Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Police Shoot Down Protester's Drone

We are still living in the future.  From a distance, from a drone's viewpoint, there is beauty. The water cannons spray in the graceful arc that gravity insists on. And the drone records this until it is destroyed.

Below, the rebels sing show tunes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pavilion Decoration Priorities

I looked at this collection of pavilion images from 1380-1415, and saw an interesting pattern. The valance or shoulder of the tent was hardly ever undecorated, if only by two or three horizontal bands of color. The walls were most likely to be devoid of decoration, and the roofs fell between the two extremes.

I have a pavilion I plan to decorate, and finite time before I first intend to use it. The information above will inform my decoration campaign, and may be useful to others.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Medieval Dumb Ways to Die

Keep a plague rat as a pet
Get locked up in an oubliette
Besiege a town till you get sick
Confess that you are a heretic

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die,
Dumb ways to die ie ie, so many dumb ways to die

Be a deposed king in jail
Plot a coup that's full of fail
Ride over your own Genoese
Stay in a camp that's full of disease

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die,
Dumb ways to die ie ie, so many dumb ways to die

Eat more lampreys than is right
Wear a wildman suit and get set alight
Be a feeble king that makes bad choices
Be a female saint that's hearing voices

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die,
Dumb ways to die ie ie, so many dumb ways to die

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turkish Protesters: "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

Moving. I hope this works out better for them than it did in the musical.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Could the Roman Republic Have Been Saved?

I think with the right choices the Republic could have been saved.  What it needed was bigger government, more government benefits, more taxes, and less political privilege for its oligarchy.

This completely contradicts the Taylor Caldwell idea that the Republic fell because they were like Great Society liberals, so let me explain.

Republican Rome had nothing like a police force or fire department, although many Greek cities had had them for centuries. It finally got both under Augustus: urban cohorts and the vigiles, a combination of night watch and firemen. Their absence allowed the political gang violence of people like to Clodius and Milo to be highly effective in the late Republic, and allowed people rich enough to own their own fire department, like Crassus, to show up at your burning house and demand an extortionate fee to put it out.

The late Republic made little use of civil servants to collect taxes, instead selling the right to collect particular taxes for a flat fee. The tax farmers had strong incentives to collect excessive taxes, and there were frequent complaints that they did so. It was a bad deal for the state and the average citizen, but it allowed those wealthy enough to advance the payment an opportunity to become even richer.

It also had no regular policy for rewarding soldiers who had completed their term of service with land to support themselves after their service. Such grants were made, but only when successful and powerful generals  pressured the Senate to do so. This, of course, tended to align soldiers loyalties with the generals rather than the state.

A sales tax on slaves would have raised  considerable revenue, and one was instituted under Augustus, but the Republic had none. Such a tax could have funded public services like police and fire fighters, and civil servants to collect taxes. Also, anything that made slaves more expensive would have mitigate the negative impact of the slave worked latifundia on free farmers of small holdings.

The Roman Republic made many unwise choices, in large part because the Senatorial oligarchy had an inordinate share of power under the Roman constitution, and they tended to make choices that favored their own self interest, rather than that of the Republic as a whole. But the constitution of the Roman Republic was not immutable: it had at times been amended to force the privileged to cede power to the less powerful.

It is one of the great tragedies of the late Republic that the reformers were too bold and the conservatives too obdurate. It ended in tears, and imperial rule.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iain M. Banks 1954-2013

Here is a detailed obituary that, strangely, omits his powerful, darkly whimsical Against a Dark Background.

Here is another appreciation of his work. Here is another.

Some say you should not start his Culture novels with Consider Phlebas, arguing that it was his first, and he hadn't hit his stride yet.  I disagree. The protagonist, Horza, starts with limited understanding of the Culture, which changes in the course of the novel. I think it reads better if the reader starts with similar ignorance. And even the first Banks Culture novel is pretty darned good.

Friday, June 07, 2013


Matilda claimed the crown
Upon the head of Stephen,
And so they had it up and down
From morning until even;
And now was she the winner –
Matilda ruled the land at tea,
And Stephen ruled at dinner.

Matilda claimed the throne
Her cousin Stephen sat in,
And kept him fighting for his own
From Vesper until matin;
One had the lower hand
When t’other had the upper –
Till none could tell who ruled the land
From breakfast-time to supper.

Farjeon, Eleanor, and Herbert Farjeon. 1933. Kings and queens. New York: Dutton. 

Pavilion Roof Pitch

The tradeoffs seem to be:

A steeper roof should shed rain better, and what Il Libro del Sarto calls master cords, guys attached to the finial above the roof, can descend more steeply without rubbing against the shoulder of the tent, allowing a narrower footprint for their stakes.

On the other hand, a steeper roof takes more fabric and needs a longer pole.

Pin Rifle

Pin Rifle by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Another Star Saga illustration.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Edward I

Edward the First was strong and tall,
He had the longest legs of all,
But when from one who wished him harm
A poisoned dagger pierced his arm,
Edward was weak as other men,
His long legs could not help him then.

So Eleanor his gentle wife
Sucked out his wound and saved his life,
And when in time this lady died,
All through England far and wide
He built stone crosses to be seen
In memory of Longshanks' Queen.

Farjeon, Eleanor, and Herbert Farjeon. 1933. Kings and queens. New York: Dutton. 


John, John, bad King John
Shamed the throne that he sat on;
Not a scruple, not a straw,
Cared this monarch for the law;
Promises he daily broke;
None could trust a word he spoke;
So the Barons brought a Deed;
Down to rushy Runnymede,
Magna Carta was it hight,
Charter of the People’s Right,
Framed and fashioned to correct
Kings who act with disrespect –
And with stern and solemn air,
Pointing to the parchment there,
“Sign! Sign! Sign!” they said
“Sign, King John, or resign instead!”

John, John, turning pale,
Ground his teeth and bit his nail;
Chewed his long moustache; and then
Ground and bit and chewed again.
“Plague upon the People!” he
Muttered, “What are they to me?
Plague upon the Barons, too!”
(Here he had another chew,)
But the Barons, standing by,
Eyed him with a baleful eye;
Not a finger did they lift;
Not an eyelash did they shift;
But with one tremendous roar,
Even louder than before,
“Sign! Sign! Sign!” they said,

(and King John signed)

Farjeon, Eleanor, and Herbert Farjeon. 1933. Kings and queens. New York: Dutton.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

14th Century Tents in the Tower of London

1 screen (claustrum) of woolen cloth (carde) blue on the outside, white on the inside,

18 round houses (domus rotundi), 8 of woolen cloth blue on the outside, green inside,

2 chapels, (cappelle), one of linen cloth (tella linea) with vertical gables, one with four posts,

4 houses of green for hunting,

3 stables, one white in three pieces with four posts 20 feet long,

1 chamber (camera) decorated with crowns,

1 palace of blue cloth, probably the hall 'Westminster' in 15 pieces powdered with roses,

1 'alee',

1 house for the king’s ship the George,

1 hall “Berwick” in three pieces with two doors,

4 round houses with the arms of England,

1 house of the same arms with three posts,

1 house with two posts with two 'aleez' in a set,

1 house of cotton with 20 foot posts,

1 great palatial hall with 6 posts called the hall ”Bermondsey” with two doors and one alee in a set,

2 leather bags,

3 pieces of a tent.

These appear in records of 1346 and 1348. The claustrum and aleez seem to be early examples of the fabric walls and breezeways seen in later sources.

The medieval inventories of the Tower armouries 1320-1410  Roland Thomas Richardson

Using only construction paper and Scotch tape, the T. Rex lured in the Pachycephalosaurus with a masterful Stegosaurus disguise.

Let's just say the pterosaur loves scrapbooking and owes a few favors.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Don't Be Misled by Satire Quotes

The Internet makes it easy to encounter quotes from satire sites divorced from their original context. Pay attention to the source! The Onion is well known as a satire site, but there are others: The Daily Currant, The Borowitz Report, and of course the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Best Speech by a Central Banker

Ben Bernanke gave an excellent speech at Princeton yesterday:
Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate--these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded" (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Poe's Law

If it appears that a member of a group that you disagree with has written something of staggering idiocy, like this, please consider that it may well be a parody. There is, in fact nothing in Deuteronomy or Ephesians about LOTR being an abomination. That's Leviticus, and only with respect to the Bakshi version: "Thou shalt not draw ents as giant mutant radishes, for that is an abomination unto the LORD"

Saturday, June 01, 2013

"Far-Right Extremists Chased Through London by Women Dressed as Badgers"

Why there will always be an England.

Autonomous Killer Robots

The Economist presents two experts discussing the pros and cons.

As some commenters point out, this is not exactly a new issue. Most land and naval mines are autonomous once armed, and more recently, close-in weapons systems.

Why I'm Not a Libertarian

I'm going to outsource this to Will Wilkinson. What he said.
Ideological labels are mutable, but at any given time they publicly connote a certain syndrome of convictions. What “libertarian” tends to mean to most people, including most people who self-identify as libertarian, is flatly at odds with some of what I believe. So I guess I’m just a liberal; the bleeding heart goes without saying.

Here are some not-standardly-libertarian things I believe: Non-coercion fails to capture all, maybe even most, of what it means to be free. Taxation is often necessary and legitimate. The modern nation-state has been, on the whole, good for humanity. (See Steven Pinker’s new book.) Democracy is about as good as it gets. The institutions of modern capitalism are contingent arrangements that cannot be justified by an appeal to the value of liberty construed as non-interference. The specification of the legal rights that structure real-world markets have profound distributive consequences, and those are far from irrelevant to the justification of those rights. I could go on.
More here, all worth reading.

Joss Whedon Delivers Commencement Address

..."you are all going to die."