Month: August 2023

More Power of Fiction

In the past I have talked about how civilians in Syria see themselves as peasants in Game of Thrones, and soldiers in Ukraine want to be as excellent as characters in first-person shooter Call of Duty. This year I want to record that college-edited commentators like Max Boot are comparing the assassination of condottiere Yevgeniy Prigozhin to their favourite scenes from crime dramas in formal published prose:

The most fitting epitaph for Wagner Group founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin was delivered by the shotgun-wielding hit man Omar Little on “The Wire”: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” There’s still much we don’t know for certain (and might never know), but that pearl of wisdom was confirmed by Prigozhin’s apparent death Wednesday after a private plane he was on reportedly crashed north of Moscow.

Max Boot, “Opinion: Prigozhin appears to be dead — and Putin’s grip on power is stronger than ever,” The Washington Post, 23 August 2023
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Nazis and Radios

The Volksempfänger, the Nazi Party’s cheap radio receiver for listening to propaganda, in its bakelite case. Image from

In July an online talk by Philip Blood (probably this guy) and a pass through Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy made me think of the old debate about the effectiveness of the American, British, and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War. I had not known that Six Armies in Normandy was just Keegan’s second book from 1982, and that my 1994 Penguin edition was a reprint (A.J.P. Taylor wrote a blurb!)

Keegan’s book shows his strengths and weaknesses as a historian: it is beautifully written, expresses his unique view of the world, but rarely acknowledges doubt or explains where his facts and interpretations come from. Keegan gives himself authority by dropping in French and German phrases and alluding to prestigious novelists and playwrights, but not by showing that he understands a mass of evidence and arguments and can argue why his interpretation is best. The maps are inadequate, the photos numerous but ornamental. Because Six Armies in Normandy rarely cites sources, and because I’m not a specialist in WW II, I will not try to review it. But I will use some quotes to show places where I might have been wrong or where I don’t know how to balance two ways of thinking.

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How Heavy Was the Shield from the Fayum?

black and white photos of a dilapidated pltwood shield
Wolfgang Kimmig’s famous photos of the shield from Kasr el Harit in Egypt

In May a well-known ancient historian told the Internet that the style of shield from Kasr el Harit in the Fayum in Egypt weighed 10 kg. He probably got this from Mike Bishop and John Coulston’s classic handbook Roman Military Equipment (second edition p. 62) which cites reconstructions by Peter Connolly and Marcus Junkelmann. He was writing a general lecture so could not spend too much time questioning his sources. But I think this estimate is too high for four reasons.

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Denial of Judgment and Responsibility

a postwar printed document with a sign in capital letters: A compter can never be held responsible, therefore a computer must never make a management decision
IBM understood the issue and the stakes in 1979! This image seems to come from a random social media post by on 17 February 2017 ( via a blog but I am sure I heard the principle in my days in computer science.

Since 2020 I am trying not to talk about corporate social media but I want to record this thought. Authors are seeing books appearing on with their name and titles but a text generated by chatbot. Scammers hope that people will buy these books thinking they are the real thing. People who buy consumer goods on Amazon are seeing a lot of knockoffs with random strings of letters for a brand name; the people who sell these goods focus on search-engine optimization, buying positive reviews and suppressing negative ones, and other marketing tricks rather than on making good products. And of course sites like Facebook gladly sell ads promoting hate, and suggest genocidal propaganda in users’ feeds, while claiming that they are not responsible for what users post and that they carefully vet ads before accepting them.

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Notice to Followers on RSS

Hi all! I am trying to track down the source of heavy traffic to my site this year. Part of it was a misconfigured Cron job, but another source is RSS feeders like and; On suggestion of my web host I tweaked my WordPress settings so that the RSS feed only gets... Continue reading: Notice to Followers on RSS
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