A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor for 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every month, a talk with Steve on various topics will be posted. Steve comes from Adelaide, Australia. He’s been in Japan for more than 10 years.

  

 

 

 

 

 

A topic of discussion for August 12, 2020: How would you evaluate the Ottoman Empire? What do you think of their feats on the world scale?

Incredibly the Ottoman Empire lasted for a considerable period; about six centuries from the 14th Century to the first quarter of the 20th Century. At its apex, the empire extended from Mesopotamia in the east to along the Mediterranean Sea in north Africa in the west, from the Balkans in the north to areas along the Red Sea as far down as Aden in the south. The empire was thus a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic and multi-religious entity that included autonomous and vassal states.

 

What is your impression of the Ottoman Empire? Could it be the empire that conquered Constantinople and destroyed the Byzantine Empire?  Or, “the Sick man of Europe” as depicted in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”?

 

As Steve is well acquainted with military aspects, he started mentioning first of all the empire’s great battles such as the siege of Constantinople, the siege of Vienna, the sea battles to control the Mediterranean Sea and more. Under the leadership of competent and determined Sultans who managed to develop advanced weapons and lead well trained soldiers, the empire succeeded in expanding its territory and its influence.

 

As to the next feat of the Ottoman Empire, Steve mentioned the development of knowledge. It’s well known that the collapse of Constantinople resulted in the exodus of Byzantine scholars with a prolific amount of classic Greek books to Italy thus leading to the birth of the Renaissance. There seem to be other contributions of the Ottoman Empire in the field of academic activity by introducing and expanding the historic achievements of “the Islamic Golden Age”, which extended from the 8th Century to the 14th Century in Baghdad where the knowledge of great civilizations, such as those of Greece, Egypt, India, Persia, China among others was studied, accumulated and expanded on. Baghdad was the center of knowledge in the world at that time.

 

Thirdly, the Ottoman Empire through its geopolitical position “monopolized” trade between the east and the west. Italian nation states, such as Genoa and Venice flourished by trading lucrative spices from the east and handiwork from the west among others. The empire’s dominance of the east-west trade compelled other emerging European nations to seek new trade routes to the east. Portugal developed its trade route to India around the Cape of Good Hope; Spain managed to develop new routes westwards to the New World, ushering in the Age of Discovery.

 

For six centuries the Ottoman Empire was the champion of Islamic religion and culture. As in any empire, decline was inevitable. The Balkan states became independent one after another in the 19th Century as the Ottomans faced aggressions from Tsarist Russia and the Hapsburgs of Austria.

The final blow came when the empire faced defeat at the end of WW1 on the side of Germany and Austria. The empire was finally abolished and the Turkish republic established in 1923.  

 

 

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A topic of discussion for July 8, 2020: Could you highlight some Australian historical figures to whom you have high regards?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Not a big fan of Australian history,” was Steve’s first remark to my surprise. Having said so, Steve was prepared to mention Australians who were/are well known worldwide in various fields.

 

First of all, Steve mentioned Eddie Mabo (1936-1992), an indigenous Australian, who claimed and gained the legal ownership of his ancestral lands. Eddie Mabo was born in the Torres Strait Islands which are located between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The colonization of these islands by the British colonial rulers took place relatively late in 1862. The lands there therefore became crown land in accordance with “Terra Nullius (Nobody’s land)”, “a principle to justify claims that territory may be acquired by a state’s occupation of it.” To Mabo, it was his strong belief that the lands in the Torres Strait Islands belonged to the islanders. He started a legal battle to realize their ownership and finally in 1992 after ten years of hearings, the High Court of Australia (equivalent to Japan’s Supreme court) “found that the indigenous people owned their land prior to annexation by Queensland” (the British colonial administration). It was unfortunate that Mabo himself did not hear this historical verdict because of his death only a few months beforehand. The High Court decision has been epoch making in that it recognized the ownership rights of indigenous people in other parts of Australia. One should not forget that these people first came to Australia 40,000~45,000 years before the British colonial adventurers.

 

Next came a contemporary figure. Barry Humphries, 86 years old, a comedian, actor, artist, author, and a political satirist. Perhaps best known for playing an on-stage/TV character as Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. Biographer Anne Pender described Humphries in 2010 as not only “the most significant theatrical figure of our time ……butthe most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin.”

 

Now turning to a sportsman. Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001) was a great cricket player with an incredible batting average of 99.94 (as compared to a typical player’s average of 20-40). “He retained his preeminence in the game by acting as an administrator, selector, and writer for three decades following his retirement.” “His image has appeared on postage stamps and coins.” 

 

Another contemporary figure follows. This time no other than Rupert Murdock who is an Australian-born American media mogul. I don’t think it is necessary to elaborate on his media empire. Let me refer to a remark made by former Australian prime minister Tony Abbot in 2015. “Murdock arguably has had more impact on the wider world than any other Australian.”

 

Coming last is Nellie Melba (1861-1931), an Australian opera soprano. From Wikipedia, “one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th Century. The first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician.” She helped the careers of younger singers. One of her remarks, “In order to sing well, it is necessary to sing easily.”

 

So, Steve talked about these Australian figures of fame of whom I had no knowledge previously. I appreciate it.   

 

 

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A topic of discussion for June 10, 2020: How would you like to spend the coming summer, which will be “unbearably” hot and humid? 

Steve said that this summer will be quite different from previous ones because of the coronavirus. Simply put, there is no summer vacation for him; it will be 5 days-a-week teaching at Bridges English school to supplement more than a month-long closure of the school during the declaration of emergency from April to May.

 

Steve mentioned that he finds “hot and humid” summer in Japan quite bearable, even saying that “perhaps Australians are more tolerant to heat”.

How will he enjoy the summer in his spare time? Playing with his daughter, gaming (his hobby), seeing his friends are among what he will be looking forward to.

 

As for me, this summer will also be quite different in that the summer festival, which usually draws more than four thousand visitors in our neighborhood, is cancelled due to the coronavirus. Then we talked about the development of effective drugs and vaccines: how we are looking forward to an early implementation of them. We know that new medication is being partly aimed at increasing the first developer’s fame and of course profit: usually resulting in high prices. In connection to this, Steve raised the point that development of new medication should be handled by governments, not by private entities, as part of public services. Well, this is a good point to be discussed further.

 

I have just learnt that a new drug, which is called “Remdesivir, has hastily been approved in the US and immediately followed by Japan,” will cost US$ 2,340 for 6 doses. Luckily, it will be free of charge to Covid-19 patients in Japan as this is a medication for infectious disease; in this case the government pays for all, not only medication but also hospital charges. Do you know what is the highest price currently for a new drug? As of 2020, it’s a gene medication for a rare disease costing US$ 2.1 million for one dose (one-time only treatment)!

 

 

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A topic of discussion for May 13, 2020: Because of the coronavirus crisis we all are told to follow strict preventive measures, such as washing your hands whenever appropriate, social distancing, avoid congested places and so forth. Do you do anything in particular to keep yourself fit both physically and mentally?

 

 

The government has announced a state of emergency in the wake of the coronavirus crisis on April 7; as a result, people are told to primarily “stay at home.”  This nationwide restriction has been lifted recently in many parts of Japan except Tokyo, its neighboring Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, and Hokkaido. Steve seems to be adjusting to the restriction pretty well.

 

Steve mentioned that every morning he starts the day with Yoga while watching You-tube or TV. This is followed by weight training using a bench press, lifting up to 70 kg of weight. To finish up, he goes for a walk of an hour or so while listening to an audio book. Well, it is indeed a good way to keep oneself fit. In order to utilize whatever time, he has, Steve said that he started to tackle Japanese Hiragana and Kana once again. Good for him.   

 

For me, life is not much different than what it used to be. Doing stretches, maybe more thoroughly these days, and finding time to walk. On top of that, I have plenty of time for gardening and growing vegetables in my yard. I say to myself that we are lucky enough to observe “stay at home” on a voluntary basis, which is not as hard as what an enforced lockdown would dictate to us.      

 

 

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A topic of discussion for March 11, 2020: This time we will talk about American historic figures. Could you list three such figures for whom you have high respect?

 

Who would Steve select as the first of the three? It turned out that Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was his choice. He was the 26th president of the US. Perhaps, Roosevelt is best remembered as one of the four figures depicted on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. What were his feats that justified him being one of the four?

 

Looking at his childhood, we have learned that he was physically not fit to attend school. This did not, however, overshadow him at all. On the contrary, he managed to work himself hard to become strong and fit. Also, he immersed himself in nature. He graduated from Harvard university and in due course served several public positions, such as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President, before becoming president in 1901.

 

During the eight years of his presidency, Roosevelt exerted himself to carry out his ambitious agenda called the “Square Deal”. This was basically comprised of three programs to tackle acute issues facing people on the street at the time. The first centered around the conservation of natural resources, realizing the establishment of national parks. Secondly, the control of big corporations by evoking anti-monopoly laws (the Sherman Antitrust Act). And thirdly, it was consumer protection by enacting relevant laws (the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and drug Act).

 

Regarding his foreign policy, Roosevelt had shown a particular interest in Central America. He was credited with starting the construction of the Panama Canal in 1904 (took ten years to complete). It is interesting to note that Roosevelt took an initiative to broker the end of the Japanese-Russo war in 1905 and this won him a Nobel Peace prize in the following year.

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to cover any other historic figures; Steve mentioned only by name George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.   

 

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A topic of discussion for February 12, 2020: Could you list historic figures, say three, for whom you have high respect?

 

I was wondering whom Steve would list first of the three? It was Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) who is well-known perhaps for his political realism as per his work “The Prince”. He was a diplomat and political philosopher in Italy’s Florence at the time of the Renaissance. Florence was then primarily a city state amid powerful neighboring city states and above all the Papal States. Other European powers such as France, Spain, and the Hapsburgs were eager to extend their influence to Italy. Under this political environment, Machiavelli honed his skills as a diplomat through numerous contacts and negotiations with his counterparts. He had advocated that means and ends are to be treated differently when it comes to running a country: in essence “the ends justify the means.” Machiavelli is called “the father of modern political philosophy” and thus had a profound influence on subsequent European politicians and philosophers.

 

Now turning to the second historic figure of Steve’s choice. It was Xenophon of Athens(431-354 BC). He was a historian, philosopher, soldier, mercenary and above all a student of Socrates. As Socrates left no writings of his own, it was his students who were credited with recording his thoughts, like Xenophon’s “Memorabilia”, which is a collection of Socrates’ dialogues. In terms of his military genius, Xenophon as a commander of the “Ten Thousand” excelled particularly in retreating warfare as written in his “Anabasis”. His military legacy is still being studied and learned at leading military academies today.

 

Then Hannibal Barca (247-183 BC) comes third. He was by far a military genius of Ancient Carthage. The period was when Carthage and Rome were competing for supremacy over the Mediterranean. The first Punic War (264-241 BC) resulted in the defeat of Carthage incurring a heavy indemnity. The Second Punic War (218-201 BC) erupted and Hannibal commanded the Carthaginian forces invading and fighting in Italy for a period of 14 years!

Like Xenophon Hannibal’s military legacy is still being studied and learned at leading military academies today.   

 

Do you find anything in common with the three historic figures as listed by Steve?       

 

 

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A topic for discussion for January 8, 2019: How would you like to spend 2020?

 

This time, I specifically selected a broad, general topic so Steve would find it easy to talk. Here is how it went. Steve mentioned that he would like to enjoy the company of his daughter Sakura, seeing his friends, gaming as well as achieving some personal goals. Well, simply put that was about it. I asked him when he talks to his daughter, what language is used. Steve’s answer was that it’s mostly in Japanese because this is what Sakura can understand better. He added that Sakura seems to understand English when he uses it.   

 

 

Then, it was my turn. Steve asked me how I would like to spend the year. For me, this year will be not only memorable but also a once in a lifetime experience in that I will be a volunteer for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. I look forward to the games and would like to enjoy myself. And besides that? Most likely, it will be as usual looking after my extended family including six grandchildren; and I will exert myself taking care of our local community activities.  

 

 

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