Rad Geek People's Daily

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Posts from September 2021

City of Ruins and Wild Roses

What I’m Reading: Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople, 1453, Chapters 1-2, The Dying Empire and The Rising Sultanate. From the first chapter, on the cultural and intellectual renaissance amidst the material and political collapse of Constantinople, in the last days of the Christian Emperors. A city of artists and scholars, a city of ruins and wild roses; the list of emperors was written on the stones of the city and it was drawing to its close.

[4] Disillusion set in. The fourteenth century was for Byzantium a period of political disaster. For some decades it seemed likely that the great Serbian kingdom would absorb the whole empire. The provinces were devastated by the revolt of a mercenary band, the Catalan Company. There was a long series of civil wars, begun by personal and dynastic quarrels at the Court and embittered when social and religious parties were embroiled. The Emperor John V Palaeologus, who reigned for fifty years, from 1341 to 1391, was dethroned no less than three times, once by his father-in-law, once by his son, and once by his grandson, though in the end he died on the throne.[1] There were ruinous visitations of plague. The Black Death in 1347, striking at the height of the civil war, carried off at least a third of the Empire’s population. The Turks took advantage of the troubles in Byzantium and the Balkans to cross into Europe and to penetrate further and further, till by the end of the century the Sultan’s armies had reached the Danue, and Byzantium was entirely encircled by his dominions. All that was left of the Empire was Constantinople itself and a few towns strung along the Marmora coast of Thrace and the Black Sea coast . . . a few small islands, and the Peloponnese. . . .

[5] By a whim of history this period of political decline was accompanied by a cultural life more eager and more productive than had been known at any other time in Byzantine history. Artistically and intellectually the Palaeologan era was outstanding. The mosaics and frescoes of the early forteenth century . . . show a vigour, a freshness and a beauty that make Italian work of the period look primitive and crude . . . .[2] But art of such splendour was costly to execute. Money began to run short. In 1347 it was noticed that the jewels in the diadems used for the coronation of John VI and his Empress were really made of glass.[3] . . . Intellectual life, however, which was less dependent on financial backing, lasted brilliantly on. The University of Constantinople had been refounded at the end of the thirteenth century by a great minister, Theodore Metochites, a man of fine taste and learning . . . .[4] The chief intellectual figures of the fourteenth century, men like Nicephorus Gregoras the historian, Gregory Palamas the theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas the mystic, or the philosophers Demetrius Cydones and Akyndinus, all at some time studied at the University and came under the influence of Metochites. All, too, were helped and encouraged by his successor as chief minister, John Cantacuzenus, though some of them were to break with him after he usurped the Imperial crown. Each of [6] these scholars was individual in his thought; their controversies were as lively as their friendships. They argued, as the Greeks had always argued for nearly two thousand years, on the rival merits of Plato and Aristotle. They argued over semantics and logic; and their arguments inevitably encroached upon theology . . . .

[9] These passionate debates took place in an atmosphere of material decay. Despite the brilliance of its scholars Constantinople by the close of the fourteenth century was a melancholy, dying city. The population which, with that of the suburbs had numbered about a million in the twelfth century, had shrunk now to no more than a hundred thousand and was still shrinking.[5] The suburbs across the Bosphorus were in Turkish hands. Pera, across the Golden Horn, was a Genoese colony. Of the suburbs along the Thracian shores of the Bosphorus and the Marmora, once studded with splendid villas and rich monasteries, only a few hamlets were left, clustering round some ancient church. The city itself, within its fourteen miles of encircling walls, had even in its greatest days been full of [10] parks and gardens, dividing the various quarters. But now many quarters had disappeared, and fields and orchards separated those that remained. The traveller Ibn Battuta in the mid-fourteenth century counted thirteen distinct townlets within the walls. To Gonzalez de Clavijo, in the first years of the fifteenth century, it was astounding that so huge a city should be so full of ruins; and Bertrandon de la Broquière a few years later was aghast at its emptiness. Pero Tafur in 1437 remarked on its sparse and poverty-stricken population. In many districts you would have thought that you were in the open countryside, with wild roses blooming in the hedgerows in spring and nightingales singing in the copses . . . .[6]

At the south-east end of the city the buildings of the old Imperial Palace were no longer habitable. The last Latin Emperor in his extremity . . . had stripped the lead off all the roofs and disposed of them for cash. Neither Michael Palaeologus nor any of his successors had ever had money enough to spare to restore them. . . .

. . . [19] To many Western historians it has seemed that the Byzantines in rejecting union were wantonly and obstinately committing suicide. The simple folk led by the monks were moved by a passionate loyalty to their creed, their liturgy, and their traditions, which they believed to be divinely ordained; it would be sin to desert them. It was a religious age. The Byzantines knew that this earthly life was only a prelude to the everlasting life to come. To buy material safety here below at the price of eternal salvation was not to be considered. There was, too, a streak of fatalism in them. If disaster was to befall them it would be God’s punishment for their sins. They were pessimists. In the damp, melancholy climate of the Bosphorus the natural gaiety of the Greeks was dimmed. Even in the great days of the Empire men had whispered of prophecies that it would not last for ever. It was well known that on stones throughout the city and in the books written by the sages of the past the list of emperors was written, and it was drawing to an end . . . .[7]

— Steven Runciman (1965), The Fall of Constantinople, 1453, pp. 4-6; 9-10; 19.

  1. [1]Ostrogorsky, op. cit. [History of the Byzantine State (trans. Hussey)] pp. 476-84.
  2. [2]For Palaeologan art see Beckwith, The Art of Constantinople, pp. 134 ff.
  3. [3]Gregoras, op. cit. [Nicephoras Gregoras, Romaike Historia, Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae] II, pp. 788-9.
  4. [4]For Metochites and the intellectual life of his time, see Beck Theodoros Metochites, passim
  5. [5]Schneider, Die Bevölkerung Konstantinopels im XV Jahrhundert, Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Phil.-Hist. Klasse, 1949, pp. 233-44.
  6. [6]Ibn Battuta, Voyages, ed. Defremery & Sanguinetti, II, pp. 431-2; Gonzales de Clavijo, Diary, trans. Le Strange, pp. 88-90; Bertrandon de la Broquière, Voyage d’Outremer, ed. Schéfer, p. 153; Pero Tafur, Travels, trans. Letts, pp. 142-6. Gennadius, himself a Constantinopolitan, calls the city poverty-stricken and for the most part uninhabited; Oeuvres Complètes de Gennade Scholarios, ed. Petit and others, I, p.287, and IV, p. 405.
  7. [7]See Diehl, De quelques croyances byzantines sur la fin de Constantinople, B.Z., xxx; Vasiliev; Medieval Ideas of the end of the World, Byzantion XVI, 2, pp. 462-502. Gill, op. cit. p. 378, believes that Gennadius and his friends considered the end of the world to be coming. I think that he takes too literally their genuine fatalistic conviction that the reign of anti-Christ, by which they meant the Sultan, was inevitable.

20 Years of Piratical Reportage

Shared Article from Reason.com

Walking the Delicate Line Between Reporter and Activist

Telling a century's worth of stories about the people who had done creative things on the radio dial—and their opponents

Jesse Walker @ reason.com

US Officials Defend Deportation of Thousands: The Biden Government’s Massive Show of Force Against Haitian migrants, Del Rio, Texas

Photograph from Associated Press, 20 September 2021

Shared Article from Spokesman.com

U.S. launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas

The U.S. is flying Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland and blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massi…


US launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas

DEL RIO, Texas — The U.S. is flying Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland and blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massive show of force that signals the beginning of what could be one of America’s swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades. . . . In all, U.S. authorities moved to expel many of the more than 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Mexico also said it would deport Haitian migrants, and began busing them from Ciudad Acuña Sunday evening, according to Luis Angel Urraza, president of the local chamber of commerce. . . .

. . . When the border was closed Sunday, the migrants initially found other ways to cross nearby until they were confronted by federal and state law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants still crossing the river into the U.S. about 1.5 miles east of the previous spot, but they were eventually stopped by Border Patrol agents on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials.

. . . The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.

— Juan A. Lozano, Eric Gay, Elliot Spagat and Evens Sanon, US launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas
Associated Press, 20 September 2021.

Shared Article from AP NEWS

US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from an encampment at a Texas border town , U.S.


US officials defend deportation of Haitians from Texas town

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from an encampment at a Texas border town, U.S. officials said Monday as they defended a strong response that included immediately deporting migrants to their impoverished Caribbean country and using horse patrols to stop them from entering the town.

. . . Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would look into agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips and their horses to push back migrants at the river between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants remain camped around a bridge.

Both officials said they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the widely seen photos and video. Mayorkas said agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses. Ortiz, the former chief of the Del Rio sector, said it can be confusing to distinguish between migrants and smugglers as people moved back and forth near the river. The chief said he would investigate to make sure there was no unacceptable actions by the agents.

Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the Coast Guard, have been brought to Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio. He said he has asked the Defense Department for help in what may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades.

. . . We’re achieving our goals; we’re getting there and getting to a point where we can manage the population here, said Ortiz, who blamed the surge on smugglers who spread misinformation. We are already seeing a quickly diminished (population) and will continue to see that over the coming days.

— Juan A. Lozano, Eric Gay, Elliot Spagat and Evens Sanon, US officials defend deportation of Haitians from Texas Town
Associated Press, 20 September 2021.

I don’t have anything clever to say today about this quote, unquote, massive show of force. It is no surprise seeing this come from the present government’s border patrol. But it is appalling, and it is shameful. And of course it is unacceptable. It’s not unacceptable because of the horses or the reins or any particular act of thuggish behavior. It is unacceptable because the policy is unacceptable, appalling and shameful because the politics are appalling and shameful, precisely because the border patrol just carried out one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades, and because, having done so, they can truthfully say quote, unquote, We’re achieving our goals; we’re getting there and getting to a point where we can manage the population here. The goals that this government is achieving are despicable. The means that it is employing to achieve them are deplorable. There is no nation on Earth that is worth treating people like this, let alone treating thousands of desperate people like this when they seek nothing but to be left free to go in peace. The authorities say that they have to do this for humanitarian reasons, because there are far too many people penned up in far too little space in a pair of little border towns that cannot support them. This is the most maddening sort of upside-down political logic; of course it is only because of the armed force of this population-managing Progressive President’s paramilitary border patrol that anyone was camped out in Del Rio or Ciudad Acuña, rather than traveling peacefully through the rest of the United States, which unquestionably has more than enough room for them to find accommodations. But we have the vile, sick joke of wringing hands and professing this agonized concern from the very people who have spent all this time standing in their way to keep them penned up in squalid and dangerous open-air camps, and then charging them to force them back, and then rounding them up to send thousands of peaceful people back into the very places that they have made every effort to escape. To hell with that, and to hell with the politics and politicians who do that. There is no politic, no policy, no party, no goal or goddam Strong Response that could justify or excuse it. There is no national border more important than a single human life, no national policy that can defend deporting even one innocent traveler, let alone treating thousands of travelers as cruelly as this.

Two Libertarians and a Mutualist Walk Into A Bar, and the Bartender Says “Sorry Mac, Sunday Sales are Prohibited!” (Three New Items in the Fair Use Repository)

Here’s a small brace of new items that I’ve added just now to Fair Use Repository. They are hypertext transcriptions based on material that I read and copied, with gratitude and thanks, during a research trip some years back to the Labadie Collection in the University of Michigan Libraries.

Read, cite and enjoy!

The Police Beat, 20th Anniversary Edition: “The tools developed in the aftermath of the attacks proved to be useful in fighting street crime, too.”

When political people talk about giving broad new powers to police, regulators or government spies — especially when political people talk about allowing them extraordinary powers to conduct surveillance, to use information gathered from surveillance, and to detain, interrogate or arrest people based on extraordinary surveillance — they almost always use insidiously banal phrases to suggest that such powers are no big deal, just common sense, and also vitally necessary to essential social benefits. One of the worst is to say something like, giving law enforcement the tools they need to fight terrorism (or dangerous extremism, or organized crime, or just crime in general, or…).[1] The problem is that state powers are not like tools. They aren’t something that you could keep on a belt or put in your hand, or that you could just hand over as-is to some carpenter who will wield them on your behalf. They aren’t things at all; they are processes and permission structures.

Police powers are political powers, and political powers aren’t like a hammer that you aim and swing; they are more like a fire that you set. Whatever you had in mind when you set it, they don’t just have some one-off target; they have dynamic, evolving effects, which operate according to hard-to-control, self-feeding and destructive dynamics that are damned hard to contain and terrible when allowed to burn unchecked.

One of the most obvious examples has been the way that many big-city police departments — including publicity-sensitive, diversity-conscious police departments in big cities that are overwhelmingly liberal and governed by the most Progressive of Progressive Democrats — have absorbed massive, sweeping and invasive surveillance powers that were supposedly justified by the alleged needs of counter-terrorism, and modeled on the powers sought and used by armed forces and intelligence services in times of war, as for example after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

For 20 years now, these powers have been politically and technologically expanded, augmented, honed and subsidized. And they have been turned to an ever-expanding, open-ended, infinitely generative range of strategic and tactical purposes — against street gangs, against the drug trade, against routine street crime, against extremist beliefs, against religious minorities, against political protest, …. The war policies that provided the rationale for introducing these extraordinary powers have long since shifted, dialed down, or ended. The environment of threats and security priorities that these extraordinary counter-terrorism powers were supposedly introduced to combat has evolved as that has happened, to the point that 20 years on there is effectively almost nothing recognizable left of the stimulus, only the same, constant, endless police response, which lives on forever in an endless process of mission creep, finding rationale after rationale and application after application, no matter how much or how far or how long the world leaves the original mission behind.

Two decades after the attack on New York City, the Police Department is using counterterrorism tools and tactics to combat routine street crime.

. . . The Police Department has poured resources into expanding its surveillance capabilities. The department’s budget for intelligence and counterterrorism has more than quadrupled, spending more than $3 billion since 2006, and more through funding streams that are difficult to quantify, including federal grants and the secretive Police Foundation, a nonprofit that funnels money and equipment to the department from benefactors and donors.

Current and former police officials say the tools have been effective in thwarting dozens of would-be attacks. And the department has an obligation, they say, to repurpose its counterterrorism tools for everyday crime fighting.

— Ali Watkins, How the N.Y.P.D. Is Using Post-9/11 Tools on Everyday New Yorkers
New York Times, 8 September 2021

Shared Article from nytimes.com

How the N.Y.P.D. Is Using Post-9/11 Tools on Everyday New Yorker…

Two decades after the attack on New York City, the Police Department is using counterterrorism tools and tactics to combat routine street crime.


Meanwhile across the country:

The Los Angeles police department (LAPD) has directed its officers to collect the social media information of every civilian they interview, including individuals who are not arrested or accused of a crime, according to records shared with the Guardian.

. . . The copies of the cards obtained by the Brennan Center also revealed that police are instructed to ask civilians for their social security numbers and are advised to tell interviewees that “it must be provided” under federal law. Kathleen Kim, a Loyola law professor and immigrants’ rights expert, who previously served on the LA police commission, said she was not aware of any law requiring individuals to disclose social security numbers to local police.

. . . The extent of the LAPD’s Media Sonar use is unclear, but the company’s communications with the LAPD have raised questions. In one message, the firm said its services can be used to “stay on-top of drug/gang/weapon slang keywords and hashtags”. Levinson-Waldman said she feared the company or police would misinterpret “slang” or lack proper context on local groups and language, and she noted research showing that online threats made by gang-affiliated youth largely don’t escalate to violence.

— Sam Levin, Revaled: LAPD officers told to collect social media data on every civilian they stop
The Guardian, 8 September 2021.

Shared Article from the Guardian

Revealed: LAPD officers told to collect social media data on eve…

An internal police chief memo shows employees were directed to use ‘field interview cards’ which would then be reviewed

Sam Levin @ theguardian.com

The point, of course, is not that this is a reason to hand over sweeping extraordinary powers in a very narrowly limited context and then try to vigilantly constrain them to that original context (say, to genuine counterterrorism efforts) through some clever policy. Nor is it to hand over sweeping extraordinary powers and then hope that you can persuade the police to use them only against the right sort of targets (say, against international jihadists or right-wing extremists or whoever else you might think you want police to target). It’s a reason to oppose handing over sweeping extraordinary surveillance powers in the first place, at all. You can’t control it. It will burn you in the end. If not confronted and curtailed or rooted out, it will live on long after any and all of the supposed targets are long gone.

You can take the War out of the Forever, but you can’t take the Forever out of the War.

(Articles courtesy of Jesse Walker.)

  1. [1]Here is a fairly typical example, selected from a quick web search, which is so insidiously banal that it was printed in Newsweek: Latest Law-Enforcement Tools for Fighting Crime, 28 January 2009.
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