What I’ve been reading

1. Patrick Bergemann, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany.  A very specific, useful, and interesting account of actual denunciation practices during the above-mentioned episodes.  During the Inquisition, there was general immunity given to most denouncers, you can imagine the resulting incentives.  This book is becoming more relevant than it ought to be.

2. John L. Rudolph, How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters.  I found this book boring, but it is the kind of book people should be writing and I suspect some readers and researchers will find it very useful.  A fact-rich, reference-laden history of American science education, still by the end I still was looking for more organizational principles.

3. Samme Chittum, Last Days of the Concorde: The Crash of Flight 4590 and the End of Supersonic Passenger Travel.  An excellent book on why the Concorde was in fact abandoned.  I hadn’t realized it was never so safe in the first place:  “They soon learned that Concordes operated by British Airways and Air France had been involved in a range of tire failures over the years.  No fewer than 57 such incidents had taken place since Concordes began flying in 1976, 47 were either burst or inflated tires, and 10 were instances in which tires lost tread.”

4. Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, translated and edited by Ken Liu.  I found the “hit rate” in this collection to be slightly over fifty percent, which is rare for a science fiction anthology, plus even the lesser stories give one some insight into China, so definitely recommended, at least if you think you might like it.  But don’t read this before The Three-Body Problem.

Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, delivers what it promises.  The coup against Gorbachev was plotted in a banya, I learned.

Joshua Specht, Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America.  A good economic history of the “cattle-beef complex”: “Abilene, Kansas was the first major cattle town.”

Emily Oster, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth to Preschool is in my pile, it may someday be revised to cover older children.

Also in my pile is Julius Caesar, The War for Gaul, a new translation by James J. O’Donnell.  I can’t speak to this translation, but the book is a winner.


"This book is becoming more relevant than it ought to be"... masterful understatement

Actually, masterful overstatement. Unless you can point to a current government in the West that is actively punishing (through death, imprisonment, or banishment) hundred of thousands of citizens.

Or even a Western government you think capable of doing such in the next decade.

Being treated harshly on twitter is not the same thing.

Why study History?

Not only was there no repercussion for denunciation in the inquisitions, there was the 'fisc,' opportunity to get all or a part of the denounced person's property. The pope (1209 AD?) declared a Crusade against Cathar/dualist heretics the southern part of what is now France, the Albigensian Crusade, a 20 year war. "Kill them all. God will know his own." A priest with the Catholic hordes gave that theological advice when asked what to do with the non-heretics among people in a besieged town (they defended their heretic neighbors - refusing to hand them over) that had declined surrender offers and was about to be overrun. War etiquette at the time included "Cry havoc" (Shakespeare) when a besieged town refused to submit. It meant no prisoners - women and children, too.

Re: The Inquisition in the Middle Ages: compare England (the Inquisition did not take hold) and France/Italy/Spain (big into the Inquisition) developed politically and economically.

You're right. They didn't kill or imprison bakers that declined to bake a gay wedding cake; Brett Kavanaugh or them school children from Covington children. They bankrupted the baker and unsuccessfully tried to destroy Kavanaugh and Covington children.

Love the 'they' - which represents the U.S. government that will pay Kavanaugh's salary during his life time appointment to the Supreme Court, right?

And people were really mean to Nixon too. So mean that he resigned his office, merely because somebody made a little mistake with a tape recorder, and people made it into a big deal.

But who knows? Maybe in the future we will have twitter lotteries, where the property of the denounced will be awarded to the denouncer with the most followers.

one needs to keep in mind that "local" inquisitions (ie the Spanish) were far different affairs from Papal Inquisitions-b/c the local authorities were far more corrupt & cruel than the Papal Inquisitors. It was widely understood that if you faced acquisitions you should run to the nearest Papal Inquisitor & surrender to him-b/c you had many more rights & safeguards in his jurisdiction. I Papal Inquisitions you could list anyone who had animus towards you before your trail & their testimony was typically thrown out (so people would write down the names of almost anyone who knew them thereby protecting themselves). Papal Inquisitors could not use any form or torture that could permanently injure you, etc.

What the hell, prior. When you say "in the West" you are acknowledging the Chinese parallel and discarding it at the same time?

'the Chinese parallel' - ???

Unless you mean that the Cultural Revolution is part of the book, without Prof. Cowen noting that fact.


Ah. You are aware that no one is 'denouncing' Uighurs, right? They are all direct targets of the Chinese state - 'As part of this campaign, the Chinese government has come to treat almost all expressions of Uighur Islamic faith as signs of potential religious extremism and ethnic separatism. Since 2017 alone, more than 1 million Turkic Muslims, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others, have moved through detention centres.'

This is not what denouncing looks like or means, in normal terms - 'Many of the detainees had been arrested for having supposedly committed religious and political transgressions through social media apps on their smartphones, which Uighurs are required to produce at checkpoints around Xinjiang. Although there was often no real evidence of a crime according to any legal standard, the digital footprint of unauthorised Islamic practice, or even a connection to someone who had committed one of these vague violations, was enough to land Uighurs in a detention centre. The mere fact of having a family member abroad, or of travelling outside China, as Alim had, often resulted in detention.' https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/apr/11/china-hi-tech-war-on-muslim-minority-xinjiang-uighurs-surveillance-face-recognition

If you don't think there are neighborhood dramas in this, you don't know humans or history.

And you sure as hell don't know when to let a thread go.

More importantly Trump is a monster for forcing a trade war with China on us.

Sure, they’re reenacting the beginning moves of the Holocaust, but Trump obstructed Justice! Into an investigation which found no underlying crime, but found plenty of obstruction into an investigation without a crime justifying said investigation.


That anonymous tries, but I'll call it a miss.

If Obama were President, the Uighurs would be part of the conversation.

If Hillary were President, the Uighurs would be part of the conversation.

This isn't a crazy claim. Certification on human rights was, until recently, a standard part of trade policy and most favored status.

If we still had the capacity to be shocked, we might be shocked that a US President and administration give zero shits, and just want to sell more soybeans.

I agree. We should impeach Trump. He seems to think he is above the law. We need to clean house. Starting with the White House.

Support for Partial birth abortion would get you convicted of war crimes in every decade after WWII, if you supported partial birth abortion in an occupied territory that your military was in charge of.

Obama knows that, Clinton knows that.

You who are sucking up to them probably don't.

Seek wisdom.

and don't vote for people like Northam, who supports partial birth abortion - whether he was the guy in the KKK costume or the guy next to the guy in the KKK costume.

4. Chinese sci-fi is marvelous. I read anything written and/or translated by Ken Liu. It is clear that there is a sense of optimism in China that is lacking in the West. As someone who is pro-individualism I'm concerned about why this is so. Noticeably, the youth of America, who should be the most optimistic, is most affected by how things are:


It is good to know we will have good reading materials in the death camp.

@Edmond I agree with you about the lack of optimistic scifi in the west. I grew up reading and getting motivated by Arthur C Clark, Isaac Asimov etc.. For too long now it seems science fiction has been dominated by the dystopian, apocalyptic, doom and gloom genre.

the princess of mars is incredibly ambitious. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Princess_of_Mars#/media/File:Princess_of_Mars_large.jpg What else is hopefulness except "I don't know truth."

“Eccles closes his eyes; in the dark tipping silence his feels his ministry, sum and substance, being judged.”

Thanks for the tip. I will check it out...

Well according to your link, the youth feel that the system is rigged against them so they don't see a future for themselves. They also don't identify with a septuagenarian with an old fashioned view of the world. Low paying jobs with high student debt, high cost of housing and healthcare. The older generation still form a plurality of voters and outvote them so policy isn't an option. The youth are right to feel pessimistic. How they respond to this will be very interesting to watch.

1. Communism is just revisited Christianism. It's striking how people are so blind about it. Jesus was replaced by another myth called "the proletarian". Neither of them have ever existed. The Christian parousia was replaced by the classless society. The Soviets work exactly like Ecclesia and the first secretary of the Party is like the Pope. As said, the Communist Tribunals are carbon copies of the Inquisition. The hammer and sickle symbol is just a stylized cross.

+1. Karl Marx had both a Jewish and Lutheran background as his father was forced to convert to practice law in Germany. Communism is literally a form of Western European Judeo-Christianity. That is why it has a doctrine of original sin (exploitation/oppression of the masses by the capitalist class), divine intervention by a supernatural force that shapes history (the Hegelian dialectic), a path of redemption with a bit of predestination/prophecy (overthrow of feudalism by bourgeoisie, followed by an overthrow of capitalism by workers/socialist), a final war between good and evil (rise of the proletariat class against their oppressors) and an eschatological end state complete with utopia (final evolution of worker-owned socialism to classless communism).

This is an interesting connection. I haven't thought about this before but yes you are right. I lived for a time in Oakland, CA and the ministers there kept copies of Das Kapital next to their Bibles.

Disinformation to attract Evangelicals.

Just offer Trump a chance to sell a high rise and he will follow you.

I am not an American and I don't live in the US. I don't care much about your Trump and he does not appear on my twitter. He does not seem to do much anyway and it is probably for the better.

Would you like to follow President Captain Bolsonaro on Twitter? He uses social media to announce administrative measures and work around the maimstream media's grip over public discourse.

President Captain Bolsonaro is enthusiastically attempting to eradicate the natives of the Amazon Basin to expropriate their land. Hopefully, they'll be able to make pincushions of the Brazilian army with poison darts.

#3 just another thing that affected profits.

Everyone has a beef about something, but the raisin industry is all sour grapes: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/27/style/sun-maid-raisin-industry.html

I urge people to read the article in the NYT about the raisin industry. It has some very interesting lessons about economics and (legal in this case) price-fixing.

#1) Judge My Neighbor may be getting more relevant but unfortunately the $55 price on Kindle was relevant to my decision not to purchase it. Hopefully the price drops.


Interesting coincidence, print books are more than holding their own v. ebooks - TV news report.

I don't use ebooks. I am a Neanderthal (a cousin had one of them DNA tests - proof). The warden agrees.

A scholarly (they made me read it in school 100 years ago) book is H. C. Lea, The Inquisition in the Middle Ages. Probably available on Amazon used for $2.

Nope. Hardcover is $53 new and $64?!?! used on Amazon. Don't ask me why.

The yield curve has inverted. Buyers expect to derive more pleasure and knowledge from an old book than from a more recent one. Usually, when it happens, it is considered a sign of a coming recession.

3. The problem was not tires bursting per se, but not taking proper precautions regarding the fuel tanks to reduce the associated risk - 'Prosecutors said the catastrophe could have been averted had Mr Perrier, Concorde programme director from 1978 to 1994, remedied fuel tank weaknesses detected as early as 1979.

Aérospatiale, the former plane maker now called EADS, had recorded dozens of incidents involving burst tyres on Concorde, seven of which perforated fuel tanks under the plane. They reinforced the tyres, but, prosecutors said, abandoned efforts to strengthen the underside of the wings, which held the fuel tanks.' https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7778309/Father-of-Concorde-to-blame-for-2000-Paris-crash.html

And from the accident report (English version, translated from French) - 'On Concorde, nineteen of the fifty-seven known cases of bursts/punctures were caused by foreign objects.' https://lessonslearned.faa.gov/AirFrance4590/Concorde_Accident_Report.pdf

The broader perspective is that risks which are acceptable in a military context become more problematic when repurposing a bomber into a passenger plane, including the fact that one assumes a higher degree of runway safety when it involves a nuclear armed bomber taking off from a dedicated military facility.

It is interesting what is acceptable in a military context, where the pilots and crews are apparently expendable.

One would think with the resources and budgets, the military would have no problem pursuing fixes for known weakness that are in the high/high risk quadrant.

However the history seems to show that the military has a long history of accepting known risks - of the sort that would seem easy to remedy, or make obvious trade-offs where human risk is on the short side - that become the brunt of gallows humor among those assigned to participate despite those risks.

Interestingly, the F-22 lands at 160 miles an hour, the Concorde at 187. So the commercial pilots actually have more to deal with.

The mandatory eye protection, gloves, and elbow / knee pads leads me to believe the military is obsessed with safety.

Or at least in a giant bureaucratic sense: pull the lever that is easy to pull and easy to enforce, regardless of efficacy.

A soldier might be blown in half, but he’ll have his eye protection on. If he dies, it must be because his knee pads were around his ankles.

American soldiers are being killed, sure. That’s the logical response from Muslims abroad due to NOT OUR president’s stances towards the Muslim ummah (community for you white alt right supremacists).

Trump pushed them into a corner, and now they have no choice. Trumpistas want them to not immigrate. But they have the legal right and obligation to come to the land of opportunity.

Trump is responsible for every soldier death. He pulled the trigger by denouncing Islamism. And now righteous soldiers of Islam are defending their lands against white nationalists, unfortunately our soldiers.

Our soldiers should surrender. They’re the white nationalist army now. Surrender and desert! You are a Neo Nazi army!

Great timing on the "send up the white nationalist threat" thing.

I was thinking more along the lines of the B24, fondly called by its crew the “flying coffin”

Or more recently, there were numerous scandals over subpar body armor and troops forced to harden their own vehicles against roadside bombs

The most surprising find in TC's latest reading list:

neither Jas. J. O'Donnell nor his publisher (go, Princeton Univ. Pr.!) changed the title of J. Caesar's account to conform to the inane, requisite contemporary publishing convention of supplying a subtitle and colon.

Had another publisher gotten hands on this new translation, surely we'd know it already as The Other Side of the Rubicon: The Divine Julius's Gallic Wars. (A clever hook some editorial assistant never thought of!)

Publishers already enjoy the earned reputation of poorly estimating professional publishing risks: what might explain their enduring commitments to the Cute and the Clever? (a sign that they somehow don't trust their own markets?)

3. p=mv, momentum has a linear relationship with speed. But I think we can trick ourselves as we skip out to much higher velocities and look for the same safety. Stumbles can be benign, bicycle crashes can be risky, motorcycle crashes horrible. Human bodies and the materials we use have a harder time as we arrest momentum at 5, 15, 60, 1354 mph.

Momentum may be linear but 1354 is a lot more than 5.

(1354 is the flight speed of a Concorde. The landing speed is 187.)

6. red meat. Well, without reading the book, I would say the beef (and other meat) industries enjoy a lovely exemption from contemporary economics and scrutiny of the sort that is accepted as normal in just about every other endeavor.

The beef industry is dominated by a cabal of three or four massive privately held companies, that operate in a model that more closely resembles nineteenth century gilded age practices.

Producers of calves and chicks operate as little better than serfs to these cabals. Bearing all the price, climate, and market risk and up-front capital requirement.

One of those firms, JBS, lost its family ownership executives when they got embroiled in the Venezuelan high level government bribery scandal. This was at the same time as the inspection scandal, which had come just on the heels of their reinstatement to US imports.

Little-known facts. Much of the beef that says product of USA is not in fact a product of the USA.

Other fun facts: most "grass fed" and "pasture" beef is not really what you think it is. It is also probably imported. It is also probably a culled dairy cow. It was also probably finished in a feedlot.

"One of those firms, JBS, lost its family ownership executives when they got embroiled in the Venezuelan high level government bribery scandal. This was at the same time as the inspection scandal, which had come just on the heels of their reinstatement to US imports."
Most of it is slander and hearsay. Unfortunately, some people hate successful businesspeople and try to bring them to their own level instead of trying to elevate themselves through hard work and cunning. Evidently, mistakes were commited and, undoubtedly, the guilty parts must, after a fair trial, be suitably punished, but, as many a political commenter has pointed out, destroying a company for the sins of a few misguided and overzealous executives would be like destroying IBM, Coca Cola, Krupp or IG Farben for the excesses of nazism. It wouldn't help anyone and only serve to frantically fan the stokes of resentment and finger-pointing.

Mistakes were made
Presidents went to jail

Evidently, there was some corruption, but JBS didn't do as much evil-doing as people think.

2. From the Amazon copy: "Everyone also agrees that students and the public more generally should understand the methods used to gain this knowledge. But what exactly is the scientific method?"

No, I don't think that's where the interest of science lies: in the "scientific method." I'd like to know who decreed that. I'd say that's part of the problem with elementary and secondary science education. I've thought about it some, puzzling over the fact that I would have said I disliked science class as a child, but am most interested in science as an adult. I was useless at most things as a child, and no less so at the "doing" or pretend-doing of science, compounded by having a little attitude (well, that was my constant companion generally) at being asked to do "experiments" to "discover" perfectly well-established concepts. On the other hand I prefer being outdoors to in, and would have enjoyed/learned more from natural history-type classes with a local focus: botany, geology, weather, fauna. (And did finally get some of that, from an aged biology teacher named Mrs.Countee, who loved the ocean, and took us on a couple collecting field trips, and to see the sea turtles, and tour an A&M research vessel - but that was just her own quirky curriculum. Less time spent within four walls, under flourescent lights: it's past time, ed reformers.)

But I can readily see that kids with a bent for science are often handy with experiments, and that it's fun to do things you're good at, and that even if they find having to recap the development of science as tedious as I did - I still vaguely remember using this tricky old camera to photograph a ball in motion, and derive (surprise!) the law of gravity - or perhaps we are about to overturn it! - they can surely profit from practicing the methods of science. So: differentiate. Home ec - out of fashion when I was in school - would have been a much better lab for me.

My husband attended a small eccentric private school, where they hadn't the resources or the energy to mount anything resembling hands-on education: but he had a very intelligent teacher, and learned a great deal from his lectures on quantum physics during the period when I was graphing the path of a falling ball.

Most crucially, the history of science should be on an equal footing with all other subjects. I found as an adult - reading about science in narrative form, with its personalities and indeed heroes, is a painless way for a non-scientist to absorb some science. Honestly, I think there are people who could better appreciate math, beyond the basics, presented in that way as well. And more appreciation for the incremental, monumental efforts of past people would be apposite at the moment.

In college I ran across a history of science text which described the development of Maxwell’s Equations for EM fields. Remarkably mechanistic in conception, terminology, and notation - which was illuminating and had been completely elided in my classes.

As a young scientist I was fascinated by the quote "it is the intuition of unity amid disorder that impels the mind to form science."

So I was very happy to repeat Galileo's ball on a ramp experiment, because it was retracing the history of that intuition. Once we caught up, so to speak, and had current knowledge in a field, we could push it forward by the same process. More experiments.

History of science is nice but it doesn't teach you science as you can tell from the name. I worry more that it will give one the illusion that they learned science like reading something out of the New Yorker ("igon values"). If you want to learn science, you must do it. Run a few experiments or work through the math. There is Youtube for visuals, online forums to ask questions, and even open source textbooks free on the web to help you on your endeavor.

Or study nature.

Probably should not comment on a book I haven’t read, but it seems strange to have a book about denunciation that doesn’t focus on the Stalin era. Weren’t lots of people denounced and sent away “without rights of correspondence” i.e. summarily killed for minor or nonexistent deviations?

Professor Cowen recently reviewed, or at least mentioned, Kolyma Tales, which covers the territory you are describing

“Abilene, Kansas was the first major cattle town.”

What's that supposed to mean? Abilene was the railroad terminus closest to the Texas longhorn country. Cattle were driven there and loaded on cars for the trip to the packing houses back east. This situation existed for only a few years as rail service expanded. There were more cattle in Chicago, waiting to be made into steaks, than anywhere else in the country.

I was concerned at first by the glaring lack of a colon, but Amazon actually lists it as The War for Gaul: A New Translation.

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