The real story? Really?

(See also, Alan Frost, The First Fleet: The Real Story. Collingwood ,Melbourne, Black Inc, June 2011.)

Review of Alan Frost, Botany Bay: The Real Story. Collingwood, Melbourne, Black Inc, January 2011.

By Dan Byrnes

In early 2011, Emeritus Professor Alan Frost of Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia, took it upon himself to decry most other Australian historians by way of issuing a book titled Botany Bay: The Real Story. Implying of course, that his competitors have other than the real story. Whether we should blame Frost or his publishers for this absurd book title, I really care not. I blame Frost, because it’s easier.

This is Frost´s first sin with this book, to start by downplaying his rivals, who evidently, after so many research years have gone by, have still not yet cottoned onto ¨the real story¨. That today, by 2010 or 2011, any professor of anything, anywhere in the world, could profess to have ¨the real story¨ about anything is simply a juvenile and uncivilized nonsense. The best a historian can do is present a coherent theory about his topic, and/or present some facts, and hope for sales and encouraging reviews. So what on earth is Frost on about here?

Frost is simply a participant in The Great Australian Botany Bay Debate, a notorious academic artefact (just ask anyone in Australia with a convict ancestor). This debate, which finally becomes sterile and futile since so much of its material fails to feed usefully into subsequent (or actual) history in New South Wales, is about how and why Britain decided to both to send convicts as far away from England, as the known ends of the earth, to Botany Bay, ¨Australia¨.

The debate does however become complex, labyrinthine and finally sterile, as we shall see here. Some of the complexity can be re-researched and cast into a variety of perspectives. The final sterility is disappointing but is something Australians have to live with. It is a labyrinth which remains most frustrating and perplexing, but such is the environment into which convicted criminals are cast.

Frost is greatly part of the sterility. The complexities of the arguments, suffused as they are with the virtues or otherwise of transportable convicts, are perhaps the only reason to bother with any of it, if one has a taste for that, and most people do not share this taste. And in this book, Frost reduces the complexities to ¨the real story¨. For the record, the present reviewer sees the British settlement of eastern Australia as, initially, a convict colony, as an aftermath of the American Revolution (following the work of Eris O´Brien, published by 1937).

By Frost´s lights, this puts the present reviewer behind the eight ball, a proponent of the traditional view, and yes, correct, since Frost starts with Blainey (Tyranny of Distance etc, published as long ago as the 1960s).

Frost in Botany Bay however has said little that is new to historians about the colony-planners of the past. What is new is that his academic language is a little more raw, and he credits the work of Blainey and Dallas a little more bluntly. The British historian Harlow is not in his Select Bibliography, a strange omission since Harlow first rather vaguely said, in his Second Founding of the British Empire, what Frost expands on.

Harlow´s view was that after the loss of the American colonies, Britain set about renovating its empire, giving it a second founding. Harlow gave little specific attention though to Britain´s Australian adventure. Frost saw this as an opportunity for an Australian, and took up the cudgel, without being especially interested in the history of convict transportation as a penal-history topic. The Imperial material appealed far more to Frost.

But oddly enough, many of the historians becoming involved with The Botany Bay Debate pay scant attention to the maritime record, which has its own sets of interest. One might have thought that the maritime record would closely accompany, if not assist, the development of theoretical approaches to this Australian history. Australian historians seem not to take this view. My own view is that the maritime record fits very well with the theory of penal colonization, more so if one takes the “Imperial stuff” as mere window dressing, which may or may not be advisable.

It is true as Frost says, that some grand plans were advanced to support ideas that convicts should be transported to Botany Bay. How far these ideas were balloons sent up by politicians to induce the East India Company to co-operate remains a moot point. If grand plans were involved, Frost would be very hard put to explain why when Britain offered British merchants access to the Pacific Ocean by way of shipping out prisoners, so few merchants grasped any such opportunities, whatever resources the Pacific offered in theory or practice. The groups of merchants who were most enthusiastic about shipping felons to eastern Australia are not treated by Frost. In my view, giving London-based shipowners new access to an entire ocean, earlier explored by Cook, would have been a grand enough plan in itself. Frost would not agree, apparently.

Over time from 1788, the actual British shipping which did enter Sydney Harbour took home disillusioning reports which within 20-odd years or so scotched any grand plans that might ever have been mentioned. Before 1800, the whalers had departed the eastern Australian coasts and preferred the West coasts of South America for their industry. There was a trail of disappointment for any grand plans about flax, or naval timber, which faded away till there was left only the apparently traditional view, that the main exercise had been a plan to transport convicts and leave them in Australia once their term expired.

The maritime record more or less tracks this trail of disappointment, which suggests that there are reasons why Frost overlooks the maritime record. But to do so with a book subtitled ¨the real story¨ does seem odd. Could it be that Frost treats these grand plans in too limited a time frame, while he ignores the actual maritime records?

Given his research findings delivered with an earlier and at-first-sight, impressive set of books, any present idea that Frost could ever with his First Fleet (real story) present anything startlingly new on the relevant British maritime history is a nonsense. My own idea is that Australians only enhance the sterility of the Botany Bay Debate when they treat the first three fleets of convict ships (the only ¨fleets¨ to be spoken of anyway), as individual fleets, because the point is missed. The point being that the first three fleets are best regarded as a single burst of shipping, split into three broadsides, as it were. The ships involved were associated, in different ways, with, basically, a set of linked shipping men in London, most of whom were well-known in their day. And by the way, ask almost any Australian why there was no fourth fleet of convict ships, and you will probably get a very blank look.

If there were any merchants in London who could have justified any grand plans, tried to build such plans up, or to deliberately damage them by neglect, it would have been this group of men actually involved. Seen as a group, they are an ideal lens through which to examine the reality, or not, of any grand plans, and inspection of their careers reveals only disappointment as it was realised that any grand plans, if they indeed existed, would probably fail to materialise. Before 1800, and later, there were found no useful flax supplies, no tough naval masts, no interesting naval stores, nor a thriving whaling industry.

Of these ship men, Frost in particular neglects the whalers, who were led by Samuel Enderby Senior of Blackheath, London, where he died in 1797. I have written and published especially on the whalers, but to little avail, it seems. But since whaling in 1786 and later was an important British industry, it only needs to be asked, why would Frost neglect the role that British whalers had in shipping convicts to Australia before 1800?

To discuss ¨grand plans”and to overlook an industry as important to Britain as whaling in the 1780s, 1790s, simply makes no sense. At least, not to a maritime historian who values the integrity of Pacific maritime history. In terms of historian-reputations, The Botany Bay Debate will not be healthier to be involved with until such time as Australians start to delve into convict history seen at least partly as maritime history. That maritime history will link to later minor histories of marine exploration and re-exploration, and more or less prove itself in its own terms. Those terms are not well-shown in Frostś book at all. We await The First Fleet: the real story, with unbated breath, then. (Ends)

State of the What?

17-1-2019, An argument has started in the USA re Pres. Trump’s State of the Union address, should it be given in-person or in-writing? These argumentees would appear to not notice that the currently in-place shutdown of the US Federal Government IS the state of the union.

The poop problem

Explaining … a friend sent me this hilarious take on modern life in early January 2019. I think it’s so good that it should land here. I’m sorry, I don’t know who wrote it, it comes from the USA, credits will appear if we do find out who first wrote it – Cheers, Dan Byrnes

From Facebook…
The horror, the horror…

Jesse Newton is with Kelly McQueen Newton.

10 August 2016 · Little Rock, AR, United States ·

So, last week, something pretty tragic happened in our household. It’s taken me until now to wrap my head around it and find the words to describe the horror. It started off simple enough – something that’s probably happened to most of you.

Sometime between midnight and 1:30am, our puppy Evie pooped on our rug in the living room. This is the only time she’s done this, so it’s probably just because we forgot to let her out before we went to bed that night. Now, if you have a detective’s mind, you may be wondering how we know the poop occurred between midnight and 1:30am. We were asleep, so how do I know that time frame?

Why, friends, that’s because our Roomba runs at 1:30am every night, while we sleep. And it found the poop. And so begins the Pooptastrophe. The poohpocalypse. The pooppening.

If you have a Roomba, please rid yourself of all distractions and absorb everything I’m about to tell you.

Do not, under any circumstances, let your Roomba run over dog poop. If the unthinkable does happen, and your Roomba runs over dog poop, stop it immediately and do not let it continue the cleaning cycle. Because if that happens, it will spread the dog poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting.

It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it. Those awesome wheels, which have a checkered surface for better traction, left 25-foot poop trails all over the house. Our lovable Roomba, who gets a careful cleaning every night, looked like it had been mudding. Yes, mudding – like what you do with a Jeep on a pipeline road. But in poop.

Then, when your four-year-old gets up at 3am to crawl into your bed, you’ll wonder why he smells like dog poop. And you’ll walk into the living room. And you’ll wonder why the floor feels slightly gritty. And you’ll see a brown-encrusted, vaguely Roomba-shaped thing sitting in the middle of the floor with a glowing green light, like everything’s okay. Like it’s proud of itself. You were still half-asleep until this point, but now you wake up pretty damn quickly.

And then the horror. Oh the horror.

So, first you clean the child. You scrub the poop off his feet and put him back in bed. But you don’t bother cleaning your own feet, because you know what’s coming. It’s inevitable, and it’s coming at you like a freight train. Some folks would shrug their shoulders and get back in bed to deal with it in the morning. But you’re not one of those people – you can’t go to sleep with that war zone of poop in the living room.

So you clean the Roomba. You toss it in the bathtub to let it soak. You pull it apart, piece-by-piece, wondering at what point you became an adult and assumed responsibility for 3:30am-Roomba-disassembly-poop-cleanups. By this point, the poop isn’t just on your hands – it’s smeared up to your elbows. You already heard the Roomba make that “whirlllllllllllllllll-boop-hisssssssss” noise that sounds like electronics dying, and you realize you forgot to pull the battery before getting it wet. More on that later.

Oh, and you’re not just using profanity – you’re inventing new types of profanity. You’re saying things that would make Satan shudder in revulsion. You hope your kid stayed in bed, because if he hears you talking like this, there’s no way he’s not ending up in prison.

Then you get out the carpet shampooer. When you push it up to the rug – the rug that started it all – the shampooer just laughs at you. Because that rug is going in the trash, folks. But you shampoo it anyway, because your wife loved that damn rug, and you know she’ll ask if you tried to clean it first.

Then you get out the paper towel rolls, idly wondering if you should invest in paper towel stock, and you blow through three or four rolls wiping up poop. Then you get the spray bottle with bleach water and hose down the floor boards to let them soak, because the poop has already dried. Then out comes the steam mop, and you take care of those 25-ft poop trails.

And then, because it’s 6am, you go to bed. Let’s finish this tomorrow, right?

The next day, you finish taking the Roomba apart, scraping out all the tiny flecks of poop, and after watching a few Youtube instructional videos, you remove the motherboard to wash it with a toothbrush. Then you bake it in the oven to dry. You put it all back together, and of course it doesn’t work. Because you heard the “whirlllllllllllllll-boop-hissssssss” noise when it died its poopy death in the bathtub. But you hoped that maybe the Roomba gods would have mercy on you.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending a week researching how to fix this damn $400 Roomba without spending $400 again – including refurb units, new motherboards, and new batteries – you finally decide to call the place where you bought it. That place called Hammacher Schlemmer. They have a funny name, but they have an awesome warranty. They claim it’s for life, and it’s for any reason.

So I called them and told the truth. My Roomba found dog poop and almost precipitated World War III.

And you know what they did? They offered to replace it. Yes, folks. They are replacing the Roomba that ran over dog poop and then died a poopy, watery death in the bathtub – by no fault of their own, of course.

So, mad props to Hammacher Schlemmer. If you’re buying anything expensive, and they sell it, I recommend buying it from them. And remember – don’t let your Roomba run over dog poop.


The Global Financial Crash of 2008


Review by Dan Byrnes of Ross Garnaut with David Lewellyn-Smith, The Great Crash of 2008. Melbourne University Press, 2009. This is a short book with very useful graphs and so on. I bought it in 2018 out of nostalgia at a second-hand book fest, the “nostalgia” being of the form that with me being by now a wise old man, I won’t ever forgive the USA for the 2008 Crash. Nor will I forget. The 2008 Crash seemed to me to be entirely driven by US organisations and sales forces; and the chief product on sale prior to the crash seemed to have been a skilful and very complicated repackaging of the USA sub-prime mortgage scenario, that is, US poverty. If India had repackaged its poverty and then sold it around the world, there’d have been a huge outcry of protest. But evidently the USA can do it, no gets put in jail, and the world has to wear it.

The 2008 GFC,(Global Financial Crash) as it become known, seemed to me to have been the production of concerted US fraudsterdom, and I remain distinctly not-impressed for the foreseeable. None of this was ever good enough, but looking back as we now can, maybe the 2008 GFC was the product of US problems which have been festering for a very long time? And so, I feel that the USA pulled off a very sophisticated conjob for a time. I’d feel more forgiving maybe, if my own local council had not been taken for a ride by the USA to the tune of about $20 million – which luckily it has got back by now.

As I said, none of this has been good enough. What do Garnaut and Llewellyn-Smith make of it? Well, for about a year before the 2008 GFC become evident, most economic commentators were ambivalent at best. The one who saw a crash coming most clearly, and she made me so edgy I kept her article on top of one of my nearby computers for a year – that’s right, she was a woman – still didn’t see it coming really clearly. She thought it – might happen.

Then, when it did happen, US Senator John McCain (now deceased) quickly defended the “US fundamentals” as being quite sound. When they were very unsound indeed, as was revealed as the financial damage was day-by-day uncovered. McCain was talking political nonsense, political reflex action. Still, I was rather stunned to read (p. 222) in Garnaut and Smith-Llewellyn (hereafter, G&S-L), that Hirschhad said, “As the foundations weaken, the structure rises ever higher”. Had McCain, indeed, mistaken the strength of the foundations for the height of the structure? Had perceptions actually been quite so bad? And, possibly, yes, And well, in all fairness, we now have to look at the G&S-L argument in detail, more so as so many commentators asserted at the time, 2008-2009-2010, all this was VERY complicated.

Engagingly, G&S-L see the entire imbroglio as due to the work of The Great Crash Elephant. To which I’d object, as elephants are reputed to have long long memories, whereas no one involved in this imbroglio seems to have had any memory at all of anything useful. And it wasn’t just a local imbroglio, it was international. I hesitate here to use the word “global” as the word “global” has been sadly abused by US propagandists who obviously can’t control just a single street in one city; I mean Wall Street in New York City. Wall Street is admittedly a powerful street, this may be the very thing that’s most wrong with it by now. But yes, the problem was and is in fact, global. As G&S-L see it, the lifeblood of The Great Crash Elephant is, the global shadow banking system.

Part of the 2008 GFC imbroglio was that the global shadow banking system invaded the traditional banking sector, the legal one, the shopfront one we think we know and deal with often in our town.

G&S-L know their economic history. This shows in their Galbraithian take on “financial exuberances” and on the breathtaking stupidities of the Allan Greenspan outlook on economic behaviour. This shows in their view that perceptions of risk have shifted. (This is where they might have mentioned computerisation and mathematical economics, which they have avoided discussing, perhaps due to the complexity of the topics.) Tellingly, G&S-L end one chapter quoting a corporate idiot, ironically, one from Australia – capitalism had changed because perceptions of risk had changed. Sadly, this seems to have been true. Changes in the perception of risk led paradoxically to changes in  perception(s) of value. Of course, during a crash, values are written down.

G&S-L seem to feel that recessions come as a surprise to those who suffer from them. Yet recessions happen so often, this simply cannot be true. I feel that there is something wrong here with mathematical economics. It is not hard to find an average (or a mean) for durations between economic downturns (business cycles?).

What then is the problem? I can only conclude that the problem is one of forgetfulness, which is more a psychological than an economic situation. Irrational financial exuberance encourages amnesia about previous recessions. The problem then seems to be one of the present and the future, not with the past, not with economic history. The problem is not a problem of memory, but of a lack of memory. It is a problem of an absence where an absence should not be. What, after all, is financial history for, what is Economic History, for? We need to ask: is money worth was it’s said to be worth, or is it merely worth what it is worth?

G&S-L say (on p.109) that normal business could no longer find funding. On the same page they mention “clever money and “greed”. There was a disruption of credit, but G&S-L do not say quite if this was due to humans or due to computerisation (or both?), and they arguably should have. Traditional (deposit-taking) banks had been allowed by governments to become involved in the world’s shadow banking system– which is comprised of hedge funds, recognised probabilities of profit and loss, unrecognised conflicts of interest, moral hazards made strange. The assumption that the outcomes of risky process would be statistically “normal”. You name it … it happened.

G&S-L memorialise (p. 53) that Dinallo, a US insurance regulator, had once described the shadow banking system as “a failed attempt to create a new asset class that guaranteed investor returns without the capital provisions that make such guarantees substantive”. In other words, it was a con job.

This was a problem of too-little regulation, in that financial systems become subject to shocks if they are not protected by rules that are enforced. The too-big-to-fail things, the mysteries of which escaped ordinary morality, went on. US financial culture does not escape the criticism of G&S-L, but world-wide, few if any governments or financial cultures could withstand the forces associated with corrupted US arguments. There were culture problems, big time. As one might expect if powerful interests in the USA were trying on a big -time fraud job. Which they were.

In Australia the downturn was less severe, and the Rudd/Labor government (to its credit, many commentators say it did well) took the brunt of this corrupted US financial force, while major parts of the banking sector had fallen victim to the world’s “shadow banking system”. Internationally, governments engaged in financial expansionism (including “printing of money”) rather than do otherwise. Financial contraction was, evidently, to be avoided. And this was, perhaps, crucial to the world response. Any non-expansionary moves made since have been criticised severely, and here Trump’s US isolationism and economic protectionism has been protested. The UK Brexit move has been widely criticised. Go figure.

New forms of regulation were proposed, to regulate especially, perceptions of financial risk, but ideas of new regulations were also seen charily, as too much government intervention was distrusted in the very areas where it might have once been recommended, a set of worrying macro-economic questions. (All the more worrying as the US population seems to be attuned to micro-economic questions and morality, not macro-economic. Old-fashioned, nineteenth-century Protestant religion personal morality, one might observe caustically in passing. This sort of morality is simply inadequate, morally and practically, this seems obvious)

All this was the first truly global crash, G&S-L tend to think. The world became quadripolar (which surely went against the grain of views so popular on the US Internet, about “new world order”).

G&S-L meantime accept a view of soft power as the capacity to influence others in terms of the attractiveness of one’s own culture and society. (In terms of which, for the future, US soft power is entirely lost on this book reviewer, more so if “smart power” is the union of soft power with old-fashioned military force). And one of the last questions of all, how should any of this be interpreted in terms of the challenges posed by global warming? Irrespective of the contents of the stomach of the Great Crash Elephant, I’d be inclined to see the 2008 GFC as the last gasp of the pre-global-warming scenario.

There does need to be a revised version of this book. I think, regarding Australian scenarios at least and in the light of the light of the 2018 royal commission into the Australian banking and financial sectors – into those who run our superannuation, investment and financial futures. The most charitable view one can take of these people is that they are not fraudsters, they are simply people who have no memory –partly as they haven’t read their economic history, partly as the world shadow banking system took over their traditional banking system slowly and by stealth. They are walking indicators of the forces of amnesia in the financial sector. The implications are truly horrifying because they might affect your or my pocket yesterday, today or tomorrow.

At the time? I was very annoyed, as at the time, commentators were wringing their hands in stupid despair, and saying things like, “this is all so complicated, no one understands it”. (They meant, derivatives and “collateralised debt obligations”.)  I thought, what a load of crap this is, can’t these boys and girls recognise a sophisticated fraud when it stares them in the face? And no, they couldn’t. I despair here, because I have a memory, which is called, having an interest in economic history. But this is not good enough for the economists, the finance page journalists, pundits on the Internet, various academics around the world.

And the finding is that no, they actually can’t recognise fraud when it stares them in the face, drat it. They really can’t, because they don’t read economic history, they behave like, and they write like, people who have never read their economic history. They don’t realise that crashes have happened before, that they’ve even, though years ago now, been called Business Cycles. Thankfully, Behavioural Economics by now has made its invasion of The History of Economic Thought, and been badly delayed anyway by “institutional inertia” (read, stupidity by banks) in my book. (After the 2008 GFC I went back to my history records, and found that since 1945 the average time between economic downturns in various large regions of the world, had shrunk from 11.5/12.5 years to about 8.5 years.)

Meaning that after 2008/2009, we should have had another downturn about 2017-2018. By such numbers, we are overdue for a downturn, and it is no surprise to find that our newspaper finance pages predict that a new crash is imminent. I myself am scratching my head for explanations about why the next crash seems so overdue, as pessimistically, nothing leads me to believe that matters financial have improved. Memories in the financial sector, amongst economic historians, amongst journalists who frequent the financial pages, seem not to have improved.

And to the end of this book, I have to confess, that by early 2019, I am quite convinced that the Israeli historian, Harari, is correct. In Yuval Noah Harari’s 2018 book, 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury, (London, Jonathan Cape), he opines that in time to come, we may all be ruled by algorithms running in computers, that know more than humans can know, and can also process relevant information much much faster. It is also well-known by 2018 that many computers in the finance sectors are pre-programmed to sell shares in pre-set ways. (Which BTW is not something that G&S-L mention as a factor in the 2008 crash.)

Omigod, I suddenly thought! What if the algorithms get to be the arbiters of value too? As they probably already are? For perceptions of value, including th evaluation of currencies, the valuation of assets (as held by corporations, as held by governments), although some might say, misperceptions-of-value, were an integral part of the 2008 GFC!

And on reflection, I still think it; algorithms in computers are going in future to have a lot to do with noting and interpreting questions of value. Right down, in the hands of computer programmers employed by our real estate agents, to the valuations of our own houses. And to our land valuations as measured by our local governments. That we live in, that we bring our children up in, that we sit around and eat and drink and be merry in.

Meantime, if you like, you can continue to trust the USA in your own time, but certainly not in my time. Go right ahead, trust in Wall Street, New York, but not in my time, thank you. I reckon, after the 2008 GFC the USA can take its “soft power” and shove it. Meantime, do your own thinking. (Ends)

Drinking water for Africa?

This weekend (Sat 27-8-2016) one of my newspapers gave me a four-page plea from World Vision about providing more water for Africa.

And I have a policy on this, sorry World Vision, but the project is obviously beyond private charity, I have been seeing these kind of pleas all my life (I was born in 1948) and pleas are still being made to give African countries relevant sets of a decent water distribution systems.

My policy is this: real men don’t let children die from drinking filthy water, so if children are dying, what is wrong with the real men of Africa? What is wrong with the UN which is not ordering the rulers (they hardly deserve the word “governments”) of Africa to provide clean water for their people? And so on.

So I want to know when we are going to see some water-action from the real men of Africa. As a historian once said, many years ago, famines don’t bother well-run, democratic countries. It’s true enough. But famines, droughts and the victimhoods of climate vagaries still recurrently visit Africa more tragically than anywhere else in the world, we need to ask, why is this?

What is so special about Africa that it suffers more than anywhere else in the world from climate and other problems that are thousands of years old? And so, World Vision, the problem you work on won’t be solved by my private charity (it hasn’t yet been solved by private charity in my lifetime), so it’s time for you to work on a broader and presumably different front. World Vision supports bringing clean water to the world? Really? I’d like to see some action on this.

How time flies

Review December 2017 by Dan Byrnes of Alan Burdick, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation. Melbourne Australia, Text Publishing, 2017.

This is a book not so much about time, as about time perception, how we perceive time and its passages. Yes, that is right, it is all more complicated than we thought.

Burdock says, physical time needs to be translated into what physiology can understand, and since all of us are time dependent, the sense of what time it is is social (and hence can be manipulated, as it once was when the world was divided into time zones to synchronize railway movements in different cities in different countries).

Burdick does update on a few points, but I consider the book a failure as it mostly treats new US research on time perception (down to nanoseconds, which is the direction that psychological research on time has gone, more so in the US). There is no discussion of music (an enormously time bound art) or its appreciation, nor on any scientific differences in international positions on time perception (if any). Memory is indexed but music is not.

I need to mention a proviso here … the best book I have ever read on time was by J. B. Priestley, years ago now. However, Priestley was mostly discussing our perceptions of external time. In comparison with which, the single most valuable section of this book by Burdick is his discussion of physiological or non-physical time (where physical is as in the sense of, physics). Time is outside us (as when night turns to day and time progresses, the arrow of time goes forward) – but it is also inside us, as all the cells of our body heed circadian rhythms that ultimately heed the movements of the Earth around the Sun! Burdick insists this, I feel he is right, but other questions he tends to ignore – particularly musical questions. (Music is the most time-bound art there is!)

I also want to know more than Burdick tells us about how and why children feel time moves so slowly, a question Burdick does address, while old people feel that time moves oh-so-fast, a question my grandmother put me onto as she entered her early 80s. (She lived to be 92.) All this is discussed, but unsatisfactorily.

Burdick does discuss as separate topics, duration, temporal order, tense (the linguistic sense of past, present and future) and the feeling of nowness. These are all different topics. Rather surprisingly, we find time is like wine; it is of many types, it might depend in which culture or at what age it is grown (or experienced). Our sense of time is something we grow into as we get older, which is precisely why I want to know what happens for older people, but Burdick does not tell us clearly. Again, oddly, while he discusses time, Burdick does not discuss space, yet the Einsteinian revolution in quantum physics tells us that you cannot speak of one without speaking of the other. Perhaps these really are questions that are related-but-separate? Burdick also fails to discuss sex, whereas I want to know why when I was having fun in the sack, and the lady involved often seemed to agree, time got to seem to be absent, and very interesting and pleasurable it was too. Burdick does not tell me what was going on here, or seeming to be going on, he simply does not say. (Nor does Burdick index the word – sex.)

Well, enough of the grumbles. The more I grumble the more the reader will grumble, and together we will have to agree; this book on time is taking up far too much time. I think there is an American cultural problem here that Burdick cannot help reporting as by trade he is a reporter who is an American. Still, Burdick warns us that the topic of time is full of rabbit holes – and it is. Somehow, I still prefer the treatment by J. B. Priestley. Burdick, I rather think, got lost in recent American psychological experiments, got lost in their preoccupations with mixing small slices of time with drugs. A waste of time, then?


Keegan – A History of Warfare – a much needed historical- philosophical outlook

Dan Byrnes in review of John Keegan, A History of Warfare. London, Hutchinson/ Random House, 1993.

I mostly read social, political and maritime history, and rarely read military history unless I absolutely have to, so why did I bother anyway with Keegan here? Well, for one thing, he has a well-considered, philosophical outlook on the history of warfare that I have never encountered before. He also has useful dates in Ancient History I’d enjoy surveying. And once you get into Keegan’s view of Ancient History, he is a lecturer at Sandhurst military academy in the UK, you are gone as a reader, captured in more ways than one by Keegan’s views on the ugly business of war, about which he makes no bones, violently ugly it is.

Although, Keegan rather sidesteps questions about why humanity conducts war, and has done so for so many thousands of years. What Keegan has done is go into the anthropology of warfare, which he does partly as he thinks that the face-to-face combat we are used to in European theatres of war, came from Ancient Greece. Ancient Greek ways of warfare, best represented by the Spartans, became pathways for humanity’s trajectory out of more primitive ways of warfare, which used more ritual and ceremony than westerners are now used to.

The Greeks influenced the Persians and more so the Romans. The Romans transmitted their views on warfare to the edges of their empire, especially to the Germanic peoples. Earlier on, how and why did humanity adopt the habit of building defensive walls for cities? The development of horse-based warfare also was a factor, and horse-using fighters learned detachment for their fighting methods, perhaps more so than any other kind of fighter.

But how are all these competing views organized by Keegan as he proceeds? His book is less than chronological, and is more devoted to themes, but I found his use of statistics about war scenarios quite riveting.

Keegan begins his book by flatly contradicting the well-known view of Clausewitz that war is the continuation of policy by other means. Keegan sees this view of Clausewitz as arising from specific times and places in European history – where Napoleon’s star shines rather brightly – a Europe of polities, states, state interests,while war in fact long predates strategy, diplomacy, more modern political realities.

Yet today we are still strung between the pacifist and the lawful bearer of arms; we know both will prefer to die rather than give up their creed of life. Primitive man long ago felt and saw things differently, yet finally, the lawful bearer of arms had to heed orders that might mean the end of his life , even in “primitive societies”. Society – and/or civilisation – has always had to live with such dilemmas, but the many different ways humanity has found for dealing with these issues is why Clausewitz is not so much wrong, as severely limited in his outlook.

Keegan buffs his often philosophical prose with clear references to the uglinesses of war (kidnap, looting, pillage, rape, extortion,systematic vandalism) and he tells us (for example) that if there are many kinds of war, there are no simple answers, either. That in western culture there are three major elements to the conduct of war, the moral, the intellectual and the technological. (Keegan seems to want to leave it to his reader to decide if the advent of atomic warfare was highly meaningful for mankind, or otherwise.)

This is a very zoom-in/zoom-out sort of book. Keegan gives us close-ups of theatres of war, or he gives us long historical perspectives to ponder, as with the use of gunpowder, the development of cannon. And he also says things such as: a world without organised armies would be uninhabitable. He is also against “cultural rigidity” in the conduct of warfare. He mentions “military restraint” approvingly, and thinks that military practitioners and/or peacekeepers in the future will still have much to learn (or relearn) from The Orient, or from more primitive cultures. This is why an approach to the anthropology of warfare is to be recommended; it helps to promote cultural adaptiveness where military challenges are involved, or are imposed on us.

And, Clausewitz was wrong. Keegan says, politics must continue, war cannot continue. The two things are separable, they are not necessarily in harness to each other or for each other. (Ends)

Movies List by Dan Byrnes

This Movies List is highly truncated, but it is not the beaten path of the Hollywood publicity machine either. It is more a search item that points to good or watchable movies that can often come recommended, but some listings are just entered merely on a spec basis (give them a try). Good watching can generally be expected. I happen to collect movies on historical topics, and the list given here is built around this preference. Now read on and enjoy. The list is chronological and will be regularly updated. Dan Byrnes

One million years ago

One Millions Years BC. (A 1996 movie)

Movies on Adam or Eve?

Primeval. ?

10,000BC. (Released in 2008.)

Noah’s Ark. (See the John Huston movie.) Noah, with Russell Crowe. See also a documentary (maybe a offering the in the Australian style of the SBS network?) The Real Noah’s Ark, on a pre-Gilgamesh set of Mesopotamian instructions for a round-built ark – rather like an Irish coracle. An ark of quite a different shape.

Thor. A 2010 movie with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman.

Wrath of the Titans. Made in 2012.

Underworld. Rise of the Lycans. With Rhona Matra. A 2009 movie.

Secrets of the Dead. The Silver Pharaoh. (Documentary?)

Movie, Joseph and his Brethren. Old movie starring Robert Morley. Fairly bad, quite stagy, on the biblical story re Joseph and his coat of many colours.

Lost Worlds. (Films or documentaries.) Have seen it.

Also, DVD on Immortality: Ancient Glory.

The First Emperor: China’s Entombed Warriors. Have seen it.

Set 1250BC, The Ten Commandments, On Moses etc, classic movie with Charlton Heston.

Exodus, Gods and Kings. (On Moses and the Exodus, quite a different, more modern treatment than the movie with Charlton Heston.

The Bible, a series with Ben Kingsley, three movies, On David, Solomon and Moses.

The Odyssey. TV miniseries on Homer’s famous work. See also a 2014 movie, The Legend of Hercules, with Kellan Lutz.

Troy, movie with Brad Pitt as Achilles the warrior. Have seen it.

Set about year 1000BC. a 1959 movie titled Solomon and Sheba.

Alexander, The Director’s Cut, with Anthony Hopkins. See also a documentary with David Adams, Alexander’s Lost World, (have seen it by August 2014.)

The 300 Spartans. (A very cartoonish movie.) See also 300: Rise of an Empire (a 2014 offering.)

Three Kingdoms. (A Chinese movie.)

Around the time of Jesus …

The Greatest Story Ever Told, a 1965 movie.

The Last Temptation of Christ. See also on the last hours of Jesus, the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ.

Mary Magdalene, a movie with Rooney Mar and Joaquin Phoenix. Set at the death of Jesus. A 2018 movie.

Movies on Paul of Tarsus (eg, re his road to Damascus experience.)

The Robe. With Charlton Heston. (Have seen it).

Caligula. (Have seen it.)

I Claudius. A well-done miniseries starring Derek Jacobi. (Have seen it.)

Rome. An excellent miniseries. Only early seasons are extant. The series was truncated as the large set for it, outside Rome in Italy, burned down, a real tragedy in more ways that one.
























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2018 documentaries.

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In 2019

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On Oldenbourg’s book, The Crusades

Dan Byrnes in review 3-9-2017 of Zoe Oldenbourg, The Crusades. (Trans from the French byAnne Carter) London, Phoenix Press, 2201, first pub in UK in 1966 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson from a French edition of 1965.

A book re the first three crusades and the “emotional climate” that produced them, and a history of Kingship of Jerusalem till the arrival of Saladin the Moslem general and enemy of the Crusaders. And I have to confess that this is one of the oddest books I’ve ever read and perhaps one of the worst, and I have to ask myself, why is this?

Firstly the book seems badly planned, with highly erratic discussions, which seems odd, since the author, Oldenbourg,was a distinct fan of Crusades literature. She gives useful potted histories of certain notables, such as Saladin (1137-1193) (a highly respected Moslem general, Kurdish in origins), or The Leper King of Jerusalem, and yet she doesn’t.

(The Leper King of Jerusalem, seen depicted poignantly in the splendid movie Kingdom of Heaven (2005), was Baldwin IV Anjou (1161-1185), son of King of Jerusalem Amalric I Anjou (1135-1173) and Agnes Courtney (earlier a Saxon name), daughter of Count2 of Edessa Joscelin I Courtney (d.1159) and Beatrice Hethoumia of Armenia. Which none of us will find out usefully from Oldenbourg’s book.)

Oldenbourg (she was a daughter of some Russian journalists who disliked the 1917 Russian Revolution and fled to France) reveals that many of Frances’ senior Crusaders were related (their Crusades were then a family show), but she doesn’t demonstrate it usefully. Continually, the reader finds that Oldenbourg “doesn’t” and so: why is this?

I don’t know why, it has to do with poor design of this book project, but part of the how seems to be her overlooking of women’s names in the genealogies she provides. Women’s names are mentioned in the text and are partly explained in the index, but are not mentioned in the genealogies appended. Nor does she usefully mention any indigenous woman from The Holy Land, Lebanon, Armenia (as with the woman surnamed Hethoumia above), that the Crusaders dealt with. So if anyone wants to pursue relevant genealogies, the index of this book is the best place to look, which is hardly good enough.

We have here a case then of a woman author much relying on contemporary documents, mostly written by men,who is writing a book on male warfare and often ignoring the women they dealt with and often had children by. Oldenbourg seems besotted with The Crusades, but is only a little critical of the fact these Crusades were called in Europe, and is quite unreliable about the Moslem defence against the Crusaders.

Yet she can be alarmingly frank about the depredations of the Crusaders, as when during the fourth crusade they went off the rails and attacked areas they should not have, such as Constantinople in 2014. Which is another problem with this book! What is a story from the fourth crusade doing in a book on the first three Crusades (1095-1192)?

In short, and quite unlike Oldenbourg, who is nevertheless, and paradoxically, quite readable, despite her evident problems of nomenclature and terminology, I feel the Crusades, as far as they affected existing Holy Land placenames and nearby areas, were the greatest nonsense of jumped-up, absurd, French and German feudalism ever foisted on the world. The Kingship of Jerusalem was a sick feudal/medieval joke, but whether it was as sick as the “Caliphate” declared in 2014 by IS (Islamic State), you will not find clearly out from this book, which is just one of the many things wrong with it. A book then to stay well away from … Although Oldenbourg (p. 465) will admit that the Kingship of Jerusalem became “a legal fiction”. I regard it as always and from inception, a fiction. Bah humbug, I recommend you read Runciman’s books on the Crusades.


On Trump and Google late 2018

About POTUS Donald Trump, true, if you type the word “idiot” into Google, on the first page of matches, you’ll get at least one picture of POTUS Donald Trump, sho nuff.

On one truly memorable occasion I got two pics of Trump! But is this good enough? This blog has just done a survey, and found that if you type into Google the word “cretin” you get zilch of Trump. The same for “fool. But if you type in “buffoon” you get two pictures of Donald Trump. So go google now.