• Fri. Jul 30th, 2021

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Food, climate, disasters, analyses and more…

2013

  1. 20131229: A History of Inner Asia, Svat Soucek, 2000
  2. 20131227: Global Europe 2050, 2011
  3. 20131227: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, Peter Hopkirk, 1980 with many
  4. 20131218: Stefan Zweig – Auszüge aus Die Welt von Gestern, Erinnerungen eines Europäers. 1941; Gesammelte Werke: Die Ungeduld des
  5. Herzens, Schachnovelle, Brennendes Geheimnis, Marie Antoinette, Der Amokläufer, Maria Stuart, Sternstunden … Werke bei Null Papier, Kindle Ausgabe.
  6. 20131120: 80 Days – Die Farbe der Lust: Roman, Vina Jackson
  7. 20131007: Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America, 2013, Owen
  8. 20130907: Vermeer’s Hat (Timothy Brook)
  9. 20130805: The Romance of an Old Fool, Roswell Martin Field
  10. 20130727: Complexity: A Guided Tour (Melanie Mitchell)
  11. 20130706: 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Jorgen Randers, 2012)
  12. 20130702 When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (Molly Ringwald, 2012)
  13. 20130610: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
  14. 20130301: Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, “A new translation with an introduction by Gregory Hays”, 2012
  15. 20130109: Les Misérables (Intégrale des 5 volumes),  Victor HUGO, 1862
  16. 20130107: The Intimate Adventures of A London Call Girl, Belle de Jour, 2005

20131229: A History of Inner Asia, Svat Soucek, 2000

No doubt an interesting book… but at some stage the random reader (like myself) gets tired of endless detail about dynasties, and gives up. By doing so, he surely misses some enjoyable sections!

Loc. 113-17: If nomads occupied the most characteristic place of human presence in Inner Asia, they were by no means its only inhabitants, and agriculture as well as urban life have flourished in many parts of it. Settlements usually owed their existence to mountains, but indirectly: agriculture was mostly of the irrigated and oasis type, dependent on rivers or underground conduits whose sources feed from the rainfall and glaciers of Inner Asian mountains. Dry farming depending on rainfall was not absent, but it in turn occurred chiefly in the higher elevations and foothills of the mountains or, more recently, in the northern latitudes of’ the steppe belt.

Loc. 126-35: About the historical core of Central Asia, Transoxiana. The scholars who coined this name did so because the area lies beyond the River Oxus as one approaches it from the classical world of Iran, more specifically from its northeastern province of Khurasan. The Oxus, a Latinized form of an ancient Iranian word, was known to the Arabs asJayhun, and is now called Amu Darya (“the Amu river”; this too may be an originally Iranian name, based on a local variant, Amu, and the Persian word for lake or sea, darya, borrowed by Central Asian Turkic with the connotation of river). The name indicates where Transoxania begins on the south, but does not say where it ends on the north, west, or east. There we have to use history’s indirect evidence and its possible interpretations, while admitting that this matter is less relevant than the question of why Transoxania was important, and where its center of gravity lay. The latter can be sought along another river, the Zarafshan (“gold-strewing” in Persian), which like the Amu Darya originates farther east in the Pamir mountains; it then flows west, first in its valley between the protrusions of the Pamirs called here Turkestan and Zarafshan ranges, then through the central lowland of Uzbekistan, and ultimately makes a lunge for the Amu Darya but disappears, exhausted, in the sands of Uzbekistan’s Kyzyl Kum desert. Irrigation derived from the Zarafshan has since antiquity supported dense agricultural and urban settlements, and cities like Panjikent in Tajikistan, or Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan are only the best remembered or most famous examples.

Loc. 141-45: These two ranges, the Hisar on the north and Hindukush on the south, bracket the core territory of historical Bactria, the later Tokharistan; today historyinnerasia_2000this territory corresponds to northern Afghanistan, southern Tajikistan and southeastern Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The delimitation of Bactria on the east and west is less clear-cut, but one feature deserves mention: the “Iron Gate,” a defile about half-way between Balkh and Samarkand that breaks the low mountain range extending from the Hisar range southward toward the Amu Darya. The Iron Gate was a historic passageway between Bactria and Sogdia, used by conquerors, ambassadors, pilgrims and merchant caravans, and its name was more than just a legend: an actual gate reinforced with iron used to exist there.

Loc. 235-36: To the east of Khurasan, in present-day northern Afghanistan, is the aforementioned region known in antiquity as Bactria and called by the Arabs and Persians Tokharistan. Bactra, its capital, became the Balkh of the early Islamic centuries, and flourished until it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1221.

Loc. 239-41: The originally Iranian Bactria came to he known as “land of the Tokharians,” in the early centuries of our era, as a result of this group’s migration into its territory. Unlike their kinsmen who settled in northeastern Sinkiang and asserted their ethnolinguistic individuality there (the Tokharian-speaking inhabitants of Turfan, Karashahr, and Kucha), the Tokharians of Bactria, memorable as the people who played a leading role in the creation of the famous Kushan empire, became Iranized without leaving any trace of their original identity.
Loc. 267-69: To the east of Afghan Badakhshan and south of Tajikistan’s Badakhslan Region extends the quaint Afghan “finger,” which was created in 1895 to separate the Russian and British empires. It is crossed latitudinally by the Vakhan, a river considered by some geographers as the uppermost course of the Arms Darya; the Vakhan combines with the Pamir river to produce the Panj. Today the `Afghan finger” separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and Kashmir.
Loc. 278-79: it may be better to emphasize only the undisputable fact that Transoxania is that part of Central Asia which lies to the north of the middle course of the Amu Darya.

Loc. 286-88: In our discussion of Transoxania, Khwarazm, Tokharistan, and Fergana we have emphasized the fertility of these territories as irrigated lands. The contrast presented by the vaster tracts that have not benefited from irrigation is thus especially striking: the Kyzyl Kum desert of Uzbekistan and Kara Kum desert of Turkmenistan are only the largest and most notorious examples, counterparts to the still more inhospitable Taklamakan desert of Eastern Turkestan.

Loc. 297-313:To the east of Fergana but separated from it by the Tianshan and Pamir ranges extends the Tarim basin, in some respects a mirror image of the Fergana valley but much vaster and starker. Sinkiang, of which it is a part, is an administrative term covering a larger area; no adequate generally accepted name exists for the region we are referring to now, but “Tarim basin” comes closest to meeting that need. It is a roughly elliptical area encompassed by three groups of mountain systems: the Tianshan on the north and northwest, the Pamirs on the southwest, and the Kunlun, Altyntagh, and Nanshan on the south and southeast. As in Transoxania, here too human settlement has depended on water brought by streams descending from the mountains. Three of these
streams, the Yarkand, Aksu, and Khotan, eventually combine to produce the Tarim, a river that then doggedly pursues an easterly course through the Taklamakan desert toward the lake Lob Nor, which, however, it seldom reaches. A fourth river, the Kashgar – originating on the Kyrgyz side of the border as Kyzylsu, “Red River,” near the sources of its aforementioned namesake that flows west to become the Vakhsh – after having passed by the city of Kashgar, flows toward the confluence of the other three but disappears in the sands of the Taklamakan before reaching it.The ellipse of the basin surrounded by mountains extends farther east beyond Lob Nor, and can be viewed as closed, after having crossed the Sinkiang-Kansu border, at the town of Anshi. A glance at the map reveals a string of oasis towns along two imaginary lines that branch out, at Anshi, north and south, and, hugging the foothills of the surrounding mountains and themselves surrounding the western Gobi and Taklamakan deserts, close the ellipse as they meet again at the city of Kashgar in westernmost Sinkiang. These are the oasis towns famous for two reasons – the unique civilization that developed in some of them, and their function as way stations of the Silk Road network. Just to name the most famous ones, proceeding counterclockwise from Anshi: Hami, Turfan, Karashahr, Kucha, Aksu, Kashgar (east-west, the northern part of the ellipse); Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan, Niya, Charkhlik, Tunhuang, and back to Anshi (west-east, its southern part).Today, as we have implied, all these places except Anshi and Tunhuang are in Sinkiang. Sinkiang (from hsin kiang = new province; we follow here the customary transcription; the correct pronunciation of this Chinese name is shin chiang) is a name given the region in the aftermath of the 1758 conquest by China; this name was used still more emphatically after the fuller integration of Sinkiang into Chinese administrative structure in 1884. As we have pointed out, the word has a more comprehensive connotation than the Tarim basin because it also covers the large territory to the north of the Tianshan range.

Loc. 313-15: When they wanted to differentiate between these two parts, the Chinese used the terms Nanlu and Peilu (“Southern route” and “Northern route”). Nanlu thus corresponds to our Tarim basin. The latter term is a nineteenth-century scholarly creation, and it is not the only one; Kashgaria is another frequently used name, popular especially in French historiography (La Kachgarie) because of the importance of the region’s western

Loc. 313-15: When they wanted to differentiate between these two parts, the Chinese used the terms Nanlu and Peilu (“Southern route” and “Northern route”). Nanlu thus corresponds to our Tarim basin. The latter term is a nineteenth-century scholarly creation, and it is not the only one; Kashgaria is another frequently used name, popular especially in French historiography (La Kachgarie) because of the importance of the region’s western metropolis.

Loc. 319-24: The oasis town of Turfan itself deserves attention for several reasons. One is geographical, for it lies in a depression – at 154 meters below sea level, it is the second lowest point on earth after the Dead Sea. Another is linguistic and cultural, for the inhabitants of’ this area used to speak Tokharian, the aforementioned non-Iranian Indo-European tongue, before they were Turkicized; and they created a remarkable Manichaean and Buddhist civilization that survived under the Uighur Turks for several more centuries until the completion of Islamization in the fifteenth century. And finally, while Turfan functioned as one of the way stations in Nanlu, it also was the starting point of a route that struck out northwest through a break in the Tianshan mountains toward Peilu and joined there the rival network of routes along the northern side of the Tianshan range.

Loc. 393-98: The border between Kazakhstan and Sinkiang – the northwestern side of the Jungarian triangle discussed above – presents a special interest as the historic divide between the eastern and western halves of Inner Asia. It was through its river valleys or mountain passes that most nomadic migrations and troop movements in either direction took place. The valley of the Irtysh, separating the Altai range from the Tarbagatai, was one such passageway. Another was the smaller valley of the Emil which rises in Tarbagatai and flows into Lake Alakol on the Kazakh side. Farther south is the almost legendary `Jungarian Gate,” a break in the Jungarian Alatau range through which nomads and armies could pass between Jungaria and Kazakhstan. Yet another route was the valley of the Ili river, which separates the Jungarian Alatau from the Tianshan; this long and broad valley was also a favorite camping and grazing ground of many nomads, especially of the Genghisid Mongols.

Loc. 403-5: This may be the reason why the area between these mountains and Balkhash used to be calledJetisu, a Turkic word meaning “Seven Rivers,” hence the more commonly known Russian translation Semireche (this is the form we shall use in our hook). Since Semireche
never was an official name, except for the half-century of the Tsarist era,

Loc. 506-9: a more relevant question is how close they are to each other, and whether they are mutually intelligible. The answer
is that Turkmen, Azeri, and Turkish are close enough to allow adequate communication (barring occasional lexical problems, mostly of recent date); the same could be said of Kazakh and Kyrgyz. As for Uzbek and Uighur, they are almost identical, and could easily merge into one official language if political separation did not stand in the way;

Loc. 516-17: A native speaker of any one of them, when exposed to any of the others, is likely to become used to the differences, and will up to a point be able to function in such a new milieu;

Loc. 519-21: This has important implications both for understanding the Turks’ recent history and for assessing their future relations: once the barriers represented by political boundaries are relaxed or removed, and the imposed alien writing systems are replaced by a unified one, the sense of common identity can pass to a level of practical reality with promising potential for the future of the whole area.

Loc. 657-60: In Inner Asia, Buddhism – both its two principal denominations, but especially the Mahayana form – appeared in the early centuries of our era. Sinkiang became one of its avenues and intellectual strongholds, especially the city kingdom of Khotan, but soon also other centers such as Qocho (Turfan). Later on, however, several major changes occurred. In India itself, Buddhism was by the twelfth century partly extinct, partly absorbed into Hinduism, a latter-day form of Brahmanism. In Sinkiang, Islam drove out Buddhism by the end of the fifteenth century.

Loc. 661-62: Shamanism held the place of religion among the hunters and herders of Inner Asia, thus also among the Turks and Mongols before Islam and Buddhism substituted themselves for it.

Loc. 663-64: The hesitancy to consider shamanism a religion stems from the fact that it has never had an established and codified doctrine, scriptures, or “church,” and that it has concerned itself little with questions of an afterlife.

676-77: the nomad has in historic times been mostly turco-Mongol, whereas the sedentary was either an Indo-European or else the Turkicized descendant of Indo- Europeans.

Loc. 1249-52: On the cultural level, the Iranian citizens of Central Asia still continued to play a dominant role (although Arabic and Persian must have ceded primacy to “Turkic as the language spoken by the new ruling elite). This is exemplified, at the turn of the millennium and in the first decades of the eleventh century, by the appearance of three towering figures in the three principal areas of Central Asia: Ibn Sina (980-1037) in Transoxania, Biruni (973 1050) in Khwarazm, and the already mentioned Firdawsi (ca. 934-1020) in Khorasan.

Loc. 1252-54: They all eventually left their hometowns and went to serve other societies and rulers: Ibn Sina the Buwayhids in Persia, Biruni and Firdawsi the Ghaznavids in Afghanistan and India. Ibn Sina wrote in Arabic, Biruni in Arabic and Persian, Firdawsi in Persian; in this respect they were typical of the Islamic civilization flourishing in Central Asia of their time.

My Note: Military expansion followed by cultural explosion, e.g. Avicenna, Kwarizmi, Kashgari are known to the west as “Arabs” but were in reality Turki or Iranians.

Loc. 1505-11: Genghis Khan’s hosts soon resumed the east-west trend of Inner Asian nomadic movements. There was an important difference here. however. Whereas other such phenomena – earlier as well as later – resulted from a variety of’ natural or human stimuli such as climatic vicissitudes or political infighting forcing the losing party to move elsewhere, Genghis Khan and his immediate successors basically three generations undertook their gigantic conquests only after careful and comprehensive preparations, by means of an organization that surpassed any other such undertaking, and with a universalist vision which some historians ascribe to an ideology claiming a mandate from Heaven to rule the world. The genius that three generations of Mongol leaders displayed in all these respects, and the dimensions of the empire which they created, is a unique historical phenomenon, and it alone may justify the subsequent charisma which descent from the House of Genghis Khan retained among the “Turco-Mongols of Asia for centuries to conre, even after the myriad scions themselves had lost any merit or real power.

Loc. 1515-16: By 1218 Central Asia was thus divided into two main political spheres: Khurasan, Transoxania, and Fergana pertained to the Khwarazmian empire, Sinkiang and Semireche had local rulers beholden to Genghis Khan.

Loc. 1527-28: By 1223, all of Central Asia, including Khwarazni and Khurasan, was under Mongol control, and Genghis Khan returned to Mongolia.

Loc. 1635-52: Merv appears to have been fully and deliberately obliterated, for the complete massacre of its population with the exception of some 400 craftsmen deported to Mongolia – deprived it of the labor force necessary to maintain the irrigation of its oasis and protect it from the surrounding desert. The disappearance of this Khurasanian metropolis is lamented in almost Biblical terms by a contemporary witness, the renowned Arab geographer Yaqut:
I stayed there three years, and if it had not been for the destruction that befell the country with the Tatar invasion, I would not have left Merv to the end of my days: this because of the supportiveness [of the people], gentle climate, good company, and multitude of excellent scholarly books there. When I left it, there were ten endowed libraries [in Merv] whose like I have not seen anywhere else in the world in terms of size and excellence. There were for example two collections in the main mosque; one of these was called Aziziya, because it had been endowed by a certain Aziz al-Din Abu Bakr Atiq al-Zanjani; he used to be Sultan Sanjar’s fagga’i, [and before that] he had been selling fruit and aromatic plants at the market of Merv, then he became the sultan’s maker of drinks. He enjoyed his esteem; the library [he had endowed] contained about twelve thousand volumes. The other collection [in the mosque] was called Kamaliya, [but] I do not know [which Kamal] it was attributed to. Then there was the library of Sharaf al-Mulk al-Mustawfi ibn Sad Muhammad ibn Mansur, located in his madrasa; he was of the Hanafite madhhab, and died in the year 494 [1101]. Then there was the library of Nizarn al-Mulk al-Hasan ibn Ishaq, [again] in his madrasa; two libraries [endowed] by the Samani family; another library was in the Amidiya madrasa; [then there was] the library of Majd al-Mulk, one of the recent viziers; the queen’s library (khatu- niya) located in her madrasa, and the Damiriya library in one of the dervish lodges (khangah) there. The use of these collections was so convenient that at any given moment I had at home two hundred volumes or [even] more, without having to leave a deposit, [even though] their value amounted to as many dinars. I gorged myself with these collections and benefited from them, and they made me forget [my own] people and family. The qualities of this hook and of whatever else I have compiled derive from the collections I have described. As I was leaving Merv, I kept turning my loving glance back toward it, and began to hum a Bedouin’s composition: “The nights when we were together in Marw al-Shahijan”. Indeed, it seems that the depopulation of Merv may have originally been part of a plan that the Mongols had of converting the Murghab and other valleys of northern Khurasan – modern Turkmenistan – into one of their nomadic “habitats.” They were dissuaded from doing so by advisers suggesting that taxing settled populations brings more profit than replacing them with herds of livestock; a similar case occurred in northern China where the Mongols’ aforementioned Khitan adviser Ye-lii Ch’u-ts’ai saved the situation.

Loc. 1668-74: Finally yet another possible effect of the Mongol invasions deserves mention. The steppes of Eurasia are the home not only of nomads but also of other creatures, marmots among them. These rodents tend to be infested with fleas, which in turn harbor the virus that can cause bubonic plague among humans. It seems that the disease was indeed affecting the Mongols but stayed at a low endemic level among them. Once it reached outsiders, however, it broke out in the catastrophic epidemic of the Black Death that by the end of the fourteenth century wiped out a good third of Europe’s population. The gate of entry was, some historians suspect, the Crimean port of Caffa, and the year was 1347. Caffa was a Genoese colony at the time, and a disagreement with Janibeg, the Khan of the Golden Horde (1341-57), led to a siege of the city by the Mongols. The besiegers apparently tossed the bodies of people who had died of plague into the city, and the disease, catching on and traveling in Genoese ships, spread like brushfire – first in Egypt and then on the European side of the Mediterranean.

Loc. 1729-31: by 1370 a Muslim lurk, Timur, had seized effective power in Transoxania and had founded a dynasty that brought an end to Chaghatayid rule there; in Moghulistan and Sinkiang, on the other hand, Chaghatayid khans ruled until the seventeenth century. Timur’s emergence in 1370 can thus be considered another watershed in the history of Central Asia, a formal end to Mongol hegemony that had begun a century and a half earlier with the conquest led by Genghis Khan.

Loc. 1739-40: Mansur (1502 43) took up the jihad, aimed chiefly at eastern Sinkiang, as the major mission of their reign; it was during this period that formerly Buddhist places like Turfan definitively entered the Dar al- Islanz.

Loc. 1743-44: If the Mongol interlude (1220-1370) was a traumatic experience in the history of Central Asia, the Tirnurid period (1370-1507) can be a viewed as ultimately its most glorious one.

Loc. 1747-48: Timur himself had endeavored to embellish his capital, Samarkand, with grandiose architectural monuments some of which still constitute the pride of modern Uzbekistan

My note Loc. 1764: Tamerlans empire did not reach as far kashgar although he did some campaigns in eastern sinkiang

Loc. 3751-67 (About xinjiang): Finally one salient feature must be emphasized: the role that the Chinese language has played as the common medium for the region’s citizens, especially for its younger generations. Here too the analogy with Russian across the border is striking. All students learn Chinese at school and many become bilingual, especially those with greater professional ambition. Moreover, immigration from China proper has increased to
the point where the Han (ethnic Chinese) element has come close to that of the Uighurs, if the Hui (Chinese-speaking Muslims) are also taken into account. According to the 1990 census, out of the total population of 15,156,883 inhabitants, 7,191,845 were Uighurs, thus less than one-half (47.45 percent) of the total population, the Han 5,695,409, and Hui 682,912, thus 6,378,321 citizens whose mother tongue is Chinese, or 42.09 percent of the total population. One can somewhat improve the native Turkic population’s representation by combining the Uighurs with the Kazakhs: if we add the 1,106,271 or 7.30 percent to the Uighurs, we obtain 8,298,1 16 Turkic speakers (54.75 percent of the total population; the percentage will be still slightly higher if we add the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks of Sinkiang); moreover, the impact of the large ethnolinguistic Chinese component might be considered somewhat lessened if the religious criterion were applied and the Hui were added to the Turkic element: the figure would be over 8,981,028 Muslims, or 59.26 percent of the total population. On the other hand again, the significance of these figures is modified by the lopsided ratio in centers of political or economic power: thus the population of Urumchi, 1,217,316 strong, consisted of 934,851 (76.80 percent) Han Chinese, 161,643 (13.28 percent) Uighurs, and 83,001 (6.82 percent) Hui Chinese; taken together, the Chinese-speaking component in the provincial capital represented 83.62 percent. Another example is Karamai, a center of oil production. Its 210,064 inhabitants consisted of 161,097 (76.69 percent) Han Chinese, 30,895 (14.71 percent) Uighurs, and 4,997 (2.38 percent) Hui Chinese. It is true that the ratio changes in most agglomerations of Nan Lu, the now obsolete name for the more traditional southern part of Sinkiang. In Kashgar, the figures show 76.53 percent Uighurs, 21.98 percent Han, and only 0.46 percent Hui; in Khotan, 83.32 percent Uighurs, 16.13 percent Han, and 0.40 percent Hui; in Turfan, 71.82 percent Uighurs as against 20.25 percent Han. Even in Nan Lu, however, Aksu, a city that has occasionally been the residence of Chinese governors, still boasts a Han majority: 51.51 percent, as compared with 47.02 percent for the Uighurs; while the strategically located Hami has a Han majority of 66.11 percent as against 25.94 percent Uighurs. These statistics suggest that even if we admit that a certain proportion of these Chinese are temporary residents, Chinese presence in Sinkiang is anchored in a solid demographic base, with the conclusion that Eastern Turkestan is likely to remain Chinese Turkestan, unlike Western Turkestan which is no longer Russian.

20131227: Global Europe 2050, 2011

Source: ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/global-europe-2050-report_en.pdf

globaleurope_2011Loc. 357-64: E-voting will expand in the future to cover a wide set of policy issues, allowing citizens to check policy actions and express their opinion more frequently, although this should be backed by adequate information and awareness raising activities to enable the citizens to provide their judgment  on an increasing range of topics. Besides e-voting, global e-action groups and virtual protests are  already with us, and will thrive in the future. This would not necessarily changing anything – although  at least in the recent wave of popular revolts in the Maghreb and Mashreq countries social networks on  Internet played a key role – but it will make politics much more interesting and entertaining. It is  possible that representative democracy as we see it today will radically change, with Internet ending up  disenfranchising politicians. If voters can connect directly with the issues, do we need politicians in  their current form? The answer will be different depending on the future scenarios of democracy. As a  form of government, democracy is about the way in which government is appointed, by popular vote, and  not the way power is exercised.  Loc. 375-77: The control exerted by private interests on policy making (lobbycracy) and the corresponding loss of prestige and influence of traditional political parties, particularly noticeable  in the US but significant across Europe too, undermine an open public debate and the definition of  collective preferences. 

Loc. 919-21: Let us remind here that growth is not development, as development is embodying many more  dimensions than income, ranging from health, education, participation to the social life. However, there  is a fairly good correlation between the two, with well known counter-examples indeed.

Loc. 3893-98: OECD, ‘The Future of the Family to 2030 – A Scoping Report’ – OECD International Futures  Programme, Paris, 2008. OECD, ‘Higher Education to 2030: What Futures for Quality Access in the Era of  Globalisation? ’, Paris, 2008. OECD, ‘The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda’, Paris, 2009.  OECD, ‘OECD infrastructure to 2030: mapping policy for electricity, water and transport’, Paris, 2007.  OECD, PISA, ‘Equally prepared for life? How 15-year-old boys and girls perform in school’, 2006.

20131227: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, Peter Hopkirk, 1980 with many

Very interesting book about the rapacious behaviour of the great European archaeologists in the Taklamakan desert. Since I read the book long ago (2000?) in a foreigndevils_1980 French translation, Islam Hakhun became one of my personal heroes: he couldn’t write himself but forged manuscripts that were bought by the great scientists! Loc. 95-104: ‘The Chinese complain, and the foreigner cannot well deny it, that caravan-loads of priceless treasures from the temples, tombs and ruins of Chinese Turkistan have been carried off to foreign museums and are for ever lost to China.’ So wrote Sir Eric Teichman in Journey to Turkistan, an account of his travels along the old Silk Road on a Foreign Office mission in 1935. It made the Chinese ‘boil with indignation,’ he added, ‘to read in the books of foreign travellers descriptions of how they carried off whole libraries of ancient manuscripts, frescoes and relics of early Buddhist culture in Turkistan’. My aim in this book is to tell the story of these long-range archaeological raids made by foreigners into this remote corner of Central Asia during the first quarter of this century. It is primarily about six men – Sven Hedin of Sweden, Sir Aurel Stein of Britain, Albert von Le Coq of Germany, Paul Pelliot of France, Langdon Warner of the United States, and the somewhat mysterious Count Otani of Japan. Between them, until the Chinese finally put a stop to it, they removed wall-paintings, manuscripts, sculptures and other treasures literally by the ton from the lost cities of the Silk Road.

 

 

 

20131218: Stefan Zweig – Auszüge aus Die Welt von Gestern, Erinnerungen eines Europäers. 1941; Gesammelte Werke: Die Ungeduld des Herzens, Schachnovelle, Brennendes Geheimnis, Marie Antoinette, Der Amokläufer, Maria Stuart, Sternstunden … Werke bei Null Papier, Kindle Ausgabe.

Stefan Zweig um 1900. Quelle: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan_Zweig
Stefan Zweig um 1900. Quelle: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan_Zweig

Loc. 35227-28: […] gerade der Heimatlose wird in einem neuen Sinne frei, und nur der mit nichts mehr Verbundene braucht auf nichts mehr Rücksicht zu nehmen. Loc. 35330-35: Das neunzehnte Jahrhundert war in seinem liberalistischen Idealismus ehrlich überzeugt, auf dem geraden und unfehlbaren Weg zur ›besten aller Welten‹ zu sein. Mit Verachtung blickte man auf die früheren Epochen mit ihren Kriegen, Hungersnöten und Revolten herab als auf eine Zeit, da die Menschheit eben noch unmündig und nicht genug aufgeklärt gewesen. Jetzt aber war es doch nur eine Angelegenheit von Jahrzehnten, bis das letzte Böse und Gewalttätige endgültig überwunden sein würde, und dieser Glaube an den ununterbrochenen, unaufhaltsamen ›Fortschritt‹ hatte für jenes Zeitalter wahrhaftig die Kraft einer Religion; man glaubte an diesen ›Fortschritt‹ schon mehr als an die Bibel, und sein Evangelium schien unumstößlich bewiesen durch die täglich neuen Wunder der Wissenschaft und der Technik. Loc. 35355-57: Wir mußten Freud recht geben, wenn er in unserer Kultur, unserer Zivilisation nur eine dünne Schicht sah, die jeden Augenblick von den destruktiven Kräften der Unterwelt durchstoßen werden kann, wir haben allmählich uns gewöhnen müssen, ohne Boden unter unseren Füßen zu leben, ohne Recht, ohne Freiheit, ohne Sicherheit. Loc. 35421-23: Aber es ist mein Vater in mir und sein heimlicher Stolz, der mich zurückzwingt, und ich darf ihm nicht Widerstand leisten; denn ihm danke ich, was ich vielleicht als meinen einzig sicheren Besitz empfinde: das Gefühl der inneren Freiheit. Loc. 35564: (über Wien um die Jahrhundertwende) Während im Politischen, im Administrativen, in den Sitten alles ziemlich gemütlich zuging, und man gutmütig gleichgültig war gegen jede ›Schlamperei‹ und nachsichtig gegen jeden Verstoß, gab es in künstlerischen Dingen keinen Pardon; hier war die Ehre der Stadt im Spiel. Jeder Sänger, jeder Schauspieler, jeder Musiker mußte ununterbrochen sein Äußerstes geben, sonst war er verloren. Loc. 35616-23: Denn gerade in den letzten Jahren war – ähnlich wie in Spanien vor dem gleich tragischen Untergang – das Wiener Judentum künstlerisch produktiv geworden, allerdings keineswegs in einer spezifischen jüdischen Weise, sondern indem es durch ein Wunder der Einfühlung dem Österreichischen, dem Wienerischen den intensivsten Ausdruck gab. Goldmark, Gustav Mahler und Schönberg wurden in der schöpferischen Musik internationale Gestalten, Oscar Straus, Leo Fall, Kêlmên brachten die Tradition des Walzers und der Operette zu einer neuen Blüte, Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, Beer-Hofmann, Peter Altenberg gaben der Wiener Literatur einen europäischen Rang, wie sie ihn nicht einmal unter Grillparzer und Stifter besessen, Sonnenthal, Max Reinhardt erneuerten den Ruhm der Theaterstadt über die ganze Erde, Freud und die großen Kapazitäten der Wissenschaft lenkten die Blicke auf die altberühmte Universität – überall, als Gelehrte, als Virtuosen, als Maler, als Regisseure und Architekten, als Journalisten behaupteten sie im geistigen Leben Wiens unbestritten hohe und höchste Stellen. Loc. 35655-63: Man lebte gemächlicher, und wenn ich versuche, mir bildhaft die Figuren der Erwachsenen zu erwecken, die um meine Kindheit standen, so fällt mir auf, wie viele unter ihnen frühzeitig korpulent waren. Mein Vater, mein Onkel, meine Lehrer, die Verkäufer in den Geschäften, die Philharmoniker an ihren Pulten waren mit vierzig Jahren alle schon beleibte, ›würdige‹ Männer. Sie gingen langsam, sie sprachen gemessen und strichen im Gespräch sich die wohlgepflegten, oft schon angegrauten Bärte. Aber graues Haar war nur ein neues Zeichen für Würde, und ein ›gesetzter‹ Mann vermied bewußt die Gesten und den Übermut der Jugend als etwas Ungehöriges. Selbst in meiner frühesten Kindheit, als mein Vater noch nicht vierzig Jahre alt war, kann ich mich nicht entsinnen, ihn je eine Treppe hastig hinauf- oder hinunterlaufen gesehen zu haben oder überhaupt etwas in sichtbarer Form hastig tun. Eile galt nicht nur als unfein, sie war in der Tat überflüssig, denn in dieser bürgerlich stabilisierten Welt mit ihren unzähligen kleinen Sicherungen und Rückendeckungen geschah niemals etwas Plötzliches; was von Katastrophen sich allenfalls draußen an der Weltperipherie ereignete, drang nicht durch die gut gefütterte Wand des ›gesicherten‹ Lebens. Loc. 35674-86: Sie hat es besser getroffen, jene Generation meiner Eltern und Großeltern, sie hat still, gerade und klar ihr Leben von einem bis zum andern Ende gelebt. Aber dennoch, ich weiß nicht, ob ich sie darum beneide. Denn wie jenseits haben sie damit von allen wahrhaften Bitternissen, von den Tücken und Mächten des Schicksals dahingedämmert, wie vorbeigelebt an all jenen Krisen und Problemen, die das Herz zerdrücken, aber zugleich großartig erweitern! Wie wenig haben sie gewußt durch ihr Verhaspeltsein in Sicherheit und Besitz und Behaglichkeit, daß Leben auch Übermaß und Spannung sein kann, ein ewiges Überraschtsein und aus allen Angeln Gehobensein; wie wenig in ihrem rührenden Liberalismus und Optimismus haben sie geahnt, daß jeder nächste Tag, der vor dem Fenster graut, unser Leben zerschmettern kann. Selbst in ihren schwärzesten Nächten vermochten sie sich nicht auszuträumen, wie gefährlich der Mensch werden kann, aber ebensowenig auch, wieviel Kraft er hat, Gefahren zu überstehen und Prüfungen zu überwinden. Wir, gejagt durch alle Stromschnellen des Lebens, wir, gerissen aus allen Wurzeln unseres Verbundenseins, wir, immer neu beginnend, wo wir an ein Ende getrieben werden, wir, Opfer und doch auch willige Diener unbekannter mystischer Mächte, wir, für die Behaglichkeit eine Sage geworden ist und Sicherheit ein kindlicher Traum, – wir haben die Spannung von Pol zu Pol und den Schauer des ewig Neuen bis in jede Faser unseres Leibes gefühlt. Jede Stunde unserer Jahre war dem Weltgeschick verbunden. Leidend und lustvoll haben wir weit über unsere kleine Existenz hinaus Zeit und Geschichte gelebt, während jene sich in sich selber begrenzten. Jeder einzelne darum von uns, auch der Geringste unseres Geschlechts, weiß heute tausendmal mehr von den Wirklichkeiten als die Weisesten unserer Ahnen. Loc. 35702-4: Ich kann mich nicht besinnen, je ›fröhlich‹ noch ›selig‹ innerhalb jenes monotonen, herzlosen und geistlosen Schulbetriebs gewesen zu sein, der uns die schönste, freieste Epoche des Daseins gründlich vergällte, und ich gestehe sogar, mich heute noch eines gewissen Neides nicht erwehren zu können, wenn ich sehe, um wieviel glücklicher, freier, selbständiger sich in diesem Jahrhundert die Kindheit entfalten kann. Loc. 35708-12: Schule war für uns Zwang, Öde, Langeweile, eine Stätte, in der man die ›Wissenschaft des nicht Wissenswerten‹ in genau abgeteilten Portionen sich einzuverleiben hatte, scholastische oder scholastisch gemachte Materien, von denen wir fühlten, daß sie auf das reale und auf unser persönliches Interesse keinerlei Bezug haben konnten. Es war ein stumpfes, ödes Lernen nicht um des Lebens willen, sondern um des Lernens willen, das uns die alte Pädagogik aufzwang. Und der einzige wirklich beschwingte Glücksmoment, den ich der Schule zu danken habe, wurde der Tag, da ich ihre Tür für immer hinter mir zuschlug. Loc. 35783-86: Einzig aus dieser sonderbaren Einstellung ist es zu verstehen, daß der Staat die Schule als Instrument zur Aufrechterhaltung seiner Autorität ausbeutete. Wir sollten vor allem erzogen werden, überall das Bestehende als das Vollkommene zu respektieren, die Meinung des Lehrers als unfehlbar, das Wort des Vaters als unwidersprechlich, die Einrichtungen des Staates als die absolut und in alle Ewigkeit gültigen. Loc. 35804-6: Ich persönlich danke diesem Druck eine schon früh manifestierte Leidenschaft, frei zu sein, wie sie in gleich vehementem Ausmaß die heutige Jugend kaum mehr kennt, und dazu einen Haß gegen alles Autoritäre, gegen alles ›von oben herab‹ Sprechen, der mich mein ganzes Leben lang begleitet hat. Loc. 36035-38: Durch Hofmannsthal war uns gewissermaßen ad oculos demonstriert, daß es prinzipiell möglich sei, auch in unseren Jahren und selbst in der Kerkeratmosphäre eines österreichischen Gymnasiums Dichterisches, ja dichterisch Vollendetes zu schaffen. Es war möglich sogar – ungeheure Verlockung für ein knabenhaftes Gemüt! –, schon gedruckt, schon gerühmt, schon berühmt zu sein, während man zu Hause und in der Schule noch als halbwüchsiges, unbeträchtliches Wesen galt. Loc. 36071-80: Sehe ich heute zurück, so muß ich ganz objektiv bekennen, daß die Summe unseres Wissens, die Verfeinerung unserer literarischen Technik, das künstlerische Niveau für Siebzehnjährige ein wirklich erstaunliches war und nur erklärlich durch das anfeuernde Beispiel jener phantastischen Frühreife Hofmannsthals, das uns, um nur halbwegs voreinander zu bestehen, eine leidenschaftliche Anspannung zum Äußersten abzwang. Wir beherrschten alle Kunstgriffe und Extravaganzen und Kühnheiten der Sprache, wir hatten die Technik jeder Versform, alle Stile im Pindarischen Pathos bis zur simplen Diktion des Volkslieds in unzähligen Versuchen durchgeprobt, wir zeigten im täglichen Tausch unserer Produktionen uns gegenseitig die flüchtigsten Unstimmigkeiten und diskutierten jede metrische Einzelheit. Während unsere braven Lehrer noch ahnungslos unsere Schulaufsätze mit roter Tinte auf fehlende Beistriche anzeichneten, übten wir einander Kritik mit einer Strenge, einer Kunstkenntnis und Akribie wie keiner der offiziellen Literaturpäpste unserer großen Tageblätter an den klassischen Meisterwerken; auch ihnen, den schon bestallten und berühmten Kritikern, waren wir in den letzten Schuljahren durch unseren Fanatismus weit an fachlichem Urteil und stilistischer Ausdrucksfähigkeit vorausgekommen. 36118-20: Ich bin gegenüber allen sportlichen Geschwindigkeits- oder Geschicklichkeitsrekorden unentwegt auf dem Standpunkt des Schahs von Persien stehengeblieben, der, als man ihn animieren wollte, einem Derby beizuwohnen, orientalisch weise äußerte: »Wozu? Ich weiß doch, daß ein Pferd schneller laufen kann als das andere. Welches, ist mir gleichgültig.«

Quelle: http://austria-forum.org/af/Wissenssammlungen/Symbole/Blume
Quelle: http://austria-forum.org/af/Wissenssammlungen/Symbole/Blume

Loc. 36169-89: Die christlich-soziale als durchaus kleinbürgerliche Partei war eigentlich nur die organische Gegenbewegung der proletarischen und im Grunde ebenso wie sie ein Produkt des Sieges der Maschine über die Hand. Denn, indem die Maschine durch die Zusammenfassung großer Massen in den Fabriken den Arbeitern Macht und sozialen Aufstieg zuteilte, bedrohte sie gleichzeitig das kleine Handwerk. Die großen Warenhäuser, die Massenproduktionen wurden für den Mittelstand und für die kleinen Meister mit ihren Handbetrieben zum Ruin. Dieser Unzufriedenheit und Sorge bemächtigte sich ein geschickter und populärer Führer, Dr. Karl Lueger, und riß mit dem Schlagwort: »Dem kleinen Manne muß geholfen werden« das ganze Kleinbürgertum und den verärgerten Mittelstand mit sich, dessen Neid gegen die Wohlhabenden bedeutend geringer war als die Furcht, aus seiner Bürgerlichkeit in das Proletariat abzusinken. Es war genau die gleiche verängstigte Schicht, wie sie später Adolf Hitler als erste breite Masse um sich gesammelt hat, und Karl Lueger ist auch in einem anderen Sinne sein Vorbild gewesen, indem er ihn die Handlichkeit der antisemitischen Parole lehrte, die den unzufriedenen Kleinbürgerkreisen einen Gegner optisch zeigte und anderseits zugleich den Haß von den Großgrundbesitzern und dem feudalen Reichtum unmerklich ablenkte. Aber die ganze Vulgarisierung und Brutalisierung der heutigen Politik, der grauenhafte Rückfall unseres Jahrhunderts zeigt sich gerade im Vergleich der beiden Gestalten. Karl Lueger, mit seinem weichen, blonden Vollbart eine imposante Erscheinung – der ›schöne Karl‹ im Wiener Volksmund genannt –, hatte akademische Bildung und war nicht vergebens in einem Zeitalter, das geistige Kultur über alles stellte, zur Schule gegangen. Er konnte populär sprechen, war vehement und witzig, aber selbst in den heftigsten Reden – oder solchen, die man zu jener Zeit als heftig empfand – überschritt er nie den Anstand, und seinen Streicher, einen gewissen Mechaniker Schneider, der mit Ritualmordmärchen und ähnlichen Vulgaritäten operierte, hielt er sorgfältig im Zaum. Gegen seine Gegner bewahrte er – unanfechtbar und bescheiden in seinem Privatleben – immer eine gewisse Noblesse, und sein offizieller Antisemitismus hat ihn nie gehindert, seinen früheren jüdischen Freunden wohlgesinnt und gefällig zu bleiben. Als seine Bewegung schließlich den Wiener Gemeinderat eroberte und er – nach zweimaliger Verweigerung der Sanktionierung durch den Kaiser Franz Joseph, der die antisemitische Tendenz verabscheute – zum Bürgermeister ernannt wurde, blieb seine Stadtverwaltung tadellos gerecht und sogar vorbildlich demokratisch; die Juden, die vor diesem Triumph der antisemitischen Partei gezittert hatten, lebten ebenso gleichberechtigt und angesehen weiter. Noch war nicht das Haßgift und der Wille zu gegenseitiger restloser Vernichtung in den Blutkreislauf der Zeit gedrungen. Loc. 36190-206: Aber schon tauchte eine dritte Blume auf, die blaue Kornblume, Bismarcks Lieblingsblume und Wahrzeichen der deutschnationalen Partei, die – man verstand es nur damals nicht – eine bewußt revolutionäre war, die mit brutaler Stoßkraft auf die Zerstörung der österreichischen Monarchie zugunsten eines – Hitler vorgeträumten – Großdeutschlands unter preußischer und protestantischer Führung hinarbeitete. Während die christlich-soziale Partei in Wien und auf dem Lande, die sozialistische in den Industriezentren verankert war, hatte die deutschnationale ihre Anhänger fast einzig in den böhmischen und alpenländischen Randgebieten; zahlenmäßig schwach, ersetzte sie ihre Unbeträchtlichkeit durch wilde Aggressivität und maßlose Brutalität. Ihre paar Abgeordneten wurden der Terror und (im alten Sinn) die Schande des österreichischen Parlaments; in ihren Ideen, in ihrer Technik hat Hitler, gleichfalls ein Randösterreicher, seinen Ursprung. Von Georg Schönerer hat er den Ruf ›Los von Rom!‹ übernommen, dem damals Tausende Deutschnationale deutsch gehorsam folgten, um den Kaiser und den Klerus zu verärgern, und vom Katholizismus zum Protestantismus übertraten, von ihm die antisemitische Rassentheorie – ›In der Rass’ liegt die Schweinerei‹, sagte ein illustres Vorbild –, von ihm vor allem den Einsatz einer rücksichtslosen, blind dreinschlagenden Sturmtruppe und damit das Prinzip, durch Terror einer kleinen Gruppe die zahlenmäßig weit überlegene, aber human-passivere Majorität einzuschüchtern. Was für den Nationalsozialismus die SA-Männer leisteten, die Versammlungen mit Gummiknüppeln zersprengten, Gegner nachts überfielen und zu Boden hieben, besorgten für die Deutschnationalen die Corpsstudenten, die unter dem Schutz der akademischen Immunität einen Prügelterror ohnegleichen etablierten und bei jeder politischen Aktion auf Ruf und Pfiff militärisch organisiert aufmarschierten. Zu sogenannten ›Burschenschaften‹ gruppiert, zerschmissenen Gesichts, versoffen und brutal, beherrschten sie die Aula, weil sie nicht wie die andern bloß Bänder und Mützen trugen, sondern mit harten, schweren Stöcken bewehrt waren; unablässig provozierend, hieben sie bald auf die slawischen, bald auf die jüdischen, die katholischen, die italienischen Studenten ein und trieben die Wehrlosen aus der Universität. Loc. 36212-17: Aber so groß war in jener tragisch schwachen und rührend humanen liberalen Ära der Abscheu vor jedem gewalttätigen Tumult und jedem Blutvergießen, daß die Regierung vor dem deutschnationalen Terror zurückwich. Der Ministerpräsident demissionierte, und die durchaus loyale Sprachenverordnung wurde aufgehoben. Der Einbruch der Brutalität in die Politik hatte seinen ersten Erfolg zu verzeichnen. Alle die unterirdischen Risse und Sprünge zwischen den Rassen und Klassen, die das Zeitalter der Konzilianz so mühsam verkleistert hatte, brachen auf und wurden Abgründe und Klüfte. In Wirklichkeit hatte in jenem letzten Jahrzehnt vor dem neuen Jahrhundert der Krieg aller gegen alle in Österreich schon begonnen. Loc. 36985-90: Meine Wahl fiel auf Belgien. Dieses Land hatte um die Jahrhundertwende einen ungemeinen künstlerischen Aufschwung genommen und sogar in gewissem Sinne Frankreich an Intensität überflügelt. Khnopff, Rops in der Malerei, Constantin Meunier und Minne in der Plastik, van der Velde im Kunstgewerbe, Maeterlinck, Eekhoud, Lemonnier in der Dichtung, gaben ein großartiges Maß der neuen europäischen Kraft. Vor allem aber war es Emile Verhaeren, der mich faszinierte, weil er der Lyrik einen völlig neuen Weg wies; ich hatte mir ihn, der in Deutschland noch völlig unbekannt war, – die offizielle Literatur verwechselte ihn lange mit Verlaine, so wie sie Rolland mit Rostand vertauschte – gewissermaßen privatim entdeckt. Und jemanden allein zu lieben, heißt immer doppelt lieben. Loc. 38156-57: (über Romain Rolland) […] er spielte wunderbar Klavier mit einem mir unvergeßlich zarten Anschlag, die Tasten liebkosend, als wollte er ihnen die Töne nicht abzwingen, sondern nur ablocken. Loc. 41019-21: ich hatte zuviel Geschichte gelernt und geschrieben, um nicht zu wissen, daß die große Masse immer sofort zu der Seite hinüberrollt, wo die Schwerkraft der momentanen Macht liegt. Ich wußte, daß dieselben Stimmen, die heute ›Heil Schuschnigg‹ riefen, morgen ›Heil Hitler‹ brausen würden.

20131120: 80 Days – Die Farbe der Lust: Roman, Vina Jackson

Page 32, Loc. 349-52: Manchmal kam es ihm vor, als wäre sein Leben an ihm orbeigezogen wie ein Fluss, dessen Windungen öfter, als ihm lieb war, von unbedeutenden Ereignissen oder Menschen bestimmt worden waren. Als hätte er es seit Kindheitstagen nie wirklich in der Hand gehabt und wäre durch die Teenagerjahre und die ersten Kämpfe der Jugend willenlos wie eine Nussschale in fremden Meeren dahingetrieben, bis er in die ruhigeren Gewässer der mittleren Jahre einlief. Page 241, Loc. 2925: »Braver Junge«, sagte sie. »Hat dir das gefallen?« Page 306, Loc. 3730: Als er fertig war, trat er einen Schritt zurück, um sein Werk zu begutachten […] Page 338, Loc. 4116-21: Sämtliche Einwohner dieser friedlichen Straße, in der Charlotte wohnte, waren in ihr Zuhause zurückgekehrt, und er war ziemlich zugeparkt worden, hatte einen BMW vor und einen BMW hinter sich. Drei BMW hintereinander. Was er jetzt gar nicht brauchen konnte, war, jemandem ein Rücklicht oder einen Scheinwerfer zu demolieren. Während Dominik langsam zur Hauptverkehrsstraße fuhr, von der er auf die A41 und dann die Finchley Road in Richtung Hampstead fahren würde, blickte er in die Fenster der Häuser. Er sah in Schlaf- und Wohnzimmern Lampen brennen, eine schmale Silhouette stand am Fenster, wahrscheinlich eine Frau, die noch kurz einen Blick auf die Straße warf, ehe sie die Vorhänge zuzog. Page 359, Loc. 4379-84: Bist du bereit, dich mir zu unterwerfen, Sklavin, deinen Willen für immerdar dem meinem unterzuordnen?« Ich stand am Rand eines Abgrunds. Es war einer jener Momente, in dem das ganze Leben auf der Kippe steht, in dem man zwischen zwei Atemzügen eine Entscheidung trifft, die dem Leben eine völlig neue Richtung gibt. »Nein«, antwortete ich. »N-nein?«, stotterte Victor ungläubig. »Nein!«, sagte ich bestimmt.

20131007: Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America, 2013, Owencover_rezanov Matthews

This not a bad book (authors of bestsellers – Stalin’s Children – don’t write “bad” books!): It has a lot of interesting and little known facts about the Russian dream to become a “modern” state along European lines under Catherine the Great. It is just that Rezanov was a psychopath and that, after a “good” start, the book becomes extremely repetitive, between Rezanov upsetting the Tsar, the Japanese… and the rest of the world upsetting Rezanov. If you want to save some time, read the 6 first chapters, a chapter in the middle of the book, the epilogue (starting from “Friends and enemies”), skim through the notes and then the Acknowledgements, and then go to Wikipedia if you feel you missed something! The book presents a spectrum of extraordinary people, which is why I recommend “Friends and enemies”: Russians who served in the British Navy and foreigners in Russia, Europeans who got “stuck” in Korea or remote islands, and more. Here again, Wikipedia will help a lot to get extra and more synthetic information on the Russian-American Company, Löwenstern, Langsdorff, Krusenstern, Fyodor Tolstoy, Shelikov… The book has some interesting common points with “Vermeer’s hat” (see below: 20130907). For instance parallels between the Russian-American Company and the Dutch VOC, long sections about the importance of furs and felt in pre-industrial Europe, the relations between Europe and the Far East, and the way European powers competed to gain the favours of China and Japan (and how the Dutch beat them all!)

Loc. 147-48: This being an opera, it is a love story. Being Russian, it’s also of course a tragedy. Loc. 210-11: Any historian who sets out to search for a hero will almost inevitably uncover something of the scoundrel. Heroism, it seems, is visible only through a long lens. Loc. 361-65: […] outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1757. Sparked by a colonial skirmish between British and French forces in Pennsylvania, this conflict was in many senses the true first world war. It was fought by at least fifteen European powers and principalities, with hostilities extending from Canada to India to the Philippines. Up to 1,400,000 people are believed to have been killed across the globe as a result of the prolonged hostilities, which destroyed many fledgling colonies and beggared swathes of Central Europe. Ref: Franz A. J. Szabo, The Seven Years’ War in Europe 1756–1763, Longman, 2007, p. 2. Loc. 479-81: [The sentence refers to sixteenth century onwards] Of the three drivers of Russia’s eastward expansion – the quest for security against the Tatars, a consciousness of its imperial destiny as the inheritor of Byzantium and the adventurous avarice of Cossacks – it was the last which was by far the most potent. Loc. 689-98: Russian monarchy may have been the most absolute in Europe – peasants were expected to prostrate themselves flat on the ground as the imperial carriage passed by – yet Russian society was surprisingly upwardly mobile. This was partly the legacy of Peter the Great, who had gone out of his way to break the power of the Moscow boyars by promoting both foreigners and humble men such as his favourite Prince Alexander Menshikov, a former pie vendor, to greatness. Tsar Peter himself married a buxom peasant girl from Livonia who succeeded him as the Empress Catherine I. The prevalence of self-made men – or rather, tsar-made men – in the upper ranks of Russian society was a sign not of any democratic instinct but rather the desire of the tsars to surround themselves with their own protégés. Aristocrats with inherited wealth and connections could have complex and shifting loyalties. Foreigners or Russian men of no rank owed their advancement solely to the favour of their monarch. They were therefore their sovereign’s creatures, and his or her most obedient lieutenants. As a result the court history of eighteenth-century Russia is full of talented parvenus and pampered lover-favourites. Loc. 799-805: The Hannibal family of Mikhailovskoye made regular appearances at the Pskov court both as defendants and plaintiffs for sword fighting, slander and assault as well as various petty territorial disputes with their neighbours. They were the litigious and unruly descendants of Abram Petrovich Hannibal, born Ibrahim Hannibal in Eritrea and sold as a slave to Constantinople. He was bought and rescued by the Russian ambassador’s deputy, who brought him to St Petersburg in 1704. Peter the Great took a shine to the bright African boy and adopted him; Hannibal married into the Russian aristocracy and rose to the rank of major-general. The family’s most famous son was Alexander Pushkin, Hannibal’s grandson and still noticeably African of feature. Pushkin was to continue the hell-raising tradition by conducting public affairs with other men’s wives and fighting twenty-nine duels, including his last one against Frenchman George D’Anthès over an insult to the honour of Pushkin’s wife, in which the poet was killed.

Giorgiana, Duchess if Devonshire, with one of her world-famous hats! (Gainsborough) Source: http://www.period-art.com/userimages/Thomas_Gainsborough_Lady_Georgiana_Cavendish.jpg
The real Giorgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with one of her proverbial hats! Painting by Gainsborough. Source: http://www.period-art.com/userimages/Thomas_Gainsborough_Lady_Georgiana_Cavendish.jpg

Loc. 1900-1902: [In March 1793] She also asked for Italian printed silk and ostrich feathers. Even distant Siberia was following the fashion for large ostrich-feather hats set by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the previous season in London. Anna Shelikhova would probably have been wearing her grand new hat and pearls. Loc. 2170-71: Tsar [Paul, son of Catherine] was quietly succumbing to paranoia. ‘I came to the throne late and will not be able to bring order everywhere,’ Paul feared. To help him impose the order for which he yearned, Paul recruited Pyotr Obolyaninov as head of his secret police. [2175-76] Paul had chosen well. Obolyaninov turned out to be one of the many geniuses of repression that punctuate Russian history. [2191-94] Less harmlessly, in 1800 Paul’s terror of assassination fuelled a purge of politically unreliable courtiers. Paul’s son Nicholas I was to become the true founder of Russia’s modern police state, with its apparatus of secret political police, in-camera court hearings and prison camps, but Obolyaninov certainly laid the foundations of terror. [2197-2201] Obolyaninov’s police also monitored the less exalted. ‘If any family received visitors in the evening; if four people were seen walking together; if anyone examined a public building for too long he was in imminent danger,’ Edward Clarke, an English traveller to St Petersburg, wrote in 1800. ‘If foreigners ventured to notice any of these enormities in their letters, which were all opened and read by the police, expressed themselves with energy in praise of their country, or used a single sentiment or expression offensive or incomprehensible to the police officers or their spies they were liable to be torn in an instant from family and friends, thrown in a sledge and hurried to the border or to Siberia. 2232-38: [big surprise to me. I had never heard about this story] Paul had begun his reign by eschewing his

Keira Nightly as Gerogiana. Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/488781365779111103/
Keira Knightley as Georgiana in “The Duchess” (2008). Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/488781365779111103/

mother’s foreign military adventures in Persia, but he was so incensed by Napoleon’s outrages against the Pope and the Knights that he ordered Russian troops to retake Rome and Malta for the Russian crown. Paul summoned the sixty-eight-year-old General Suvorov from his retirement in a monastery with a letter that said, simply, ‘Come and save the Tsars.’ Paul joined the first (of six) anti-French coalitions masterminded by England. Russia’s new allies were Austria and, oddly, given Catherine’s relentless wars against the Sublime Porte, Turkey. In the summer of 1798 an Anglo-Russian fleet under Admiral Fyodor Ushakov established an outpost on the Ionian Islands off Greece. The following year Suvorov’s force invaded through the heel of Italy and took Naples and then Rome. [2238-44] The old general was preparing to invade France itself, through Piedmont and Savoy, but Russia’s Austrian allies demanded that Suvorov’s force join them in southern Germany instead and fight alongside another Russian army which was making its way through Poland to join the fray. Suvorov therefore turned his 15,000-strong army north and fought his way through Switzerland. Traces of the extraordinary road that his engineers carved for the army over the St Gotthard Pass are still visible today, including the holes for pitons with which they secured ropes to the vertiginous Alpine cliffs. Suvorov stormed the French defences at the Devil’s Bridge over the gorge of the River Reuss and pushed on. Unfortunately he arrived too late – the main Russian force, which had marched overland from Moscow, had been routed by the French at Zurich, and his Austrian allies sued for a separate peace with Napoleon. [2248] Suvorov’s heroic crossing of the Devil’s Bridge became a European legend. The French army nicknamed him the Russian Hannibal. Loc. 2280-81: Paul and Napoleon’s correspondence quickly turned to the subject that interested both men most of all: world domination.

20130928 Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (Princeton Studies in Complexity). 2007. Scott E. Page and John H. Miller

There are books one likes and books one doesn’t like. This one belongs in the second category:  after reading complexadaptiveM. Mitchell’s Complexity: A Guided Tour (see below, 20130727) the book by Page and Miller is obsolete, boring, incomplete and so verbous! If you don’t mind reading long hairsplitting pages about the differences between ridiculous categories such as “complexity” and “complication”, or “disorganized complexity” and “organized complexity” etc., maybe the book is for you! To help you decide, here is an exclusive preview of some of the quotes from the book, you know, these thought provoking sentences some authors put at the beginning of their chapters to make you think and to make you feel like reading on…

Loc. 252-54: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. —Arthur C. Clarke, Report on Planet Three Loc. 830: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. —Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future Loc. 3534-36: A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. —George Bernard Shaw Loc. 3731: The story is told of a geologist who walks to the rim of the Grand Canyon and remarks “something happened here.” Like it? Here are nevertheless some quotes pour mémoire. Loc. 189-93: Often, tools get mistaken for theories with unfortunate consequences; elaborate computer programs (perhaps with lovely graphics) or mathematical derivations are occasionally assumed to make a real scientific statement, regardless of their scientific underpinnings. Indeed, entire literatures have undergone successive refinements and scientific degradation, during each generation of which the original theoretical notions driving the investigation are crowded out by an increasing focus on tool adeptness. This often results in science that is “smart but not wise.” Loc. 736-37: Snow’s 1855 map of cholera cases in the Soho district of London revealed both the mode of transmission and source (a pump on Broad Street) of the disease. Loc. 758-65: The success of a particular model is tied to its ability to capture the behavior of the real world. Suppose we begin with real-world state S‘. The model transforms this state into s’ = E(S‘) and then predicts that we will find ourselves in state f(s’) in the next time period. In the real world, state S‘ becomes state F(S’) in the next time period. Thus, the model “coincides” with the real world if f(E(S‘)) = E(F(S’)), that is, if we end up at the same model state regardless of whether we (1) first transform the initial real-world state into its equivalence class and then run it through the model’s transition function, or (2) first allow the real-world state to be transitioned to its next state and then map this state, via the equivalence class, to the model. The requirement that the maps between the model and the real world must be commutative in this way is known as a homomorphism.

20130907: Vermeer’s Hat (Timothy Brook)

coverLoc. 207-9: Paintings are not “taken,” like photographs; they are “made,” carefully and deliberately, and not to show an objective reality so much as to present a particular scenario. 269-78: In China, heavy frosts between 1654 and 1676 killed orange and mandarin groves that had been producing fruit for centuries. The world would not always be this cold, but this was the condition under which life was lived in the seventeenth century. Cold winters meant more than ice sailing. They meant shorter growing seasons and wetter soil, rising grain prices, and increasing sickness. A fall in spring temperature of just half a degree centigrade delays planting by ten days, and a similar fall in the autumn cuts another ten days off the harvest. In temperate climates, this could be disastrous. According to one theory, cold weather could induce another evil consequence, plague. All over the world in the century from the 1570s to the 1660s, plague stalked densely populated societies. Plague struck Amsterdam at least ten times between 1597 and 1664, on the last occasion killing over twenty-four thousand people. Southern Europe was hit even harder. In one outbreak in 1576–77, Venice lost fifty thousand people (28 percent of its population). A second great epidemic in 1630–31 killed another forty-six thousand (a proportionately higher 33 percent of the then-diminished population). In China, a harsh run of cold weather in the late 1630s was followed by a particularly virulent epidemic in 1642. Loc. 292-94: Colder winters meant that Arctic ice moved farther south, causing major freeze-ups along the coast of Norway, where the herring fishery had traditionally been based. The fishery moved south toward the Baltic Sea, and there it came under the control of Dutch fishermen. Loc. 296-97: The herring catch gave the Dutch a stake they could then invest in other ventures, especially in shipping and maritime trade. Loc. 316-19: The VOC combined flexibility with strength, giving the Dutch a huge advantage in the competition to dominate maritime trade to Asia. Within a few decades, the VOC proved itself to be the most powerful trading corporation in the seventeenth-century world and the model for the large-scale business enterprises that now dominate the global economy. Loc. 343: Close to a million people made the sea journey from Holland to Asia during the two centuries between 1595 and 1795. [350-51] Of every three men who took ship to Asia, two did not return. For several reasons: some decided that they were better off far from home! Loc. 632 [Talking about early seventeenth century] Dutch gunsmiths put themselves at the forefront of arms technology, providing the armies of the new Dutch state with weapons that were more portable, more accurate, and capable of being mass-produced. Dutch arquebusiers ended Spain’s continental hegemony in Europe and positioned the Netherlands to challenge Iberian dominance outside Europe as well. And French arquebusiers like Champlain gave France the power to penetrate the Great Lakes region, and later to trim Dutch power in Europe. [641-43] The magic of firearms had a way of slipping from European control when they entered metalworking cultures. The Japanese were particularly quick to learn gunsmithing. The first arquebuses to enter Japan were brought by a pair of Portuguese adventurers who had taken passage there on a Chinese ship in. Loc. 682-86: The Hurons may not have understood why the French wanted an endless supply of beaver fur, other than knowing how valuable it was in their own culture. The French did not want the pelts for the lustrous outer fur, as Natives did, to line or trim garments. What they wanted was the underfur, which provided the raw material for manufacturing felt. Beaver fur is uniquely barbed and therefore prone to bind well when stewed in a toxic stew of copper acetate and mercury-laced Arabic glue. (Hatters had a reputation for being mad because of the toxic soup they inhaled during their work.) The result, once pounded and dried, is the very best felt for making the very best hats.[686-90] Before the fifteenth century, European hatters had made felt for hats from the indigenous European beaver, but overtrapping decimated the beaver population and the clearing of wilderness areas in northern Europe eradicated their natural habitats. The fur trade then moved north into Scandinavia until overtrapping drove Scandinavian beavers into extinction as well, and beaver hats along with them. In the sixteenth century, hatters were forced to use sheep’s wool to make felt. [695-96] Toward the end of the sixteenth century, two new sources of beaver pelts opened up. The first was Siberia […] [697-98] The other source opening at about the same time was Canada. [702-5] In the 1610s, the price of a beaver had risen to ten times the price of a wool felt hat, splitting the hat market into those who could afford beavers and those who couldn’t. (One effect of the price split was the emergence of an active resale market for those who could not afford a new beaver but did not want to resort to wearing a klapmuts. European governments regulated the secondhand hat market closely, out of a reasonable fear of lice-borne diseases.) Loc. 1359-65: Vermeer includes just enough detail on the Hondius globe to show that it is turned to expose what Hondius calls the Orientalus Oceanus, the Eastern Ocean, which we know today as the Indian Ocean. Navigating this ocean was a great challenge for Dutch navigators in the opening years of the seventeenth century. The Portuguese route to Southeast Asia ran around the Cape of Good Hope and up past Madagascar, following the arc of the coastline. This route had the advantage of many landfalls, but it was hampered by unfavorable currents and winds and was under Portuguese control, however unevenly defended. In 1610, a Dutch mariner discovered another route. This involved dropping down from the cape to 40 degrees southern latitude and picking up the prevailing westerlies, which, combined with the West Wind Current, could speed a ship across the bottom of the Indian Ocean, then veering north to Java on the southeast trades, by-passing India entirely. The route to the Spice Islands was thereby shortened by several months. Loc. 1445-47: The Portuguese in Macao hired Japanese in significant numbers to handle their business dealings with the Chinese. They could write Chinese characters and therefore do a better job of communicating the details of a business arrangement than the Portuguese.

african
Possibly the first Chinese representation of an African;  refers to Loc. 1500 to 1503. Modified from original figure to move text closer to drawing.

Loc. 1500-1503: An engraving of a “black ghost,” in the terminology of the time, dressed as a Portuguese servant in Macao, from Cai Ruxian’s Illustrated Account of the Eastern Foreigners of 1586. Cai enjoyed the high post of provincial administration commissioner of Guangdong. This may be the earliest Chinese representation of an African. Loc. 1790-92: For Europeans, the outside world was entering their lives in the forms of ideas and objects, some of which we see in the room Vermeer has painted. For most Chinese, the outside world remained outside. Which is still the case today, i.e. ¨Foreign countries¨ seen as ¨them¨ as oppposed to ¨us¨, with many rather funny perceptions deriving from the fact that ¨them¨ are perceived as a homogeneous, not realising that ¨us¨ are definitely many, but still minority of less than one fifth of the world population! Loc. 1929-32: [Talking of North American ¨natives¨] Sharing a smoke at a tabagie was done in the presence of the spirits, and it helped the smokers find consensus when differences arose. The sociability of tobacco spread easily from such formal settings into all aspects of Native social life. You used tobacco with friends, you shared it with neighbors, you gave it as a gift to ask for a favor or return thanks. Native people are still great socializers, which is why many are still great smokers. Loc. 2138-48: [Talking about tobacco] Not all Chinese intellectuals were at ease with the idea that something so wonderful could be entirely foreign in origin. Some preferred to think that it had been in China all along, so they scanned the voluminous records of the past—the culture’s repository of good sense—in the hope of discovering that tobacco was safely Chinese after all. The poet-painter Wu Weiye, for instance, could not rest easy with the common view that “the smoke plant was not heard of in ancient times.” He eventually found a phrase in the official history of the Tang dynasty about “holy fire” and offered this reference as proof that Chinese were already smoking in the ninth century. Taking up smoking in the seventeenth century was simply reviving a precedent. This wasn’t true, of course, but it was Wu’s way of trying to come to terms with tobacco’s foreign origin—trying, in effect, to negate the reality of transculturation by believing that the practice of smoking was already thoroughly and safely Chinese. The more effective way of finding a legitimate cultural niche in China for tobacco was to argue, as many did early on, that tobacco could have a place in Chinese medicine. It was a herb capable of producing powerful effects within the body, after all, so why not graft it onto the existing system of medical botany? Yao Lü, for instance, believed that tobacco “can block malarial vapours.” He also reported that pounding its leaves into a paste and rubbing that into the scalp got rid of head lice. Loc. 2263-64: At the turn of the seventeenth century, the Dutch started bringing opium from India into Southeast Asia, where they sold it as a mood enhancer, specifically with military applications. It was believed that if opium was given to soldiers, it made them fearless. [2268-73] The consumption of opium broadened only when it merged with an agent that could deliver the drug in a palatable form, and that agent was none other than tobacco. Soaking tobacco leaves in a solution derived from the sap of opium poppies produced a far more potent form of tobacco. This doctored product was called madak, and it seems to have been taken up as a more potent version of tobacco rather than as a different drug altogether. The practice started among Chinese trading with the Dutch on Taiwan, where they briefly maintained a base until 1662. From there it slipped into China. Chen Cong assumed that it arrived by the same route as tobacco, entering Moon Harbor from Manila, but it is the Dutch rather than the Spanish who get the credit for the drug’s introduction. [2288-90] Opium would work its way into all levels of society, just as tobacco had done, forcing a far more troubling transculturation that still haunts Chinese memories of their past and serves as an enduring symbol of China’s victimization by the West. Loc. 2491-2503: Before the silver could be transported, it had to be coined at the Potosí mint into reals. 1 The greater portion went to Europe by two different routes, the official route and the “back door.” The official route, under the control of the Spanish crown, ran west over the mountains to the port of Arica on the coast, a journey by pack animal that took two and a half months. From the coast of Peru it was shipped north to Panama, whence Spanish ships carried it across the Atlantic to Cadiz, the port serving Seville, the center of the world silver trade. The back door route was technically illegal but so profitable that it siphoned off as much as a third of Potosí’s silver production. This route went south down to the Rio de la Plata, the River of Silver, into Argentina, the Land of Silver. It arrived in Buenos Aires, where Portuguese merchants transported it across the Atlantic to Lisbon. There it was exchanged for commodities that were in demand in Peru, particularly African slaves. Much of the silver that reached Lisbon and Seville moved quickly to London and Amsterdam, but it did not tarry for long there. It passed through them and on to its final destination, the place that Europeans would later call “the tomb of European moneys”: China. China was the great global destination for European silver for two reasons. First of all, the power of silver to buy gold in Asian economies was higher than it was in Europe. If twelve units of silver were needed to buy one unit of gold in Europe, the same amount of gold could be bought for six or less in China. In other words, silver coming from Europe bought twice as much in China compared to what it could buy in Europe. [2508-10] The second reason for China’s being the destination for silver was that European merchants had little else to sell in the China market. With the exception of firearms, European products could not compete with Chinese manufactures in quality or cost. European manufactures offered little more than novelty. Silver was the one commodity that did compete well with the native product, for silver was in short supply there. [2523-26] In the half century from 1610 through 1660, the headquarters of the VOC authorized the export of just slightly under fifty million guilders—almost five hundred tons of silver. It is hard even to imagine such a mountain of silver. Add to this an equivalent volume of silver that the VOC was shipping from Japan to China in the three decades after 1640, and the mountain of silver grows by at least half as much again.

Trade routes in the 17th century. Note routes through southern Indian Ocean and across the Pacific (e.g. to carry South American silver to China).
Trade routes in the 17th century. Note routes through southern Indian Ocean and across the Pacific (e.g. to carry South American silver to China, where the silver to gold exchange ratio was much more advantageous to Europeans than in Europe). The final result was that most South American silver ended up in China… an interesting analogy with the huge US$ stocks currently held by China.

Loc. 3480-86: The VOC lasted until the end of the century, but the Dutch were never able to recover the leading position in the world economy they had held in the seventeenth century. Britain’s victory over France at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 completed the ascendancy of Britain at home—and banished Napoleon to St. Helena long after sailors needed it as a stopping point in the South Atlantic. The history of the state followed a different course in Asia, though a similar intensification of state operations can be seen. Both the Tokugawa regime in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China strengthened their bureaucratic administrations, exerting a tighter control than previous dynasties. Indeed, Europeans were so impressed with the Qing administration that they regarded China as a model of state bureaucratization—which is why the word that the Portuguese borrowed from Sanskrit to refer to Chinese officials became the universal term for powerful state bureaucrats, “mandarins.”

20130805: The Romance of an Old Fool, Roswell Martin Field

Loc 27-28: We married to please our families, and we lived apart as much as possible to please ourselves.romance Loc. 426-27: Only a student can understand the absolute wretchedness which overtakes a man when he finds himself miserably dependent on a distant library. Loc. 472: I tried to accept this as an omen, but failed miserably, and omens, after all, depend on the point of view. Loc. 530-32: Men may come and go, hearts may be won and lost, republics may totter and empires may fall, but the grand scheme of sweeping, dusting, bed-making, and cooking knows no interruption. Loc. 575-76:“I am not asking you or anybody else to kiss me. I am merely curious to know if this plays any part in the philosophy of love as understood by the greatest thinkers.” Loc. 673-75: “Prudence, I think it only right to tell you that I am going to be married.” One apple rolled from the bowl down along the floor and under the kitchen stove. I cannot conceive of any shock, however great, that would cause Prudence to lose more than one apple.

20130727: Complexity: A Guided Tour (Melanie Mitchell)

Loc. 198-200: Complex systems, an interdisciplinary field of research that seeks to explain how large numbers of relatively simple complexityentities organize themselves, without the benefit of any central controller, into a collective whole that creates patterns, uses information, and, in some cases, evolves and learns. Loc. 317-19: Now I can propose a definition of the term complex system: a system in which large networks of components with no central control and simple rules of operation give rise to complex collective behavior, sophisticated information processing, and adaptation via learning or evolution. Loc. 324-25: Here is an alternative definition of a complex system: a system that exhibits nontrivial emergent and self-organizing behaviors. Loc. 1636-37: Science often makes progress by inventing new terms to describe incompletely understood phenomena; these terms are gradually refined as the science matures and the phenomena become more completely understood. Loc. 2093-99: Von Neumann was part of what has been called the “Hungarian phenomenon,” a group of several Hungarians of similar age who went on to become world-famous scientists. This group also included Leo Szilard, whom we heard about in chapter 3, the physicists Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, and Denis Gabor, and the mathematicians Paul Erdös, John Kemeny, and Peter Lax. Many people have speculated on the causes of this improbable cluster of incredible talent. But as related by von Neumann biographer Norman MacRae, “Five of Hungary’s six Nobel Prize winners were Jews born between 1875 and 1905, and one was asked why Hungary in his generation had brought forth so many geniuses. Nobel laureate Wigner replied that he did not understand the question. Hungary in that time had produced only one genius, Johnny von Neumann.” Loc. 2106-11: Some of the “pure” scientists and mathematicians at IAS were uncomfortable with so practical a project taking place in their ivory tower, and perhaps even more uncomfortable with von Neumann’s first application of this computer, namely weather prediction, for which he brought a team of meteorologists to the IAS. Some of the purists didn’t think this kind of activity fit in with the institute’s theoretical charter. As IAS physicist Freeman Dyson put it, “The [IAS] School of Mathematics has a permanent establishment which is divided into three groups, one consisting of pure mathematics, one consisting of theoretical physicists, and one consisting of Professor von Neumann.” Loc. 3035-49: HOW DOES INFORMATION ACQUIRE MEANING? How information takes on meaning (some might call it purpose) is one of those slippery topics that has filled many a philosophy tome over the eons. I don’t think I can add much to what the philosophers have said, but I do claim that in order to understand information processing in living systems we will need to answer this question in some form. In my view, meaning is intimately tied up with survival and natural selection. Events that happen to an organism mean something to that organism if those events affect its well-being or reproductive abilities. In short, the meaning of an event is what tells one how to respond to it. Similarly, events that happen to or within an organism’s immune system have meaning in terms of their effects on the fitness of the organism. (I’m using the term fitness informally here.) These events mean something to the immune system because they tell it how to respond so as to increase the organism’s fitness—similarly with ant colonies, cells, and other information-processing systems in living creatures. This focus on fitness is one way I can make sense of the notion of meaning and apply it to biological information-processing systems. But in a complex system such as those I’ve described above, in which simple components act without a central controller or leader, who or what actually perceives the meaning of situations so as to take appropriate actions? This is essentially the question of what constitutes consciousness or self-awareness in living systems. To me this is among the most profound mysteries in complex systems and in science in general. Although this mystery has been the subject of many books of science and philosophy, it has not yet been completely explained to anyone’s satisfaction. Loc. 3146-60: Hofstadter took the problem of analogy-making and created a microworld that retained many of the problem’s most interesting features. The microworld consists of analogies to be made between strings of letters. For example, consider the following problem: if abc changes to abd, what is the analogous change to ijk? Most people describe the change as something like “Replace the rightmost letter by its alphabetic successor,” and answer ijl. But clearly there are many other possible answers, among them: ijd (“Replace the rightmost letter by a d”—similar to Jake putting his socks “on”) ijk (“Replace all c’s by d’s; there are no c’s in ijk ”), and abd (“Replace any string by abd ”). There are, of course, an infinity of other, even less plausible answers, such as ijxx (“Replace all c’s by d’s and each k by two x’s”), but almost everyone immediately views ijl as the best answer. This being an abstract domain with no practical consequences, I may not be able to convince you that ijl is a better answer than, say, ijd if you really believe the latter is better. However, it seems that humans have evolved in such a way as to make analogies in the real world that affect their survival and reproduction, and their analogy-making ability seems to carry over into abstract domains as well. This means that almost all of us will, at heart, agree that there is a certain level of abstraction that is “most appropriate,” and here it yields the answer ijl. Those people who truly believe that ijd is a better answer would probably, if alive during the Pleistocene, have been eaten by tigers, which explains why there are not many such people around today. Loc. 3160-3203: Here is a second problem: if abc changes to abd, what is the analogous change to iijjkk? The abc ? abd change can again be described as “Replace the rightmost letter by its alphabetic successor,” but if this rule is applied literally to iijjkk it yields answer iijjkl, which doesn’t take into account the double-letter structure of iijjkk. Most people will answer iijjll, implicitly using the rule “Replace the rightmost group of letters by its alphabetic successor,” letting the concept letter of abc slip into the concept group of letters for iijjkk. Another kind of conceptual slippage can be seen in the problem abc ? abd kji ? ? A literal application of the rule “Replace the rightmost letter by its alphabetic successor” yields answer kjj, but this ignores the reverse structure of kji, in which the increasing alphabetic sequence goes from right to left rather than from left to right. This puts pressure on the concept rightmost in abc to slip to leftmost in kji, which makes the new rule “Replace the leftmost letter by its alphabetic successor,” yielding answer lji. This is the answer given by most people. Some people prefer the answer kjh, in which the sequence kji is seen as going from left to right but decreasing in the alphabet. This entails a slippage from “alphabetic successor” to “alphabetic predecessor,” and the new rule is “Replace the rightmost letter by its alphabetic predecessor.” Consider abc ? abd mrrjjj ? ? You want to make use of the salient fact that abc is an alphabetically increasing sequence, but how? This internal “fabric” of abc is a very appealing and seemingly central aspect of the string, but at first glance no such fabric seems to weave mrrjjj together. So either (like most people) you settle for mrrkkk (or possibly mrrjjk), or you look more deeply. The interesting thing about this problem is that there happens to be an aspect of mrrjjj lurking beneath the surface that, once recognized, yields what many people feel is a more satisfying answer. If you ignore the letters in mrrjjj and look instead at group lengths, the desired successorship fabric is found: the lengths of groups increase as “1-2-3.” Once this connection between abc and mrrjjj is discovered, the rule describing abc ? abd can be adapted to mrrjjj as “Replace the rightmost group of letters by its length successor,” which yields “1-2-4” at the abstract level, or, more concretely, mrrjjjj. Finally, consider abc ? abd xyz ? ? At first glance this problem is essentially the same as the problem with target string ijk given previously, but there is a snag: Z has no successor. Most people answer xya, but in Hofstadter’s microworld the alphabet is not circular and therefore this answer is excluded. This problem forces an impasse that requires analogy-makers to restructure their initial view, possibly making conceptual slippages that were not initially considered, and thus to discover a different way of understanding the situation. People give a number of different responses to this problem, including xy (“Replace the z by nothing at all”), xyd (“Replace the rightmost letter by a d”; given the impasse, this answer seems less rigid and more reasonable than did ijd for the first problem above), xyy (“If you can’t take the z’s successor, then the next best thing is to take its predecessor”), and several other answers. However, there is one particular way of viewing this problem that, to many people, seems like a genuine insight, whether or not they come up with it themselves. The essential idea is that abc and xyz are “mirror images”—xyzis wedged against the end of the alphabet, and abc is similarly wedged against the beginning. Thus the z in xyz and the a in abc can be seen to correspond, and then one naturally feels that the x and the c correspond as well. Underlying these object correspondences is a set of slippages that are conceptually parallel: alphabetic-first ? alphabetic-last, rightmost ? leftmost, and successor ? predecessor. Taken together, these slippages convert the original rule into a rule adapted to the target string xyz: “Replace the leftmost letter by its predecessor.” This yields a surprising but strong answer: wyz. It should be clear by now that the key to analogy-making in this microworld (as well as in the real world) is what I am calling conceptual slippage. Finding appropriate conceptual slippages given the context at hand is the essence of finding a good analogy. Loc. 3021-35: Interplay of Unfocused and Focused Processes In all three example systems there is a continual interplay of unfocused, random explorations and focused actions driven by the system’s perceived needs. In the immune system, unfocused explorations are carried out by a continually changing population of lymphocytes with different receptors, collectively prepared to approximately match any antigen. Focused explorations consist of the creation of offspring that are variations of successful lymphocytes, which allow these explorations to zero in on a particular antigen shape. Likewise, ant foraging consists of unfocused explorations by ants moving at random, looking for food in any direction, and focused explorations in which ants follow existing pheromone trails. In cellular metabolism, unfocused processes of random exploration by molecules are combined with focused activation or inhibition driven by chemical concentrations and genetic regulation. As in all adaptive systems, maintaining a correct balance between these two modes of exploring is essential. Indeed, the optimal balance shifts over time. Early explorations, based on little or no information, are largely random and unfocused. As information is obtained and acted on, exploration gradually becomes more deterministic and focused in response to what has been perceived by the system. In short, the system both explores to obtain information and exploits that information to successfully adapt. This balancing act between unfocused exploration and focused exploitation has been hypothesized to be a general property of adaptive and intelligent systems. John Holland, for example, has cited this balancing act as a way to explain how genetic algorithms work. Loc. 3855-58: Network thinking has recently helped to illuminate additional, seemingly unrelated, scientific and technological mysteries: Why is the typical life span of organisms a simple function of their size? Why do rumors, jokes, and “urban myths” spread so quickly? Why are large, complex networks such as electrical power grids and the Internet so robust in some circumstances, and so susceptible to large-scale failures in others? What types of events can cause a once-stable ecological community to fall apart? Loc. 3897-99: A major discovery to date of network science is that high-clustering, skewed degree distributions, and hub structure seem to be characteristic of the vast majority of all the natural, social, and technological networks that network scientists have studied. Loc. 3902-3: Two classes of models that have been studied in depth are known as small-world networks and scale-free networks. Loc. 3932-34: […] the small-world property: a network has this property if it has relatively few long-distance connections but has a small average path-length relative to the total number of nodes. Small-world networks also typically exhibit a high degree of clustering: for any nodes A, B, and C, if node A is connected to nodes B and C, then B and C are also likely to be connected to one another. Loc. 3953-57: Natural, social, and technological evolution seem to have produced organisms, communities, and artifacts with such structure. Why? It has been hypothesized that at least two conflicting evolutionary selective pressures are responsible: the need for information to travel quickly within the system, and the high cost of creating and maintaining reliable long-distance connections. Small-world networks solve both these problems by having short average path lengths between nodes in spite of having only a relatively small number of long-distance connections. Loc. 3986-89: [About Scale-Free Networks] There are two kinds of Web links: in-links and out-links. That is, suppose my page has a link to your page but not vice versa: I have an out-link and you have an in-link. One needs to be specific about which kinds of links are counted. The original PageRank algorithm looked only at in-links and ignored out-links—in this discussion I’ll do the same. We’ll call the number of in-links to a page the in-degree of that page. [3993-99] Several different research groups have found that the Web’s in-degree distribution can be described by a very simple rule: the number of pages with a given in-degree is approximately proportional to 1 divided by the square of that in-degree. Suppose we denote the in-degree by the letter k. Then Number of Web pages with in-degree k is proportional to . (There has been some disagreement in the literature as to the actual exponent on k but it is close to 2—see the notes for details.) It turns out that this rule actually fits the data only for values of in-degree (k) in the thousands or greater. [4019-22] A distribution like this is called self-similar, because it has the same shape at any scale you plot it. In more technical terms, it is “invariant under rescaling.” This is what is meant by the term scale-free. The term self-similarity might be ringing a bell. We saw it back in chapter 7, in the discussion of fractals. There is indeed a connection to fractals here; more on this in chapter 17. [4040-44] Scale-free networks have four notable properties: (1) a relatively small number of very high-degree nodes (hubs); (2) nodes with degrees over a very large range of different values (i.e., heterogeneity of degree values); (3) self-similarity; (4) small-world structure. All scale-free networks have the small-world property, though not all networks with the small-world property are scale-free. In more scientific terms, a scale-free network always has a power law degree distribution. Loc. 4053-54: A very important property of scale-free networks is their resilience to the deletion of nodes. Loc. 4197-98: […] not everyone has jumped on the network-science bandwagon, and even many who have are skeptical concerning some of the most optimistic statements about the significance of network science for complex systems research. This skepticism is founded on the following arguments. [4199-4200]  Too many phenomena are being described as power-law or scale-free. It’s typically rather difficult to obtain good data about real-world network degree distributions. [4208-9] Even for networks that are actually scale-free, there are many possible causes for power law degree distributions in networks […]. Loc. 4256-59: The network resilience I talked about earlier—the ability of networks to maintain short average path lengths in spite of the failure of random nodes—doesn’t take into account the cascading failure scenario in which the failure of one node causes the failure of other nodes. Cascading failures provide another example of “tipping points,” in which small events can trigger accelerating feedback, causing a minor problem to balloon into a major disruption. Loc. 4808-13: Evolutionary biologist Dan McShea has given me a useful way to think about these various issues. He classifies evolutionists into three categories: adaptationists, who believe that natural selection is primary; historicists, who give credit to historical accident for many evolutionary changes; and structuralists, such as Kauffman, who focus on how organized structure comes about even in the absence of natural selection. Evolutionary theory will be unified only when these three groups are able to show how their favored forces work as an integrated whole. Dan also gave me an optimistic perspective on this prospect: “Evolutionary biology is in a state of intellectual chaos. But it’s an intellectual chaos of a very productive kind.”

20130706: 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Jorgen Randers, 2012)

Loc. 502-5: The conventional macroeconomics paradigm assumes that the world’s markets are in equilibrium. Hence most economists do see a world in equilibrium when they read their newspaper or walk down the street. The opponents to this paradigm, for example, the system dynamics school to which I belong, assume that the world is not in equilibrium. To us the world is careening from one turn to the next in a never-ending search for the next equilibrium, which always is on the move. Loc. 709-10: The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will certainly increase, but it won’t trigger self-reinforcing climate change before 2052. Loc. 780-84: At the same time the unprecedented riots and looting that took place in England’s various cities in the summer of 2011 was attributed to everything from the breakdown of civic values to weak policing, a sense of entitlement, and rampant consumerism. In 2011 even those on social welfare felt entitled to grossly overpriced Nikes made by cheap labor in Asia. None of the rioters were risking their lives for food as none were going hungry. Thus the UK riots were quite different from the unrest in the Middle East, where people in the streets were essentially demanding a better life with fair access to the bare basics that can only be provided by more equitable sharing of resources. Loc. 789-90: It is one of the great lies of our times that the performance of stock markets reflects a nation’s true health and affects the well-being of its common citizens. Loc. 849-50: Thus success in limiting consumption will require an element of benevolent authoritarianism. This may work, for example, in China, but not everywhere. Semi-fashism? Saddamism? Extreme-centrism? Loc. 1018-79: An interesting section on the Intergenerational War for Equity by Karl Wagner The following clippings are all from s section written by Herman Daly on “The end of uneconomic growth” Loc. 1664-79 (Daly): But, as any economist should know, it is the marginal (not total) costs and benefits that are relevant to determining when growth becomes uneconomic. Marginal benefits decline because we satisfy our most pressing wants first; marginal costs rise because we use the most accessible resources first and sacrifice the least vital ecosystem services as we grow (convert nature into artifacts). Are the marginal benefits of a third car worth the marginal costs of climate disruption and sea-level rise? Declining marginal benefits will equal rising marginal costs while net benefits are positive—in fact precisely when net benefits of past growth are at a maximum! No one is against being richer, at least up to some sufficient level of wealth. That rich is better than poor is a definitional truism. That growth always makes us richer is an elementary mistake even within the basic logic of standard economics. As suggested above, we do not really want to know when growth becomes uneconomic because then we should stop growing at that point—and we don’t know how to run a steady-state economy, and we are religiously committed to an ideology of “no limits.” We want to believe that growth can cure poverty without sharing, and without limiting the scale of the human niche in creation. To maintain this state of delusion we confuse two distinct meanings of the term “economic growth.” Sometimes it refers to the growth of that thing we call the economy (the physical subsystem of our world made up of the stocks of population and wealth and the flows of production and consumption). When the economy gets physically bigger we call that “economic growth.” But the term also has a second, very different meaning. If an activity causes benefits to increase faster than costs, we call that an “economic” activity. In this sense, “economic growth” is growth that yields a net benefit or a profit. Now, does “economic growth” in the first sense imply “economic growth” in the second sense? No, absolutely not. The idea that a bigger economy must always make us richer is pure confusion. Loc. 1695-98 (Daly): […] whatever else it may measure, is also the best statistical index we have of the aggregate of pollution, depletion, congestion, and loss of biodiversity. Economist Kenneth Boulding suggested, with tongue only a little bit in cheek, that we relabel it Gross Domestic Cost. Loc. 1698-1706 (Last Daly quote): Economists and psychologists are now discovering that, beyond a sufficiency threshold, the positive correlation between GDP and self-evaluated happiness disappears. This is not surprising, because GDP was never meant as a measure of happiness or welfare—only of activity; some of which is joyful, some beneficial, some regrettably necessary, some remedial, some trivial, some harmful, and some stupid. In sum, I think that we have reached the limits to growth in the last forty years, but also that we have willfully denied it, much to the harm of most of us, but to the benefit of an elite minority who keep on pushing the growth ideology, because they have found ways to privatize the benefits of growth while socializing the even greater costs. The big question in my mind is, Can denial, delusion, and obfuscation last another forty years? And if we keep on denying the economic limit to growth, how long do we have before crashing into the more discontinuous and catastrophic biophysical limits? Loc. 1889-91: Finally, there is an important recent addition to the literature on what it will cost to restructure the global economy. This is the 2012 report from UNEP titled Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. Here is the reference to the document: United Nations Evironment Programme (2011), Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, UNEP, Green Economy Initiative, Nairobi. The report can be downloaded from here. The clippings that follow are from an insert by Chris Tuppen on the “Urban mining of metals” Loc. 3177-82 (Tuppen): By 2052, for many materials, and especially metals, urban mining will exceed extractive mining. That is to say, it will become more economically attractive to recover and recycle than to dig and refine. This transformation will be driven by a combination of three key factors. First will be the increasing scarcity of some naturally occurring metal ores. Second will be high level of societal stocks for many of the more common elements such as iron and aluminum. And third will be ever-higher processing costs associated with ore refining. Loc. 3215-17 (Tuppen): Europe is highly dependent on imports for many crucial metals, and the European Commission, concerned about future availability, has recently highlighted that China produces 95% of all rare earth concentrates, Brazil 90% of all niobium, and South Africa 79% of all rhodium. From a press release by the EC on Critical Raw Materials”. The document can be viewed and downloaded from here. Loc. 1467-69 (Tuppen): Systematic progress within medicine will help eliminate infectious disease, and in 2052 life expectancy will exceed seventy-five years all over the world, except during times of uncommon stress. Loc. 2792-95, section on food production: My forecast is based on the assumption that the net effect on yields will be small, minus 5% by 2052, relative to yields if there were no global warming. The effect would be bigger if the crop composition was kept constant, but I do not believe this will be the case: farmers will gradually shift toward crops that handle the new climate well. Loc. 2861-66 (from a section by Erling Moxnes on “Expensive Oil = Expensive Food”): Many users of fossil fuel can use biofuels with no or limited adjustments. Therefore prices of biofuels are strongly coupled to prices of oil. Note, however, that demand for fuels is much larger than demand for food. Measured by energy content, current world oil production is about five times larger than world agricultural production. Assuming that the conversion of food to biofuel involves a loss of some 40% of the energy content of the food, the entire world food production could not replace more than 12% of current world oil production. New plant species could raise the percentage somewhat, but if more than 12% of current world oil production were to be replaced, hardly any food would be left for human consumption. Loc. 2887-93 (still from the Moxnes insert): Perhaps the greatest reason for pessimism is widespread misperceptions among journalists, politicians, and voters. Focus tends to be on current-day problems with current-day perspectives. Most people do not understand how energy and food markets work, and they underestimate the time it takes to change course and the need for precaution. They do not realize fully that we have more resources to prevent future hunger today than we will have tomorrow.  Loc. 2908-33, insert on The Limits to Protein by David Butcher:  Scarcity of high-quality animal protein—partly from land-based animals and partly from fish and other products from salt or freshwater—will confront us over the next forty years. Total world protein production will likely remain similar to present-day levels. The catch of marine fish has already stagnated and may declineci dramatically toward 2052. But the decline will be compensated for through aquaculture production, as long as there is enough feed. The availability of feed, too, will determine supplies of land-based protein such as beef, chicken, and pork. The production of plants for feed is highly susceptible to unexpected variations in the weather. Land-use change, degradation from poor management practices, desertification, and inundation from sea-level rise will all add pressure to the world’s arable land. Improved irrigation practices will help, but water availability will remain critical, especially in international river basins where tensions and outright conflict will erupt over it. On the positive side, science will provide some relief through the development of improved plant strains, more efficient irrigation techniques, effective fertilizer use, and efficient pyrolysis of vegetation in order to increase soil carbon. Improved genetics and animal husbandry will produce more productive flocks and herds. But feeding the animals used for human protein consumption will be in direct competition with human needs for grain crops and also for animal protein. Ruminants will continue to use nonarable lands, transforming low-quality herbage into high-quality protein. But the production of pork will decline because pigs compete directly for human-grade carbohydrates and protein. Poultry products will become the mainstay because these birds convert feed into protein with high efficiency. Furthermore, poultry populations can be rapidly expanded and contracted to take advantage of fluctuations in feed availability. Aquaculture is widely seen as the natural supplement to the stagnating catch of wild fish. But aquaculture requires a steady flow of high-quality—usually fish—protein to feed the captive fish. A number of freshwater species have great promise because of their lower protein requirements, but they are usually less popular in the marketplace. So aquaculture will remain a competitor for protein-rich feed by 2052. The distributional effect of the limited supply of protein will be ugly. The affluent will force up prices and consume what high-quality protein there is. The poor, especially in urban areas, will get less, and signs of protein deficiency will reappear, with resultant disease and a lowering of the quality of life for those affected. David Butcher (Australian, born 1941) is a veterinarian with particular interests in epidemiology, wildlife diseases, and biodiversity conservation. He is a former CEO of WWF Australia and Greening Australia (NSW) and now lives on an Illawarra property that is 30% subtropical rain forest. Loc. 3091-3124: Perhaps the wisdom will come once resource prices start creeping up more rapidly than economies expand. Once that happens, it is going to feel like climbing up a downward-moving escalator. But will this feeling generate more insight among decision makers, and quicker and more decisive action? I fear not. As incomes tighten, governments may rather cease to invest, even in education and infrastructure maintenance, leaving their populations fending for themselves as they face ever-higher food and energy bills. National bankruptcies may become more frequent. In other words, resource constraints will produce social upsets way before producing ecological collapse—the menu includes currency decay, runaway debts, insolvency, social unrest, civil wars. All these events will obfuscate the underlying resource drama, as it did in the “Arab Spring” of 2011. While the uprising against repressive leaders was largely seen as a positive development toward democracy, the underlying circumstance was that rapidly expanding populations in the region were meeting rising food and energy prices. Such potent social dynamite cannot be contained even by cynical dictators. Now consider China. China’s leaders have understood the resource race for decades—far better than any large nation. They have actively prepared themselves in order to access resources from abroad. They have limited their population growth, reforested devastated areas, and carefully managed urbanization pressures. They have begun to secure access to resources abroad, although their ultimate goal is a self-sufficient China—a continuation of the age-old Middle Kingdom. China is not a democracy, but it features a governing system in which the population expects its leaders to deliver. Delivery has been the government’s continued license to operate. China’s leaders have successfully used economic growth as a way to lift millions out of poverty, and to keep a vast portion of its population excited and loyal. The growth has created opportunities for many and generated a sense of progress for a large majority. Expanding budgets and economies simplify politics. Rather than having to tackle challenging redistribution conflicts, growth provides more all around, allowing Chinese decision makers to please one constituency without having to take from another one. More is better. But how long will it be physically possible for China to extend this growth? If its energy consumption was half that of the United States in 2000, and exceeded that of the United States by 2009, how can this trajectory be sustained? Already today, China has the largest bio-capacity deficit of all nations—it would take the equivalent bio-capacity of 2.2 Chinas to support the country’s current domestic demand.7 The big difference between China and other nations is that China is fully aware of the problem. The “farmer’s view” is present even in the highest places. China has for millennia striven to be independent of the outside world. It is wary of its growing dependence on outside resources and is putting considerable efforts into building a national resource base and an economy based on domestic consumption rather than on resource-intensive exports to the rich world. The “farmers” in Beijing are seeking to uphold their present growth rate, but their goal is to decouple it from its ecological footprint. Without economic growth, economic disappointment will rattle Chinese society, and thereby the world economy. Without massive decoupling, China will not make it to 2052. Is it physically possible to decouple their economy? Yes. But we have not yet seen the physical evidence that China is acting fast enough. But I hope they will, because China, like our big banks, is “too big to fail.” If China coughs, we will all get a severe flu. Mathis Wackernagel (Swiss, born 1962) is cocreator of the ecological footprint concept and president of Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank, with offices in Oakland, California; Geneva, Switzerland; and Brussels, Belgium. Loc. 3142-45: a note about the interesting concept of biocapacity: bio-capacity is the amount of land that we have not yet occupied for food, meat, wood, fish, and cities. The unused part of the world has declined significantly, from 40% to 30% of the total availability in the last forty years. If we divide by the population, we see that the spare capacity per person has fallen even more dramatically, from 1.2 to 0.3 global hectares per person. The book has a section on The Future of War and the Rise of Robots, by Ugo Bardi. Ugo Bardi (Italian, born 1952) teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, Italy. His interests cover the depletion of mineral resources and peak oil, nanotechnology, and robotics. He runs the Italian section of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and blogs on www.cassandralegacy.blogspot.com. His most recent book is The Limits to Growth Revisited. Loc. 3782-83 (Bardi): Overall, wars will become less costly with the use of robots, but that doesn’t mean a reduction in their frequency. New major wars—even nuclear ones—cannot be excluded for the future. Future wars may become more frequent even in the face of a progressive decline of the world’s industrial system caused by resource depletion. We may see war becoming endemic, and dispersed in a large number of small conflicts. Also, the low cost of war may make the distinction between “peacetime” and “wartime” disappear. Future wars may often be classified as police actions against groups defined as “rogue.” These are, clearly, already ongoing trends. Loc. 3816-17 (Bardi): National armies may be replaced by private contractors deemed more suitable for managing high-tech robotic weapons in the kind of small-scale conflict that may become common in the future. Loc. 3818-23 (Bardi): Nation-states, then, may also decline and perhaps disappear, as there will be no need for propaganda to convince people to sacrifice themselves in battle. In addition, nation-states have evolved specifically with the purpose of “defending the borders” when the main source of wealth was agriculture, and hence territory. In recent times, however, the focus of war has been more on the control of mineral resources, with several recent wars described, correctly, as oil wars. It may be possible that the structure considered best adapted to managing war and resources, in these conditions will be not the nation-state but something akin to modern corporations—more effective, perhaps, than states in employing high-tech military contractors for small-scale conflicts. Loc. 3830-32 (Bardi): So even if war may become more frequent, it need not become more violent. Indeed, the trend of avoiding as much as possible collateral damage to civilians is already ongoing. It is a positive development after the emphasis on carpet bombing in the twentieth century. 5000-5043: Will the Passing of World Leadership from the United States to China Be Peaceful? Yes. The starting point here is my belief that China will be the world leader in 2052. This emerges with great clarity from my forecast, and especially from the regional split described in chapter 10. In 2052 China will have a population three and a half times bigger than that of the United States. The Chinese economy will be nearly two and a half times larger, and Chinese per capita production and consumption will be more than 70% of the US equivalents. China will be the premier driving force on the planet. In some ways this is already the case. Current China is capable of acting in a manner that far exceeds the maneuverability of the two competitors for global supremacy: the European Union and the United States. The United States still has the biggest muscle (the US GDP equals 13 T$/yr, similar to that of the EU), but China is much more agile in the use of its somewhat smaller muscle (China’s GDP is near 10 T$/yr). Militarily the United States is still more powerful outside US territory, but economically the Chinese influence is rising fast. It does not weaken the Chinese hand that it already owns 1 T$ of US federal debt, one-quarter of the US federal debt held by foreigners. This equals ownership of more than one month of the total output of the US economy. Many believe that China won’t reach hegemonic status because of lack of domestic resources or because of counterrevolution. My view is that China has sufficient coal and shale gas to run the economy in the transition stage, enough sun to fuel it in the long run, sufficient understanding of the climate threat to work up front to reduce the loss, and a sufficient tradition of Chinese independence to be willing to develop internally the resources it does not currently hold. But most important is the willingness and the ability of the Chinese to govern investment flows so as to achieve their goals. It should also be remembered that in the long run, China will no longer need all the energy and resources it currently uses for the production of export goods. In the long run it will suffice to have a sustainable interior supply of energy and resources sufficient to provide for the Chinese population, which will peak at 1.4 billion people around 2020 and be down to 1.2 billion in 2052. Clearly things can go wrong for China, but I think this will take time. The alignment of the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and the great mass of Chinese is near perfect. Both need rapid growth in per capita consumption. Both will applaud when it is achieved. Both will hurt when it fails, and try once more. There is, of course, at any time a group that would like to emphasize values other than material growth, but I believe they will be in the minority for a long time (just like in the United States), and their softer goals suppressed. To do more with less will be the mantra of Chinese growth, in order to continue the goal of the last two thousand years, namely, to be a self-sufficient China independent of the barbarians from outside the Middle Kingdom. Increased energy and resource efficiency will be pursued with enthusiasm. Since both are achievable in principle, through the planned use of money and manpower, they will be achieved. So what will the Americans do when the Chinese hegemon further exposes its full body? Not much. I believe in a friendly resolution of the potential conflict between China and the United States, because the United States also has enough resources inside its boundaries to run a self-sufficient shop for its inhabitants. It is true that the country currently depends on vast oil imports from abroad, but like China, the United States has enough coal and shale gas to run its economy for a long time (assuming little real GDP growth in the country over the next forty years, as I do). It has large agricultural muscle (more than sufficient for its domestic population—and if Americans decide to eat more healthily, also for quite a bit of biofuels). Furthermore the United States has some space that will be livable after climate change. Water may be a problem where it is currently needed, but activities can and will be moved if that is required to have enough water. And GMO crops will be used large-scale to reduce water scarcity, despite their drawback. If the American democracy finally decides to try to solve its obvious societal problems in a collaborative manner, the US investment capacity is huge and the problems solvable. I think the latter sentence contains the essence of the US fate over the next forty years. The United States could maintain its hegemony if it decided to do so. But I don’t think the American system of governance will be capable. Quick, bipartisan decision making is certainly not a US strength. And I see little that will change this fact on a forty-year horizon. Since the country is already rich, and the resources are there at least for living at a slightly lower footing, the United States can allow itself to slide into a secondary role, as a provincial and self-content country. Much like Europe smoothly moved down to second rank after the two World Wars. Both China and the United States will be bothered by climate change. But both countries are big enough to include places that are relatively less affected. Their starting points are very different, the United States being rich and China much poorer (GDP per person today is one-sixth of the US rate). But their governance systems differ, will differ, and will help China move fast when the United States will be floundering. This won’t create war since China’s ambition is to be self-contained.

20130702 When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (Molly Ringwald, 2012)

Loc. 1021-24: She and Phillip lingered on the porch together for another hour. They

Source: http://www.aanblog.com/when-it-happens-to-you-dont-laugh-at-me-funny-man-talking-with-his-dog.html
Source: http://www.aanblog.com/when-it-happens-to-you-dont-laugh-at-me-funny-man-talking-with-his-dog.html

talked about her son, her failed relationships, his daughter, his wife, his former mistress, his job, and all of the mistakes they had made and if not vowed then at least hoped never to repeat. And before parting, against their better judgment, they shared a lonely kiss that they both knew, as soon as it was over, would be added to the long list of regrets. Loc. 1761-64: When it happens to you, you will ask him why he would choose to forsake this good, sweet life that you carefully built together for a girl who couldn’t begin to understand him. And then you will realize that that is at least partially the point. He doesn’t want to be understood. He wants to be misunderstood because in that misunderstanding lies the possibility of reinvention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20130610: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) I remember the HeLa cells from my physiology and genetics courses at university, and I was curious to learn a couple of things about their story. But what to say about this book? It’s rather linear story telling, few insights into theory, but nevertheless a good story if you skip every second page. The book is interesting when it describes the complete lack of rules about human medical experimentation and people’s rights, until rather recently. I also learned that the author of a book we all read when we were teenagers (Man, the unknown, Alexis Carrel, 1912 Nobel Prize) was a crook and a fascist! What else to say? After some time, the dull and repetitive “African American dialect” got on my nerves, and I somehow reached the stage described in this sentence by one of the characters in the book (Loc. 3849): I don’t never wanna see them niggers no more.

Loc. 775-79: Gey was a reckless visionary—spontaneous, quick to start dozens of projects at once, filling the lab and his basement at home with half-built machines, partial discoveries, and piles of junkyard scraps only he could imagine using in a lab. Whenever an idea hit him, he sat wherever he was—at his desk, kitchen table, a bar, or behind the wheel of his car—gnawing on his ever-present cigar and scribbling diagrams on napkins or the backs of torn-off bottle labels. That’s how he came up with the roller-tube culturing technique, his most important invention. Loc. 2237-39: In 1960, French researchers had discovered that when cells were infected with certain viruses in culture, they clumped together and sometimes fused. When they fused, the genetic material from the two cells combined, as with sperm meeting egg. The technical name for this was somatic cell fusion, but some researchers called it “cell sex.” Loc. 2247-48: In 1965 two British scientists, Henry Harris and John Watkins, took cell sex an important step further. Compare Loc. 2237-39 and Loc. 2247-48. Contrary to French scientists, British people have got names! Loc. 3106-25: Because of this, drug companies were willing to pay enormous sums to work with his cells. Had Moore known this before Golde patented them, he could have approached the companies directly and worked out a deal to sell the cells himself. In the early 1970s a man named Ted Slavin had done precisely that with antibodies from his blood. Slavin was born a hemophiliac in the 1950s, when the only available treatment involved infusions of clotting factors from donor blood, which wasn’t screened for diseases. Because of that, he’d been exposed to the hepatitis B virus again and again, though he didn’t find out until decades later, when a blood test showed extremely high concentrations of hepatitis B antibodies in his blood. When the results of that blood test came back, Slavin’s doctor—unlike Moore’s—told him his body was producing something extremely valuable. Researchers around the world were working to develop a vaccine for hepatitis B, and doing so required a steady supply of antibodies like Slavin’s, which pharmaceutical companies were willing to pay large sums for. This was convenient, because Slavin needed money. He worked odd jobs waiting tables and doing construction, but he’d eventually have another hemophilia attack and end up unemployed again. So Slavin contacted laboratories and pharmaceutical companies to ask if they wanted to buy his antibodies. They said yes in droves. Slavin started selling his serum for as much as ten dollars a milliliter—at up to 500 milliliters per order—to anyone who wanted it. But he wasn’t just after money. He wanted someone to cure hepatitis B. So he wrote a letter to Nobel Prize-winning virologist Baruch Blumberg, who’d discovered the hepatitis B antigen and created the blood test that found Slavin’s antibodies in the first place. Slavin offered Blumberg unlimited free use of his blood and tissues for his research, which began a years-long partnership. With the help of Slavin’s serum, Blumberg eventually uncovered the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, and created the first hepatitis B vaccine, saving millions of lives. Slavin realized he probably wasn’t the only patient with valuable blood, so he recruited other similarly endowed people and started a company, Essential Biologicals, which eventually merged with another, larger biological-product corporation. Slavin was only the first of many who have since turned their bodies into businesses, including nearly two million Americans who currently sell their blood plasma, many of them on a regular basis. Loc. 3356-62: Van Valen explained this idea years later, saying, “HeLa cells are evolving separately from humans, and having a separate evolution is really what a species is all about.” Since the species name Hela was already taken by a type of crab, the researchers proposed that the new HeLa cell species should be called Helacyton gartleri, which combined HeLa with cyton, which is Greek for “cell,” and gartleri, in honor of Stanley Gartler, who’d dropped the “HeLa Bomb” twenty-five years earlier. No one challenged this idea, but no one acted on it either, so Henrietta’s cells remained classified as human. But even today some scientists argue that it’s factually incorrect to say that HeLa cells are related to Henrietta, since their DNA is no longer genetically identical to hers. Loc. 3370-77: But normal human cells—either in culture or in the human body—can’t grow indefinitely like cancer cells. They divide only a finite number of times, then stop growing and begin to die. The number of times they can divide is a specific number called the Hayflick Limit, after Leonard Hayflick, who’d published a paper in 1961 showing that normal cells reach their limit when they’ve doubled about fifty times. After years of disbelief and argument from other scientists, Hayflick’s paper on cell limits became one of the most widely cited in his field. It was an epiphany: scientists had been trying for decades to grow immortal cell lines using normal cells instead of malignant ones, but it had never worked. They thought their technique was the problem, when in fact it was simply that the lifespan of normal cells was preprogrammed. Only cells that had been transformed by a virus or a genetic mutation had the potential to become immortal. Loc. 4039-40: I’m really glad to see you here.” He spoke with an Austrian accent, which made Deborah wiggle her eyebrows at me when he turned to press the elevator call button. Interesting comment! The fact that an American author can tell one German accent from another must be the famous Schwarzenegger effect?

20130301: Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, “A new translation with an introduction by Gregory Hays”, 2012

Richard Haris as Marcus Aurelius in "Gladiator". Source of image: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm42042368/tt0172495
Richard Haris as Marcus Aurelius in “Gladiator”. Source of image: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm42042368/tt0172495

Marcus Aurelius is often regarded as the ideal ruler, a philosopher-emperor. I read the book on a tablet which a well intended friend gave me to replace the “old fashioned black and white Kindle.” Quite apart from the fact that nothing can beat the reading experience on a Kindle (and certainly not the glossy screen of a tablet), the android Kindle programme does not allow clippings… which is why I have returned to the Kindle. As to the book itself: this is standard and mostly dull typical Stoic literature.It repeats in 100 different ways: “be selfish and don’t get involved, don’t commit yourself if you don’t want trouble.”  Its popularity is mainly due to the fact that the Christians see him as a “good guy” and probably also because he was the “good” (again!) emperor in the film “Gladiator”. If it come to preferences among Roman emperors, I’ll chose Julian the apostate!

20130109: Les Misérables (Intégrale des 5 volumes),  Victor HUGO, 1862

Les deux religieuses qui faisaient le service de l’infirmerie, dames lazaristes comme toutes les sœurs de charité, s’appelaient sœur Perpétue et sœur Simplice. La sœur Perpétue était la première villageoise venue, grossièrement sœur de charité, entrée chez Dieu comme on entre en place. Elle était religieuse comme on est cuisinière. Ce type n’est point très rare. Les ordres monastiques acceptent volontiers cette lourde poterie paysanne, aisément façonnée en capucin ou en ursuline. Ces rusticités s’utilisent pour les grosses besognes de la dévotion. La transition d’un bouvier à un carme n’a rien de heurté ; l’un devient l’autre sans grand travail ; le fond commun d’ignorance du village et du cloître est une préparation toute faite, et met tout de suite le campagnard de plain-pied avec le moine. Un peu d’ampleur au sarrau, et voilà un froc. La sœur Perpétue était une forte religieuse, de Marines, près Pontoise, patoisant, psalmodiant, bougonnant, sucrant la tisane selon le bigotisme ou l’hypocrisie du grabataire, brusquant les malades, bourrue avec les mourants, leur jetant presque Dieu au visage, lapidant l’agonie avec des prières en colère, hardie, honnête et rougeaude.

 

 

 

20130107: The Intimate Adventures of A London Call Girl, Belle de Jour, 2005

A rather amazing book by an educated woman who temporarily went into prostitution out of necessity, but apparently enjoyed most of it! The author (Brooke Magnanti), now a neurotoxicologist and cancer epidemiologist was eventually forced to go public about her name.