Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tax Reform in the Reign of Louis XIV by Saint-Simon


Vauban, surnamed Le Prestre, was a gentleman , of Burgundy, no more, but perhaps the most honorable and upright man of his day. What is more, although he had a reputation for being more skilled and learned in the art of siege-warfare than any other engineer, he was the simplest, truest, and most modest of men. He was medium tall, somewhat stocky in build, very soldierly in his bearing, but with a loutish, not to say coarse and brutal appearance that totally belied his character, for there never was a man better natured, gentler, nor more obliging.  He was courteous without servility, almost  miserly with the lives of his soldiers, and possessed the kind of valor that beats every burden and lets others enjoy the credit. When, in 1703, the King informed him of his intention to make him Marechal of France, Vauban begged him first to reflect that that honor was never intended for men of his condition who could not command the King's army. [1] It might be embarrassing, he said, if the marshal in command at a siege were found to be his junior in rank. This generous objection, supported with such manifestly unselfish arguments, only increased the King's desire to advance him.  At that time Vauban had already laid fifty-three sieges, twenty of them in the King's presence, and thus King Louis could feel that after a fashion he was making a marshal of himself and gilding his own laurels. Vauban received the rank with a modesty equal to his previous unselfishness, and one and all acclaimed a most signal honor to which no other man of his condition was ever raised before or since. Such was he when he was elevated to be a Marechal de France. You shall see now how he was brought broken-hearted to his grave for the very qualities that had earned him his laurels, and that, in any country but France, would won for him honors of every other kind.

A patriot in the true  sense, [2] he had always been moved by the suffering of the peasants under the disproportionate burden of taxation.[3] His professional experience had taught him the need for government spending and the little likelihood that the King would consent to retrench in his pleasures or his pomps. He therefore despaired of their being any alleviation of their ever-increasing afflictions. With such considerations in mind he never made a journey (and he continually crossed and re-crossed the country from end to end) without making precise records of the values and yield of the lands, the trades and industries in the various provinces and towns, the nature of the taxes and the methods of collections. Not only that, he sent secret agents travelling throughout the entire kingdom so as to compare their assessments with his own. He devoted at least twenty years to that research and spent on it large sums from his own purse.  In the process he gradually became convinced that the only sure source of wealth was the land, and accordingly began to evolve an entirely new system of taxation. When his work was already far advanced  there appeared several booklets under the authorship of Boisguibert, the military governor of Rouen, who had been working on the same idea for some years. Vauban read these with interest and resolved to support the author by revising and correcting his work for him and adding some final touches of his own.  The two men were in complete agreement in principle, but not in every detail; for example, Boisguibert was chiefly anxious to remove the most onerous taxes and above all the huge charges levied by the collectors which sums did not enter the King's coffers but impoverished the peasants solely for the enrichment of the tax-farmers and their agents, who made vast fortunes in that way, even as they do today.

Vauban, on the other hand, attacked the system itself. He proposed abolishing levies of every kind and substituting in their place a single tax, divided into two parts, the first part to be on the ownership of land rated at one-tenth of its yield; the second, at a somewhat lower rate, on commerce and industry, which he thought should be encouraged, and certainly not hindered. This single tax he wished to call the King's tithe. At the same time he suggested certain just and simple rules for its collection, based on the value of each parcel of land and the number of the local population ( so far as that could be estimated with any accuracy). Vauban's book when it finally appeared  was everywhere acclaimed, and those best able to understand his calculations expressed admiration for its soundness and clarity. But the plan had one incurable defect. It produced more wealth for the King than he had received by the older methods; it relieved the peasants from ruin and oppression, and left them richer by all that did not go to him; but at the same time it destroyed the army of financiers, agents, and petty officials of many different kinds, obliging them to live by their own labors and not at public expense, and sapping the very foundation of those vast fortunes which we have seen amassed with such incredible rapidity.

That in itself was enough to condemn the book; but Vauban's real offense was that his plan attacked the authority of the controller-general himself, his influence, wealth, and immense power, together with an army of intendants, secretaries, agents, and underlings, leaving them incapable of favoring or harming anyone. It is scarcely to be wondered at that with the interests of so many powerful individuals involved there should have arisen a conspiracy to defeat a new system, however beneficial to the State, the King, and the people.  Moreover the whole legal profession rose up in revolt, for it is the magistrates who administer taxes by means of their agents in every department of government.** No doubt it was family loyalty that roused the Dukes of Chevreuse and Beauvilliers to protest, for they were the sons-in-law of M. Colbert, whose motives and methods were far removed from those advocated by Vauban. They were further misled by Desmaretz's clever, specious arguments, and Chamillart, so kind-hearted, so anxious for the public good, also fell beneath his spell. As for the Chancellor, remembering a time when he, too, had controlled the finances, he flew into a rage. In short, only those who were without influence or private interests supported Vauban, and by those I mean the Church and the nobility, for the people themselves, who stood to gain so much, never realized how close they had come to deliverance which only good citizens lamented.

Thus it came as no surprise when the King, sheltered and prejudiced as he was, gave the marachel a frigid reception on accepting his book; you may well imagine that the ministers were no better pleased when they received their copies.  From that moment onwards Vauban's past services, his military genius, his virtues, and the King's regard counted as nothing, and thenceforward he was viewed as being no better than a lunatic lover of the peasantry, a scoundrel bent on undermining the power of the ministers and consequently the authority of the King himself. King Louis said as much to his face, and he did not mince his words Those words were echoed by all that part of the nation who had thought themselves attacked and wished to be revenged, and the unhappy Vauban, who was loved by all right-thinking Frenchmen, did not long survive the loss of his master's favor. He died in solitude a few months later, wasted by grief and in distress of mind to which King Louis appeared solely insensible, even to the point of seeming unmoved by the death of one by the death of one who had been a distinguished and most useful servant. Vauban's fame,  however, had spread throughout Europe, even the enemy revered his name, and in France itself he was sincerely mourned by all those who were neither tax-farmers nor their agents.

To do Chamillart justice, despite his disapproval of Vauban, he was willing to give his system a trial, but most unfortunately he chose for that purpose a district near Chartres in the intendancy of Orleans, where Bouville, who married Desmaretz's daughter, was in charge. She had friends who owned estates in that neighborhood and procured tax-relief for their farmers, which was enough to wreck the whole experiment, depending as it did on fair and accurate assessments. Thus all Chamillart's good intentions turned sour and gave fresh ammunition to the enemies of the new system.

Vauban's entire work was accordingly condemned; but the proposal for a King's tithe was not forgotten, and some years later it was levied, not as a new and comprehensive tax, according to Vauban's plan, but on all kinds of possessions, over and above the existing taxes. It has been renewed whenever there has been a war, and even in peace-time the King always retains it on all appointments, salaries, and pensions. That is why in France one must beware of even the wisest and most salutary intentions, and why all the nation's sources of wealth are running dry. Yet who could have warned the Marechal de Vauban that his great efforts to relieve all the inhabitants of France would serve only to add to their burden a new and supplementary tax, more permanent, harsher, and more costly than all the rest put together?  Such a terrible lesson is enough to discourage the wisest proposals in the field of taxation and finance.

[1] He was not of noble rank, but apart from that, he had no experience of commanding troops in battle.

[2] Saint-Simon is supposed to have invented the word patriot.

[3] The peasants and the very poor paid the full amount of the taxes. Nobles, landowners, clergy, and the officials of all the kinds had dispensations and reliefs on various pretexts.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Interviews on Red Square in December 1991 by Svetlana Alexievich

[August 1991: A group of eight high-ranking officials led by Gorbachev's vice president, Gennady Yanayev, form the General Committee on the State Emergency, the GKChP, and stage an attempted coup of the government. It becomes known as "the putsch." The GKChP issues an emergency decree suspending all political  activity, banning most newspapers, and putting Gorbachev, who is on hold in Foros, Crimea, under house arrest.

Thousands of protestors came out to stand against putsch in front of the White House, the Russian Federation's parliament and office Boris Yeltsin, building barricades to protect their position. Yeltsin famously addresses the crowd from atop a tank. The Army forces dispatched  by the GKChP ultimately refuse to storm the barricades and side with the protestors. After three days, the putsch collapses. On August 24, Gorbachev dissolves the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and resigns as its general secretary.

January 1992: The liberalization of prices leads to massive, destabilizing inflation, from 200 percent initially to high of 2600. .  .]

I'm a construction worker.  .  .

Before August 1991, we lived in one country, and afterward, we lived in another. Before that August, my country was called the USSR.

Who am I? I am one of those idiots who defended Yeltsin. I stood in front of the White House, ready to lie down in front of a tank. People went out on the streets on the crest of a wave, on a surge. But they were out there to die for freedom, not capitalism. I consider myself a person who has been deceived. I don't need this capitalism we've been led to . . . that they slipped us. . . Not in any form, neither the American model nor the Swedish. I didn't start a revolution to get my hands on someone else's dough. We shouted "Russia!" instead of "USSR!". I'm sorry that they didn't disperse us with water cannons or roll a couple of machine guns into the square. They should have arrested two or three hundred people and the rest would have gone into hiding. Where are the people who called us out into the square today? "Down with the Kremlin mafia!" "Freedom tomorrow!" They have nothing to say to us. They ran off to the West, now they are over there badmouthing socialism. sitting around in Chicago laboratories. While we sit here. . .

Russia .  .  . they've wiped their feet with it. Anyone who wants to can smack her in the face. They turned it into a Western junkyard full of worn-out rags and expired machines. Garbage! [Obscenities.] A trough full of raw materials, a natural gas tap.  .  . The Soviet regime? It wasn't ideal, but it was better than we have today. Worthier. Overall, I was satisfied with socialism . No one was excessively rich or poor,   there were no bums or abandoned children . . . Old  people could live on their pensions, they didn't have to collect bottles and food scraps off the street. They wouldn't look at you with searching eyes, standing there with outstretched palms .  .   .   We've yet to count how many people were killed by perestroika. Our former life has been smashed to smithereens, not a single stone was left standing. Pretty soon, I won't have anything to talk about with my son. "Papa, Pavlik Morozov is a moron. Marat Kazei (Soviet heroes) is a freak," my son says to me, when he comes home from school. "But you taught me .  .  ."  I taught him the same things I had been taught, the right things. "That horrible Soviet upbringing .  .  ." That "horrible Soviet upbringing" taught me to think about people other than myself. About the weak and suffering. Nikolai Gastello (first suicide pilot) was my hero, not those magenta sports coats with their philosophy of only looking out for themselves - their own skin, their own wallets. "And please, Papa, don't start in with that spirit stuff, that humanism mumbo jumbo." Where did he pick that up? People are different now .  .  . Capitalists .  .  . You have to understand, that's what he learns from the world, he's twelve years old. I'm not an example for him anymore.

Why did I defend Yeltsin? He won a million supporters just for saying that the nomenklatura's special privileges should be revoked. I was ready to pickup a machine gun and shoot at the communists. I  was convinced.  .  . We didn't understand what they were preparing for us in its place. What they were slipping us. An enormous lie! Yeltsin spoke out against the Reds and signed up with the Whites. It was a calamity .  .  . The question: What did we want? Gentle socialism, humane socialism .  .  .And what did we get? On the streets, its blood-thirsty capitalism. Shooting. Showdowns. People figuring out who runs the kiosk and who own the factory. The gangsters have risen to the top . . . Black marketeers and money changers have taken power.  .  . Enemies and predators all around. Jackals!

I can't forget .  .  . I can't forget how we stood in front of the White House .  .  .Whose chestnuts were we pulling from the fire? [Obscenities.] My father was a real communist. A righteous man. He was a Party organizer at a big factory. Fought in the war. I said to him, "Freedom here! We're going to be a normal, civilized country.  .  ." And he replied, "Your children will be servants. Is that what you really want?" I was young and dumb .  .  . I laughed at him. We were terribly naive. I don't know why things turned out like this. I really don't. It's not what we wanted. We had something completely different in mind. Perestroika .  .  . there was something epic about it. A year later, they shut down our design bureau, and my wife and I ended up out on the street. How did we survive? First we took all our valuables to the market. The crystal, the Soviet old, and our most precious books. For weeks on end, we'd eat nothing but mashed potatoes. Then I went into "business". I started selling cigarette butts. A liter jar of butts .  .  . or a three-liter jar of butts .  .  . My wife's parents (college professors) collected them off the street, and I would sell them. And people would buy them! Smoke them. I smoked them myself. My wife cleaned offices. At a certain point, she sold pelmeni for some Tajik. We paid dearly for our naivete.  All of us .  .  . Now, my wife and I raise chickens, and she never stops weeping. If we could only turn back time .  .  . And don't give me a hard time for saying that .  .  . This isn't some nostalgia for gray salami for two rubles and twenty kopecks . . .

'The market became our university. .  .'

I went to the university . . . At that point, Chubais was lobbying for privatization vouchers, promising one voucher would buy you two Volgas when in reality, these days, it's worth about two kopecks. What an exciting time! I handed out flyers in the subway .  .  . Everyone dreamed of a new life .  .  . Dreams .  .  . People dreamt that tons of salami would appear at the stores at Soviet prices and members of the Politburo would stand in line with the rest of us. Salami is the benchmark of our existence. Our love of salami is existential.  .  .Twilight of the idols! The factories to the workers! The soil to the peasants! The rivers to the beavers! The dens to the bears! Mexican soap operas were the perfect replacement for Soviet parades and live broadcasts of the First Congress of People's Deputies. I stayed in college for two years and then dropped out. I feel sorry for my parents because they were told flat out that they were pathetic sovoks* whose lives had been wasted for less than a sniff of tobacco, that everything was their fault, beginning with Noah's Ark, and that now, no one needed them anymore. Imagine working that hard, your whole life, only to end up with nothing. All of it shook the ground from underneath them, their world was shattered; they still haven't recovered, they couldn't assimilate into the drastically new reality. My younger brother would wash cars after class, selling chewing gum and other junk in the subway, and he made more money than our father - our father who was a scientist. A PhD! The Soviet elite! When they started selling salami at the privately owned stores, all of us ran over to ogle it. And that was when we saw the prices! This was how capitalism came into our lives.

I got a job as a freight handler. Real happiness! My friend and I would unload a truck of sugar and get paid in cash plus a sack of sugar each. What was a sack of sugar in the nineties? An entire subsistence! Money! Money!. The beginning of capitalism .  .  . You could become a millionaire overnight or get a bullet to the head. When they talk about it today, they try to frighten you: There could have been a civil war, we were teetered on the edge of ruin! It didn't feel like that to me. I remember when the streets emptied out and there was nobody left on the barricades. People stopped subscribing to  or even reading the newspapers. The men hanging out in the courtyard berated Gorbachev and the Yeltsin for hiking up the vodka prices.  They'd gone after the golden calf! Wild, inexplicable avarice took hold of everyone. The smell of money filled the air. Big money. And absolute freedom - no Party, no government. Everyone wanted to make some dough, and those who didn't  know how envied those who did. Some sold, others bought .  .  . Some "covered," others "protected". When I made my first "big bucks," I took my friends out to a restaurant. We ordered Martini vermouth and Grand Piano vodka - the creme de la creme! I wanted to feel the weight of the glass in my hand, imagine that I was one of the beautiful people. We lit up Marlboros. Everything was just like we'd read about in Remarque. For a longtime, we modeled ourselves after those images. New stores, new restaurants .  .  . They were like stage sets from a different life .  .   .

.  .  . I sold fried hot dogs. Those brought in crazy money .  .  .

.  .  . I shipped vodka to Turkmenistan .  .  . I spent a whole week in a sealed freight car with my business partner.  We had our axes ready, plus a crowbar. If they found out what we were bringing into the country they would have killed us! On the way back, we carted a shipment of terrycloth towels.  .  .

I  sold toys. One time I sold off an entire lot wholesale for a truckload of carbonated beverages, traded that for a shipping container of sunflower seeds, and then, at a butter plant, traded it all in for butter, sold half of the butter, and traded the other half for frying pans and irons .  .  .

Now I have a flower business. I learned how to 'salt' roses: you put heat-treated salt at the bottom of a cardboard box - you need a layer at least a centimeter thick - and then you put half-blossomed flowers into it and pour some more salt on top of them. You put a lid on the box and put it all in a big plastic bag. Tie it up tight. Then, a month or a year later, you take them out, wash them off .  .  . Come by any day. Here's my card .  .  .

The market became our university .  .  . Maybe it's going too far to call it a university, but an elementary school for life, definitely. People  would visit like they were going to a museum. Or to the library. Boys and girl stumbled around with crazed expressions, like zombies among the stalls .  .  . A couple stops in front of some Chinese epilators, and she explains the importance of epilation : "Don't you want that? For me to be like .  .  ." I don't remember the name of the actress  .  .  . Say Marina Vlasy or Catherine Deneuve. Millions of little boxes and jars. People who bring them home as though they were sacred texts, and, after using their contents, they wouldn't throw them out, they'd display them in the a place of honor on their bookshelves, or put them in their china cabinets behind glass.  People read the first glossy magazines as though they were classics, with the reverent faith that behind the cover, directly under the packaging, you'd find the beautiful life. There were kilometer-long queues outside the first McDonald's, stories about it in the news. Educated, intelligent adults saved boxes and napkins from there and would proudly show them off to guests.

I have this good friend . . . His wife slaves away at two jobs, while he has too much pride to work: "I'm a poet. I am not about you go out and sell pots and pans. It's gross." Back in the day, he and I, like everyone else, would walk about chanting, "Democracy! Democracy!" We had no idea what all that would lead to. No one was itching to sell pots and pans. And now, there's no choice: You either feed your family or you hang on to your sovok ideals. You either/or, no other options .  .  . You can write poems, strum the guitar, and people will pat you on the shoulder: "Well, go on! Go On! But your pockets are empty. The people who left? They sell pots and pans and deliver pizza, but in other countries .  .  . Assemble boxes at cardboard factories .  .  . That kind of thing is not considered shameful like it is here.

Did you understand what I've trying to tell you? I've been talking about Igor  .  .  . About our lost generation - a communist upbringing and a capitalist life. I hate guitars! You can have mine if you want.

*sovoks: a widely used pejorative term for one who adheres to Soviet values, attitudes and behaviors. The word can refer to the Soviet Union itself. It is a pun on the word for "dustpan."

Notes From An Everywoman

What's there to remember? I live the same way as everyone else. Perestroika.  .  . Gorbachev  .  .  . The postmistress opened the gate: "Did you hear? The Communists are out." "What do you mean?" "They shut down the Party." No shots fired, nothing. These days they say we used to have a mighty fortress and then we lost it. But what have I really lost? I've always lived in the same little house without any amenities - no running water, no plumbing, no gas - and I still do today. My whole life, I've done honest work. I toiled and toiled, got used to backbreaking labor. And only earned kopecks. All I had to eat was macaroni and potatoes, and that's all I eat today. I'm still going around in my Soviet fur - and you should see the snows out here!

The best thing I can remember is getting married. We were in love. I remember walking home from the marriage  registration bureau, the lilacs in bloom. The lilacs! If you an believe it, there were nightingales singing in their branches .  .  . That's how I remember it .  .  . We lived happily for a few years, we had a daughter .  .  . Then Vadik started drinking, and the vodka ended up killing him. He died young, he was only forty-two. Ever since, I've lived alone. My daughter is all grown up, she got married and moved away.

In the winter, we always get snowed in, the whole village is blanketed in snow the houses and the cars. Sometimes, the buses won't run for weeks on end. What's going on out there in the capital?   It's a thousand kilometers from here to Moscow. We watched Moscow life unfold on TV like it's a movie. I've heard of Putin and Alla Pugacheva .  .  . The rest, I know nothing about.  Rallies, demonstrators .  .  . Out here, we live the same way we've always lived. Whether it's socialism or capitalism. Who's Red, who's White - it makes no difference. The important thing is to make it to spring. Plant potatoes .  .  . I'm sixty years old .  .  . I don't go to church, but I do need someone to talk to. To talk about other things .  .  . about how I don't feel like getting old, I have no desire to get old at all. I'll be too bad when it comes time to die. Have you seen my lilacs? I go out at night to look at them - they glow. I'll just stand there admiring them. Here, let me cut you a bouquet .  .  .

Secondhand Time; The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievich; Random House, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Munsee Massacre of 1644 by Missy Wolfe

The Dutch launched a number of forays against the Indians in 1643 and 1644 from Tomac Cove in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, which were described in unique documents that the New York State Secretary John Brodhead retrieved from The Hague in the early 1800s.One of these actions resulted in what might have been the largest massacre of Native Americans in the Northeast, surpassing some of the estimates given for the hundreds that were killed in Mystic by John Underhill and John Mason some seven years before.

New Netherland's legacy is that every aspect of the Dutch experience in America provides a useful lesson in the perils of nation-building. When it became clear that New Amsterdam no longer functioned as a simplistic trading outpost- dealing principally in furs- , and that it had morphed into a full-fledged colony in need of serious infrastructure, funding, and community controls, the West India Company could have made a more timely transition to English control, cut its losses quickly, and recalled or relocated its many employees to more profitable and less problematic regions when it saw no game-changing revenue support in its immediate future.  That Manhattan's decreasing profitability and increasing community problems were reasons to stop further finding resulted in stagnation. The decision not to nation-build  any further after a significant, yet unstable, European presence had been established and without further  left New Netherland without clear objectives and increased its corruption and instability.

The West India Company was for its time a racially and religiously tolerant as a corporation for purely pragmatic reasons. The needed to work with many races, nations and religions in the Caribbean, Africa, East Asia Manhattan, although their "work" with other people extended to buying and selling them as well , for the company was an active slave trader, and the enslaved at this time were a class entirely left out of compassionate consideration. Never-the-less, if one could possibly set aside this corporate abuse of the enslaved, as difficult as that is for us today, the company can be credited for readily soliciting sales and supply-side workers from all over the world to cooperate, and near New York it needed diverse Indian groups. Seventeen languages were spoken and any faith was welcome.

"The consciences of men ought to be free and unshackled," wrote the company directors when they scolded  Peter Stuyvesant for attempting to banish the newly minted Quakers William Hallett and John Bowne, "so long as they continue moderate, peaceful, inoffensive  and not hostile to the government; such have been the maxims of prudence and toleration by which the magistrates of this city (Amsterdam) have been governed and the consequences have been that the oppressed and persecuted from every country have fund among us an asylum from distress. Follow in the same steps and you will be blessed." But that was in 1663, long after their previous governor - William Kieft- had sailed for home and been drowned, along with his 400,000 guilders in a shipwreck near Swansea.

The Dutch experience is also a cautionary tale of long-distance oversight that is unable to address the dangerous actions of an errant individual who uses his authority to mutilate a corporate mission, dismiss credible complaint, and establish a patter of autocratic action. Like Warren Hastings in India more than one hundred years later, Kieft rejected and evaded all means of control and trampled egregiously on the common good.

By 1643 Kieft's mismanaged use of force and diplomacy had worsened the Indian situation for Manhattan-area Europeans who were clamoring ever more loudly and relentlessly for a resolution to what had become and endless cycle of European-Indian murder and revenge.  Governor Kieft's notion of what to do, however,  did not meet the expectations of his subjects. While some Dutch farmers, traders and soldiers had killed small numbers of Indians and the Indians avenged themselves with small-scale though shocking murders in return, few settlers of West India Company soldiers felt comfortable with the idea of a large-scale Indian slaughter as a solution to their problems. To discourage this idea, the Council of Eight Men tried to make Kieft personally lead any expeditionary force against large Indian massings, such that he would fully assume responsibility for such offensive ideas.  Kieft begged John Winthrop, for troops, offering 25,000 guilders and Fort Amsterdam  itself as collateral, but the governor of MA Bay Colony  "wholly declined, doubting the wisdom of his cause."

Kieft found the man for the job in John Underhill, an experienced man in such matters. Receiving information of a large gathering of Munsee people to celebrate the new moon of February:

One hundred and thirty men were accordingly dispatched under General Underhill and Ensign Hendrick van Dyke. They embarked in three yachts, landed at Greenwich, where they were obliged to pass the night by reason of the great snow and storm. In the morning they marched northwest up over stony hills, over which some were obliged to creep. In the evening, about eight o'clock, they came within aleague of the Indians, and inasmuch as they should have arrived too early and had to cross two rivers, one of two hundred feet wide and three feet deep, and that the men could not afterwards rest inconsequence of the cold, it was determined to remain there until about ten o'clock. Orders having been given as to the mode to be observed in attacking the Indians, the men marched forward towards the huts, which were set up in three rows, street fashion, each eighty paces in length, in a low recess of the mountain, affording complete shelter from the northwest wind.

The moon was ten at the full and threw a strong light against the mountain, so that many winter's days were not clearer than it was then.  On arriving, the enemy was found on alert and on their guard, so that our people determined to charge and surround the huts, sword in hand. The Indians behaved like soldiers, deployed in small bands, so we had in a short time one dead and twelve wounded. They were likewise so hard pressed that it was impossible for one to escape. Ina brief period of time, one hundred and eighty were counted dead outside their houses. Presently none durst come forth, keeping themselves within the houses, discharging arrows through the holes. The General, seeing that nothing else was to be done, resolved with Sergeant Major Underhill, to set fire to the huts. Whereupon  the Indians tried every way to escape, not succeeding in which they returned back to the flames, preferring to perish by fire than to die by our hands.

What was most wonderful is, that among the vast collection of men, women and children, not one was heard to cry or scream. According to the report of the Indians themselves, the number then destroyed exceeding five hundred. Some say, full 700, among whom were also 25 Wappingers, our God having collected together there the greater number of our enemies, to celebrate one of their festivals. No more than eight men in all escaped, of whom even three were severely wounded.

The fight ended, several fires were built in consequence of the great cold. The wounded, fifteen in number were dressed and sentinels were posted by the General. The troops bivouacked there for the remainder of the night. On the next day, the party set out much refreshed in good order, so as to arrive at Stamford in the evening. They marched with great courage over that wearisome mountain, God affording extraordinary strength to the wounded, some of whom were badly hurt and came in the afternoon to Stamford after a march of two days and one night, with little rest. The English received our people in a very friendly manner, affording them every comfort. In two days they reached here. A thanksgiving was proclaimed on their arrival.

The Europeans who participated in the massacre did not boast or write of it in  personal documentation yet discovered. Killings on both sides continued.

In April 1644, seven savages were arrested at Hempstead on Long Island for killing two or three pigs, although later found that some Englishmen had done it. Kieft sent John Underhill and fifteen or sixteen soldiers to Hempstead, who killed three of the seven in a cellar. He then put the four remaining Indians in a boat, two of whom were towed behind in the water by a string round their necks. The soldiers drowned these two men and the two unfortunate survivors were detained as prisoners at Fort Amsterdam where they were brutally tortured. A critic of the events, perhaps David DeVries, wrote of Kieft's brutality in the most inflammatory manner possible to drive home his point that Kieft must be recalled:

When (the Indian prisoners) had been kept a long time in the corps de garde, the Director became tired of giving them food any longer and they were delivered to the soldiers to do with as they pleased. The poor unfortunate prisoners were immediately dragged out of the guard house and soon dispatched with knives of from 18 to20 inches long which Director Kieft had made for his soldiers for such purposes, saying that swords were for use in the huts of the savages, when they went to surprise them; but that these knives were much handier for bowelling them.

The first of these savages having received a frightful wound, desired them to permit him to dance what is called the Kinte Kayce, a religious use observed among them before death; he received however so many wounds that he dropped down dead. The soldiers then cut strips from the other's body, beginning at the calves, up the back, over the shoulders and down to the knees. While this was going on, Governor Kieft, with his comrade Jan de la Montaigne, a Frenchman, (and Fort physician) stood laughing heartily at the fun and rubbing his right arm, so much delight the took in such scenes. He then ordered hit to be taken out of the fort, and the soldiers bringing him to the Beaver's Path, he dancing the Kinte Kayce the entire time, threw him down, cut off his genetales, thrust them in his mouth while still alive, and at last placing him on a mill stone cut off his head . . . What I tell you is true, for by the same token there stood at the same time 24 0r 25 female savages who had been taken prisoner at the N.. point of the fort; and when they saw this bloody spectacle they held up their arms, struck their mouth, and, in their language exclaimed: "For shame! For shame! Such unheard of cruelty was never known, or even thought among us!" The savages have often called out to us from a distance: "what scoundrels you Swanneken are, you do not war upon us, but upon our wives and children who you treacherously murder; whereas we do no harm either to your wives or your children, but feed and take care of them, till we send them back to you again.

And further, Director Kieft, not content with this causing the hunted savages to be surprised, engaged some English spies to accompany his soldiers as guides, into places unknown to our people, by which many poor inoffensive savages were cruelly and traitorously massacred.

In 1908, the extended descendents of John Underhill erected a monument over his grave. Buoyed by generation of gratitude and reverence to the man, including John Greenleaf Whittier's ode to his many exploits, the family invited President Theodore Roosevelt and the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Times to speak at the large granite monument's unveiling ceremonies. The  newspaper editor, to his credit, felt somewhat squeamish at extolling the virtues of a man who had slain close to a thousand Indians personally, noted that Underhill, "judged by today, would have been called a butcher." He also appropriately reminded his audience to "judge him as of his own time, and not as our time, to which he did not belong." It is undeniable, however, that the man had a mental construct that allowed him to kill hundreds of men, women and children when others in his time would not .

Nor were those times so different from our own.

Antietam by Richard Slotkin

McClellan's overestimate of enemy strength was fabulous in scale, and the errors that produced it were systematic. McClellan typically credited Confederates on his front with two or three times their actual strength. Every military operation McClellan undertook, from his arrival in Washington to the end of the Antietam campaign, would be premised on the belief that the enemy heavily outnumbered him. Because the War Department did not have its own intelligence apparatus, it had no independent means of checking McClellan's estimates.

McClellan's earliest force estimates were based on Confederate newspaper reports and civilian rumors, but he soon put in place an intelligence service commanded by the railroad detective Allan Pinkerton. Although Pinkerton's methods were effective against rear-area subversives liker the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle and the Baltimore "Blood Tubs", he was out of his depth in the field of military intelligence. His operatives did succeed in infiltrating Confederate offices, obtaining army paperwork, and gathering rumors about Rebel operations; but they did not know how to distinguish units that existed merely on paper from regiments fully manned, equipped, and ready for battle.. They could tell McClellan the number of regiments officially credited to Lee's army but not the actual strength of these nits. This failure was not entirely their fault, however -  Confederate accounting methods were so slipshod that even an army commander like Lee could not be absolutely  certain of the number of troops in his command.  Never-the-less, the result was an astounding overestimate of the Rebel forces in Virginia.

(In their meeting on September 22 , after the battle, Lincoln completely bamboozled Pinkerton in regards to his estimation and intentions  to McClellan. "Pinkerton was disarmed by his own and McClellan's belief that the president was not very intelligent.")

Pinkerton's information might have been useful had it been subject to critical analysis by an intelligence staff and supplemented by other forms of intelligence gathering - scouting by cavalry, or the use of large units for a reconnaissance- in-force, the taking and questioning of POWs, and assessment of their state of equipment, health and training, and so forth. an analysis of the Federal army's own difficulty raising troops, equipping them, and maintaining regiments at full strength would have suggested how unlikely it was that the Confederates were raising a larger army - given that the North had a larger White population to draw on, and far better resources for transporting and supplying its armies. But since McClellan insisted on being his own chief of intelligence, there was no independent staff review. McClellan also read all intelligence through the distorting lens of his conviction that he and his army were the Republic's sole hope of salvation  against the twin threats of Secession and Radical Republicanism) and must run no risk of defeat. It followed that in estimating the opposition he must always err on the side of caution, basing his moves on the assumption that the enemy force was as large as it  could conceivably be. Field reports that suggested the enemy in his front was at less than maximum possible strength were characteristically discounted. He never tested these strength estimates by matching them against the known limitations of Confederate manpower, production, and transportation.

[At Antietam he withheld or too cautiously deployed reserves at crucial times in the battle thus failing to exploit breakthroughs on the right, center and left of his lines. He failed to recognize and make use of his advantage in numbers and the reports of his own line commanders on the weakness of the enemy's positions after the day of the battle thus allowing Lee to stand his ground unmolested all day and to retreat with impunity the next day. ]

Questionable judgments were also being made on the other side of Antietam Creek. Lee had been too sanguine about the speed with which Jackson's force could join him at Sharpsburg, so for the whole of September 16 he had faced McClellan with a force less than half as large. His assumption that McClellan would not immediately attack in force proved correct, but his army's situation on September 17 would have been only fractionally better than it had been the day before.  All his labor and daring since September 14 had only succeeded in putting his army in an extremely dangerous position, faced with an enemy twice its strength, with its back to a river crossed by two difficult fords. To achieve a meaningful victory, Lee had not only to defend his lines but to drive the larger army back and force it to retreat behind South Mountain. If at the end of the day McClellan simply held his very strong position on the high ground east of the creek, Lee would have little choice but to retreat to Virginia. It has been said, and is certainly true, that Lee understood McClellan's weaknesses as a battlefield tactician, and believed he could exploit these ( by means of the excellent lines of communications he maintained with his line commanders) to win a victory. But that seems a slim reed on which to rest the fate of an army and, potentially, a nation.

Still, the possibility exists that Lee was unaware just how far his original force had been diminished by combat and straggling (he did not established an adequate  system of accounting for the real strength of his regiments until after Antietam). Lee's troops, however, were not only weak in numbers, their physical strength had been compromised by weeks of hard marching and a bad or inadequate diet, in addition to the ordinary debilitating effects of bad sanitation and polluted drinking water. Most of Lee's men had been subsisting on unripe or uncooked corn and unripe fruit, which gave them the "gripes" and the "squitters". Diarrhea and dysentery were endemic in the Rebel camps. After the fighting their abandoned battle lines could be traced in rows of loose and bloody feces.

By his excessive caution, his refusal to move until every risk had been minimized, McClellan had revealed his fear of losing control of the action. In contrast, Lee understood and accepted the fact that battle is chaos and was a 'connoisseur' of this chaos. At least he believed that his own skill as a commander, the experience and skill of his chief subordinates, the efficacy of his command system, and the superior morale of his troops would allow him to ride that chaos; and that the weaknesses of McClellan, his generals and his army made them liable to a loss of control, and a cascade of failures leading to defeat.

The strategist does what he can to create a situation in which victory is likely and the gains in battle are commensurate with the risks. But battle is the violent collision of two highly complex human systems, driven by different impulses, organized indifferent ways, with different strengths and solidarities. The outcome may turn on actions far down the chain of command, surprising local successes that boost the advantage and morale of one side, wreck the prospects and demoralize the other. . . 

September 17 was the costliest day of combat in American history, leaving 25 thousand Americans dead or wounded. That Lee's army retreated meant that the battle was a tactical victory for the Union. But the sound and fury, the immense cost in death suffering, and grief, had not resolved the strategic crisis. Hardly anyone was entirely happy with the result apart from George McClellan and his supporters- they believed he had vouchsafed his position as sole savior of the Republic. Lincoln had still not effected the strategic transformation envisioned in early July: the shift from a strategy of conciliation to a war of subjection, in which restoration of the Union was linked to general emancipation - a shift that required the permanent sidelining of General McClellan.  Victory at Antietam fulfilled one condition for issuing an emancipation proclamation, but that same victory also seemed to aggrandize McClellan, who opposed emancipation and was attempting the thwart Lincoln's policies.

In the end, however, McClellan's political advisors decided  that it was the general's duty  to submit to the president's proclamation and quietly continue to do his duty as a soldier, that any form of opposition by McClellan to the president's decree  would be perceived  by Democrats as a military usurpation. To weaken McClellan's position, Lincoln and his Secretary John Hay began feeding criticisms of the general's performance to Republican journals . One of Lincoln's favorite criticisms o McClellan - that he was "an auger to dull to take hold" - started popping up (without attribution) in the Tribune.  Lincoln also authorized John Hay to begin a secret journalistic campaign to expose McClellan's flaws as a general, thus preparing the public mind for his removal. Hay's method was one Lincoln had used often against opponents: he satirized the general, deflated him by ridicule.

Above all it was McClellan's inactivity after the Battle of Antietam  which doomed his future as the top general in the Union Army,  dramatically demonstrated during three days in October when General Lee unleashed Jeb Stuart's cavalry for a spectacular raid that took him up into Pennsylvania and all around McClellan's Army.

[ Lincoln is renowned for his ability to manage the "Team of Rivals" that constituted his government, but in1862 his strategic transformation was nearly wrecked by his inability to get his cabinet officers and his generals   to cooperate with him and each other.]

The Great Primaeval Contract by Richard Bourke

Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution (1790) in France is a defense of the British constitutional setup, including existing relations between the church and state. As such it is an attack on figures hostile to the Anglican establishment as well as to the principle of parliamentary monarchy. Its immediate target was the nonconformist preacher Richard Price, who sought with various fellow travellers  to undermine ecclesiastical and political arrangements in Britain. Noble patrons of dissent, like the Earl of Shelburne, and aristocratic critics of the national Church, like the Duke of Grafton, are treated with particular distain. For Burke, , their public support for the values of Revolutionary France exposed them to justifiable derision. They were driven, he supposed, by a kind of demagogic enthusiasm which hid their goal of self-serving ambition. In the process they helped publicize an attitude to politics and religion that would ultimately be destructive of both. Burke was desperate to consolidate Whig antipathy to such principles and recover Charles James Fox from the temptations of populism by counter-posing the enlightened values of British domestic politics with the chaos of ideas that were serving to dismantle France.

Burke's principal target was Price's idea of freedom as self-government, which extended civil liberty to include a right to public power. It was on this basis, Burke believed, that Price had mistaken the Whig conception of legitimate resistance for a license to resort to revolution as a matter of convenience. With this approach, it was suggested, neither Parliament nor monarchy could stand. Burke accepted that, fundamentally, government was an instrument of convenience. However, he also thought that constitutional government should provide a way of deliberating over the character of that convenience. This required the provision of means of scrutiny, debate and execution under conditions of stability and allegiance. For this reason, Burke dwells at some length on the emotions that support continuity in national counsels and attachment to the welfare of the community.  These included moral and aesthetic sentiments that encourage respect, as well as feelings of veneration for enduring customs and the national past. None of this was intended to affirm an empty reverence for "tradition". Instead, support for authority was interpreted as a means of advancing the common good.  As Burke was at pains to emphasize  in his speech opening the Hastings trial, the failure to protect the good of the community provided grounds for legitimate resistance. More expansively, the Reflections dwells on the duty of obedience as well as protection. He claimed that both should comprehended under the "great primaeval contract" that defines the moral relations between rulers and ruled. Burke recognized the right to revolution against the state but he also appreciated the gravity of resource to insurrection. The situation in France, he thought, could scarcely justify resort to violence, still less attempt upon the pillars of established government.

Burke claimed that civil society was a mechanism for survival as well as a vehicle for human progress towards perfection.  It was consequently an object of both reverence and piety as well as a beneficiary of trust.  In France it had fulfilled its trust only to be treated with contempt. Full-scale resistance had begun not with popular insurgency  but with the treachery of disaffected courtiers and nobles. These were soon abetted by disgruntled men of letters who found themselves in league with aspiring of the moneyed interest.  Between them the launched an offensive against the property of the Church, condemned as a bastion of corporate privilege. On Burke's analysis the Revolution was fuelled by resentments about inequality rooted in the ambitions of rising talent along with competitiveness over standing among the divisions of the aristocracy. The diverse appeal of equality focused hostility against the monarchy, giving rise to a reckless spirit of innovation. That mood was eagerly heightened by the deputies in the Assembly, who were in Burke's opinion bereft of practical wisdom and the inclination to pursue sustainable reform.  Superstitious fear of timeworn  historic abuses were conflated with current political practice.  Luxury was wisely taken to be a cause of misery. The determination to overturn the consolation of providence made the spectacle of unmerited prosperity seem unbearable. As corporate bodies and social divisions were progressively undermined, the military poised to extend its power without resistance. The spirit of conquest was reborn under the cloak of liberty...

Unlike the class of freethinkers in the first half of the eighteenth century, dissenters in Britain in the 1780s and 1790s were aided by an alliance with the political mainstream. They shared this advantage with atheists in France, who had formed a vehicle among deputies in the third estate hostile to the clerical establishment. Despite  the outright animosity of rational dissenters towards irrational irreligion, Burke regarded the two groups as constituting a common peril. First of all, he ascribed to both a similar intellectual approach; and second, he noted their shared antagonism to established religion.  Burke accounted for both these features
in terms of a shared attitude of 'enthusiasm." Ascribing an enthusiastic spirit to English dissent and French heterodoxy was of course an affront to both, since they separately prided themselves on supplanting credulity by means of rigorous, rational procedure.

Two forms of excessive credulity came under attack in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: superstition on the one hand, enthusiasm on the other.  Both presumed to sustain belief on the basis of insufficient evidence, driven, it was often claimed, by excessive fear in the case of superstition, and by disproportionate hope in the case of enthusiasm. Burke took many of the heterodox, congratulating themselves on their success in overcoming superstition, to have slipped into enthusiasm, pretending in the process to have achieved enlightenment. He sought to turn the tables on what he saw as intellectual complacency, implying that for Priestly, Price and Helvetius, reason operated less as a means of genuine enlightenment than as a kind of spiritual "illumination." In seeking to purge belief of all superstition, faux enlighteners confused reasonable assent with the foundationless "Fancies of a Man's Own Brain", as Locke had put it.  Reason among the deists and rational dissenters was a merely presumptuous mental persuasion. Burke thought: the feeling of certainty that it communicated was a kind of intellectual conceit.

The term conceit has two senses here: it refers, first to a whimsical notion; and second, to the presumptuousness of treating personal fancies as tokens of divine revelation. The belief that reason reveals to the mind the truths of nature by introspection combines both meanings into a comprehensive conceit amounting to a self-regarding confidence in one's own opinions without reference to probable evidence. Revolutionary agitators in France shared with rational non-conformity in England a determination to impose moral truths of reason on the actions and opinions of individuals already existing under the discipline of civil society. This bespoke an extraordinary arrogance: to begin with, it equated personal preferences with rational norms of conduct; next, it strove the impose these values irrespective of circumstances. The procedure was both sophistical and pedantic at the same time, and therefore dubbed by Burke a regressive "political metaphysics." All judgments of experience, and consequently all existing arrangements could only be validated by the abstract ideals of doubtful speculation.

As we have seen, Burke assumed that this would usher in an age of false "humanity" under the impact of the ideas of Rousseau: ordinary feelings would be suppressed out of deference to abstract norms, the metaphysical love of man would encourage contempt for  individual men, and the idlest fantasy of social improvement would be sufficient to justify limitless suffering.

Given  the remoteness of these norms and ideals from the existing order of things, the criticism of concrete abuses gave way to exposing the foundations of legitimacy. The most reasonable prejudice was restlessly discarded. Since actual political attitudes and institutions would never "quadrate" with the amplitude of pre-civil rights, their illegitimacy was a foregone conclusion of the theory. This mode of dissection masqueraded as enlightened critique by public opinion, but in truth it was a recipe for antinomian destruction. Every civil restraint was branded as illicit  "privilege, all government deemed a form of "usurpation." Improvement was predicated on what Priestly projected as "the fall of the civil powers", and the means to reform was supplanted by permanent insurrection.

As Burke saw it, spurious emissaries of enlightenment in France promised nothing more edifying than an anti-Christian establishment founded on persecution. They proffered liberation from the authority of the past, but would in practice deliver ruthless tyranny; they held out the promise of toleration, but would end by heightening religious oppression. Christian charity should be taken as the "measure of tolerance", Burke later argued, not apathy or hatred towards religion. The self-appointed representatives of "light" in Britain would similarly squander toleration by capsizing the Church under which it was provided. In the absence of that ecclesiastical structure, sectarianism would proliferate, and animosity deepen.  At the same time, public life would lose its connection to the sanctity of religion. Religion was essential to the progress of culture: containing the germ of the moral life, it laid the foundations for humane behavior.  Without it, regression to brutishness was assured. The endeavor to destroy organized belief would vitiate morals, and manners accordingly would become depraved. The endeavor, however, was bound to fail. Man, Burke claimed, was "by his constitution a religious animal." Any attempt to eviscerate the influence of religion from the human mind could only succeed in creating yet more mysterious forms of persuasion, at once "uncouth, pernicious and degrading."

While religion was the basis of moral edification, it was also the pillar of the state: in the first place, God prescribed the formation of civil society; and in the second, the sanction of religion operated as a check upon its rulers. Both these natural law precepts can be traced to diverse sources in the history of jurisprudence, and they found expression in one of the pivotal paragraphs of the Reflections. "Society is indeed a contract,"  the paragraph begins.  By "Society" Burke meant civil society, and he was signaling his belief that the state was founded on reciprocal obligations. These were neither as arbitrary nor as perishable as the contingent  interests that were served by ordinary agreements in business or trade.  The national interest was rather an enduring interest that bound one generation to the next. The personality of the state was a product of human artifice and could not  be reduced to its transitory parts. Equally, its objectives were not exhausted  by the mere "animal existence" of the individuals who composed it. Since civil society was enjoined by divinity  ['Providentially'] as a mechanism for realizing human ends, it was a means of advancing towards the perfection of science, art and virtue. This did not mean, in neo-Aristotelian fashion, that it was the state's purpose to realize the perfection of human nature, but that, in protecting society, and thus religion too, it facilitated the objective of mental and moral improvement. In combining their aptitudes for that purpose, citizens were subject to the obedience while sovereigns were bound by the obligation to protect.  Accountability, in both directions, were fixed by a law of nature. Burke dubbed this "the great primaeval contract of eternal society". It implied the subjection of nature to divine will (which Burke saw less as a burden than a consolation). It was on the basis of this subjection that the responsibility of human conscience to a higher law was commanded.           

[The author notes on several occasions in his text that it is not easy to fit Burke's thesis or position into the opposing 'conservative' and 'liberal' paradigms of contemporary political discourse; "the force of his argument has been drowned out by subsequent political rhetoric", he is not adequately represented as            'a leading opponent of modernity', he is wrongly 'deputed to represent the forces of reaction.' Indeed, both political parties  in the U.S. put significant emphasis on the primacy of civil society as the engine of human progress, the importance of religion in that construct and the duty of reverence towards  the constitutional structure of the State, as each accuses the other of failing to do so. Burke himself considered the Constitutional framework of the American Republic sufficient for the purposes he outlined in Reflections.]

Long book. This is the most justice I can do for it at this time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Johannesburg Unlocked by Ian Vladislavic

Occasionally, when Louise was teaching at the Twilight Children's Shelter in Esselen Street and I was working as an editor at Ravan Press in O'Reilly Road, we would meet for lunch at the Florian in Hillbrow. If the weather was good, we sat outside on the first-floor balcony. Then she would slip her arms out of her paint-stain overalls and tie the sleeves in a big bow across her chest, so that she could feel the sun on her bare shoulders. Despite the chocolate-dipped letters of its Venetian name, the Florian offered English  boardinghouse fare: chops and chips, liver and onions wit mashed potatoes, mutton stews and long-grained rice. We drank beer, although it was sure to make us sleepy, watched the traffic in the street below, and stayed away from work longer than the lunch hour we were entitled to.

The discovery of something unexpected about the world always filled her with infectious wonder. Once, she tugged me over to the balcony railings at the Florian to point out the iron covers on the water mains set into the pavement. Did I know the spaces below these covers , where the meters are housed? Well, the poor people of Joberg, the street people - we did not call them 'the homeless' in those days - the tramps, car parkers and urchins, used them as cupboards! They store their winter wardrobes  there and the rags of bedding they used at night, they preserved their scraps of food, their perishables, in the cool shade, they banked the empty bottles they collected for the deposits. It tickled her - she laughed out loud, just as if the idea had poked her in the ribs - that such utilitarian spaces should have been appropriated and domesticated, transformed into repositories of privacy for those compelled to live their lives in public. Any iron cover you passed in the street might conceal someone's personal effects. There was a maze of mysterious spaces underfoot, known only to those who could see it. And this special knowledge turned them into the privileged ones, making them party to something in which we, who lived in houses with wardrobes and chests of drawers, and ate three square meals a day, could not participate. Blind and dumb, we passed over these secret places, did not even sense them beneath the soles of our shoes. How much more might we be missing?

The food came. While we ate, I began to argue with her about the 'cupboards' and what they represented, as if it were my place to set her straight about the world.

'It's pathetic,' I said, 'that people are so poor they have to store their belongings in the hole in the ground.'

'No, it's not. It's pathetic when people don't care about themselves, when they give up. These people are resourceful, they're making a life out of nothing.'

'It's like a dog burying a bone,' I said.

'Oh, you'll never understand.'

When we'd finished our lunch and were walking down Twist Street, I wanted to lift up one of the covers to check the contents of the cavity beneath, but she wouldn't hear of it. It wasn't right to go prying into people's thing.

'What about the meter-readers?' I asked. 'Surely they're always poking their noses in?'

'That's different,' she said. 'They're professionals. Like doctors.'

'They probably swipe the good stuff,' I insisted.

'Nonsense. They have understanding.'

Then we parted, laughing. She went back to the children and I went back to the books. And this parting, called to mind, has a black edge of mourning, because she was walking in the shadow of death and I am still here to feel the sun on my face.

Ten years later, the domestic duty of a tap washer that needs replacing takes me out into Argyle Street to switch off the main. There is a storm raging in from the south, the oaks in Blenheim Street are already bowing before its lash, dropping tears as hard as acorns. I stick a screwdrivers under the rim of the iron cover and lever it up.  In the space beneath I find:  a brown, ribbed jersey, army issue; a red flannel shirt; a small checked blanket; two empty bottle - Fanta Grape and Lion Lager; a copy of Penthouse; a blue enamel plate' a clear plastic bag containing scraps of food (bread rolls, tomatoes, oranges). Everything neatly arranged. On one side, the empties have been laid down head to toe; the plate balanced across them to hold the food, the magazine rolled up between.  In the middle, behind a lens of misted glass, white numbers on black drums are revolving, measuring out a flood in standard units.

I kneel on the pavement like a man gazing down into a well, with this is  small, impoverished, inexplicably orderly world before me and the chaotic plenitude of the Highveld sky above.  .   .  .

Strolling home with the morning paper under his arm, Branko passes a salesman dragged a large briefcase. He looks like a salesman anyway, in blazer and flannel, white shirt and stripped tie, a door-to-door man lugging a set of samples. Branko feels sorry for him in this heat, trying to give the heavy case an extra little shove with his calf at each step, his free arm sticking out like a wing, pigeon-toe with effort.

At his own door, Branko nearly falls into a hole in the pavement. The iron cover that's supposed to conceal the connection to the water main is gone. It was here ten minutes, when he stepped out to buy the paper. He stands there puzzling.


He jams his paper in the letterbox and runs down the street, looking for the man with the case, unsure what he will do with this while-collar criminal when he catches him but he has already vanished.   .   .   .

Herman Wald's Leaping Impala sculpture was installed in Ernest Oppenheimer Park in 1960. Eighteen animals in full flight, a sleigh-ride arc of hoof and horn twenty meters long, a ton and a half of venison in bronze. In the sixties and seventies, fountains splashed the flanks of the stampeding buck, while office workers ate their lunch-time sandwiches on white-only benches. Although the park deteriorated along with the inner city in the following decades, until it came to be used primarily as a storage depot by hawkers, the herd of impala seemed set to survive the century unscathed. But towards the end of 1999, poachers started carving away at it, lopping heads and legs with blow-torches and hacksaws. At the end of October, a civic-minded hawker, who arrived at the park to find a man stuffing two severed heads into a bag, called the police. They arrested the thief, but he was subsequently deported as an illegal alien and the heads disappeared without a trace. A fortnight later, an entire impala was removed from the park by four men, who told security guards they were transporting it to another park, stock  thieves. A week after that, another ten heads were lopped. Police later rescued one of these heads from a Boksburg scrap-metal dealer. A leg was found in a pawn shop  in the CBD.

Johannesburg has an abundance  of wildlife, and the poachers have taken full advantage of the open season. They've bagged a bronze steenbok from Wits University; a horse from outside the library in Sandton (first docking the beast, to see if anyone would mind, and then hacking of its head like Mafiosi); a pair of eagles nesting near the Stock Exchange; and another steenbok in the Botanical Garden at Emmarentia. This little buck, which had been donated to the Gardens by the sculptor Ernest Ullmann in1975, was taken in 1998. The head turned up afterwards in a scrap-yard and was returned to the scene of the slaughter, where it was mounted on a conical pedestal like a trophy; along with a plaque explaining the circumstances of its loss and recovery. But before long the head was stolen for the second time and now the pedestal is empty.

Of course, urban poachers are not just hungry for horseflesh, any old iron will do. They are especially fond of the covers on manholes and water mains. When Kensington Electrical Suppliers took over Tile City  they painted the covers on their pavement bright yellow to deter thieves, but the logic was flawed: now thieves could spot them from a hundred meters.

Elsewhere in the city, the council has begun to replace the stolen iron covers with blue plastic ones. These bits of plastic tell scrap-metal thieves to go ahead and help themselves as the authorities have given up on protecting their resources. The council could wrest back the initiative by lifting all the remaining iron at once and selling it off. They could use the same argument the Botswana government uses for the controlled sale of ivory. Get a jump on the poachers  by selling the booty yourself.

The urban poacher is a romantic figure. In unequal cities, where those who have little must survive somehow by preying on those who have more, the poacher scavenging a meal from under the nose of the gamekeeper may be admired for his ingenuity and daring. AbdouMaliq Simone: ' There are young people in Johannesburg who spend twelve and more hours a day simply passing through different neighborhoods, different parts of the city, seeing what can be easily taken, but also running into others like themselves, sometimes teaming up to do "jobs", sometimes steering each in the wrong  direction."