Wednesday, February 3
Monday, February 1
This was a funny article. About how hearing thunder can presage events.
So the fact that it's going to thunder in Scotland means some poor wealthy bloke will die? Heh.
But don't laugh. People still believe in astrology, numerology, palmistry, religion etc. You can fool some people all the time eh?
Have a lovely day son.
And don't forget to take the photographs!
If it Thunders in February...
If you hear thunder in February, it could mean bountiful crops are coming, or war and death will come down upon the wealthy. Here is your day-to-day guide on thunder from the sixth century.
Some superstitions from ancient times continued into the Middle Ages, including beliefs about astrology and how signs and portents could be observed in the natural world. One of those who wrote about these beliefs was John Lydus, a Byzantine administrator and scholar who lived in the sixth century. Like many, he initially doubted that the skies could predict the future, but his attitude changed when he saw for himself a 'horse-headed' comet in the sky in the year 540, which was followed by news that the Persians had invaded and destroyed the city of Antioch.
He would go on to write the book De Ostentis – On Celestial Signs, in which he offers the learning of the ancient world regarding portents, giving them a Christian viewpoint. He explains,
We are eager to speak about both solar and lunar obscurations, for thus the aforesaid call the defections of the luminaries caused by eclipses, both comets and their difference, both their trailings and dartings, both lightning flashes and thunderbolts, also other aerial wonders and finally manifestly earthquakes and conflagrations and the presaging therefrom, not so as to recount their natural causes or the speculations about them, for the particulars about these things clearly should be reserved for philosophers, but to learn perhaps beforehand how it is possible naturally from these celestial signs the occurrence of future events.
Lydus devoted a considerable part of his book to interpreting thunder, going so far as to note what will happen if people hear a thunderbolt on a particular day. Here is section on detailing what would happen over each day during the month of February:
February 1st – If it thunders, it threatens war and death of wealthy men.
If there is one period of history that fascinates all students of history, it's the Roman Empire and in particular the fight with Carthage. The Punic wars were great wars. Great military leaders fought on both sides. But even great military leadership in the form of Hannibal wasn't enough to save Carthage. And Rome went to war for plunder. What a pissant reason to go to war. But to war they did and then two great civilisations clashed and one was destroyed. The other was weakened a bit.
Son, if you get a chance to read Gibbon, do take it. Leaving aside the brilliant english, it's story of the Roman Empire is extraordinary. It is indeed a great book. There's a very good reason why that book was and is required reading for generations of Britishers. You cannot be called as cultured as long as you haven't read Aristotle, Seneca, Thucydides and people like Gibbon.
But this book set sounds brilliant. It's going to go on my wish list in Amazon even though I already have 3 various books on the punic war :)
Dexter Hoyos, Mastering the West: Rome and Carthage at War. Ancient warfare and civilization. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxi, 337. ISBN 9780199860104. $29.95.
Reviewed by Fred K. Drogula, Providence College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dexter Hoyos is a leading authority on ancient Carthage and its wars with Rome, and his numerous works have advanced our understanding of these subjects.1 In Mastering the West: Rome and Carthage at War, Hoyos takes up the daunting tasks of giving a detailed narrative of the three Punic Wars and their intervening periods, of analyzing the catalysts and motives driving critical events in these wars, of drawing attention to problems in our evidence, and of working through those problems to present the best reconstruction possible. Hoyos also asks several larger questions in his work, such as why the three Punic Wars (and related Macedonian Wars) began, how Carthage and Rome were able to sustain the immense costs of the wars, and why winning the wars did not leave Rome enfeebled. In all of these areas he has succeeded admirably, and has produced an engaging and highly readable work that will attract a wide readership.
The book is organized into four parts: the first introduces Rome and Carthage, and explains their respective military resources and early histories, while each of the remaining parts examines one of the three Punic Wars. The two periods separating the Punic Wars (241-218 and 201-149 BC) are covered in parts Two and Four, and Part Four ends with a section of general conclusions. A number of maps and plans of battles are included in the introduction, and the end matter includes an appendix on the sources, a detailed timeline, a glossary of special terms, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Part One consists of two chapters introducing Rome and Carthage from their respective foundations to 264 BC, with special attention given to describing and comparing their military practices and capacities. These chapters are detailed and yet concise, providing the general reader with all of the background information necessary to follow the main arguments of the book.
The first Punic War (264-241 BC) and its aftermath are covered in four chapters making up Part Two. Particular attention is given to examining the traditional causes given for the outbreak of the war. Rejecting the common position that the expansion of their respective spheres of influence made war between Rome and Carthage inevitable, Hoyos argues that neither side wished to attack the other in 264 BC, and that "the Punic Wars began almost out of the blue" (278). He believes Rome's invasion of Sicily in 264 BC was aimed specifically at Syracuse, and that war between Roman and Carthaginian forces only became unavoidable when the Roman army—seeking plunder—moved into Carthaginian-controlled western Sicily (30-40). Hoyos clearly lays out the stages of this twenty-three-year-war and provides a critical analysis of the actions taken by each side. He highlights mediocre commanders and decision-making on both sides, and he points out strange puzzles, such as why it took the Romans so long to build a significant battle fleet, and why Carthage often hesitated to capitalize on its major victories. Hoyos not only gives a clear narrative of the often awkward progress of this war, but he carefully links together the different stages and shifting strategies to give greater insight into the reasons why the war developed as it did. In his discussion of the first interwar period (241-218 BC), he draws special attention to Rome's seizure of Sardinia as an event that made long-term peace between the two states unlikely (76-7), and he gives a thorough analysis of the sack of Saguntum and its role (or lack thereof) in the outbreak of the Second Punic War (88-94).
Part Three treats the great Second Punic War (218-201 BC) in five chapters, which together comprise nearly half of the book. The chronological narrative of the war is told from both Roman and Carthaginian perspectives, and provides critical discussions of important points throughout, which will give even experts on the period much to consider. For example, Hoyos gives lengthy attention to the effectiveness of the Roman armies in opposing Hannibal during the years after the Battle of Cannae, showing that Hannibal's fatal problem was his inability to protect those Italian cities that joined him (132ff. 145, 186, 189-90). Hoyos also returns several times to the inexplicable delay of Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal in bringing reinforcements from Spain, which could have turned the tide for Hannibal (115, 145, 151, 154, 170, 179, 196, 223). The military genius of P. Cornelius Scipio (Africanus) and the tactical abilities of his soldiers are emphasized as critical Roman innovations (172-83), and the complicated chronology of the peace negotiations before the Battle of Zama is well analyzed (204-14). Hoyos is careful with his sources, and draws attention to many inaccuracies and problems, including erroneous legends about Hannibal's crossing of the Alps (105-7), errors in Livy's version of Hannibal's treaty with Philip of Macedon (135), problematic chronology in the invasion of Spain under the Scipio brothers (165-71), and he points out that the climactic Battle of Zama was not actually fought at Zama (213). The final chapter of Part Three ends with an assessment of the Second Punic War, in which Hoyos points out that the two sides were fairly matched at the start of the war, and therefore neither side was preordained to win (221-2). He identifies Hannibal's chief error as the miscalculation that "a sequence of heavy defeats would be enough to overturn Italians' support for their hegemon and compel the Romans to peace on Punic terms" (222), although he also points to a number of second-rate Carthaginian generals and a number of mistakes made by Hannibal himself (222-3). Rome is also credited with a number of errors, in particular calling off the planned invasion of Africa in 218 BC, but the appointment of Scipio Africanus to the Spanish command in 210 BC and the Roman victory in the Battle of Metaurus in 207 BC are noted as critical events that tilted Rome towards victory (224-5).
Part Four treats the interwar period from 201-149 BC and the Third Punic War in two chapters, with a final section for general conclusions. Hoyos starts by laying out the rapid expansion of Rome's empire in the second century BC, and explains the complicated dynamics between Carthage and King Masinissa of Numidia during this interwar period. He points out that Rome protected Carthage from its aggressive neighbor for over three decades, but around 162 BC this changed as Rome—fearful or resentful at Carthage's financial recovery—began allowing Masinissa to seize Carthaginian territory. The war itself (149-146 BC) is explained in detail, emphasizing Rome's initial over-confidence, the problems with its siege of Carthage, and finally its victory under Scipio Aemilianus. Hoyos includes a lengthy analysis of the causes for this third war, discussing the motives provided by ancient and modern sources (270-6). He concludes that—in spite of Cato the Elder's statements to the contrary—no Roman could have believed that Carthage's recovery was a serious threat to Rome's empire, so the war was more likely motivated by greed for plunder, although he notes that Rome did not extract as much profit from its victory as it could have done (273). In his final conclusions, Hoyos notes that Rome and Carthage were both heavily influenced by Greek culture, raising the question of whether western civilization would have been substantially different if Carthage had been the victor in the Punic Wars (297).
On the whole, Mastering the West offers a great deal to its readers. It is a careful narrative of the Punic Wars, and Hoyos' expertise in Carthaginian history enables him to approach the topic from a perspective that is sympathetic to both Carthage and Rome. This makes his account much fuller and richer, as he is able to identify and correct errors about Carthaginian government made by ancient authors (e.g. 61, 219, 223-4, 238-42, 249-50). He critiques both sides equally, and points out when ancient sources tried to whitewash Roman mistakes or immoral actions. For example, he points to Rome's unjust seizure of Sardinia in 237 BC as killing any chance that Rome and Carthage could co-exist peacefully (76-7); he notes that the deaths of the two Scipio brothers in Spain and the destruction of their armies in 211 BC was caused by their own overconfidence (170); he argues that Scipio (Africanus)—not Hannibal—was responsible for breaking the peace treaty that Rome and Carthage had agreed to shortly before the Battle of Zama (211); and he emphasizes that Cato the Elder lied about the danger posed by Carthage in order to incite war (251 and 271). He is equally unsparing of the Carthaginians, many of whose leaders receive blistering criticism for their errors or inaction—he suggests that Hannibal's "once-sharp military skills seemingly lost their edge" after the Battle of Cannae (222), and Bomilcar is dubbed "Carthage's worst admiral in history" (162).
Hoyos also takes the time to explore interesting tangential questions that greatly enrich the book, such as occasionally pausing his narrative to discuss important problems of topography and place names, and to correct mistakes of geography in the accounts of ancient authors. Similarly, he explains how the Romans used specially marked timbers to mass-produce their first fleet starting in 261 BC (41); he argues that—contrary to romantic tradition—Masinissa was probably willing to sacrifice his new wife Sophoniba to protect his alliance with Rome (206); and he even explains the origins of the erroneous tradition that Scipio Aemilianus sprinkled salt on the ruins on Carthage in 146 BC (269). Hoyos manages gaps and conflicts in the evidence well, positing likely solutions when possible, but also noting when we lack sufficient information to draw conclusions.
The book itself is well produced, is virtually free from typos or other errors, and is written in a lively style that will engage both the general reader and the expert. The use of endnotes is kept to a minimum, but the book itself is well researched and the notes are useful.
Mastering the West offers its readers the fruits of Hoyos' expertise in both Carthaginian and Roman cultures. With sympathy and criticism for both sides, he skillfully leads his reader through the complex history of the Punic Wars, reaching beyond the maneuvering of armies to explore the motives, catalysts, and decision-making that lay between the battles. This will certainly become a fundamental text for studying both the Roman Republic and Carthage.Notes:
1. His books include: Unplanned Wars: The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars, (Berlin and New York 1998), Hannibal's Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean, 247-183 BC, (London and New York 2003), Truceless War: Carthage's Fight for Survival, 241 to 237 BC, (Leiden and Boston 2007), The Carthaginians, (London and New York 2010), and he is the editor for Oxford's A Companion to the Punic Wars, (Malden [MA], Oxford and Chichester 2011) and Brill's A Companion to Roman Imperialism, (Leiden and Boston 2013).
This is one of my biggest regrets kids. That I wasn't able to go check out Mecca. Or even Medina whilst I was in Saudi Arabia in the 90's.
And now, the Wahhabis and Saudis have torn down all the history and have made a sodding shopping mall over the bloody haram e sharif. So not really sure if it's worth going there any more but hey ho.
This article was a good reminder of how we had to take care of so many things when we ran the empire (utterly shambolic if you ask me) but there you go. We were the biggest Muslim power early in the last century and this mess was something for us to manage. Go figure.
Another reason why a government shouldn't get entangled with religion. You want to do stupid things in the name of religion, go do it as long as you don't muck up others. I am now hearing that some Muslim MPs want to introduce sharia law in the uk. Can you imagine trying to run an English society based upon that crappy medieval laws of jurisprudence? But hey ho. They should allow it. Like that they have done with the Jewish courts. But with one overriding rule. It cannot violate the universal declaration of human rights and there cannot be two laws. The common secular laws must rule supreme.
It was lovely speaking to you son. Missing you.
Package tour to Mecca? How the Hajj became an essential part of the British calendar
This week, millions of Muslims make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj. A new study reveals how, in the age of Empire, the spiritual journey became a major feature of British imperial culture, attracting the interest of Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and others – and resulting in one of the earliest Thomas Cook package tours.
Britain ended up facilitating the pilgrimage in an ultimately futile attempt to gain legitimacy among its Muslim subjects. Inadvertently, it ended up acting like a Muslim power.
Modern customers are more likely to book
Friday, January 29
When a tiny group of people in southern Philippines kicked Spanish, American, Japanese and Filipino butt for centuries
this is a photograph of American soldiers at the massacre of hundreds of Moro civilians and soldiers, including very large number of women and children in the early part of last century.
Surprisingly, I learnt that the Americans asked for the help from the last Caliph in Turkey to help manage the insurrection. Like what the Americans did in Afghanistan, asked for help from Saudi Arabia and then Saudi's went and killed thousands in Afghanistan and also in 9/11. People who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. And we are still sucking up to the Saudi's. We dont learn do we?
but they are still fighting for their independence, these Moro's have tenacity. you have to give them that.
Wednesday, January 27
This book review made me blink and reconsider the dominant narrative that the west has always been smarter at weapons. Not so when you consider some of the times that China has been good.
Today I was reading the guardian son and found that the uk is selling huge quantities of arms and planes and ammo and advice to the Saudis who are using them to break the laws of war and expected human rights in Yemen. I'm just sad that we are now associated with that dreadful regime. All that brainpower and it's going into doing shitty things like killing people.
Sad. Very sad.
Hate war! Such a waste of talent people and money. And nobody remembers after a few years. Who remembers the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan? Nobody. Bah.
The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History
The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History by Tonio Andrade (Princeton University Press, 2016).
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa
Cross-posted from Asian Review of Books
Tonio Andrade, a professor at Emory University, has written a well-researched, balanced, and comparative history of military innovation in Asia and the West in which he challenges the traditional notion—set forth most compellingly by Victor Davis Hanson in Carnage and Culture and Niall Ferguson in Civilization—that Western culture largely explains Western global predominance in the post-medieval world.
I recently saw this painting last Friday at the Tate Britain at the artist and empire exhibition, son. And I kept looking at it. It's an extraordinary painting not least because the painter has captured the Royal imperial state of all the three girls but also the hugely expensive and rich golden ornaments. I was quite taken by the girls.
But then I read the background to the painting and it was even more interesting. Smallpox is a terrible terrible disease son. It used to kill indiscriminately across vast swathes of the world and those it soared, it would disfigured them horrendously. Look up the wiki entry for smallpox and you'll see why it's such a terrible disease.
So it was good to read that the Brits actually tried to do something about smallpox. And these girls were obviously brave to sit for the painting as well as take the vaccination. Bravo!
Hope you're enjoying yourself son.
1741-1824 | lot | Sotheby's
Details & Cataloguing
124 by 100 cm., 48¾ by 39¼ in.
ProvenanceAlfred Davey, Bedford, his sale in these rooms, 29th January 1930, lot 58 (as by Zoffany) bt. by the father of the present owner
Victorian and Albert Museum, India Observed, India as viewed by British Artists1760-1860, 1982, no. 22;
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, In the Public Eye, 1991, no. 95, fig.1
Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture, 1770-1825, 1979, p. 204, plate 126;
Nigel Chancellor, 'A Picture of Health: The Dilemma of Gender and Status in the Iconography of Empire', Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 35, 2001, pp. 769-782
This important portrait showing three Royal women from the Court of Mysore in Southern India was painted by Thomas Hickey in circa. 1805. Not only is it one of the finest portraits of an Indian subject by a Western artist during the period of British rule, but it also shows a remarkable understanding of the sitters and of classical Indian symbolism.
Hickey was unusual amongst the British artists who went to India to find work in that he can almost be said to have adopted India as his own country. His initial attempt to reach Calcutta failed as his vessel was captured in August 1780 by the French and Spanish fleets. Hickey made the best of his predicament by settling for a few years in Lisbon, where he found plenty of demand for his work as a portrait painter. His namesake, William Hickey noted that he 'had painted most of the English ladies and gentlemen and was then engaged upon the portraits of several Portuguese of rank'. Notable amongst his sitters was the Bengal Court Servant, John George Livius, who was painted in 1782 on his way back from India. Hickey finally reached Calcutta in 1784.
His neatly painted, small scale portraits of British officers soon proved popular, but particularly notable was Hickey's extraordinary ability to paint native sitters with particular sympathy and understanding. In Laurence Sullivan and his ayah of c. 1785 (Henderson Collection), the beautiful young Ayah is painted with particular subtlety, and the Indian Lady of 1787 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) probably depicts Jemdanee, the bibi of his friend, William Hickey, who is shown to be a woman of rare beauty. Most of Hickey's final years in India were spent in Madras and the first important work which he did there was to paint a series of portraits of Indian princes and courtiers, including Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the young Raja of Mysore and the wiley Purniya, his Brahmin chief minister. In 1804 Hickey submitted a memorandum suggesting that he should be made 'historical portrait painter to the Hon. East India Company', apparently in response to a wish by the company that information he provided by the various Presidencies to assist with 'a general History of the British affairs in the East Indies'.
It is in this context that Hickey painted this masterpiece. When it was first acquired in 1930 the sitters were described as 'India Princesses' and the picture was said to have been painted by Zoffany, undoubtedly the most celebrated of the Western artists who settled in India to ply their trade. In her important book on India and British Portraiture published in 1979, Dr Mildred Archer correctly reattributed the portrait to Hickey and suggested that the rich jewellery and the composition of this intimate portrait meant that they were 'either temple dancing-girls or experienced courtesans'.
In 1999 the portrait was lent to a loan exhibition at the FitzWilliam Museum in Cambridge where it was seen by Dr Nigel Chancellor who published in 2001 some interesting and thought-provoking theories about the portrait which makes it clear that it has considerably greater significance than had first appeared.
Dr Chancellor pointed out that the assumption that three such ladies with such sumptuous jewellery and such apparent self confidence had to be courtesans was a common, conventional European assessment. Portraits of well born ladies were understandably rare as most would be married and thus confined to purdah, and there would certainly have been a resistance to showing such women as wives from a polygamous society. However the lack of a temple and the failure of the artist to depict the sitter's lower limbs and feet made the idea that they were 'temple dancing girls' highly unlikely – Tilly Kettle's well known picture of An Indian Dancing Girl with a Hookah was an altogether different subject. The opulent jewellery on closer inspection led away from the idea that the ladies were courtesans. The heavy gold sleeve bangles were, as Dr Chancellor points out, one of the defining emblems for women of the Arasu royal clan, and the splendid head-dresses with their distinctive triangular patta on the foreheads established the women as pattaranis or queens who have been crowned as wives of a Raja. The woman on the right of the group is shown with prominent crescent moons on one side of the central band of her head-dress, a reference to the mythical origins of the Mysore Wadiyars (the ancient Hindu dynasty recently restored to power by the British). Dr Chancellor concludes that the portrait probably includes two Mysorean queens, the lady on the left being Rani Devajammani, the Raja's senior wife, and the lady on the right Devajammani of Lakshmivilas Sannidhana, the junior queen who was close in age to the young Raja. The more relaxed lady in the centre resembles Hickey's portrait of the young Raja mentioned earlier and is probably one of the Raja's royal sisters.
The existence of such a rare portrait is explained by the arrival in India at the beginning of the century of the first vaccines against smallpox. Lord William Bentinck, governor of Madras, was anxious to promote its benefits and Mark Wilkes, Resident at the Court of Mysore, was instructed to do all he could to persuade people of its benefits. He was supported by the Raja's minister, Purnaiya (whom Hickey had painted) and most importantly, by Rami Lakshmi Ammani, queen of the old Wadiyar ruler of Mysore and grandmother of the Raja's senior queen. As her husband had died of smallpox she was particularly keen to support vaccination. All this coincided with the betrothal of the young Devajammani, a girl without the dreaded disease, to the young Raja. Her willingness to have the new vaccine was announced in Madras in July 1806. In Hickey's portrait not only is she shown in a white sari with a beautiful unblemished complexion, but she is holding her sari to present her left arm and the sleeve of her bodice indication where the vaccine would be performed, something which a European doctor could do without compromising the modesty of an Indian woman.
Now Important British Paintings
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
124 by 100 cm., 48¾ by 39¼ in.
This painting would appear to be in generally very good condition. The canvas has been lined. However, there are no apparent tears or damages, and the work would appear to be in good structural condition. There is some craquelure to the paint surface, but this is characteristic for a painting of this age. There is some good remaining impasto on the sitters' jewellery. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals a thick varnish which obscures a clear reading. However, there would appear to be some evidence of a couple of minor areas of retouching in the lower right hand corner of the composition, as well as some retouchings to the edges of the canvas. There is evidence of some older retouchings in the sitters' costumes, but the varnish layer is uneven and hard to penetrate. Held in a plaster gilt and wood frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
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Wednesday, January 20
I was feeling so proud when you were talking to me about the Rhodes must fall debate. I'm so impressed that you are able to see both sides of the argument and debate cogently. That's not an easy position to be in. One definition of intelligence is that you're able to hold two mutually contradictory opinions in your head simultaneously. We used to JAM in school. When we had to argue one side of the position one time and then in the next minute argue the reverse. Quite discombobulating but ferociously fun. Won some prizes as well at this.
But there is a different problem. See your abilities were honed at school and at home where you were encouraged and motivated and yes scolded sometimes. Look at what our neighbours across the channel are facing. There's no surprise or feeling of happiness. We have to be concerned about all. Because if their kids are growing up differently then we all have problems. We are all on the same planet.
As you know I'm now going to work with kcl on their strategy. It's such a complex beastie son. So many factors. Simply no easy answers on how to fix universities. We cannot have command and control systems any more son. The system is too big and complex. We have to reduce it down to the base. It's something that universities will struggle with.
Anyway read the article. It's shocking somewhat despite the obviously journalistic gloss put on this.
I so wanted to hug you :) proud of you son.
Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system - The Local
Updated: 31 Aug 2015 20:16 GMT+02:00
As pupils head back to the classroom this week, Peter Gumbel, a Paris-based British journalist and author of a best-selling critique of the French school system, spells out for The Local how France must fix a national education system in crisis.
French schools, once the pride of the nation, are in crisis. Today one in four pupils fails to complete his or her secondary education successfully, according to official statistics. The number of students who struggle with basic reading, writing and maths has grown rapidly in the past 15 years. At the same time, the social inequalities of the system have increased to the point where the gap between the performance of children from well-off families and poor ones is now one of the biggest in the world, larger than in all other Western European countries or the United States.
While there is much agonizing about what has gone wrong, actually trying to fix the system is much harder. Most efforts to introduce reform tend to set off a political storm, and so far the relatively modest changes that have been introduced have failed to reverse the decline.
Here's what needs to be done:
1. Train teachers to teach
This may sound really obvious as a solution, but so far the French haven't cottoned on to it. French teachers are selected almost entirely on their knowledge of the subjects they will be teaching, and whether they will be any good in a classroom is neither here nor there. Teacher training colleges have such a bad reputation that they were shut down entirely by former President Sarkozy. Under President Hollande they have reopened, but it's not obvious that they are doing a better job.
Unlike in many other countries, teachers in France don't learn about how to manage a classroom with differing levels of ability. They certainly aren't trained to spot and help kids with learning difficulties. If the French school crisis is to be overcome, an essential starting point is to give teachers as much practical experience as possible before they're allowed into classrooms.
2. Stop being horrible to the kids
For foreigners, one of the most striking aspects of the French school system is its sheer nastiness. Nursery schools are where you learn to sit down and shut up. Being creative is frowned upon. Making mistakes is unforgivable. The notion of positive reinforcement—that children will do better if they are encouraged—is long-established elsewhere but seems largely unknown here. Of course there are exceptions: some teachers are nurturing and very good.
But the pitiless nature of French schools is baked into the system. For example, a preferred course of action for children who are having trouble keeping up is to make them repeat the year. On average, 28 percent of French schoolchildren have to repeat at least one grade during their schooling. That's more than double the international average of 12 percent calculated by the OECD. There is a mass of scientific evidence, both in and outside France, that "redoublement"just demoralizes the pupils who are held back and doesn't help them.
3. Encourage progress and success
Again, this sounds blindingly obvious, but in France there are very few mechanisms for encouraging progress and success—and lots of ways to discourage them. Pupils are rarely sent to the school director to be congratulated; they only go to be punished. Graduation ceremonies are only held in a few private schools in France, mainly the international ones. Everywhere else, pupils customarily celebrate the end of their schooling by trashing their classroom.
The marking system out of 20 is an egregious offender. It's very hard, if not impossible, to get 20 out of 20 in most subjects—but very easy to get below 10, which is a failing grade. The biggest problem is that there are no incentives to improve. If you get a comfortable passing grade of say 13, and know that you'll never do better than 16, why bother to even try? For the baccalauréat, there's no selection on entry to get into French universities, so it makes no difference how well you do as long as you pass.
4. Turn school into a community
One of the most striking differences between schools in France and in the rest of the world is the lack of identification among pupils with the institution where they spend so much of their youth. PISA studies of 15 year olds in more than 60 countries ask pupils whether they "feel like they belong at school", or whether they feel like outsiders. On average in the 34-country OECD (which is much of Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan) about 81 percent of pupils say they feel they belong. In France, that figure is just 47 percent—by far the lowest.
The question of why the French are such exceptions has exercised sociologists, psychologists and education experts for years. Among the possible reasons: 1) Parents are almost completely shut out of school in France. They simply aren't welcome and have a very minimal role compared with other countries. 2) School is all about learning, to the exclusion of other activities. Sports teams are rare, extracurricular events and activities even rarer. So school is never a positive bonding experience. 3) Relations between teachers and pupils are on the whole worse in France than in many other countries, according to PISA data. (To understand why, see items 1 and 2 on this list).
5. Send the best teachers to the worst schools
For French policy-makers, the really worrisome part of the schools' crisis is the increasing failure and drop-out rates of pupils from poor areas, especially the banlieues on the edge of Paris, Marseille, Lille and other big cities. For three decades, the Education Ministry has experimented with "priority education zones" known in French by the acronym ZEP, which are allocated extra financial resources and are supposed to stop the rot, but have failed to do so.
The French should try a technique that has worked well elsewhere, including in Finland, Korea and China. This involves sending the best and most experienced teachers to the most difficult schools. Instead, under the centralized HR system run by the Ministry of Education, things are usually the other way round: the least experienced teachers, and quite often those who are just starting out, usually end up in these difficult schools.
6. End the highly-centralised micromanagement
The national education system is huge and highly centralized. With more than 1 million personnel, it's now bigger than the Russian Armed Forces—and it's run a bit like an army, in a rigid hierarchical manner that relies on command and control. Teachers are the grunts in the trenches who carry out orders, rather than respected professionals who are able to use their discretion and judgment. The curriculum, the timetable, the school hours, the allocation of finance and other resources and the decisions about which teachers should work in which schools are all decided by bureaucrats from the central authority, with the Minister of Education at its head.
The growing schools'crisis is powerful evidence that this structure needs a massive overhaul. In countries with more successful schools, the power is usually devolved to a regional, district or even more local level, where people on the ground who know the situation make key decisions, and then must account for the outcomes. In the current French system, there simply is no accountability. To start with, schools should be set up as more autonomous entities, with a director being able to pick a team of teachers and given freedom to make choices about the educational style and priorities.
For now this is extremely difficult in France; a school principal is more of a paper-shuffler than a leader, and has no authority over the teachers at the school. Moreover, if a school wants to hire a particular teacher, it needs an official exemption from current HR rules, which function on the basis of seniority.
7. Let a thousand schools bloom
Given the growing problems of the state system, parents are increasingly looking for alternatives. The main one is the network of private Catholic schools, which have about 2 million pupils, or 16 percent of the total. But the Catholic schools slavishly follow the national curriculum and have many of the same flaws as state schools. To find other methods, you really have to look quite hard.
There's a mini-boom of Montessori schools taking place, especially around Paris, and a few Waldorf ones here and there. In the past eight years, a network of new independent schools has started to take shape. But there's still nothing like the charter school movement in the US or the free schools in the UK and Sweden. All the "alternative"schools complain that they face immense bureaucratic obstacles, not least nasty visits from the national system's school inspectors who complain when these schools do things differently from the state ones.
Which is, of course, the whole point. As part of a bigger decentralization, these alternative schools should be encouraged. A good start would be to spin the Schools Inspectorate out of the Education Ministry, turning it into a separate agency (as is the case in the UK).
8. Make the curriculum more fun
School can be boring everywhere, but in France the boredom factor is massive. Even in primary school, the national programme leaves little room for fun and creativity. Take French classes. Especially for primary school children, there are lots of stimulating books that are begging to be read, poems to be written, speeches to be given or plays to be acted out. But you'll look in vain in the French curriculum for more than a tiny amount of creative writing, theatre or reading for pleasure. Reading tends to be a collective class exercise done largely to teach grammar.
Already from the age of eight, children spend hours of class time struggling to identify grammatical and linguistic structures, which they then must learn to call by the correct technical name. (In the classroom, this is known as learning the "nature and function of words"). That's all well and good for those who want to go on to study linguistics in later life, but it's horribly tedious and repetitive for most, and, at worst, can put them off reading for life.
Things get even worse in secondary school, where there are endless mathematical rules, historical dates, chemical formulas and parts of speech to be learned by heart. The French curriculum badly needs an overhaul to make it a little more playful and less dry. Google can take care of much of the rote stuff.
9. Recognize that children can struggle with learning
One of the most cruel failings of the French system is the plight of children with learning disorders. These can range from mild dyslexia to full-blown dyspraxia (which inhibits basic motor skills like writing), or ADHD. French teachers simply aren't trained to identify these difficulties or to know how to begin helping the children afflicted with them.
France has some of the world's best-known neuroscientists who are investigating the links between how the brain functions and educational performance, including Stanislas Dehaene at the Collège de France, but unless teachers read up about it by themselves, they are singularly uninformed about cognitive science.
The result is often a nightmare for pupils with these learning difficulties, and years of anxiety and stress for their parents. Even children who don't have such serious problems can sometimes struggle with a subject or a topic without getting adequate support. As part of a revamped teacher-training system it's essential that teachers learn about these issues. Some should be able to specialize, as happens in other countries such as Finland.
10. Pupils should give feedback to their teachers
Another anomaly of French education that emerges from PISA and other international surveys is the pupils'sense of not having a voice. This is the case in the classroom where, by international standards, a relatively large proportion of students complain their teachers are not interested in, and rarely solicit, their opinions.
The most striking statistic concerns the degree of pupil feedback about their teachers, their lessons and the resources at their schools. In the PISA 2012 survey, just over 60 percent of pupils on average in the 34 OECD countries gave such written feedback. In New Zealand, that proportion is a huge 96 percent but even in countries including Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK, the figure is over 70 percent. In France, it's just 13 percent, which puts the French way at the bottom of the list of 34 countries, and by a long way.
Students need to be able to voice their opinions, and be listened to, if the French education system is ever to get out of its crisis. Teachers shouldn't be scared of pupil feedback, but should take note of it to improve their methods and effectiveness.
Peter Gumbel, a Paris-based British journalist and author, published a best-selling critique of the French school system in 2010, called "They Shoot School Kids, Don't They." He has just published a sequel, "French School Without Tears"(in French: Ces écoles pas comme les autres), about alternatives to state schools.
You can also follow him on Twitter @petergumbel
Don't agree with Peter Gumbel's critique of French schools? Leave a comment below or join in the debate on our Facebook page.
Saturday, January 16
A boy was recently killed in USA. He was playing with a toy pistol which looks exactly like a real one. And somebody called the police. Who came in and almost immediately shot the boy. You can say the police are trigger happy. Or racist (the boy was black). But the question arises, where do you draw the line.
Think about another problem with age. You were able to join the army by 16. But you aren't allowed to vote. So you can kill for your country but you can't vote for your leaders. Bit inconsistent eh? So the Tories are bothered by not wanting the voting age for the brexit referendum to be reduced. Why? Stupid excuses.
Something to think about.
Targeting Child Soldiers
The phenomenon of child soldiers remains widespread, and their activities does include direct participation in hostilities. It is imperative that international humanitarian law provide guidance as to what opposing forces can do if they are confronted with that reality. In this piece, I suggest that there are elements in international humanitarian law that support adapting a child-specific approach to targeting. Under this approach, the fact that a potential target is a child should prima facie raise a doubt as to whether he or she is targetable. Although the doubt may be dissipated in light of available facts, overcoming the presumption of civilian status might require more than would be the case for an adult. In addition, even if a child is deemed targetable, the allowable means and methods must nevertheless reflect the protected status of children in international law.
Direct participation in hostilities for kids
The issue of targeting child soldiers raises two distinct legal questions: first, whether child soldiers are combatants like any other combatants and, second, if so whether the means used to target then follow the same rules as for adult combatants.
In order to discuss this, it is useful to consider two scenarios as ideal-type situations that give rise to the legal regulation of the targeting of child soldiers: a first scenario corresponds to a minor enrolled in the FARC rebels in Colombia, wearing a uniform, spotted by a government drone while having a nap against a tree, his gun lying next to him. A second scenario is one of a child wearing civilian clothes running towards government troops firing an AK 47 in the context of the civil war in Uganda. . In one case as in the other, can the government forces targets the child as if he or she were an adult?
Are these two child soldiers to be considered combatants under accepted principles of international humanitarian law? The starting points are articles 4(A) of the 1949 Third Geneva Convention and article 43 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, which provides for the definitional elements of what a combatant is under international humanitarian law, albeit overtly in the context of an international armed conflict. If a child is enrolled in the armed forces of a party to an international armed conflict, there seems to be no apparent basis in current international humanitarian law to characterize that child as anything other than as a combatant. For a non-international armed conflict, which would correspond to the situations in Uganda and Colombia that I provided as my two ideal-type scenarios, the legal concept of the combatant is contested. Article 1 of Protocol I defines the scope of application of the protocol as covering only conflicts between the states armed forces and "dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups", which implies that there is a legal concept of insurgent armed forces. Seeing this, it is possible that a child may be fully incorporated into the insurgent armed forces and, as such, be a 'regular' fighter on a footing prima facie equal to other armed participants in a non-international armed conflict. According to the ICRC Interpretive Guidance on Direct Participation in Hostilities, individuals who can be said to have a "continuous combat function" are not civilians in non-international armed conflict, and can therefore be targeted. There is nothing in the Interpretive Guidance that suggests that children cannot have a continuing combat function and, as a result, be combatants. In a short post, Frédéric Mégret suggests that children should be considered as non-combatant members of the armed forces and not targeted unless they are directly participating in hostilities, implying that there would be no continuous function possibility for children. The underlying assumption seems to be that, because of their age, children can never become combatant in the full sense of the concept. Somehow, that does not appear to square with the reality in the field in many armed conflicts in which, as with the West Side Boys unit in Liberia, children can become ruthless fighters on a strategic footing equal to adults. There may be space in international humanitarian law to reflect an imperative to treat child soldiers differently than adult ones, as I will suggest shortly, but not in the impossibility that a child may have a continuous combat function or, for that matter, be a member of the armed forces.
A somewhat different approach can be taken by inquiring whether a child is directly participating in hostilities. The standard is expressed as regards international armed conflicts in article 51(3) of Protocol I, and for non-international armed conflicts in Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Article 13 of Protocol II. According to the approach adopted by the ICRC in its Interpretive Guidance, individuals who do not have a continuous combat function are therefore to be seen as civilians that may temporarily lose their entitlement to protection against targeting. For individuals in this class, direct participation refers to a specific act that meets three distinct criteria: a threshold of harm, linked to the likely effect of the act on the enemy; direct causation, linking the civilian act to that harm; and a belligerent nexus, intentionally linking the act and harm to the conflict. According to this approach, an individual who is not a member of the armed forces or a fighter in an armed group remains a civilian entitled to protection against targeting, except for the time that this individual engages in acts that meet the three elements of direct participation as defined by the Interpretive Guidance. This 'revolving door' approach has been challenged by some as not flowing from accepted treaty and customary humanitarian law. Be that as it may, there is nothing in any of these elements that connects in a particular manner with children. This aligns with the 2015 US Law of War Manual which states that "whether a civilian is considered to be taking a direct part in hostilities does not depend on that person's age" (§220.127.116.11). Decisions of the International Criminal Court and Special Court for Sierra Leone on the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers have confirmed, in that context, that children can directly participate in hostilities, and indeed have adopted a broad approach to participation. Although these courts did not articulate any ensuing consequences as regard the targeting of such children, they would seem to logically follow. Indeed, the ICRC explicitly confirms this in the commentary to the Interpretive Guidance, finding that "Children below the recruitment age may lose protection against direct attack" (page 60).
It bears noting that the recruitment age cut-off referred to in the Interpretive Guidance is 15 years old, as provided in article 77(2) of Protocol I, article 4(3)(c) of Protocol II, and Rule 137 of the ICRC study on customary law. Indeed, the structure of article 77 of Protocol I mirrors the general approach to the targeting of child soldiers under international humanitarian law: a first paragraph proclaims a duty to respect and protect children in armed conflicts; a second paragraph declares a duty of the belligerents not to enroll or involve children in hostilities; and three further paragraphs specify special protection for children that have been detained after taking direct part in hostilities. Perhaps as a lingering remnants of the distinction between Hague and Geneva law, international humanitarian law elides entirely the middle phase in which the child is taking active part in hostilities.
It was suggested by the author of one volume on child soldiers that children are 'civilian by nature'. There seems to be no basis for such a view. Upon closer consideration of applicable law, it appears that children can be combatants in largely the same way that an adult can. I offer this qualified statement to suggest that despite the analysis offered up to now, there are elements in international humanitarian law that support adapting a child-specific approach to targeting. Article 50(1) of Protocol I provides that "[i]n case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian." It is not unreasonable to offer that, as regards the application of both the continuous combat function and 'revolving door' principles, the fact that the individual in question is a child should prima facie raise a doubt as to whether he or she is targetable. That doubt may be dissipated in light of facts available to those making a determination of the targetability of the child in question, but it requires that a presumption of civilian status be overcome, in a manner that would not obtain for an adult. For the three elements listed in the Interpretive Guidance as constituting direct participation, this presumption would imply that the threshold of harm, the direct causation, and the nexus to the conflict are not met unless the facts are sufficiently clear to overcome the presumption that a child is not directly participating. Likewise, a presumption in favour of the civilian character of children would structure the understanding of what is required for a child combatant to unambiguously opt out or withdraw from direct participation in hostilities, lowering the evidentiary threshold that corresponds to a conclusion that a child has regained a civilian status. For example, an adult fighter in uniform running away from battle may not be considered as unambiguously opting out of hostilities, as this could be a mere strategic fallback, but that same behaviour by a child fighter would meet a lower threshold.
In conclusion on this point, direct participation in hostilities for kids does not exclude the possibility that a child may be a combatant, either continuously or periodically, but the test is comparatively more restrictive than for adults as a reflection of the presumption that children are civilians.
Means and ends
The fact that a child soldier can be a combatant or a civilian taking direct part in hostilities implies that this child soldier can be directly targeted. The conclusion that it is lawful to directly target child soldiers does not necessarily entail that it is lawful to target them as if they were adult soldiers. Here again, the moral intuition that children remain children even if they take direct part in hostilities has an impact on applicable legal standards.
The starting point is the principle that, even in war, a belligerent's right to injure its enemy is not unlimited. More specifically, treaty and customary international law proscribe superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering (Art. 35, Protocol I). In a general manner, this is taken as a statement that the injury and suffering that is lawful under international humanitarian law is limited by what is necessary to achieve a military objective. As a foundational statement of the laws of war, this principle has acted as the basis for the specific prohibition of a number of weapons over the last century and a half, including the prohibition of dum-dum bullets, poison, blinding lasers, anti-personnel landmines, etc. But the principle is offered in Protocol I as a broad rule that is meant to have an effect on the lawfulness of means and methods of war generally, and not merely as a basis for a decision by states to regulate specific weapons by way of subsequent agreement. At its broadest, the norm against superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering calls for an appreciation of the necessary use of any means or methods of war in every case, to balance the military advantage against the injury and suffering caused in the operation. Authors likes Dinstein and Meyrowitz have challenged the suitability of a balancing approach in this context, arguing that the principle does not call to import here a balancing that is required only in relation to the impact of an attack on civilians. Still, this suggests that if available means and methods of warfare can achieve the same military advantage while causing a lesser degree of injury or suffering, then international humanitarian law requires that they be used. For example, if a military radar station must be disabled in order to prevent detection of a military operation, and this can be achieved either by kinetic means (bombing the station) or cyberwarfare (a virus attack to disable the computers running the radar), then the latter option must be selected. This finds some support in Art 52(2) of Protocol I which restricts military objectives to those the destruction of which brings a definite military advantage. What could be termed the 'most favoured weapons' doctrine can be extended even further, to suggest that if it is possible to wound instead of killing, or to capture instead of wounding (or killing), then that must be done. Whether international humanitarian law really confers upon belligerent a licence to kill enemy combatants, and whether the rules are different in international and non-international armed conflicts, has generated an intense debate (on 'capture or kill', see eg the contributions of Melzer, Hays Parks, Schmitt, Goodman, Kretzmer).
What I want to suggest is that, regardless of the validity of a general duty to use the least injurious means or method of warfare in any category of armed conflict, such a duty ought to obtain when directing an attack against child soldiers who qualify as combatants or as taking direct part in hostilities. It speaks to the moral intuition that, even in the context of war, the intentional targeting of children is a calamity. In law, it reflects the multiple norms in international humanitarian law and international human rights that demand special protection for children against harm. A duty to use the least injurious means or method of warfare against a child soldier can find some support in the French version of the prohibition of superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering, which speaks of maux superflus. As noted by several authors, the French is actually the original, taken from the 1868 St-Petersburg Declaration and later reproduced in the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations. The notion of maux superflus appears broader than its English translation, in that maux can be taken to refer not only to injury or suffering, but also to an evil; indeed, the idea of a mal superflu necessarily evokes its pendant, the mal nécessaire. In other words, war may be a necessary evil, but evils unnecessary for the pursuit of the legitimate aims of war (also defined in the St-Petersburg Declaration) are illegitimate. Returning to child soldiers, direct targeting can be considered permissible only to the extent that it is a necessary evil, meaning that no viable option can be identified and that there is a tangible military necessity for this attack, otherwise it violates the treaty and customary prohibition of superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering.
To go back to the two scenarios I sketched at the start, it seems quite clear that a child fighter with the LRA running towards government troops while firing an AK47 can be directly targeted using lethal force. It seems unlikely that there is another way to stop the attack that involves merely wounding or capturing a child soldier in this context. The second scenario of a drone spotting a FARC child soldier in uniform taking a nap, on the other hand, demands that the specific military advantage of targeting this child be clearly demonstrated and, if that can be done, that there is no available alternative that would be less harmful to this child while maintaining the military advantage.
The aim of this approach is to avoid the pitfalls of moralising idealism and ruthless instrumentalism, to reflect both the reality that child soldiers can sometimes present a direct and significant threat and the moral impulse to try to shield children from war as much as possible.