Monday, September 16, 2019


The Great Dying has been dated to 252 million years ago for some decades now, but its cause(s) remain/s elusive. Part of the problem is that although they've nailed down the end of the extinction era, they hadn't constrained its start. Of course the start is what you want if you're looking for cause.

Last week this blog got a visit, I think, from the Triple-I Blog. I went to the main blog and found it, basically, an aggregate of news-releases. But hey: why not. I looked at it today and found this announcement, pointing to Michael R. Rampino and Shu-Zhong Shen, "The end-Guadalupian (259.8 Ma) biodiversity crisis: the sixth major mass extinction?" in Historical Biology (2019) DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2019.1658096.

When you go that far back, it's not easy to tell one mess from another. And indeed I have seen charts of the extinction that looked "hump backed" over a span of the end-Permian.

If these guys are right, we're over that first hump, so to speak. The Emeishan Traps were the trigger for the 259.8 Ma disaster and then, a few million years later, came another disaster which hit the by-now genetically bottlenecked survivors.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Saladin's hollow victory

Standard Western summaries of the Crusades end with amir Saladin's capture of Jerusalem (hence the "Kingdom Of Heaven" movie). We typically get a coda on the Fourth Crusade. (For a recent example I am casting a side-eye at Catlos, here.) Sometimes we read about crusades after the Fourth, namely that there were some; but by that point nobody's paying attention - the historians switch to the Mongols. Or to crusades like the attack on the Cathars which were western so Don't Count.

And to be fair, the Fourth Crusade is a big deal, for a start in the context of Western / east-Christian and Slavic relations, but also for its own sake. I am not saying, don't study the Fourth Crusade. I am saying that the Fourth doesn't matter in Crusade history. For Innocent III, it was just a big ugly detour.

In 2014 I started reading Paul Cobb's The Race for Paradise. After I got to Saladin I put the book aside... and then forgot where I put it. I found it again maybe in 2016 and today, I picked it up again.

Cobb describes Saladin's taking of Jerusalem as a booby prize.

As with many Glorious Victories, the win made the winners feel overconfident. After Saladin proclaimed his victory for Allah and for His Caliph (in Baghdad), many of his mujahids just... went home. They'd already earned their ticket to Paradise. The jealous Caliph meanwhile turned up his nose at this adventure which he hadn't requested. Saladin's most-enduring legacy was to stir up the Frankish hornets, who responded with their Third Crusade. This grueling war bled out the will to fight from both sides; by its end, the Crusade hadn't reached the Holy City, but they'd retained much of the Mediterranean littoral.

We all know the sordid tale of the Fourth Crusade's main force; but some elements called to the cause had meanwhile split off and attached themselves to Crusader might in the Holy Land. And the Fourth Crusade's blueprint, which involved an invasion of Egypt, remained available for future reference. During all these distractions, the Christian kingdoms in Spain had beat the Almohad pseudo-caliphate so hard the latter abandoned the whole peninsula; leaving the Muslim presence to a few rump states around Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. And ten years later, came the Fifth Crusade.

Hardly anyone talks about the Fifth and Sixth Crusades. The main aim of all three of the early thirteenth-century Crusades, IV-VI, was Egypt, which obviously didn't happen (the West had forgotten how the Nile works, so they didn't plan around the floods). But whilst the newcomers were keeping Egypt engaged, the Franks back in the Holy Land kept getting replenished by off-shot freelancers - as happened during the Fourth. And they retook Jerusalem. Moreover: they'd done it by treaty this time.

I propose that the Fifth and Sixth Crusades weren't the footnotes the major histories claim they are. Over AD 1200-1244, which is a long generation, the Near Eastern Muslims were on the back foot... again. There was no Saladin to unite them. There couldn't be; they'd given up Jerusalem themselves. In 1244 the Khwarezm Turks retook Jerusalem for Islam; and there was a Seventh Crusade which failed to get it back, but the Crusader States outside that city were doing just fine without it.

Cobb holds that what did in the Crusader States, finally, was their alliance with the Mongols. The Egyptian Muslims, many of whose main commanders were Turks, knew how to fight steppe cavalry, or at least had learnt how to do it in by-now-familiar turf. Once Qutuz had seen off the Mongols, all the Christians were left looking like traitors to every Muslim in the Near East. The Crusade was, now, left without friends. Qutuz's successor Baybars picked off the forts one by one.

It should amaze the amateur historian that those histories in the English language have obscured this resurgence of the Crusader states, over a stretch of two generations 1200-1244. How haven't we heard of this?

I'm going with: Gibbon... again; or at least Gibbon-ism. The Protestants and, later, the Enlightenment needed a Crusade that "stalled out"; they needed the Third to present a check on Rome's ambitions and the Fourth to be its farcical coda. The rest, they can just dismiss as Popes Saying Stuff.

Well, they shouldn't. The Fifth and Sixth Crusades carried on from the Third, and achieved the Third's strategic aims. Jerusalem was perhaps too slippery but it had ceased to matter in the meantime.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

To finesse Unfinished Victory

Ron Unz is keeping up the books listed on the Current-Year Forbidden Index. His latest exhibit is Arthur Bryant, Unfinished Victory.

Arthur Bryant was the heir to Chesterton in British Tory literate circles. He wrote Unfinished Victory over the 1930s, but Events-Dear-Boy overtook his opus so he hastily re-edited what he'd done and hustled that manuscript out the door, for a phoney-war audience, in the New Year 1940. Its palimpsest was, as EH Carr noted in his review, likely a Case For Appeasement. Its 1940 publication, as the Unz crew notes, still preceded when Britain had yet decided upon a total-war attitude against the Nazi menace. And for many months the British public and political-class tolerated the text: so Richard Griffiths 2004, doi 10.1080/0031322032000185569.

Over 1940, the Blitzkrieg overwhelmed all the western Continent and forced a mad English flight from Dunkirk. Bryant could no longer support his own manuscript and did his utmost to recall such copies as had been sold. Bryant shifted to by-jingo patriotic fluff over the rest of the war. He died in 1985.

Unz, though a Mischling like myself, is catering to an antiSemitic audience and that's what Unfinished Victory has attracted to its comments. So I went looking for a proSemitic reaction.

Most reactions I find to this book assume that it's "pro Nazi" and "anti Semitic"; so we find in the "Beast Rabban" blog. Emily Lorimer, Rebecca West, A.J.P. Taylor, and Richard Crossman all deliver ad-hominem along these lines; in lieu of reading them all I shall assume the paraphrases are In-Conclusion. Not listed here is Michael Bernstein in summer 1941. This blog shall look into that review as representative of the batch.

Bernstein's text came out... after the Nazi attack on Stalin. Bernstein implies himself not to be the Stalin sort of communist early on: A profound contempt for the mass of mankind underlies the philosophy of totalitarianism, whether fascist or communist.. But then Bernstein objects to Bryant: Hitler was acute enough to realize that the Marxist did not stand for freedom but for a despotic uniformity, enforced by terror and the annihilation of all who opposed them. From that, Bernstein puts words into Bryant's mouth: Hitler, in Mr. Bryant's opinion, obviously stands for freedom and individualism. Bernstein, if he were opposed to Marx, should - in my opinion - spot Bryant this one as a point of mutual agreement.

As I read Bernstein's review, I notice a lotta wottabowt. Here: Mr. Bryant has no word of criticism for the Junkers who made the war, refused all possible attempts at a peace during its course, forced the Republican government to sign the armistice, bled the Republican government to the tune of hundreds of millions of marks, and then aided Hitler to gain control of the German state. That's a bold statement. It is also a slander: per Bryant, at the end of 1916... the Central Powers had made the first peace overtures. It was to have been a pacification based on the status quo of 1914, together with the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France. But it was not taken seriously either by the German militarists who hoped to retain strategic advantages in Belgium and Flanders...

As to why Bryant glides over "the Junkers" by name: I imagine it's in part because that caste, then ascendant in German military / diplomatic circles, did contain a faction who wanted peace; it's just that many didn't. Also, it's hardly relevant to the book's theme, which is the German proletariat and their Bavarian Catholic-raised Führer, whom Bryant holds up (correctly) as about the polar opposite to the Nationalist-voting East Prussian lord. I would flip this on its head and ask Bernstein why he'd brought it up; I hazard, less for what it says about Schiklgruber and more for what (Bernstein imagines) it says about British Tories like Bryant.

Bryant is trying to be fair to the Junker caste, in short. And he is just as fair to the Jews - at least, the German Jews: the quiet, decent, inoffensive people who had acquired the outlook, habits and sober morality of the German bourgeoisie, and who today have become the tragic victims of an unreasoning loathing which they had done nothing themselves to create. For Bryant it was the arrivistes from the east, who sought those quick profits which Bernstein cannot disassociate in his totalist mind from all "capitalism".

As for the Nazi regime as of 1940, Bryant is under no illusions: a little minority of cruel fanatics to infect a whole nation with their own undiscriminating hatred; It was puritan rather than personal. It is this that accounts for its cruelty and inhumanity. And, since Bernstein is playing the Context Game elsewhere, I note that where Bernstein excerpts They destroyed because they were shocked, he omits to include its prefix Yet to the small minority against whom the popular instincts to which they appealed were directed, they were ruthless and inhuman in their unappeasable hatred.

Bryant's Unfinished Victory may have started as an Appeasement brief, but it evolved - as its author evolved. Bryant had shifted this text (slightly) to the sort of book rife on bookstores during America's own "war on terror": Why Do They Hate Us. Which the Allies needed to understand, should they win the day; before imposing a Versailles II, or - worse - allowing Stalin to bathe his sword in the sea at Calais.

In my neocon phase, I too thought it disgusting that we should bother asking Why Do They Hate Us - of Muslims. Of pretty much any Muslim. For such sentiments I was chastised as a simple hater. So I took it upon myself to learn Islam and to learn its history. And yes, sometimes when people take on the Why Do They Hate Us question they're acting in bad faith. But sometimes perhaps they're not.

For those claiming Bryant as antiSemitic or proNazi, we should dismiss them as simple haters themselves.

BACKDATE 9/15 4 PM MST: for when I finished Bryant's book and found its retort.

Friday, September 13, 2019


A long time ago, aliens fired a missile toward our solar system. Our sun nudged the thing into an "orbit" that was almost, but not quite, parabolic: eccentricity 1.2 or such. Since it was found by astronomers in Hawaii they named it `Oumuamua. A standard elliptic orbit can be nudged into hyperbolism but in this case, there wasn't anything around that could have done that.

So, aliens it was. Okay okay, sorry to take the fun out of things; it wasn't little green men who did it, it was some other solar system's gravitational chaos.

Unfortunately Oumuamua was very dark so we only saw it on its way out. Last November Greg Cochran suggested we send a probe to chase Oumuamua down and film it; in parallel, there was a "Lyra" mission proposed to do just that.

Nothing came of Lyra. But now, here comes another alien. This one is VERY hyperbolic, eccentricity 3. The good news is: it's a comet, coated in bright ice. We've seen it on its way in. The Bad Astronomy blog on SyFy has the best summary.

I suggest that the Lyra team pick up where they left off and hurry up and do it. This is as close to Rama as we get.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The end of the particles

I bought Carroll's The Particle at the End of the Universe for my dad in 2013, soon after the book came out, which was soon after they finally found the "Higgs Boson". Here's Woit on it. And now, since my dad has palmed this book back to me... I'm on it too.

I'll tell y'all up front that my A-Level in Physics was a "B". I did not do more science in college; just the maths. When I was doing A-Level I recall the course being solidly Newtonian with some standard electronics thrown in. We weren't building atomic bombs in the lab. So approach this post as if it was done by an ignorant blogger just looking in on things from outside.

As I see it, the Higgs is indeed the end of the universe ... for physicists. There was a Standard Model hammered out pretty-much the year I was born. Everything done since then has affirmed that model: the W and Z particles exist, the Top Quark exists, and they all have inertial masses in accordance with the existence of a then-hypothetical field which Higgs - among others - had hypothesised.

Field theory, even for Higgs which was special, works at the quantum level as a couple of "fermions" passing massless particles around which we call "bosons". Electromagnetism, for instance, has a boson: the light-particle, "photon". The weak force has W and Z. These nonHiggs bosons have a directional impact, given that they represent interactions between fermions, so their forces work as vector fields. The Higgs field was supposed to be scalar so would work even if the fermion was sitting by itself. Mass is inertial, remember.

At least, so I've gathered.

It happens that many bosons are yuuge. The photon is obviously tiny, but the W and Z - for a start - don't last long in physical form. Under normal circumstances they only zip in and out in quantum timescales. The biggest they is, the shorter they live. We can create some bosons with enough energy but we don't see them. We can, however, see how they decay and measure the sorts of particles they give off.

All the experimenters had to do, to prove the Higgs field theory of inertial mass, was to conjure up a Higgs boson and watch how it decays. And that, they did.

But they'd pretty much gathered that this was going to happen anyway due to (for instance) the predictions of the top quark mass based on Higgs' theory.

That has been my life, watching physics experiments at this scale: seeing physicists "shoot the wounded". They looked for a Higgs boson and found it. They wondered why the mu-lepton-hydrogen method predicted a proton mass different from the mass which earlier physicists had measured by the less-precise election method; they figured that out (the less-precise method had barfed out the wrong number). Black holes were surmised to have no stranded extra properties beyond mass, spin, and serialnumber charge; ayep.

I'm not going to call the end of Standard Model physics but I am going to say that we are at Diminishing Returns. I got convinced we'd reached that point in the early 1990s - and so did the voters (I was not yet an American voter) - which is why Congress called off the Nacogdoches Super Collider (yee haw!). Experimental physics was better placed in gravitational inferometers like LIGO, looking at the great particle-colliders that are neutron-star collisions.

UPDATES 9/16 - Carroll has entered Woit's killfile. Also, as usually happens, Turtle Island has a parallel post that's better than mine.

Tel Erani as an Egyptian colony

Yesterday Jessica Saraceni posted a summary of Science In Poland's report from Marcin Czarnowicz’s expedition at Tel Erani. This is an Egyptian colony in Early Bronze… I guess they’d call it Retenu. It’s eight miles southwest of Gath. The region would be called Canaan, to West Semites; this is all before Aramaic split off. Maybe even before before Ugaritic.

I must say, Science In Poland hasn’t done well on the reporting. That report is talking a “culture of Nagada” 3150-3050 BC. That, to me, smells like an outgrowth of radiocarbon dating “BP”, which date is subtracted from 1950 AD. I disapprove BP, and I outright hate BP where we’re entering the literate age. I suppose it does offer some precision but I question how much precision we can get 5000 years ago; I mean, look at Thera. I’d have preferred the release had said “about 3100 BC according to Nagada radiocarbon specialists”.

The Nagada in question corresponds best to “Naqada III” also known as Dynasty Zero or (for Dwayne Johnson fans) the Scorpion Kingdoms. Indeed, before the modern Polish digs, Israeli archaeologist Shmuel Yeivin had found therein a sherd from a pot that bore the royal crest of ol’ Catfish-Chisel himself, conventionally pronounced “Narmer”.

Czarnowicz tells us they are now looking at the “earlier phase”, before Narmer’s great unification. Egyptians who weren't yet "the Egyptians" – says he – founded Tel Erani 3300 BC(ish). That’s the end of the Gerza period. This is sometimes labeled “Naqada II” but the Girza site would have enjoyed better access to the Med and thereby to the colony. The Upper Egyptian despotates, of which Naqada was one, hadn’t yet reached that far north. And so the Poles report – Egyptian Mediterranean Retenu was an economic extension of Lower Egypt (pace Saraceni). Think of mediaeval Dalmatia’s relationship to Venice; with the other Italians doing their own thing.

I am, therefore, curious about the early-Bronze Egyptian “Dalmatian” patois spoken at this tel. Egypt is a long country whose antique people tended to be homebodies; even its last phase, Coptic, came to break into dialects. Given that Narmer’s boys would march down from the south, I expect the Archaic Egyptian tongue as we’ve read it derives from Upper Egyptian. Did it replace the dialect spoken at the tel?

I’m not reading about Girza-era Tel Erani writing, beyond seal-stamps. At this stage, as hinted above, Egyptian written communication was still pictographic, Aztec-style, not yet even hieroglyphic. Per Mattessich’s “Oldest Writings, and Inventory Tags of Egypt” (2002) we might also get accounting data but, as we know from Susa III in Elam, such data can encode negligible linguistic content (draw a picture of a wheat sheaf and then a number… yay).

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The first neoconservative pundit

If I am reading Phillips right: the Pope (Innocent III) called a Crusade, lacking the funds to direct said Crusade. After the Fourth Crusade set sail and didn't go the way Innocent wanted, Innocent bemoaned how it didn't go the way he wanted.

For some people, that would exonerate Innocent - and exonerate Catholicism - from the disaster.

For others, that excuse runs hollow. Unfortunately for Catholics, the Venn of "those who don't buy Innocent's excuse" and "those who aren't currently Catholic" is pretty much the same circle. For those New Romans who still remembered the Latin tongue, "Innocent" - the "Harmless" - was a name ironic indeed.

When you start a war, you enter a dark room - so said another cradle-Catholic, at another time. When you ask for a war and you don't think too hard about who's paying for it: ... later on, I'm sure you can find some apologists to defend your agitations, retroactively.

G-d knows better, as they say.

Holy Mary, pray for Innocent... and pray for the neoconservatives, and pray for me.