Category: History

My Conversation with Chuck Klosterman

Excellent stuff, we had so much fun we kept on going for an extra half hour, as he decided to ask me a bunch of questions about economics and personal finance.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ’90s, why the ’90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.

Whew!  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I see the world as follows. Every decade, to me, is super weird, but the 1980s and ’90s pretended they weren’t weird. The ’80s pretended to be good versus evil. The ’90s pretended that good won. But when crypto comes and persists, you have to drop all pretense that the age you’re living in isn’t totally weird.

You have internet crypto, and everyone admits, right now, everything’s weird. And that, to me, is the fundamental break with the 1990s because everyone pretended most things were normal and that Seinfeld was your dose of weird, right? Jason Alexander — that’s a very manageable weird.

KLOSTERMAN: Oh, absolutely.

COWEN: Some guy in an apartment in New York City cracking sarcastic jokes — like, whoop-de-do.

And:

KLOSTERMAN: …this guy, Mark Fisher, who’s dead now, had this idea about the slow cancellation of the future. I feel like that’s one of the most profound ideas that I’ve come across in the last 10 years of my life, and it seems so palpable that this is occurring.

An example I will often use is, if you take, say, 10 minutes from an obscure film in 1965 with no major actors, and then you take 10 minutes from an obscure film from 1980 where nobody became famous, and you show anyone these 10-minute clips, they will have no problem whatsoever figuring out which one came first. Even a little kid can look at a movie from 1965 and a movie from 1980 and instantly understand that one predates the other.

But if you do that with a film from 2005 and a film from 2020 — again, an obscure film where you don’t recognize the actors — you’re just looking at it aesthetically and trying to deduce which one came first and which one came second. It’s almost impossible.

This phenomenon just seems to almost be infiltrating every aspect of the culture…

And:

KLOSTERMAN: Before I did this podcast, I listened to your podcast with Žižek.

COWEN: Oh yeah, that was hilarious.

KLOSTERMAN: Are you friends with him? It sure seemed like it. And if you are, what is it like to be with him when he is not in a performative scenario?

Recommended.  And again, here is Chuck’s new book The Nineties.

Ronald Reagan is underrated

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

As I interpret the career of Reagan, he understood another point very well — and that concerns the scarcity of moral capital. Reagan knew there were real “bad guys,” and that it was up to leaders and elites to identify them and stand up to them, both rhetorically and diplomatically. Most of all, it was important to encourage the American public to internalize these same moral judgments. This may all sound corny and dated, but the pending conflict in Ukraine shows it to be an enduring truth.

The complementary Reagan vision was positive, optimistic and focused on what Americans can accomplish when working together. Americans are going to disagree on a lot of issues, he acknowledged, but they should maintain a relatively united front and save their real opprobrium for the truly destructive forces on the global scene.

Fast forward 40 years, and it seems that America has almost completely ignored these strictures. Many on the right seem most upset about the worst aspects of the left, and vice versa. Even when bad forces emerge in the international arena, Americans seem far more preoccupied by their fights with each other.

On Russia specifically, as recently as several months ago the current military escalation was hardly a topic of discussion among U.S. elites. When Mitt Romney tried to raise the danger of Russia in his 2012 presidential campaign, the point largely fell flat. Former President Barack Obama actually mocked him.

One of my biggest beefs about the status quo is that both the Trumpist Right and the Progressive Left are so willing to run down America’s moral capital in service of their pet partisan projects.

*The Invention of Power*

The author is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and the subtitle is Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West.  Here is the main thesis:

Why Europe became distinct after the year 1000 and not before can be reduced to this surprisingly simple reason: in Europe, the head of religion and the head(s) of state were different people who faced off against one another in long-standing, long-lasting, intense competition for political control.  Certainly, the rulers of China and Japan were thought to be gods.

I consider this broadly consistent with my own views, although I see many other significant factors in the broader history, including natural geography and political fragmentation.  Nor can you dismiss the role of imperialism entirely, plus that the growth of the West came “at the right time” (for the West at least).  I like this book, but I don’t think it quite has the knockdown proof of its thesis that it pretends to.  And the book is oddly silent about Christianity as a general phenomenon.  There is talk of popes and churches on almost every page, and yet Christianity as an intellectual innovation, helping to make liberalism more likely, does not play much of a role in the narrative.  And given how general and deeply rooted some of the mechanisms are, I don’t quite understand why so much stress is placed on the 1122 Concordat of Worms — surely that is endogenous too?  It is an odd philosophy of history in which so much hinges on a single event and then for almost a thousand years the rest that follows is locked in.

Heavy Wears the Crown and the Kohinoor

Shah Jahan is best known as the Mughal ruler who built the Taj Mahal. He spent much more of India’s wealth, however, building the Peacock throne (completed 1635), meant to rival the throne of Solomon. The value of the throne, perhaps the most bejeweled object ever created, can perhaps be understood by knowing that crowning one of the peacocks was the Kohinoor, one of the world’s largest diamonds. At the time, however, the Kohinoor wasn’t even considered the most impressive or valuable jewel in the throne!


Delhi was sacked by the Persian brigand Nader Shah in 1739. With ‘700 elephants, 4,000 camel and 12,000 horses’ Shah carted off hundreds of years of accumulated gold, silver and previous stones including the Peacock throne.

Nader brought the throne back to Persia but he soon went mad becoming ever more paranoid and vicious. He ordered his own son blinded and the eyes brought to him on a platter. Fearing a similar fate, some of his Afghan bodyguards turned on him and beheaded him. But one of his generals, Ahmad Khan Abdali, remained loyal, and amidst the violence and looting stood guard over the royal harem. He was rewarded by the first lady of the harem with the Kohinoor diamond and escaped to Afghanistan.

The rest of the Peacock throne was disbanded and disbursed to the winds although two of the other celebrated stones from the throne can be tracked through history. The Darya-i-Noor stayed in Persia were it eventually became part of the crown jewels of Mohammad Reza Shah, which as a child accompanied by my father I saw in Iran shortly before the revolution. The “Great Mughal” diamond eventually showed up in Amsterdam where it was bought by Count Orlov, the once-lover of Catherine the Great. Hoping to get back into her bed, he gifted her with the diamond but ended up only in debt and confined to a mental asylum. The Great Mughal is now on show in the Kremlin.

On his way back to Afghanistan, Ahmad Khan Abdali, who had escaped from the chaos of Nader Shah’s beheading, ran across a treasure caravan intended for Nader Shah. Commandeering the caravan he used its wealth to become the founder of the Durrani empire and the modern state of Afghanistan. Alas Ahmad Khan lost his nose to leprosy but kept the diamond until it fell to his heir, Timur Shah and then to his eventual heir (after much internecine warfare) Shah Zaman. Zaman was himself blinded with a hot needle “The point quickly spilled the wine of his sight from the cup of his eyes.” as Afghan historian Mirza ‘Ata put it poetically.

As the Durrani empire fell, the Sikh empire rose and the Kohinoor moved to Lahore under Ranjit Singh. The Sikhs, however, lost the Punjab to the East India Company who signed a peace deal with the boy king, Duleep Singh, which included the Kohinoor as tribute. Duleep would later be exiled to England where he would personally hand the Kohinoor over to his patron Queen Victoria.

After Queen Victoria’s death the Kohinoor was incorporated into various of the British crown jewels, excepting one period during World War II when it was hidden in a pond. As of last week, Queen Elizabeth announced that when Charles becomes King the Kohinoor will become part of the crown jewels of Queen Consort Camilla.

The Koh-i-Noor in the front cross of Queen Mary’s Crown. From Wikipedia.

Addendum: Largely cribbed from the excellent Kohinoor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand.

Bram Stoker, Dracula, and Progress Studies

The Dracula novel is of course very famous, but it is less well known that it was, among other things, a salvo in the direction of what we now call Progress Studies.  Here are a few points of relevance for understanding Bram Stoker and his writings and views:

1. Stoker was Anglo-Irish and favored the late 19th century industrialization of Belfast as a model for Ireland more generally.  He also was enamored with the course of progress in the United States, and he wrote a pamphlet about his visit.

2. From Wikipedia:

He was a strong supporter of the Liberal Party and took a keen interest in Irish affairs. As a “philosophical home ruler”, he supported Home Rule for Ireland brought about by peaceful means. He remained an ardent monarchist who believed that Ireland should remain within the British Empire, an entity that he saw as a force for good. He was an admirer of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, whom he knew personally, and supported his plans for Ireland.Stoker believed in progress and took a keen interest in science and science-based medicine.

3. The novel Dracula contrasts the backward world of Transylvania with the advanced world of London, and it shows the vampire cannot survive in the latter.  The Count is beaten back by Dr. Van Helsing, who uses science to defeat him and who serves as a stand-in for Stoker and is the de facto hero of the story.

4. One core message of the novel is “Ireland had better develop economically, otherwise we will end up like a bunch of feudal peasants, holding up crosses to fend off evil, rapacious landowners.”  At the time, the prominent uses of crosses was associated with Irish Catholicism.  And is there a more Irish villain than the absentee landlord, namely Dracula?  Dracula is also the kind of warrior nobleman who, coming from England, took over Ireland.

5. In the novel, science and commerce have the potential to defeat underdevelopment.  Stoker’s portrait of Transylvania, most prominent in the opening sections of the novel, also suggests that “underdevelopment is a state of mind.”  And it is correlated with feuding sects and clans, again a reference to the Ireland of his time, at least as he understood Catholic Ireland.  Here is more on Stoker’s views on economic development and modernization for both Ireland and the Balkans.

6. Stoker was obsessed with “rationalizing” (in the Weberian sense) the employment relation and also the bureaucracy  His first non-fiction work was “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions.”  Progress was more generally a recurring theme in his non-fiction writings, for instance “The Necessity of Political Honesty.”  He called for an Ireland of commerce, education, and without “warring feuds.”

7. For Stoker, sexual repression is needed to further societal progress and economic development, and in this regard Stoker anticipates Freud.  Dracula abides by most laws and norms, except the sexual/cannibalistic ones.  Dracula and Lucy, who give in to their individual desires, end up as the big losers.  For the others, societal order is restored, and the lurid sexuality that pervades the book is dampened by the restoration of order.

8. Christ and Dracula are mirror opposites (the stake, the cross, resurrection at dawn rather than sunset, the role of blood drinking reversed, the preaching of immortality in opposite ways, the inversion of who sacrifices for whom, and more).  A proper societal outcome is obtained when these two opposites end up neutralizing each other.  Stoker’s vision of progress is fundamentally secular.  (See Clyde Leatherdale on all this.)

9. From Hollis Robbins: “Britain’s economic prosperity in the nineteenth century was largely dependent on the adoption of international standards such as Greenwich Mean Time and the universal day, which ensured smooth coordination for trade, legal transactions, railroad travel, and mail delivery. Dracula, whose powers are governed by the sun and the moon rather than clocks and calendars, works to destabilize social coordination. His objective is not only literally to “fatten on the blood of the living,”6 but also more broadly to suck the lifeblood of a thriving commercial economy at the dawn of a global age. Under Dracula’s spell, humans forget the time, becoming listless, unproductive, and indifferent to social convention. At heart, the fundamental battle in Stoker’s Dracula is a death struggle between standard time as an institutional basis for world markets and planetary time governing a primitive, superstitious existence.”

10. In an interview Stoker once said: “I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson, but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves.”  There are numerous ways to take that remark, not just what I am suggesting.

Comparing dogs and wolves, with reference to human self-domestication

Based on claims that dogs are less aggressive and show more sophisticated socio-cognitive skills compared with wolves, dog domestication has been invoked to support the idea that humans underwent a similar ‘self-domestication’ process. Here, we review studies on wolf–dog differences and conclude that results do not support such claims: dogs do not show increased socio-cognitive skills and they are not less aggressive than wolves. Rather, compared with wolves, dogs seek to avoid conflicts, specifically with higher ranking conspecifics and humans, and might have an increased inclination to follow rules, making them amenable social partners. These conclusions challenge the suitability of dog domestication as a model for human social evolution and suggest that dogs need to be acknowledged as animals adapted to a specific socio-ecological niche as well as being shaped by human selection for specific traits.

That is from a new article by Friederike Range and Sarah Marshall-Pescini, via Michelle Dawson.

Do not expect a civil war in America

Here is Chris Blattman on that topic, read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:

  • Talk of a US breakup is nonsense
  • But there are real risks of regularized, serious political violence
  • Even so, I personally put those risks much lower than most of the people I just mentioned
  • Especially the risk of an organized right-wing insurgency—my own view is that risk is minute
  • That’s important, because a different risk level and a different diagnosis implies different solutions and priorities—because you don’t avert the next pandemic by prepping for the zombie apocalypse
  • Meanwhile, the backstory on things like the democracy downgrade should make you worry that the only thing that has degraded is the credibility of the rating organizations
  • For America, the greater risk (in my mind) is not violent insurrection, it is the quiet erosion of democratic norms (an actual degrading of American democracy) that never becomes violent, because it almost never makes sense to rebel
  • Even then the big story to me is the recent robustness of our institutions
  • Those of us who fear the specter of right-wing machinations—be it violence or state capture—should be vigilant, but also try to be suspicious of ourselves and our worst fears, for humans are perennially biased judges of our rivals

And from Musa al-Gharbi’s recent excellent piece:

We are not living in a “post-truth” world. We are not on the brink of a civil war. The perception that we are is almost purely an artifact of people taking poll and survey data at face value despite overwhelming evidence that we probably shouldn’t…

In fact, rather than January 6 serving as a prelude to a civil war, the US saw lower levels of death from political violence in 2021 than in any other year since the turn of the century. Even as violent crime approached record highs across much of the country, fatalities from political violence dropped. This is not an outcome that seems consistent with large and growing shares of the population supposedly leaning towards settling the culture wars with bullets instead of ballots. This turn of events does not seem consistent with the notion that tens of millions of Americans – including large numbers of military, law enforcement and militia members – literally believe the presidency was stolen, elections can no longer be trusted, and the fate of the country is on the line.

Indeed, far from giving up on elections, Republican voters are reveling in the prospect of taking back one or both chambers of Congress at the end of this year; they are eagerly awaiting the midterms (likely for good reason).

In truth, most Republican voters likely don’t believe in the big lie. But many would nonetheless profess to believe it in polls and surveys – just as they’d support politicians who make similar professions (according to one estimate, Republican candidates who embrace the big lie enjoy a 6 percentage point electoral boost as compared to Republicans who publicly affirm the 2020 electoral results).

They are both right.

The fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday is today

I am reminded of John Stuart Mill’s remark:

I know tolerably well what Ireland was, but have a very imperfect idea of what Ireland is.

Still true!  That is from one of Mill’s letters.

Here is my earlier post on my summer visit to Derry.  Remember the 1970s, when people thought there was a reasonable chance of peace in the Middle East, but that the Ireland problem could never be solved?

Can You Move to Opportunity?

It is not always that easy:

This paper shows that racial composition shocks during the Great Migration (1940–1970) reduced the gains from growing up in the northern United States for Black families and can explain 27 percent of the region’s racial upward mobility gap today. I identify northern Black share increases by interacting pre-1940 Black migrants’ location choices with predicted southern county out-migration. Locational changes, not negative selection of families, explain lower upward mobility, with persistent segregation and increased crime and policing as plausible mechanisms. The case of the Great Migration provides a more nuanced view of moving to opportunity when destination reactions are taken into account.

That is by Ellora Derenoncourt, in the latest American Economic Review.  Of course this also has implications for immigration policy, and it helps to show why even a very strong pro-immigration view ought to recognize some limits on the process.

Overcome your recency bias

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

For all the talk about how political and media bias distort people’s perceptions of current events, another kind of bias may have an even greater impact: recency bias. Put simply, recency bias is the practice of giving disproportionate weight to the events of the recent past when formulating expectations and plans.

And:

I fear we are committing a form of recency bias by not focusing more on nuclear weapons and the policies surrounding nuclear proliferation and nuclear-weapons use. Atomic bombs have not been used against humans since 1945, and so for many people they are not a major concern, having been supplanted by fears of climate change. But a broader lesson of human history is that, if a weapon is available, sooner or later someone will use it.

The plan for overcoming recency bias is pretty straightforward. Spend less time scrolling through news sites and more time reading books and non-news sites about how your issues of concern have played out in the distant past. If you are young, spend more time talking to older people about what things were like when they were growing up. If you had applied those techniques, Russia’s interest in taking over more parts of Ukraine would not be very surprising.

Recommended.

That was then, this is now, January 21 edition

For my birthday, Yana constructed/bought me a book of NYT front pages for all of the January 21sts from the year I was born to the current day.  It is fun to read through these, here are a few headlines of note:

1962: Robert Kennedy Gets Invitation to Visit Moscow

[Shelby Cullom] Davis Family Gives Princeton $5 Million

1963: Turks Agree to U.S. Removal of Some Missiles

1964: Johnson Foresees Boom, But Warns of Inflation, Advisers Urge Price Cuts

Productivity Said to Cost Two Million Jobs Yearly [this one is a real howler]

1966: First front-page mention of the Vietnam War in the lot

1967: Price Rise Rate is Seen Slowing After Sharp Gain

1968 offers this disorienting number citation: $8.9 Billion Rise for U.S. Spending in 1969 Projected

1969: Soviet Tells U.S. That It Is Ready for Missile Talks

1970: Democrats React to Redistricting; Legal Moves are Hinted, but G.O.P. Lines Appear Final

Again, all of those headlines are from various January 21 dates from those years.  I will continue reading!  But so far my overall impressions, reading up through the early 1970s, are these: It is still recognizably the same world.  There is less about both race and Vietnam than a naive observer from 2022 might expect.  The “elites” from back then do not look so overwhelmingly wonderful.  Every single NYT headline is at least pretending to be super-serious and of great global or national import.  Presidents are indeed inaugurated on January 20, every four years.

Did Ireland really have a housing bubble?

Ireland was not a story of overbuilding caused by laissez-faire policy, or an experience that defied standard economics. Ireland built very few ghost towns – housing excesses, where they occurred, were a product of government tax policy, rather than irrational markets. And supply and demand perform very well in explaining the trends.

And:

How on earth, you might ask, has Ireland ended up with almost all parts of its policy system trying to get lots more housing built – but the key cogwheel doing its utmost to hold new housing back? The answer, ironically, is Ireland’s own policymakers falling for the myths of the last bubble. It seems that the key personnel of the OPR believe the north-west of the country built too many homes in the 2000s because of state inattention and a wayward market, rather than as the result of extraordinary state effort to bring about that outcome. Without those reliefs, there is now little risk that new homes will be built where there is no long-term need.

Here is more from Ronan Lyons at Works in Progress, volume 6.  Irish housing is for the most part very expensive today. Dublin is one of the most expensive rental markets in the world.  Here is the 2019 NYT on the housing crisis in Ireland:

Homeownership has dropped, evictions and homelessness have climbed sharply, surging demand for rental units has led to a shortage, and soaring rents are fodder for daily conversation, political campaigns and street protests.

So perhaps we should speak of the Irish housing panic of the downturn rather than the bubble of the upturn?  The full history here remains to be written.  Somehow these are episodes most commentators do not wish to revisit.

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.

When is a prediction right or wrong?

When I lived in Germany in the mid-1980s, it seemed obvious to me that the chances of a pending German reunification were pretty high.  West Germany seemed obsessed with its status as a separated twin.  That seemed everywhere in the serious literature and film of the time.  Yet all my German friends insisted that my expectations were nonsense and that they absolutely had moved on and did not care one whit about East Germany.  Still, to me the yearnings were obvious.

At that time I was expecting an overture from the Soviet Union, bringing the two Germanies together and cementing a status somewhere between Finlandization and outright Soviet sympathies.  Neutral de jure, but never much upsetting the larger neighbor to the east.  The United States wouldn’t much like that arrangement, and would be preparing to pull out its troops, but what could it do?

I simply could not imagine that the USSR would give up its East Germany prize and so 1989-1992 came as a major shock to me.  I traveled to the new, free East Germany as soon as I could, not long after the Wall came down, because I wanted to witness what was happening.

For many years, while I was pleased by the unfolding of events, and pleased to have seen an inkling of reunification, I felt my prediction was absolutely, totally wrong.

But these days!?  My prediction was maybe not so wrong after all.  There are even reports — not yet confirmed — that Germany will not allow the UK to use its airspace to ship arms to Ukraine.

Enemy of All Mankind and Indian Chemical Engineering

In 1695 the British pirate Henry Every commanding a stolen ship, one of the fastest in the world, captured the Ganj-i-Sawai an immense treasure ship carrying the granddaughter of the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, from her pilgrimage to Mecca. The looting and mass rapes set off repercussions around the world.

Enemy of All Mankind is Steven Johnson’s page-turning account. I’m not fascinated by pirates per se but Johnson surrounds the narrative arc with expert historical context. Anyone can tell you that cotton was important in trade between India and Europe but you would be hard-pressed to find a more concise account of why than Johnson’s primer. What made Indian cotton unique wasn’t the cotton but Indian chemical engineering.

What made Indian cotton unique was not the threads themselves, but rather their color. Making cotton fiber receptive to vibrant dyes like madder, henna, or turmeric was less a matter of inventing mechanical contraptions as it was dreaming up chemical experiments. The waxy cellulose of the cotton fiber naturally repels vegetable dyes….The process of transforming cotton into a fabric that can by dyed with shades other than indigo is known as “animalizing” the fiber, presumably because so much of it involves excretions from ordinary farm animals. First, dyes would bleach the fiber with sour milk; then they attacked it with a range of protein-heavy substances: goat urine, camel dung, blood. Metallic salts were then combined with the dyes to create a mordant that permeated the core of the fiber.

…The result was a [soft] fabric that could both display brilliant patterns of color and retain that color after multiple washings. No fabric in human history had combined those properties into a single cloth.

Lots of other insights. Every, by the way, was never captured but in 2014 a Yemeni coin that might have come from the Ganj-i-Sawai was found in a Rhode Island orchard.

See also my previous post on Enemy of All Mankind.