He needed glory and he needed cash. The quickest route to glory was beating up barbarians; stealing their wealth and selling their bodies into slavery got him the cash.
The above is from a stomach-penetrating piece on the life of Julius Caesar (and not Boris Johnson). I do not know whether it is an effect of age, but perhaps the more one is aware of dying —with or without dignity— the more I find such descriptions, such as the one below, are hard to let go of when you close you eyes with the hope that they might open again.
Unlike most ancient swords, the legionary shortsword, or gladius Hispaniensis, was designed for stabbing, not slashing. While longswords and sabres create horrific, often deadly wounds, even an inch of steel can deliver a lethal puncture – especially given the limits of ancient medicine. Yet as combat instructors know, stabbing another human being at close quarters is much harder than cutting them: we have a psychological block against penetrating others’ bodies in that way, a visceral aversion that must be overcome by stern, psychologically brutalising discipline. Roman legionaries were taught to hurl their spears at the enemy line, then advance with shields held close, plunging their gladii in and out of the men arrayed against them. Units that could stomach this gruelling work against heavily armoured fellow citizens were simply killing machines against the less disciplined and lightly armoured Gauls [emphasis added]
Angus Deaton: Many people have said that there are two ways of getting rich: One way is by making things, and the other is by taking things. And one of the ways of taking things is to make the government give you special favors. Those special favors don’t create anything, but they can make you rich, at the expense of everybody else.
From an article in the LRB by the historian of science, Steven Shapin. The book under review is The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. The story — if you can call it that — is malaria.
There’s a pub quiz question: ‘What’s the deadliest animal?’ Lots of people guess sharks (just four deaths a year), lions (a hundred), or crocodiles (a thousand). The animal that causes the second highest number of human deaths is other humans (475,000), but the answer is the mosquito, at 750,000 deaths, many of them caused by diseases other than malaria.
The subsequent destruction of the Pontine hydraulic works was also an act of war. On the advice of German malariologists, the Wehrmacht, retreating from southern Italy in the winter of 1943-44, flooded the Pontine Marshes with seawater to bring back mosquitoes – and malaria – as an obstacle to the Allied forces who were landing at Anzio, south of Rome, as well as to punish the Italians, who had just switched sides. The outcome of the Battle of Anzio wasn’t much affected by the Nazis’ act of biological warfare – both sides suffered – but it had a marked effect on Italian civilians: in 1939, there were 614 cases of malaria in the area; in 1944, there were 54,929.
The wretched of the earth suffer from underdevelopment, which is both a cause of their malarial afflictions and an effect of malaria. And they suffer from political indifference, as the jobs of prevention and cure have increasingly been off-loaded onto charitable foundations: the Rockefeller Foundation in the early part of the 20th century, then the Gates Foundation, which now spends more on global health than the World Health Organisation. Bill Gates has pointed out repeatedly that more money goes into curing male baldness than into research on the prevention and cure of malaria [emphasis added]. Capitalism is ‘flawed’, he says, and the persistence of malaria is a failure of the marketplace.
The political swamp breeds the inequality and poverty on which malaria thrives; the physical swamp breeds its insect vector. Drain the swamps.
Facts, dear boy. Facts.
The historian Michael Howard once rebuked some gratuitous flourish of this “we did it alone” hubris in the pages of the Daily Telegraph with perhaps the pithiest letter ever sent to any newspaper. It read, in its entirety: “Sir, The only major conflict in which this country has ever “stood alone’’ without an ally on the continent was the War of American Independence in 1776-83. We lost.”
Charlemagne reports on the spat between the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the German Constitutional Court. The latter had accused the former of acting ultra vires in giving support to the bond-buying by the European Central Bank. One view is that national governments tolerate the ECJ and use dissent to any of its decisions for domestic political purposes when it suits (pace the clowns in Number 10). Charlemagne uses a colourful metaphor that some of the clowns might enjoy.
If legislators did not like the court’s actions, they could always change the law. That they hardly ever do suggests that they do not object strongly to the court’s rulings. In this sense the ECJ resembles an S&M dungeon. National governments are happy to be tied up and slapped around in a dimly lit room by people in odd outfits. However, they would prefer not to mention this fact to their jealous spouses back home: domestic courts and domestic voters.
We may be coming to realise that the people who complain about the nanny state are the people who had nannies.
Sarah Neville is the FT reviewing The Nanny State Made Me: A Story of Britain and How to Save It, by Stuart Maconie
There is lots about covid-19 that I do not understand — the biology and all that. But the NHS and government’s responses are something else. I find it hard not to assume that every statement has an ulterior motive: they are, it seems, strangers to the truth. Here is Bruce Schneier (the security guru as the Economist once called him).
“My problem with contact tracing apps is that they have absolutely no value,” Bruce Schneier, a privacy expert and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not even talking about the privacy concerns, I mean the efficacy. Does anybody think this will do something useful? … This is just something governments want to do for the hell of it. To me, it’s just techies doing techie things because they don’t know what else to do.”
I haven’t blogged about this because I thought it was obvious. But from the tweets and emails I have received, it seems not.
It has nothing to do with privacy concerns. The idea that contact tracing can be done with an app, and not human health professionals is just plain dumb.
Testing, testing and more testing, please.
(Leave quickly. Go far away. Come back slowly.)
Faced with a highly contagious, lethal disease for which there is no known cure, President Donald Trump has ignored that timeless advice.
Instead, like a medieval demagogue, Trump is spouting quackery and hatred straight out of the 14th century, when panicked Europeans confronting the Black Death strapped live chickens to their bodies, drank potions tinged with mercury and arsenic, and blamed the Mongols and the Jews when none of it worked.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, analysts were quick to split the world into the winners and losers of globalisation. On the one side were those furnished with education, open horizons and language skills, who were supposed to thrive in the new order. On the other were those with no such luck, stuck in careers set to be overtaken by innovation. A third category containing southern Europe’s young must be added: globalisation’s pyrrhic victors. These people fulfilled the requirements of the winners’ club, armed with both the mindset and means—even possessing a passport from the EU, the institution that most embodies 21st-century globalisation. Yet thanks to repeated economic shocks, they have singularly failed to reap the expected benefits.
(“Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift – look out out kid, they keep it all hid”, Bob Dylan)
Interesting article from a final-year PhD student in Bristol. She writes:
Around one week before lockdown, Public Health England sent a message to UK universities; it needed their help to find PhD students, postdocs and other researchers to carry out diagnostic testing in London.
Despite the urgency of the call, the email didn’t mention pay or whether researchers should have permission from their grant funders to up and leave lab projects. It also omitted any details on accommodation or travel support for those of us living outside the capital…Then, on 2 April, we received another email, apparently from Public Health England (PHE), which was circulated to everyone in our faculty calling on us to join a “scientific reserve to support regional Covid-19 testing operations”.
The email cautioned that the work would be hard, and would require ‘five or seven day on/off shift patterns with long shifts’. No mention again of whether funders approved. Are the companies that provide testing or the reagents for testing getting paid, I wonder? She speculates as to whether the government will be generous to her and others like her in the coming economic crisis.
My assumption is probably not: it will ask us to get ourselves in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds to get the skills the country needs, but not pay us to work once we have them.
Still sounds very familiar.
During the Napoleonic Wars, newspapers were allowed to read and reprint naval and military dispatches in return for carrying ‘paragraphs agreeable to the Ministry’. Today, as Norton-Taylor reminds us, Whitehall departments still run their own gentlemanly lobbies in which selected hacks are allowed to see confidential papers and hear civil servants’ unexpurgated thoughts on policy, but only so long as the journalists ‘play by the rules’ and write only what their host-official permits. The lobby system, with the Number Ten lobby at its apex, smoothly controls and shapes the outflow of official information to the public. Opposition leaders are frequently gagged by briefings given on Privy Council terms.
Neal Ascherson · Secrets are like sex: Whitehall Spookery · LRB 21 March 2020
Daniel S. Greenberg (1931–2020) has died. Nice obituary about him and why he mattered in this week’s Science.
At the time, the idea of a journalist-written section in a publication devoted to publishing research papers was highly unusual, and so was the approach that Dan and his team took. They covered basic research policy in much the same way a business reporter would cover development of economic policy: as a set of competing interests…[emphasis added].
However, it was not greeted with universal enthusiasm. In a preface to the second edition, Dan noted that it sparked “reactions that flowed from the belief that the scientific community should be exempt from the types of journalistic inquiries that are commonplace to other segments of our society.” He called that attitude “nonsense.”
The millennial generation — the first to have lived entirely inside the mature meritocracy — appreciates these burdens most keenly. Elite millennials can be precious and fragile, but not in the manner of the special snowflakes that derisive polemics describe. They do not melt or wilt at every challenge to their privilege, so much as shatter under the intense competitive pressures to achieve that dominate their lives. They are neither dissolute not decadent, but rather tense and exhausted.
The Meritocracy Trap, Daniel Markovits.
(“Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift – look out out kid, they keep it all hid”, Bob Dylan)
I have been reading the ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Micheal Lewis. It is a book for out time, telling many stories about how competent governments can be. Or not, as is increasingly the case in many modern states. We can blame a group of ideologues for our current crisis. A quote about the book by Cory Doctorow (in the frontispiece) strikes the right tone. The book he says is:
‘A hymn to the “deep state,” which is revealed as nothing more than people who know what they’re talking about’
The article is about government secrecy and obfuscation (“ I quite simply misled myself”) (a review in the London Review of Books of The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain, by Richard Norton-Taylor)
His second point, desperately urgent in these early months of Boris Johnson’s administration, is that the law has often stood up for open government and rejected the establishment’s ingrained secrecy. Most people probably assume that when a government decision lands before a court, the judges move to the bench with a bucket of Cabinet Office whitewash ready beside their chairs. This has often been true in the past. Now it is not.
One can but only hope that the whitewash is less scarce than protection.
In one of Paul Graham’s essays, he writes about the relation between a thriving society and how parents behave (he does not use these terms). He argues that whilst it is natural for parents to seek advantage for their (own) children, in the interests of efficiency, society should try to to limit this tendency. I agree but the details matter.
In the LRB there is a review written by Adam Swift of a few books that deal with this topic. And for those who like to sell higher educationhigher education, the review makes uncomfortable reading.
Education, which promised to be the solvent that would lessen the class structure, has become an effective means of preserving it.
That used not to be obvious to me. Swift however pulls out a lovely quote that illuminates much of the smug complacency shown by some of the ‘educated classes’ and how they see the world. Many of our current political troubles have cognate origins.
Robin Cook’s memoir repeats a story told by a journalist to Roy Hattersley. Tony Blair, asked why he had sent his son Euan to the Oratory, despite the inevitable political flak, said: ‘Look at Harold Wilson’s children.’ The journalist demurred: one of Wilson’s sons had become a headmaster, the other a university professor. Blair replied that he certainly hoped his children would do better than that.
Dr Chris Day writes:
Two weeks ago, I swabbed my first positive Covid-19 patient during an A&E Locum shift. I must say back then, I hadn’t fully taken in what we as a country will have to face over the coming months. The reports from colleagues in Italy and China are beyond belief.
The UK has been left to fight Covid-19 with half the Intensive Care beds per capita of Italy. Back in 2014, the trigger for my whistleblowing case was my attempt to try and secure more ICU resources for South East London (see Private Eye).
Instead of spending 5 years and £700k fighting /smearing me and damaging whistleblowing law, the NHS could have just fixed the problem. There has never been a more important time for the public and the politicians to understand Intensive Care resourcing and what is decided on their behalf by NHS leaders.
But most of Case and Deaton’s ire focuses on the health care industry, which not only underperforms but is also wrecking the US economy. We [USA] spend twice per capita what France spends on health care, but our life expectancy is four years shorter, our rates of maternal and infant death are almost twice as high, and, unlike the French, we leave 30 million people uninsured. The amount Americans spend unnecessarily on health care weighs more heavily on our economy, Case and Deaton write, than the Versailles treaty reparations did on Germany’s in the 1920s. If, decades ago, we’d built a health system like Switzerland’s, which costs 30 percent less per capita than ours does, we’d now have an extra trillion dollars a year to spend, for example, on replacing the pipes in the nearly four thousand US counties where lead levels in drinking water exceed those of Flint, Michigan, and on rebuilding America’s bridges railroads, and highways—now so rundown that FedEx replaces delivery van tires twice as often as it did twenty years ago.
In the US, health insurance accounts for 60 percent of the cost of hiring a low-wage worker. Many employers opt instead to hire contract workers with no benefits, or illegal immigrants with no rights at all.
A comment on an article:
With reference to Janan Ganesh’s column (“What the US lost when the Berlin Wall fell”, November 7). This is such a clever line.
“It is as though hatred obeys the first law of thermodynamics. Like energy, it can be transferred but never destroyed.
This apropos the US right’s shifting from the Soviet Union to immigration and climate. I’m trying to figure out how to work it into my own stuff. Full credit, of course.
Perhaps, perhaps not. But when and where is even more important.
Hailed as a maths prodigy at school, Shields accepted a junior position at Merrill Lynch after studying engineering, economics and management at Oxford University because the trading room floor offered him a thrilling, dynamic environment. He was not alone: of 120 engineers in his year group at university, Shields added, only five went into engineering.
I think we should be much more cautious in attempting to direct young people’s choices beyond providing them with an education. We should feel proud of their independence of mind, remembering that supply side factors will likely win out over central planning. It is the supply side that we need to deal with, not least Putts Law. The same applies to medicine.
This personal story is worth a read for other lessons, too.
The government has instructed Health Education England to consult patients and the public on what they need from “21st century” medical graduates
It won’t end well.
No, not Pasi Salberg, but cognate.
But idealists now have another international beacon of social mobility: long live the Finnish dream, in which a 34-year-old woman who once worked in a shop can become prime minister.
“I am extremely proud of Finland. Here a poor family’s child can educate themselves and achieve their goals in life. A cashier can become even a prime minister,” tweeted Sanna Marin
Meanwhile back in the UK as the FT rightly comments:
..egregious examples of rigging the game endure: on being rejected by the voters, Zac Goldsmith is to be elevated to the House of Lords, from where he will carry on as a minister in the government of Boris Johnson, also an Etonian from a high-profile family.
Goldman [Sachs) are smart: they can rip your grandmother’s face off and make her feel good about it.
An article fit for this deceitful day by Nick Laird in the NYRB. UK education doesn’t escape from it either, but the context is Ireland or that British problem.
“I thought, if these bastards are voting Remain, I’m voting Leave.”
As for ‘identity’
An old friend of mine, a Catholic and a fellow poet from Belfast, was in New York City last week and described being told once to “check her privilege.” She had replied that the privilege her identity had given her was a mild form of PTSD. The phrase “identity politics” has a darker resonance in Northern Ireland.
Every evil act I’ve ever seen committed was done in the name of identity
“…what he read was clear proof of an Anglo-American covert operation already in the planning stage with the dual aim of undermining the social democratic institutions of the European Union and dismantling our international trading tariffs…In the post-Brexit era Britain will be desperate for increased trade with America. America will accommodate Britain’s needs, but only on terms. One such term will be a joint covert operation to obtain by persuasion — bribery and blackmail not excluded — officials, parliamentarians and opinionmakers of the European Establishment. Also to disseminate fake news on a large scale in order to aggravate existing differences between member states of the Union”
Agent Running in the Field, John le Carré
I was back in Dublin a few weeks ago for a family celebration. Then last night — on C4 I think— I was listening to an interview with Fintan O’Toole. Something stirred and below are two quotes from Brian Friel: the context may be Brexit, the reality is something much more.
As a character in Translations says, describing his own fading Gaelic world, “a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact”.
To remember everything is a form of madness,” warns one of Friel’s characters.
Carbon offsetting is shaping up to be the greatest mis-selling scandal since the Dominican friar Johann Tetzel sold pardons to redeem the dead. Martin Luther attacked this practice in 1517, in his 95 theses.
Five hundred years later, those of us who seek planetary redemption should reduce our carbon footprint in ways that we control — rather than relying on middlemen who may or may not plant trees. The road to hell, I seem to remember, was paved with good intentions.
Well, the Catholic church usually got there first.
Frank Davidoff had a telling phrase about clinical expertise. He likened it to “Dark Matter”. Dark Matter makes up most of the universe, but we know very little about it. In the clinical arena I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking about ‘expertise’, without developing any grand unifying themes of my own worth sharing. But we live in a world where ‘expertise’ in many domains is under assault, and I have no wise thoughts to pull together what is happening. I do however like (as ever) some nice phrases from Paul Graham. I can’t see any roadmap here just perspectives and shadows.
When experts are wrong, it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world.
Instead of trying to point yourself in the right direction, admit you have no idea what the right direction is, and try instead to be super sensitive to the winds of change.
That, across human experience, in all places and at all times, only one or two societies have unwound concentrations of income and wealth as great as [those that] plague the US today without losing in war to a foreign foe or succumbing to a domestic revolution.
Interview with Daniel Markovits