Estate.  Rebels were able to use social media to tear apart the propaganda and lies of the ruling elite.  They then used social media to coordinate and organize protests, uprisings and even battles.

Mainstream journalists use and abuse social media to bypass super injunctions by courts to control celebrity scandals.  They breach the laws of sub judice reporting in a manner that is impossible in the 4th estate.  Whistleblowers use social media to release data into the public domain including Julian Assange, Linda Tripp, Edward Snowdon, Bradley Manning etc.

The impact of the 5th Estate on Western Democratic politics is only now beginning to crystalize.

The rules are being formed but we get an emerging sense of the landscape.
Cover-ups don’t work.
Fraud is uncovered.
Nepotism is exposed.
Secret donations do not remain secret.
Past statements of politicians are dredged up and used as a stick to beat them.

The age of the media savvy politician and his spin-doctor sidekick is over.
We are entering a new era of politics, where consistency, honesty and openness are the sine qua non of political survival.

Large central parties are fracturing and falling apart as their corrupt members are isolated and exposed.
For the individual politician loyalty to the constituency is more important than loyalty to the party.
We see this in the rise of the independents, the mavericks, those outside mainstream politics.  The Trump factor.

The new era will favour smaller groupings with tighter internal agreement on issues and higher levels of trust between members.  “Family” style groupings who share values.
Governments will be by coalitions of these small groups.
The practice of governing will become more fluid as alliances are made, broken and reformed based on prevailing economic and political priorities.

The 4th estate has been increasingly controlled by the wealthy, who can afford to buy the media, and establish editorial standards.  Would the Watergate Scandal see the light of day in the current media climate?

By contrast the 5th estate is uncontrollable.  It can be influenced by those with the largest social media followings.

In the next 20 years you will see attempts by the wealthy to influence the 5th estate by buying influence.  Anyone who is seen as “bought” will rapidly lose traction.

King Canute (or Cnut) is famous for trying to hold back the tide.
In fact he was criticizing sycophantic nobles who accorded him divine powers.
He demonstrated that for all his power he was unable to order the tides.
Canute would understand just how uncontrollable is the 5th Estate.

king canute on the beach

Canute holds back the tide

 

Visions of War

Yesterday the USA dropped the largest ever non-nuclear weapon ever used, the GBU-43/B.  They dropped this massive piece of ordnance in a cave system in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.  The stated intent was to deny a system of caves and tunnels to ISIS fighters.  A truer intention is Donald Trump flexing his muscles for the Russians and the Chinese to show he is a serious military threat.  But that too is secondary, because his primary audience is the American people.  I’m sure the people of the USA feel a little bit safer today knowing that several miles of caves in Afghanistan have been destroyed.  (That last sentence is called sarcasm)

Today I have three images for you, all stolen from the Guardian photos of the day.  Image 1 is of US troops marching in step at a NATO rally in Poland.  Hey Mr Putin, look at those gung ho young American boys, marching in neat lines.  We have big bombs too.  Boo Yah!

BooYah

The second photograph is from further east, in the city of Mosul, Iraq.  The smart uniforms and the neat lines of troops give way to the true face of war.  A man pushing his daughter through a blasted landscape in a wheelchair.  It is pathetic.  As you sit down to your Easter Sunday dinner spare a thought for what awaits this family on their table.  What did he do to deserve this fate?

Al-Abar

The final image is of a pretty girl taking a selfie in a field of flowers.  It could almost be in Holland, with the bright blossoms in neat lines, except for the fact that the girl in question has a machine gun on her back.  Nir Yitzhak is a kibbutz on the border of Israel with the Gaza strip.  If ever there was an image of the absurdity of war this is it.  Page down to a war poem by Yeats!

Nir Yitzhak

On being asked for a War Poem : By William Butler Yeats

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;

He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

 

 

 

Education Definition

carl-marks

Education is important because it gives you the tools to evaluate what you are being told and to decide for yourself what is true and what is manure.

Ignorance is the lack of education to equip you to make these decisions.

Gullibility is the lack of ability to make the decisions despite being equipped with  education.

I have more time for the Ignorant than I have for the Gullible.  For the latter there is no excuse.

 

Fallen Tang

Chinese Herder

“The season of the falling blossom” was a metaphor used by Du Fu to describe the collapse of the great Tang Dynasty, the high water mark of Chinese Imperial Civilization.  The Tang was a time of great prosperity in China.  A healthy population growth gave the Chinese huge military resources.  These in turn allowed the Chinese to dominate surrounding nations and receive tribute from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and from Central Asian rulers as well as the Arabs and the Indians.

They were able to carve out a huge western empire along the silk road, and trade flourished.  In this golden age art prospered.  It was an age of literature, painting, sculpture, ceramics, theater and poetry.  Silks, tea, block printing all flourished.  It was a time of sophistication, summed up by the poem “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup” which described eight leading lights of the arts who imbibed freely of the grape.

Ultimately it was the strong military that doomed the Tang.  Frontier generals commanding seasoned veterans carved out their own kingdoms.  The painted soldiers on comfortable palace duty were unable to match the tough border troops.    The central government became weak or disinterested and was dominated by the Eunuchs.  When a series of natural disasters struck, leading to flooding and widespread famine, the huge population faced starvation.  Bandit armies sprung up in every province.  They took over trade that previously delivered wealth to the Government, such as the salt trade.

The dissolution took many decades and follows themes that are familiar to students of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  A peaceful central civilization surrounded by barbarian populations who covet the luxury and lifestyle of the empire.  Bloated bureaucracy, effete emperors, corrupt officials and ambitious frontier generals.

 

江南逢李龟年

岐王宅里寻常见
催九堂前几度闻
正是江南好风景
落花时节又逢君

Meeting Li Guinian South of the River ; by Du Fu

In Prince Qi’s mansion house, I met you often,
By Cui Jiu’s hall, I heard you several times.
Truly the landscape south of the river is good,
I meet you again in the season of falling blossom.

 

Milkageddon

Churns

The European Milk Quota system ends today.

First introduced in April 1984 under the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the Milk Quota has stabilised (or some say stagnated) dairy produce production for 30 years.  This has helped to protect dairy farming incomes, especially for smaller producers.  The measure was to protect the small farmer.

The big dairy companies all over Europe have been gearing up for the explosion in production that is in the offing.  They will be driving sales of dairy products into non-traditional markets.  Have you ever noticed that Chinese and South-Eastern Asian cuisine uses no milk, cream, cheese or butter?  Watch that space!

To win the international game the Irish Dairies need to ramp up production as fast, or faster than their counterparts in countries like Denmark, Poland, UK and France.

In the last year and more, the savvy and efficient Dairy farmer has been gearing up for the end of the quota in a number of ways.

Herd management for instance;  calves are allowed to feed from the cows, production milking is restricted to one milking per day, excess heifers are kept calf-less for longer to keep them dry.  Over quota milk has often ended up in slurry pits.

In the last week every storage container has been filled to bursting point to hold as much production as possible for midnight on 31st March.

In terms of farm management, the larger farmers have been assembling larger dairy platforms accessible to their milking facility, by buying and renting any land adjacent to their parlour.  At the same time they are developing winter feed stocks by acquisition of suitable hay and silage production acreage.

Within the dairy itself they have been investing in new – high intensity – milking equipment.  Automated feeding and milking systems.  Computer databases of the herd, recording age, weight, production, feed regimen, medical history, pedigree, behaviour etc.

The dairy farm of today is a high intensity industrial plant.

It is a long way from the 40 acre mixed farmer who kept a half dozen cows and delivered a couple of churns to the creamery every other day.

But when you have thousands of acres of countryside managed by a handful of industrial farmers, what do you lose?  Community?  Poverty?  A vibrant countryside population?  A low income trap?  Truth is, we will see a lot more cows and a lot less people.  That can make cheap milk a very expensive commodity.

The Sands of Dee: by Charles Kingsley

“O Mary, go and call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee”;

The western wind was wild and dank with foam,

And all alone went she.

The western tide crept up along the sand,

And o’er and o’er the sand,

And round and round the sand,

As far as eye could see.

The rolling mist came down and hid the land:

And never home came she.

“Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair–

A tress of golden hair,

A drownèd maiden’s hair

Above the nets at sea?

Was never salmon yet that shone so fair

Among the stakes on Dee.”

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,

The cruel crawling foam,

The cruel hungry foam,

To her grave beside the sea:

But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee.

Radhanites

Fun fact:  20 years ago on this day the US state of Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment and abolished slavery.  That Southern Anti-Slavery impetus is fast like molasses in winter.

This got me thinking about slavery and the slave trade through history.  Along the way I came across the history of the Radhanites, a group I never heard about before.  It seems Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta found their way to China by tramping a well worn path created by a group of enterprising Jews.

Radhanites were a bridge in time, space and culture.  Masters of language, they could trade from France to China.  As Jews they could move between the Christian and Muslim worlds in “relative” safety (they were equally hated in both spheres).  They were a bridge from China to Europe and the Middle East.

This is not to say that they were true blue nice guys.  They were canny businessmen.  Muslims were forbidden from enslaving other muslims.  The Radhanites made good money supplying Christian slaves to Muslim markets.  Mostly they dealt in high value goods that were easy to transport.  Spices, silks, gems and intellectual property.  They may have been instrumental in the introduction of paper and Arabic number systems to Europe.

They were pioneers of long range funds transfer through letters of credit.  It is almost certain that the Italians learned the fundamentals of banking from the Radhanites.  The enclosed and tribal nature of Jewish society, and the community focus on morality engendered the level of trust required to underpin the establishment of letters of credit.  The Italian finance families achieved the same end by a Mafiosi style culture of “loyalty to the death” and by administration of poisons, to which they controlled the antidote, to be taken on a regular basis.

The Radhanites were at their most influential from 500 AD to 1,000 AD.  They spanned the period between the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the establishment of the Crusader Kingdoms.  The Radhanite control of the Silk road was undermined by the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in China and the Khazar Khaganate  in the 10th Century.  Central Asia became highly unstable until the rise of the Mongols.  In Europe and the near East their trade was wrested from them by Italian City States.

The Radhanite sea route to China, via the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf, India, Indonesia, Malaysia etc is the basis for the stories of the Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

Radhanites

The Slave’s Dream : Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land.
Wide through the landscape of his dreams
The lordly Niger flowed;
Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
Once more a king he strode;
And heard the tinkling caravans
Descend the mountain-road.
He saw once more his dark-eyed queen
Among her children stand;
They clasped his neck, they kissed his cheeks,
They held him by the hand!–
A tear burst from the sleeper’s lids
And fell into the sand.
And then at furious speed he rode
Along the Niger’s bank;
His bridle-reins were golden chains,
And, with a martial clank,
At each leap he could feel his scabbard of steel
Smiting his stallion’s flank.
Before him, like a blood-red flag,
The bright flamingoes flew;
From morn till night he followed their flight,
O’er plains where the tamarind grew,
Till he saw the roofs of Caffre huts,
And the ocean rose to view.
At night he heard the lion roar,
And the hyena scream,
And the river-horse, as he crushed the reeds
Beside some hidden stream;
And it passed, like a glorious roll of drums,
Through the triumph of his dream.
The forests, with their myriad tongues,
Shouted of liberty;
And the Blast of the Desert cried aloud,
With a voice so wild and free,
That he started in his sleep and smiled
At their tempestuous glee.
He did not feel the driver’s whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay