Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Genghis etc
Just finished reading a bio of Genghis Khan- interesting- especially the recipe for Marmot (ground squirrel) cooked in a bag of it's own skin. (see also: In Our Time podcast on Genghis)
An illiterate orphan on the Mongolian Steppe becomes a genocidal megalomaniac and takes over the world- from the Pacific Ocean to Hungary. He fights hard, he plays hard, and he f%cks hard- thus explaining the 16 million descendants he has now (based on Y chromosome analysis).
The big question (unanswered in the book) is why? There is always a feeling of teleogism when thinking about these things: if it isn't a Genghis it'd probably have been some other Tom, Dick or Napoleon.
True- he was a 'master' tactician in battle- although he seems to have used the same tactic again and again - of feigning retreat before the surprise denouement.
Fast battle-front communications using a 'pony-express' helped. As did the extreme loyalty of his men - rewarded with fair distribution of the spoils of war. A little bit of brutality and butchery never went astray.

Once Genghis let the whole 'conquer-the-world' thing get out of the bag- it seemed to require ongoing expansion to pay off his ever-expanding army (reminiscent of a giant military Ponzi scheme.). Perhaps the lack of a monetised economy was the real problem. Parasitic nomadic Mongol raiders looked at heir city-dwelling prey with contempt. They looted their wealth and divided their lands yet never contributed to economic activity themselves.

There were, however, lighthearted moments- The Christian kingdoms of Europe heard rumors of an empire in the east battling the Muslims and assumed it was a mythical Christian savior from India. Unfortunately for them, it was Genghis and his henchmen! Eastern Europe didn't know what hit it- and didn't stand a chance- but the invasion was called off just as abruptly when Genghis became ill and the armies recalled to Mongolia (after a quick whip around the Caspian Sea).

In the end, Genghis' grandson Kublai inherited the kingdom (at least the eastern part of it)- eventually inviting Marco Polo to come for a play-date. Whilst rotting in a Genoan prison, Marco dictated his book that eventually inspired Columbus to find a sea route to China, and later inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write a mysterious poem after an opium binge. The poem then became the basis for an ELO/ Olivia Newton John hit single "Xanadu" in the 80's which brings us up to the present day. Click play on both videos at the same time for surreal effect.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea...

A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu

And now
Open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu

A million lights are dancing
And there you are
A shooting star
An everlasting world
And you're here with me

Xanadu, Xanadu,
(now we are here)
In Xanadu
Xanadu, Xanadu,
(now we are here)
In Xanadu

The love
The echoes of long ago
You needed the world to know
They are in Xanadu

The dream
That came through a million years
That lived on through all the tears
It came to Xanadu

Now that I'm here
Now that you're near in Xanadu
Now that I'm here
Now that you're near in Xanadu

etc etc

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