Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Anglosphere
I am reading Steven Johnson’s book, The Invention of Air, which is about the life and career of Joseph Priestley.
Early on (pp. 10-12) there is a delightful bit concerning Benjamin Franklin, and his early investigations into the Gulf Stream:
In 1769, the Customs Board in Boston made a formal complaint to the British Treasury about the speed of letters arriving from England. (Indeed, regular transatlantic correspondents had long noticed that letters posted from America to Europe tended to arrive more promptly than letters sent the other direction.) As luck would have it, the deputy postmaster general for North America was in London when the complaint arrived - and so the British authorities brought the issue to his attention, in the hope that he might have an explanation for the lag. They were lucky in another respect: the postmaster in question happened to be Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin would ultimately turn that postal mystery into one of the great scientific breakthroughs of his career: a turning point in our visualization of the macro patterns formed by ocean currents. Franklin was well prepared for the task. As a twenty-year-old, traveling back from his first voyage to London in 1726, he had recorded notes in his journal about the strange prevalence of “gulph weed” in the waters of the North Atlantic. In a letter written twenty years later he had remarked on the slower passage westward across the Atlantic, though at the time he supposed it was attributable to the rotation of the Earth. In a 1762 letter he alluded to the way “the waters mov’d away from the North American Coast towards the coasts of Spain and Africa, whence they get again into the Power of the Trade Winds, and continue the Circulation.” He called that flow the “gulph stream.”
When the British Treasury came to him with the complaint about the unreliable mail delivery schedules, Franklin was quick to suspect that the “gulph stream” would prove to be the culprit. He consulted with a seasoned New England mariner, Timothy Folger, and together they prepared a map of the Gulf Stream’s entire path, hoping that “such Chart and directions may be of use to our Packets in Shortning their Voyages.” The Folger/Franklin map ...
… was the first known chart to show the full trajectory of the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic. But the map was based on anecdotal evidence, mostly drawn from the experience of New England-based whalers. And so in his voyage from England back to America in 1775, Franklin took detailed measurements of water temperatures along the way, and detected a wide but shallow river of warm water, often carrying those telltale weeds from tropical regions. “I find that it is always warmer than the sea on each side of it, and that it does not sparkle in the night,” he wrote. In 1785, at the ripe old age of seventy-nine, he sent a long paper that included his data and the Iolger map to the French scientist Alphonsus le Roy. Franklin’s paper on “sundry Maritime Observations,” as he modestly called it, delivered the first empirical proof of the Gulf Stream’s existence.
I added that map in the middle of that quote, which I found here. (I love the internet.)
Until now, I knew nothing of this Gulf Stream story. The reason I knew nothing of this Gulf Stream story is that I know very little about eighteenth century history of any sort. This book by Johnson looks like it will be a pain-free way to start correcting that.
Last night, seeking to illustrate a point made in the previous posting about how things on the ground look like toys, when viewed from an airplane, I failed to find any pictures of my own to illustrate the point, but I did come across this:
Triple Chess!!! I did not know that such a thing existed, as a serious thing, until last night.
I took this photo in 2008, but it was one of those photos that I took and then instantly forgot about. Then, later, when looking through the photos I took, I skipped straight over this one and concentrated on others taken at the same time, so I did not actually learn of the existence of Triple Chess, in 2008, when I photoed it, even though I had just photoed it.
Also in this photo is another strange contrivance: the Four Wheeled Pedal Board. How the hell does that work? Judging by the absence of any feedback at the other end of that link, the Four Wheeled Pedal Board never caught on. Perhaps because nobody else could see how it worked either. And perhaps also because it actually did not work? “How far”, asks the box, “can you go without falling off?” I’m guessing that for most the answer was: not very far at all.
Despite the instructions for the Four Wheeled Pedal Board being in English, this photo of stuff in a shop window was taken in France, in Quimper, a city which regulars here will know that I often visit.
And look, there is a website. Does the fact that this Four Wheeled Pedal Board seems to be an Anglo invention reflect the continuing interest of Anglo culture in pointless gadgets, in mucking about instead of doing serious things? Because in Angloland we think that mucking about can lead to serious things? Perhaps.
Some might seize on all this as illustrating the fact that photography is a substitute for really looking at things. I photoed it, but I didn’t actually look at it! But, I am looking at it now. And, do people who do not take photos look carefully at everything that they see? Of course not. The real problem with photography (as I recall mentioning in this talk I recently gave about photography) is not that you don’t look at things, but that you are liable to spend your entire life looking at things and never doing anything else.
Note also the red, white and blue accordion, bottom right. Confirmation of the Anglophile inclinations of this shop? Well, no, because the French are also big on red, white and blueness, aren’t they?
Lexington Green, here:
What if … ?
What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?
What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?
What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?
In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?
What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?
What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?
What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?
I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.
The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan. If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan. What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.
Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.
Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.
Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.
Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?
According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?
He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.
In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.
Is this book … :
… the same book as this book?:
It turns out that they are the same book. Hannan:
But, are they precisely the same? I mean: same intro? Same preface? Any other small tinkerings? If the Yanks (maybe the Brits?) changed the damn title, what the hell else did they change?
I find this kind of thing intensely annoying. The whole point of reading something like a book, or watching something like a movie, is that you read (or watch) precisely the same object as everybody else. (This being one reason why I so particularly resent censorship. It prevents me, again and again, from seeing what others elsewhere are seeing.)
The best you can say about this muddle is that at least this/these book/books seem to be coming out at approximately the same time.
How we invented Freedom is nevertheless in the post.
Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:
I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.
I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.
All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.
In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:
I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.
This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.
Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.
This is a short posting, just to make a note of some links that I have acquired, to things about Emmanuel Todd. Microsoft is in the habit of shutting down my computer without warning, and I don’t want to have to go hunting for them again.
Here is a review of a new book about America called America 3.0 (which I already have on order from Amazon), by James Bennet and Michael Lotus. This book includes some of Todd’s ideas about family structure by way of explaining why the America of the near future will be particularly well suited to the free-wheeling individualism of the next few years of economic history.
In this review, T Greer says:
I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd’s work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.
Greer also makes use of this map, which first appeared in this New York Times article:
Slowly, very slowly, Emmanuel Todd is starting to be noticed in the English speaking world.
Here are some other snaps I took of the Memorial:
For some reason, I often find the little cards and photos of loved ones that people put on these memorials to be more evocative than the Big Thing itself. And given that others will of course also be photoing the big picture, I often find myself concentrating on these small things when I photo these things. And on others taking photos of course, that being a constant preoccupation of mine.
You don’t have to agree with everything Bomber Command was commanded to do during WW2 to salute the bravery of those who did it.
I for one find that prominent Pericles reference to defending freedom (the one I made into an SQotD, and which you can see in the final picture above) slightly odd. Bomber Command was an offensive weapon, as is made clear in the Churchill quote about how only the bombers could offer victory (see photo in line 3, far left). And its purpose was not just to win the war (which despite Bomber Harris’s promises it only helped to do), but to punish the damned losers of it for having started it. This was a punitive war, and everyone at the time knew it. Oh sure, the story at the time in the newspapers was that it was all precision bombing of military targets, blah blah, but if any bombs just happened to land on civilians, the attitude of civilians on our side was: serve the bastards right.
You have to realise how most British people felt about the Germans during WW2, including most of the bomber airmen. The Germans were the people who, having experienced World War 1 in all its horror, concluded from it that they needed to have a re-run of it, but this time win. Starting WW1 was forgiveable, albeit a horrible blunder, and we still quarrel about who exactly did start it. Starting WW2, on purpose, was unforgiveable.
Okay, maybe a lot of Germans were not in favour of all this. But they went along with it, very happily. Until it all started to go wrong.
WW1 ended with a negotiated German surrender. This time around, our Anglo ancestors were determined that every last German left alive would not only lose, but know that Germany had lost. Each German must taste defeat, and if they died while tasting it, that was just fine. This time, the surrender would be unconditional. No “stab in the back” crap. Stabbed from the front, with overwhelming force, by an enraged world.
Never again. You must never, never, do this again. That was what Bomber Command was saying.
In a way, the bombing offensive was a continuation by other means of the silly pamphlet dropping over Germany which was what the bombers first did. Sending a message, but this time in a form that would register.
You may not like any of this, but that is how it was.
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
A down and up weekend
First blood to Australia
English will not last for ever shock
What if the British Empire had stayed together?
Cricket talk tonight
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
More recorded cricket chat and some further Oval hindsights
Keith Windschuttle on history - truth - Robert Hughes
News Media Coalition versus Indian Premier League
Tech talk mp3 with Michael Jennings
Pauses - Indian accents - English names
English is bizarre but spreading
“They needed one another”