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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, September 20, 2013

AN UNPAID DEBT

I would say it was the nastiest letter ever written by Ben Franklin (that we know of). On April 4, 1778, Franklin dipped his bitter pen in his own long simmering sense of moral outrage to write, “I saw your jealous, malignant and quarrelsome temper which was daily manifesting itself against Mr. Deane, and almost every other person you had dealings with.”
Future historians would invent the story that Franklin was revered at the French Court because on his first appearance he had forgotten his wig, and appeared bare headed. If it happened this would have been a social faux pas. But it was not the old man's bare head that made set the French court all a tremble with excitement, and inspired his nickname as "the child of nature". Each winter's morning in his rented house the 70 year old man sat for half an hour reading the newspapers before an open window, stark naked. During the summer months he sat in the garden reading the papers, absolument nu. His sophisticated Parisian neighbors were electrified, while their poor children received an unvarnished American education. You had to travel no small distance to offend the morals of such a man as Ben Franklin.
The object of Franklin's naked bitterness was Arthur Lee, youngest son of the powerful Lee family of Virginia, the man whom George Trevelyan described as “… the assassin of other men’s reputations and careers ..." Mr. Trevelayn dared to add, "The best that can be said of Arthur Lee is, that in his personal dealings with the colleagues he was seeking to ruin, he made no pretence of friendship…and his attitude toward his brother envoys was to the last degree, hostile and insulting.” (pp 455-456 “The American Revolution Part III” Longmans Green & Co. 1907.) This man Lee was so filled with hate and bile that he almost destroyed the thing he professed to love, the American Revolution. And the man he hated the most was Silas Deane.
Deane was a lawyer/merchant from Connecticut who had been dispatched by the Continental Congress in 1776 to buy guns from the French. There were three men in the delegation, Deane, Ben Franklin and the pus filled Mr. Lee.  Clearly, Arthur Lee felt that he was more qualified to negotiate than either the geriatric nudist or the country bumpkin. And, in truth, Deane's only qualification was that he was very smart and rich enough to buy the desperately needed muskets while Congress dithered, and he carried a letter of introduction from Ben Franklin to a friend of Franklin's living in England, Dr. Edward Bancroft.
When Silas Deane arrived back home from France in 1778 he brought with him the muskets and a treaty pledging French military and financial aid for the American Revolution. It had primarily been negotiated by Franklin. The French had found Mr. Lee to be a stuck-up pain in the derriere. Accompanying Dean was a French Ambassador,  the first to America, M. Gerard. He didn't think very much of Msr. Lee either.
Deane rightly expected to be received as a hero bearing gifts. Instead he was treated like a traitor and grilled about the last packet of letters the Congress had received from the American delegation in France.
When those boxes of secret dispatches, which had arrived via the same boat carrying Deane, the muskets and the treaty and the ambassador, were opened, they were found to contain nothing but blank pages. Clearly whoever had penetrated the American security arraignments must have been rushed, as they had no had time to laboriously copy the dispatches before replacing them.  And by not replacing them the British agents had made a much bigger impression than the theft itself.  But, alas, the Congress of 1778 was no brighter then the Congress of 2013.  Congressional paranoia took flight. And it was a darned impressive bird. The ship’s captain was jailed and questioned.
When it finally occurred to the investigators that the one group of people with plenty of time to laboriously copy the dispatches and replace them would have been members of the ship's crew, stuck on board during the six week voyage from France with nothing to do but paperwork, the captain was released. But in any legislative body the level of intelligence is usually in indirect proportion to the position of authority. So as soon as the Captain was released the senior members of Congress ordered his re-arrest.
But it was obvious to Mr. Deane that certain members of the Congress now suspected him of being a British spy, and were trying to force the captain to implicate him. But the captain steadfastly refused. It was also obvious to Deane that they had been encouraged in their suspicion by his fellow diplomat in Paris, Arthur Lee.
Lee even alleged in private letters to friends in Congress that Deane might have destroyed the dispatches because the dispatches contained letters accusing Deane of profiteering. Such letters, if they existed, would have come most likely from the poisoned pen held by Arthur Lee.  So why bother to steal these anti-Deane dispatches, since obviously, Lee was free to write more? But Lee even went further, to hint that “Dr. Franklin himself…was privy to the abstraction of the dispatches.” So, now we have ask why Franklin would have stolen them? And a moment of logical thought will dismiss such naked accusations against Ben. And yet there were members of Congress who were convinced that a grand conspiracy was at work here, a plot to betray the nation and insult the character of... Arthur Lee. It was insane, of course, the kind of loopy idiotic illogical thinking, that only the brain of a politician, and an elected politician at that, would believe. But the Congress of 1778 was just as jammed packed with psychotics and nincompoops as the Congress of 2013.
The special Congressional hearing listened skeptically to Deane’s spur of the moment defense. He claimed the account books which would have disproved the charges of his profiteering were back in France. He would have brought them but he had no idea they would be demanded. Deane was then forced to wait for Congress to issue him further instructions and reimbursement for the money he had spent on muskets which were already killing British soldiers. The instructions - and the money - never came.
Finally, short of funds (which by itself should have disproved the charge of profiteering), Deane did something foolish. He went public. In December 1778 he published his defense - a pamphlet, "An Address to the Free and Independent Citizens of the United States" - in which he identified the problem in Paris as Mr. Arthur Lee. He also reminded the public of all the weapons and supplies he had bought in France for the American army with his own money, and for which the Congress had not yet repaid him.
The public reaction in America was immediate and vicious. “The educated public saw in his (Deanes’) publication a betrayal of an official trust, and the public regarded it as effusion of an angry and detected man”(ibid). The public now joined the members of the Congress in believing Silas Deane of theft and betrayal.
No less a powerful voice for America than Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense”, and now serving as Secretary to the Foreign Committee of Congress, came to Arthur Lee's defense in a Philadelphia newspaper. He wrote that the supplies, “which Mr. Deane…so pompously plumes himself upon, were promised and engaged… before he even arrived in France.”  Bluntly, that was not true. Paine was merely repeating a lie which Arthur Lee had made back in 1776 in his private letters to relatives and allies in America. But that one sentence came close to unraveling the entire American Revolution.
The British were thrilled with Paine's story because for the first time the Americans had revealed a rift within their own ranks. And more importantly, if the supplies had really been promised and assigned to America before Mr. Deane had even arrived in France, as Paine claimed, then the King of France, Louis XVI, had lied when he publicly assured the British and the Spanish that he was not helping the Americans prior to 1778. Worse, Louis had violated the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763, which had ended The Seven Years War (known as the French and Indian War in America.) To call the French King a liar and say he had violated a standing treaty was to say that his word was worthless. Royalty does not like being called things like that.
The brand new French ambassador, M. Gerard, was enraged. He demanded an explanation. The Congress, recognizing they had been put out on a limb by Mr. Paine (and by Mr. Lee, although they didn't seem to have realized that, yet), beat a hasty retreat and announced that “…his most Christian Majesty…did not preface his alliance with any supplies whatever sent to America, so they have not authorized the writer of said publication to make any such assertions…but, on the contrary, do highly disapprove of the same." Ignoring that they had just validated Deane's defense, Congress now recalled what was left of the Paris delegation, both Franklin and Lee. They were replaced with one man, Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Paine was forced to resign his post, and became estranged from the revolution he had helped so much to create and succor. Following a logic which would have been instantly understandable by any member of a local Parents' Teachers' Association, Paine's friends in Congress blamed Silas Deane for Paines' stupidity in believing the liar Lee. And Mr. Deane, who had first been maligned and smeared by Arthur Lee, and then had been accused and maligned by Thomas Paine and his allies in Congress, also found himself estranged from his American Revolution.
Deane returned to Paris, intending to obtain his account books to prove his loyalty to the cause. But the books had been destroyed; by whom it was not clear. Dejected and angry, Deane swore he would never return to America. He moved to London, where he re-newed his connections to Dr. Edward Bancroft, and struck up a friendship with that other disabused American patriot, Benedict Arnold. That friendship did nothing to help Deanes' cause in America.
In the summer of 1780 Deane unloaded, in a letter to his family, suggesting that America would never win the war and should think about negotiating with the British to be accepted back into the empire. The ship carrying Deane’s letters was captured by an American privateer and Deane’s letters were published in a Connecticut newspaper, appearing in print just after the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.
It was a nasty case of very bad timing. The public reaction was so negative that Deane's dreams of returning to America had to be put on hold for another eight years. He spent the last month of his life preparing for that voyage. But he died (in September 1789) before his ship could sail, and he was buried in England.
In his obituary published by a London newspaper Silas Deane received the final defense he should have received from the American Congress. “Having (been) accused of embezzling large sums of money entrusted to his care…Mr. Deane sought an asylum in this country, where his habits of life …penurious in the extreme, amply refuted the malevolence of his enemies. So reduced, indeed, was this gentleman, who was supposed to have embezzled upwards of 100,000 pounds sterling,...that he experienced all the horrors of the most abject poverty in the capital of England, and has for the last few months been almost in danger of starving.”
And what about Arthur Lee, the source of all this venom? After the war Arthur Lee was elected to Congress and for the first time his friends and allies got an up-close view of him in action. They found him so “…perpetually indignant, paranoid, self-centered, and often confused” that his fellow Virginians, Jefferson and Washington, avoided all contact with him. I wonder if any of them ever gave any thought to how they had depended on this man in their judgement of Silas Deane? Evidently not.
Arthur Lee opposed the new American Constitution, and after losing that fight he ran for a seat in the new Congress anyway. He was defeated. Arthur Lee died "embittered" on his 500 acre farm in Virginia in December of 1792.
It was not until 1835 that Congress finally acknowledged the debts Silas Dean had incurred in helping to create America. His surviving family was paid $38,000 (the equivalent of almost a million dollars today). It was generally admitted that this was but a fraction of the money Silas Deane had spent in helping to create our nation.
Thank you, Silas; for whatever it is worth.
And a post script; it was not until recently that letters from various English and French sources revealed that the true source of the leak in the American ministry in Paris, the real "snake in the grass", had been the sloppy bookkeeping and slipshod security arraignments of the pompous and the paranoid Mr. Auther Lee of Virginia. The conduit who took advantage of his failure was Dr. Edward Bancroft, a British secret agent inside the English opposition to King George III, and the man recommended by  Ben  Franklin.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TINY BUBBLES

I guess it all goes back to the bubbles. They are what attracted that feckless paranoid lunatic Philip IV. As King he was responsible for the economic collapse of medieval France. And the recovery, which finally came after 700 years of poverty and travails, can be traced directly to the Blanc de noirs stained front door of the Abby of Hauntvillers, bottlers of the monastic barfly’s inebriate of choice, the cheap bubbly booze of the pre-bubonic Benedictine generation, champagne.
You see, the Champagne plateau (about 100 miles Northwest of Paris) is so far north that the grapes ripen very late in the year. Now, in standard fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar in the grape juice. The sugar is converted into alcohol and the yeast farts carbon dioxide, until all the sugar is consumed and then the yeast dies. But the wine produced in Champagne was different in two ways. First, the grapes were very sweet to begin with, so sweet that the yeast farted so much CO2 that the wine was filled with bubbles. And second, the wine was bottled so late in the year that there was always yeast still surviving when temperatures dropped low enough to stop the fermentation in each bottle.
Usually the monks drank the juice while it was still saccharine, and what a sad bunch of alcoholics they must have been. But in the bottles and the casks the monks could not consume over the winter (and they tried to drink it all), the spring temperatures re-started the fermentation. Occasionally so much more CO2 built up in the bottles that come summer, they exploded.
Also, the stuff just did not taste very good. And other than the few souls who would have drunk aftershave if aftershave had been invented yet, the residents of Champagne mostly drank Burgundy, from the south. The local stuff was so bad, they took to dumping it all into large vats, trying to kill the taste of the worst of it. Even the vino impaired English resisted consuming the “weird and foaming” wine the Counts of Champagne tried to unload on them. I suspect, if the locals could have drunk the water without dieing, they would have ripped up the champagne grape vines by the roots. But they couldn't, so the vines themselves only survived because of lack of an alternative.
Once every generation a new French King was crowned in Reims, 37 Kings in all between 816 A.D. and 1825 A.D. They used the local effervescence to anoint their new monarch, and to drink a toast in his honor, a real test of their gag reflex, no doubt. But beyond that passing tribute, “dry and beggarly” Champagne remained a stagnant social backwater –until the importation of capitalism.
Did you know that the Muslims invented capitalism? The original dollar was the dinar. Muslims formed the first stock companies, the first banks and offered the first lines of credit. Very astute, these Muslims; because they were promoted based on talent rather than on blood lines. So the hereditary kings of Christendom were behind the eight ball on this one. Which is why it wasn’t until after the Northern Italians profited from the capitalist tricks they picked up from their Islamic trading partners that Northern Europe was finally opened for business.
The Champagne Fairs really got running smoothly about 1270, and they resembled the NASCAR season. Every January the season opened at Lagny. This was followed by the Fair at Bar-sur-Aube, the May Fair in Provins, the “hot air” Fair at Troyes, then back to Provins for a second fair, a fair at Reims, and the “cold air” Fair at Troyes in November. Six towns and about a five weeks for each fair - a week for the set up; stocking the warehouses (the Fairs were strictly wholesale), establishing bank credit (everything was financed by the Italians), partnership contracts were signed, rates of exchange were agreed upon and stalls set up, where the actual business would be conducted. Then there would be a week concentrating on cloth sales (60 European towns sold their wool only at the Fairs), followed by a week of leather sales, a week for spices, and a closing week of hard commodities, grains, salt and metals. Then there would be a week taking delivery and paying debts and sharing profits, before moving on. It was a huge clockwork enterprise that developed over a century. But what made it all possible was that evil, evil, evil horror of all horrors to any modern puesdo-capitalists – BIG GOVERNMENT!
As is noted in Wikipedia, the Counts of Champagne guaranteed “security and property rights of merchants…ensuring that contracts signed at the fairs would be honored throughout (Europe). The Counts provided the fairs with 140 Guards who heard complaints and enforced contracts…weights and measures were strictly regulated.…” The French King even granted free and safe conduct to merchants traveling to and from the fairs, for a cut of the profits, of course. It all functioned because the Counts of Champagne established the fundamental structure and regulations without which capitalism cannot exist.
It seems, having grown up in a capitalistic system, we assume a free market is the natural state of affairs. It is not. Regulations create the market. Regulations define the market. Regulations maintain the market. And when the regulations are not maintained and enforced, the market collapses. When one group of individuals, such as nobility, or bankers, can exclude competitors from profit, that is the death of capitalism. And the dinars hit the fan when control of Champagne passed from the reliable Counts to the King of France, Philip IV; the George W. Bush of medieval Europe.
You see Philip was drunk on his own hot air. To finance his dependency he spent his entire life looking for the next bank account to plunder. He gained control of Champagne province when he married 13 year old Joan I, the Countess of Champagne, in 1284. The Fairs supplied him with enough money for wars against the English and two wars in Flanders, one of which he won. The Fair's Guards became political appointees, who bought their offices from the King, and who became addicted to bribes just like the King. Tariff’s were now levied on every wagon load of goods bound to and from The Fairs. And internal border crossings, each exacting a tariff, began to multiply across France as Philip’s losses increased. Philip destroyed the Fairs by removing the regulations that defined the market, and piling on taxes not tied to their profits. And just as the profits from the Fairs began to drop off, about 1306, Joan died. There is some mystery as to why she died. . Some say it was while giving birth; some say that Philip had her poisoned. I’ll bet it was both.
A year later, Philip expelled the Jews from France - after seizing their property of course. A year after that, on October 13, 1307, Philip wiped out his debts to the Knights Templar by arresting all of them – and seizing their property, of course. Later, when their Grand Master refused to admit to even more hidden wealth which Phillip was certain the Knights had, Philip had him slowly barbecued, Texas style.
And then, because there wasn’t anybody left still doing business in France to steal from, Philip began seizing Church property. The church objected but that only slowed Philip down, it did not stop him. And when a French Cardinal was elected Pope, Philip had him placed under house arrest in Avignon, thus ensuring Philip could now plunder all the church accounts he could reach.
By the time Philip died of a stroke in 1314, he had reduced France and Champagne to a disaster area. The Fairs were history, France and the Champagne were broke. A bright, brief shinning light had been snuffed out by greed and stupidity wearing a crown.
Things did not begin to improve again for the backwater province until 1688, when the Abby of Hautvillers received a new treasurer and cellar master, Dom Pierre Perignon. Pierre did not invent champagne. He did not discover it. In fact he saw it as his personal obligation to turn the bubbly into a dull flat dark wine. He failed miserably – Thank God. Because it was Perignon who made champagne drinkable.
I should point out here the obvious, which is that until the 20th century far more people died drinking water than from drinking booze. Every drop of water was filled with pathogens, bacteria and assorted filth. ‘Passing water’ was not an idle description. You were safer drinking your own urine than from a clear rushing mountain stream. You still are. Without the addition of alcohol or chlorine, quenching your thirst with water is playing Russian roulette with bullets in four of the chambers.
Farmers, working the best soil available, grew wheat and hops to brew beer. And monks, who usually established their monasteries on poor soil, grew grapes and fermented wine. Without a source of potable water, meaning a drinkable fluid, a village could not survive. Without a decent tasting wine to consume and sell, a monastery could not thrive.
After 47 years of – dare I say it? – religious attention to detail, Pierre turned the haphazard blending of wines in the Champagne region into an art. He perfected the making of a white wine from the best of dark grapes, the Pinot Noir mixed with the Chardonnay. Under Father Perignon the cuvee, or the vat, in which each blend was made, became the measure of champagne, the equivalent of its vintage. He mixed the juice from various fields and vinters to produced the perfect blend. He added an English bottle, stronger than the French ones, to restrain the 90 pounds of pressure per square inch generated by all that carbon dioxide farted out by the yeast. And by the time he died in 1715 Dom Perignon had created something close to the champagne we drink today.
Today, just down the road from the Abby of Hauntvillers, lies the village of Epernay, on the banks of the river Marne. Within a few square miles of L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, in some 200 million bottles yeast is happily farting away. Those bottles of that “weird and foaming” wine, make Epernay in “dry and beggarly” Champagne, the richest little village in France.
And they might have made it there sooner if Philip IV had just stuck to the rules, and gotten drunk on the vino, instead of the bubbles.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

TOWER OF BABBLE THREE

I believe that Michael Ventris had dozed off when, well after one in the morning of September 6, 1956, his car crossed the center line at high speed and slammed head on into a truck. Micheal was killed, instantly. Clearly, the truck driver was not at fault. The lorry was parked out of the traffic lanes, pulled over in a “lay-by” on the Barnet Bypass, about 20 miles north of London. The driver swore the truck's headlights were on, and clearly visible. Micheal's was just a few miles from his home, at 19 North End, London, NW-3. A coroner’s inquest jury even ruled the tragedy an accident. Yet, to this day, there are many who suggest it was a suicide.
There is no question that Michael George Francis Ventris (above) fit the profile of a person at risk. His upbringing had been coached by the step father to psychoanalysis Carl Jung, who had treated and maybe seduced Micheal's mother, Dorothea. He drilled in to her that “Micheal was not to be touched by anybody. This was to avoid him having complexes,” she said.   His father, a gentle and loving man, died of tuberculosis when Micheal was a teenager. While still in college Micheal married a “rich society beauty”. But when Nazi Germany conquered Poland in 1939, his mother lost the income she had inherited from her domineering father. In July of 1940 Dorthea was found dead in a Welsh seaside hotel, having taken an overdose of Barbitone.
Micheal dropped out of college in 1942, and then served three years as a navigator aboard a Royal Air Force bomber - a service which suffered a 44 ½ % death rate. Micheal's son would say decades later, “My father was a private person...In fact he seemed rather remote” That isolation from his family led to his divorce. Three years before his death Micheal Ventris was hailed a having scaled “the Everest of Greek archeology”. But it seems that left him with perhaps the most epic case of post-partum depression in history. His career as an architect had been built promoting team work, but after reaching the linguistic summit of Linear B, there were few colleges now willing to work with him. His new career in linguistics seemed guaranteed, but at 34 years of age he lacked academic credentials in that field. But I still don't think he intended on hitting that truck.
Those who submerse themselves in ancient texts often have a reputation for being emotionally unstable. In the 1870's George Smith, an assistant at the British museum, was the first man in 5,000 years to read the story of the Assyrian holy man Utnapishtim who survived a great flood by building a boat for his family and animals. Smith was so excited by the discovery of what was clearly an early version of Noah's Ark, that he began rushing about his work room, tearing off his clothing. But despite the legends, he was stopped before he got completely naked, and never made it into the hall. Insanity, is not the greatest danger to archaeologists. It is being human.
Arthur Evans (above), the legendary archaeologist who between 1900 and 1906 had uncovered the palace at Knossos, on Crete, had struggled for forty years to read the 5,000 year old language he uncovered scattered about the place. Evans had engaged and encouraged the greatest linguists in the world to examine the 3,000 baked clay fragments recording the culture's language. He was certain it represented something new in history, and referred to the culture as Minoan and the language as “Linear B”. But when Evans died in May of 1941, he had managed to deciphered just one word: “total”,. It appeared at the bottom of many of the tablets.
Next the American, Professor Alice Kober  (above) took the lead in the search, and methodically cataloged the 90 plus signs used in “Linear B”, discovering the triple suffixes (as in English “Britain/Briton/British”) which seemed to connect the symbols on the fragments. At first, like Evans, Alice thought the mystery language must be “Minoan”. But near the end of her brief life, Alice decided it could be Etruscan. But when she died in 1950, the problem was still unresolved.
Micheal Ventris had been familiar with Linear B all his adult life. When he was 13 this “pleasant and humorous, if solitary boy” had encountered Evans at a museum exhibit, and impudently asked if it were true the language was not yet deciphered. In 1940, at age 18 he had published his first academic paper on Linear B. In 1948 he got his degree in architecture, but he also met Professor Kober at Oxford University, and briefly corresponded with her. They did not like each other, but Micheal cut off the communication only because he was trying to concentrate on architecture. But then, as his Bauhaus minimalist work was falling out of favor, Micheal found himself surrendering again to his obsession with decoding Linear B.
Languages always came easily to him. He was raised for a time in Switzerland, the mountain nation with three official languages. Micheal was proficient in Spanish, French, German, Polish, Italian, Greek, Ancient Greek and Latin, and, after just one week of exposure, he was participating in conversations in Swedish. But he was having no luck decoding Linear B. Then, one evening, while his wife was preparing for a dinner party, the frustrated architect turned to Alice Kober's triplets, and it occurred to him to apply them phonetically to place names, but in ancient Greek. What if, he wondered, the first character in a particular triplet was pronounced as “ko”, the next “no” and the last for 'so”? Could it be that simple, that obvious: Knossos? Just then the guest arrived and Micheal had to leave his work.
But while his wife was preparing to serve the desert, Micheal Ventris stole back to his study. Abruptly the triplet names of several other sites on ancient Crete fell into place. With a start Micheal came to the realization that the language of Linear B was not Minoan, or Etruscan, but Greek. Arthur Evans had been wrong. Alice Kober had been wrong. All the hundreds of linguists who had studied Linear B before him had been wrong. The truth was so obvious it might have been uncovered decades earlier, except for Arthur Evan's immediate determination that it could not be Greek. Evan's so dominated the study of Knossos, that his fundamental assumption had even confused Alice Kober. Micheal returned to the party and shared the excitement with his guests. He did not tear his clothing. But one of the dinner party guest happened to be a producer for BBC Radio, and the next day she put Micheal in front of a microphone to share his excitement with the world.
It should have inspired an earthquake of coverage. But July 1, 1953, the day Micheal Ventris walked into the BBC Radio booth and announced his solution to the Linear B puzzle, was the day after Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England, and the same day news broke that a month earlier, on May 29th ,,  New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had peaked Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.
It did not help that once Linear B was decoded, related no great epics of heroes and Gods. The translations merely recounted the inventory of storage rooms, the numbering of everything from livestock, to drinking vessels and furniture, to grain and grapes. It was the tax receipts. Because of finger and palm prints and writing styles left by the authors, we know there were only 100 scribes writing at Knossos, and another 32 at Pylos. These numbers are so low they suggest a religious order restricting access to the knowledge of writing. The priests scribes kept a running total (the first word deciphered by Evans in the 1920's) in the soft clay, wetting it to add and subtract from the inventories. The tablets and their counts would not be fired, and the numbers set in stone, until the palaces containing them burned down, in the Bronze Age Apocalypse of Minoan culture, some time after 1375 B.C..
Two weeks before his terminal accident, Micheal Ventris wrote a letter to the editor of the Architect's Journal, the publication of the Architectural Association. Micheal was leaving the field, explaining, “I’ve come to the conclusion that...you’d be justified in writing me off...All I can ask you is to temper your justified anger with a little compassion.” It was almost as if Micheal had assumed the role of Utnapishtim, and was appealing to his god for understanding. Two weeks later Micheal Ventrs was dead. And his achievement and his passing are both proof that for the last 5,000 years and probably the next 5,000, all humans are on the same journey. It is not our achievements or our failures, our insights or our false assumptions that bind us together, not our gods, or our nations, nor even our dreams, our nightmares or aspirations. It is the journey itself.
And that is why the study of Archeology, and Linguistics and substance abuse, and psychology, are all important: because they provide perspective about the journey. Utmapsihtim, and King Minos, Arthur Evans and Edmund Hillary, Queen Elizabeth II, Dorothea Ventris, Karl Jung, Alice Kober – they are all fellow travelers, heading to the same destination - oblivion. Best celebrate the trip.
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