Latest TTC course was War and World History by Jonathan P. Roth. Not quite what I expected, which was a study of the evolution of military technology and tactics. Instead he concentrates on very high-level patterns of how warfare has influenced the general development of states and empires. Even at 48 lectures it's very generalized. He explains at the start that he will barely mention particular battles.
So, it's a bit drier and less exciting than courses like Great Battles of the Ancient World. But it is very informative and thought-provoking.
Overall, well worth listening to, but requires some concentration.
Some points I found interesting.
- There were no galley slaves in Greek or Roman navies: rowers also needed to fight as marines, and rowing to ram needed some skill.
- Imperial Rome, Mauryan India and Han China were all empires that flourished at a time when infantry forces dominated military technology. That favoured large, centralized, agricultural empires who could raise lots of troops.
- Much later, in the feudal period, the stirrup helped lead to decentralization
and small feudal units. Since cavalry dominated warfare, outlying regions
could not be dominated by Rome-like agricultural empires with lots of infantry.
Polities broke up into small units, often named after the title of the ruler: counties, duchies, and baronies in Europe; sultanates and emirates in the Muslim world; dynasties and kingdoms in China.
- The Mongols used carrier pigeons.
- It took a long time after gunpowder was invented for it to become a viable weapon, useful for more than scaring horses and panicking badly-disciplined opponents. First they discovered how to make it cheaply, by developing the ability to synthesize saltpeter. Then they discovered how to mix that with wood ash to make a better explosive. Then they discovered how to make "corned" gunpowder, granulated rather than powdered. Only then did it really make a big difference.
The recent translation of Mayan glyphs has changed our view of them from a peaceful to a warlike society.
The American Neolithic occurred completely independently of the Neolithic period in the core...
In both cases, urbanization occurred rather rapidly and a single city seems to have been the origin of the culture.
1. In both San Lorenzo and Uruk, there does not seem to be evidence of conquest; the spread of the culture seems to be through trade.
2. Although there was an elite, there is no evidence it was a warrior elite. The king's power seems to have derived from religion and the control of irrigation, not from force-a parallel to early Mesopotamia.
- Religions often become more militaristic when they become state religions: Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism are examples.
The Indian culture that developed around the Great Lakes and into the plains was not a traditional one, but rather was an extension of the capitalist system of Europe.
The Plains Indian was anything but the typical example of a primitive warrior as argued by Harry Turney-High...Most North American natives were part of the global system from the 16th century onward.
The Minié ball, [which expanded in the barrel] invented in the 1840s, allowed for easy loading of a rifled barrel. Rifled muskets were far more accurate at longer ranges.
Every advance in military technology has brought with it increasing costs...At the beginning of the 20th century, it appeared the costs of war would overwhelm economies... The German Schlieffen Plan was based on the idea of winning very quickly before lack of funds forced a stop to fighting.
Capitalists are blamed for many of the wars in the 20th century...
Historians, however, have shown there is no evidence to support such theories... In fact, businessmen generally oppose war as inimical to trade.
Over the course of world history, new weapons systems have generally led first to greater centralization and then to decentralization, as the ability to access and use the new weapons technology spread.
- By historical standards, there has been relatively little war since 1989.
Comic book The Winter Men by John Paul Leon and Brett Lewis.
Comic book set mostly in modern Russia, with a former Spetsnaz commando trying to track down a missing item in a shadowy world of gangsters protected by state officials.
Very effective for the most part. There's a kind of downbeat John le Carre feel to a lot of it, the protagonist is suitably tough and cynical, and there are some good lines. The Russian setting feels authentic with distinctive turns of phrase (no idea if it actually is ). It's drawn in a great jagged black-and-white style that reflects the content very well.
However, I thought the ending got a little weak , as the gangster elements were replaced by superhero elements which weren't quite unconventional enough. Worth a look though.
What I'm Watching
Saw the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro. Two children and their father move to the countryside, encountering strange forest spirit-creatures.
Might be aimed at a younger audience than some of the others. Even though not a lot of importance happens in the plot (no saving of the world or such) it's still quite compelling, with the imaginatively designed creatures holding your attention.
Found it surprisingly heartwarming: didn't think I had much heart left to warm. Well worth a look.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw the classic 1950 Kurosawa movie Rashomon for the first time, on DVD. The same events are retold from different perspectives.
Liked it a lot, doesn't seem to have dated significantly.
Things looked pretty grim for Gordon Brown and Labour back in mid-2009: lots of people seemed to think they were doomed. From looking at the UK Polling Report graph though, Labour's poll ratings have been climbing steadily since then. Some polls still predict a slim Tory majority, but some a hung parliament.
In the case of a hung parliament, it looks like Labour would have an advantage. The pledge to introduce Alternative Vote electoral malform seems to pretty much guarantee Liberal Democrat support, though they'll play hard to get to squeeze out the most concessions. The left-wing Welsh and Scottish Nationalists seem unlikely to support the Tories, though the Northern Irish parties might.
Even in the case of a narrow Tory majority, they could make life pretty difficult for Cameron, as he tries to push through unpopular spending cuts. It's hard to tell how unpopular he is with some of his backbenchers. It could to be tricky to appease the Paranoid Style MPs, since if you don't buy in to the conspiracy theories you're part of the enemy. On the other hand, as Prime Minister a party leader has vastly more powers of patronage, which could tighten his grip.
However, while it's a possibility, I think the odds are against Brown still being PM in 2015. Even if he scrapes a coalition through, there's the possibility of a party coup, or an early election.
Guessing at probabilities, I'd say maybe...
40% chance of Conservative government
30% chance of Labour/Lib Dem coalition
10% chance of Con/Lib Dem coaliton
10% chance of Lab/Con/Lib Dem government of national unity
10% chance of Labour government
I've seen a few references to Charter Cities as a way to rebuild Haiti lately. I expect that on Marginal Revolution, but I'm a bit troubled to see links like this cropping up on Twitter without anyone pointing out that, in this context, the idea is completely fucking batshit psycho loopy insane.
Basically the idea is to set up brand new cities on "uninhabited land" in the developing world, run by a neo-colonial power, with low taxes and developed world laws.
I'm not a big fan of fisking, but in some cases there are just so many things wrong that you don't have much choice. Let's start here
But we must also remember that aid is just palliative care. It doesn't treat the underlying problems. As leaders like Rwandan president Paul Kagame have noted, it can even make these problems worse if it saps the innovation, ambition, confidence, and aspiration that ultimately helps poor countries grow.Note the massive assumption here: all aid is just palliative care. What about education? If even some aid addresses underlying problems, it could well be a better use of money than a charter city. Note also the subtle implication: some aid may make things worse, but the answer isn't to make aid more effective, it's to do something else.
Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land.This reminds me of the old Zionist slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land". Except actually the land did have some people, and they were quite annoyed when they were told it was uninhabited and they had to move somewhere else. I don't think there's that much habitable-yet-uninhabited land left. Especially in the developing world, the people there may well not have paper documents proving it. Are they going to be happy about the Charter City taking over? Are they and their descendents going to fight for it?
There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water...Desalination is costly and takes enormous amounts of energy. Not every piece of shoreland is suitable for a container port. The desalination plants, the port, the power stations, the roads in, the buildings, all have to be built and paid for. Is this charter city really going to be able to compete with existing cities while burdened with paying off these capital costs?
Access to the sea is the only real necessity--as long as a charter city can ship goods back and forth on container ships, it can thrive even if its neighbours turn hostile or unstable.
Hong Kong is the middle ground, a state ruled by laws not men, but one that leaves competition and individual initiative to decide the details.The British Empire encompassed a quarter of the world's population. But in spite of its middle ground of laws not men, it only produced one Hong Kong. Why?
The experience in Hong Kong offers two further lessons. The first is the importance of giving people a choice about the rules that govern them. Hong Kong was sparsely populated when the British took over. Unlike other colonial systems, almost everyone chose to come and live under the new system. This gave the rules proposed by the British a degree of legitimacy they never had in India, where the rules were imposed on often unwilling subjects. This is why building new cities, rather than taking over existing ones, is so powerful... The British experience in Hong Kong shows that enforcing rules costs partners very little, but can have a huge effect.
First, China had a large sophisticated, urbanized, industrial, educated population; but had isolationist, conservative, centralized rulers. Hong Kong was able to tap into a vast frustrated demand for trade and innovation surrounding it. These charter cities won't have that.
Second, Hong Kong has a superb natural harbour and is located close to the two river systems that were the main arteries of trade into the Chinese mainland. Plonking a brand new city down in the middle of desert is not going to create a new Hong Kong.
Moving on, there are some things Paul Romer doesn't address but I'd like to.
If these new charter cities are going to compete head-to-head with Shenzen for manufacturing, and Bangalore for services, they're going to need a skilled and educated workforce. Do these frustrated, currently-unemployed, workers actually exist in the African locations he imagines? Or are these new cities just going to attract immigrants from China and India where they do exist?
This goes back to the "Access to the sea is the only real necessity" thing. These charter cities are plugged into the global economy, but located in sparsely populated areas, with no road or rail links to the rest of the nation, it's hard to see how these cities will spread their benefit the rest of the nation at all.
What's more, owing to the resource curse, it's quite possible that charter cities will be actively harmful to the host nation.
An example of the resource curse would be a poor nation that discovers a goldmine. You'd think this would be a blessing. But the value of this resource pushes up the value of the currency. This means the farmers and manufacturers find their goods vastly more expensive on the international market. Everyone except the gold industry actually suffers.
So too with charter cities. Even if they're successful, that will push up the value of the currency, and actively hurt the rest of the nation.
Overall then, charter cities seem to me to be an incredibly bad idea. In the best case, they just fail, die and waste everyone's money. In the worst cases, they parasitize the host economy, or create displaced-person conflicts for generations.
The colonial era's over: let it rest in peace.
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