Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cab Thoughts From Vacation

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
H. L. Mencken

The historical sites on the hill in Istanbul, The Blue Mosque, Topkapi, and the Sophia are guarded by taciturn adolescents with automatic weapons. I asked our guide if I could take a picture of one, adding I had never seen an automatic weapon in The U.S.. She just about fainted.

The story of the Golden Fleece incorporated almost all the Greek heroes in its adventure. The fleece was held in Colchis, a city so far away as to seem at the end of the world. The city was across the Black Sea to it far eastern border, then up the River Phasis.

Miletos is situated on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey. What emerged at Miletos in the sixth century B.C. was civilization's first attempt to replace myths with rational thought. In Miletos three significant thinkers emerged: Thales, who developed the idea of a primordial element (water), Anaximander who continued with primordial elemental thought and drew the first (if whimsical) world map, and Anaximenes who developed several primordial elements from the rarefaction of air and also theorized on the human soul. They were followed by Hecataeus, the father of history
All of these men contributed to the philosophical revolution that would emerge in Athens.

The notion of a primordial element or elements led to the logic of alchemy.

The author of "The Swerve" does not like Christianity and, like many, ignores its intellectual and social contributions when he can possibly characterize it as a homicidal or art-smashing mob. His discussion on Alexandria allows him to expand in this vein as much of the destruction of the great city was caused by wild-eyed Christian fanatical homicidal art-smashers. The historical achievements of the city's citizens are daunting. Euclid developed his geometry in Alexandria; Archimedes produced a remarkably precise estimate of the value of pi and laid the foundation for calculus; Eratosthenes theorized that the earth was round and calculated its circumference to within 1 percent; Galen revolutionized medicine; Alexandrian astronomers postulated a heliocentric universe; geometers deduced that the length of a year was 365 1/4 days and proposed adding a 'leap day' every fourth year; geographers speculated that it would be possible to reach India by sailing west from Spain; engineers developed hydraulics and pneumatics--the doors of the temples were magically steam driven; anatomists first understood clearly that the brain and the nervous system were a unit and studied the function of the heart and the digestive system, and conducted experiments in nutrition.

Straits are crucial for commerce. 700 yard passage through the Bosporus. Gibraltar is 14 Km wide, the Danish Straits between the Baltic and North Sea. All are potential bottlenecks going somewhere. The largest river in Europe, the Volga, flows into the Caspian Sea, landlocked and untouched by commerce or history.

In 1204 the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople and stayed for 60 years.

A Genoese port on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea, Kaffa, was attacked by Tatars in 1347 who also brought the Black Death. Timur sacked the Venetian city of Tana in 1398.

The Black Sea is 2000 meters deep. The high organic inflow from the Kuban, Don, Dnieper, Druester and Danube uses up O2 and O2 is stripped from Sulfate resulting in H2S, an acid which settles down so that at 200 meters the Black Sea is anoxic and dead.

While the general current runs from the Black Sea to the Med, Marsigli's Current follows the pressure gradient of heavier Med to the lighter Black under the main current.

Diocletian tried to stabilize the Western World by creating a group of four leaders, the "Tetrarch", and the son of one tetrarch was Constantine. He took control at the Battle of Milvian Bridge with soldiers marked with the Chi and Rho on their shields, the first two letters of the Greek "Christ."No one is sure why.  He executed his first son and his second wife mysteriously disappeared at about the same time.

Constantinople fell to Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453. The Ottoman Empire was founded by Osman in 1299. The Ottoman Empire was ruled for ten successive generations by capable and often brilliant leaders, culminating in the dazzling reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566), who led the Empire to its cultural and geographic zenith. He built Topkapi, captured Belgrade and Budapest and completed the conquest of the Balkans. He besieged Vienna, the keystone of central Europe. He was well on his way to solidifying the Ottomans as the rising hisoric star in Europe.
All that changed when he met the redhead.
He was given a red-haired Russian girl named Ghowrem, who came to be known as Roxelana, as part of his share of a slave-gathering raid into what is now Poland. She must have really been something. He was so taken by her he rejected his hundreds of other harem girls and spent his time with her exclusively. Then he did the unheard of. He married her.
She was soon known as "The Witch." She had a son, Selim II, and she poisoned Suleiman against his favorite, the brilliant and able Mustafa, to the advancement of her son. Mustafa was clearly the man to succeed the throne but she had Suleiman kill him. Suleiman actually watched as it was done. Selim became the new leader of the Empire and its new genetic father. A drunk and a coward, he brought dissolution to the Empire, personally and genetically. He started the tradition of killing every male in reach that looked to be a competent rival. This negative selective pattern reaped incompetent rewards. The behavior continued into the 20th Century when the Ottoman Empire fell apart in World War One, leaving the rest of the world with the aimless Middle East.
There is a great difference between phenotype and genotype.

There are burial mounds at Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains, high in the permafrost, with burial artifacts of Scythians as described by Herodotus.

The Greeks incorporated the local history. Heracles has a son named Scythes, the supposed ancestor of the Scythians.
78% of the traffic of the famous "Silk Road" were slaves.

The Russians, through their devotion to all things dialectic, rejected transformation in Russia as the result of inward migration. Rather they saw it as the product of class chemistry transforming within static society. Marrism. Or Autochthony. What Sir Mortimer Wheeler wonderfully called, "Archeology not a profession but a vendetta."

Gen. Denchin's defeated White Army left from Novorosusk in March, 1920. It was the end of resistance to the revolution.

The Greeks were earlier invaders of the Black Sea, probably after the Scythians, and remained for hundreds of centuries as traders. After the First World War the Luzzern Treaty of 1923 allowed these people--who had not been to Greece in over two thousand years--to go back to Greece but those on the north shore were trapped by the revolution and could not leave until 1983.

Of all the nomadic tribes that funneled through the Black Sea, the most romantic are the Sarmatians. Their burial mounds are scattered to the east. They fought the Romans very successfully but were eventually defeated and absorbed. They were unique among the nomads with head armor, a lance for cavalry and a separate social and military structure: The had hereditary leaders but voted on military ones. Indeed, several military leaders buried there are women, perhaps the origin of the Amazon mythology. They eventually invaded Britain with Caesar and stayed after his withdrawal. Ascherson suggests they might be the forefathers of knighthood.

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