Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tamerlane (1336 - 1405) - The Last Great Nomad Power

Tamerlane, the name was derived from the Persian Timur-i lang, "Temur the Lame" by Europeans during the 16th century. His Turkic name is Timur, which means 'iron'. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander. His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders.

Character and Personality
There are abundant ancient sources written about Tamerlane. We have the primary source from Spanish Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, sent by King Henry III of Castile on a return embassy to Tamerlane. There is also a Persian biography of Tamerlane by Ali Sharaf ad-Din and the Arab biography by Ahmad ibn Arabshah; from Marlowe to Edgar Allan Poe, he continues to fascinate us as hero or viper.

Timur claimed direct descent from Jenghiz Khan through the house of Chagatai. He was born at Kesh (the Green city), about fifty miles south of Sarmarkand in 1336, a son of a lesser chief of the Barlas tribe. Sharaf ad-Din explained that he received arrow wounds in battle while stealing sheep in his twenties and left him lame in the right leg and with a stiff right arm for the rest of his life. But Tamerlane made light of these disabilities; by 1369 he had possessed himself of all the lands which had formed the heritage of Chagatai and, after being proclaimed sovereign at Balkh, made Samarkand his capital.

He was said to be tall strongly built and well proportioned, with a large head and broad forehead. His complexion was pale and ruddy, his beard long and his voice full and resonant. Arabshah describes him approaching seventy, a master politician and military strategist:

steadfast in mind and robust in body, brave and fearless, firm as rock. He did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him.....He loved bold and valiant soldiers, by whose aid he opend the locks of terror, tore men to pieces like lions, and overturned mountains. He was fautless in strategy, constant in fortune, firm of purpose and truthful in business.

In 1941, the body of Tamerlane was permitted to be exhumed by a Russian scientist, M. M. Gerasimov. The scientist found Timur, after examining his skeleton, a Mongoloid man about 5 feet 8 inches. He also confirmed Tamerlane's lameness. In his book The Face Finder, Gerasimov explains how he was able to reconstruct exact likenesses of Timur from a careful consideration of his skull.

Different sources indicate that Timur is a man with extraordinary intelligence - not only intuitive, but intellectual. Even though he did not know how to read or write, he spoke two or three languages including Persian and Turkic and liked to be read history at mealtimes. He had aesthetic appreciation in buildings and garden. It has been said that he loved art so much that he could not help stealing it! The Byzantine palace gates of the Ottoman capital of Brusa were carried off to Samarkand, where they were much admired by Clavijo. Ibn Khaldun, who met him outside Damascus in 1401 worte:

"This king Timur is one of the greatest and mightiest kings...he is hightly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argument about what he knows and also about what he does not know!"

Known to be a chess player, he had invented a more elaborate form of the game, now called Tamerlane Chess, with twice the number of pieces on a board of a hundred and ten squares.

The question of Timur's religion beliefs has been a matter of controversy ever since he began his great conquests. His veneration of the house of the Prophet, the spurious genealogy on his tombstone taking his descent back to Ali, and the presense of Shiites in his army led some observers and scholars to call him a Shiite. However his official religious counselor was the Hanafite scholar Abd alJabbar Khwarazmi. Timur's religious practices with their admixture of Turco-Mongolian shamanistic elements belonged to the Sufi tradition. Timur avowed himself the disciple of Sayyid Baraka, the holy man of the commercial city of Tirmidh. He also constructed one of his finest buildings at the tomb of Ahmad Yaassawi, who was doing most to spread Folk Islam among the nomads.

In religion as in other aspects of his life Timur was above all an opportunist; his religion served frequently to further his aims, but almost never to curcumscribe his actions. It was in the justification of his rule and his conquests that Timur found Islam most useful.

Empire and War Machine
The same as Jenghiz Khan, Timur rose from a nomad ruler; however unlike Jenghiz Khan, he was the first one based his strength on the exploitation of settled populations and inherited a system of rule which could encompass both settled and nomad populations. Those who saw Timur's army described it as a huge conglomeration of different peoples - nomad and settled, Muslims and Christians, Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Georgians and Indians. Timur's conquests were extraordinary not only for their extent and their success, but also for their ferocity and massacres. The war machine was composed of 'tumen', military units of a 10,000 in the conquered territories. It consisted of his family, loyal tribes particularly the Barlas and Jalayir tribes, recruited soldiers from nomadic population from as far as the Moghuls, Golden Horde and Anatolia, and finally Persian- speaking sedentarists.

Timur and his army were never at rest and neither age nor increasing infirmity could halt his growing ambitions. In 1391 Timur's army fought and won in the great battle of Kanduzcha on June 18. Following his campaign in India, he acquired an elephant corps and took them back to Samarkand for building mosques and tombs. He led the attack and victory on the Ottoman army in the battle of Ankara on July 28 1402.

With great interest in trade, Timur had a grand plan to reactivate the Silk Road, the central land route, and make it the monopoly link between Europe and China. Monopolization was to be achieved by war: primarily, against the Golden Horde, the master of principal rival, the northern land route; secondarily, against the states of western Persia and the Moghuls to the east in order to place the Silk Road under unified control politically; and finally agaist India, Egypt and China.

Early in his career, he took the title or epithet 'Sahib Qiran' symbolized by three circlets forming a triangle. (See coin on the right with three rings forming Timur's symbol) It was an astrological term which meants 'Lord of the Fortunate Conjuncture'. It expressed his sense not just of balancing or juggling ruler, nomads and sedentarists, as his predecessors had done, but of integrating them into a dynamic institutional system.

China and Death
The first Ming ruler, the Hung-wu emperor (1368-1398), sent embassies to former Yuan (a part of Mongol kingdom) tributaries asking that the Ming be recongnized as the new overlords. One of these reached Samarkand in 1395 and was promptly imprisoned by Tamerlane who was already planning his campaign to control the Silk Road, restore the Yuan, equal Jenghiz Khan and surpass Alexander. The second Ming ruler, Yung-lo emperor (1402-1424), anticipated an invasion from Tamerlane and sent another embassy to Samarkand. He too was imprisoned. In 1405, Yung-lo emperor launched the first of his great naval expeditions to the west under the eunuch Cheng Ho. The primary purpose of these missions was to end China's isolation in the face of an attack from Tamerlane.

Without taking the advice of his generals to remain in Samarkand until the spring, Timur and his army planned to advance northwards without delays, encamp at various points near the river Jaxartes and wait for the first sign of spring to strike towards China. They left Samarkand early in January on a day chosen by the astrologers as auspicious. Thus Tamerlane led an enormous army and departed on his last and most fantastic campaign to conquer China when he was close to seventy years old. He was too weak to walk and had to be carried in a litter. Toward the end of January, they reached Utrar. There Timur's health had suffered from the severity of the journey and he was seriously ill, On 17 or 18 February 1405, Tamerlane died. His body was carried back and buried at the Gur-i-Mir, Samarkand

Even though Tamerlane never successfully invaded Ming China, but this threat to do so had a profound impact there.

El 7 de Septiembre ...

Fue un 15 de Junio, lo recuerdo tambien porque marco un hito en mi vida,
y este fue el primer 15 de junio que por la rabia, el sentimiento, y la
depresion no te llame a felicitarte. Diras que de qeu te felicito, que
ahora ya esta de mas, pero sin embargo para mi es una fecha muy especial

Gracias !... y si aveces no se si besarte en la cara o en los labios..
Creo qeu la cancion refleja mucho como me siento porque el sentimiento
no ha muerto, pero lo trato de madurar y de aceptar como la desicion tuya....

Parece mentira
que después de tanto tiempo, rotos nuestros lazos
sigamos manteniendo la ilusión en nuestro aniversario.
La misma mesita que nos ha visto amarrar
las manos por debajo,
cuida que el rincón de siempre
permanezca reservado.

Y aunque la historia se acabó
hay algo vivo en este amor
que aunque empeñados en soplar
hay llamas que ni con el mar.

Las flores de Mayo, poco a poco cederán
a las patas de gallo
y nos buscaremos con los ojos por si queda algo.

El 7 de Septiembre
es nuestro aniversario
y no sabremos si besarnos
en la cara o en los labios.

Antibiotics losing effectiveness

A public health crisis – that's what the Infectious Diseases Society of America is calling the losing battle against deadly bacteria. The bugs are increasingly resistant to our best drugs. Antibiotics are losing their punch, largely from over use. In fact, these days hospital-acquired infections kill more people each year than HIV/AIDS. And we're running out of choices; the last time the FDA approved a new antibiotic was back in 2003.

The vast majority of antibiotics aren't used on people - they're fed to farm animals to make them grow faster – or keep them healthy under stressful conditions. Last year farm animals in North Carolina alone consumed more antibiotics than were prescribed for all the people in the United States.

Representative Louise Slaughter says that's got to stop. The New York Democrat has introduced a bill in Congress to limit the use of antibiotics on the farm. It's called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. "Living on Earth's" Bruce Gellerman speaks with Congresswoman Slaughter about the bill.

Slaughter: "We need this act because seventy percent of all the antibiotics produced in the United States go for animal feed and making bacteria resistant. So when human beings need it, they're not really very effective. We're finding that people who go to the hospital, seventy percent* of them will get some kind of a bacterial infection that is resistant and the estimate is that the hospital costs and the health care costs are between four and five billion dollars annually."

(*LOE FACT CHECK: According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at the Department of Health & Human Services, five percent of people who check in to a hospital in a year contract a bacterial infections; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states "more than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause hospital-associated infections are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used to treat them.")

According to Slaughter, antibiotics are given to healthy animals, "... not to treat illness because we certainly want that done, but healthy animals as a preventative measure and to cover up some pretty awful conditions, living conditions and unsanitary conditions."

Certain microbes are getting stronger and more resistant to antibiotics Slaughter says, "...the best example of that is Staphylococcus aureus which causes MRSA now. But when I was a microbiology student in Kentucky, Staphylococcus aureus was as common as dirt, literally and was not anything anybody worried about because of the antibiotic being able to take it out almost immediately. But about ten, twelve years ago, we noticed that a thing called staph infection, which happened often to people who'd undergone surgery. And a lot of hospitals had to tear down their enter surgical wing and rebuild it because of the staph infection within the walls and within that unit. That should have scared us half to death. But it didn't. And now we're to the point where there's MRSA, which is the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which killed 18,000 people last year."

Slaughter's bill calls for limiting the use of antibiotics in animals: "My bill would require the manufacturer of the antibiotic to say that if they were using it on animals, it would not create resistance that would hurt treating of human beings, and, basically, what it says is you have to only use this to treat sick animals."

As for how her bill is going over with the farm industry: "Well, let me tell you that this is the fourth term that this bill has been introduced, not been able to pass it. We have high hopes for it this year. But I should tell you also that in 1980, a bill was introduced that would have prevented this. Had we passed it then in 1980, look how far ahead we would have been."

Europe and South Korea have regulations in place, and California is considering a bill. Slaughter has hope: "A new president. New agencies. The FDA always to me was the gold standard of health as a microbiologist and a masters in public health, but no longer. And it's not the fault of the scientists there, 'cause I've had scientists look right at me and tell me that they can't talk about what's really true."

Many chicken companies in the United States have started giving up voluntarily the use of antibiotics: "Yes, I think a lot of people have – mostly because people have, as I said a while ago – this is an entirely new population of thought than we had even four years ago of people who are much more aware. Because of the deaths and the peanut butter scare and the other things – meat recalls – and all the things that they've seen, I think they understand that their food supply's not safe. And that's one of the least things that they could have always been able to expect from us. And it is our job here to make sure that they are safe. So I think this bill will pass much easier and quicker now. Senator Kennedy will be carrying it in the Senate. We never predict the Senate's actions, but I believe it will pass the House handily."

Tale of Two Brains

Right-brained people are supposed to be artistic and spontaneous, while left-brainers are literal and analytical; in other words, Captain Kirk and Spock. This ubiquitous bit of pop science wisdom came out of Nobel Prize-winning neurology, and it spawned the bestseller "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain."

But does the story of the two brains stand up? "Studio 360's" Dave Johns tries to find out.

In the 1960s, surgeons developed a radical new way to treat patients with severe epilepsy -- they would cut the corpus callosum, a thick cable of nerves that connects the left and right halves of the brain. These so-called split-brain patients made fascinating research subjects.

Joe Hellegy is a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California: "In a normal person, the information can be quickly processed and spread to both sides; but in the split-brain patients that sharing of information is greatly impaired, and might even be eliminated. And so for the first time you could look at the competence of each hemisphere in isolation."

It wasn't long before a Caltech neuroscientist named Roger Sperry figured out a way to do just that. His experiments took advantage of the fact that the right side of the brain controlled the left side of the body, and vice versa. Some of the differences Sperry saw was dramatic.

Hellegy: "So you flashed a word to the left hemisphere, the person could tell you what it is; you flashed the word to the right hemisphere, they'll tell you quite correctly they didn't see anything. The right hemisphere has almost no ability to actually produce overt speech."

But the research also showed that the right side was actually better than the left at visual and spatial tasks. Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his work.

In the late 70s, a woman named Betty Edwards wrote a book called "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." It drew heavily on Sperry's research. Edwards taught drawing classes too, and they're still run today by her son, Brian Bomeisler.

Bomeisler: "It turns out ... from Roger Sperry himself, that the left hemisphere is competitive and likes to stay on task. The left hemisphere ... doesn't want you to draw at all, it doesn't want to lose control like that. So it will find multiple ways of tricking you out of it -- it will say something like, 'well I've got to clean up the house' or 'I've got to mow the lawn' or something like that. But the right hemisphere is sort of nudging the left hemisphere, saying 'come on, let's have some fun, let’s do a drawing.'"

"Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" became a best seller, and helped popularize the notion that the right brain is the source of human creativity. Editorialists began to declare that tomorrow's problems required creative, right-brained solutions. Advocates accused the educational system of catering to the left brain, and called for more art in public schools.

Roger Sperry himself complained that society discriminated against the non-verbal right hemisphere. Suddenly, two blobs of brain matter had become a kind of neurological odd couple, crammed together in their cranial apartment.

So how do you draw on the right side of the brain? Many of the techniques are meant to get around the left brain's tendency to draw objects in a preconceived way. So instead of say drawing an easel, Beaumont has his students draw the negative spaces surrounding the easel, which the left brain doesn't recognize.

Joe Hellegy says imaging studies actually suggest the hemispheres work together on visual perception. The right side pays closer attention to overall patterns, while the left focuses more on detail. But he says Bomeisler's techniques are helpful: "We come equipped to analyze things, to categorize things, to verbalize things, and I do believe that techniques which force us out of that are likely to be helpful in teaching people to be more attentive to shadings and lines that are actually there."

There's good evidence that forcing yourself to think in new ways is a powerful educational technique. It can literally change the brain's wiring, according to David Sulzer, a Columbia neuroscientist: "Essentially anything you learn -- learning how to play the piano, or learning how to throw a ball, or using a tool, especially if they're a little difficult at first -- are forcing you, and engaging you, and essentially making new synaptic pathways."

According to Sulzer, having success at a new skill, such as drawing, produces a spike in the neurotransmitter dopamine, and that pleasure surge reinforces the neuro pathways involved. That's how the brain remembers what it learns.

Alice Flaherty is a neurologist at Harvard Medical School. She studies creative drive, and its flip side, writers block. She says creative drive is mediated by a relationship between the brain's temporal and frontal lobes. In other words, the front and back of the brain are just as important as the right and left: "What the right-brain, left-brain model is relatively good at is predicting what parts of the brain are involved in what particular domains of creativity -- whether it's art and music or literature -- they're not so good at talking about creative drive, for example, and it turns out drive is way more important than talent. In fact, there's some fair amount of evidence that over an IQ of about 115, increasing your IQ doesn't really help your creativity, there's like a threshold. What's really important is drive."

Election protests and Iran's clerics

If Iran's election was rigged, was it part of a power play by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to destabilize the country and oust the country's ruling clerics? That’s one theory being discussed as protestors take to the streets of Tehran in support of opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"Here and Now" spoke to Babak Rahimi, a professor at UC-San Diego. He fled Iran in the 1980s after his father was assassinated, but returned this year to study the electoral process.

Rahimi says Mousavi is positioning his campaign as a movement that goes beyond the election: "He sees this as a kind of social movement that will eventually make Iran more democratic and ultimately less authortarian."

There is a major split within the conservative establishment of the Islamic Republic according to Rahimi: "The so-called old guard -- the first revolution generation that even people like Mousavi were a part of; and the kind-of mid-age revolutionists, like Ahmadinejad who perceive the old guard as kind of corrupt and outdated."

The revolution generation Rahimi refers to is the post-1979 Revolution, which overthrew a Western-backed regime. The split is between the hard line conservatives and those, like Mousavi, who are looking for reform.

Rahimi explains the kind of democracy the reformists are after: "The people I've been talking to, especially the pro-Mousavi, they do want that religion would play some form of role in this envisioned democracy for Iran ... it's a ... religous democracy that is not tyrannical, it's not authoritarian ... sure the clerics could be in the public sphere, sure religion could be part of the public way in which people interact with one another, you would even have political parties that can be highly Islamic.

"But there shouldn't be one dominant Islamic ideology that should tell people how to act, how to think, how to behave. There's an interesting clash of interpretation over how, first of all to be Islamic; and second of all, how to establish a government that is fundalmentally accountable and does not necessarily exclude religion ..."

Rahimi believes there is a coup in progress to oust the clerics: "There's a way of trying to marginalize the conservative clerics that originally were in power in the 80s. Now when I say clerics here, I'm talking about clerics who see themselves to be the head of the state to a certain extent. Now Ahmadinejad also wants religion to be the source, the foundation of the state; however he sees himelf as a non-cleric, as a poplulist figure, to be a central figure in this Islamic republic ... and right now we are seeing a major conflict between the so-called populist Islamists, like Ahmadinejad -- the young guard -- against the older guards who very much see the clerics to be completely dominating the entire political process in Iran."