Travel


Welcome to Turkey, Land of the Imperial Cat

Welcome to Turkey, Land of the Imperial Cat

I’ve been in Istanbul for three days, and aside from getting tear-gassed on my first night in town it’s been a nice experience. The city is frustrating, however, and I’ve experienced a cavalcade of disasters (mostly of my own making), so as a balm for my frustrations here are three cute Turkish things I found while I was here.

  1. In the Grand Bazaar, a gallipoli-themed chess set. One side is the forces of the Ottoman empire, the other the invading allies – and the pawns are ANZAC diggers, unmistakable in their slouch hats. This is maybe just one of many examples in which Turks and Australians share a common political sense
  2. Nescafe! In a quite sophisticated restaurant today, two Germans came in and ordered coffee, and were asked “espresso or nescafe”? Many restaurants and cafes have nescafe on their menu, not necessarily for less than the espresso. I also noticed this in Greece, where it was even more pronounced – cafes would put up signs saying “We have NESCAFE!!” Why? What are these people thinking? Especially in Istanbul – the Starbucks below my hotel[1] tells me that Istanbul’s first coffee shop was established in the 17th century, and Wikipedia tells me that the Turkish word for breakfast means “before coffee”[3] – how can such a culture voluntarily serve Nescafe?!? This is like going to France and finding every bakery advertises croissants “made with pure margarine.” The only explanation I can think of that is not embarrassing for Turkish culture is that it represents the pernicious effect of British tourists on local cuisine.
  3. Mussels with lemon! All down the main street from Taksim square you can find men selling mussels from the shell, with lemon. These seem to be raw, though I can’t tell (the shell is closed so I guess they’re raw), and they’re on sale late at night. This means that when people come piling out of the local pubs and bars they suck down a few raw mussels with lemon. Which is particularly strange because Turkey is, obviously, the land of the kebab. While in the UK or Australia the kebab is the late-night drinker’s food of choice, here in Turkey kebabs are food and the late night drinker has a penchant for mussels with lemon. Truly, some cultural differences cannot be understood, and must simply be accepted.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my stay here and I can recommend Istanbul as a holiday destination. I also recommend coming for more than two days, get one of the museum passes (you can skip queues and save money if you push your museum visits within a 72 hour period), and don’t stay in Taksim – unless you want to get tear-gassed on your way out the door. Also, familiarize yourself with the transport network, it’s good, and if you like metal I recommend a visit to the metal bar in Taksim (can’t give the name or location, but it’s great and really friendly). I prefer Athens (Athens was great!) and the two seem to have a lot in common, generally, but others would no doubt disagree with me, but one thing is for certain: Turkey’s historic sites are more accessible and more impressive. And do visit the Blue Mosque, it’s awesome!

fn1: Starbucks in Istanbul is really good, incidentally. But it doesn’t serve baklava[2]

fn2: which is fine: I’m going to make myself unpopular here and state that Turkish baklava is no better than that you can find in London or Sydney; and furthermore, German beer is boring and over-rated.

fn3: what did they call breakfast before they invented coffee?

The Grounds and the Kaiji School

The Grounds and the Kaichi School

Yesterday I visited Matsumoto with my friend from London, Dr. M. We were unburdened by annoying Germans, and able to enjoy the full glories of this small town nestled in the foothills of the Japanese Alps. Matsumoto’s castle is a national treasure, as well as a deathtrap for elderly people, and like most castles in Japan more fun to view from the outside than from within. It gave some interesting insights into feudal life, including a wide selection of firearms and examples of the tribulations of daily life in Sengoku Japan. That was all fun, but Matsumoto’s real hidden gem is the Kaichi School, a museum about education in Japan that is located in the building of the old Kaichi Elementary school, next to the new Kaichi school. It seems strange to say that a museum about education and education policy can be fun (can you imagine anything more boring?) but it actually really was. I think for those of us who set our gaming worlds in the not-so-distant past, this kind of information is invaluable for creating a rich and believable fantasy setting, so I thought I’d describe a little of what I saw here. Plus, of course, we all went to school, so we can compare our own experiences with those of the children of two very different countries: the past, in Japan.

The Dragons and the Nameplate

The Dragons and the Nameplate

The Kaichi school is important in Japanese education policy because it was a leader in education policy at the time it was built, and it was one of the first schools built after the Meiji restoration. The Kaichi school was active in the Freedom and People’s Rights movement, and so important to that movement that the Emperor Meiji himself visited Matsumoto to try and calm the demands of that movement. He stayed in the school, which has a room dedicated to his memory. As a result of its role in education reform, the modern school museum is a repository of historical material on education reform in Japan. The school building is itself a very beautiful whitewashed building in a European style, with many Japanese touches – such as the dragons over the entrance and carved into doors in the interior. The old classrooms have been turned into exhibits, depicting education in Japan from the era of the samurai to the modern day.

A samurai child's schoolbook

A samurai child’s schoolbook

I was surprised to discover that education before the Meiji era was actually already quite universal, though not particularly good quality or equitable. Most education was carried out by temples, until the law in 1880 which made education mandatory for all children. Before then different children received different levels of education, with samurai receiving the most impressive while farmers simply learnt to count and write basic information. By 1880 about 90% of the population was in some kind of education and literacy rates were 45% for men and 15% for women. The museum had examples of the schoolbooks of the pre-Meiji era, and some woodcuts depicting children being educated; it also had photos from the late Meiji era, showing for example girls from poor families who were paid to work as baby-sitters, studying with their charges slung on their backs because their master was required to pay for their education. They learnt to write things like “Thank you master, it is due to your kindness that I am able to learn to read.” The museum had lots of photos of the school over time, and also woodcuts depicting education before that era. It also had a selection of documents from the opening of the school, showing what gifts were given. When the school was opened, they held a Shinto ceremony to sanctify it, and the local farmers and citizens donated rice, sake and fish (Bream) as gifts to the shrine and the school. The school opened in 1876 and universal education was mandated in 1880, so until then parents paid the teachers gifts of rice, fish and other farm products. Looking at these exhibits, one is reminded of how incredibly poor Japanese society was before 1873, and how incredibly rapidly it developed after the restoration.

Destroy!

Destroy!

Of course, Japan’s development in the modern era is bracketed by two extreme events, the Meiji restoration in 1873 and the Pacific War from 1931-1945. The museum spends a lot of time on the Meiji reforms but doesn’t shy away from the role of education in promoting and supporting war in the Pacific War. It has a room devoted to the Pacific war, in which it shows the activities of the school and its students during the war. The picture above is an example of what students learnt during that time. On the right of the lower picture are two caricatures of American and English soldiers (the American is smoking, and the Englishman looks suave); on the left of the (female?) soldier with the naginata the two kanji say gekimetsu, destruction. In the picture above this, a sad-looking man salutes under the caption “Young men going to the sky” (Japanese depictions of the war in the air often use this romantic language of the sky, rather than more technical language about “air war” or “aerial”, I don’t know why – maybe there’s a clue in the new Ghibli movie).
DCIM0087

The second to last room of the exhibition is a room full of different textbooks over time. This includes textboooks from the war and the immediate post-war period; the picture above shows a textbook from the war era, while the picture below shows a textbook from immediately after the war that has been censored to within an inch of its life. The textbook is open to a page that says the following:

Mr Soldier, please look at the words and pictures I draw

Please also show them to the children of Korea

When you capture new lands, please wave the flag of Japan and yell “banzai.”

Mr Soldier, please work hard and happily.

We visit the shrine to pray for you on the first day of every month

I guess the Japanese were too poor and there was too much policy chaos after the war to write new textbooks, but they couldn’t exactly deploy the war-era textbooks untouched, since they would have been full of the worst imperialist and racist tripe, and the kind of disturbing language used in the textbook above. But I can’t help thinking that this kind of heavy-handed censorship would merely encourage children of that era to investigate the “truth” about the war. (Which they would have to do – the Japanese explanation below indicates that in some cases 30% of the text book was censored!)

How is this helping Yamato kun learn?

How is this helping Yamato kun learn?

Of course life after the war changed a lot, and the next set of textbooks shows this: they are luminous, beautifully-written affairs. As far as I can tell the same age of children would be expected to read the textbook shown in the picture above and in the picture below. The text on the picture above is all about asking soldiers of Japan to struggle in war – it is supplicative and futile. The text in the rightmost book below simply states that “the sky glowed, the sea glowed, the roofs glowed” – it describes a pastoral idyll. Which is it better for children to learn?

A sudden change for the better ...

A sudden change for the better …

These installations really show how text books can vary rapidly across time, and how closely education policy supports and reflects national policy at any time. I guess if the education system had been allowed to continue in its chaotic private form after 1880, it would have been a lot harder for the government to exert a common propaganda line – though the counterfactual would likely have been little better, since by 1940 all arms of society had been sucked into the war economy and it is unlikely that the private educators would have been able to escape this trend to the glorification of war (not to mention that the state was basically seized by the army, who probably would not have tolerated freedom in educational curricula after 1931). I guess one of the downsides of a standardized curriculum that enables a country to go from post-feudal rural basket case to world power in 50 years is that it is vulnerable to misuse as a propaganda tool…

After its “textbooks through the ages” exhibition, the single biggest room in the school was devoted to a “desks through the ages” installation, shown in the picture below. The desk furthest at the right is from before the Meiji era and is called a 天神机, heavenly desk. It doesn’t look heavenly. Some of these desks were quite ornately made, though they looked rather uncomfortable. I think most nerdy types have spent a lot of our childhood crouched over a desk learning what makes the world tick – it’s interesting to see how people in a completely different time and place were doing it. Mostly worse, by the looks of things.

A desk! A desk! My empire for a desk!

A desk! A desk! My empire for a desk!

This picture also gives a sense of how beautiful the inside of this school is. I really recommend this little museum for a visit if you are in Matsumoto. The castle is also interesting, and the town as a whole is a pretty little place full of old buildings – it is apparently one of the few cities in Japan that has maintained its old buildings, and so riding around in it is a really pleasant experience. For foreigners visiting Japan it is an excellent side trip. It is 2.5 hours from Shinjuku, it is close to skiing, monkey onsens and highland walks, the town itself is pretty and it has an excellent website. There are many old warehouses in the town that have been converted into shops or restaurants, and it is very easy to get around. If you are looking for somewhere to stay I recommend the Dormy Inn – the staff are excellent, the breakfast delicious, and the onsen relaxing. If you go, try to spend at least two nights here so you can explore the surrounding countryside, the castle and at least one of the museums or galleries. And head to the 女鳥川 (a river whose English translation I don’t know) because there is a cute set of streets lining it that have really old buildings and interesting restaurants, overlooking the river. It’s a really nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, nestled equidistant between Tokyo and Osaka, with a lot of cultural information to keep you interested. And if you go there, visit the school!

[Updated late at night on 26th September to correct the spelling of Kaichi school (how dumb am I?) and to include the translation of a textbook page, which I checked with a friend].

Horses have never really liked me ... this one has just caught on.

Horses have never really liked me … this one has just caught on.

Last week I was invited by collaborators to attend the Nomaoi horse festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima. This festival dates back 1000 years, to the warring states (sengoku) period, and appears to have arisen from some kind of training ritual. It was cancelled in the year of the Great East Japan Earthquake but has otherwise been held every year, even during the war (as far as I know). It is a big event for the towns of Soma and Minamisoma, and I and other collaborators were invited as guests of our local project collaborator. He arranged us excellent seats for all the events, souvenirs and a formal dinner, so overall it was an excellent event. It’s a major tourism event for the town, but it’s also clearly of huge importance for the town itself, with (I think) this year 504 horses and riders participating, and probably an equal number of footmen.

Summoning the beasts

Summoning the beasts

The ceremony lasts three days, but I only saw the second day. This day starts with a parade through town by the samurai, all mounted on their horses and wearing their ceremonial armour. They are arranged in groups according to their sponsors: the most important sponsors are the three shrines that are the focus of the day, but other groups – suburbs, companies, etc. – can also sponsor a squad. The squads are arranged in the style of the armies of old, with a general, colonels, etc. Higher orders wear flags on their backs, and ride ornately decorated horses. They stop at regular intervals along the parade to announce their purpose, and occasional small dramas of military life are played out (with comedic overtones) during these moments.

A peasant's last sight

A peasant’s last sight

This parade is surprising for the amount of activity it involves – in addition to general’s conferences, there are occasionally lieutenants charging up and down the line, drummers announcing the arrival of a new squad, announcements of names and faces over a loud-speaker, and occasional tumbles – I saw one man thrown from his horse, and the people opposite me nearly got run down. The riders are all ages and sexes and all classes – I saw one of my collaborators (an internal surgeon) on horseback, followed soon after by a heavily made-up girl who would probably be judged to be pretty low-class by the locals (I’m not a good judge of these things). Very elderly men rode by on plodding draught horses, followed by children on ponies. The trappings were largely traditional, with the stirrups, saddles and girth all apparently modeled on the ancient fashion. We’ll come back to that …

After the parade we returned, with military precision, to our base camp for a 10 minute rest, and then headed to the racecourse. Here, the braver warriors gathered to race each other around a 1000m circuit as a huge crowd watched. This racecourse would also be the venue for the final battle, so I was to spend several hours here in our covered tent, enjoying my obento lunchbox and my free beer, and watching warriors try to kill themselves.

The battleground and warriors in transit

The battleground and warriors in transit

I say “kill themselves” because the races were incredibly dangerous. I watched 6 races, with 6 participants per race, and out of the 36 participants identified the following events:

  • 3 fallen riders
  • 2 hospitalized riders
  • 4 escaped horses
  • 1 injured horse

Fun for all the family! The riders fell because they were hurtling around a tight track on horses without proper stirrups, with massive flags strapped to their backs. The horse fell because it tripped over its rider. No one was wearing a helmet. This is the most dangerous festival I have ever seen in Japan, by a long shot, and with an injury rate of 1 per 12 participants would have to be one of the most injury-prone sports I have ever seen. It was at times quite hideous to watch.

Finally after the races were (mercifully) finished we got to enjoy the final battle. This battle is a mad scramble to catch flags falling from the sky, in which all the (surviving) samurai gather in the centre of the racecourse and charge after the flags. The flags are, of course, hurled aloft by fireworks, shot out of a kind of mortar, that explode with a huge roar high above the gathered horses. Standing on the hillside, I could look behind me to some of the resting horses and see how they panic when the fireworks cracked. Horses and fireworks mix so well, why not start a battle with a massive explosion? And then do it 10 times? The warriors compete for 40 flags, fired into the air over 10 bouts. I left after 4 bouts, and in that time I saw two warriors fall from their horses – and when they landed they were still wrestling over the flag they had caught. Now that’s commitment …

Capture the flag, samurai style

Capture the flag, samurai style

This festival is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining event, well worth taking the opportunity to view. It’s edgy, exciting and historical, and everyone gathered there is really involved. I strongly recommend, if you’re in Japan at the end of July, making a trip to Minamisoma to experience this unique Japanese event. Just don’t participate if you value your life!

 

Imagine our planet sends out a colony ship, to colonize some distant planet. It’s flying at near light speed, but the journey is still expected to take about 300 years; time dilation effects on the ship mean shipboard it’s only, say, 150 years – 5 or 6 generations. While the ship is speeding to its destination, development continues on earth, and about 100 years after launch they discover faster-than-light travel. By the time the colony ship reaches its destination the planet has already been colonized, populated, developed and matured. The colonists arrive to a huge party, to discover their mission was pointless.

If you were one of the middle-aged residents of that colony ship, would you be happy with the society that sent your great-grandparents out into the dark? You spent your entire youth and young adulthood in a tin can, for nothing except the promise that soon – in your lifetime – you would arrive at a new world and have the chance to make a unique contribution to human history. Instead, some bunch of cosseted earth-siders got their first, because they had the good fortune to be born 200 years later. Your contribution becomes a footnote, for which you waited 40 years in the freezing dark, drinking your own piss.

Crooked Timber has an interesting discussion about the viability of colonizing interstellar space, started from one of John Quiggin’s economists’ assumptions. In amongst all the technical jiggery-pokery about giga-joules and the Great Filter, a few people have pointed out the moral bankruptcy of colony ships, based on the simple and obvious fact that the children are being born into a tin can, and have no way out. Thinking about this at the gym (which, presumably for weight purposes, a colony-ship wouldn’t have), it occurred to me that the moral issues associated with colonization are getting a lot more real than those discussed in the Crooked Timber post, and that we need to be aware of a serious risk of moral hazard, and of serious ethical challenges, in our lifetime. I speak, of course, of the Mars One private mission to Mars.

Mars One and moral hazard

Mars One aims to settle up to 40 humans on Mars by 2025, on a one way mission. The mission will be financed by some kind of Big Brother style TV show documenting the (no doubt fascinating) process of colonizing Mars. The settlement is intended to slowly develop, even to ultimately be able to expand using local materials – hopefully to even build a dome of some kind large enough to grow trees. But it is likely that for the foreseeable future it will be dependent on supplies from Earth, and that these supplies will be coming through the parent company – which is financing itself through the sale of research opportunities and the TV options. For a few years this seems like a pretty viable source of income, but people will get bored of the Mars TV, and anyway we don’t know what will happen to that parent company. This all raises the very real possibility that the company will fail, at which point those people on Mars are ostensibly going to be cut off from their supplies. There is also the possibility that they will breed out there in the Red, and that their children won’t be happy about their birth situation. Which raises two scenarios demanding attention from the people of earth:

  1. The company goes bust, and suddenly the task of supplying those 40+ people (80 if the adults have been breeding efficiently) falls on … who? A government will have to step in and bail out those people, because no one on Earth is going to tolerate the possibility that 40 or more people in the world’s first ever interstellar colony will starve to death because of a corporate bankruptcy. This project is too hope-y to fail. Once the company gets those shmucks onto Mars, the rest of the world is going to be basically strong-armed by morality and sentiment into backing the project no matter what. And given that currently there are only three groups – NASA, ESA and Russia – capable of getting stuff to Mars, this means it will be Europe, the USA and Russia that foot the bill if anything goes wrong. This is classic moral hazard, banker bailouts on an interstellar scale (if not financial magnitude): the private company raises a couple of billion bucks to sink into a stupid high-risk project and then, when it collapses, for reasons not predicted by the regulatory authorities, it can’t be allowed to go down.
  2. The company continues, and the settlement is a success, but the Children of Mars decide they would like to swim in the sea. They point out to their earthbound cousins that they didn’t ask to be born in a Mars colony and they would like to go home. If the original company is gone under this problem will be even more pronounced: not only is the ESA and NASA supplying the adults, but now the kids point out (quite reasonably) that they want out of their squalid little collection of domes. But nobody has the means to get them out. That wasn’t planned for. To get them out, space agencies will have to send the component parts for a rocket, then the fuel, and the folks on Mars will have to assemble that rocket, and with no option for test flights, the kids will hop on and come back to Earth. That’s a hideously expensive project, but someone on Earth is going to have to foot the bill and it’s going to be very hard to deny that responsibility. Of course, once the kids start going back, the adults will demand the same right. Which means that Earth has to either tell them – we’ll keep supplying you till you die, in a society with no children (who’s going to care for you?), or “sure, you made this decision 20 years ago when you were young and stupid, but we’ll bail you out now.” That’s classic moral hazard.

You can see the way this will play out on earth, but in case 2) it is possible that the original inventors of the project will be dead. No one will even be around to be angry at. And, in a really visceral way, no one is going to be able to say no. Of course one can imagine other scenarios: imagine that the first settlement was made by the USA under Kennedy, and they were willing to spend 2% of their GDP on it; 40 years and a couple of financial crises later, with an increasingly oligarchical and corrupt government, suddenly Americans have a huge public debt and a weird resistance to growing more, their economy is declining, economic power is shifting east – but they still have to commit to sending supplies to That Stupid Colony. The kids of the new era might think they had been shackled with an unreasonable burden (“we could spend that money on Obamacare”) but of course, their choices about it are restricted to either abandoning the colony to starve, or paying some fantabulous amount of money to bring them back. This is hardly a fair choice to saddle your grandkids with. And of course, the original colonists are the people who made the stupid choice to go there, but even if you made them pay they wouldn’t be able to – no human being can work off a debt that size.

Note also the costs of supply will escalate if there are unforeseen medical problems associated with low gravity: then money will have to be sunk into solving the problem, and not by the company that sent them up there. And who is going to educate the kids? That is usually a state responsibility, but no one is going to be setting up a school on Mars. A solution will have to be found based on some kind of school of the air.

But there are other, unpleasant moral issues that will arise in the future of such a colony.

The morality of forced interstellar stardom

Mars One aim to pay for their project through some kind of television project, that will start from 2025. No doubt for a short time this will be hugely popular, but after a few years of watching people wandering around in a couple of inflatable domes the viewers are going to get tired. Revenues will decline. The company will have growing costs though, as the colony needs supplies to feed more members. What will the company do? It might be able to make up the shortfall in research services (“you want to investigate that crater? We’ll send a rover”) but there will be a limit to this, and of course as they try to sell more research services the price will go down. So then, naturally, they will begin to try to make the TV show more appealing. And how are they going to do that?

Zero-G porn.

Of course, for starters they’ll use the usual run of Big Brother-style offerings: stupid game shows, conflict, diary-room confessions, titillating shower scenes (well, maybe not, on Mars). But this will pale after a few years, and we all know what will happen next. Pressure will be brought to bear. Things will be done. People’s relationships will be laid bare. The failing relationships will be filmed; the young couples getting together; people’s most private moments. And the colonists will face an unpleasant choice: the person who supplies your water is telling you you need to make your tv show more “appealing” by doing X. Will you refuse? Probably not. And then, of course, there will be children in all this. Will they even be told about the cameras? At some point they will realize that all their earliest years of development were being filmed against their will by some arseholes a billion kms away, and watched by a million more arseholes. When they come of age, into their tiny domed town of 100 people, they’re probably going to have some righteous wrath saved up.

What will they do? What should we do about what they’re going to do, what has been done to them? When these kids, who have never been to a prom (but have seen prom-date movies), who have never been to a nightclub (but have watched music videos), who have a choice of, like, 6 partners (but have watched a thousand rom-coms) demand to return to a land with trees and standing water, what are the people on earth going to say to them? “We enjoyed watching you grow up on a strange planet, but we can’t afford to have you back”?

What does a riot look like, in a domed city made of plastic on a world with no atmosphere?

There is also, of course, the endless possibility for horror in this settlement. Suppose a dome blows, and the usual emergency systems don’t work properly: the colony loses its farm section, and no matter how hard we try we can’t get the food to them in time because it’s physically impossible. There’ll be no eating grass roots and insects and watching children with swollen bellies but knowing a precious few will survive, like Ethiopia in the 1980s. Everyone will have the certain knowledge that they will die. Will we be forced to watch as they turn to cannibalism? Who will turn off the tv feed? What if they have a broadcast installation? Then the videos will be going up on youtube no matter what the company does, and anyone with a dish will be able to see the sordid terrible end of our first stellar mission. We can all imagine hundreds of similar scenarios, and all of them on film by design.

Preparing for the moral hazard of Mars One

It’s not looking likely that anyone is going to ban Mars One, but it seems to me that as a society we need to come up with a plan for what will happen as a result of it. This isn’t Jonestown or even Greenland in the 15th century: whether we as individuals agree with the project, once it is in place on Mars we will all be watching it and cheering it on. Which means that we need to recognize that there is a risk that things will go wrong, and future generations – or us, in 30 years time – will have to bail out at enormous cost a project which was marginal from the beginning. I think governments need to find a way to prepare for that, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the first step in that preparation is to make Mars One think about the future. At the very least, some of the capital they raise needs to be put aside against eventualities. Some possible uses for a Mars wealth fund include:

  1. Simple investment, to ensure that by the time things go wrong there is a stock of money available to finance special projects
  2. Trust funds for the kids. They’re going to want stuff, and we’re going to need to provide it, so we should prepare
  3. Funding directly to government-run space research projects, especially projects for deep space propulsion and Mars exploration. If the funds are used to develop alternative ways of getting to and living on Mars, it improves the options for those people in the future
  4. Contingency funds for if the Mars population grows too fast
  5. Profits could be invested in sending extra supplies to Mars, to build redundancy and stockpiles

With mechanisms like this in place, bailouts will be less costly, and there will be insurance against risk.

Laws also need to be passed. Governments need to look very carefully at the contracts these colonists are signing, and add clauses about the rights of colonists to refuse new entertainment demands, and the way that those contracts might extend (or be inferred to extend) to children. Anything involving porn or cam-girl type stuff needs to be carefully discussed. Some kind of dispute resolution system is going to be necessary, possibly even independent oversight. Imagine, for example, that a Mars colonist is being pressured to do some semi-nude stuff, but doesn’t want to: what options does he have to resolve that? What if the company refuses him access to a workplace rights lawyer? The company at the very least should be forced to establish an independent communications system, guaranteed by government, so that people on Mars can have a reliable and independent way to contact friends, relatives and conciliation bodies. Otherwise they will essentially be slaves.

I don’t think any of this has been considered.

Are Mars One taking the piss?

I’m noting that there is an application fee of between $5 and $75 for potential Martians, and they are hoping to recruit a million applicants. If the Mars One people are planning to fold before the project is initiated they will make a lot of money. It seems like a lot of aspects of this project are going to run on a very tight deadline, and haven’t been thought through. Is it possible that the whole thing is a get-rich-quick scheme that is never going to see reality? It seems very possible to me. But if not, we as a society need to be thinking very carefully about what we want to tolerate up there, and how we’re going to manage the ethical challenges and moral hazards of a private initiative to colonize Mars.

Outside the city ...

Outside the city …

I am finally away from my Greek Island and the “five star” resort with no internet access, so I am able to resume blogging. Yesterday evening I arrived in Athens for a three day stay, and as is my wont in a new city, the first thing I did was go out for a wander. My hotel has a rooftop bar with a view direct to the acropolis, which is pretty amazing, and is on the temple slopes so it’s a short walk to the old town. Walking through the old town one can catch regular glimpses of the acropolis from the streets, and also experience the pleasures of a summer night in the city. The streets were heaving with people, all out to enjoy the evening air. All the restaurants in Greece seem to be open to the sky, and alfresco dining is the norm, so everywhere you look people are enjoying eating under the stars. I passed a Suleimanese punch-and-judy show, where the puppets are dressed in Persian-style pantaloons and curled hats (but still beating each other) and the horde of gathered children scream at the villain in Greek. I passed a concert being held in an old temple ruin, all lit up with red spotlights. Every square was full of people sitting chatting and drinking; the main square was absolutely heaving with young people in groups just enjoying the night air. The weather was dry and warm, the temperature perfect, the sky a million miles away and clear and the whole balmy evening cupped within the bowl of the distant mountains, with the Acropolis the gleaming jewel set in the middle of that frame, seen occasionally between buildings and lit up against the night sky.

I found a stylish open restaurant in the old town, that served excellent food and had a massively camp Swiss host. They serve a chicken cooked whole inside a loaf of bread and cut up on your plate for you, and an exquisite lemon-flavoured pumpkin soup garnished with little cthulhu-esque octopuslets. I didn’t have my camera with me so didn’t order the cockerel; I may return to experience this strangeness this evening. I have to say, the way Greek people use lemons in their cooking – and the predominance of citrus throughout their cuisine – is excellent and commendable.

After dinner I wandered a little more, enjoying the chaos and light-heartedness of the city. I found myself in the area just west of the Syntagma square, which is supposedy full of bars and night clubs, and in front of a rock bar called Six Dogs. They were hosting an American band called The Shrine, some sort of classic heavy rock outfit that I’ve never heard of, so in I went, for my first experience of Greek punk/metal fans.

What is on your playlist, Archilokos?

What is on your playlist, Archilokos?

The band was average, I have to say, and somewhat hamstrung by the fact that their singer has exactly the same accent as the weird zoo-owner from the Mighty Boosh. They were a pacey, hard rocking classic metal outfit with a bit of skate-punk overtone, so pretty likeable overall. The crowd, however, were fascinating. First of all they were really lively and cheerful, bouncing around with way more energy than the band deserved, and managing to do spontaneous crowd-surfing efforts even though there were only about 50 of them. This meant that whenever one of their number wanted to go up, he had to get the others to lift him, and then a group of 10 or 15 fans would go charging around the room in a little chaotic loop, carrying the surfer aloft, and then drop him. It’s not quite lollapalooza, is it? But they were really into it. But the best thing about them was the way they looked so … classical.

I think every second rocker in the crowd was basically a classical Greek stereotype, come to life then covered in tattoos and stuffed into a pair of skate-punk shorts and a band t-shirt. They all had the broad shoulders and narrow waste of the classic Greek pottery or statues, and that particular style of Greek beard that you see in the classic pictures: the one that is cropped close to the skin along the jaw and near the ears, but extends to a block or point out from the chin, and merges in a perfect gradient with short-cropped hair. It works perfectly with the classical Greek profile of aquiline nose and strong jaw. The rockers also had the same classical hair style, that is neatly cropped at the back but then a little unruly or longer and forward-pointing near the front.

It was like moshing with the guys from 300, if they had bothered to put on t-shirts. It was one of those classic moments, like when a French waiter pulls a 110% expressive face, or a German man says very precisely about one of his most memorable experiences, “it was in general perfect” with German precision, or a Japanese person bows on the phone – one of those moments where the person you are talking to is subconsciously channelling a million years of cultural history and to the rest of the world they’re a stereotype of fantastic proportions, but to them it is so completely normal that they would never realize they were doing it, even if you could play them a video of the moment. So it was that these Greek rockers were moshing not to the tune of an ordinary Venice Beach band, but to a couple of thousand years of classical Greek history. The Pelopennese war through hardcore, or something. I think I will dub this style of Greek counter-culture “300-core.” I hope to see more of it as I wander this city of romance and history!

Yesterday I arrived in Rhodes, Greece on a two week work-related trip. Rhodes is a very nice spot, and Greece generally excellent, after a day here I can recommend it to anyone looking for a warm, pleasant and friendly place to spend a little time. And really, what could be a better way to spend two weeks of work time than on a Greek island? However, as soon as I arrived in Rhodes I was struck by a hint of something going wrong in Greece, something which I think may not be the fault of ordinary Greek people, and which maybe serves as a harbinger of all of Europe’s fate. I thought I’d blog on my first impressions of Greece, with perhaps a little added opinionating about how Greece’s economic problems are presented by the pro-austerity gang who are in the ascendant in America and Europe. I’ve only been here a day so nothing I say is even worth of elevation to the level of considered opinion; it’s just idle musings on my first impressions of one (very rural) part of Greece.

Before I came I had visions of the islands from Porco Rosso, and pretty much everything else I knew about Greece I got from Gerald Durrell and sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, so I think it’s safe to say that I was arriving here with a pretty blank slate as far as cultural expectations go. However, Greece has been in the news a bit recently, with its economic woes being seen as a barometer for the trouble spreading over all of Europe. So I was interested, given my limited knowledge of life in Greece, to see how the land of capricious gods compares with the scary stories and hype that are broadcast across the western print media.

The first thing that I have to say is that everyone I have met (except the scary tattooed guy on the plane) has been friendly and warm, and embarrassingly multilingual. The food is excellent and the weather perfect – the only noticeable drawback of May weather in Greece appears to be that it is bone dry, and I really don’t know where the water for the hotel pool is coming from – I have seen precious little evidence of any water that isn’t in the sea. And there is a lot of sea, cobalt blue and amazingly pure. But then, I am on an Island… and the sea wasn’t very kind to me. Within minutes of dipping my toe in, I was stung by something.

However, as soon as I arrived in Greece I noticed a kind of neglect and decay that I really wasn’t expecting from a European nation. I don’t think it’s new either, and I have a suspicion that what I see hereabouts has very little to do with the global financial crisis and its effects on Greece. I think it’s part of an older, deeper malaise that is moving through all of Europe and just happens to have affected Greece first. Amongst the countries I’m familiar with, I think it will hit Britain next (or already has). What I see in Greece makes me think of many of the things I see in Britain, only without the patina of aggressive British defensiveness, and with sunshine.

This decay was obvious at the airport, which is a kind of cute but crumbling 70s relic, with holes in the ceiling through which the wiring can be seen, those low and oppressive ceilings so common in 70s public architecture, and a barely functioning arrivals lounge – there is no passport control, but it hardly matters anyway because the doors for non-EU passport holders are broken and don’t open. Once you’re outside that and out into the sunshine, you’re greeted immediately by a site that is quite rare in most of the rest of Western Europe and certainly very rare in Japan or Australia: a horde of extremely old passenger cars. They’re tiny, dusty relics from before the era of pollution controls – 80s and early 90s vehicles mostly, and battered, obviously heavily used. The taxis are all new Mercedes, but ordinary passenger vehicles are often much older than I am used to seeing in Europe. The city bus is also very old and battered, the seats obviously replaced many times and the shell battered and scuffed.

The next thing I noticed, once in my taxi, was how overgrown and neglected the countryside looks. Thick, wild shrub and grasses that were obviously untended reached right up to the roads (which are also in quite bad shape), and there was rubbish everywhere. It doesn’t appear that any effort has been made to maintain the unused land near roads and public facilities, and it’s turned into a kind of wasteland. I don’t think this the Greek government, local city authorities, or residents intend to let the countryside go wild, and in a dry and fire-prone area like Greece it’s probably not a very good idea to allow wild shrub to encroach on roads to the extent that they do here. I think this is neglect, and this sense is only enhanced by the state of the buildings I saw on my journeys through Rhodes.

Rhodes is littered with abandoned, half-finished buildings, and also with the deserted shells of abandoned businesses – especially hotels. Many of these buildings are obviously in the early stages of construction, and obviously no one is coming back to them. Some appear to have been abandoned a long time ago, not as far as I can tell during Greece’s most recent economic problems. This reminded me of Beppu, which is also a town undergoing a collapse in tourism revenue, and also has abandoned hotels and pachinko parlours scattered across the urban landscape – as well as areas of overgrown landscape that should be (and probably once was) carefully tended. It’s as if the Greek municipal authorities don’t really care about the impression that their town gives when people first arrive, or don’t have the money to do anything about it, or both.

We hear much about the infamous Greek government’s “profligate” spending and taxing policies, but looking around Rhodes I don’t see much evidence that ordinary Greek tax-payers are getting much bang for their buck. Whatever municipal services Greece provides don’t seem to be showing up in the most obvious and immediate way – rubbish disposal and parks management. I suspect that there are many Greeks who observe the same thing, and wonder why they’re suddenly having to tighten their belts when they don’t get much in the way of visible public services to start with.

I think Rhodes has in common with Beppu a long-term collapse in its main industry – tourism. This isn’t a novel, post-GFC phenomenon, but is a long-term, sustained trend that isn’t going away and reflects a brutal reality for peripheral tourism towns in developed nations. These towns grew during the boom eras of population growth and tourism, before globalizaion, and in the period when the working class of the developed world had relative purchasing power and free time. These factors combined meant that it was easy for these towns to sustain a huge tourist industry, and areas like Beppu or Rhodes grew rapidly on tourist money. But after the purchasing power of the working and middle classes began to decline, and as Asia developed, I think these tourist towns began to run into trouble. They had to compete with Asian countries for tourists, but comparatively they aren’t a great deal cheaper – travelling to Beppu, for example, costs a Japanese worker only half as much as a trip to Thailand or Cambodia, but hotels cost more. I suspect the same is true for Europeans, who now have options in Eastern Europe (places like Latvia and Croatia) for short trips, and Asia for longer trips. In such a situation, former tourist towns have to either adapt and find new industries, or they will become fading remnants. Beppu may adapt or may fade, depending on the success of its new university; but Beppu has easy road and rail connections with population centres like Kokura and Fukuoka that have huge industrial bases and thriving economies. Rhodes is an island in a country that doesn’t have a large industrial base to start with. What is it going to do?

This is another example of how the GFC may be a symptom of a bigger economic shift, and of western nations’ inability to find a solution to that shift. Industry and economic growth is heading East, and with the development of the East huge sections of traditional western economic activity are being hollowed out. In response to this the west has tried to sustain its economic growth through bubbles, and each successive collapse has simply destroyed more jobs. Greece’s economic problems aren’t solely caused by the GFC, which is simply a symptom of the desperate measures western economic policy-makers have taken to try to deal with the loss of real economic power. The result of this long-term economic decline in Rhodes is a countryside festooned with abandoned, half-finished buildings and sad, empty hotels. The same phenomenon is hitting the UK now, but instead of too many buildings unfinished, the UK has too few buildings, and too many ordinary people up to their eyeballs in debt trying to keep hold of the home they have. They do have the empty businesses though, as whole towns lose their retail sectors and corporate lending dries up.

I’ve got no idea what western policy-makers should do to stave off this change. I don’t know if they can, but I think that “wait for Asia to collapse” is not a policy option, and neither is it wise to seek new and innovative ways to reinflate the housing bubble. I think that maybe they need to revitalize industry policy: pick things they’re good at and make them work. Spend taxpayer money on finding ways to make stuff again. Industry policy is what made Japan, Korea and Thailand successful, and the fruit of that policy can be seen in their theft of western business. But fighting off Asia is going to mean a return to deficit spending, an acceptance of government debt, and a recognition that the market doesn’t just pick winners: it strangles losers. And currently, Europe and the USA are looking like the losers. Rhodes is the sign of things to come, and I think the UK is next if they can’t begin to reflect on the underlying causes of the GFC, and the best way of coming to terms with the new world order.

本当に温泉なの?

ドイツで10日間の旅行をしました。観光中の休憩は、Baden-Badenという町にあるドイツの伝統的なスパでドイツ温泉文化を楽しめました。きれいな舞台にある温泉に入る癒せそうなFriedrichsbad Spa も露天風呂が多いCaracalla Thermeにも入ってみましたが、日本の温泉文化と違いますから、レビューしようと思いました。

Friedrichsbad Spa

いい天気の日に、午後3時くらいにこのスパに入りました。この温泉の料金が少し高いですが、建物がすごくきれいで、17種類のスパ部屋があるから、すてきだと思いました。毎週の火・木・金・日曜日は、女性と男性が一緒に入る日から、木曜日にパートナーと一緒に入りました。このスパは服なしの温泉ですが、木曜日の午後でしたからお客様がすくなかったです。

このスパは、決定した部屋の流れがありますから、自由に通るわけではありません。決定した順番の部屋は:

  • シャワー部屋
  • 54度のdry roomです。普段15分間にのんびりする
  • もっとあついdry room に通るはずですが、私がその部屋を入ってみたとtoo much でしたから見送りました
  • マッサージの部屋ですが、マッサージはちょっと怖いからそれもパスしてしまいました。マッサージは石けんで洗ってくれるタイプですから少しソープランドみたいなと思いました。。。
  • サウナでした。普通にサウナに入らない私が、5分か10分くらいにこの部屋で汗をかいた
  • 6つのぬるいプールに入りました!全部は、最高水温が34度でした!1つは、泳げるくらい広いですから、heated poolみたいです。
  • クリーム部屋:自分で、何かの本格クリームをぬる。
  • リラクゼーション部屋:30分くらいに、あったかい布団に巻かれて、のんびりする。

じつは、Friedrichsbad Spa には、最高水温のプールは34度ですから、少しがっかりでした。舞台がきれいな18世紀のビルなのに、そんなに癒せるわけではない。もし、プールが40度以上なら、完璧な経験いなるかもしれませんが、34度のプールはheated swimming poolより楽しいところではない。

それにも、もう一つの問題は、スタッフがたくさんいるが、ドイツのサービスは少し冷たいですから、癒す雰囲気を少し邪魔する。たとえば、リラクゼーション部屋に入るスタッフは、厳しい看護師のマナーをしているからちょっと空気読めない感じでした。ちょっと変な気持ちですよね。。。プールが34度より涼しいから、2時間いましたのにからだはそんなにだるくなかったです。

Caracalla Therme

このスパはFriedrichsbadより自由な感じで、露天風呂が多い温泉パークです。いい点は露天風呂;悪点は、服なしで入れないこと。水着で入れるからお客様が多くて込んでいた。にぎやかな雰囲気がいいですが、温泉文化がわからない人が多かったからときどき大変でした。

このスパには、4つの広いプールがあって、プールには水流れや泡のところがあったから、巨大スパみたいでした。露天風呂に、石の座席があって、座席のベースから強い泡が出ていたし。。。楽しかったです。

このプールの全部は34度か32度から、基本的にheated swimming pool でした。近くにはせまい38度の温泉みたいなプールでしたが、ほかには少しぬるい。改めて、がっかりでした。舞台がレソート風のきれいな建物ですが、風呂が残念でした。

まとめ

観光の経験として楽しいですが、日本温泉文化を比べると、そんなによくない。もしBaden-Wurttemberg周辺にいるときに行ったら、楽しくていい経験ですが、わざと「ドイツ温泉文化を試すために行こう!」と決めたら、がっかりかもしれません。Baden-badenはきれいな町ですから、ほかのハイキングや自然行動ができるから、温泉文化を試す理由だけで行ったら、すごくいい時間が過ごせると思いますが、温泉経験自体は足りないと思います。

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