Saturday, April 25, 2015

Entertaining Both Sides

New Jersey, 1776;
More than a few people in New Jersey tried to cultivate good relations and strong alliances with both sides. Among them was the Van Horne family, who became highly skilled at this dangerous game. Philip Van Horne was a New York merchant who left the city at the start of the Revolution and moved to a country estate called Convivial Hill or Phill's Hill near Bound Brook in Somerset County, New Jersey, between the armies. He had a large fortune, a habit of hospitality, and five very attractive daughters. Philip's brother, John Van Horne, died at the beginning of the Revolution leaving a widow and three daughters more. The two households visited back and forth and were often confused. Altogether there were eight young "Misses Van Horne," as they were collectively called, "all handsome and well bred." They attracted swarms of officers from every army.

Philip Van Horne was a good friend of New Jersey's Whig governor William Livingston. He also maintained good relations with British and Loyalist officers and received them in his home when they were in the neighborhood. When the American army arrived, they were welcome too, and many American officers stayed in his house. Captain Alexander Graydon found that Mr. Van Horne "alternately entertained the officers of both armies, being visited by one and sometimes by the other. . . . His house, used as a hotel, seemed constantly full."

It was, if nothing else, a considerable feat of scheduling. In the worlds of Leonard Lundin, the Van Horne's "performed prodigies in the difficult art of being all things to all people." Philip Van Horne carefully cultivated friendships with high officers in every camp. He kept up his friendships with leading New Jersey Whigs and cultivated connections with Loyalists and British leaders. He also made a point of doing favors for both sides. When Graydon was captured at Fort Washington, Philip Van Horne helped the soldier's mother to win his release.

His beautiful daughters cultivated connections with younger officers on both sides. As the war went on around them, they danced and flirted happily with men in many uniforms. They encouraged visiting Americans to believe that they were "avowed whigs." British and Hessians took them to be secret Loyalists. Many knew what they were doing, but their combination of genteel Whiggery and sociable Toryism added to their attraction. They were known for "civility to the British officers, hospitality to the Hessians, and sympathy for Americans."

When the Misses Van Horne were in the country, they were courted by Continental officers. When they went to Flat Bush in New York, they were entertained by the British garrison and invited to balls for royal anniversaries. Sometimes the Van Horne sisters were with their uncle in New Brunswick, where Hessian gentlemen came to call. Jaeger Captain Johann Ewald fell madly in love with Jeanette Van Horne. He sent her gifts of "sausages made in the German manner," game birds that his men had shot, and passionate love letters in fractured French. . . .

General Washington did not approve of the ambidextrous Van Hornes, and Philip Van Horne in particular. On January 12, 1777, he wrote sternly to Colonel Reed, "I wish you had brought Vanhorne off with you, for from his noted character there is no dependence to be placed upon his Parole." A few weeks later Washington thought that Van Horne should be ordered into British lines: "Would it not be best to order P. Vanhorne to Brunswick -- these people in my opinion can do us less injury there than anywhere else." But not even George Washington could restrain the Van Hornes. They remained at liberty and flourished happily in an eighteenth-century world where distinctions of rank and wealthy sometimes proved more powerful than politics or war.
David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (2004)

Twenty-Five Archaeology Posts

Cave Tombs of Talayotic Minorca, March 26, 2015. Wonderfully preserved Bronze Age burials and ritual sites.

Cannibalism at Herxheim, or, Events in the Distant Past, March 14, 2015.

The Warcq Chariot Burial, December 31, 2014.

The Mosfell Archaeology Project, December 6, 2014. Archaeology and the sagas in Viking Iceland.

Shieldmaidens: Were there Female Warriors in the Viking Age? September 20, 2014.

The Środa Treasure, November 17, 2014. So much like an adventure novel.

Dholavira: a Harappan City in the Rann of Kutch, October 11, 2014. I love the mysterious civilization of the ancient Indus.

Hasanlu, September 10, 2014. An Iron Age city sacked with fire and sword.

More from the Boneyard of Alken Enge, July 14, 2014. Human sacrifice in Iron Age Denmark.

The 1814 Fortification Ditch in Patterson Park, May 7, 2014. One of the numerous posts from my most exciting recent project; I chose this one because it includes analysis of the soil layers, the heart of an archaeologist's special skills. Links to all the Patterson Park posts can be found here.

Doggerland and the Great Wave, May 1, 2014. What is more evocative than ancient lands disappearing beneath the waves?

Tillia Tepe, The Hill of Gold, March 31, 2014.

The Sound of Ancient Celtic Battle: the Tintignac Carnyx, February 16, 2014. With video!

Bronze in 4700 BCE; or, the Metalsmiths of Pločnik, Technology, and Social Change, February 2, 2014.

Moche Civilization and Art, January 11, 2014.

Biskupin, November 11, 2013. An Iron Age town in Poland, wonderfully preserved.

Archaeology and History: Robin Fleming, Britain after Rome: the Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070, October 27, 2013. One of the best ever books using archaeology to reconstruct a historical narrative.

Berenike: Rome's Gateway to India, March 10, 2013.

Climate Change and the Maya Collapse, November 16, 2012.

The Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, July 28, 2012.

The Treasure of Nahal Mishmar, April 6, 2012. Copper Age wonders from Israel.

Novgorod: the Archaeology of Medieval Russia, December 10, 2011.

The Plain of Jars, Laos, September 13, 2011. One of the world's strangest archaeological sites.

Buttermilk Creek, the Biomantle, and "Unequivocal Proof," March 25, 2011. Technical look at one of the alleged pre-Clovis sites from Texas, with an overview of the Clovis First vs. Pre-Clovis debate.

Cacao for Turquoise, March 19, 2011. What commodities were so valuable that people traded them over hundreds of miles even when they had to be carried in backpacks?

The Bright Spots of Ceres


Thanks to NASA's Dawn spacecraft we are currently getting our first good look at dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. Of the the planetoid's strange features is the "bright spots," first observed from the earth and now visible in the latest images from Dawn. The most common guess is that they must be ice of some kind, but why would there be ice on such small world?

Refugees and Mermaids

Fascinating article by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura in the Times about Ahmad Walid Rashidi, a refugee from Afghanistan who grew up in Europe. Although he hates the Taliban for what they did to him and his family, when he went to Syria he felt the appeal of the Islamic State:
“They are like, what do you call them? Mermaids,” he said recently, sitting in a restaurant here in Aarhus, where he lives. “They just sing, day to day, and I listen, you know.”
Although the Islamic State jailed and tortured him, he came eventually to bond with his captors, and he says, "I left half my heart in Syria."

A glimpe into the minds of children of violence:
“I was not afraid of death,” Mr. Rashidi said. As a child, he believed that death happened only to good people, those deemed worthy enough by God to be rescued from a living hell, like his father and brother. “I had nothing to lose.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Perils of Spycraft

In 1777, George Washington briefly employed Nathaniel Sackett of Orange County, New York as his spymaster. Sackett was recommended by Congressman William Duer as "a person of intrigue and secrecy" and for a few months Washington seems to have thought highly of him. But then Sackett launched a scheme that failed in spectacular fashion, and Washington quietly dismissed him. Washington never said what the scheme was or how it had gone wrong, and for years neither did Sackett. Then in 1789 Sackett wrote to Washington asking for help in procuring a government job, and he explained that
I had gone through all those dangers that awaited me in getting a regular plan laid, and was beginning to carry it on with every appearance of success, but the Jersey man fell in love with his horse, the doctor narrowly escaped with his life, and the whole scheme was frustrated.
And that is all that was ever said about the matter.

From Alexander Rose, Washington's Spies (2006)

The Weird Logic of Bringing on the Apocalypse

When you believe the end of the world will be a great thing, it's hard to keep straight what is good and what is bad. Consider these words from former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who can't decide whether to attack President Barack Obama or praise him for "bringing the world to end times":
We need to cry out to a Holy God. This is coming faster than anyone can see.. . . Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon. Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals? . . . We get to be living in the most exciting time in history. Christians should rejoice. Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church. . . . These are wonderful times.
I thought I was a liberal about Iran, but not even I would describe an Iranian bomb as "wonderful times."

Altamura Man

This Neanderthal skull was found in Altamura Cave, Spain, back in 1993. It is 130,000 to 170,000 years old. It is in the news again this week because some DNA was extracted from its shoulder blade.

Take Your Child to Work Today, 2015

My company has a big to-do for Take Your Child to Work Day, six hours of workshops and speakers plus a catered lunch. I have spoken to the kids a couple of times about archaeology, but because it is so organized and determinedly educational I never thought my older kids would enjoy it. But Clara likes organized activities, so this year I brought her. Above, arrival in Washington in front of the sadly scaffolding-covered Capitol dome.

Clowning in my office before the events began. We came in on the train, which was packed, lots of people standing. This was partly because it is Thursday, always the busiest commuting day, but partly because there were several other kids being brought down to Washington by their parents. I would guess 20 to 40, since we could see three others from our seat. We saw others on the Metro, and our lunch pizza was an hour late because so many offices in Washington ordered pizza for the kids who came to work.

Parent-child selfie. I tried to take some pictures of the activities, but they are all dim and blurry. Anyway, it was a good day.

One of the other people who spoke to the kids was an architect I have worked with on a couple of projects. He told them something I thought was very interesting: the most important thing to remember about a design, he said, is that it does not exist. It is something entirely imaginary. Fascinating that after 35 years as an architect he chose that point to emphasize in explaining what he does to 10-year-olds.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Negative Polarization

Jonathan Chait:
Emory political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster have a new paper, not yet available online, exploring the nature of the new polarization. The paper is filled with interesting findings, but the major one is an attempt to resolve a paradox. Measured by self-identification, partisanship is actually declining — growing numbers of Americans describe themselves as “independent” rather than loyal to one of the parties. But measured by actual voting behavior, the opposite is happening: Straight ticket voting continues to grow. This matches what operatives like Dan Pfeiffer have seen, and what Karl Rove saw a decade before — the swing voter had nearly vanished.

One common explanation is that it has become increasingly vogue, especially among college-educated voters, to describe yourself as independent, which implies that you form educated judgments about politics rather than blindly following the dictates of a party. Abramowitz and Webster add to this by introducing a phenomenon they call negative partisanship. That is to say, voters form strong loyalties based more on loathing for the opposing party than on the old kind of tribal loyalty (“My daddy was a Democrat, his daddy was a Democrat …”) that used to prevail. The party system has split along racial, cultural, and religious lines, creating a kind of tribal system where each party’s supporters regard the other side with incomprehension and loathing.
This discussion finds me on all-too-familiar ground. On the one hand I don't like this kind of deep polarization, and I don't like it when people vote against something rather than for something, but on the other this research describes me with disturbing fidelity. In the current climate is almost inconceivable that I could support a Republican for any national office, regardless of how much I preferred him or her as a person to the Democratic alternative -- I have become a Blue Dog Democrat. And this isn't because I have a very positive view of the Democratic Party, because I don't. It is because I regard the Republican Party with incomprehension and loathing.

I have enough knowledge of political history to understand that in the grand scheme of things the differences between Republicans and Democrats in America are not very big, and that a Republican sweep would hardly be a major disaster for the nation. But I believe it would be a bad thing, bad enough that in any national race I would rather vote for a corrupt Democratic mediocrity than a smart, hard-working Republican. I don't like it, but there it is.

25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble lifted off on April 24, 1989. Over the past 25 years, has anything else added so much beauty and wonder to the world? Star V838 Monocerotis.

Sombrero Galaxy.

Ultra deep field, one of the most mind-blowing of all images. Except for the single star down and right from the center, everything you see is a galaxy.

Ring Nebula.

Galaxy NGC 1300.

Two interacting galaxies known as the Mice.

Cat's Eye Nebula.

Dying Star HD 44179, the Red Rectangle.

Galaxy ESO 243-49.

Galaxy M 100.

The Butterfly Nebula.

The Cartwheel Galaxy.

The Scandal of Forensic "Evidence" Goes On

The Washington Post reports:
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison. . . .

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”
That this crap was admitted to American courtrooms as "science" disgusts me. And the FBI crime lab had the reputation of being the nation's most rigorous; Connor Friedersdorf has a round-up of some of the recent scandals in state-run labs, including:
In St. Paul, Minnesota, an independent review of the crime lab found "major errors in almost every area of the lab's work, including the fingerprint and crime scene evidence processing that has continued after the lab's drug testing was stopped in July. The failures include sloppy documentation, dirty equipment, faulty techniques and ignorance of basic scientific procedures ... Lab employees even used Wikipedia as a 'technical reference' in at least one drug case ... The lab lacked any clean area designated for the review and collection of DNA evidence. The lab stored crime-scene photos on a computer that anyone could access without a password.
and
In North Carolina, "agents withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases over a 16-year period. Three of those cases resulted in execution. There was widespread lying, corruption, and pressure from prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials on crime lab analysts to produce results that would help secure convictions. And the pressure worked."
I don't know why anyone would single out the citing of Wikipedia as a problem; given what we know about crime labs, it is probably much more reliable than anything else the lab technicians rely on.

Radical reform is needed to solve this problem on both the institutional and technical sides. The basic institutional problem is that crime labs usually work for prosecutors, and prosecutors can and do pressure them to help get convictions, rather than find the truth. The labs must be made independent. The technical problem is that the labs are never subjected to double-blind testing; until they are, we have no way of knowing what their accuracy rate really is. Attempts at reform usually focus on "better training" of technicians and more rigorous procedures, but those are bunk. As the Post notes, when state and local labs want experts to train their people they look to the FBI, so the people whose work for the FBI is now being thrown out en masse have in the past trained more than 500 techs at other labs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Violets

I transferred some violets into my front yard six or seven years ago, and every year there are more of them. Wonderful picture by my elder daughter.

Secret Files of the Islamic State

Der Spiegel has a fascinating article by Christoph Reuter on cache of documents supposed to have been captured in northern Syria. The documents were the files of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, aka Haji Bakr, who was once a colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein's air defense force. The documents lay out the structure for an organization that would seize control of Iraq using a mix of fanatical Islam and police state methods. According to Reuter, after al-Khifawi settled in the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat in 2012 and began planning seriously planning for his return to power in Iraq:
It was there that the "Lord of the Shadows," as some called him, sketched out the structure of the Islamic State, all the way down to the local level, compiled lists relating to the gradual infiltration of villages and determined who would oversee whom. Using a ballpoint pen, he drew the chains of command in the security apparatus on stationery. Though presumably a coincidence, the stationery was from the Syrian Defense Ministry and bore the letterhead of the department in charge of accommodations and furniture.

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an "Islamic Intelligence State" -- a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany's notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.
Al-Khlifawi was killed in January, 2014, but his scheme continues to unfold.

This makes a fascinating companion to Graeme Wood's piece in the Atlantic on the fanatical religiosity of the Islamic State's rank and file. If Reuter is right, the Islamic State is not at a religious construction at its heart, but a totalitarian police state with a religious veneer.

Whatever the mix of religious and secular motives in its founding, by combining fanatical Islam with Saddam Hussein's police methods the Islamic State has truly created the worst of all possible worlds.

Today in Dupont Circle

Spring blooms on in the nation's capital. This mix of tulips is very popular this year.





My favorite redbud tree.


Ornamental cherries.

And one of the neighborhood's oddities, the Great Grape Vine.

Gay Marriage and Miscegenation

Noah Millman has a brilliant take on why gay marriage is a big deal for many American Christians, and how the issue resembles the fight over interracial marriage. After reviewing the rapid progress of Civil Rights in America from 1954 to 1971, he writes:
Considering the depth and longevity of official white supremacy in American history, we broke with the past with what one might call “all deliberate speed,” and moved quickly to moral condemnation even though huge numbers of people stubbornly refused to change their no-longer-respectable views.

Now, I’m not arguing that the analogy is a good one in all respects. In particular, the social and legal disabilities that gay people and black people suffered under in American history are wildly disparate in their operation and effects. I’m just saying that the end of legal and social support for miscegenation in America was radical. It didn’t radically redefine what marriage was – but it radically redefined what the United States was. It made it impossible to argue that the United States was a country by and for white people, and arguing that the United States was precisely such a country had a long, long history in America.
Gay marriage, he says, is also a question about the sort of country we live in:
I am suspicious of claims that gay marriage radically redefines marriage as such. It seems to me instead that it’s a capstone achievement of the “Romeo and Juliet revolution” that treats marriage as rooted in love, and that sees its legal purpose as an institution for mutual aid and responsibility between individuals (particularly for child-rearing), rather than as a means of securing legitimacy for heirs and the continuity of extended family lines – and, not at all incidentally, of the feminist revolution that questions any distinction between “natural” male and female roles as likely to be a way of enforcing an inegalitarian distribution of power.

But gay marriage may, in fact, make it extremely difficult for traditional Christians to continue to think of the United States as a Christian country. Which, notwithstanding that equality for non-Christian citizens goes all the way back to the founding, we have a long, long history of thinking of this country as being. That, I think, is where the radicalism of gay marriage really lies, for America’s many conservative Christians. And if I’m right, then the potency of the analogy with miscegenation may not be so weak after all.

Deimel+Wittmar

German photography studio specializing in architecture. Lots more at their web site.








Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Conservatives, Liberals, and Capitalists

There are not two great political factions in the modern world, but three. Here is a summary of what Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noche said on the subject back in 1970:
Del Noce argues that while the Left in Europe had largely failed at the level of politics, it had won at the level of values. The still greater victory, however, was won by what he calls the “technocratic right,” because “it has been able to completely turn the culture of the left into its own tool.”

Thus, the cultural revolution of the 60s, which began as a rebellion against bourgeois values (mistakenly considered “traditional”) was captured and then used by the very thing it was rebelling against. Transfer this to our place and time, and we observe that the same thing has happened here, that American corporatism, our “technocratic right,” has, in effect, harnessed the Sexual Revolution for its own purposes.

Del Noce says, “Because of the culture that inspires it, the technocratic right is mortally opposed to traditional thought…” and “the alliance between technocratic right and cultural left is there for everyone to see.”
In certain ways capitalism is naturally allied with conservatism: an emphasis on stolid bourgeois hard work and personal responsibility, a ready acceptance of great inequalities in wealth, a belief that the little people should keep their noses to the grindstone and not challenge their betters. But in other ways capitalism and conservatism are natural enemies. Capitalism is all about changing the world, not keeping it the way it was. In a capitalist society money acts as a solvent dissolving bonds of neighborhood, ethnicity, class, and profession, ramping up individualism. Advertising is at the heart of contemporary capitalism, and advertising is all about being cool and up-to-date, dancing past the old fogeys to music they can't understand. Rod Dreher, the Christian conservative from whose blog I got the passage on Del Noche, titled his post “Enemies of Tradition, Left and Right.”

My grand vision for a more liberal America involves liberals allying with capitalists on social issues like gay marriage, and then with conservatives to fight corporate power, pollution, and the destruction of lovely old neighborhoods. But American politics have gotten so firmly organized into Left and Right, with people defining their whole identities as conservative or liberal, that capitalists and conservatives have been forced to paper over their differences and pretend to always agree, blocking many potential alliances with liberals that would suit their interests better.

Droughts, Good and Bad

The latest from the study of climate change and Maya history:
Paleoclimate records indicate a series of severe droughts was associated with societal collapse of the Classic Maya during the Terminal Classic period (∼800–950 C.E.). Evidence for drought largely derives from the drier, less populated northern Maya Lowlands but does not explain more pronounced and earlier societal disruption in the relatively humid southern Maya Lowlands. Here we apply hydrogen and carbon isotope compositions of plant wax lipids in two lake sediment cores to assess changes in water availability and land use in both the northern and southern Maya lowlands. We show that relatively more intense drying occurred in the southern lowlands than in the northern lowlands during the Terminal Classic period, consistent with earlier and more persistent societal decline in the south. 
So, according to this study, there was a severe drought that coincides with the collapse of the great Maya city states. This drought was also worse in the south than the north, helping to explain why Maya civilization continued in the north. But wait:
Our results also indicate a period of substantial drying in the southern Maya Lowlands from ∼200 C.E. to 500 C.E., during the Terminal Preclassic and Early Classic periods. Plant wax carbon isotope records indicate a decline in C4 plants in both lake catchments during the Early Classic period, interpreted to reflect a shift from extensive agriculture to intensive, water-conservative maize cultivation that was motivated by a drying climate. Our results imply that agricultural adaptations developed in response to earlier droughts were initially successful, but failed under the more severe droughts of the Terminal Classic period.
So an earlier drought was, they think, responsible for the adoption of the famous intensive agriculture that made possible the rise of the great Maya cities in the first place.

There is nothing logically impossible about this scenario; a mild drought might have inspired creativity that still could not cope with a much worse drought. But this reminds us of how complex the relationship is between climate and human civilization.

Cities Don't Just Happen

James Fallows has been investigating older cities that have made big comebacks, places like Seattle and Oakland that have been transformed from declining wastelands into the hippest places to be. What he finds is that this doesn't just happen; it happens because big groups of people, led by city halls, make it happen:
It's tempting, if you haven't seen the varied stages of this process, to imagine that some cities just "naturally" have attractive and successful downtowns, and others just don't happen to. It's like happening to be located on a river, or not.

But in every city we've visited with a good downtown, we've heard accounts of the long, deliberate process that led to today's result. The standard discussion will go: "See this restaurant [bar / theater / condo / Apple store with surrounding retail outlets]? Ten years ago, you wouldn't have [dreamed of coming here at night / seen anyone but crack addicts / been able to rent a condo, or wanted to]." We've heard variations of this account so often we now feel a little let down if we don't get the "this used to be a crack house" speech when visiting a nice hotel or downtown tech-company headquarters.
I recently worked in Patterson Park, Baltimore, which was transformed from a violent drug market to a wonderful place for everyone by the efforts of a network of private and public groups.

This doesn't always work -- consider Detroit, East St. Louis, or, a very different place, Tampa, where the downtown remains largely desolate despite 50 years of efforts to bring it back. But when it does work it works because people come together to make it happen. Alone, there is nothing you can do to save your city. Working together with enough other people, you can -- but only if you have city and state government on your side. Every city that has been transformed like Seattle or Washington, DC has had an activist government determined to make change happen.

This gets at the heart of my politics. In a libertarian world, common spaces become sumps for society's dregs, and people protect themselves by moving to gated neighborhoods with private police forces. A world with great public goods -- parks, libraries, subways, vibrant downtowns, health care for the homeless -- is only possible through collective action. The most important sort of collection action is government. Conservatives often suggest that public and private action are opposing forces, and that if we got government out of the way more private groups would step forward to take action. Experience shows that this is bunk. In all these cases and many others, government has been a crucial player in efforts to bring cities back, working hand in hand with private groups; the reality is that the more city governments do, the more private help they attract. The Friends of Patterson Park is a private group but its work in the park is partially funded by the city and the city provides its office space. It is these private-public synergies that really help cities improve.

Only a big, expensive, intrusive government can do the things necessary to protect and promote public goods. And it is public goods that make cities, towns and countries worth living in.

The Three Iron Laws of Social Science

1. Sometimes it's this way, and sometimes it's that way.

2. The data are insufficient.

3. The methodology is flawed.

From Merle Kling

Choice

Nice little essay by Cass Sunstein on the issues surrounding the freedom to choose:
In countless contexts, the government, or some private institution, must decide among three possible approaches: Give people the opportunity to opt in; give people the opportunity to opt out; or require people to make some kind of active choice. For example, an employer may say that employees will be enrolled in a pension plan only if they opt in. Alternatively, it may automatically enroll employees in a pension plan (while allowing them the opportunity to opt out). Or it may instead tell employees that they can’t start work unless they say whether they want to participate in a pension plan.
As one of the legions of people suffering from "decision fatigue," I am a great fan of opt-out clauses. Please, let the thing that will probably be best for me happen without my being involved at all:
Much of the time, sensible people choose not to choose.

Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy

Spectacular exhibit at the Met. This is a stone standard, c. 1600.

Jahangir Shoots Malik Ambar, Painting by Abu'l Hasan, ca. 1616. Looks to me like Jahangir's enemy's head was brought to him after his men killed the poor fool, so the emperor could shoot the severed head himself.

Brass ewer with dragons' heads, 1600-1650.

Shah Jehan Diamond, 56 carats.

Parrot in a Mango Tree, with a Ram below, 1630-1700.

Dagger, 1650-1700,

Huqqa base, zinc alloy and brass, 17th century.

Book cover,c. 1700.

Pendant with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, 1600 to 1650.