Change Is All Around Us

Every second of the day, things change. Some lives begin, some lives end, new ideas surface whilst other things fall out of use. A little while ago I saw a tv item about a person who was considering ending his life by jumping off a motorway bridge. Thankfully they were persuaded not to, it was clearly a call for help. But in another instance one person sadly did end their life and the police had to close the road for several hours until absolutely all evidence of the tragedy had been cleared away. It was sad to learn of this, but also sad to learn that some people were found simply sitting in their cars until the motorway could be re-opened and were angry and frustrated by the delays this event had caused. It seems that some people get upset and annoyed about things that they cannot control, just as when the day dawns and the rain falls. Surely we should do our very best to cope with that change. In the latter instance there were queues of traffic on the motorway, perhaps cars getting low on fuel along with children getting fractious, lorry drivers having to park up because of the hours they were allowed to drive, people missing holiday flights or perhaps even cruises. Things happen that we can deal with, whilst at other times we cannot. As a family we all enjoyed going on holiday and getting to North Devon was considered part of that holiday. We saw places we would otherwise not have known about, I was taught map-reading and learned a good sense of direction. When traffic jams occurred we looked around at other vehicles, learning makes and models, identifying registration plates to see where they were registered and how old they were. It all helped to pass the time. As time went on and I got older, I did my level best to try to minimise the stresses and strains of whatever I was doing, at least as best I could. I would plan ahead, managing the things that I was able to and not getting wound up over things that I could not reasonably control. So far as holidays were concerned, I would pack my bags the night before. If I was going abroad, perhaps flying from London, I would go down to a nearby hotel the night before. On the flight, where I could I noted where we were, although I will admit that on journeys back from the U.S.A. I tried to get a flight that left at a time such that I was back at Heathrow in the morning! It meant that I was able to sleep for much of the flight and was refreshed when we landed. I tried to make the best of my circumstances. Likewise on my lovely cruise holiday I went down to Southampton the day before the cruise began, so I would be there in good time and not be delayed or unduly stressed. The weather during much of the cruise was very good, so it wasn’t often that the sea was rough. I became used to that, in fact the gentle rocking movement was quite relaxing. At least I considered it that way, sadly a few of the other passengers weren’t quite so comfortable. But they were the ones who also wanted air-conditioned coaches on our bus tours and not all places had those. Some folk became quite agitated, angry even. Over the years I have seen how both stress and worry affects different people in vastly different ways. Some would always see the negative side to a situation, others a very positive one and a few had a balanced view of things. Something I was taught many years ago and really liked was a prayer that I later found out was known as the Serenity Prayer, written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It is commonly quoted as follows:

Serenity Prayer.

It seems to me, especially since being in the Care Home I am presently in, how we can so easily lose sight of what one might consider to be the ‘bigger picture’ and concentrate too much on the minor things that are important but not quite as vital. I recall a very good film where some people found themselves stuck in a lift which had stopped between floors. One person decided that they were going to ask his girlfriend to marry him, whilst others had similar positive thoughts so all but one person waited patiently for help to come to get them freed. Except this one dear lady who wanted there to be immediate action. She may not have liked what was happening to her as she was not in control of what was happening, but others calmed her down. She finally sat down and frantically searched right through her handbag, calling out “Where are my Tic-Tacs???”. She could not grasp why everyone else was looking at her… At various points in our lives I am sure that all of us will have various difficulties to overcome. It may be within ourselves, with a relative or a friend. It is never easy at such times to simply stop, take a deep breath, then consider what options we have. In this Care Home there are some inmates who have dementia, they are unable to think rationally or logically. One inmate, sadly no longer alive now, would go around the place ’tidying up’, moving things around. Except they moved such things as ‘wet floor’ notices, which meant other inmates could wander around and slip on a wet floor. Covid-19 has been a real problem as many of the inmates get into a routine, which ordinarily is good, but when they need to be isolated for a while rather than mix with others in the dining room or tv lounge, they have difficulty in understanding. I have learned that dementia does make some folk behave like young children. Equally, some want certain things laid out in a particular way, like pot-plants, but due to the inmate’s age the plants are sometimes knocked over and so the soil goes everywhere. It is also for that reason that most inmates have meals together the dining rooms, as it is easier for Carers to tend to them. Some inmates need bibs, others are coaxed into eating, though I know in my case I have had to be careful how much I eat because the food is good and I am sometimes given too much!

I have said before about following rules and regulations, in particular how important it is that we follow them. In the early days of train transport and other motor vehicles, especially where certain rules and regulations were put in place. Over the centuries of the human race we have had rules and regulations and a major one is quite well-known, this being the Code of Hammurabi. It is a Babylonian legal text which was composed c. 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organised, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near-East and is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian and is purported to have been written by Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. The primary copy of the text is inscribed on a basalt or diorite ‘stele’ (plural stelae), some 7ft 4 1⁄2in (2.25m) tall. A stele (pronounced ’Stee-Lee) or occasionally ‘stela’ when derived from Latin, is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected in the ancient world as a monument. The surface of the stele often has text, ornamentation, or both and these may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted. Stelae were created for many reasons. Grave stelae were used for funerary or commemorative purposes. Stelae as slabs of stone would also be used as Ancient Greek and Roman government notices or to mark border or property lines. They were also occasionally erected as memorials to battles. For example, along with other memorials, there are more than half-a-dozen steles erected on the battlefield of Waterloo at the locations of notable actions by participants in battle. Traditional Western gravestones may technically be considered the modern equivalent of ancient stelae, though the term is very rarely applied in this way. Equally, stele-like forms in non-Western cultures may be called by other terms, and the words ‘stele’ and ‘stelae’ are most consistently applied in archeological contexts to objects from Europe, the ancient Near East and Egypt, China, as well as Pre-Columbian America. The stele showing the Code of Hammurabi was discovered in 1901 at the site of Susa in present-day Iran, where it had been taken as plunder six hundred years after its creation. The text itself was copied and studied by Mesopotamian scribes for over a millennium. The stele now resides in the Louvre Museum. The top of the stele features an image in relief of Hammurabi with Shamash, the Babylonian sun-god and god of justice. Below the relief are about 4,130 lines of cuneiform text, one fifth contains a prologue and epilogue in poetic style, whilst the remaining four-fifths contain what are generally called the laws. In the prologue, Hammurabi claims to have been granted his rule by the gods “to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak”. The laws are in a ‘casuistic’ form, expressed as logical ‘if…then’ conditional sentences. Their scope is broad, including criminal, family, property and commercial law. Modern scholars have responded to the Code with admiration, at its perceived fairness and respect for the rule of law and at the complexity of Old Babylonian society. There has also been much discussion of its influence on Mosaic law, primarily referring to the Torah or the first five books of the Hebrew bible. Despite some uncertainty surrounding these issues, Hammurabi is regarded outside Assyriology as an important figure in the history of law, and the document as a true legal code. The U.S. Capitol has a relief portrait of Hammurabi alongside those of other lawgivers, and there are replicas of the stele in numerous institutions, including the United Nations headquarters in New York City and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Babylonian territory before (red) and after (orange) Hammurabi’s reign.

Hammurabi ruled from 1792 to 1750 BC and he secured Babylonian dominance over the Mesopotamian plain through military prowess, diplomacy, and treachery. When he inherited his father’s throne, Babylon held little local control. The local leader was Rim-Sin of Larsa. Hammurabi waited until Rim-Sin grew old, then conquered his territory in one swift campaign, leaving his organisation intact. Later, Hammurabi betrayed allies in nearby territories in order to gain their control. Hammurabi had an aggressive foreign policy, but his letters suggest he was concerned with the welfare of his many subjects and was interested in law and justice. He commissioned extensive construction works and in his letters he frequently presented himself as his ‘people’s shepherd’. Justice was also a theme of the prologue to his Code. Although Hammurabi’s Code was the first Mesopotamian law collection discovered it was not the first written. Several earlier collections survive. These collections were written in Sumerian and Akkadian, they also purport to have been written by rulers. There were almost certainly more such collections, as statements of other rulers suggesting the custom was widespread and the similarities between these law collections make it tempting to assume a consistent underlying legal system. There are additionally thousands of documents from the practice of law, from before and during the Old Babylonian period. These documents include contracts, judicial rulings, letters on legal cases as well as reform documents. Mesopotamia has the most comprehensive surviving legal corpus from before the Digest of Justinian, even compared to those from Rome and ancient Greece.

The Royal City (left) and Acropolis (right) of Susa in 2007.

The whole Code of Hammurabi is far too long to detail in this blog post. Just the prologue and epilogue together occupy one-fifth of the text! Out of around 4,130 lines, the prologue occupies 300 lines and the epilogue occupies 500. The 300-line prologue begins with an etiology or study of its origination to Hammurabi’s royal authority and in it, Hammurabi lists his achievements and virtues. Unlike the prologue, the 500-line epilogue is explicitly related to the laws and begins with the words “these are the just decisions which Hammurabi has established”. He exalts his laws and his magnanimity, he then expresses a hope that “any wronged man who has a lawsuit may have the laws of the stele read aloud to him and know his rights”. Hammurabi wished for good fortune for any ruler who heeded his pronouncements and respected his stele, however, at the end of the text he invoked the wrath of the gods on any man who disobeyed or erased his pronouncements. The epilogue contained much legal imagery, and the phrase “to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak” is reused from the prologue. However, the king’s main concern appears to be ensuring that his achievements are not forgotten and his name not sullied. The list of curses heaped upon any future defacer is 281 lines long and extremely forceful and some of the curses are very vivid, for example “may the god Sin decree for him a life that is no better than death”; “may he (the future defacer) conclude every day, month, and year of his reign with groaning and mourning” and “may he experience the spilling of his life force like water”. Hammurabi implored a variety of gods individually to turn their particular attributes against the defacer. For example: “may the Storm God deprive him of the benefits of rain from heaven and flood from the springs” and “may the God of Wisdom deprive him of all understanding and wisdom and lead him into confusion”. Time passed and the essential structure of international law was mapped out during the European Renaissance period, though its origins lay deep in history and can be traced to cooperative agreements between peoples in the ancient Middle East. Many of the concepts that today underpin the international legal order were established during the Roman Empire and the ‘Law of Nations’, for example, was invented by the Romans to govern the status of foreigners and the relations between foreigners and Roman citizens. In accord with the Greek concept of natural law, which they adopted, the Romans conceived the law of nations as having universal application. In the Middle Ages, the concept of natural law, along with religious principles through the writings of Jewish philosophers and theologians, became the intellectual foundation of the new discipline of the law of nations, regarded as that part of natural law that applied to the relations between sovereign states. After the collapse of the western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Europe suffered from frequent warring for nearly 500 years. Eventually, a group of nation states emerged and a number of sets of rules were developed to govern international relations. In the 15th century the arrival of Greek scholars in Europe from the collapsing Byzantine Empire and the introduction of the printing press spurred the development of scientific, humanistic, and individualist thought, whilst the expansion of ocean navigation by European explorers spread European norms throughout the world and broadened the intellectual and geographic horizons of western Europe. The subsequent consolidation of European states with increasing wealth and ambitions, coupled with the growth in trade, necessitated the establishment of a set of rules to regulate their relations. In the 16th century the concept of sovereignty provided a basis for the entrenchment of power in the person of the king and was later transformed into a principle of collective sovereignty as the divine right of kings gave way constitutionally to parliamentary or representative forms of government. Sovereignty also acquired an external meaning, referring to independence within a system of competing nation-states. Scholars expanded new writings focussing greater attention on the law of peace and the conduct of international relations than on the law of war, as the focus of this shifted away from the conditions necessary to justify the resort to force in order to deal with increasingly sophisticated relations in areas such as the law of the sea and commercial treaties. Various philosophies grew, bringing with them the acceptance of the concept of natural rights, which played a prominent role in the American and French revolutions and which was becoming a vital element in international politics. In international law, however, the concept of natural rights had only marginal significance until the 20th century. It was only after the two World Wars in the 20th century that brought about the real growth of international organisations, for example the League of Nations, founded in 1919 and the United Nations, founded in 1945. This led to the increasing importance of human rights. Having become geographically international through the colonial expansion of the European powers, international law became truly international in the first decades after World War II, when decolonisation resulted in the establishment of scores of newly independent states. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s increased political cooperation between the United States and Russia and their allies across the Northern Hemisphere, but tensions also increased between states of the north and those of the south, especially on issues such as trade, human rights, and the law of the sea. Technology and globalisation, the rapidly escalating growth in the international movement in goods, services, currency, information, and persons, also became significant forces, spurring international cooperation and tending to reduce the ideological barriers that divided the world. However, there are still trade tensions between various countries at various times, for what seem to be at times inexplicable reasons. As I have said before, the one constant in this Universe is that things change!

This week, a familiar phrase…
The phrase “turn a blind eye” often used to refer to a wilful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality and dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. During 1801’s Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. When his more conservative superior officer flagged for him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory. Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

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