Cadamosto

January 22, 2023

The Hakluyt Society has been good to me over the years—I discovered it by accident when I began writing about history, and I believe the society is not widely known, even within the United Kingdom.

When I wrote Clear Eyes, I used the translation of the log of Columbus by Clements Markham to plot the course of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. On a spreadsheet I entered every date and distance indicated in his diary, converting the infamous Italian sea miles that partly account for his navigational errors into today’s nautical miles—he should have used Arab miles in his first assessment of the distance to Cipango.

Imagine my joy when I found a book by G.R. Chrone, dated 1937, entitled ‘The Voyages of Cadamosto and other documents on Western Africa’—The Hakluyt Society does it again.

When I search for obscure tomes, my weapon of choice is Abe Books. The website appeared in 1996 and I used them frequently as I prepared The India Road—just as I finished the book, the company was bought by Amazon.

One of the most memorable things about Alvise da Ca’ da Mosto is the fact that he wrote—hardly any explorers did. Either they did not have a literary bent, or they perished before they could put quill to parchment. Although Cadamosto died in 1488, aged fifty-six, he nevertheless found time to write his memoirs, and the book survives to this day in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which I visited in 2016 in search of an old Italian map drawn by Andrea Bianco in 1436.

What I was looking for then was a reference to the ‘Mar da Baga’, or Sargasso Sea, which suggested the Portuguese mariners had sailed considerably further west than the Azores, possibly reaching the Caribbean Sea or the coast of America.

The diary of Columbus, translated into English and printed by the Hakluyt Society in MDCCCXCIII (1893).

Getting into the Marciana is almost as hard as traveling to Mars itself, and I treasure my reader’s card—perhaps I’ll find myself in Venice one of these days and look up the Cadamosto original.

Chrone provides invaluable notes on the exploration of West Africa from the fourteenth century onward. The key reasons for this urge to go south are twofold: fighting the Moors in northwest Africa and… gold.

Alouise da Ca da Mosto, was the first that of the noble city of Venesia was moved to sail the ocean sea beyond the strait of Zibeltera towards the south in the land of the blacks of lower Ethiopia.

In 1454, Alvise set sail from Venice for Flanders. His ship encountered contrary winds near Cape St. Vincent, the tip of southwestern Portugal, and he paid a visit to the village of Raposeira, near what is now Vila do Bispo. There he had the good fortune to meet the greatest explorer of his day—Prince Henry the Navigator, then sixty years of age.

The prince turned the young man’s head, and twenty-two year old Luis, as he was known to the Portuguese, directed his attention south.

By then, the Portuguese had conquered the legendary Cabo Nam, or Cape No, so called because those who went beyond it did not return. In his book Navigazione, Cadamosto wrote, “Quem o passa tornará ou não“.

His journeys took him to Porto Santo, Madeira, the Canaries, the Cape Verde islands, and the African mainland.

The house of Cadamosto on the Grand Canal in Venice.

His accounts have the keen eye of the merchant—Venetian to the core. In Madeira, he speaks of the wonderful wine, made of the Malvasia grape, which the British call Malmsey. His report of the island’s colonization is remarkable. The island was thickly forested when the Portuguese arrived.

In order to make space for the colonists and allow agriculture to develop, the new arrivals set fire to the island. Cadamosto tells the story of Zuangonzales—aka the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves Zarco—who had to spend several days up to his neck in water, along with all the men, women, and children, without food or drink, until the flames subsided.

One of most fascinating descriptions is the silent trade, which took place south of Timbuktu on the inland delta of the River Niger. Here, groups of black men would arrive and place piles of salt on the ground. They then vanish, and a second group appears. These men place piles of gold opposite each salt pile. The gold men then disappear and the salt men return—if they consider the payment is sufficient, they take the gold.

If not, more gold is added until the deal is done.

And mum’s the word.

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Universal Exports

January 15, 2023

The island of São Vincente is a place of culture—music, dance, gastronomy—the performing arts.

The locals quickly tell you that St. Vincent is the soul of the ten-island archipelago, and I suspect they’re right. The influence of the legendary singer Cesária Évora is pervasive—a huge wall near the harbor projects her image to the nation—and to the sailors that abound in the bars and restaurants dotted on the seafront.

Any country that projects a singer as its emblem, rather than the face of some erstwhile dictator, is clearly on the right track.

Despite her international projection, Cesária Évora always spent a couple of months each year in Mindelo. One of her favorite activities was cooking for her island friends and visitors who showed up at her house.

And yet, this is a nation that fights the odds—not just here in St. Vincent but on all the islands.

The approach from the northwest contemplates a lunar landscape, with the island of Santo Antão to our lee. Whitecaps are so fierce they turn the ocean into a reticle—we’re coming in from the barlavento. Here and there, little towns are shoe-horned into the cliff faces, surrounded by brown peaks thrown up by the angry crust of the earth.

I look at the whitecaps and picture the Phoenician and Roman galleys attempting to return home, swirling in the wild seas, and sinking without a trace.

It fell to the Portuguese to discover how to return home—this was the torna viagem, a long sail west until the northeast trades waned, and then north to the Azores to catch the (hard) westerlies home—os ventos duros do oeste. In between the two are the infamous horse latitudes.

The trade winds blow hard most of the year, and the schooners, ketches, and catamarans follow the wind to the Caribbean Sea. It was from Cabo Verde that Vasco da Gama began his foray into the unknown, and it was from here that Cabral reached Brazil.

In summer, the wind drops—this is the chosen season to sail east from the Americas to these parts. Some of the catamarans stay longer than planned—cocaine from Colombia and Brazil is regularly apprehended, the confiscated boats provide a much-needed boost to local infrastructure, and the crew spend time on the island as guests of the government.

Cape Verde is a land of evaporation—fresh water is scant. Energy is very expensive and little has been made of the huge solar and wind potential—each island could be a gigantic wind turbine embedded in a solar cell. The volcanic soil is fertile, but water scarcity and the sloping landscape make agriculture a challenge.

Despite this, there is delicious market produce—maize, plantain, papaya, and all the greens. Here and there, goats and chickens appear, but this nation’s love affair is with the sea. And Portugal has left a legacy of calm, good food, and… wine.

I never got a chance to taste the local red—it comes from an island called Fogo, or ‘Fire’, so it might be a pyroblend, to coin a phrase. But Portuguese wines are wall-to-wall in convenience stores—and I was told more than once that white wine isn’t a proper drink, just a refreshment—a very traditional Iberian postulate.

Hard liquor is based on the axiom: if you can grow it, ferment it. The weapon of choice here is sugar cane, just like in the Caribbean nations, but in Cape Verde the potion is called ‘grogue‘. The etymology of grog is rooted in cloth—coarse cloth, to be precise, or ‘gros grain’ in French.

Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) of the Royal Navy was the first to administer rum to his sailors, to the tune of a pint a day—rather a lot in today’s alcohol unit straight jacket. The admiral, known as ‘Old Grog’ due to his grogram cloak, gave his name to the drink.

Mindelo is a town where folks smile, where there are no bars on ground floor windows, and where there are windswept ground floor bars.

Made for each other, Portuguese Fado and Cabo Verde Morna intertwine in this swinging, sexual lilt of love.

This land has two universal exports: hurricanes and music. The hurricanes form as tropical storms in this evaporation nation and, like the carracks of the Perfect Prince, catch the trades and make their way west, gathering energy along the way. By the time they get to the Caribbean and turn north to hurl themselves at the American coast, they are powerhouses of destruction.

The United States met office names them after women, which begs the old—and thoroughly incorrect—joke: when they arrive they’re wet ‘n wild, when they leave they take your house and your car.

The music has traveled with the people—Cape Verde is a land of diaspora. A land with music is a land with identity, and the people of these islands are spread over Europe and America, taking with them their lilting siren songs.

At the back of the fish market in Mindelo, a tower pays homage to the Torre de Belém in Lisbon, from which the Portuguese ships left to explore the great oceans.

At a local shrimp farm, smitten with the hardships of water shortage and energy costs, the owner introduced himself with an apology. “I’m a singer,” he told me, “and right now my voice is hoarse.”

Later, he took my arm and confided, as we looked at the blue sky and the infinite sea.

“I’ve lived for one hundred and fifty years. But I intend to live another fifty.”

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Southbound Again

January 8, 2023

The Mare Clausum of the Perfect Prince was closed by a line drawn through the 37th parallel, or the Fortunate Islands.

Any ship—be it Spanish, French, or Italian—found south of that line would be sunk and its crew drowned, by order of the king of Portugal.

This determination followed the Treaty of Alcáçovas, signed by the two Iberian rulers in 1479. Castile kept the Canaries, then known as Las Islas Afortunadas, and all points south belonged to Portugal—by then, that already included Elmina, in what is now Ghana.

It also included the Cape Verde archipelago—it will take me a few hours to get there today, but in the late XVth century, the caravels of Vasco da Gama took about two weeks from Lisbon to the island of Santiago.

Cape Verde was uninhabited before the Europeans found the islands—it is generally accepted that the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto first discovered part of the archipelago in 1456, although there are claims of an earlier landing by Antonio de Noli, a Genoese. Both men sailed on behalf of Prince Henry the Navigator, and in 1462, after the great man’s death, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Gomes discovered a further five islands.

The archipelago of Cape Verde, shown on a map from 1598—ten islands that span three degrees of longitude.

Since the Canaries were out of bounds, Cape Verde was the perfect way station for fleets headed to Africa and later India and Brazil. The archipelago is shaped like an arrow, with the top row termed ‘barlavento’ (windward) and the bottom row ‘sotavento’, or leeward. At a latitude of fifteen degrees, three degrees of longitude span one hundred seventy-four nautical miles, or about three hundred and twenty km.

Since before the late XVIIth century there was no accurate way to measure longitude due to the lack of accurate ship-borne chronometers, an archipelago spanning such a vast distance—wider than Portugal itself—was hard to miss.

Cape Verde gradually became a platform for the slave trade between Europe and the Americas, and this formed a major part of its commerce until slavery was sequentially abolished in the Western World. The decline of these sinister economic opportunities led to a diaspora—there are far more ‘Cabo-Verdianos’ abroad than at home.

Just as in Brazil, India, Mozambique, and all nations that were once Portuguese colonies, the black and white melting pot led to a population of mixed race—Cape Verde is probably the most racially integrated nation on the planet.

It also gave rise to a spectacular culture of music, which reflect the fusion between Africa and Portugal. The most emblematic genre is the Morna, which can be loosely translated as ‘warm’.

The Morna is structured as a circle of fifths—if you have an interest in music theory, or math. If you don’t, but love music, perhaps I can just share that a standard blues tune is based on one-four-five, meaning that if it’s a blues in E (the first or root note of the scale), it will only contain two other notes or chords—the fourth, which is an A, and the fifth, which is a B.

The Morna has given rise to a dance—if music be the food of love and all that—called the Coladera. Loosely, the term translates as ‘stuck together’—as the name implies, it is an intimate dance.

A lilting Morna lures me to shore, while out at sea the mermaids lure the sailors with plaintive cries.

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Mare Clausum

January 2, 2023

In my first article this year, I’m sailing south into the closed sea of the Romans. I have no idea where I’ll end up—the only thing I’m sure of right now is the music that will accompany my text.

The Roman galleys, with their square sails and captive oarsmen, sailed west past the pillars of Gibraltar—they reached the port of Gades, named Agadir by the Phoenicians in 1100 B.C.

This is where my train of thought mimics life itself—the path is festooned with byways—hardly the ‘chartered course‘ of Paul Anka.

There is a classic quiz question about the first year of the century—any century.

It’s a double trick question: the year always precedes the century (e.g. the 19th century was the eighteen hundreds) and the answer always ends in ‘1’, i.e. 1801, 1901, 2001… because the very first century A.D. started on year 1.

Europe didn’t know about the zero until the Middle Ages—the zero was an Indian invention exported to Arabia, known to the Jews and Arabs of Iberia, and exploited by the magicians of The India Road in their conquest of the Mare Clausum and the maritime route to India.

In a way, the Portuguese closed the circle and returned the zero to Calicut.

It seems odd that the West understood 10, 20, 100, or 1000, but not zero—such is life. As a consequence of this arithnesia (first new word of the year, contracting arithmetic amnesia), the year before Year 1 AD was… Year 1 BC. There is no year zero. A further consequence was that there was no ‘zeroeth’ century, making the first century years 1-100, the second 101-200, and so on.

And here we are in the XX1st century, tentatively stepping into 2023—a species with a recorded history of six thousand years, still potty-training its way around a toxic mix of wars, pandemics, and artificial intelligence. Around us, our earth mother, exhausted by our antics, has decided it’s time for a little tough love.

The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans reached Gades—modern-day Cadiz—and sailed on to the Algarve, then north to Lisbon, which the Greeks named Ulyssippo. There is a suggestion in the toponym that the great Ulysses of Homer’s Odyssey may be at the heart of the name, which the Romans later changed to Olisipo.

But the Romans never sailed south. The northeast trade winds blew them offshore, where they were as helpless as a child on a moonless night. Without the lateen sails of the Arabs, the galleys could not tack. Strictly speaking, the ancient navigators of the Mediterranean did sail south, they just couldn’t sail home again.

It took the Lusitanians to do that.

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The Sticks

December 26, 2022

To all the children we once were…

Pammy liked to eat.

She liked the taste of food and the way some things were sweet and others salty, some were chompy and some just melted in your mouth.

But Pammy only ate nice food when she visited with Felisha—otherwise she was stuck with Uncle Stickman and his protein bars.

“Now Pammy,” Ronald would say. “Little children aren’t supposed to like food!”

“They most certainly are not!” Ronald’s mother repeated. “Pammy, food is just energy. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like. Ronald, give the child an energy bar.”

Pammy fought back a tear. “But other children get proper food,” she complained. “They get toast, and butter, and eggs and yummy chocolate, and and…” Her voice vanished as she saw her uncle and her grandmother frowning down at her.

Mr. Stickman was very tall, and thin as a rake. Pammy looked down at the black shoes, black socks, black trousers, and white shirt. As she looked up the shirt buttons, she could see the black suspenders on either side.  Above the starched white collar was a long horse face with ears that stuck out like magnets. A stringy black mustache was glued over the top lip and the narrow nose wound up to the black eyebrows. Above that, the forehead slid back into a dome circled by wispy black hair.

“Silly, silly silly girl,” Grandma Stickma said—she was also stick-thin, so everyone called her Stickma. Pammy looked at her knobbly knees and bumpy elbows, her thin lips and brown hair bun, her pointy tongue sticking out as she spoke.

“Butter makes you fat, eggs make you oily, and chocolate makes you sick,” Stickma crowed. In the corner, the black magpie squawked, making Pammy jump. “Now then, Ronald, go and change and let’s get our energy needs over and done with. Then we can all do something really fun.”

“Yes mother.” Ronald shuffled off and returned five minutes later, turned out in a black dressing gown and black slippers. The left slipper had a hole in the front and his big toe poked through. On his head was a black sleeping cap—it had greyish rabbit fur lining and a dirty white tassel on top.

The family sat in a line in front of the television, Pammy with her protein bar and power drink, and the two grown-ups with cold macaroni dumped out of a tin.

“No point heating it up, Ronald.”

“No, mother.”

“Waste of gas, mother,” he added.

“Yes, throwing good money out the window. Energy, you know—that’s all we need.” She spooned the macaroni mechanically into her mouth and masticated—Pammy thought she looked just like a macaroni eating machine.

“Look, mother, there’s a really good show about earthquakes.”

“Oh, what fun! Put it on, Ronnie, put it on.” Grandma Stickma shrieked with excitement.

In the corner, the magpie shrieked loudly.

“Now, child, eat that protein and fuel up. Sit up straight and learn about earthquakes. You lucky, lucky girl!”

Pammy nodded nicely, but in her head she thought, ‘You yucky, yucky show!

Only last century, the giant earthquake of Atlambistan leveled the entire town of Mehland,’ the narrator droned. ‘A tera-tremor, surpassed only by the Poljak eruption, which hurled a megaton of cinnabar into the upper atmosphere, flattening everything in its wake.’ On the screen, endless mountains appeared, accompanied by deep and sinister rumblings.

Pammy closed her eyes as she finished the energy bar. She gulped her pea extract and pumpkin seed shake—it tasted super-yucky, so she had to get it down fast—and pray it didn’t come back up.

She leaned forward like she was thrilled by the TV, and with her eyes screwed shut, she felt she was outside in the warm spring evening, going over the road to see her best friend Felisha.

Pammy loved to wander into the kitchen, where Felisha’s mom was always cooking something.

“Hello, Felisha Delisha!” Pammy giggled at the made-up name.

“Now, where did you get that from, girlfriend?” Felisha had both hands on her hips, imitating her mother. All she needed was the apron with flour stains and the rolling pin.

Pammy skipped inside the hall and saw Felisha’s dad Fowler watching baseball in the lounge. “Hi, Mr. Fowler.”

“Hey Pammy, want a cookie?”

“Yes please!” Pammy grabbed the brownie and followed her nose to the kitchen.

Sitting on a high stool was Felisha’s little brother. He stuck his finger in some yellow goo, then sucked and grinned. “Is it sweet, Felix?”

The little boy grinned at Pammy and nodded. “Mmm hmm.” He was about to dip again when Mama wagged a big finger at him. “Uh, uh, greedy grabs. You just wait ‘til it’s ready.”

“What are you making, Mrs. Friendly?”

Mama Friendly flashed her big, happy smile. “I’m just making my Felisha some flapjacks. How about you, Pammy, do you want a cinnamon jack?”

“Jack?  I don’t know what that is, but it sounds yummy! And if Felisha—”

“Jacks? Honey, they’re delisha!”

Pammy mouthed ‘Felisha Delisha’ at her friend and giggled.

“Baby girl”—Mrs. Friendly looked at her daughter—“You get Pammy a nice glass of milk and tell her all about flapjacks.”

As the two girls went off to the refrigerator, Mrs. Friendly tutted under her breath. ‘That mean old Grandma Stickma, she don’t deserve the little girl she has at home.’  

Pammy finished her flapjacks just as the earthquakes stopped crashing on TV. She peeked out at the Stick family and hoped they wouldn’t ask her any questions about the show. She smiled, thinking of Mrs. Friendly and her Friendly family who loved delicious food.

“What did you think of this marvelous show, Pamela?” Stickma enquired. She liked to use an important tone when she discussed such important events.

“I thought it was absolutely marvelous, Grandma,” Pammy mimicked—she could hardly remember a thing, she’d been in that wonderful kitchen across the street munching on delicious treats.

“Splendid. You see, Ronald, no time wasted on such stupidities as food, so much better to feed the soul with maaarvelous culture.”

“Yes, mother. Splendid meal for the mind.”

“Uncle Stick,” Pammy said brightly. “Which bit did you like the best?”

Mr. Stickman was rather caught out, since he’d fallen asleep half-way through the Richter rumblings. “Oh, oh, I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I-I never knew tremors could have such a profound effect,” he mumbled. “on-on er…  the earth. Yes, er… that’s right.”

“Very clever, dear,” Stickma said acidly. “And what about you, young lady?” What did you learn?”

“Oh,” Pammy said. “I learned so much! I worked up the biggest appetite! First, I wanted the lambistan, but my favorite was the cinnabar flatjak.”

Stick and Stickma turned to her with a puzzled expression, but Pammy was already running off to bed.

The next day, Stickma would go for her health check-up at the obesity clinic—she was worried she might be getting fat—and Pammy would go to  Felisha’s house straight after school.

Yummy, yummy,’ she thought, as she tucked under the blankets. ‘Tomorrow’s going to be delisha!”   

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets

Monsoon

December 18, 2022

I am sitting in the gardens next to the beach at a hotel in Mombasa. There is a consistent northeast monsoon—exactly the wind Vasco da Gama wanted when he came back from Calicut.

It’s early December, and all around the scenery is constantly shifting.

Next to me, a guy is half-way up a coconut palm. He holds a machete and his feet are bound together with rope so he can climb the tree without exertion; when he reaches the lower fronds he slashes furiously and the fruit hit the grass like mortar rounds.

As I sip the coconut water, I watch a camel sauntering across the sand, then hordes of little children splashing and shouting in the surf. A dhow sails in and drops anchor.

The dhow owned the Indian Ocean before Vasco da Gama’s fleet arrived. Because of its design limitations, Arab exploration stopped well short of the southern part of Africa.

The unfailing NE monsoon, powerful without being overwhelming, continues as steady as ever. I close my eyes and see Gama’s three ships come in—the São Rafael, São Gabriel, and the smaller Bérrio. They anchor beyond the reef, and from the flagship Vasco da Gama and his bearded adventurers contemplate the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and a never-ending strip of palm-fringed sand.

By this time it was early spring, and the monsoon winds were reversed, blowing steadily from the southwest—it was as if Africa was pushing the fleet of the Perfect Prince across the ocean to fulfil the dream of the late king, who had died two years earlier, poisoned at the age of forty by his English wife.

Gama’s instructions were clear—he was to take on a pilot to guide the fleet across the ocean. The Portuguese sailed north until they came to the town of Malindi. Here, after avoiding a treacherous attempt by the local sultan to run the ships aground, the captain-general contracted a Gujarati pilot who guided the fleet to Calicut.

The pillar built by Vasco da Gama to commemorate his arrival in Malindi.

It was the start of Portugal’s eastern adventure—an epic period of about one hundred and fifty years that took the small nation to the very edge of the world, while Spain was busy discovering Japan.

The return winds that bring a ship back to the African shores from the Indies only start in November—before that the wind is weak and variable—as the sinister Álvaro would say, ‘like an old man’s piss.’

But Vasco da Gama had no choice—it was either that or death at the hands of the Arabs, who’d recognized the Portuguese armada for what it was—a trading mission at the point of a musket.

Gama sailed and spent three months adrift in the becalmed sea until the monsoon finally came.

By the time they made landfall in Malindi, half the crew was dead from scurvy.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Demo Variant

December 4, 2022

In 2010, the Rockefeller Foundation published a report called ‘Scenarios for future of technology and international development.’

It explored four scenarios, including one called LOCK STEP: A world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback.

The description begins like this.

In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit.

…even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20% of the world’s population and killing eight million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults.

The report became a conspiracy theorist’s dream—a world where governments curtail the rights of citizens by using a pandemic pretext.

Of course, the conspiracy monkeys suck the marrow, casting aside bone, meat, and veg. Never mind that these are scenarios, that there are four of them, and that 20% of the world’s population (a mere 1.6 billion today) is about half of the number infected, according to CIDRAP.

Or that the death toll is half of the lock step scenario.

In the West, government strategy has been prudent but not authoritarian. Faced with a critical public health emergency, many governments did the best they could. With the exception of the orangeman, Boris the scarecrow, and Brazil’s tropical trump, all now busy marching around their little back gardens rather than playing dicktator, the game plan was simple.

Keep folks away from each other to stop them dying, make sure people got vaccinated as soon as possible, ease up on lockdowns and masks as hospitals recovered and death tolls subsided. Many mistakes were made along the way because, as more than one pol put it, ‘we’re flying the plane as we build it.’

And then governments began to abolish Covid—I first saw it in Denmark last February.

Travel is booming and all the world accepts that Covid will remain with us—folks are vaccinated, many have caught the disease twice and three times without major consequences, and herd immunity is a now a reality.

All the world…

Except China.

The great leader set the policy, predicated on zero Covid—a kind of viral five-year plan—featuring massive lockdowns, testing, and infection control.

While the rest of the world caught Covid, China did not—but while you can control the ideology and the internet, viral infection is a little more difficult.

The Middle Kingdom has 5229 reported Covid deaths, resulting from a reported 1.5 million infections out of a population of 1.4 billion. The infection rate is one per thousand inhabitants, and the death rate is 3 per million.

Elsewhere, in the UK ninety percent of the population has had Covid at least once and the death rate is 2400 per million.

The issue here is the law of large numbers—in the UK, that means one hundred thousand fatalities, but in China the equivalent is three million dead. Because the US followed (poorly) the Western approach, one million died—large numbers are a killer.

So, China kept its fatality rate low, but after a successful nationwide vax plan, it should be able to release its citizens back into the wild, as epidemiologists say, and expect widespread contagion and minimal death—the recipe for opening up.

Instead, it mandated isolation without explanation, as only a dictatorship can do—perhaps because in a communist country, central planning is by definition entrenched, but also maybe due to the lower efficacy of the Chinese vaccines in preventing death.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US Covid Czar, is on record that Sinovac and other offerings based on the inactivated virus are considerably less effective than Western mRNA vaccines.

At the same time, Xi Jin Ping declared that zero Covid was China’s containment policy and that it would save the Chinese from the predicament that befell the USA. In doing so, he turned a public health policy into a political paradox of the highest order, worthy of the conundrums facing a chess grand master.

  • If there is no Covid (zero) people won’t take the vaccine;
  • If people are unvaccinated in substantial numbers they will die;
  • If lockdowns end and vaccinated people die, the vaccine is no good;
  • If China accepts Western vax it tacitly admits its product is crap.

The Chinese government made serious mistakes, both in politics and public health, and from blank sheets of paper to massive unrest, China is pushing back.

Free speech. Elections. Choice.

These simple things that the West takes for granted, forfeiting the vote for a day at the beach, are more precious than life itself—they are the lifeblood of a successful society.

Wouldn’t it be nice if after inventing the Coronavirus, China invented the democracy virus?

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Lead Balloon

November 26, 2022

It all began on election night.

The orange man publicly announced er… an announcement.

Predicting election results is a mug’s game, so it was thoroughly in character for the orangutan to let his cultists know, sandwiched in smirks, that there would be a big announcement the following Tuesday.

However, American voters did the unthinkable—they returned the US Senate to the Democratic Party, and almost did the same with the House of Representatives. Governors? the balance shifted from 28 (GOP) – 22 to a more even 26 – 24.

In a characteristic confirmation of unsound judgement, Trump told the nation on Tuesday, November 15th, that he would run for president in 2024. He didn’t do this with clipped, professional delivery but by launching on an endless rant worthy of your cantankerous uncle who specializes in ruining everyone’s Thanksgiving.

The Democrats didn’t say much—when you have a guy in a hole with a spade, digging furiously, why interrupt?

The Grand Old Party, however, was none too pleased with the electoral outcome—not only was the Senate lost, but the candidates that helped lose it were in some cases Trump-endorsed choices. Even before the mid-terms, the orange man came out and said he should ‘get all the credit’ for wins and ‘not be blamed at all’ for losses.

Again, this is a predictable position for a man who never took blame for anything. Not the way Russian aggression escalated, not the pointless antics with the Korean mini-nuke, not the pandemic response and mass deaths, zilch!

The orang-u-tan is part of a political class that doesn’t apologize—sorry is not part of the vocabulary. This is an elite club that has an exclusive membership, including Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro.

A very young Elton John explains why politicians don’t apologize.

I struggle with people who can’t say sorry—since it’s a straightforward observation that everyone makes mistakes or gets things wrong at some time or other, then clearly politicians also do.

I find it pathetic to be unable or unwilling to apologize for behavior that misleads, hurts, or injures others, and even worse to start off by saying ‘Even though you can’t swim, I’m going to throw you in the deep end. If you survive, I’ll take the credit, if you drown you can’t possibly blame me.’

At least four Trump-endorsed Senate candidates: Oz, Bolduc, Levy, and Malloy couldn’t swim. In the House, the number was double—eight drowned. In the gubernatorial race, nine candidates sank without a trace—now that’s a whole lot not to take blame for.

The change to abortion rights is one of the factors you can blame for the Republican debacle, and there you can lay the blame squarely at the feet of new Trump-appointed judges like Amy Coney Barrett—whose appointment Trump evidently can’t be blamed for.

In passing, it’s ironic that a segment of the Republican party is so insistent about banning abortion in the U.S. Since lower-income families are more in need of local options to terminate a pregnancy, and presumably would have more challenges bringing up kids (Coney-Barrett has seven), then surely keeping abortion legal would reduce the expansion of the immigrant vote.

Over the next two years (well, one and a bit, really), the GOP has a lot to think about. Many within the party cannot countenance a Trump run—though a segment of the American public still adores him, for reasons I can’t work out.

Republican pols know very well he is a demagogue, but more importantly, they now know he’s a demagogue who cannot lead them back to power—even though he can lose them their seats.

In this crazy game of politics, with its incredibly serious consequences, the needle of the backstreet abortionist punctured the orange Trump balloon and the mid-terms watched it zigzag madly through the air, whistling its demise.

Like an ageing boxer too punch-drunk to see straight, the man doesn’t know when he’s beat.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Climes They Are-A-Changing

November 12, 2022

I gave a seminar this week for one hundred and fifty high school students.

I began by telling them I’d never spoken in a conference hall with signs announcing it was forbidden to jump—they didn’t find it amusing—perhaps all their classrooms are jumpless.

Their teacher apologized for the restlessness of the students, but actually they were very good—no one jumped and everyone listened.

I told them I accepted the invitation because they are the future, and then apologized for the appalling performance of my generation in addressing climate change—in many cases even accepting it.

When you type ‘is climate change’ into Google, the first suggestion reads ‘is climate change real’.

I tried ‘is the pope’ and ‘does the bear’, but instead of ‘is the pope Catholic, does the bear shit in the woods?’ I read ‘does the bearing straight freeze over’.

I can address that sans click.

The bearing straight does not, but the Bering Strait freezes a lot less that it used to.

Climate change isn’t on the curriculum of the 15-17 year-old science students I addressed. In the US, it is also not part of the program in many high schools.

The problem begins there—if a formal education isn’t provided, there’s a highway of hype waiting to be explored.

Why is the issue of climate change so intractable?

It’s non-linear, but in a rather subtle way. We struggle greatly with anything but gradual change.

The climate has changed dramatically over geological time—two billion years ago, in the pre-Cambrian, the Grand Canyon was underwater. sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs vanished from the earth. So what’s the big deal?

That is! After the dinos, it took millions of years for hominids to emerge, and now we’re here, but for how long?

Climate change isn’t a big deal for the planet, it’s a big deal for humans. If the world gets too uncomfortable for us, we will disappear. How will that happen?

It’s clearly happening already—droughts, floods, messed up seasons, and rising water levels are all symptoms of this disease.

If we follow the Gaia hypothesis put forward by the late James Lovelock, the planet is fighting back. It’s as if Earth recognizes the root causes of the disorder, i.e. humans, and is therefore making it very uncomfortable for the offenders—food shortages, environmental catastrophes, and mass migrations are some of the weapons in its arsenal.

We get confused about climate and weather—humans are short-term thinkers, and because a gradual change in the climate leads to extreme shifts in weather, the signal gets eclipsed by the noise. Noise has a random component, and the weather effects are extreme—it’s perfectly possible to have an abnormally cold winter or a cooler summer although the planet is warming.

A sea level rise of three feet is enough to make most of Miami Beach disappear.

The next fallacy accepts that the climate is changing, but refuses to admit that human activities are the cause—despite the fact that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is the highest ever. You can’t measure atmospheric CO2 from 100,000 years ago—at least not directly—but scientists take Antarctic ice cores that are hundreds of feet long and measure the concentration of deuterium, which is a good proxy for CO2.

The real question, once we dispense with the dross, is ‘What are we prepared to do about climate change?’

Note that I’m not asking what we can do. We have an old mind for an old world, and cannot deal with global issues, especially if it means foregoing our quotidian comforts.

When gas prices go up, do you hear any cheering for less car journeys and lower greenhouse gas emissions?

How many humans would put up with a two-hour daily electricity cut so we can save energy?

The exact same considerations apply to air travel, beef consumption, and other potential pathways for mitigation.

Humans act short-term, which is how politicians win elections—no ‘good’ politician is up for a plan that only works in the medium term, long after he’s voted out for inconveniencing our daily life. The planet, on the other hand, acts long-term.

Earth’s reaction will be profound, lasting, tragic, and unforgiving.

Good job we won’t be around to see it.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

For Ladies Only

November 5, 2022

Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, fell in 1979. His successor, the hard-line Islamic cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, set the scene for the Iran of today—by any yardstick, a miserable place for a woman to grow up.

When the radical Shia took power, they imprisoned a BBC correspondent who was accused of spying for MI6. When the journalist was finally released from the Tehran prison, he told reporters at Heathrow about his ordeal.

“Anyone who has spent time in a British public school or served in the British Army can never feel totally out of place in a third world prison.”

Since I spent a couple of years in one of those cherished British institutions, I have to agree.

During my time there, I knew a handful of Persian kids—obviously pro-regime, children from wealthy families that were clearly supporters of the Shah.

I then witnessed the regime change and the taking of the US embassy—at the time, there continued to be an intake of Persian (now Iranian) kids to US universities. One night I came out of a bar to see a brand new BMW flipped on its roof—some American kids had upturned the car in revenge for the hostage taking.

The vehicle belonged to a wealthy Persian student—the following weekend he bought another one.

Through the decades, the Islamic regime has brutally enforced its stranglehold on the nation, exorcising any semblance of freedom and plunging society back into the dark ages.

The youngsters who once shouted death to the Shah have reaped the fruits of their toil—students as I was then, who are now fathers and mothers, possibly grandparents.

Islam is not kind to women, no matter what the narrative is.

Steppenwolf are now almost unknown, but I highly recommend them—one of the classic bands of the late 1960s.

Step by step, Iranian governments have consigned increasingly draconian measures into law.

The Islamic Republic initially set the age of marriage for ‘women’ to an eye-watering nine years, reducing it from fifteen, which had been approved in Article 23 of the 1974 Family Protection Act. In 2002, parliament raised the age to thirteen.

However, special circumstances put forward by the father or paternal grandfather can reduce this age. Furthermore, in what seems cynical to say the least, the definition of one year shifted from solar (365 days) to lunar—twelve lunations, each lasting twenty-nine and a half days, i.e. 354 days. By gaining 11 days over 12 years, girls can be married off a few months earlier.

After a girl gets married, trouble starts in earnest. If she wanted to get divorced, Sharia law required her to go before a judge to present her case—now she can get a divorce if her husband is imprisoned for over five years, mentally ill, physically abusive, or a drug addict.

How about a guy? He just has to decide to walk away, no reason required.

Article 1133 of the Civil Code: “A man can divorce his wife whenever he wishes to do so.”

When the couple do separate, the woman has custody of the kids until their seventh birthday, at which point custody goes to the father. However, if the woman remarries, she automatically loses custody—even if her ex is dead.

But of course there’s many a happy marriage (or even an unhappy one) that ends only with the death of a spouse—and there also the widow gets the short straw: she is entitled only to an eighth of the husband’s possessions.

Guys? When they are widowed… you guessed it, they get all the dosh.

Is this all wrong? Of course. What could be done? Many things, but not in a radical Islamic state. Put another way…

Philosophy poses questions that have no answer, religion provides answers that cannot be questioned.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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