In November 2022 many academics have created accounts on Mastodon, a federated microblogging service. Mastodon is decentralized like the old forums and mailing lists, but you can easily cross-post from one Mastodon server to another and search across servers with hashtags to find posts of common interest. Because each instance is moderated by members, it can set its own standard for acceptable behaviour rather than trying to get Germans and Americans to agree whether the Horst-Wesel-Lied is protected speech (although two of the biggest mastodon instances are barely moderated at all, so careful where you post! Mastodon is open-source software like WordPress or bulletin board software, so it gets used by people who say and do things you hate). Because its hard to find old Mastodon posts and I delete them after a few months anyways, here is a one-stop shop for the new instances, lists of accounts with a common theme, and groups I have found (Mastodon groups work like mailing lists, they take incoming messages and broadcast them to subscribers).Read more
Book and Sword
Apparently twitter is in trouble (for readers in the future, twitter was a microblogging service especially popular from 2016 to 2022 with hundreds of millions of users, heavy representation among thinky talky Anglos and elected officials posting under their real names, where who people followed and clicked on and most of their posts were public; users were showed a feed of posts selected by a secret algorithm). Internet communities tend to be pompous about themselves, and pompous twitter users pronounce that it is a public square or a town square. I have another simile.Read more
I don’t know how many of my gentle readers are armour scholars. Carlo Paggiarino, maker of fine-art books on the details of medieval and renaissance European arms and armour, has a message:
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I have several of his books. They are self-published, and good armour books go out of print quickly and then become very expensive.Read more
Alec Nevala-Lee, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street, 2018)
πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει.
The world is full of wonders / terrors, and the most wonderful / terrible is mankindChoral speech on the wonders of technology, Sophokles, Antigone, line 334 (Perseus Project)
Astounding is a feminist prosopography of John W. Campbell Jr‘s circle from the Second World War. It is a prosopography because it is a group biography which focuses on the connections between people, what they did at different life stages, and how their careers resemble the careers of other people with similar backgrounds. And it is feminist because he says out loud that many writing and editing teams of the time were a family business, with the husband out front speaking to fans and the wife revising, suggesting plots, and administering the business in the background. E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith split his cheque for The Skylark of Space with a Mrs. Garby because they had started to write the novel together (Goulart’s Informal History of the Pulp Magazines p. 163). The role of women was acknowledged at the time but tended to get forgotten as marriages ended and fandom grew.Read more
If you are jonesing for a bookandsword blog post, try the one where I translate some Aramaic: Send a Force and Rescue Us!Read more
I have said before that many people seem to misunderstand what historians do, even if they are interested in history. Over on Andrew Gelman’s blog, I found people saying things like:
Whenever I see theories about ancient stuff I always feel it is very speculative. “This artifact is a stone ax from a hominid from c. 800,000 BP”. “The Samson story in the book of Judges is based on folk legends about a Hercules-like half-man, half-god figure, but edited to make it conform to a monotheistic worldview”. To the extent that these conclusions really represent the best understanding of experts, they sound to me like a maximum likelihood estimator when the likelihood function is very flat.
I mean, what is the actual evidence Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon? If you look it up there is very little concern for such issues.
If you are active in any of the historical science, you know that discussions between experts are full of questions, alternative explanations, and debates. It is press releases, documentaries, and trade books which usually focus on one interpretation and promote it as hard as possible. Most ancient historians are unsure if they can know anything about the moment when Caesar crossed from his province into Italy or whether the ‘bad emperors’ did the things that salacious stories have them do. But a belief that questions are not being asked or that sinister forces are shutting them down lies behind many conspiratorial and anti-expert movements today. So how are we failing to communicate what we do and what we value?Read more
In my post we the people I pointed out that until the First World War, “the people” normally means free men who can act politically and militarily. It excluded women, children, the poor, and those who were denied political rights such as resident aliens and serfs. On 5 October the Russian media organization TASS showed a remarkable video:
Funds for payments to the mobilized are not enough, admitted authorities in the Omsk region. The authorities of the region agreed with the military registration and enlistment offices to give time to those mobilized to re-register the business (without specifying to whom), TASS reports. The authorities’ statement is related to the public appeal of the mobilized residents of the Omsk region, who complained about the lack of lump-sum payments.https://nitter.ca/Sota_Vision/status/1577366830272106496#m
You can find a version of the soldier’s speech with English subtitles on YouTube (I do not know the channel which hosts it, so danger danger Will Robinson!)
If I understand correctly, this video shows a committee of soldiers demanding that the regional government honour its promises to pay their wives and children an allowance so they can eat. I might be wrong, or this video might be a fake, but this week I want to say the same thing I said in that post another way.Read more
There is now a Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (https://sfdictionary.com/) which got started with help from the Oxford English Dictionary. When I encounter a new historical dictionary or encyclopedia, the first thing I do is check some entries to see if they exist and how good they are.
H. Beam Piper’s Terro-Human Future History features two weapons, planet-busters and hellburners. Planet-busters are some especially powerful kind of atomic weapon, like a hydrogen bomb but even more destructive, while hellburners are atomic weapons which create some kind of self-sustaining incendiary reaction (Piper alluded to Hans Bethe’s solar phoenix reaction). Planet-busters go back to a popular article on the hydrogen bomb from 1950 and appear in many writers’ stories, but hellburners are rare outside Piper’s works. In a chat with Jesse Sheidlower, I realized where the name ‘hellburner’ may come from.Read more
The war in Ukraine has changed since spring. I thought that some of my readers might be interested in the resources I am currently using to follow it. Since I don’t know Russian or Ukrainian, and since many people have agendas, sorting things out is tricky for me. People following the war like corporate social media with feeds, and on those sites quotes and images float around without attribution. People who like them imply that they hear all kinds of rumours. And because so much is at stake (the future of 200 million people, the energy supply to Europe and grain for the Mediterranean) many people slip into boosting their side rather than provide dispassionate analysis.
Now that Ukraine has much larger armies, and weapons to counter Russian artillery, I expect Ukraine to keep driving Russian forces back until at least spring 2023. The most likely things which could change the situation would be a complete collapse of Russian forces and Russian use of nuclear weapons (which would probably end very badly for Russia, but Putin keeps making stupid decisions and does not live in the same world we live in). Turning recruits into an army takes 3 to 12 months if you have systems for gathering, training, and arming them, and those trainers and vehicles are dead or destroyed in Ukraine. Putin is scared of mass popular movements like the original levée en masse. So until 2023, the main effect of Russian mobilization will be a lot of dead Dagestanis and Buriyats and a lot of rich landlords in Tbilisi and Istanbul.Read more