Saturday, March 30, 2019

"'We've returned to the Middle Ages' – life in Venezuela's blackout"

William Manchester made the point very succinctly in the title of his book "A World Lit Only By Fire".
In the repost after the headline story you'll find some details of going medieval that may not spring readily to mind..

First up, AFP via the Buenos Aires Times, March 28:
For Venezuelans today, suffering under a new nationwide black-out that has lasted days, it's like being thrown back to life centuries ago.
Walking for hours, making oil lamps, bearing water. For Venezuelans today, suffering under a new nationwide black-out that has lasted days, it's like being thrown back to life centuries ago.
El Ávila, a mountain that towers over Caracas, has become a place where families gather with buckets and jugs to fill up with water, wash dishes and scrub clothes. The taps in their homes are dry from lack of electricity to the city's water pumps.

"We're forced to get water from sources that obviously aren't completely hygienic. But it's enough for washing or doing the dishes," said one resident, Manuel Almeida.
Because of the long lines of people, the activity can take hours of waiting.
Elsewhere, locals make use of cracked water pipes. But they still need to boil the water, or otherwise purify it.

"We're going to bed without washing ourselves," said one man, Pedro Jose, a 30-year-old living in a poorer neighbourhood in the west of the capital.
Some shops seeing an opportunity have hiked the prices of bottles of water and bags of ice to between US$3 and US$5 – a fortune in a country where the monthly minimum salary is the equivalent of US$5.50.

Better-off Venezuelans, those with access to US dollars, have rushed to fill hotels that have giant generators and working restaurants.
For others, preserving fresh food is a challenge. Finding it is even more difficult. The blackout has forced most shops to close.
"We share food" among family members and friends, explained Coral Muñoz, 61, who counts herself lucky to have dollars.

"You have to keep a level head to put up with all this, and try to have people around because being alone make it even harder."....MUCH MORE
And from May 25, 2018:

How to Think Medieval: Seeking Endarkenment

Over the years we've mentioned a half-dozen of Barbara Tuchman's books, I'll repost a favorite passage* after the jump but first, a review of her "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" used as an introduction to a sweet little post that proves up the enduring insight of the first line of L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between:

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

From Coins and Scrolls:

Thinking Medieval - Seeking Endarkenment
In his hilarious and angry review of one of my favorite books, Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror", Patrick Stuart has some choice words for 14th century nobility, starting with the title; "A Bunch Of Fucking Idiots". Here are a few more quotes.
[Enguerrand de Coucy] is mainly a hero by virtue of not being an insanely stupid flaky deluded murderous narcissist. Although he is murderous, and a bit of a narcissist, but hes not insanely stupid or flaky and in fourteenth century Europe that puts him in about the top 5% of dudes with swords.  
...the entirety of the ruling class subscribes to an insane Chivalric cult which, not only do most of them not really follow, but, even when they do follow it, it doesn't work... 
Lists of insanity like the one above, are not rare in 'Distant Mirror'. 
Over and over, in the classic arm-waving despair of someone encountering Tuchman's idol-demolishing, beautiful, brutal, and sharp writing, Patrick resorts to "insanity" as an explanation for excesses and failures of the 14th century nobility.

Sadly, he's wrong.

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
What Is Insanity? 
The best we can come up with for a definition is "abnormal mental or behavioral modes". It's not insane to cut down a tree, drag it into your house, and cover it with candles, provided you do it near Christmas and not in June. It's not insane to to pray; it might be insane to pray to Barbra Streisand. The community defines "normal", with a bit of wiggle room.

Here's an early modern example, right when the world seemed to start to make sense. It might seem insane to us that George Spencer, a troublesome one-eye old servant in Connecticut, was tried and executed in 1642 for the crime of bestiality after a one-eyed pig was born in his village. It might also seem insane that both the pig and his own retracted confession were called as the two witnesses required to convict him. But by the standards of the community and the times, the only insane person was that godless trouble-making pig-fucker, George Spencer.

The Nature of the World 
We live in an enlightened era. Our mental toolboxes are full to bursting with evidence-based reasoning, with precedent, with doubt, and with logic. We hold many truths to be self evident. We stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants and we think this plain of shoulders is ground level.

If you want to think medieval, chuck your entire toolbox out the window and start from scratch. You need to un-learn rationality, un-learn concepts you've been steeped in since childhood. It's the opposite of a koan. Seek endarkenment.

Part 1: Forget
-Science. Almost all of it. 

-Medicine too. First aid you can keep, but everything else must be swept away. 

-Equality. A dangerous, almost unthinkable concept in practice. A fine ideal, when paired with religion, but not one you have to worry about. 

-Matter. Forget that stone and flesh are made of the same kind of thing (atoms). Think of each thing as a distinct entity, not as a changed form of an existing substance. 

-Weather. It's scary and unpredictable now, and we have radar and satellites.

-Foreigners. I can read about far-away places in a book or look up a street-view picture of a city on the other side of the world. I live in a multicultural city. I'm not so much tolerant as apathetic, but that's good enough (and might even be better; tolerance implies tension). Anyway, forget all that. Ignorance and fear all around. 

-The Theory of the Mind. Forget the subconscious. Forget hormones and the effect of diet, head wounds, and sleep. 

-Progress. The medieval thinker knows there is a better world; they'll go there after death, probably. Don't worry about this one, and certainly don't try to change it.

Part 2: Remember
Do you remember elementary school? Do you remember how important your school supplies were? Do you remember the almost magical power of a marker, or a pair of scissors, or a shiny new pencil case, or a lunchbox? How deeply an insult could wound?

Take that feeling of importance and apply it to everything....

If interested see also Second Blackout: "'Horror, fear, despair': Venezuela's oil capital shattered by 'tsunami' of violent looting":
This phase of collapse is why we posted "News You Can Use: Imagine The Venezuela Blackout, But 10 Times Worse". When you see sub-heads like:
In the second city of Maracaibo, the crippling blackout sparked a terrifying rampage that police seemed unable to control
You have passed an event horizon into a new reality that requires new skills and new ways of looking at the world....

*In 2017's "Back When I Had The Ability To Tell A Story—'Europe: Media Face Fines for Improper Use of 'Great Britain'" we saw something that may have been a trial run for today's roll-out of GDPR:

Apparently with the activation of Article 50 the Slovaks can no longer use the term "Great Britain."
Henceforth it's "Pretty Good Britain"....

... The "Pretty Good" line is not original to me.

Some years ago I worked with a Moroccan guy named Raissoulli and upon meeting him asked if he was related to Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, the turn of the 20th century kidnapper and brigand known in some parts of the territory between the Atlas mountains and the Mediterranean as "The Great Raisuli".

Raissoulli said yes, he was indeed a great-grandson of Raisuli but sadly he didn't think he had inherited any of the piratical swagger, 
"I'm not the Great Raissoulli, maybe the Pretty Good Raissoulli though".

If interested, the autodidact historian (and two time Pulitzer prize winner) Barbara Tuchman wrote a short account of one of Raisuli's crimes/exploits. It begins:
"Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead"
Barbara Tuchman American Heritage, August 1959
Reprinted in "Practising History", Papermac, 1995

On a scented Mediterranean May evening in 1904 Mr. Ion Perdicaris, an elderly, wealthy American, was dining with his family on the vine-covered terrace of the Place of Nightingales, his summer villa in the hills above Tangier. Besides a tame demoiselle crane and two monkeys who ate orange blossoms, the family included Mrs. Perdicaris; her son by a former marriage, Cromwell Oliver Varley, who (though wearing a great name backward) was a British subject; and Mrs. Varley. Suddenly a cacophony of shrieks, commands, and barking of dogs burst from the servants' quarters at the rear.
Assuming the uproar to be a further episode in the chronic feud between their German housekeeper and their French-Zouave chef, the family headed for the servants' hail to frustrate mayhem. They ran into the butler flying madly past them, pursued by a number of armed Moors whom at first they took to be their own household guards.
Astonishingly, these persons fell upon the two gentlemen, bound them, clubbed two of the servants with their gunstocks, knocked Mrs. Varley to the floor, drew a knife against Varley's throat when he struggled toward his wife, dragged off the housekeeper, who was screaming into the telephone, "Robbers! Help!," cut the wire, and shoved their captives out of the house with guns pressed in their backs.

Waiting at the villa's gate was a handsome, black-bearded Moor with blazing eyes and a Greek profile, who, raising his arm in a theatrical gesture, announced in the tones of Henry Irving playing King Lear, "I am the Raisuli!"...
The story was also made into a movie starring Sean Connery, The Wind and the Lion.