7 June 2017

Past and Present - 06/2017 (last updated June 15)

Been super busy the past two weeks, and as luck would have it, that also coincided with a whole bunch of shit going down in the world. So my June's edition of Past and Present is mainly me trying to catch up on all the big stuff. I'll post history papers next week. History papers now added.

P.S. Thanks to the guy who recommended me James Scott's Seeing Like a State. I wanna write some sort of loosely-related essay, but give me some time.


Jewish Persecutions and Weather Shocks: This paper looks at the correlation of Jewish persecutions to weather shocks that presumably resulted in bad harvests from 1100-1800. While at first glance, the conclusions are what you'd expect (Jews blamed when times got tough), the interesting point is how this correlation lessened dramatically over time in cities of stronger states. The authors attribute this to more inclusivist state-building measures of the early modern era to increase revenues. For me, personally, it's interesting to keep in mind when thinking about the dual sides of modernism. On one hand, stronger states usually lead to dramatically reduced levels of intra-state violence as the state gains a monopoly over violence like good ol' Weber used to say. But on the other hand, those stronger states now have the power to carry out inter-state violence like never before, and execute unprecedented coercive measures in their attempts to make society even more manageable. So while Jews may have benefited in the long-run from state-building efforts in 1100-1800, it's those very state-building measures that were integral to the rise of Nazi Germany.

History of Qing-China Homicide Rates: It's always fun encountering papers that take a completely different approach in challenging established views, and this certainly is one such example. The established view being challenged here is Qing society's "Kangxi-Qianlong prosperity" (1660~1820AD), and this is done by pointing out that homicide rates actually increased during this supposedly peaceful/prosperous era and decreased in the chaotic 19th century full of wars and rebellions. This isn't to deny the fact that the 18th century was, on the whole, a peaceful time for Qing-China, but like you often see in other histories, a strict focus on political history can lead to highly distorted views of what actual societal conditions were like. So even though the paper above about Jewish persecutions conforms to the popular view that stronger states curb intra-state violence, this paper highlights an opposite scenario: State power weakening local self-governing institutions that made left societies less capable of dealing with distress events like food shortages, especially during a time of grain market disintegration. This last point is probably important to remember since the European examples of increasing state-capacity are set in a time of growing market integration and a gradual escape from Malthusian pressures. I'd very much like to see a similar analysis on Japanese homicide rates during the Tokugawa era during the demographic expansion phase. Perhaps there is one already?
Jesus "rises"
Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art: A fairly old paper from the 1980s, but highly influential for art history. I encountered a couple of its points before, like why does Jesus have an erection in a lot of renaissance paintings, in a Cracked article years ago, but it's fun to go through the original paper which covers a great deal more. It's surprising how many things will fly over the heads of us modern-day audiences raised in a secular environment. On a tangentially related note, I pity the art historians 200 years from now trying to figure out the birth of meme-infused pop-art in the internet era.

Periphery Contribution on European Economic Development: This is quite an influential economic history paper from 1982 that, to my knowledge, was one of the first to make a strong argument against the prevailing view that trade with the global periphery (aka not-Europe) really wasn't all that important for European economic development. I've encountered this idea in other books and papers, but I thought it would be useful to go back and actually read the original paper. And yes, I am aware the author has lessened his stance since then.

In any case, what I really want to comment about this paper is that despite being quite influential in economic history, especially for those interested in the Great Divergence or the birth of industrialization, it seems to be entirely ignored by everyone else. I don't remember a single one of my high-school teachers and university professors in geography, social studies, and history ever even doubting the idea that exploitation of the global periphery was what allowed Europe to surge ahead (you still see claims like these today in the form of "slavery made industrialization possible!"). They don't even bother modifying their stances by saying there's a rich historiography debating the strengths and weaknesses of this argument. It's just a done-deal for them that shouldn't even be further explored. Maybe it's just me and my bad luck with the kinds of teachers I had. But I really do consider it a travesty that I once took university-level courses on Japan and Africa, and the professors were more concerned with making sure the "female" perspective was adequately represented while entirely ignoring economic or military studies! Maybe it's just because I lack a vagina, but I'd much rather read about the financial strategies of daimyo and see how that impacts state and society than another fucking paper on "Gendered identities in blah-blah-blah."
Qi Jiguang's Arquebus Volley Technique:
I recently watched the Chinese movie, God of War, about the famous general Qi Jiguang's attempts to drive off the pirates that infested China's coasts during the 16th century (the movie's okay, but the battle scenes are a lot of fun). So afterwards, I did a quick search on Qi Jiguang to see if there had been any recently published interesting papers on him. Not surprisingly, Tonio Andrade's name came up. For those who don't know of him, I recommend reading his The Gunpowder Age or Lost Colony. In any case, this specific paper by him deals with Qi Jiguang's use of arquebus volley fire as reflected in the general's own writings. The paper's main point is to show that Qi Jiguang knew his way around firearms as well as traditional swords and spears, and in one of his treatises, the ideal infantry regiment had an arquebusier composition of 40%, which is even higher than firearm-ratios for infantry regiments in either Europe or Japan. I also now realize that I'd been wrong to assume arquebus use was light compared to the use of the "fast lance" (basically a crude discharge tube mounted on a stick). It seems he managed to make heavy use of arquebus with his Southern troops, but when deployed to the North, the Northern troops were more conservative by sticking to the primitive "fast lances." Lastly, and perhaps the most surprising thing about this paper is the curious possibility Andrade raises in the use of rifled muskets! While I'd been aware that Japanese arquebusiers emphasized accuracy more than contemporary European counterparts who instead emphasized rapid fire, I assumed this was simply a cultural preference, much like how the Persian musketmen of Nadir Shah's army preferred to be slower but more accurate compared to Ottoman janissaries. But as the footnote on p.122 points out, the references to accuracy and target ranges for 16th and 17th century East Asian arquebusiers doesn't seem quite in line with those observed for arquebusiers using smooth-bore barrels. I'll definitely keep an eye out for future research into this.

Oracle of Delphi in Religious Market Theory: So for people who've never heard of the religious market theory, it's basically the application of market economic theory to religion. Whether or not that sounds logical or ridiculous is up to you, but I think it's worth thinking about at least. This particular paper is interesting in that it says that religious markets shouldn't simply be thought of as a monopoly or pure competition, because the Oracle of Delphi wouldn't fit to either one. Instead, it coins the term "neutral-nexus," an equilibrium point which is likelier to arise in an competitive inter-state environment sharing a similar culture. The thing I found most curious about this paper though is the possibility of applying the neutral-nexus concept in political contexts, such as deliberately locating the capital from lesser-important, "fringe" areas like Ottawa for Canada, Washington D.C. for U.S., or Canberra for Australia.

>tfw when you frantically try to come up with a B.S. response to save your job
Moments of golden comedy aside, it's even funnier how CNN is trying to take a jab at this by calling this scene a "Trump official stumbles over Saudi Democracy." Yeah, ok, CNN. I'm sure it's all that meanie Trump's fault for fostering good relations with the Saudis, even though 15 of the 19 hijackers behind 9/11 were Saudis. Like the U.S. totally hasn't been selling Saudis weapons for decades and even supporting them in their efforts to starve millions of Yemenis even as you write your goddamn bullshit.
Great fucking job, Trump. There's no better way to make America great again than by letting American protesters get the shit kicked out of them by Erdogan's janissaries and then having Tillerson deliver this limp-wristed response: "We have expressed our dismay at what occurred at the Turkish embassy." Oooohhhh, I'm sure the janissaries are shaking in their bรถrk-hats!

Brzezinski Dies of Cancer: Welp. The ol' bastard finally croaked. I linked an interview of his before. The one where he confidently replied, "What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" Kind of ironic that his death came sandwiched between the Manchester Arena bombing of May 22 and the London Bridge attack of June 3. Who ever said Yahweh doesn't have a sense of humour?

South Korea Halts THAAD Deployment: Pretty much along the line as I predicted back in March. South Korea, as an American tributary state, isn't exactly gonna tell the U.S. to fuck off straight to its face, but President Moon is certainly doing his best to "temporarily" halt the deployment for some undisclosed time. I know some people think that rushing the THAAD deployment before the South Korean presidential elections was just another example of the failures of the Trump foreign-policy by swinging the vote in favour of Moon. Similarly, Trump telling Korea to pay up for THAAD was another clear example of him just fucking up big time. That being said, considering the yuuuuuge scandal of President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment, even without Trump's comments or the rushed THAAD deployment, it's quite likely that Moon would have become president regardless. So maybe from that perspective, rushing the THAAD deployment was the best that the U.S. could hope for in the short-term. Of course in the long-term, that move wasn't the best idea for maintaining friendly U.S.-Korean relations, but since when do overlords seriously care about how their tributaries feel? Just go ask those who died at Gwangju.
Jeremy Corbyn and Blowback: With the UK general elections happening later today over in UK's time, Corbyn has managed to attract quite a bit of support by honestly stating what many intelligence experts have said for years. Blowback. Basically, you play stupid games in the Middle East, and you win stupid prizes back home. Now the concept of blowback is interesting from an agency-standpoint. We in the West, especially America, have a very flattering image of ourselves, where we assume the all-important first-cause is us, because those darkies and chinkies couldn't possibly have real agency. They're merely the extras on the world stage in which we feature as the leads. Obviously this is a view highly criticized in post-colonialist perspectives.

Criticism at the whole blowback concept sometimes exploits this and to a degree, I agree with the criticism. Consider the Iranian revolution for example. For the sake of argument, imagine if neither America nor Britain was all that supportive of the Shah, but the Shah was nevertheless able to maintain a repressive dictatorship. In this scenario where SAVAK continues to purge all leftists, it's quite possible that an eventual revolution still becomes dominated by the Shia clergy, just like our current reality, especially given their central role to traditional Iranian culture. In this case, the blowback that was the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a less blowback to American agency, but to Iranian agency. This is about as far as I go with agreeing with the criticisms on blowback-theory. Just because you attribute agency to side B doesn't mean you have to strip agency from side A. We live in a complex world with multiple causes for any single event. I absolutely think culture and biology plays some role in explaining why the West has been attacked far more by Middle Eastern terrorists than by South/East/Southeast Asian terrorists. However, I also think history (as in imperialist influence) plays just as large of a role, if not larger.

So whether you think Islam is inherently inclined to violent solutions, or that these radical Jihadis have absolutely nothing to do with Islam, I say we need to take a multi-dimensional look at the whole rise of radical Islam. It's true that Saudi Arabia has been a major factor by exporting violent Salafi-jihadi beliefs. But at the same time, how influential would Saudi Arabia be today without their close relationship to the West? It's true that the Syrian Civil War and Boko Haram is, in part, fuelled by local Sunnis who hate the current states in Syria and Nigeria. But at the same time, how much has the West aggravated the situation by charging in, guns blazing, to Libya to depose Gaddafi and creating a huge flood of arms and munitions flowing to the rest of Africa and the Middle East?

Shouldn't this be, like, common sense...? Why does it feel like people who share my opinion have to talk to a brick wall that is the current figures running foreign-policy in Western countries? Why is it that cunts like Theresa May are going around yelling for censorship of Internet pornography after the recent terrorist attacks in UK? It really is as the great Douglas Adams once said, "It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it."
Is China really a threat to maritime trade?: I can't remember where, but I once read a guy who commented that even if the Strait of Malacca was closed off for some reason, it would hardly impact global maritime trade as shipping routes can be re-routed around it easily enough without much hassle. Even if that's not true, whenever a government or a country tries to claim something is a threat, it's always a good exercise to stop and ask, "Is it really?"

Russians hackers sabotaged Macron's campaign!?!?!?!!: Umm, well... No, not really. But it sure was exciting when people were claiming it, wasn't it? According to the French government's cyber security agency, the hack "was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone" and that they found no trace of a Russian hacking group. Well, that sure clears up the terribly unfortunate misunderstanding. I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time until the U.S. makes a similar announcement and the West and the East can have some hot make-up sex.
Falling out with Qatar: So when I first heard news of the Qatar blockade from a sensationalized title of another article that claimed Saudi Arabia was cracking down on radical Islam, I was like, "Uhh... Say that again?" This was followed by an "Ohhhhhhh" when I read that Saudi Arabia demanded Qatar to end its support for Hamas. Now Hamas and Saudi Arabia have an on-again-off-again romantic relationship, with Iran as the other sugardaddy that Hamas occasionally turns to. Not surprisingly, Hamas is doing this again, with their Qatari patrons looking wobbly. And as most people like the above-linked Hareetz article points out, this whole spat is less about Hamas than it really is about Iran, the boogey-man of the Middle East.

As this al-Jazeera article points out, Saudi Arabia and Israel lobbyists are marching in step to attract US support for this measure. I can't remember who it was that first said this, but Israel and Saudi Arabia really are the "love that dare not speak its name" in the modern world. They're both so rabidly anti-Iran that they surprisingly agree in many foreign policy decisions, and even take steps that one would normally think is contrary to their interests. For example, as much as radical Sunni-jihadis would love to kill Jews, Israel doesn't actually care much about destroying ISIS. One Israeli think-tank even called its potential destruction a "strategic mistake." This isn't anything new, by the way. Even back in 2014 and 2015 when jihadis were riding the ISIS hype-train and the West was shaking in their boots, response from Israel was quite meek. It's even reached comedic heights lately when the ISIS apologised to Israel for attacking them.

In any case, the bigger question now is, "Will Saudi Arabia go the way of Egypt?" By this, I'm referring to when Egypt became the first Arab state to formally recognize Israel in 1979. This is probably the goal of American policymakers, too, in their quest of building a wall that can block off Iranian influence. While I can't say that this is gonna happen anytime soon, it's certainly a strong possibility if Assad manages to re-exert full control of Syria and the Shia become unchallenged in Iraq. It's crazy that this is even a possibility, considering Jews aren't even allowed in Saudi Arabia. Then again, they did change the law to technically allow Jews to work there so maybe that's a sign of greater things to come? Ugh, so much awkward shuffling like pre-teens in middle school. JUST FUCK ALREADY.
Theresa May's Huge Mistake: It's hard to even comment on the 2017 UK general elections considering the sheer stupidity involved. As the AVGN would say, "What were they thinking!?" Dementia tax proposal? Calls for increased internet censorship? Promise to violate human rights' laws to counter terrorism? The constant U-turns during the campaigns? Well, at least the outcome was as hilarious as the campaign was baffling. A snap-election intended to increase the governing-majority, only to lose that majority and form a coalition-government with the crazy DUP. As I've stated before, I'm a firm believer that stupidity has been as influential, if not more, than ingenuity for the course of humanity since our origins to the present and to the future.


  1. Humans have a tendency to revolution in the same way they can't avoid stock bubbles and crashes. Everyone refuses to see what's right in front of them until the results are too catastrophic to ignore. It's just human nature.

  2. Please expand on how "... biology plays some role in explaining why the West has been attacked far more by Middle Eastern terrorists than by South/East/Southeast Asian terrorists".

    Blowback is real but unfortunately it is used by the politicians and polemics of ex-colonial regions to put the blame for all of our problems on the West.

    1. I'm influenced by ideas in behavioural genetics where basic behaviour all have a genetic component and that IQ is highly heritable, even as much as height.

      To give an example of how this affects outcomes at the society level, it's been noted in some studies that high IQ groups show better cooperation compared to lower IQ groups.

      Yes, I know it's highly un-PC, and would make me "racist" in the eyes of many people, but in my defence, I don't think civil liberties should be restricted on the basis of IQ or race. I just happen to think biological differences are more than "skin-deep." It's not a view I always had, and I expect I'll modify my views depending on the kind of studies I come across in the future.

    2. Thank you for being honest.

      Heritability =/= genetic inheritance.

      I could be a child with learning difficulties but grow up in a loving caring home (it doesn't even need to be my biological family's home) surrounded by books, with access to tutors, constant intellectual interactions etc. and my intelligence as measured by IQ or EQ would be vastly better than a person who had an insecure childhood, was exposed to violence, suffered malnutrition, had limited and narrow cultural ideology etc.

      What I'm trying to say is that my understanding of genetic and behavioural studies is that childhood and developmental conditions trigger lasting biological(epigenitic) responses... which are more significant to personality/psychology.

      P.S. Thank you for your scanlation and reading recommendations.

    3. Your understanding is not backed by the majority of studies on the subject. Once basic nutritional and health needs are met, additional interventions have been proven to have minimal lasting impact on iq compared to genetics.


    4. I don't think the "problematic" part of what you're saying lies with the belief that genetics does influence behavior--I think everyone agrees with that to a certain extent, but rather the part of generalizing certain observations on a certain "race".

      I personally believe that indeed genetics have an important role and should be studied and considered on the family and the individual level, but when it comes to generalizing the results on a bigger group of peoples, I am a bit skeptic.

      Out-group homogeneity is one reason I am so. You note that for example attacks from Middle Eastern people are more than South East Asian ones, and as someone from the middle east I find it a bit funny to put all the middle eastern peoples in one genetic bag that somehow explains the generalized behavior; we, "middle easterners" don't usually see each other as one. Sometimes you'll find genetically similar groups trying to distant themselves from each other (Armenians and Turks), and on the other hand you'll find genetically distant groups trying to emphases their unity (Arabs and Adyghe people in Jordan). I think there's a bigger picture to the ME vs SEA attacks than just genetics, like why is terrorist attacks from the Emirati people relatively low even though they pretty much share their genetics with the rest of the Gulf peoples and Saudis? And I believe as you said, history does play a big role if not bigger than genetics. Add to that present geographical, political, cultural, ideological factors and, at least for me, it seems pretty clear why there isn't much SEA attacks relative to ME. Attributing it solely to genetics (I know you don't claim that) strikes me as somehow trying to approach the rise of communism in Eastern Europe and Central Asia through studying the genetics of Eastern European and Central Asian peoples, which sounds a little absurd, or is it? (I don't mind me a paper on that subject)

      Anyways, I am not dismissing genetics; I think it has a big role, say why certain individuals and families tend to score better in school or their tendency for aggressiveness or calmness--I personally do think IQ is highly based on genetics, but there is more to behavior than just the IQ, but I don't think it is accurate to try to approach race in such manner; where does a race of people begin and where it end is often arbitrary. It is better to approach families and individuals.

      I also think that ideas and thought can override, or at least direct and control, the tendencies that results from genetics; sure, certain people are genetically more aggressive but they could be educated, especially since childhood, to curb their aggressiveness. And I know, how much they will learn and whether they'll be conformist to their culture or rebels are in turn affected to some extent by genetics.

      Welp. What I'm saying is that it is complicated. Behavior and culture is not some easy thing to explain or even define. It is always changing and it is constantly affected by all different factors including itself. Sometimes you'll find some calm kid born to an aggressive noisy family and sometimes that would be straight out reaction to them. Sometimes you'll find people who easily change and integrate other times you'll find stubborn people. Sometimes random factors have bigger roles than everything else. And while genetics does affect these things, sometimes radically, it is not the only factor there is and it's not straightforward direct effect.

  3. Off-topic question I always wanted to ask if you don't mind: why do the Vinland translations on Batoto not have you credited? Legal reasons?

  4. Where Historie?