This will be my last post about the book(s). You can read my previous posts about it(/them) here, here, and here. In this post I’ve included some quotes and observations from the last few hundred pages.
“In wartime […] truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
“On June 10  General Montgomery reported that he was sufficiently established ashore to receive a visit. […] Montgomery, smiling and confident, met me at the beach as we scrambled out of our landing craft. His army had already penetrated seven or eight miles inland. There was very little firing or activity. […] The General was in the highest spirits. I asked him how far away was the actual front. He said about three miles. I asked him if he had a continuous line. He said, “No.” “What is there then to prevent an incursion of German armour breaking up our luncheon?” He said he did not think they would come. […] In the first six days 326,000 men, 54,000 vehicles, and 104,000 tons of stores were landed. […] [German] divisions arrived piecemeal, short of equipment, and fatigued by long night marches, and were thrown into the line as they came. […] On June 17, at Margival, near Soissons, Hitler held a conference with Rundstedt and Rommel. His two generals pressed on him strongly the folly of bleeding the German Army to death in Normandy. They urged that before it was destroyed the Seventh Army should make an orderly withdrawal towards the Seine […] Hitler would not agree. Here, as in Russia and Italy, he demanded that no ground should be given up and all should fight where they stood. The generals were of course right. […] by the middle of July thirty Allied divisions were ashore. Half were American and half British and Canadian. Against these the Germans had gathered twenty-seven divisions. But they had already suffered 160,000 casualties, and General Eisenhower estimated their fighting value as no higher than sixteen divisions. […] By August 30 our troops were crossing the Seine at many points. Enemy losses had been tremendous: 400,000 men, half of them prisoners, 1,300 tanks, 20,000 vehicles, 1,500 field guns. […] the Seine was reached six days ahead of the planned time.”
[During a visit to the Italian front:] [General] Alexander had planned an early start and a long day on the front. He had also promised to take me wherever I wanted to go. […] We first climbed by motor up a high outstanding rock pinnacle, upon the top of which a church and village were perched. The inhabitants, men and women, came out to greet us from the cellars in which they had been sheltering. It was at once plain that the place had just been bombarded. Masonry and wreckage littered the single street. “When did this stop?” Alexander asked the small crowd who gathered round us, grinning rather wryly. “About a quarter of an hour ago,” they said. […] Presently Alexander said that we had better not stay any longer, as the enemy would naturally be firing at observation posts like this and might begin again. […] We got into our cars accordingly, and in half an hour were across the river, where the road ran into undulating groves of olives, brightly patched with sunshine. Having got an officer guide from one of the battalions engaged, we pushed on through these glades till the sounds of rifle and machine-gun fire showed we were getting near to the front line. Presently warning hands brought us to a standstill. It appeared there was a minefield, and it was only safe to go where other vehicles had already gone without mishap. […] [We] found a very good place in the stone building, which was in fact an old château overlooking a rather sharp declivity. Here one certainly could see all that was possible. The Germans were firing with rifles and machine-guns from thick scrub on the farther side of the valley, about five hundred yards away. Our front line was beneath us. The firing was desultory and intermittent. But this was the nearest I got to the enemy and the time I heard the most bullets in the Second World War. After about half an hour we went back to our motor-cars and made our way to the river”.
The book has some interesting coverage of the Warsaw Uprising. The short story to people who don’t know it is that the Polish resistance movement started a major uprising in the city of Warsaw when the Soviet forces were very close to the city, a move encouraged by the Soviets [“Soviet broadcasting stations had for a considerable time been urging the Polish population to drop all caution and start a general revolt against the Germans”]. What the Soviets did as a response to the uprising was then to halt their advance rather than keep it going, in order to let the German army help Stalin get rid of the non-communist Polish resistance. Stalin also explicitly refused to allow British and American aircraft providing supplies to the Poles to land on Soviet […Polish…] territory. The tactics changed slightly over time: “On September 10, after six weeks of Polish torment, the Kremlin appeared to change their tactics. […] They wished to have the non-Communist Poles destroyed to the full, but also to keep alive the idea that they were going to their rescue.” So they pretended to try to help, but really did very little. “The struggle in Warsaw had lasted more than sixty days. Of the 40,000 men and women of the Polish Underground Army about 15,000 fell. Out of a population of a million nearly 200,000 had been stricken. […] When the Russians entered the city three months later [they were at points less than 10 miles away from the city when the uprising began] they found little but shattered streets and the unburied dead. Such was their liberation of Poland, where they now rule.” It should perhaps be obvious, but of course Stalin’s deceit did not stop there – this later sequence of events is also illustrative:
“At the beginning of March 1945 the Polish Underground were invited by the Russian Political Police to send a delegation to Moscow to discuss the formation of a united Polish Government along the lines of the Yalta agreement. This was followed by a written guarantee of personal safety and it was understood that the party would later be allowed if the negotiations were successful to travel to London for talks with the Polish Government in exile. On March 27 General Leopold Okulicki, the successor of General Bor-Komorowski in command of the Underground Army, two other leaders, and an interpreter had a meeting in the suburbs of Warsaw with a Soviet representative. They were joined the following day by eleven leaders representing the major political parties in Poland. One other Polish leader was already in Russian hands. No one returned from the rendezvous. On April 6 the Polish Government in exile issued a statement in London giving the outline of this sinister episode. The most valuable representatives of the Polish Underground had disappeared without a trace in spite of the formal Russian offer of safe-conduct. Questions were asked in Parliament and stories have since spread of the shooting of local Polish leaders in the areas at this time occupied by the Soviet armies […] On May 18 Stalin publicly denied that the arrested Polish leaders had ever been invited to Moscow […] The prisoners were accused of subversion, terrorism, and espionage, and all except one admitted wholly or in part the charges against them. […] This was in fact the judicial liquidation of the leadership of the Polish Underground which had fought so heroically against Hitler. The rank and file had already died in the ruins of Warsaw.”
“In the autumn of 1942 only three American aircraft-carriers were afloat; a year later there were fifty; by the end of the war there were more than a hundred. This achievement had been matched by an increase in aircraft production which was no less remarkable.”
“The number of divisions that could be sustained [in Europe, 1944], and the speed and range of their advance, depended […] entirely on harbours, transport, and supplies. Relatively little ammunition was being used, but food, and above all petrol, governed every movement.”
“You are responsible for maintaining order in Athens and for neutralising or destroying all E.A.M–E.L.A.S. bands approaching the city. […] Naturally E.L.A.S will try to put women and children in the van where shooting may occur. You must be clever about this and avoid mistakes. But do not hesitate to fire at any armed male in Athens who assails the British authority or Greek authority with which we are working. Do not […] hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.” (Telegram to General Scobie. Here’s a related wiki link. Churchill observes in the book that: “I felt grave concern about the whole business, but I was sure that there should be no room for doubts or hedging. I had in my mind Arthur Balfour’s celebrated telegram in the eighties to the British authorities in Ireland: “Don’t hesitate to shoot.” […] There was a furious storm about it in the House of Commons of those days, but it certainly prevented loss of life.”)
“I saw quite plainly that Communism would be the peril civilization would have to face after the defeat of Nazism and Fascism. It did not fall to us to end the task in Greece. […] I told the President [Roosevelt] that we ought to occupy as much of Austria as possible, as it was “undesirable that more of Western Europe than necessary should be occupied by the Russians.”” [Churchill’s subsequent italics] […] “I deem it highly important that we should shake hands with the Russians as far to the east as possible.” [telegram from Churchill to Eisenhower sent in the late stage of the war.]
“Poland was discussed at no fewer than seven out of the eight plenary meetings of the Yalta Conference, and the British record contains an interchange on this topic of nearly eighteen thousand words between Stalin, Roosevelt, and myself. […] A large body of opinion in Great Britain was shocked at the idea of moving millions of people by force. Great success had been achieved in disentangling the Greek and Turkish populations after the last war […] but in that case under a couple of millions of people had been moved. […] I was not afraid of the problem of transferring populations, so long as it was proportionate to what the Poles could manage and to what could be put into Germany. But it was a matter which required study, not as a question of principle, but of the numbers which would have to be handled.”
“As war waged by a coalition draws to its end political aspects have a mounting importance. […] At this time the points at issue did not seem to the United States Chiefs of Staff to be of capital importance. They were of course unnoticed by and unknown to the public, and were all soon swamped, and for the time being effaced, by the flowing tide of victory. Nevertheless, as will not now be disputed, they played a dominating part in the destiny of Europe […] The indispensable political direction was lacking [due to Roosevelt’s illness and death] at the moment when it was most needed. The United States stood on the scene of victory, master of world fortunes, but without a true and coherent design. Britain, though still very powerful, could not act decisively alone. I could at this stage only warn and plead. Thus the climax of apparently measureless success was to me a most unhappy time. I moved amid cheering crowds, or sat at a table adorned with congratulations and blessings from every part of the Grand Alliance, with an aching heart and a mind oppressed by forebodings.
The destruction of German military power had brought with it a fundamental change in the relations between Communist Russia and the Western democracies. They had lost their common enemy, which was almost their sole bond of union. […] Apprehension for the future and many perplexities filled my mind as I moved among the cheering crowds of Londoners in their hour of well-won rejoicing after all they had gone through. […] Japan was still unconquered. The atomic bomb was still unborn. The world was in confusion. […] The Soviet menace, to my eyes, had already replaced the Nazi foe. But no comradeship against it existed. […] I had seen it all before. I remembered that other joy-day nearly thirty years before, when I had driven with my wife from the Ministry of Munitions through similar multitudes convulsed with enthusiasm to Downing Street to congratulate the Prime Minister. Then, as at this time, I understood the world situation as a whole. But then at least there was no mighty army that we need fear […] How stands the scene after eight years have passed? The Russian occupation line in Europe runs from Lübeck to Linz. Czechoslovakia has been engulfed. The Baltic states, Poland, Roumania, and Bulgaria have been reduced to satellite States under totalitarian Communist rule. Yugoslavia has broken loose. Greece alone is saved. Our armies are gone, and it will be a long time before even sixty divisions can be again assembled opposite Russian forces, which in armour and manpower are in overwhelming strength. This also takes no account of all that has happened in the Far East. The danger of a third World War, under conditions at the outset of grave disadvantage, casts its lurid shadow over the free nations of the world.” [The last quote in the above paragraph was written in 1953.]
“Over a million prisoners were taken in the first three weeks of April”.
“there never was a moment’s discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not. […] the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around our table; nor did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise.”
“In sixty-eight months of fighting 781 German U-boats were lost. For more than half this time the enemy held the initiative. […] In the final count British and British-controlled forced destroyed 500 out of the 632 submarines known to have been sunk at sea by the Allies. In the First World War eleven million tons of shipping were sunk, and in the second fourteen and a half million tons, by U-boats alone. If we add the loss from other causes the totals become twelve and three-quarter million and twenty-one and a half million. Of this the British bore over 60 per cent. in the first war and over half in the second. […] It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell, and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power. […] Her shipping had been destroyed. She had entered the war with over five and a half million tons, later much augmented by captures and new construction, but her convoy system and escorts were inadequate and ill-organised. Over eight and a half million tons of Japanese shipping were sunk, of which five million fell to submarines. We, an island power, equally dependent on the sea, can read the lesson and understand our own fate had we failed to master the U-boats.”
You can read my previous posts about the book here and here. I gave the book 5 stars on goodreads. Below I have added some more quotes from the stuff in the middle, on various topics. I expect to post at least one more post about the book later on; there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, and in order for me to have at least some chance of remembering some of that stuff later on I think I need to blog it.
“The battle [of Crete] began on the morning of May 20  […] It was the first large-scale airborne attack in the annals of war. […] When the battle joined we did not know what were the total resources of Germany in parachute troops. The 11th Air Corps might have been only one of half a dozen such units. It was not till many months afterwards that we were sure it was the only one.” (This quote highlights, I think, one aspect of the war which is easy to miss for people who ‘wasn’t there’; how much uncertainty there was, about a lot of things that the enemy might be doing, or might not be doing, or might be planning to do. Espionage will get you only so far).
“Prime Minister to Stafford Cripps 3 Apr 41
Following from me to M. Stalin, provided it can be personally delivered by you:
I have sure information from a trusted agent that when the Germans thought they had got Yugoslavia in the net – that is to say, after March 20 – they began to move three out of the five Panzer divisions from Roumania to Southern Poland. The moment they heard of the Serbian revolution this movement was countermanded. Your Excellency will readily appreciate the significance of these facts.”
(If the significance of these facts is not clear to people unfamiliar with the scene at the time, here’s what Churchill thought: “This shuffling and reversal of about sixty trains could not be concealed from our agents on the spot. To me it illuminated the whole Eastern scene like a lightning-flash. The sudden movement to Cracow of so much armour needed in the Balkan sphere could only mean Hitler’s intention to invade Russia in May. […] The fact that the Belgrade revolution had required their return to Roumania involved perhaps a delay from May to June. I cast about for some means of warning Stalin […] I made the message short and cryptic, hoping that this very fact, and that it was the first message I had sent him since my formal telegram of June 25, 1940, commending Sir Stafford Cripps as Ambassador, would arrest his attention and make him ponder. […] This was the only message before the attack that I sent Stalin direct.” When Churchill and Stalin later briefly discussed the warning during their 1942 Moscow conference, Stalin remarked that he remembered the warning, and added: “I did not need any warnings. I knew war would come, but I thought I might gain another six months or so.”)
“Almost all responsible military opinion held that the Russian armies would soon be defeated and largely destroyed. […] President Roosevelt was considered very bold when he proclaimed in September that the Russian front would hold and that Moscow could not be taken. […] Even in August 1942, after my visit to Moscow and the conferences there, General Brooke, who had accompanied me, adhered to the opinion that the Caucasus Mountains would be traversed and the basin of the Caspian dominated by German forces, and we prepared accordingly on the largest possible scale for a defensive campaign in Syria and Persia.”
“In the whole of the war ninety-one merchant ships were lost on the Arctic route, amounting to 7.8 per cent. of the loaded vessels outward bound and 3.8 per cent. of those returning. Only fifty-five of these were in escorted convoys. Of about four million tons of cargo dispatched from America and the United Kingdom, an eighth was lost. In this arduous work the Merchant Navy lost 829 lives, while the Royal Navy paid a still heavier price. Two cruisers and seventeen other war-ships were sunk and 1,840 officers and men died. The forty convoys to Russia carried the huge total of £428,000,000 worth of material, including 5,000 tanks and over 7,000 aircraft from Britain alone. […] The […] extreme difficulties of the Arctic route, together with future strategic possibilities, made [the] creation of a major supply route to Russia through the Persian gulf [a] prime objective. […] Starting in September 1941, this enterprise, begun and developed by the British Army, and presently to be adopted and expanded by the United States, enabled us to send to Russia, over a period of four and a half years, five million tons of supplies.”
“As we had flown [back to Britain, after the Arcadia Conference] for more than ten hours through mist and had had only one sight of a star in that time, we might well be slightly off our course. Wireless communication was of course limited by the normal war-time rules. It was evident from the discussions which were going on that we did not know where we were. Presently Portal, who had been studying the position, had a word with the captain, and then said to me, “We are going to turn north at once.” […] As I left the aircraft [after the landing] the [air] captain remarked, “I never felt so much relieved in my life as when I landed you safely in the harbour.” I did not appreciate the significance of his remark at the moment. Later on I learnt that if we had held on our course for another five or six minutes before turning northwards we should have been over the German batteries in Brest. We had slanted too much to the southward during the night. Moveover, the decisive correction which had been made brought us in, not from the south-west, but from just east of south – that is to say, from the enemy’s direction rather than from that from which we were expected. This had the result, as I was told some weeks later, that we were reported as a hostile bomber coming in from Brest, and six Hurricanes from Fighter Command were ordered out to shoot us down. However, they failed in their mission.”
“By the end of March  the first phase of the Japanese war plan had achieved a success so complete that it surprised even its authors. Japan was master of Hong Kong, Siam, Malaya, and nearly the whole of the immense island region forming the Dutch East Indies. Japanese troops were plunging deeply into Burma. In the Philippines the Americans still fought on at the Corregidor, but without hope of relief. […] Whether it was wiser to organize their new perimeter thoroughly or by surging forward to gain greater depth for its defence seemed for [the Japanese leaders] a balanced strategic problem. After deliberations in Tokyo the more ambitious course was adopted. […] The Japanese High Command had shown the utmost skill and daring in making and executing their plans. They started however upon a foundation which did not measure world forces in true proportion. They never comprehended the latent might of the United States. […] they were drawn into a gamble, which even if it had won would only have lengthened their predominance by perhaps a year, and, as they lost, cut it down by an equal period. In the actual result they exchanged a fairly strong and gripped advantage for a wide and loose domain, which it was beyond their power to hold; and, being beaten in this outer area, they found themselves without the forces to make a coherent defence of their inner and vital zone. Nevertheless at this moment in the world struggle no one could be sure that Germany would not break Russia, or drive her beyond the Urals, and then be able to come back and invade Britain; or as an alternative spread through the Caucasus and Persia to join hands with the Japanese vanguards in India.”
Churchill included these interesting thoughts on the status of affairs roughly in the middle of the war: “I had now been twenty-eight months at the head of affairs, during which we had sustained an almost unbroken series of military defeats. […] The fact that we were no longer alone, but instead had the two most mighty nations in the world in alliance fighting desperately at our side, gave indeed assurances of ultimate victory. But this, by removing the sense of mortal peril, only made criticism more free. Was it strange that the whole character and system of the war direction, for which I was responsible, should have been brought into question and challenge? It is indeed remarkable that I was not […] dismissed from power, or confronted with demands for changes in my methods, which it was known I should never accept. I should then have vanished from the scene with a load of calamity on my shoulders, and the harvest, at last to be reaped, would have been ascribed to my belated disappearance.”
“In September  30 per cent. of Axis shipping supplying North Africa was sunk, largely by air action. In October the figure rose to 40 per cent. The loss of petrol was 66 per cent. […] There had been serious derangements in the enemy’s command. Rommel had gone to hospital in Germany at the end of September and his place was taken by General Stumme. Within twenty-four hours of the start of the battle [of El Alamein] Stumme died of a heart attack. [Talk about bad timing…] […] The Battle of El Alamein differed from all previous fighting in the Desert. The front was limited, heavily fortified, and held in strength. There was no flank to turn. A break-through must be made by whoever was the stronger and wished to take the offensive. In this way we are led back to the battles of the First World War on the Western Front. […] It may almost be said, “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”
An important thing I learned from the book was the answer to the question why the (Western) Allied forces were mainly fighting in Africa during the first part of the war, but didn’t seemingly really do much else aside from trying to keep the Germans from bombing their cities and sinking their ships. A very important point is that landing craft was the binding constraint, and these were in desperately short supply, and it took a lot of time to build up the supply. It would have made no sense for the Allied to have tried to unload substantial numbers of soldiers in Europe during the first years; they would have been slaughtered, and valuable landing crafts would have been lost. What might have happened, had such a strategy been pursued, might have been repeated experiences like those of the Dieppe raid, where almost 60 % of the soldiers who made it ashore were killed, wounded or captured, and the rest had to be evacuated within hours. So instead the Allied leaders tried to seek out the enemy where they were actually capable of taking him on, and that way bind resources of his which could not be used on the Eastern front – which ended up meaning mainly military engagements in Africa and the Mediterranean. Operation Torch could be initiated successfully significantly sooner than any sort of successful cross-Channel operation could.
“[In May 1943] there were 185 German divisions on the Russian front. […] Brooke [during a strategy meeting at that time] set out our whole Mediterranean strength [available for operations in the near future]. Deducting seven divisions to be sent home for the cross-Channel operation and two to cover British commitments to Turkey, there would be twenty-seven Allied divisions available in the Mediterranean area. […] In the initial assault [of the invasion of Sicily] nearly 3,000 ships and landing-craft took part, carrying between them 160,000 men, 14,000 vehicles, 600 tanks, and 1,800 guns.” And still this was small potatoes compared to the forces engaged in conflict on the Eastern front – which makes you think…
“In 1940 and 1941 we lost four million tons of merchant shipping a year. In 1942, after the United States was our Ally, this figure nearly doubled, and the U-boats sank ships faster than the Allies could build them. During 1943, thanks to the immense shipbuilding programme of the United States, the new tonnage at last surpassed losses at sea from all causes, and the second quarter saw, for the first time, U-boat losses exceed their rate of replacement. […] In May alone forty U-boats perished in the ocean. […] The convoys came through intact, the supply line was safe, the decisive battle had been fought and won. […] The extirpation of Axis power in North Africa opened to our convoys the direct route to Egypt, India, and Australia […] The long haul round the Cape, which had cost us so dear in time, effort, and tonnage, would soon be ended. The saving of an average of forty-five days for each convoy to the Middle East increased magnificently at one stroke the fertility of our shipping.”
I find it difficult to find the motivation to finish the half-finished drafts I have lying around, so this will have to do. Some random stuff below.
(15.000 views… In some sense that seems really ‘unfair’ to me, but on the other hand I doubt neither Beethoven nor Gilels care; they’re both long dead, after all…)
ii. New/newish words I’ve encountered in books, on vocabulary.com or elsewhere:
Agley, peripeteia, dissever, halidom, replevin, socage, organdie, pouffe, dyarchy, tauricide, temerarious, acharnement, cadger, gravamen, aspersion, marronage, adumbrate, succotash, deuteragonist, declivity, marquetry, machicolation, recusal.
iii. A lecture:
It’s been a long time since I watched it so I don’t have anything intelligent to say about it now, but I figured it might be of interest to one or two of the people who still subscribe to the blog despite the infrequent updates.
iv. A few wikipedia articles (I won’t comment much on the contents or quote extensively from the articles the way I’ve done in previous wikipedia posts – the links shall have to suffice for now):
Russian political jokes. Some of those made me laugh (e.g. this one: “A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. “I just heard the funniest joke in the world!” “Well, go ahead, tell me!” says the other judge. “I can’t – I just gave someone ten years for it!”).
v. World War 2, if you think of it as a movie, has a highly unrealistic and implausible plot, according to this amusing post by Scott Alexander. Having recently read a rather long book about these topics, one aspect I’d have added had I written the piece myself would be that an additional factor making the setting seem even more implausible is how so many presumably quite smart people were so – what at least in retrospect seems – unbelievably stupid when it came to Hitler’s ideas and intentions before the war. Going back to Churchill’s own life I’d also add that if you were to make a movie about Churchill’s life during the war, which you could probably relatively easily do if you were to just base it upon his own copious and widely shared notes, then it could probably be made into a quite decent movie. His own comments, remarks, and observations certainly made for a great book.
“a significant proportion of our whole war effort had to be devoted to combating the mine. A vast output of material and money was diverted from other tasks, and many thousands of men risked their lives night and day in the minesweepers alone. The peak figure was reached in June 1944, when nearly sixty thousand were thus employed.”
“On January 10, 1940, anxieties about the Western Front received confirmation. A German staff major of the 7th Air Division had been ordered to take some documents to headquarters in Cologne. He missed his train and decided to fly. His machine overshot the mark and made a forced landing in Belgium, where Belgian troops arrested him and impounded his papers, which he tried desperately to destroy. These contained the entire and actual scheme for the invasion of Belgium, Holland, and France on which Hitler had resolved. […] I was told about all this at the time […] It was argued in all three countries concerned that probably it was a plant. But this could not be true. There could be no sense in the Germans trying to make the Belgians believe that they were going to attack them in the near future. This might make them do the very last thing the Germans wanted, namely, make a plan with the French and British Armies […] I therefore believed in the impending attack. We appealed to Belgium, but the Belgian King and his Army staff merely waited, hoping that all would turn out well. […] no further action of any kind was taken by the Allies or the threatened States. […] Hitler, […] ordered, after venting his anger, new variants [of the invasion plans] to be prepared.”
“until July 1944 Britain and her Empire had a substantially larger number of divisions in contact with the enemy than the United States. This general figure includes not only the European and African spheres but also all the war in Asia against Japan. […] Out of 781 German and 85 Italian U-boats destroyed in the European theatre, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, 594 were accounted for by British sea and air forces […] of shipping losses by enemy action suffered by all nations throughout the war […] 80 per cent. were suffered in the Atlantic Ocean, including British coastal waters and the North Sea. Only 5 per cent. were lost in the Pacific. […] Up till the end of 1943 the British discharge of bombs upon Germany had in the aggregate exceeded by eight tons to one those cast from American machines”
“My relations with the President [Roosevelt – US] gradually became so close that the chief business between our two countries was virtually conducted by […] personal interchanges between him and me. […] In all I sent him nine hundred and fifty messages, and received about eight hundred in reply.”
“Altogether there came to the rescue of the Army under the ceaseless air bombardment of the enemy about eight hundred and sixty vessels […] at 2.23 p.m. on June 4 the Admiralty, in agreement with the French, announced that Operation “Dynamo” was now completed. More than 338,000 British and Allied troops had been landed in England. […] On June 17 it was announced that the Pétain Government had asked for an armistice, ordering all French forces to cease fighting, without even communicating this information to our troops. General Brooke was consequently told to come away with all men he could embark and any equipment he could save. We repeated now on a considerable scale, though with larger vessels, the Dunkirk evacuation. Over twenty thousand Polish troops who refused to capitulate cut their way to the sea and were carried by our ships to Britain. […] In all there were evacuated from all French harbours 136,000 British troops and 310 guns; a total, with the Poles, of 156,000 men.”
“Hitler and Stalin had much in common as totalitarians, and their systems of government were akin. […] On June 14, the day Paris fell, Moscow sent an ultimatum to Lithuania accusing her and the other Baltic States of military conspiracy against the U.S.S.R. and demanding radical changes of government and military concessions. On June 15 Red Army troops invaded the country. Latvia and Estonia were exposed to the same treatment. […] A Russian ultimatum to Roumania was delivered to the Roumanian Minister in Moscow at 10 p.m. on June 26. The cession of Bessarabia and the norther part of the province of Bukovina was demanded […] On June 27 Roumanian troops were withdrawn from the two provinces concerned, and the territories passed into Russian hands. […] On August 3-6 the pretence of pro-Soviet friendly and democratic Governments [in the Baltic] was swept away, and the Kremlin annexed the Baltic States to the Soviet Union.”
“From September 7 to November 3 an average of two hundred German bombers attacked London every night. […] The night raids were accompanied by more or less continuous daylight attacks by small groups or even single enemy planes, and the sirens often sounded at brief intervals throughout the whole twenty-four hours. To this curious existence the seven million inhabitants of London accustomed themselves. […] We did not know how long it would last. We had no reason to suppose that it would not go on getting worse. […] In the twelve months from June 1940 to June 1941 our civilian casualties were 43,381 killed and 40,856 seriously injured, a total of 94,237.”
“The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril. […] we poised and pondered together on this problem. It did not take the form of flaring battles and glittering achievements. It manifested itself through statistics, diagrams, and curves unknown to the nation, incomprehensible to the public. […] At the outset the Admiralty naturally thought first of bringing the ships safely to port, and judged their success by a minimum of sinkings. But now this was no longer the test. We all realised that the life and war effort of the country depended equally upon the weight of imports safely landed. In the week ending June 8, during the height of the battle in France, we had brought into the country about a million and a quarter tons of cargo, exclusive of oil. From this peak figure imports had declined at the end of July to less than 750,000 tons a week. […] I became increasingly concerned about this ominous fall in imports. “I see,” I minuted to the First Lord in the middle of February, 1941, “that entrances of ships with cargo in January were less than half of what they were last January.” The very magnitude and refinement of our protective measures – convoy, diversion, degaussing [a method employed to counteract magnetic mines – US], mine-clearance, the avoidance of the Mediterranean – the lengthening of most voyages in time and distance and the delays at the ports through bombing and the black-out, all reduced the operative fertility of our shipping to an extent even more serious than the actual losses. […] To the U-boat scourge was soon added air attack far out on the ocean by long-range aircraft. […] Powerful German cruisers were active. […] formidable vessels compelled the employment on convoy duty of nearly every available British capital ship. At one period the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet had only one battleship in hand.”
“In the three months ending with May  U-boats alone sank 142 ships, of 818,000 tons, of which 99 were British. […] in the same three months of March, April, and May 179 ships, of 545,000 tons, were sunk by air attack, mainly in the coastal regions. […] In the Atlantic  proved the toughest [year] of the whole war. […] By the end of January  thirty-one ships, of nearly 200,000 tons, had been sunk off the coast off the United States and Canadian coast. […] In February they destroyed seventy-one ships, of 384,000 tons, in the Atlantic, of which all but two were sunk in the American zone. […] The American Army Air Force, which controlled almost all military shore-based aircraft, had no training in anti-submarine warfare, whereas the Navy, equipped with float-planes and amphibians, had no means to carry it out, and in these crucial months an effective American defence system was only achieved with painful, halting steps. […] It was not until the end of the year that a complete interlocking convoy system covering all [the] immense areas [involved] became fully effective. […] In seven months the Allied losses in the Atlantic from U-boats alone amounted to over three million tons, which included 181 British ships of 1,130,000 tons. Less than one-tenth occurred in convoys. All this cost the enemy up to July no more than fourteen U-boats sunk throughout the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and of these kills only six were in North American waters. […] during [August] U-boats sank 108 vessels […] Between January and October 1942 the number of U-boats had more than doubled. 196 were operational […] All our escorts had to be cut to the bone for the sake of our main operations in Africa, and in November our losses at sea were the heaviest of the whole war, including 117 ships, of over 700,000 tons, by U-boats alone, another 100,000 from other causes.”
“Einstein emerges from this collection of quotes, drawn from many different sources, as a complete and fully rounded human being […] Knowledge of the darker side of Einstein’s life makes his achievement in science and in public affairs even more miraculous. This book shows him as he was – not a superhuman genius but a human genius, and all the greater for being human.”
I’ve recently read The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, from the foreword of which the above quote is taken, which contains roughly 1600 quotes by or about Albert Einstein; most of the quotes are by Einstein himself, but the book also includes more than 50 pages towards the end of the book containing quotes by others about him. I was probably not in the main target group, but I do like good quote collections and I figured there might be enough good quotes in the book for it to make sense for me to give it a try. On the other hand after having read the foreword by Freeman Dyson I knew there would probably be a lot of quotes in the book which I probably wouldn’t find too interesting; I’m not really sure why I should give a crap if/why a guy who died more than 60 years ago and whom I have never met and never will was having an affair during the early 1920s, or why I should care what Einstein thought about his mother or his ex-wife, but if that kind of stuff interests you the book has stuff about those kinds of things as well. My own interest in Einstein, such as it is, is mainly in ‘Einstein the scientist’ (and perhaps also in this particular context ‘Einstein the aphorist’), not ‘Einstein the father’ or ‘Einstein the husband’. I also don’t find the political views which he held to be very interesting, but again if you want to know what Einstein thought about things like Zionism, pacifism, and world government the book includes quotes about such topics as well.
Overall I should say that I was a little underwhelmed by the book and the quotes it includes, but I would also note that people who are interested in knowing more about Einstein will likely find a lot of valuable source material here, and that I did give the book 3 stars on goodreads. I did learn a lot of new things about Einstein by reading the book, but this is not surprising given how little I knew about him before I started reading the book; for example I had no idea that he was offered the presidency of Israel a few years before his death. I noticed only two quotes which were included more than once (a quote on pages 187-188 was repeated on page 453, and a quote on page 295 was repeated on page 455), and although I cannot guarantee that there aren’t any other repeats almost all quotes included in the book are unique, in the sense that they’re only included once in the coverage. However it should also be mentioned in this context that there are a few quotes on specific themes which are very similar to other quotes included elsewhere in the coverage. I do consider this unavoidable considering the number of quotes included, though.
I have included some sample quotes from the book below – I have tried to include quotes on a wide variety of topics. All quotes without a source below are sourced quotes by Einstein (the book also contains a small collection of quotes ‘attributed to Einstein’, many of which are either not sourced or sourced in such a manner that Calaprice did not feel convinced that the quote was actually by Einstein – none of the quotes from that part of the book’s coverage are included below).
“When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved. I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.” (“in answer to his son Eduard’s question about why he is so famous, 1922.”)
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”
“I am not prepared to accept all his conclusions, but I consider his work an immensely valuable contribution to the science of human behavior.” (Einstein said this about Sigmund Freud during an interview. Yeah…)
“I consider him the best of the living writers.” (on Bertrand Russell. Russell incidentally also admired Einstein immensely – the last part of the book, including quotes by others about Einstein, includes this one by him: “Of all the public figures that I have known, Einstein was the one who commanded my most wholehearted admiration.”)
“I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism. Doesn’t the world see that Hitler is aiming for war?” (1933. Related link.)
“Children don’t heed the life experience of their parents, and nations ignore history. Bad lessons always have to be learned anew.”
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”
“Sometimes one pays most for things one gets for nothing.”
“Thanks to my fortunate idea of introducing the relativity principle into physics, you (and others) now enormously overrate my scientific abilities, to the point where this makes me quite uncomfortable.” (To Arnold Sommerfeld, 1908)
“No fairer destiny could be allotted to any physical theory than that it should of itself point out the way to the introduction of a more comprehensive theory, in which it lives on as a limiting case.”
“Mother nature, or more precisely an experiment, is a resolute and seldom friendly referee […]. She never says “yes” to a theory; but only “maybe” under the best of circumstances, and in most cases simply “no”.”
“The aim of science is, on the one hand, a comprehension, as complete as possible, of the connection between the sense experiences in their totality, and, on the other hand, the accomplishment of this aim by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations.” A related quote from the book: “Although it is true that it is the goal of science to discover rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes.”
“According to general relativity, the concept of space detached from any physical content does not exist. The physical reality of space is represented by a field whose components are continuous functions of four independent variables – the coordinates of space and time.”
“One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.”
“”Why should I? Everybody knows me there” (upon being told by his wife to dress properly when going to the office). “Why should I? No one knows me there” (upon being told to dress properly for his first big conference).”
“Marriage is but slavery made to appear civilized.”
“Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws that cannot be enforced.”
“Einstein would be one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time even if he had not written a single line on relativity.” (Max Born)
“Einstein’s [violin] playing is excellent, but he does not deserve his world fame; there are many others just as good.” (“A music critic on an early 1920s performance, unaware that Einstein’s fame derived from physics, not music. Quoted in Reiser, Albert Einstein, 202-203″)
“I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high executive office. Whereas […] in the First World War I filled responsible but subordinate posts, I was in this second struggle with Germany for more than five years the head of His Majesty’s Government. I write therefore from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books. I do not describe it as history, for that belongs to another generation. But I claim with confidence that it is a contribution to history which will be of service to the future.”
“Let no one look down on those honourable, well-meaning men whose actions are chronicled in these pages without searching his own heart, reviewing his own discharge of public duty, and applying the lessons of the past to his future conduct.”
I am currently reading this book, which is really an abridgement of 6 different volumes written by Churchill. All of the stuff included is Churchill’s own stuff; the only thing that has been done is that some stuff has been left out, and some of the remaining stuff has been rearranged. Which means that you in this book get four books/subsections, rather than six. The titles of these are: Milestones to disaster (1919-May 10, 1940), Alone (May 10, 1940-June 22, 1941), The Grand Alliance (Sunday, December 7, 1941 and onwards), and Triumph and Tragedy (1943-1945). I have by now finished Book 1 (the Milestones to Disaster part), and I’ve read close to 100 pages of Book 2. It’s great stuff, and very detailed. In this post I have included quotes from roughly the first 150 pages of the book’s coverage, all of which belong to the ‘Milestones to disaster’ part.
“When Marshall Foch heard of the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles he observed with singular accuracy: “This is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.””
[In the context of the reparations:] “whereas about £1,000 millions of German assets were appropriated by the victorious Powers, more than £1,500 millions were lent a few years later to Germany, principally by the United States and Great Britain […] until 1931 the victors, and particularly the United States, concentrated their efforts upon extorting by vexatious foreign controls their annual reparations from Germany. The fact that these payments were made only from far larger American loans reduced the whole process to the absurd. Nothing was reaped except ill-will. […] History will characterize all these transactions as insane. […] All this is a sad story of complicated idiocy”
“Deliberate extermination of whole populations was contemplated and pursued by both Germany and Russia in the Eastern war.”
“”We are apparently finished and done with economic cycles as we have known them,” said the President of the New York Stock Exchange in September.” [That would be September, 1929. Talk about bad timing… – US]
“The opinions of the Press and public were in no way founded upon reality […] delight in smooth-sounding platitudes, refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the State, genuine love of peace and pathetic belief that love can be its sole foundation, obvious lack of intellectual vigour […] marked ignorance […] the utter devotion […] to sentiment apart from reality […]: all these constituted a picture of British fatuity and fecklessness which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt, and, though free from wickedness or evil design, played a definite part in the unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which, even so far as they have unfolded, are already beyond comparison in human experience. […] It is difficult to find a parallel to the unwisdom of the British and weakness of the French Governments, who none the less reflected the opinion of their Parliaments in this disastrous period” [the period in question being the early thirties – US].
“Several visitors of consequence came to me from Germany and poured their hearts out in their bitter distress. Most of these were executed by Hitler during the war.”
“It would be wrong in judging the policy of the British Government not to remember the passionate desire for peace which animated the uninformed, misinformed majority of the British people, and seemed to threaten with political extinction any party or politician who dared to take any other line. This, of course, is no excuse for political leaders who fall short of their duty. It is much better for parties or politicians to be turned out of office than to imperil the life of the nation. […] To be so entirely convinced and vindicated in a matter of life and death to one’s country, and not to be able to make Parliament and the nation heed the warning, or bow to the proof by taking action, was an experience most painful.”
“the number of Germans under regular military training in 1936 was 1,511,000 men. The effective strength of the French Army, apart from reserves, in the same year was 623,000 men, of whom only 407,000 were in France.”
“Abyssinia [see also this] was a member of the League of Nations. By a curious inversion it was Italy who had in 1923 pressed for her inclusion, and Britain who had opposed it. The British view was that the character of the Ethiopian Government and the conditions prevailing in that wild land of tyranny, slavery, and tribal war were not consonant with membership of the League. But the Italians had had their way” [incidentally if you want an update on how things are going in that part of the world, apropos all those migrants coming to Europe from that region these days, here’s some updated information: “Eritrea is a one-party state in which national legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed. According to Human Rights Watch, the government’s human rights record is considered among the worst in the world. […] In June 2015, a 500-page United Nations Human Rights Council report accused Eritrea’s government of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service and forced labour, and indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are also widespread.” (wikipedia)]
“One day in 1937 I had a meeting with Herr von Ribbentrop, German ambassador to Britain. […] he had asked Hitler to let him come over to London in order to make the full case for an Anglo-German entente or even alliance. […] What was required was that Britain should give Germany a free hand in the East of Europe. She must have her Lebensraum […] All that was asked of the British Commonwealth and Empire was not to interfere. There was a large map on the wall, and the Ambassador several times led me to it to illustrate his projects. After hearing all this I said at once that I was sure the British Government would not agree to give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. […] Ribbentrop turned abruptly away. He then said, “In that case, war is inevitable. There is no way out. The Fuehrer is resolved. Nothing will stop him and nothing will stop us.” We then returned to our chairs.” [At this time Churchill was just an MP, so Ribbentrop was not asking Churchill himself to consent to the proposed scheme and ‘make a deal’; he was trying to figure out if there was any deal to be made. The year after, on July 26, 1938, Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, incidentally stated in Parliament that: “I do not believe that those responsible for the Government of any country in Europe to-day want war.” – US]
“On the day of the march of the German armies into Austria we heard that Goering had given a solemn assurance to the Czech Minister in Berlin that Germany had “no evil intentions towards Czechoslovakia” […] On the evening of the 26th [of September, 1938 – US] Hitler spoke in Berlin. […] He said categorically that the Czechs must clear out of the Sudetenland, but once this was settled he had no more interest in what happened to Czechoslovakia. “This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe.” […] Chamberlain returned to England [after signing the agreement – US]. […] from the windows of Downing Street he waved his piece of paper again and used these words, “This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”
“In 1938-39 British military expenditure of all kinds reached £304 millions,* and German was at least £1,500 millions. It is probable that in the last year before the outbreak Germany manufactured at least double, and possibly treble, the munitions of Britain and France put together […] in the single year 1938 Hitler had annexed to the Reich and brought under his absolute rule […] a total of over ten millions of subjects, toilers, and soldiers. […] The German armies were not capable of defeating the French in 1938 or 1939. The vast tank production with which they broke the French front did not come into existence till 1940”
“if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.”
“At the Kremlin in August 1942 Stalin, in the early hours of the morning, gave me one aspect of the Soviet position. “We formed the impression,” said Stalin, “that the British and French governments were not resolved to go to war if Poland were attacked, but that they hoped the diplomatic line-up of Britain, France, and Russia would deter Hitler. We were sure it would not.””
“There were known to be twenty thousand organised German Nazis in England at this time [at the end of August, 1939 – US], and it would only have been in accord with their procedure in other friendly countries that the outbreak of war should be preceded by a sharp prelude of sabotage and murder. I had at that time no official protection, and I did not wish to ask for any; but I thought myself sufficiently prominent to take precautions. I had enough information to convince me that Hitler recognised me as a foe. My former Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Thompson, was in retirement. I told him to come along and bring his pistol with him. I got out my own weapons, which were good. While one slept the other watched.”
i. Some new words I’ve encountered (not all of them are from vocabulary.com, but many of them are):
Uxoricide, persnickety, logy, philoprogenitive, impassive, hagiography, gunwale, flounce, vivify, pelage, irredentism, pertinacity,callipygous, valetudinarian, recrudesce, adjuration, epistolary, dandle, picaresque, humdinger, newel, lightsome, lunette, inflect, misoneism, cormorant, immanence, parvenu, sconce, acquisitiveness, lingual, Macaronic, divot, mettlesome, logomachy, raffish, marginalia, omnifarious, tatter, licit.
ii. A lecture:
I got annoyed a few times by the fact that you can’t tell where he’s pointing when he’s talking about the slides, which makes the lecture harder to follow than it ought to be, but it’s still an interesting lecture.
iii. Facts about Dihydrogen Monoxide. Includes coverage of important neglected topics such as ‘What is the link between Dihydrogen Monoxide and school violence?’ After reading the article, I am frankly outraged that this stuff’s still legal!
iv. Some wikipedia links of interest:
“Steganography […] is the practice of concealing a file, message, image, or video within another file, message, image, or video. The word steganography combines the Greek words steganos (στεγανός), meaning “covered, concealed, or protected”, and graphein (γράφειν) meaning “writing”. […] Generally, the hidden messages appear to be (or be part of) something else: images, articles, shopping lists, or some other cover text. For example, the hidden message may be in invisible ink between the visible lines of a private letter. Some implementations of steganography that lack a shared secret are forms of security through obscurity, whereas key-dependent steganographic schemes adhere to Kerckhoffs’s principle.
The advantage of steganography over cryptography alone is that the intended secret message does not attract attention to itself as an object of scrutiny. Plainly visible encrypted messages—no matter how unbreakable—arouse interest, and may in themselves be incriminating in countries where encryption is illegal. Thus, whereas cryptography is the practice of protecting the contents of a message alone, steganography is concerned with concealing the fact that a secret message is being sent, as well as concealing the contents of the message.”
H. H. Holmes. A really nice guy.
“Herman Webster Mudgett (May 16, 1861 – May 7, 1896), better known under the name of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or more commonly just H. H. Holmes, was one of the first documented serial killers in the modern sense of the term. In Chicago, at the time of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Holmes opened a hotel which he had designed and built for himself specifically with murder in mind, and which was the location of many of his murders. While he confessed to 27 murders, of which nine were confirmed, his actual body count could be up to 200. He brought an unknown number of his victims to his World’s Fair Hotel, located about 3 miles (4.8 km) west of the fair, which was held in Jackson Park. Besides being a serial killer, H. H. Holmes was also a successful con artist and a bigamist. […]
Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore where he built his three-story, block-long hotel building. Because of its enormous structure, local people dubbed it “The Castle”. The building was 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. […] The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.”
“The Minnesota Starvation Experiment […] was a clinical study performed at the University of Minnesota between November 19, 1944 and December 20, 1945. The investigation was designed to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction and the effectiveness of dietary rehabilitation strategies.
The motivation of the study was twofold: First, to produce a definitive treatise on the subject of human starvation based on a laboratory simulation of severe famine and, second, to use the scientific results produced to guide the Allied relief assistance to famine victims in Europe and Asia at the end of World War II. It was recognized early in 1944 that millions of people were in grave danger of mass famine as a result of the conflict, and information was needed regarding the effects of semi-starvation—and the impact of various rehabilitation strategies—if postwar relief efforts were to be effective.”
“most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression.:161 There were extreme reactions to the psychological effects during the experiment including self-mutilation (one subject amputated three fingers of his hand with an axe, though the subject was unsure if he had done so intentionally or accidentally). Participants exhibited a preoccupation with food, both during the starvation period and the rehabilitation phase. Sexual interest was drastically reduced, and the volunteers showed signs of social withdrawal and isolation.:123–124 […] One of the crucial observations of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment […] is that the physical effects of the induced semi-starvation during the study closely approximate the conditions experienced by people with a range of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.”
Post-vasectomy pain syndrome. Vasectomy reversal is a risk people probably know about, but this one seems to also be worth being aware of if one is considering having a vasectomy.
Transport in the Soviet Union (‘good article’). A few observations from the article:
“By the mid-1970s, only eight percent of the Soviet population owned a car. […] From 1924 to 1971 the USSR produced 1 million vehicles […] By 1975 only 8 percent of rural households owned a car. […] Growth of motor vehicles had increased by 224 percent in the 1980s, while hardcore surfaced roads only increased by 64 percent. […] By the 1980s Soviet railways had become the most intensively used in the world. Most Soviet citizens did not own private transport, and if they did, it was difficult to drive long distances due to the poor conditions of many roads. […] Road transport played a minor role in the Soviet economy, compared to domestic rail transport or First World road transport. According to historian Martin Crouch, road traffic of goods and passengers combined was only 14 percent of the volume of rail transport. It was only late in its existence that the Soviet authorities put emphasis on road construction and maintenance […] Road transport as a whole lagged far behind that of rail transport; the average distance moved by motor transport in 1982 was 16.4 kilometres (10.2 mi), while the average for railway transport was 930 km per ton and 435 km per ton for water freight. In 1982 there was a threefold increase in investment since 1960 in motor freight transport, and more than a thirtyfold increase since 1940.”
The sound quality of this lecture is not completely optimal – there’s a recurring echo popping up now and then which I found slightly annoying – but this should not keep you from watching the lecture. It’s a quite good lecture, and very accessible – I don’t really think you even need to know anything about genetics to follow most of what he’s talking about here; as far as I can tell it’s a lecture intended for people who don’t really know much about population genetics. He introduces key concepts as they are needed and he does not go much into the technical details which might cause people trouble (this of course also makes the lecture somewhat superficial, but you can’t get everything). If you’re the sort of person who wants details not included in the lecture you’re probably already reading e.g. Razib Khan (who incidentally recently blogged/criticized a not too dissimilar paper from the one discussed in the lecture, dealing with South Asia)…
I must admit that I actually didn’t like this lecture very much, but I figured I might as well include it in this post anyway.
I found some questions included and some aspects of the coverage a bit ‘too basic’ for my taste, but other people interested in chess reading along here may like Anna’s approach better; like Krause’s lecture I think it’s an accessible lecture, despite the fact that it actually covers many lines in quite a bit of detail. It’s a long lecture but I don’t think you necessarily need to watch all of it in one go (…or at all?) – the analysis of the second game, the Kortschnoj-Gheorghiu game, starts around 45 minutes in so that might for example be a good place to include a break, if a break is required.
i. Two lectures from the Institute for Advanced Studies:
The IAS has recently uploaded a large number of lectures on youtube, and the ones I blog here are a few of those where you can actually tell from the title what the lecture is about; I find it outright weird that these people don’t include the topic covered in the lecture in their lecture titles.
As for the video above, as usual for the IAS videos it’s annoying that you can’t hear the questions asked by the audience, but the sound quality of this video is at least quite a bit better than the sound quality of the video below (which has a couple of really annoying sequences, in particular around the 15-16 minutes mark (it gets better), where the image is also causing problems, and in the last couple of minutes of the Q&A things are also not exactly optimal as the lecturer leaves the area covered by the camera in order to write something on the blackboard – but you don’t know what he’s writing and you can’t see the lecturer, because the camera isn’t following him). I found most of the above lecture easier to follow than I did the lecture posted below, though in either case you’ll probably not understand all of it unless you’re an astrophysicist – you definitely won’t in case of the latter lecture. I found it helpful to look up a few topics along the way, e.g. the wiki articles about the virial theorem (/also dealing with virial mass/radius), active galactic nucleus (this is the ‘AGN’ she refers to repeatedly), and the Tully–Fisher relation.
Given how many questions are asked along the way it’s really annoying that you in most cases can’t hear what people are asking about – this is definitely an area where there’s room for improvement in the context of the IAS videos. The lecture was not easy to follow but I figured along the way that I understood enough of it to make it worth watching the lecture to the end (though I’d say you’ll not miss much if you stop after the lecture – around the 1.05 hours mark – and skip the subsequent Q&A). I’ve relatively recently read about related topics, e.g. pulsar formation and wave- and fluid dynamics, and if I had not I probably would not have watched this lecture to the end.
ii. A vocabulary.com update. I’m slowly working my way up to the ‘Running Dictionary’ rank (I’m only a walking dictionary at this point); here’s some stuff from my progress page:
I recently learned from a note added to a list that I’ve actually learned a very large proportion of all words available on vocabulary.com, which probably also means that I may have been too harsh on the word selection algorithm in past posts here on the blog; if there aren’t (/m)any new words left to learn it should not be surprising that the algorithm presents me with words I’ve already mastered, and it’s not the algorithm’s fault that there aren’t more words available for me to learn (well, it is to the extent that you’re of the opinion that questions should be automatically created by the algorithm as well, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet at this point). The aforementioned note was added in June, and here’s the important part: “there are words on your list that Vocabulary.com can’t teach yet. Vocabulary.com can teach over 12,000 words, but sadly, these aren’t among them”. ‘Over 12.000’ – and I’ve mastered 11.300. When the proportion of mastered words is this high, not only will the default random word algorithm mostly present you with questions related to words you’ve already mastered; but it actually also starts to get hard to find lists with many words you’ve not already mastered – I’ll often load lists with one hundred words and then realize that I’ve mastered every word on the list. This is annoying if you have a desire to continually be presented with both new words as well as old ones. Unless vocabulary.com increases the rate with which they add new words I’ll run out of new words to learn, and if that happens I’m sure it’ll be much more difficult for me to find motivation to use the site.
With all that stuff out of the way, if you’re not a regular user of the site I should note – again – that it’s an excellent resource if you desire to increase your vocabulary. Below is a list of words I’ve encountered on the site in recent weeks(/months?):
Copacetic, frumpy, elision, termagant, harridan, quondam, funambulist, phantasmagoria, eyelet, cachinnate, wilt, quidnunc, flocculent, galoot, frangible, prevaricate, clarion, trivet, noisome, revenant, myrmidon (I have included this word once before in a post of this type, but it is in my opinion a very nice word with which more people should be familiar…), debenture, teeter, tart, satiny, romp, auricular, terpsichorean, poultice, ululation, fusty, tangy, honorarium, eyas, bumptious, muckraker, bayou, hobble, omphaloskepsis, extemporize, virago, rarefaction, flibbertigibbet, finagle, emollient.
iii. I don’t think I’d do things exactly the way she’s suggesting here, but the general idea/approach seems to me appealing enough for it to be worth at least keeping in mind if I ever decide to start dating/looking for a partner.
iv. Some wikipedia links:
Tarrare (featured). A man with odd eating habits and an interesting employment history (“Dr. Courville was keen to continue his investigations into Tarrare’s eating habits and digestive system, and approached General Alexandre de Beauharnais with a suggestion that Tarrare’s unusual abilities and behaviour could be put to military use. A document was placed inside a wooden box which was in turn fed to Tarrare. Two days later, the box was retrieved from his excrement, with the document still in legible condition. Courville proposed to de Beauharnais that Tarrare could thus serve as a military courier, carrying documents securely through enemy territory with no risk of their being found if he were searched.” Yeah…).
1740 Batavia massacre (featured).
v. I am also fun.
It’s been a while since I posted anything here so I figured I should at least post something…
i. A few Khan Academy videos I watched a while back:
(Bookmark remark: (‘Not completely devoid of slight inaccuracies as usual – e.g. in meningitis, neck stiffness is not as much as symptom as it is a clinical sign (see Chamberlain’s symptoms and signs…))’
(Bookmark remark: ‘Very simplified, but not terrible’)
ii. I previously read the wiki on strategic bombing during WW2, but the article did not really satisfy my curiosity and it turns out that the wiki also has a great (featured) article about Air raids on Japan (a topic not covered in a great amount of detail in the aforementioned wiki article). A few random observations from the article:
“Overall, the attacks in May destroyed 94 square miles (240 km2) of buildings, which was equivalent to one seventh of Japan’s total urban area.”
“In Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Kobe, and Kawasaki, “over 126,762 people were killed … and a million and a half dwellings and over 105 square miles (270 km2) of urban space were destroyed.” In Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, “the areas leveled (almost 100 square miles (260 km2)) exceeded the areas destroyed in all German cities by both the American and English air forces (approximately 79 square miles (200 km2)).””
“In financial terms, the Allied air campaign and attacks on merchant ships destroyed between one third and a quarter of Japan’s wealth.”
“Approximately 40 percent of the urban area of the 66 cities subjected to area attacks were destroyed. This included the loss of about 2.5 million housing units, which rendered 8.5 million people homeless.”
iii. A few longer lectures I’ve watched recently but did not think were particularly good: The Fortress (GM Akobian, Chess), Safety in the Nuclear Industry (Philip Thomas, Gresham College), War, Health and Medicine: The medical lessons of World War I (Mark Harrison, Gresham College – topic had potential, somehow did not like ‘the delivery’; others may find it worth watching).
iv. I play a lot of (too much) chess these days, so I guess it makes sense to post a little on this topic as well. Here’s a list of some of my recent opponents on the ICC: GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili, IM Jerzy Slaby, IM Petar Gojkovic, GM Goran Kosanovic, IM Jeroen Bosch, WGM Alla Grinfeld. I recall encountering a few titled players when I started out on the ICC and my rating was still adjusting and stabilizing, but now I’ve sort of fixed at a level around 1700-1800 in both the 1, 3 and 5 minute pools – sometimes a bit higher, sometimes a bit lower (and I’ve played relatively few 5 minute games so far)). This is a level where at least in bullet some of the semi-regular opponents I’ll meet in the rating pool are guys like these. I was quite dissatisfied with my play when I started out on the ICC because I hadn’t realized how tough it is to maintain a high rating there; having a closer look at which sort of opponents I was actually facing gradually made me realize I was probably doing quite well, all things considered. Lately I’ve been thinking that I have probably even been doing quite a bit better than I’d thought I had. See also this and this link. I’ve gradually concluded that I’m probably never ‘going back’ now that I’ve familiarized myself with the ICC server.
And yes, I do occasionally win against opposition like that, also on position – below an example from a recent game against a player not on the list above (there are quite a few anonymous title-holders as well on the server):
Click to view full size – the list to the lower left is a list of other players online on the server at that point in time, ordered by rating; as should be clear, lots of title-holders have relatively low ratings (I’m not completely sure which rating pool was displayed in the sidebar at that time, but the defaults on display for me are 5- or 3-minutes, so for example the international master ‘softrain’ thus had either a 3 or 5 minute rating of 1799 at that time. Do note that ICC requires proof for titles to display on the server; random non-titled players do not display as titleholders on the ICC (actually the formally approved titled accounts obviously do not account for all accounts held by title-holders as some titled players on the server use accounts which do not give away the fact that they have a title).
Here’s another very nice illustration of how tough the X-minute pools are (/how strong the players playing on the ICC are):
Again, click to view in full size. This is Chinese Grandmaster Wang Hao‘s ICC account. Wang Hao is currently #39 on the FIDE list of active chess players in the world, with a FIDE rating above 2700. Even his 5-minute rating on the ICC, based on more than a thousand games, is below 2300, and his current 3 minute rating is barely above 2000. With numbers like those, I currently feel quite satisfied with my 1700-1800 ratings (although I know I should be spending less time on chess than I currently do).
vi. A few other wiki links: Fritz Haber, Great Stink (featured), Edward Low (a really nice guy, it seems – “A story describes Low burning a French cook alive, saying he was a “greasy fellow who would fry well”, and another tells he once killed 53 Spanish captives with his cutlass.“), 1940 Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania (‘good article’).
vii. A really cute paper from the 2013 Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal: Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor? Here’s the abstract:
“Objective To quantify James Bond’s consumption of alcohol as detailed in the series of novels by Ian Fleming.
Design Retrospective literature review.
Setting The study authors’ homes, in a comfy chair.
Participants Commander James Bond, 007; Mr Ian Lancaster Fleming.
Main outcome measures Weekly alcohol consumption by Commander Bond.
Methods All 14 James Bond books were read by two of the authors. Contemporaneous notes were taken detailing every alcoholic drink taken. Predefined alcohol unit levels were used to calculate consumption. Days when Bond was unable to consume alcohol (such as through incarceration) were noted.
Results After exclusion of days when Bond was unable to drink, his weekly alcohol consumption was 92 units a week, over four times the recommended amount. His maximum daily consumption was 49.8 units. He had only 12.5 alcohol free days out of 87.5 days on which he was able to drink.
Conclusions James Bond’s level of alcohol intake puts him at high risk of multiple alcohol related diseases and an early death. The level of functioning as displayed in the books is inconsistent with the physical, mental, and indeed sexual functioning expected from someone drinking this much alcohol. We advise an immediate referral for further assessment and treatment, a reduction in alcohol consumption to safe levels, and suspect that the famous catchphrase “shaken, not stirred” could be because of alcohol induced tremor affecting his hands.”
viii. A couple of other non-serious links which I found hilarious:
1) The Prof(essor) or Hobo quiz (via SSC).
2) Today’s SMBC. I’ll try to remember the words in the votey in the highly unlikely case I’ll ever have use for them – in my opinion it would be a real tragedy if one were to miss an opportunity to make a statement like that, given that it was at all suitable to the situation at hand..
i. Motte-and-bailey castle (‘good article’).
“A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Relatively easy to build with unskilled, often forced labour, but still militarily formidable, these castles were built across northern Europe from the 10th century onwards, spreading from Normandy and Anjou in France, into the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century. The Normans introduced the design into England and Wales following their invasion in 1066. Motte-and-bailey castles were adopted in Scotland, Ireland, the Low Countries and Denmark in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the end of the 13th century, the design was largely superseded by alternative forms of fortification, but the earthworks remain a prominent feature in many countries. […]
Various methods were used to build mottes. Where a natural hill could be used, scarping could produce a motte without the need to create an artificial mound, but more commonly much of the motte would have to be constructed by hand. Four methods existed for building a mound and a tower: the mound could either be built first, and a tower placed on top of it; the tower could alternatively be built on the original ground surface and then buried within the mound; the tower could potentially be built on the original ground surface and then partially buried within the mound, the buried part forming a cellar beneath; or the tower could be built first, and the mound added later.
Regardless of the sequencing, artificial mottes had to be built by piling up earth; this work was undertaken by hand, using wooden shovels and hand-barrows, possibly with picks as well in the later periods. Larger mottes took disproportionately more effort to build than their smaller equivalents, because of the volumes of earth involved. The largest mottes in England, such as Thetford, are estimated to have required up to 24,000 man-days of work; smaller ones required perhaps as little as 1,000. […] Taking into account estimates of the likely available manpower during the period, historians estimate that the larger mottes might have taken between four and nine months to build. This contrasted favourably with stone keeps of the period, which typically took up to ten years to build. Very little skilled labour was required to build motte and bailey castles, which made them very attractive propositions if forced peasant labour was available, as was the case after the Norman invasion of England. […]
The type of soil would make a difference to the design of the motte, as clay soils could support a steeper motte, whilst sandier soils meant that a motte would need a more gentle incline. Where available, layers of different sorts of earth, such as clay, gravel and chalk, would be used alternatively to build in strength to the design. Layers of turf could also be added to stabilise the motte as it was built up, or a core of stones placed as the heart of the structure to provide strength. Similar issues applied to the defensive ditches, where designers found that the wider the ditch was dug, the deeper and steeper the sides of the scarp could be, making it more defensive. […]
Although motte-and-bailey castles are the best known castle design, they were not always the most numerous in any given area. A popular alternative was the ringwork castle, involving a palisade being built on top of a raised earth rampart, protected by a ditch. The choice of motte and bailey or ringwork was partially driven by terrain, as mottes were typically built on low ground, and on deeper clay and alluvial soils. Another factor may have been speed, as ringworks were faster to build than mottes. Some ringwork castles were later converted into motte-and-bailey designs, by filling in the centre of the ringwork to produce a flat-topped motte. […]
In England, William invaded from Normandy in 1066, resulting in three phases of castle building in England, around 80% of which were in the motte-and-bailey pattern. […] around 741 motte-and-bailey castles [were built] in England and Wales alone. […] Many motte-and-bailey castles were occupied relatively briefly and in England many were being abandoned by the 12th century, and others neglected and allowed to lapse into disrepair. In the Low Countries and Germany, a similar transition occurred in the 13th and 14th centuries. […] One factor was the introduction of stone into castle building. The earliest stone castles had emerged in the 10th century […] Although wood was a more powerful defensive material than was once thought, stone became increasingly popular for military and symbolic reasons.”
ii. Battle of Midway (featured). Lots of good stuff in there. One aspect I had not been aware of beforehand was that Allied codebreakers also here (I was quite familiar with the works of Turing and others in Bletchley Park) played a key role:
“Admiral Nimitz had one priceless advantage: cryptanalysts had partially broken the Japanese Navy’s JN-25b code. Since the early spring of 1942, the US had been decoding messages stating that there would soon be an operation at objective “AF”. It was not known where “AF” was, but Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and his team at Station HYPO were able to confirm that it was Midway; Captain Wilfred Holmes devised a ruse of telling the base at Midway (by secure undersea cable) to broadcast an uncoded radio message stating that Midway’s water purification system had broken down. Within 24 hours, the code breakers picked up a Japanese message that “AF was short on water.” HYPO was also able to determine the date of the attack as either 4 or 5 June, and to provide Nimitz with a complete IJN order of battle. Japan had a new codebook, but its introduction had been delayed, enabling HYPO to read messages for several crucial days; the new code, which had not yet been cracked, came into use shortly before the attack began, but the important breaks had already been made.[nb 8]
As a result, the Americans entered the battle with a very good picture of where, when, and in what strength the Japanese would appear. Nimitz knew that the Japanese had negated their numerical advantage by dividing their ships into four separate task groups, all too widely separated to be able to support each other.[nb 9] […] The Japanese, by contrast, remained almost totally unaware of their opponent’s true strength and dispositions even after the battle began. […] Four Japanese aircraft carriers — Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier — and a heavy cruiser were sunk at a cost of the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer. After Midway and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign, Japan’s capacity to replace its losses in materiel (particularly aircraft carriers) and men (especially well-trained pilots) rapidly became insufficient to cope with mounting casualties, while the United States’ massive industrial capabilities made American losses far easier to bear. […] The Battle of Midway has often been called “the turning point of the Pacific”. However, the Japanese continued to try to secure more strategic territory in the South Pacific, and the U.S. did not move from a state of naval parity to one of increasing supremacy until after several more months of hard combat. Thus, although Midway was the Allies’ first major victory against the Japanese, it did not radically change the course of the war. Rather, it was the cumulative effects of the battles of Coral Sea and Midway that reduced Japan’s ability to undertake major offensives.”
One thing which really strikes you (well, struck me) when reading this stuff is how incredibly capital-intensive the war at sea really was; this was one of the most important sea battles of the Second World War, yet the total Japanese death toll at Midway was just 3,057. To put that number into perspective, it is significantly smaller than the average number of people killed each day in Stalingrad (according to one estimate, the Soviets alone suffered 478,741 killed or missing during those roughly 5 months (~150 days), which comes out at roughly 3000/day).
iii. History of time-keeping devices (featured). ‘Exactly what it says on the tin’, as they’d say on TV Tropes.
It took a long time to get from where we were to where we are today; the horologists of the past faced a lot of problems you’ve most likely never even thought about. What do you do for example do if your ingenious water clock has trouble keeping time because variation in water temperature causes issues? Well, you use mercury instead of water, of course! (“Since Yi Xing’s clock was a water clock, it was affected by temperature variations. That problem was solved in 976 by Zhang Sixun by replacing the water with mercury, which remains liquid down to −39 °C (−38 °F).”).
iv. Microbial metabolism.
“Microbial metabolism is the means by which a microbe obtains the energy and nutrients (e.g. carbon) it needs to live and reproduce. Microbes use many different types of metabolic strategies and species can often be differentiated from each other based on metabolic characteristics. The specific metabolic properties of a microbe are the major factors in determining that microbe’s ecological niche, and often allow for that microbe to be useful in industrial processes or responsible for biogeochemical cycles. […]
All microbial metabolisms can be arranged according to three principles:
1. How the organism obtains carbon for synthesising cell mass:
- autotrophic – carbon is obtained from carbon dioxide (CO2)
- heterotrophic – carbon is obtained from organic compounds
- mixotrophic – carbon is obtained from both organic compounds and by fixing carbon dioxide
2. How the organism obtains reducing equivalents used either in energy conservation or in biosynthetic reactions:
- lithotrophic – reducing equivalents are obtained from inorganic compounds
- organotrophic – reducing equivalents are obtained from organic compounds
3. How the organism obtains energy for living and growing:
- chemotrophic – energy is obtained from external chemical compounds
- phototrophic – energy is obtained from light
In practice, these terms are almost freely combined. […] Most microbes are heterotrophic (more precisely chemoorganoheterotrophic), using organic compounds as both carbon and energy sources. […] Heterotrophic microbes are extremely abundant in nature and are responsible for the breakdown of large organic polymers such as cellulose, chitin or lignin which are generally indigestible to larger animals. Generally, the breakdown of large polymers to carbon dioxide (mineralization) requires several different organisms, with one breaking down the polymer into its constituent monomers, one able to use the monomers and excreting simpler waste compounds as by-products, and one able to use the excreted wastes. There are many variations on this theme, as different organisms are able to degrade different polymers and secrete different waste products. […]
Biochemically, prokaryotic heterotrophic metabolism is much more versatile than that of eukaryotic organisms, although many prokaryotes share the most basic metabolic models with eukaryotes, e. g. using glycolysis (also called EMP pathway) for sugar metabolism and the citric acid cycle to degrade acetate, producing energy in the form of ATP and reducing power in the form of NADH or quinols. These basic pathways are well conserved because they are also involved in biosynthesis of many conserved building blocks needed for cell growth (sometimes in reverse direction). However, many bacteria and archaea utilize alternative metabolic pathways other than glycolysis and the citric acid cycle. […] The metabolic diversity and ability of prokaryotes to use a large variety of organic compounds arises from the much deeper evolutionary history and diversity of prokaryotes, as compared to eukaryotes. […]
Many microbes (phototrophs) are capable of using light as a source of energy to produce ATP and organic compounds such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Of these, algae are particularly significant because they are oxygenic, using water as an electron donor for electron transfer during photosynthesis. Phototrophic bacteria are found in the phyla Cyanobacteria, Chlorobi, Proteobacteria, Chloroflexi, and Firmicutes. Along with plants these microbes are responsible for all biological generation of oxygen gas on Earth. […] As befits the large diversity of photosynthetic bacteria, there are many different mechanisms by which light is converted into energy for metabolism. All photosynthetic organisms locate their photosynthetic reaction centers within a membrane, which may be invaginations of the cytoplasmic membrane (Proteobacteria), thylakoid membranes (Cyanobacteria), specialized antenna structures called chlorosomes (Green sulfur and non-sulfur bacteria), or the cytoplasmic membrane itself (heliobacteria). Different photosynthetic bacteria also contain different photosynthetic pigments, such as chlorophylls and carotenoids, allowing them to take advantage of different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and thereby inhabit different niches. Some groups of organisms contain more specialized light-harvesting structures (e.g. phycobilisomes in Cyanobacteria and chlorosomes in Green sulfur and non-sulfur bacteria), allowing for increased efficiency in light utilization. […]
Most photosynthetic microbes are autotrophic, fixing carbon dioxide via the Calvin cycle. Some photosynthetic bacteria (e.g. Chloroflexus) are photoheterotrophs, meaning that they use organic carbon compounds as a carbon source for growth. Some photosynthetic organisms also fix nitrogen […] Nitrogen is an element required for growth by all biological systems. While extremely common (80% by volume) in the atmosphere, dinitrogen gas (N2) is generally biologically inaccessible due to its high activation energy. Throughout all of nature, only specialized bacteria and Archaea are capable of nitrogen fixation, converting dinitrogen gas into ammonia (NH3), which is easily assimilated by all organisms. These prokaryotes, therefore, are very important ecologically and are often essential for the survival of entire ecosystems. This is especially true in the ocean, where nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria are often the only sources of fixed nitrogen, and in soils, where specialized symbioses exist between legumes and their nitrogen-fixing partners to provide the nitrogen needed by these plants for growth.
Nitrogen fixation can be found distributed throughout nearly all bacterial lineages and physiological classes but is not a universal property. Because the enzyme nitrogenase, responsible for nitrogen fixation, is very sensitive to oxygen which will inhibit it irreversibly, all nitrogen-fixing organisms must possess some mechanism to keep the concentration of oxygen low. […] The production and activity of nitrogenases is very highly regulated, both because nitrogen fixation is an extremely energetically expensive process (16–24 ATP are used per N2 fixed) and due to the extreme sensitivity of the nitrogenase to oxygen.” (A lot of the stuff above was of course for me either review or closely related to stuff I’ve already read in the coverage provided in Beer et al., a book I’ve talked about before here on the blog).
v. Uranium (featured). It’s hard to know what to include here as the article has a lot of stuff, but I found this part in particular, well, interesting:
“During the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, huge stockpiles of uranium were amassed and tens of thousands of nuclear weapons were created using enriched uranium and plutonium made from uranium. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, an estimated 600 short tons (540 metric tons) of highly enriched weapons grade uranium (enough to make 40,000 nuclear warheads) have been stored in often inadequately guarded facilities in the Russian Federation and several other former Soviet states. Police in Asia, Europe, and South America on at least 16 occasions from 1993 to 2005 have intercepted shipments of smuggled bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, most of which was from ex-Soviet sources. From 1993 to 2005 the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting Program, operated by the federal government of the United States, spent approximately US $550 million to help safeguard uranium and plutonium stockpiles in Russia. This money was used for improvements and security enhancements at research and storage facilities. Scientific American reported in February 2006 that in some of the facilities security consisted of chain link fences which were in severe states of disrepair. According to an interview from the article, one facility had been storing samples of enriched (weapons grade) uranium in a broom closet before the improvement project; another had been keeping track of its stock of nuclear warheads using index cards kept in a shoe box.”
Some other observations from the article below:
“Uranium is a naturally occurring element that can be found in low levels within all rock, soil, and water. Uranium is the 51st element in order of abundance in the Earth’s crust. Uranium is also the highest-numbered element to be found naturally in significant quantities on Earth and is almost always found combined with other elements. Along with all elements having atomic weights higher than that of iron, it is only naturally formed in supernovae. The decay of uranium, thorium, and potassium-40 in the Earth’s mantle is thought to be the main source of heat that keeps the outer core liquid and drives mantle convection, which in turn drives plate tectonics. […]
Natural uranium consists of three major isotopes: uranium-238 (99.28% natural abundance), uranium-235 (0.71%), and uranium-234 (0.0054%). […] Uranium-238 is the most stable isotope of uranium, with a half-life of about 4.468×109 years, roughly the age of the Earth. Uranium-235 has a half-life of about 7.13×108 years, and uranium-234 has a half-life of about 2.48×105 years. For natural uranium, about 49% of its alpha rays are emitted by each of 238U atom, and also 49% by 234U (since the latter is formed from the former) and about 2.0% of them by the 235U. When the Earth was young, probably about one-fifth of its uranium was uranium-235, but the percentage of 234U was probably much lower than this. […]
Worldwide production of U3O8 (yellowcake) in 2013 amounted to 70,015 tonnes, of which 22,451 t (32%) was mined in Kazakhstan. Other important uranium mining countries are Canada (9,331 t), Australia (6,350 t), Niger (4,518 t), Namibia (4,323 t) and Russia (3,135 t). […] Australia has 31% of the world’s known uranium ore reserves and the world’s largest single uranium deposit, located at the Olympic Dam Mine in South Australia. There is a significant reserve of uranium in Bakouma a sub-prefecture in the prefecture of Mbomou in Central African Republic. […] Uranium deposits seem to be log-normal distributed. There is a 300-fold increase in the amount of uranium recoverable for each tenfold decrease in ore grade. In other words, there is little high grade ore and proportionately much more low grade ore available.”
vi. Radiocarbon dating (featured).
Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon-14 dating) is a method of determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon (14C), a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was invented by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists. Libby received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1960. The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire 14C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point onwards the amount of 14C it contains begins to reduce as the 14C undergoes radioactive decay. Measuring the amount of 14C in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died. The older a sample is, the less 14C there is to be detected, and because the half-life of 14C (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by radiocarbon dating are around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit dating of older samples.
The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained. […]
The development of radiocarbon dating has had a profound impact on archaeology. In addition to permitting more accurate dating within archaeological sites than did previous methods, it allows comparison of dates of events across great distances. Histories of archaeology often refer to its impact as the “radiocarbon revolution”.”
I’ve read about these topics before in a textbook setting (e.g. here), but/and I should note that the article provides quite detailed coverage and I think most people will encounter some new information by having a look at it even if they’re superficially familiar with this topic. The article has a lot of stuff about e.g. ‘what you need to correct for’, which some of you might find interesting.
vii. Raccoon (featured). One interesting observation from the article:
“One aspect of raccoon behavior is so well known that it gives the animal part of its scientific name, Procyon lotor; “lotor” is neo-Latin for “washer”. In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shore-line. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon “washing” the food. The tactile sensitivity of raccoons’ paws is increased if this rubbing action is performed underwater, since the water softens the hard layer covering the paws. However, the behavior observed in captive raccoons in which they carry their food to water to “wash” or douse it before eating has not been observed in the wild. Naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, believed that raccoons do not have adequate saliva production to moisten food thereby necessitating dousing, but this hypothesis is now considered to be incorrect. Captive raccoons douse their food more frequently when a watering hole with a layout similar to a stream is not farther away than 3 m (10 ft). The widely accepted theory is that dousing in captive raccoons is a fixed action pattern from the dabbling behavior performed when foraging at shores for aquatic foods. This is supported by the observation that aquatic foods are doused more frequently. Cleaning dirty food does not seem to be a reason for “washing”. Experts have cast doubt on the veracity of observations of wild raccoons dousing food.
And here’s another interesting set of observations:
“In Germany—where the racoon is called the Waschbär (literally, “wash-bear” or “washing bear”) due to its habit of “dousing” food in water—two pairs of pet raccoons were released into the German countryside at the Edersee reservoir in the north of Hesse in April 1934 by a forester upon request of their owner, a poultry farmer. He released them two weeks before receiving permission from the Prussian hunting office to “enrich the fauna.”  Several prior attempts to introduce raccoons in Germany were not successful. A second population was established in eastern Germany in 1945 when 25 raccoons escaped from a fur farm at Wolfshagen, east of Berlin, after an air strike. The two populations are parasitologically distinguishable: 70% of the raccoons of the Hessian population are infected with the roundworm Baylisascaris procyonis, but none of the Brandenburgian population has the parasite. The estimated number of raccoons was 285 animals in the Hessian region in 1956, over 20,000 animals in the Hessian region in 1970 and between 200,000 and 400,000 animals in the whole of Germany in 2008. By 2012 it was estimated that Germany now had more than a million raccoons.“
Sorry for the infrequent updates. I realized blogging Wodehouse books takes more time than I’d imagined, so posting this sort of stuff is probably a better idea.
“On the first day of the evacuation, only 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the end of the eighth day, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Many of the troops were able to embark from the harbour’s protective mole onto 39 British destroyers and other large ships, while others had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in the shoulder-deep water. Some were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships by the famous little ships of Dunkirk, a flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats called into service for the emergency. The BEF lost 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign and had to abandon nearly all of their tanks, vehicles, and other equipment.”
One way to make sense of the scale of the operations here is to compare them with the naval activities on D-day four years later. The British evacuated more people from France during three consecutive days in 1940 (30th and 31st of May, and 1st of June) than the Allies (Americans and British combined) landed on D-day four years later, and the British evacuated roughly as many people on the 31st of May (68,014) as they landed by sea on D-day (75,215). Here’s a part of the story I did not know:
“Three British divisions and a host of logistic and labour troops were cut off to the south of the Somme by the German “race to the sea”. At the end of May, a further two divisions began moving to France with the hope of establishing a Second BEF. The majority of the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender on 12 June, but almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, were evacuated through various French ports from 15–25 June under the codename Operation Ariel. […] More than 100,000 evacuated French troops were quickly and efficiently shuttled to camps in various parts of southwestern England, where they were temporarily lodged before being repatriated. British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about half of the repatriated troops were deployed against the Germans before the surrender of France. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation represented only a few weeks’ delay before being killed or captured by the German army after their return to France.”
ii. A pretty awesome display by the current world chess champion:
If you feel the same way I do about Maurice Ashley, you’ll probably want to skip the first few minutes of this video. Don’t miss the games, though – this is great stuff. Do keep in mind when watching this video that the clock is a really important part of this event; other players in the past have played a lot more people at the same time while blindfolded than Carlsen does here – “Although not a full-time chess professional [Najdorf] was one of the world’s leading chess players in the 1950s and 1960s and he excelled in playing blindfold chess: he broke the world record twice, by playing blindfold 40 games in Rosario, 1943, and 45 in São Paulo, 1947, becoming the world blindfold chess champion” (link) – but a game clock changes things a lot. A few comments and discussion here.
In very slightly related news, I recently got in my first win against a grandmaster in a bullet game on the ICC.
iii. Gastric-brooding frog.
“The genus was unique because it contained the only two known frog species that incubated the prejuvenile stages of their offspring in the stomach of the mother. […] What makes these frogs unique among all frog species is their form of parental care. Following external fertilization by the male, the female would take the eggs or embryos into her mouth and swallow them. […] Eggs found in females measured up to 5.1 mm in diameter and had large yolk supplies. These large supplies are common among species that live entirely off yolk during their development. Most female frogs had around 40 ripe eggs, almost double that of the number of juveniles ever found in the stomach (21–26). This means one of two things, that the female fails to swallow all the eggs or the first few eggs to be swallowed are digested. […] During the period that the offspring were present in the stomach the frog would not eat. […] The birth process was widely spaced and may have occurred over a period of as long as a week. However, if disturbed the female may regurgitate all the young frogs in a single act of propulsive vomiting.”
Fascinating creatures.. Unfortunately they’re no longer around (they’re classified as extinct).
iv. I’m sort of conflicted about what to think about this:
“Epidemiological studies show that patients with type-2-diabetes (T2DM) and individuals with a diabetes-independent elevation in blood glucose have an increased risk for developing dementia, specifically dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These observations suggest that abnormal glucose metabolism likely plays a role in some aspects of AD pathogenesis, leading us to investigate the link between aberrant glucose metabolism, T2DM, and AD in murine models. […] Recent epidemiological studies demonstrate that individuals with type-2 diabetes (T2DM) are 2–4 times more likely to develop AD (3–5), individuals with elevated blood glucose levels are at an increased risk to develop dementia (5), and those with elevated blood glucose levels have a more rapid conversion from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to AD (6), suggesting that disrupted glucose homeostasis could play a […] causal role in AD pathogenesis. Although several prominent features of T2DM, including increased insulin resistance and decreased insulin production, are at the forefront of AD research (7–10), questions regarding the effects of elevated blood glucose independent of insulin resistance on AD pathology remain largely unexplored. In order to investigate the potential role of glucose metabolism in AD, we combined glucose clamps and in vivo microdialysis as a method to measure changes in brain metabolites in awake, freely moving mice during a hyperglycemic challenge. Our findings suggest that acute hyperglycemia raises interstitial fluid (ISF) Aβ levels by altering neuronal activity, which increases Aβ production. […] Since extracellular Aβ, and subsequently tau, aggregate in a concentration-dependent manner during the preclinical period of AD while individuals are cognitively normal (27), our findings suggest that repeated episodes of transient hyperglycemia, such as those found in T2DM, could both initiate and accelerate plaque accumulation. Thus, the correlation between hyperglycemia and increased ISF Aβ provides one potential explanation for the increased risk of AD and dementia in T2DM patients or individuals with elevated blood glucose levels. In addition, our work suggests that KATP channels within the hippocampus act as metabolic sensors and couple alterations in glucose concentrations with changes in electrical activity and extracellular Aβ levels. Not only does this offer one mechanistic explanation for the epidemiological link between T2DM and AD, but it also provides a potential therapeutic target for AD. Given that FDA-approved drugs already exist for the modulation of KATP channels and previous work demonstrates the benefits of sulfonylureas for treating animal models of AD (26), the identification of these channels as a link between hyperglycemia and AD pathology creates an avenue for translational research in AD.”
Why am I conflicted? Well, on the one hand it’s nice to know that they’re making progress in terms of figuring out why people get Alzheimer’s and potential therapeutic targets are being identified. On the other hand this – “our findings suggest that repeated episodes of transient hyperglycemia […] could both initiate and accelerate plaque accumulation” – is bad news if you’re a type 1 diabetic (I’d much rather have them identify risk factors to which I’m not exposed).
v. I recently noticed that Khan Academy has put up some videos about diabetes. From the few ones I’ve had a look at they don’t seem to contain much stuff I don’t already know so I’m not sure I’ll explore this playlist in any more detail, but I figured I might as well share a few of the videos here; the first one is about the pathophysiology of type 1 diabetes and the second one’s about diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease):
vi. On Being the Right Size, by J. B. S. Haldane. A neat little text. A few quotes:
“To the mouse and any smaller animal [gravity] presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.
An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. It can go in for elegant and fantastic forms of support like that of the daddy-longlegs. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in as great danger as a man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water—that is to say, gets wet—it is likely to remain so until it drowns. A few insects, such as water-beetles, contrive to be unwettable; the majority keep well away from their drink by means of a long proboscis. […]
It is an elementary principle of aeronautics that the minimum speed needed to keep an aeroplane of a given shape in the air varies as the square root of its length. If its linear dimensions are increased four times, it must fly twice as fast. Now the power needed for the minimum speed increases more rapidly than the weight of the machine. So the larger aeroplane, which weighs sixty-four times as much as the smaller, needs one hundred and twenty-eight times its horsepower to keep up. Applying the same principle to the birds, we find that the limit to their size is soon reached. An angel whose muscles developed no more power weight for weight than those of an eagle or a pigeon would require a breast projecting for about four feet to house the muscles engaged in working its wings, while to economize in weight, its legs would have to be reduced to mere stilts. Actually a large bird such as an eagle or kite does not keep in the air mainly by moving its wings. It is generally to be seen soaring, that is to say balanced on a rising column of air. And even soaring becomes more and more difficult with increasing size. Were this not the case eagles might be as large as tigers and as formidable to man as hostile aeroplanes.
But it is time that we pass to some of the advantages of size. One of the most obvious is that it enables one to keep warm. All warmblooded animals at rest lose the same amount of heat from a unit area of skin, for which purpose they need a food-supply proportional to their surface and not to their weight. Five thousand mice weigh as much as a man. Their combined surface and food or oxygen consumption are about seventeen times a man’s. In fact a mouse eats about one quarter its own weight of food every day, which is mainly used in keeping it warm. For the same reason small animals cannot live in cold countries. In the arctic regions there are no reptiles or amphibians, and no small mammals. The smallest mammal in Spitzbergen is the fox. The small birds fly away in winter, while the insects die, though their eggs can survive six months or more of frost. The most successful mammals are bears, seals, and walruses.” [I think he’s a bit too categorical in his statements here and this topic is more contested today than it probably was when he wrote his text – see wikipedia’s coverage of Bergmann’s rule].
i. A lecture on mathematical proofs:
ii. “In the fall of 1944, only seven percent of all bombs dropped by the Eighth Air Force hit within 1,000 feet of their aim point.”
From wikipedia’s article on Strategic bombing during WW2. The article has a lot of stuff. The ‘RAF estimates of destruction of “built up areas” of major German cities’ numbers in the article made my head spin – they didn’t bomb the Germans back to the stone age, but they sure tried. Here’s another observation from the article:
“After the war, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey reviewed the available casualty records in Germany, and concluded that official German statistics of casualties from air attack had been too low. The survey estimated that at a minimum 305,000 were killed in German cities due to bombing and estimated a minimum of 780,000 wounded. Roughly 7,500,000 German civilians were also rendered homeless.” (The German population at the time was roughly 70 million).
iii. Also war-related: Eddie Slovik:
“Edward Donald “Eddie” Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was a United States Army soldier during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War.
Although over 21,000 American soldiers were given varying sentences for desertion during World War II, including 49 death sentences, Slovik’s was the only death sentence that was actually carried out.
During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial were held, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during the same period. Most of the cases were minor, as were the sentences. Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general courts-martial where the accused was still in confinement. That Board remitted or reduced the sentence in 85 percent of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed. The death penalty was rarely imposed, and those cases typically were for rapes or murders. […] In France during World War I from 1917 to 1918, the United States Army executed 35 of its own soldiers, but all were convicted of rape and/or unprovoked murder of civilians and not for military offenses. During World War II in all theaters of the war, the United States military executed 102 of its own soldiers for rape and/or unprovoked murder of civilians, but only Slovik was executed for the military offense of desertion. […] of the 2,864 army personnel tried for desertion for the period January 1942 through June 1948, 49 were convicted and sentenced to death, and 48 of those sentences were voided by higher authority.”
What motivated me to read the article was mostly curiosity about how many people were actually executed for deserting during the war, a question I’d never encountered any answers to previously. The US number turned out to be, well, let’s just say it’s lower than I’d expected it would be. American soldiers who chose to desert during the war seem to have had much, much better chances of surviving the war than had soldiers who did not. Slovik was not a lucky man. On a related note, given numbers like these I’m really surprised desertion rates were not much higher than they were; presumably community norms (”desertion = disgrace’, which would probably rub off on other family members…’) played a key role here.
iv. Chess and infinity. I haven’t posted this link before even though the thread is a few months old, and I figured that given that I just had a conversation on related matters in the comment section of SCC (here’s a link) I might as well repost some of this stuff here. Some key points from the thread (I had to make slight formatting changes to the quotes because wordpress had trouble displaying some of the numbers, but the content is unchanged):
“Shannon has estimated the number of possible legal positions to be about 1043. The number of legal games is quite a bit higher, estimated by Littlewood and Hardy to be around 1010^5 (commonly cited as 1010^50 perhaps due to a misprint). This number is so large that it can’t really be compared with anything that is not combinatorial in nature. It is far larger than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe, let alone stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
As for your bonus question, a typical chess game today lasts about 40 to 60 moves (let’s say 50). Let us say that there are 4 reasonable candidate moves in any given position. I suspect this is probably an underestimate if anything, but let’s roll with it. That gives us about 42×50 ≈ 1060 games that might reasonably be played by good human players. If there are 6 candidate moves, we get around 1077, which is in the neighbourhood of the number of particles in the observable universe.”
“To put 1010^5 into perspective:
There are 1080 protons in the Universe. Now imagine inside each proton, we had a whole entire Universe. Now imagine again that inside each proton inside each Universe inside each proton, you had another Universe. If you count up all the protons, you get (1080 )3 = 10240, which is nowhere near the number we’re looking for.
You have to have Universes inside protons all the way down to 1250 steps to get the number of legal chess games that are estimated to exist. […]
Imagine that every single subatomic particle in the entire observable universe was a supercomputer that analysed a possible game in a single Planck unit of time (10-43 seconds, the time it takes light in a vacuum to travel 10-20 times the width of a proton), and that every single subatomic particle computer was running from the beginning of time up until the heat death of the Universe, 101000 years ≈ 1011 × 101000 seconds from now.
Even in these ridiculously favorable conditions, we’d only be able to calculate
1080 × 1043 × 1011 × 101000 = 101134
possible games. Again, this doesn’t even come close to 1010^5 = 10100000 .
Basically, if we ever solve the game of chess, it definitely won’t be through brute force.”
v. An interesting resource which a friend of mine recently shared with me and which I thought I should share here as well: Nature Reviews – Disease Primers.
vi. Here are some words I’ve recently encountered on vocabulary.com: augury, spangle, imprimatur, apperception, contrition, ensconce, impuissance, acquisitive, emendation, tintinnabulation, abalone, dissemble, pellucid, traduce, objurgation, lummox, exegesis, probity, recondite, impugn, viscid, truculence, appurtenance, declivity, adumbrate, euphony, educe, titivate, cerulean, ardour, vulpine.
Before I move on to the book coverage, I thought I should mention that people reading along here should expect few updates in the next month or two. I have considered simply taking a break from blogging for a month because I really need to focus on my work, but this seems a bit too radical an approach and I think what I’ll do instead is to e.g. occasionally blog one of the Wodehouse novels which I’ve been reading during the spring; this shouldn’t take too much time or effort, and ‘lazy blogging’ like that may well be all I can justify doing. Maybe I’ll talk about a textbook or two, but don’t expect much ‘serious’ blogging in the near future.
Okay, let’s move on to the book. I’ve read 25 of the 30 chapters, and the coverage will pick up where I left off in my second post.
“Few scholars today claim that there is a direct relationship between environmental scarcity and violent conflict. Accordingly, empirical research increasingly discusses and attempts to identify plausible intervening variables, notably social, political, demographic, or economic mechanisms that together with environmental scarcity may increase the risk of violent conflict. […] frequently suggested intervening variables include food security and migration […]. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, where inter- and intra-annual rainfall variation is extensive, almost 90 percent of total food production comes from rain-fed agriculture […], implying high social and economic vulnerability to volatile resource supplies.”
“Taken together, this broad literature [on environmental change and armed conflict] offers mixed evidence for a causal relationship. The majority of studies of civil wars and major armed conflict conclude that resource scarcity, population pressure, and weather patterns exhibit weak influences on conflict risk, compared to structural economic and institutional features. Moreover, those that report a significant correlation disagree on the direction and magnitude of the effect.”
“Children recruited into armed groups in one conflict often end up fighting in other regional conflicts as ‘floating warriors’ capitalising on porous borders to travel wherever there was a market for their newly learned trade. In certain regions of recurrent conflict, large pools of ex-combatants as well as children exist as potential recruits for armed groups lured by the opportunity to share in the spoils of war. […] Such dynamics underline the problem of regional zones of instability or ‘conflict complexes’. War economies spread beyond borders and networks of mercenaries, illegal trading and organised crime spread instability.”
“Scholars of civil war often mistake the causes of the onset of armed conflict with the factors which explain the continuation of war. Many studies seem to implicitly argue that when understanding its causes, we understand the continuation of war. […] War may [however] break out for one set of issues but might continue for a completely different and changing set of reasons. As a result of interaction between the belligerents new reasons and stimuli for conflict develop. […] These developments can significantly complicate the picture that civil war presents and do not necessarily make it easier to work towards resolution. […] Two important causal mechanisms can be distinguished that hold explanatory power for the continuation of conflict. […] For the continuation of violence one observed causal mechanism is the provocation trap. An important theory developed by insurgents since the nineteenth century aims to play on the calculations of the political decision-makers by provoking violence from the state, which generally acts as a forceful recruiting mechanism for insurgent groups […] The second mechanism can be called the counter-measure imperative. The counter-measure imperative is the commonly observable chain of events after an attack against unarmed and unwitting targets. A public outcry occurs and political decision-makers feel forced to respond. Doing nothing is often not an option in terms of political capital and electoral consequences, at least in most democratic societies. James Fearon has called this “audience costs” in the context of international crises […] Weakness in times of crisis can be political – or electoral – suicide. Therefore, there is a strong tendency to institute one stringent measure after another. Repression, the use of force and police action are just a few of the instruments that can be used […] These mechanisms trigger state violence both from a push and pull perspective and are very powerful to propel a struggle forward. Discontinuing civil war by not buying into the provocation trap and counter-measure imperative is extremely difficult, given the primary demands made of the state to uphold its monopoly of force and to protect its population.”
“Most studies looking into the dynamics or continuation of conflict see the increase or decrease in capabilities as an important explanatory factor for the continuation or discontinuation of civil war. […] The termination of civil war has in several studies been strongly linked to cutting off the capabilities and supplies of belligerents. Paul Staniland concludes that “the best offense is a fence” (Staniland 2006; see also Record 2007). When capabilities are compromised by cutting off the replenishment of men and material that are necessary to continue the struggle, wars wither down.”
“For those gathering conflict data, obtaining accurate numbers of fatalities is one of the most complicated and difficult tasks due to a plethora of problems, including misuse of the terms “casualties” and “fatalities,” political reasons for either the under-reporting or exaggeration of fatalities, and either a lack of information or the presence of conflicting information in the available sources […] In addressing the sources of bias in fatality statistics Gohdes and Price (2012: 9) note that the higher the visibility of the act of violence, the more likely it (and its fatalities) will be reported. Visibility can be reflected in the magnitude of armed conflict, wars are more visible than minor disputes; but visibility can also be related to the types of participants or fatalities, with deaths of those in uniform, whose job it is to fight being more visible than deaths of civilians. Visibility leads to a greater likelihood that fatalities will be reported, thus making them more reliable. As Lacina and Gleditsch note (2012: 3) the tallies provided by military agencies of personnel killed in action are very credible data. It was considerations such as these that led COW to make different choices than UCDP, in ways in which it codifies and gathers data about armed conflict: focusing primarily on higher fatality levels (war), using the war as the primary unit of analysis, and counting deaths only among combatants (rather than combatants and civilians).”
“Utilizing the COW datasets on war, one gains a perspective on the trends in warfare that varies significantly from those that utilize UCDP/PRIO data […] A fundamental difference is merely the timeframe covered, with COW examining wars after 1815 and UCDP/PRIO focusing upon the post-World War II era. An analysis of trends in all COW wars types for the period 1816 to 2007 […] concluded that there is a relative constancy over time in war behavior. […] Intra-state wars are the most numerous of the four major COW categories, constituting 52 percent of all of the COW wars [and there has been a] significant increase in intra-state wars since the end of World War II. […] Of the 192 years in the 1816–2007 period, there is an average number of 1.6 civil war onsets per year, and only 52 years (27 percent) experienced no civil war onsets. […] If one looks at the number of civil wars experienced by the various regions of the world […], the numbers look fairly comparable […] All in all, this analysis does not promote optimism about the trends in civil war for the remainder of the twenty-first century. The Human Security Report’s (2011) emphasis on the decline in civil war since the end of the Cold War ignores the fact that civil war onsets (even after the highpoints of 1989 and 1991) are at historically high levels with an average of 2.8 civil war onsets per year from 1992 to 2007 (compared to the yearly average of 1.6 onsets from 1816 to 2007). These figures hardly portend the end of civil war.”
“There are multiple ways to distinguish types of civil wars: whether they are ethnically motivated […], whether they are driven by attempts at secession or control of the central government […], or whether they involve lootable resources […]. Another way to distinguish different types of civil wars is to examine the military tactics used by each side in the conflict. […] Kalyvas and Balcells (2010) […] identify three technologies of rebellion that are used in civil war: irregular warfare, conventional warfare, and symmetric non-conventional warfare. Irregular war, or insurgency, occurs when the state’s military capabilities exceed those of the rebels. Conventional civil war occurs when both the state and the rebels are militarily matched at a high level, and symmetric non-conventional war happens when both the state and the rebels are militarily matched, but at a lower level. […] [They] show that irregular wars comprise just over half of the civil wars between 1944 and 2004 [and that] the end of the Cold War resulted in a decrease in the percentage of conflicts that were irregular […] from about two-thirds during the Cold War to about one-quarter after 1991 […] irregular wars last longer and are more likely to be won by the incumbent as compared to both conventional wars and symmetric non-conventional wars.”
“Findley and Young (2012) […] find that a majority of terrorist acts occur in the context of civil war, which suggests that this is an important tactic in the context of the larger struggle between state and non-state actors. […] Lake (2002), among others, has argued that terrorism is often used in conflicts to provoke a disproportionate response from the state. […] Kydd and Walter (2006) argue that terrorism can be used to spoil potential peace among moderate factions in a civil war and empirical evidence supports this claim (Findley and Young, 2013).”
“While sexual violence against civilians in conflict is pervasive, it is not ubiquitous. There are conflicts where systematic sexual violence is completely absent, showing that, contrary to popular belief, sexual violence is not an inherent component of conflict […] Sexual violence in conflict creates disorder in communities by violating social norms and dissolving social bonds through humiliation, shame, and terror […]. The breakdown of the rule of law and social norms has an impact upon the whole community, not just the victims of the violence. Formal and informal social controls are diminished during civil war and communities in conflict lack a functional formal system to maintain order. […] Whether sexual violence is primarily a consequence of the strategy or tactic of leaders or the lack of control of militaries is an ongoing debate.”
“forced migration is not simply a function of conflict and insecurity. Rather, security concerns interact with economic “push” factors in sending regions and “pull” factors in receiving areas. […] it is difficult to disentangle security motives from economic ones […] When governments deliberately target political or ethnic opponents, people are more likely to cross borders as compared with general turmoil in civil wars and dissident violence. […] In addition, better economic conditions and political stability in neighboring states make it more likely that individuals will cross an international border, demonstrating the importance of pull factors in receiving countries. […] Proximity to the conflict country exerts a very large effect on destination choice as does the presence of a large diaspora population. […] Bohra-Mishra and Massey (2011) find that low levels of violence actually discourage migration, perhaps because unsafe travel conditions make it more likely that people will hunker down and stay at home to protect their assets. Only at a high threshold of violence are people willing to leave. Engel and Ibáñez (2007) find that owning land interacts with violence. People with more land are less willing to move since they would lose a fixed asset, but at the same time, large landowners are more likely to be threatened with violence. Confronted with low levels of violence, landowners are more likely to stay put, but become increasingly likely to flee as violence gets worse. […] Greenhill (2010) examines the strategic use of forced migration as a negotiating tactic in interstate relations. In many cases, sending states have “engineered” refugee flows in such a way so as to extract concessions from migrant-receiving states. […] several themes have emerged in the literature on the causes of forced migration. First, refugees are not choice-less, but are strategic actors who weigh the various options available to them, even if choice is in the context of extreme violence. Second, forced migration and economic migration are not mutually exclusive categories; rather, security, economics, and social networks all shape migration decisions to a greater or lesser degree. Finally, perpetrators of violence understand the effects of forced migration and displacement, and use refugee flows and “cleansing” as a way to further their political aims.”
“Refugee communities can also foster conflict in host countries, either through mobilization into militant factions, or by the mere presence of ethnically different “foreigners” and economic competitors. Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) start with the observation that civil wars often cluster in space – when one country experiences civil war its neighbors are significantly more likely to fall into conflict themselves. They then argue that refugee migration facilitates the transnational spread of militant networks as well as presents negative externalities for receiving areas – such as ethnic competition or economic burdens – increasing the risk of conflict in refugee hosts. Through statistical testing they demonstrate that hosting a large number of refugees does indeed raise the risk of conflict. […] scholars have [also] noted a link between civil war and international conflict: countries that are faced with domestic unrest are more likely to become involved in disputes with their neighbors […] Refugee flows are one potential source of friction between states and can become a cause of international armed conflict. […] Statistically, Salehyan (2008) confirms a general pattern that refugee flows between two countries are associated with militarized interstate disputes (MIDs). Controlling for an array of factors known to be associated with international conflict, hosting 100,000 refugees from another country raises the probability that the host will initiate a conflict against the sender by 96 percent. On the flip side, the sending state is over 90 percent more likely to launch an MID against the host. Therefore, while international relations scholars have focused on variables such as the power balance, democracy, and territorial issues, a significant share of interstate conflict stems from the external effects of domestic unrest and refugee flows.”
“[One] typological approach to understanding violence against civilians is to focus on the military capacity of the actors, usually with a dyadic approach which identifies the relative strength of actors. A general finding is that relatively weak actors are more likely to target civilians. […] Regarding government violence, Valentino et al. (2004) show that governments who face strong rebel groups with a strong civilian base are more likely to engage in mass killings. […] While selective violence is useful for controlling a population (in areas where such control is feasible to uphold through violence), indiscriminate violence seems to follow a logic of weakening the adversary in their strongholds. […] A few studies have examined to what extent violence against civilians occurs as a response to violence against civilians by the adversary. […] Taken together, these studies suggest that there is some evidence for a cycle-of-violence dynamic. […] Hultman (2007) shows that when rebels lose on the battlefield, they tend to shift strategy towards more targeting of civilians and less targeting of government forces. Wood et al. (2012) also focus on shifts in relative power, showing that exogenously imposed power shifts through armed interventions into civil wars increase the level of violence against civilians by the actor that is disadvantaged by the intervention. Hence, rather than concluding that weak actors are more likely to target civilians, these findings show that actors are more likely to target civilians in response to being weakened as a consequence of the war.”
“Numbers from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) Conflict Termination Project1 (Kreutz 2010) reveal the average length of civil wars episodes from 1946 to 2009 is approximately 1647 days […] Fearon (2004) links war type to civil war duration. Coups and revolutions seek quick outright victories. Failing this, coup organizers will likely face imprisonment, death, or exile. The strategy in territorial wars – which are usually fought on the periphery – is to continue the fight to win more concessions at the bargaining table. Peripheral wars do not necessarily need outright military victory to realize important goals. Rebels in these wars have more time. […] There were approximately 30 military coups between 1946 and 2009 identified in the Uppsala Conflict Termination data […] Peripheral/territorial wars tend to endure and are unlikely to end conclusively with peace agreements or military victories. According to the Uppsala Conflict Termination data, the mean duration of territorial wars from 1946 to 2010 is 1826.7 days […] Wars over control of government, on the other hand, typically do not last as long […] we find that the mean duration of these wars is 1456.7 days between 1946 and 2010.”
“Whereas several scholars [have noted] that ethnic/secessionist wars are more intractable than wars over government, there is not a wealth of empirical evidence directly linking war type to recurrence. […] The duration of peace after a civil war has been shown to have a negative impact on recurrence […]. In other words if peace has lasted 20 years after a war has ended, the probability of war in a future year is quite low. […] Civil war duration tends to increase when credible commitment is lacking, the war is ethnic/ peripheral, there are lootable natural resources the rebels can exploit, there are spoilers and a good number of veto players, and when there is third-party intervention. “Reversing” these factors makes for shorter wars. The factors are cumulative in that an ethnic war in the presence of lootable resources, low credible commitment, and spoilers will be expected to last a very long time. Wars over government with no spoilers or lootables will be expected to be shorter. Civil wars are more likely to recur if the war is ethnic/peripheral, credible commitment is lacking, the outcome is one of negotiated settlement, the war did not see an exceptionally high death rate, there are factors conducive to rebel recruitment such as low democracy and a weak economy at war’s end, there are valuable natural resources present in the rebel territory, the war is not mediated, and there is no effective peacekeeping operation.”
Here’s my first post about the book. In this post I’ll continue my coverage where I left off in my first post. A few of the chapters covered below I did not think very highly of, but other parts of the coverage are about as good as you could expect (given problems such as e.g. limited data etc.). Some of the stuff I found quite interesting. As people will note in the coverage below the book does address the religious dimension to some extent, though in my opinion far from to the extent that the variable deserves. An annoying aspect of the chapter on religion was to me that although the author of the chapter includes data which to me cannot but lead to some very obvious conclusions, the author seems to be very careful avoiding drawing those conclusions explicitly. It’s understandable, but still annoying. For related reasons I also got annoyed at him for presumably deliberately completely disregarding which seems in the context of his own coverage to be an actually very important component of Huntington’s thesis, that conflict at the micro level seems to very often be between muslims and ‘the rest’. Here’s a relevant quote from Clash…, p. 255:
“ethnic conflicts and fault line wars have not been evenly distributed among the world’s civilizations. Major fault line fighting has occurred between Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia and between Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, while less violent conflicts took place between non-Muslim groups in a few other places. The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts, however, have taken place along the boundary looping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims. While at the macro or global level of world politics the primary clash of civilizations is between the West and the rest, at the micro or local level it is between Islam and the others.”
This point, that conflict at the local level – which seems to be the type of conflict level you’re particularly interested in if you’re researching civil wars, as also argued in previous chapters in the coverage – according to Huntington seems to be very islam-centric, is completely overlooked (ignored?) in the handbook chapter, and if you haven’t read Huntington and your only exposure to him is through the chapter in question you’ll probably conclude that Huntington was wrong, because that seems to be the conclusion the author draws, arguing that other models are more convincing (I should add here that these other models do seem useful, at least in terms of providing (superficial) explanations; the point is just that I feel the author is misrepresenting Huntington and I dislike this). Although there are parts of the coverage in that chapter where I feel that it’s obvious the author and I do not agree, I should note that the fact that he talks about the data and the empirical research makes up for a lot of other stuff.
Anyway, on to the coverage – it’s perhaps worth noting, in light of the introductory remarks above, that the post has stuff on a lot of things besides religion, e.g. the role of natural resources, regime types, migration, and demographics.
“Elites seeking to end conflict must: (1) lead followers to endorse and support peaceful solutions; (2) contain spoilers and extremists and prevent them from derailing the process of peacemaking; and (3) forge coalitions with more moderate members of the rival ethnic group(s) […]. An important part of the two-level nature of the ethnic conflict is that each of the elites supporting the peace process be able to present themselves, and the resulting terms of the peace, as a “win” for their ethnic community. […] A strategy that a state may pursue to resolve ethnic conflict is to co-opt elites from the ethnic communities demanding change […]. By satisfying elites, it reduces the ability of the aggrieved ethnic community to mobilize. Such a process of co-option can also be used to strengthen ethnic moderates in order to undermine ethnic extremists. […] the co-opted elites need to be careful to be seen as still supporting ethnic demands or they may lose all credibility in their respective ethnic community. If this occurs, the likely outcome is that more extreme ethnic elites will be able to capture the ethnic community, possibly leading to greater violence.
It is important to note that “spoilers,” be they an individual or a small sub-group within an ethnic community, can potentially derail any peace process, even if the leaders and masses support peace (Stedman, 2001).”
“Three separate categories of international factors typically play into identity and ethnic conflict. The first is the presence of an ethnic community across state boundaries. Thus, a single community exists in more than one state and its demands become international. […] This division of an ethnic community can occur when a line is drawn geographically through a community […], when a line is drawn and a group moves into the new state […], or when a diaspora moves a large population from one state to another […] or when sub-groups of an ethnic community immigrate to the developed world […] When ethnic communities cross state boundaries, the potential for one state to support an ethnic community in the other state exists. […] There is also the potential for ethnic communities to send support to a conflict […] or to lobby their government to intervene […]. Ethnic groups may also form extra-state militias and cross international borders. Sometimes these rebel groups can be directly or indirectly sponsored by state governments, leading to a very complex situation […] A second set of possible international factors is non-ethnic international intervention. A powerful state may decide to intervene in an ethnic conflict for a variety of reasons, ranging from humanitarian support, to peacekeeping, to outright invasion […] The third and last factor is the commitment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or third-party mediators to a conflict. […] The record of international interventions in ethnic civil wars is quite mixed. There are many difficulties associated with international action [and] international groups cannot actually change the underlying root of the ethnic conflict (Lake and Rothchild, 1998; Kaufman, 1996).”
“A relatively simple way to think of conflict onset is to think that for a rebellion to occur two conditions need to be satisfactorily fulfilled: There must be a motivation and there must be an opportunity to rebel.3 First, the rebels need a motive. This can be negative – a grievance against the existing state of affairs – or positive – a desire to capture resource rents. Second, potential rebels need to be able to achieve their goal: The realization of their desires may be blocked by the lack of financial means. […] Work by Collier and Hoeffler (1998, 2004) was crucial in highlighting the economic motivation behind civil conflicts. […] Few conflicts, if any, can be characterized purely as “resource conflicts.” […] It is likely that few groups are solely motivated by resource looting, at least in the lower rank level. What is important is that valuable natural resources create opportunities for conflicts. To feed, clothe, and arm its members, a rebel group needs money. Unless the rebel leaders are able to raise sufficient funds, a conflict is unlikely to start no matter how severe the grievances […] As a consequence, feasibility of conflict – that is, valuable natural resources providing opportunity to engage in violent conflict – has emerged as a key to understanding the relation between valuable resources and conflict.”
“It is likely that some natural resources are more associated with conflict than others. Early studies on armed civil conflict used resource measures that aggregated different types of resources together. […] With regard to financing conflict start-up and warfare the most salient aspect is probably the ease with which a resource can be looted. Lootable resources can be extracted with simple methods by individuals or small groups, are easy to transport, and can be smuggled across borders with limited risks. Examples of this type of resources are alluvial gemstones and gold. By contrast, deep-shaft minerals, oil, and natural gas are less lootable and thus less likely sources of financing. […] Using comprehensive datasets on all armed civil conflicts in the world, natural resource production, and other relevant aspects such as political regime, economic performance, and ethnic composition, researchers have established that at least some high-value natural resources are related to higher risk of conflict onset. Especially salient in this respect seem to be oil and secondary diamonds […] The results regarding timber […] and cultivation of narcotics […] are inconclusive. […] [An] important conclusion is that natural resources should be considered individually and not lumped together. Diamonds provide an illustrative example: the geological form of the diamond deposit is related to its effect on conflict. Secondary diamonds – the more lootable form of two deposit types – makes conflict more likely, longer, and more severe. Primary diamonds on the other hand are generally not related to conflict.”
“Analysis on conflict duration and severity confirm that location is a salient factor: resources matter for duration and severity only when located in the region where the conflict is taking place […] That the location of natural resources matters has a clear and important implication for empirical conflict research: relying on country-level aggregates can lead to wrong conclusions about the role of natural resources in armed civil conflict. As a consequence of this, there has been effort to collect location-specific data on oil, gas, drug cultivation, and gemstones”.
“a number of prominent studies of ethnic conflict have suggested that when ethnic groups grow at different rates, this may lead to fears of an altered political balance, which in turn might cause political instability and violent conflict […]. There is ample anecdotal evidence for such a relationship [but unfortunately little quantitative research…]. The civil war in Lebanon, for example, has largely been attributed to a shift in the delicate ethnic balance in that state […]. Further, in the early 1990s, radical Serb leaders were agitating for the secession of “Serbian” areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina by instigating popular fears that Serbs would soon be outnumbered by a growing Muslim population heading for the establishment of a Shari’a state”.
“[One] part of the demography-conflict literature has explored the role of population movements. Most of this literature […] treats migration and refugee flows as a consequence of conflict rather than a potential cause. Some scholars, however, have noted that migration, and refugee migration in particular, can spur the spread of conflict both between and within states […]. Existing work suggests that environmentally induced migration can lead to conflict in receiving areas due to competition for scarce resources and economic opportunities, ethnic tensions when migrants are from different ethnic groups, and exacerbation of socioeconomic “fault lines” […] Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) point to spill-over effects, in the sense that mass refugee migration might spur tensions in neighboring or receiving states by imposing an economic burden and causing political stability [sic]. […] Based on a statistical analysis of refugees from neighboring countries and civil war onset during the period 1951–2001, they find that countries that experience an influx of refugees from neighboring states are significantly more likely to experience wars themselves. […] While the youth bulge hypothesis [large groups of young males => higher risk of violence/war/etc.] in general is supported by empirical evidence, indicating that countries and areas with large youth cohorts are generally at a greater risk of low-intensity conflict, the causal pathways relating youth bulges to increased conflict propensity remain largely unexplored quantitatively. When it comes to the demographic factors which have so far received less attention in terms of systematic testing – skewed sex ratios, differential ethnic growth, migration, and urbanization – the evidence is somewhat mixed […] a clear challenge with regard to the study of demography and conflict pertains to data availability and reliability. […] Countries that are undergoing armed conflict are precisely those for which we need data, but also those in which census-taking is hampered by violence.”
“Most research on the duration of civil war find that civil wars in democracies tend to be longer than other civil wars […] Research on conflict severity finds some evidence that democracies tend to see fewer battledeaths and are less likely to target civilians, suggesting that democratic institutions may induce some important forms of restraints in armed conflict […] Many researchers have found that democratization often precedes an increase in the risk of the onset of armed conflict. Hegre et al. (2001), for example, find that the risk of civil war onset is almost twice as high a year after a regime change as before, controlling for the initial level of democracy […] Many argue that democratic reforms come about when actors are unable to rule unilaterally and are forced to make concessions to an opposition […] The actual reforms to the political system we observe as democratization often do not suffice to reestablish an equilibrium between actors and the institutions that regulate their interactions; and in its absence, a violent power struggle can follow. Initial democratic reforms are often only partial, and may fail to satisfy the full demands of civil society and not suffice to reduce the relevant actors’ motivation to resort to violence […] However, there is clear evidence that the sequence matters and that the effect [the increased risk of civil war after democratization, US] is limited to the first election. […] civil wars […] tend to be settled more easily in states with prior experience of democracy […] By our count, […] 75 percent of all annual observations of countries with minor or major armed conflicts occur in non-democracies […] Democracies have an incidence of major armed conflict of only 1 percent, whereas nondemocracies have a frequency of 5.6 percent.”
“Since the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, religious conflicts and the rise of international terror organizations have made it difficult to ignore the facts that religious factors can contribute to conflict and that religious actors can cause or participate in domestic conflicts. Despite this, comprehensive studies of religion and domestic conflict remain relatively rare. While the reasons for this rarity are complex there are two that stand out. First, for much of the twentieth century the dominant theory in the field was secularization theory, which predicted that religion would become irrelevant and perhaps extinct in modern times. While not everyone agreed with this extreme viewpoint, there was a consensus that religious influences on politics and conflict were a waning concern. […] This theory was dominant in sociology for much of the twentieth century and effectively dominated political science, under the title of modernization theory, for the same period. […] Today supporters of secularization theory are clearly in the minority. However, one of their legacies has been that research on religion and conflict is a relatively new field. […] Second, as recently as 2006, Brian Grim and Roger Finke lamented that “religion receives little attention in international quantitative studies. Including religion in cross-national studies requires data, and high-quality data are in short supply” […] availability of the necessary data to engage in quantitative research on religion and civil wars is a relatively recent development.”
“[Some] studies [have] found that conflicts involving actors making religious demands – such as demanding a religious state or a significant increase in religious legislation – were less likely to be resolved with negotiated settlements; a negotiated settlement is possible if the settlement focused on the non-religious aspects of the conflict […] One study of terrorism found that terror groups which espouse religious ideologies tend to be more violent (Henne, 2012). […] The clear majority of quantitative studies of religious conflict focus solely on inter-religious conflicts. Most of them find religious identity to influence the extent of conflict […] but there are some studies which dissent from this finding”.
“Terror is most often selected by groups that (1) have failed to achieve their goals through peaceful means, (2) are willing to use violence to achieve their goals, and (3) do not have the means for higher levels of violence.”
“the PITF dataset provides an accounting of the number of domestic conflicts that occurred in any given year between 1960 and 2009. […] Between 1960 and 2009 the modified dataset includes 817 years of ethnic war, 266 years of genocides/politicides, and 477 years of revolutionary wars. […] Cases were identified as religious or not religious based on the following categorization:
1 Not Religious.
2 Religious Identity Conflict: The two groups involved in the conflict belong to different religions or different denominations of the same religion.
3 Religious Wars: The two sides of the conflict belong to the same religion but the description of the conflict provided by the PITF project identifies religion as being an issue in the conflict. This typically includes challenges by religious fundamentalists to more secular states. […]
The results show that both numerically and as a proportion of all conflict, religious state failures (which include both religious identity conflicts and religious wars) began increasing in the mid-1970s. […] As a proportion of all conflict, religious state failures continued to increase and became a majority of all state failures in 2002. From 2002 onward, religious state failures were between 55 percent and 62 percent of all state failures in any given year.”
“Between 2002 and 2009, eight of 12 new state failures were religious. All but one of the new religious state failures were ongoing as of 2009. These include:
• 2002: A rebellion in the Muslim north of the Ivory Coast (ended in 2007)
• 2003: The beginning of the Sunni–Shia violent conflict in Iraq (ongoing)
• 2003: The resumption of the ethnic war in the Sudan [97% muslims, US] (ongoing)
• 2004: Muslim militants challenged Pakistan’s government in South and North Waziristan. This has been followed by many similar attacks (ongoing)
• 2004: Outbreak of violence by Muslims in southern Thailand (ongoing)
• 2004: In Yemen [99% muslims, US], followers of dissident cleric Husain Badr al-Din al-Huthi create a stronghold in Saada. Al-Huthi was killed in September 2004, but serious fighting begins again in early 2005 (ongoing)
• 2007: Ethiopia’s invasion of southern Somalia causes a backlash in the Muslim (ethnic- Somali) Ogaden region (ongoing)
• 2008: Islamist militants in the eastern Trans-Caucasus region of Russia bordering on Georgia (Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia) reignited their violent conflict against Russia (ongoing)” [my bold]
“There are few additional studies which engage in this type of longitudinal analysis. Perhaps the most comprehensive of such studies is presented in Toft et al.’s (2011) book God’s Century based on data collected by Toft. They found that religious conflicts – defined as conflicts with a religious content – rose from 19 percent of all civil wars in the 1940s to about half of civil wars during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Of these religious conflicts, 82 percent involved Muslims. This analysis includes only 135 civil wars during this period. The lower number is due to a more restrictive definition of civil war which includes at least 1,000 battle deaths. This demonstrates that the findings presented above also hold when looking at the most violent of civil wars.” [my bold]
“This comprehensive new Handbook explores the significance and nature of armed intrastate conflict and civil war in the modern world.
Civil wars and intrastate conflict represent the principal form of organised violence since the end of World War II, and certainly in the contemporary era. These conflicts have a huge impact and drive major political change within the societies in which they occur, as well as on an international scale. The global importance of recent intrastate and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire, Syria and Libya – amongst others – has served to refocus academic and policy interest upon civil war. […] This volume will be of much interest to students of civil wars and intrastate conflict, ethnic conflict, political violence, peace and conflict studies, security studies and IR in general.”
I’m currently reading this handbook. One observation I’ll make here before moving on to the main coverage is that although I’ve read more than 100 pages and although every single one of the conflicts argued in the introduction above to be motivating study into these topics aside from one (the exception being Nepal) involve muslims, the word ‘islam’ has been mentioned exactly once in the coverage so far (an updated list would arguably include yet another muslim country, Yemen, as well). I noted while doing the text search that they seem to take up the topic of religion and religious motivation later on, so I sort of want to withhold judgment for now, but if they don’t deal more seriously with this topic later on than they have so far, I’ll have great difficulties giving this book a high rating, despite the coverage being in general actually quite interesting, detailed and well written so far – chapter 7, on so-called ‘critical perspectives’ is in my opinion a load of crap [a few illustrative quotes/words/concepts from that chapter: “Frankfurt School-inspired Critical Theory”, “approaches such as critical constructivism, post-structuralism, feminism, post-colonialism”, “an openly ethical–normative commitment to human rights, progressive politics”, “labelling”, “dialectical”, “power–knowledge structures”, “conflict discourses”, “Foucault”, “an abiding commitment to being aware of, and trying to overcome, the Eurocentric, Orientalist and patriarchal forms of knowledge often prevalent within civil war studies”, “questioning both morally and intellectually the dominant paradigm”… I read the chapter very fast, to the point of almost only skimming it, and I have not quoted from that chapter in my coverage below, for reasons which should be obvious – I was reminded of Poe’s Corollary while reading the chapter as I briefly started wondering along the way if the chapter was an elaborate joke which had somehow made it into the publication, and I also briefly was reminded of the Sokal affair, mostly because of the unbelievable amount of meaningless buzzwords], but that’s just one chapter and most of the others so far have been quite okay. A few of the points in the problematic chapter are actually arguably worth having in mind, but there’s so much bullshit included as well that you’re having a really hard time taking any of it seriously.
Some observations from the first 100 pages:
“There are wide differences of opinion across the broad field of scholars who work on civil war regarding the basis of legitimate and scientific knowledge in this area, on whether cross-national studies can generate reliable findings, and on whether objective, value-free analysis of armed conflict is possible. All too often – and perhaps increasingly so, with the rise in interest in econometric approaches – scholars interested in civil war from different methodological traditions are isolated from each other. […] even within the more narrowly defined empirical approaches to civil war studies there are major disagreements regarding the most fundamental questions relating to contemporary civil wars, such as the trends in numbers of armed conflicts, whether civil wars are changing in nature, whether and how international actors can have a role in preventing, containing and ending civil wars, and the significance of [various] factors”.
“In simplest terms civil war is a violent conflict between a government and an organized rebel group, although some scholars also include armed conflicts primarily between non-state actors within their study. The definition of a civil war, and the analytical means of differentiating a civil war from other forms of large-scale violence, has been controversial […] The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) uses 25 battle-related deaths per year as the threshold to be classified as armed conflict, and – in common with other datasets such as the Correlates of War (COW) – a threshold of 1,000 battle-related deaths for a civil war. While this is now widely endorsed, debate remains regarding the rigor of this definition […] differences between two of the main quantitative conflict datasets – the UCDP and the COW – in terms of the measurement of armed conflict result in significant differences in interpreting patterns of conflict. This has led to conflicting findings not only about absolute numbers of civil wars, but also regarding trends in the numbers of such conflicts. […] According to the UCDP/PRIO data, from 1946 to 2011 a total of 102 countries experienced civil wars. Africa witnessed the most with 40 countries experiencing civil wars between 1946 and 2011. During this period 20 countries in the Americas experienced civil war, 18 in Asia, 13 in Europe, and 11 in the Middle East […]. There were 367 episodes (episodes in this case being separated by at least one year without at least 25 battle-related deaths) of civil wars from 1946 to 2009 […]. The number of active civil wars generally increased from the end of the Cold War to around 1992 […]. Since then the number has been in decline, although whether this is likely to be sustained is debatable. In terms of onset of first episode by region from 1946 to 2011, Africa leads the way with 75, followed by Asia with 67, the Western Hemisphere with 33, the Middle East with 29, and Europe with 25 […]. As Walter (2011) has observed, armed conflicts are increasingly concentrated in poor countries. […] UCDP reports 137 armed conflicts for the period 1989–2011. For the overlapping period 1946–2007, COW reports 179 wars, while UCDP records 244 armed conflicts. As most of these conflicts have been fought over disagreements relating to conditions within a state, it means that civil war has been the most common experience of war throughout this period.”
“There were 3 million deaths from civil wars with no international intervention between 1946 and 2008. There were 1.5 million deaths in wars where intervention occurred. […] In terms of region, there were approximately 350,000 civil war-related deaths in both Europe and the Middle East from the years 1946 to 2008. There were 467,000 deaths in the Western Hemisphere, 1.2 million in Africa, and 3.1 million in Asia for the same period […] In terms of historical patterns of civil wars and intrastate armed conflict more broadly, the most conspicuous trend in recent decades is an apparent decline in absolute numbers, magnitude, and impact of armed conflicts, including civil wars. While there is wide – but not total – agreement regarding this, the explanations for this downward trend are contested. […] the decline seems mainly due not to a dramatic decline of civil war onsets, but rather because armed conflicts are becoming shorter in duration and they are less likely to recur. While this is undoubtedly welcome – and so is the tendency of civil wars to be generally smaller in magnitude – it should not obscure the fact that civil wars are still breaking out at a rate that has been fairly static in recent decades.”
“there is growing consensus on a number of findings. For example, intrastate armed conflict is more likely to occur in poor, developing countries with weak state structures. In situations of weak states the presence of lootable natural resources and oil increase the likelihood of experiencing armed conflict. Dependency upon the export of primary commodities is also a vulnerability factor, especially in conjunction with drastic fluctuations in international market prices which can result in economic shocks and social dislocation. State weakness is relevant to this – and to most of the theories regarding armed conflict proneness – because such states are less able to cushion the impact of economic shocks. […] Authoritarian regimes as well as entrenched democracies are less likely to experience civil war than societies in-between […] Situations of partial or weak democracy (anocracy) and political transition, particularly a movement towards democracy in volatile or divided societies, are also strongly correlated to conflict onset. The location of a society – especially if it has other vulnerability factors – in a region which has contiguous neighbors which are experiencing or have experienced armed conflict is also an armed conflict risk.”
“Military intervention aimed at supporting a protagonist or influencing the outcome of a conflict tends to increase the intensity of civil wars and increase their duration […] It is commonly argued that wars ending with military victory are less likely to recur […]. In these terminations one side no longer exists as a fighting force. Negotiated settlements, on the other hand, are often unstable […] The World Development Report 2011 notes that 90 percent of the countries with armed conflicts taking place in the first decade of the 2000s also had a major armed conflict in the preceding 30 years […] of the 137 armed conflicts that were fought after 1989 100 had ended by 2011, while 37 were still ongoing”
“Cross-national, aggregated, analysis has played a leading role in strengthening the academic and policy impact of conflict research through the production of rigorous research findings. However, the […] aggregation of complex variables has resulted in parsimonious findings which arguably neglect the complexity of armed conflict; simultaneously, differences in the codification and definition of key concepts result in contradictory findings. The growing popularity of micro-studies is therefore an important development in the field of civil war studies, and one that responds to the demand for more nuanced analysis of the dynamics of conflict at the local level.”
“Jason Quinn, University of Notre Dame, has calculated that the number of scholarly articles on the onset of civil wars published in the first decade of the twenty-first century is larger than the previous five decades combined”.
“One of the most challenging aspects of quantitative analysis is transforming social concepts into numerical values. This difficulty means that many of the variables used to capture theoretical constructs represent crude indicators of the real concept […] econometric studies of civil war must account for the endogenising effect of civil war on other variables. Civil war commonly lowers institutional capacity and reduces economic growth, two of the primary conditions that are consistently shown to motivate civil violence. Scholars have grown more capable of modelling this process […], but still too frequently fail to capture the endogenising effect of civil conflict on other variables […] the problems associated with the rare nature of civil conflict can [also] cause serious problems in a number of econometric models […] Case-based analysis commonly suffers from two fundamental problems: non-generalisability and selection bias. […] Combining research methods can help to enhance the validity of both quantitative and qualitative research. […] the combination of methods can help quantitative researchers address measurement issues, assess outliers, discuss variables omitted from the large-N analysis, and examine cases incorrectly predicted by econometric models […] The benefits of mixed methods research designs have been clearly illustrated in a number of prominent studies of civil war […] Yet unfortunately the bifurcation of conflict studies into qualitative and quantitative branches makes this practice less common than is desirable.”
“Ethnography has elicited a lively critique from within and without anthropology. […] Ethnographers stand accused of argument by ostension (pointing at particular instances as indicative of a general trend). The instances may not even be true. This is one of the reasons that the economist Paul Collier rejected ethnographic data as a source of insight into the causes of civil wars (Collier 2000b). According to Collier, the ethnographer builds on anecdotal evidence offered by people with good reasons to fabricate their accounts. […] The story fits the fact. But so might other stories. […] [It might be categorized as] a discipline that still combines a mix of painstaking ethnographic documentation with brilliant flights of fancy, and largely leaves numbers on one side.”
“While macro-historical accounts convincingly argue for the centrality of the state to the incidence and intensity of civil war, there is a radical spatial unevenness to violence in civil wars that defies explanation at the national level. Villages only a few miles apart can have sharply contrasting experiences of conflict and in most civil wars large swathes of territory remain largely unaffected by violence. This unevenness presents a challenge to explanations of conflict that treat states or societies as the primary unit of analysis. […] A range of databases of disaggregated data on incidences of violence have recently been established and a lively publication programme has begun to explore sub-national patterns of distribution and diffusion of violence […] All of these developments testify to a growing recognition across the social sciences that spatial variation, territorial boundaries and bounding processes are properly located at the heart of any understanding of the causes of civil war. It suggests too that sub-national boundaries in their various forms – whether regional or local boundaries, lines of control established by rebels or no-go areas for state security forces – need to be analysed alongside national borders and in a geopolitical context. […] In both violent and non-violent contention local ‘safe territories’ of one kind or another are crucial to the exercise of power by challengers […] the generation of violence by insurgents is critically affected by logistics (e.g. roads), but also shelter (e.g. forests) […] Schutte and Weidmann (2011) offer a […] dynamic perspective on the diffusion of insurgent violence. Two types of diffusion are discussed; relocation diffusion occurs when the conflict zone is shifted to new locations, whereas escalation diffusion corresponds to an expansion of the conflict zone. They argue that the former should be a feature of conventional civil wars with clear frontlines, whereas the latter should be observed in irregular wars, an expectation that is borne out by the data.”
“Research on the motivation of armed militants in social movement scholarship emphasises the importance of affective ties, of friendship and kin networks and of emotion […] Sageman’s (2004, 2008) meticulous work on Salafist-inspired militants emphasises that mobilisation is a collective rather than individual process and highlights the importance of inter-personal ties, networks of friendship, family and neighbours. That said, it is clear that there is a variety of pathways to armed action on the part of individuals rather than one single dominant motivation”.
“While it is often difficult to conduct real experiments in the study of civil war, the micro study of violence has seen a strong adoption of quasi-experimental designs and in general, a more careful thinking about causal identification”.
“Condra and Shapiro (2012) present one of the first studies to examine the effects of civilian targeting in a micro-level study. […] they show that insurgent violence increases as a result of civilian casualties caused by counterinsurgent forces. Similarly, casualties inflicted by the insurgents have a dampening effect on insurgent effectiveness. […] The conventional wisdom in the civil war literature has it that indiscriminate violence by counterinsurgent forces plays into the hands of the insurgents. After being targeted collectively, the aggrieved population will support the insurgency even more, which should result in increased insurgent effectiveness. Lyall (2009) conducts a test of this relationship by examining the random shelling of villages from Russian bases in Chechnya. He matches shelled villages with those that have similar histories of violence, and examines the difference in insurgent violence between treatment and control villages after an artillery strike. The results clearly disprove conventional wisdom and show that shelling reduces subsequent insurgent violence. […] Other research in this area has looked at alternative counterinsurgency techniques, such as aerial bombings. In an analysis that uses micro-level data on airstrikes and insurgent violence, Kocher et al. (2011) show that, counter to Lyall’s (2009) findings, indiscriminate violence in the form of airstrikes against villages in the Vietnam war was counterproductive […] Data availability […] partly dictates what micro-level questions we can answer about civil war. […] not many conflicts have datasets on bombing sorties, such as the one used by Kocher et al. (2011) for the Vietnam war.”
i. Lock (water transport). Zumerchik and Danver’s book covered this kind of stuff as well, sort of, and I figured that since I’m not going to blog the book – for reasons provided in my goodreads review here – I might as well add a link or two here instead. The words ‘sort of’ above are in my opinion justified because the book coverage is so horrid you’d never even know what a lock is used for from reading that book; you’d need to look that up elsewhere.
On a related note there’s a lot of stuff in that book about the history of water transport etc. which you probably won’t get from these articles, but having a look here will give you some idea about which sort of topics many of the chapters of the book are dealing with. Also, stuff like this and this. The book coverage of the latter topic is incidentally much, much more detailed than is that wiki article, and the article – as well as many other articles about related topics (economic history, etc.) on the wiki, to the extent that they even exist – could clearly be improved greatly by adding content from books like this one. However I’m not going to be the guy doing that.
ii. Congruence (geometry).
I’d note that this is a topic which seems to be reasonably well covered on wikipedia; there’s for example also a ‘good article’ on the Everglades and a featured article about the Everglades National Park. A few quotes and observations from the article:
“The geography and ecology of the Everglades involve the complex elements affecting the natural environment throughout the southern region of the U.S. state of Florida. Before drainage, the Everglades were an interwoven mesh of marshes and prairies covering 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2). […] Although sawgrass and sloughs are the enduring geographical icons of the Everglades, other ecosystems are just as vital, and the borders marking them are subtle or nonexistent. Pinelands and tropical hardwood hammocks are located throughout the sloughs; the trees, rooted in soil inches above the peat, marl, or water, support a variety of wildlife. The oldest and tallest trees are cypresses, whose roots are specially adapted to grow underwater for months at a time.”
“A vast marshland could only have been formed due to the underlying rock formations in southern Florida. The floor of the Everglades formed between 25 million and 2 million years ago when the Florida peninsula was a shallow sea floor. The peninsula has been covered by sea water at least seven times since the earliest bedrock formation. […] At only 5,000 years of age, the Everglades is a young region in geological terms. Its ecosystems are in constant flux as a result of the interplay of three factors: the type and amount of water present, the geology of the region, and the frequency and severity of fires. […] Water is the dominant element in the Everglades, and it shapes the land, vegetation, and animal life of South Florida. The South Florida climate was once arid and semi-arid, interspersed with wet periods. Between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, sea levels rose, submerging portions of the Florida peninsula and causing the water table to rise. Fresh water saturated the limestone, eroding some of it and creating springs and sinkholes. The abundance of fresh water allowed new vegetation to take root, and through evaporation formed thunderstorms. Limestone was dissolved by the slightly acidic rainwater. The limestone wore away, and groundwater came into contact with the surface, creating a massive wetland ecosystem. […] Only two seasons exist in the Everglades: wet (May to November) and dry (December to April). […] The Everglades are unique; no other wetland system in the world is nourished primarily from the atmosphere. […] Average annual rainfall in the Everglades is approximately 62 inches (160 cm), though fluctuations of precipitation are normal.”
“Between 1871 and 2003, 40 tropical cyclones struck the Everglades, usually every one to three years.”
“Islands of trees featuring dense temperate or tropical trees are called tropical hardwood hammocks. They may rise between 1 and 3 feet (0.30 and 0.91 m) above water level in freshwater sloughs, sawgrass prairies, or pineland. These islands illustrate the difficulty of characterizing the climate of the Everglades as tropical or subtropical. Hammocks in the northern portion of the Everglades consist of more temperate plant species, but closer to Florida Bay the trees are tropical and smaller shrubs are more prevalent. […] Islands vary in size, but most range between 1 and 10 acres (0.40 and 4.05 ha); the water slowly flowing around them limits their size and gives them a teardrop appearance from above. The height of the trees is limited by factors such as frost, lightning, and wind: the majority of trees in hammocks grow no higher than 55 feet (17 m). […] There are more than 50 varieties of tree snails in the Everglades; the color patterns and designs unique to single islands may be a result of the isolation of certain hammocks. […] An estimated 11,000 species of seed-bearing plants and 400 species of land or water vertebrates live in the Everglades, but slight variations in water levels affect many organisms and reshape land formations.”
“Because much of the coast and inner estuaries are built by mangroves—and there is no border between the coastal marshes and the bay—the ecosystems in Florida Bay are considered part of the Everglades. […] Sea grasses stabilize sea beds and protect shorelines from erosion by absorbing energy from waves. […] Sea floor patterns of Florida Bay are formed by currents and winds. However, since 1932, sea levels have been rising at a rate of 1 foot (0.30 m) per 100 years. Though mangroves serve to build and stabilize the coastline, seas may be rising more rapidly than the trees are able to build.”
iv. Chang and Eng Bunker. Not a long article, but interesting:
“Chang (Chinese: 昌; pinyin: Chāng; Thai: จัน, Jan, rtgs: Chan) and Eng (Chinese: 恩; pinyin: Ēn; Thai: อิน In) Bunker (May 11, 1811 – January 17, 1874) were Thai-American conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term “Siamese twins”.”
I loved some of the implicit assumptions in this article: “Determined to live as normal a life they could, Chang and Eng settled on their small plantation and bought slaves to do the work they could not do themselves. […] Chang and Adelaide [his wife] would become the parents of eleven children. Eng and Sarah [‘the other wife’] had ten.”
A ‘normal life’ indeed… The women the twins married were incidentally sisters who ended up disliking each other (I can’t imagine why…).
v. Genie (feral child). This is a very long article, and you should be warned that many parts of it may not be pleasant to read. From the article:
“Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are prominently recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology. When Genie was a baby her father decided that she was severely mentally retarded, causing him to dislike her and withhold as much care and attention as possible. Around the time she reached the age of 20 months Genie’s father decided to keep her as socially isolated as possible, so from that point until she reached 13 years, 7 months, he kept her locked alone in a room. During this time he almost always strapped her to a child’s toilet or bound her in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized, forbade anyone from interacting with her, and left her severely malnourished. The extent of Genie’s isolation prevented her from being exposed to any significant amount of speech, and as a result she did not acquire language during childhood. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.
In the first several years after Genie’s early life and circumstances came to light, psychologists, linguists and other scientists focused a great deal of attention on Genie’s case, seeing in her near-total isolation an opportunity to study many aspects of human development. […] In early January 1978 Genie’s mother suddenly decided to forbid all of the scientists except for one from having any contact with Genie, and all testing and scientific observations of her immediately ceased. Most of the scientists who studied and worked with Genie have not seen her since this time. The only post-1977 updates on Genie and her whereabouts are personal observations or secondary accounts of them, and all are spaced several years apart. […]
Genie’s father had an extremely low tolerance for noise, to the point of refusing to have a working television or radio in the house. Due to this, the only sounds Genie ever heard from her parents or brother on a regular basis were noises when they used the bathroom. Although Genie’s mother claimed that Genie had been able to hear other people talking in the house, her father almost never allowed his wife or son to speak and viciously beat them if he heard them talking without permission. They were particularly forbidden to speak to or around Genie, so what conversations they had were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie’s earshot, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful language besides her father’s occasional swearing. […] Genie’s father fed Genie as little as possible and refused to give her solid food […]
In late October 1970, Genie’s mother and father had a violent argument in which she threatened to leave if she could not call her parents. He eventually relented, and later that day Genie’s mother was able to get herself and Genie away from her husband while he was out of the house […] She and Genie went to live with her parents in Monterey Park. Around three weeks later, on November 4, after being told to seek disability benefits for the blind, Genie’s mother decided to do so in nearby Temple City, California and brought Genie along with her.
On account of her near-blindness, instead of the disabilities benefits office Genie’s mother accidentally entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie and was shocked to learn Genie’s true age was 13, having estimated from her appearance and demeanor that she was around 6 or 7 and possibly autistic. She notified her supervisor, and after questioning Genie’s mother and confirming Genie’s age they immediately contacted the police. […]
Upon admission to Children’s Hospital, Genie was extremely pale and grossly malnourished. She was severely undersized and underweight for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg) […] Genie’s gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs. Her movements were very hesitant and unsteady, and her characteristic “bunny walk”, in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested extreme difficulty with sensory processing and an inability to integrate visual and tactile information. She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time. […]
Despite tests conducted shortly after her admission which determined Genie had normal vision in both eyes she could not focus them on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, which corresponded to the dimensions of the room she was kept in. She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures. As Genie never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, completely unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. Because of this she would hold anything which she could not swallow in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby.
Genie’s behavior was typically highly anti-social, and proved extremely difficult for others to control. She had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or simply taking something she wanted from someone else, and did not have any situational awareness whatsoever, acting on any of her impulses regardless of the setting. […] Doctors found it extremely difficult to test Genie’s mental age, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13-month-old. […] When upset Genie would wildly spit, blow her nose into her clothing, rub mucus all over her body, frequently urinate, and scratch and strike herself. These tantrums were usually the only times Genie was at all demonstrative in her behavior. […] Genie clearly distinguished speaking from other environmental sounds, but she remained almost completely silent and was almost entirely unresponsive to speech. When she did vocalize, it was always extremely soft and devoid of tone. Hospital staff initially thought that the responsiveness she did show to them meant she understood what they were saying, but later determined that she was instead responding to nonverbal signals that accompanied their speaking. […] Linguists later determined that in January 1971, two months after her admission, Genie only showed understanding of a few names and about 15–20 words. Upon hearing any of these, she invariably responded to them as if they had been spoken in isolation. Hospital staff concluded that her active vocabulary at that time consisted of just two short phrases, “stop it” and “no more”. Beyond negative commands, and possibly intonation indicating a question, she showed no understanding of any grammar whatsoever. […] Genie had a great deal of difficulty learning to count in sequential order. During Genie’s stay with the Riglers, the scientists spent a great deal of time attempting to teach her to count. She did not start to do so at all until late 1972, and when she did her efforts were extremely deliberate and laborious. By 1975 she could only count up to 7, which even then remained very difficult for her.”
“From January 1978 until 1993, Genie moved through a series of at least four additional foster homes and institutions. In some of these locations she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress. […] Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area. In May 2008, ABC News reported that someone who spoke under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie in 2000. She was reportedly living a relatively simple lifestyle in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she only spoke a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language.“
(This was a review lecture for me as I read a textbook on these topics a few months back going into quite a lot more detail – the post I link to has some relevant links if you’re curious to explore this topic further).
A few relevant links: Group (featured), symmetry group, Cayley table, Abelian group, Symmetry groups of Platonic solids, dual polyhedron, Lagrange’s theorem (group theory), Fermat’s little theorem. I think he was perhaps trying to cover a little bit too much ground in too little time by bringing up the RSA algorithm towards the end, but I’m sort of surprised how many people disliked the video; I don’t think it’s that bad.
The beginning of the lecture has a lot of remarks about Fourier‘s life which are in some sense not ‘directly related’ to the mathematics, and so if this is what you’re most interested in knowing more about you can probably skip the first 11 minutes or so of the lecture without missing out on much. The lecture is very non-technical compared to coverage like this, this, and this (…or this).
I think one thing worth mentioning here is that the lecturer is the author of a rather amazing book on the topic he talks about in the lecture.
“This report shows trends and group differences in current marital status, with a focus on first marriages among women and men aged 15–44 years in the United States. Trends and group differences in the timing and duration of first marriages are also discussed. […] The analyses presented in this report are based on a nationally representative sample of 12,279 women and 10,403 men aged 15–44 years in the household population of the United States.”
“In 2006–2010, […] median age at first marriage was 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men.”
“Among women, 68% of unions formed in 1997–2001 began as a cohabitation rather than as a marriage (8). If entry into any type of union, marriage or cohabitation, is taken into account, then the timing of a first union occurs at roughly the same point in the life course as marriage did in the past (9). Given the place of cohabitation in contemporary union formation, descriptions of marital behavior, particularly those concerning trends over time, are more complete when cohabitation is also measured. […] Trends in the current marital statuses of women using the 1982, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010 NSFG indicate that the percentage of women who were currently in a first marriage decreased over the past several decades, from 44% in 1982 to 36% in 2006–2010 […]. At the same time, the percentage of women who were currently cohabiting increased steadily from 3.0% in 1982 to 11% in 2006– 2010. In addition, the proportion of women aged 15–44 who were never married at the time of interview increased from 34% in 1982 to 38% in 2006–2010.”
“In 2006–2010, the probability of first marriage by age 25 was 44% for women compared with 59% in 1995, a decrease of 25%. By age 35, the probability of first marriage was 84% in 1995 compared with 78% in 2006–2010 […] By age 40, the difference in the probability of age at first marriage for women was not significant between 1995 (86%) and 2006–2010 (84%). These findings suggest that between 1995 and 2006– 2010, women married for the first time at older ages; however, this delay was not apparent by age 40.”
“In 2006–2010, the probability of a first marriage lasting at least 10 years was 68% for women and 70% for men. Looking at 20 years, the probability that the first marriages of women and men will survive was 52% for women and 56% for men in 2006–2010. These levels are virtually identical to estimates based on vital statistics from the early 1970s (24). For women, there was no significant change in the probability of a first marriage lasting 20 years between the 1995 NSFG (50%) and the 2006–2010 NSFG (52%)”
“Women who had no births when they married for the first time had a higher probability of their marriage surviving 20 years (56%) compared with women who had one or more births at the time of first marriage (33%). […] Looking at spousal characteristics, women whose first husbands had been previously married (38%) had a lower probability of their first marriage lasting 20 years compared with women whose first husband had never been married before (54%). Women whose first husband had children from previous relationships had a lower probability that their first marriage would last 20 years (37%) compared with first husbands who had no other children (54%). For men, […] patterns of first marriage survival […] are similar to those shown for women for marriages that survived up to 15 years.”
“These data show trends that are consistent with broad demographic changes in the American family that have occurred in the United States over the last several decades. One such trend is an increase in the time spent unmarried among women and men. For women, there was a continued decrease in the percentage currently married for the first time — and an increase in the percent currently cohabiting — in 2006–2010 compared with earlier years. For men, there was also an increase in the percentage unmarried and in the percentage currently cohabiting between 2002 and 2006–2010. Another trend is an increase in the age at first marriage for women and men, with men continuing to marry for the first time at older ages than women. […] Previous research suggests that women with more education and better economic prospects are more likely to delay first marriage to older ages, but are ultimately more likely to become married and to stay married […]. Data from the 2006–2010 NSFG support these findings”
ii. Involuntary Celibacy: A life course analysis (review). This is not a link to the actual paper – the paper is not freely available, which is why I do not link to it – but rather a link to a report talking about what’s in that paper. However I found some of the stuff interesting:
“A member of an on-line discussion group for involuntary celibates approached the first author of the paper via email to ask about research on involuntary celibacy. It soon became apparent that little had been done, and so the discussion group volunteered to be interviewed and a research team was put together. An initial questionnaire was mailed to 35 group members, and they got a return rate of 85%. They later posted it to a web page so that other potential respondents had access to it. Eventually 60 men and 22 women took the survey.”
“Most were between the ages of 25-34, 28% were married or living with a partner, 89% had attended or completed college. Professionals (45%) and students (16%) were the two largest groups. 85% of the sample was white, 89% were heterosexual. 70% lived in the U.S. and the rest primarily in Western Europe, Canada and Australia. […] the value of this research lies in the rich descriptive data obtained about the lives of involuntary celibates, a group about which little is known. […] The questionnaire contained 13 categorical, close-ended questions assessing demographic data such as age, sex, marital status, living arrangement, income, education, employment type, area of residence, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious preference, political views, and time spent on the computer. 58 open-ended questions investigated such areas as past sexual experiences, current relationships, initiating relationships, sexuality and celibacy, nonsexual relationships and the consequences of celibacy. They started out by asking about childhood experiences, progressed to questions about teen and early adult years and finished with questions about current status and the effects of celibacy.”
“78% of this sample had discussed sex with friends, 84% had masturbated as teens. The virgins and singles, however, differed from national averages in their dating and sexual experiences.”
“91% of virgins and 52 % of singles had never dated as teenagers. Males reported hesitancy in initiating dates, and females reporting a lack of invitations by males. For those who did date, their experiences tended to be very limited. Only 29% of virgins reported first sexual experiences that involved other people, and they frequently reported no sexual activity at all except for masturbation. Singles were more likely than virgins to have had an initial sexual experience that involved other people (76%), but they tended to report that they were dissatisfied with the experience. […] While most of the sample had discussed sex with friends and masturbated as teens, most virgins and singles did not date. […] Virgins and singles may have missed important transitions, and as they got older, their trajectories began to differ from those of their age peers. Patterns of sexuality in young adulthood are significantly related to dating, steady dating and sexual experience in adolescence. It is rare for a teenager to initiate sexual activity outside of a dating relationship. While virginity and lack of experience are fairly common in teenagers and young adults, by the time these respondents reached their mid-twenties, they reported feeling left behind by age peers. […] Even for the heterosexuals in the study, it appears that lack of dating and sexual experimentation in the teen years may be precursors to problems in adult sexual relationships.”
“Many of the virgins reported that becoming celibate involved a lack of sexual and interpersonal experience at several different transition points in adolescence and young adulthood. They never or rarely dated, had little experience with interpersonal sexual activity, and had never had sexual intercourse. […] In contrast, partnered celibates generally became sexually inactive by a very different process. All had initially been sexually active with their partners, but at some point stopped. At the time of the survey, sexual intimacy no longer or very rarely occurred in their relationships. The majority of them (70%) started out having satisfactory relationships, but they slowly stopped having sex as time went on.”
“shyness was a barrier to developing and maintaining relationships for many of the respondents. Virgins (94%) and singles (84%) were more likely to report shyness than were partnered respondents (20%). The men (89%) were more likely to report being shy than women (77%). 41% of virgins and 23% of singles reported an inability to relate to others socially. […] 1/3 of the respondents thought their weight, appearance, or physical characteristics were obstacles to attracting potential partners. 47% of virgins and 56% of singles mentioned these factors, compared to only 9% of partnered people. […] Many felt that their sexual development had somehow stalled in an earlier stage of life; feeling different from their peers and feeling like they will never catch up. […] All respondents perceived their lack of sexual activity in a negative light and in all likelihood, the relationship between involuntary celibacy and unhappiness, anger and depression is reciprocal, with involuntary celibacy contributing to negative feelings, but these negative feelings also causing people to feel less self-confident and less open to sexual opportunities when they occur. The longer the duration of the celibacy, the more likely our respondents were to view it as a permanent way of life. Virginal celibates tended to see their condition as temporary for the most part, but the older they were, the more likely they were to see it as permanent, and the same was true for single celibates.”
It seems to me from ‘a brief look around’ that not a lot of research has been done on this topic, which I find annoying. Because yes, I’m well aware these are old data and that the sample is small and ‘convenient’. Here’s a brief related study on the ‘Characteristics of adult women who abstain from sexual intercourse‘ – the main findings:
“Of the 1801 respondents, 244 (14%) reported abstaining from intercourse in the past 6 months. Univariate analysis revealed that abstinent women were less likely than sexually active women to have used illicit drugs [odds ratio (OR) 0.47; 95% CI 0.35–0.63], to have been physically abused (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.31–0.64), to be current smokers (OR 0.59, 95% CI 0.45–0.78), to drink above risk thresholds (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.49–0.90), to have high Mental Health Inventory-5 scores (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.54–0.92) and to have health insurance (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.56–0.98). Abstinent women were more likely to be aged over 30 years (OR 1.98, 95% CI 1.51–2.61) and to have a high school education (OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.01–1.89). Logistic regression showed that age >30 years, absence of illicit drug use, absence of physical abuse and lack of health insurance were independently associated with sexual abstinence.
Prolonged sexual abstinence was not uncommon among adult women. Periodic, voluntary sexual abstinence was associated with positive health behaviours, implying that abstinence was not a random event. Future studies should address whether abstinence has a causal role in promoting healthy behaviours or whether women with a healthy lifestyle are more likely to choose abstinence.”
Here’s another more recent study – Prevalence and Predictors of Sexual Inexperience in Adulthood (unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate a non-gated link) – which I found and may have a closer look at later. A few quotes/observations:
“By adulthood, sexual activity is nearly universal: 97 % of men and 98 % of women between the ages of 25-44 report having had vaginal intercourse (Mosher, Chandra, & Jones, 2005). […] Although the majority of individuals experience this transition during adolescence or early adulthood, a small minority remain sexually inexperienced far longer. Data from the NSFG indicate that about 5% of males and 3% of females between the ages of 25 and 29 report never having had vaginal sex (Mosher et al., 2005). While the percentage of sexually inexperienced participants drops slightly among older age groups, between 1 and 2% of both males and females continue to report that they have never had vaginal sex even into their early 40s. Other nationally representative surveys have yielded similar estimates of adult sexual inexperience (Billy, Tanfer, Grady, & Klepinger, 1993)”
“Individuals who have not experienced any type of sexual activity as adults […] may differ from those who only abstain from vaginal intercourse. For example, vaginal virgins who engage in “everything but” vaginal sex – sometimes referred to as “technical virgins” […] – may abstain from vaginal sex in order to avoid its potential negative consequences […]. In contrast, individuals who have neither coital nor noncoital experience may have been unable to attract sexual partners or may have little interest in sexual involvement. Because prior analyses have generally conflated these two populations, we know virtually nothing about the prevalence or characteristics of young adults who have abstained from all types of sexual activity.”
“We used data from 2,857 individuals who participated in Waves I–IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and reported no sexual activity (i.e., oral-genital, vaginal, or anal sex) by age 18 to identify, using discrete-time survival models, adolescent sociodemographic, biosocial, and behavioral characteristics that predicted adult sexual inexperience. The mean age of participants at Wave IV was 28.5 years (SD = 1.92). Over one out of eight participants who did not initiate sexual activity during adolescence remained abstinent as young adults. Sexual non-attraction significantly predicted sexual inexperience among both males (aOR = 0.5) and females (aOR = 0.6). Males also had lower odds of initiating sexual activity after age 18 if they were non-Hispanic Asian, reported later than average pubertal development, or were rated as physically unattractive (aORs = 0.6–0.7). Females who were overweight, had lower cognitive performance, or reported frequent religious attendance had lower odds of sexual experience (aORs = 0.7–0.8) while those who were rated by the interviewers as very attractive or whose parents had lower educational attainment had higher odds of sexual experience (aORs = 1.4–1.8). Our findings underscore the heterogeneity of this unique population and suggest that there are a number of different pathways that may lead to either voluntary or involuntary adult sexual inexperience.”
“Breastfeeding has clear short-term benefits, but its long-term consequences on human capital are yet to be established. We aimed to assess whether breastfeeding duration was associated with intelligence quotient (IQ), years of schooling, and income at the age of 30 years, in a setting where no strong social patterning of breastfeeding exists. […] A prospective, population-based birth cohort study of neonates was launched in 1982 in Pelotas, Brazil. Information about breastfeeding was recorded in early childhood. At 30 years of age, we studied the IQ (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd version), educational attainment, and income of the participants. For the analyses, we used multiple linear regression with adjustment for ten confounding variables and the G-formula. […] From June 4, 2012, to Feb 28, 2013, of the 5914 neonates enrolled, information about IQ and breastfeeding duration was available for 3493 participants. In the crude and adjusted analyses, the durations of total breastfeeding and predominant breastfeeding (breastfeeding as the main form of nutrition with some other foods) were positively associated with IQ, educational attainment, and income. We identified dose-response associations with breastfeeding duration for IQ and educational attainment. In the confounder-adjusted analysis, participants who were breastfed for 12 months or more had higher IQ scores (difference of 3,76 points, 95% CI 2,20–5,33), more years of education (0,91 years, 0,42–1,40), and higher monthly incomes (341,0 Brazilian reals, 93,8–588,3) than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month. The results of our mediation analysis suggested that IQ was responsible for 72% of the effect on income.”
This is a huge effect size.
iv. Grandmaster blunders (chess). This is quite a nice little collection; some of the best players in the world have actually played some really terrible moves over the years, which I find oddly comforting in a way..
v. History of the United Kingdom during World War I (wikipedia, ‘good article’). A few observations from the article:
“In 1915, the Ministry of Munitions under David Lloyd-George was formed to control munitions production and had considerable success. By April 1915, just two million rounds of shells had been sent to France; by the end of the war the figure had reached 187 million, and a year’s worth of pre-war production of light munitions could be completed in just four days by 1918.”
“During the war, average calories intake [in Britain] decreased only three percent, but protein intake six percent.“
“Energy was a critical factor for the British war effort. Most of the energy supplies came from coal mines in Britain, where the issue was labour supply. Critical however was the flow of oil for ships, lorries and industrial use. There were no oil wells in Britain so everything was imported. The U.S. pumped two-thirds of the world’s oil. In 1917, total British consumption was 827 million barrels, of which 85 percent was supplied by the United States, and 6 percent by Mexico.”
“In the post war publication Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914–1920 (The War Office, March 1922), the official report lists 908,371 ‘soldiers’ as being either killed in action, dying of wounds, dying as prisoners of war or missing in action in the World War. (This is broken down into the United Kingdom and its colonies 704,121; British India 64,449; Canada 56,639; Australia 59,330; New Zealand 16,711; South Africa 7,121.) […] The civilian death rate exceeded the prewar level by 292,000, which included 109,000 deaths due to food shortages and 183,577 from Spanish Flu.”
vi. House of Plantagenet (wikipedia, ‘good article’).
vii. r/Earthp*rn. There are some really nice pictures here…
i. Invasion of Poland. I recently realized I had no idea e.g. how long it took for the Germans and Soviets to defeat Poland during WW2 (the answer is 1 month and five days). The Germans attacked more than two weeks before the Soviets did. The article has lots of links, like most articles about such topics on wikipedia. Incidentally the question of why France and Britain applied a double standard and only declared war on Germany, and not the Soviet Union, is discussed in much detail in the links provided by u/OldWorldGlory here.
ii. Huaynaputina. From the article:
“A few days before the eruption, someone reported booming noise from the volcano and fog-like gas being emitted from its crater. The locals scrambled to appease the volcano, preparing girls, pets, and flowers for sacrifice.”
This makes sense – what else would one do in a situation like that? Finding a few virgins, dogs and flowers seems like the sensible approach – yes, you have to love humans and how they always react in sensible ways to such crises.
I’m not really sure the rest of the article is really all that interesting, but I found the above sentence both amusing and depressing enough to link to it here.
iii. Albert Pierrepoint. This guy killed hundreds of people.
On the other hand people were fine with it – it was his job. Well, sort of, this is actually slightly complicated. (“Pierrepoint was often dubbed the Official Executioner, despite there being no such job or title”).
Anyway this article is clearly the story of a guy who achieved his childhood dream – though unlike other children, he did not dream of becoming a fireman or a pilot, but rather of becoming the Official Executioner of the country. I’m currently thinking of using Pierrepoint as the main character in the motivational story I plan to tell my nephew when he’s a bit older.
iv. Second Crusade (featured). Considering how many different ‘states’ and ‘kingdoms’ were involved, a surprisingly small amount of people were actually fighting; the article notes that “[t]here were perhaps 50,000 troops in total” on the Christian side when the attack on Damascus was initiated. It wasn’t enough, as the outcome of the crusade was a decisive Muslim victory in the ‘Holy Land’ (Middle East).
v. 0.999… (featured). This thing is equal to one, but it can sometimes be really hard to get even very smart people to accept this fact. Lots of details and some proofs presented in the article.
vi. Shapley–Folkman lemma (‘good article’ – but also a somewhat technical article).
vii. Multituberculata. This article is not that special, but I add it here also because I think it ought to be and I’m actually sort of angry that it’s not; sometimes the coverage provided on wikipedia simply strikes me as grossly unfair, even if this is perhaps a slightly odd way to think about stuff. As pointed out in the article (Agustí points this out in his book as well), “The multituberculates existed for about 120 million years, and are often considered the most successful, diversified, and long-lasting mammals in natural history.” Yet notice how much (/little) coverage the article provides. Now compare the article with this article, or this.