Monday, August 31, 2015

Explaining Classical Greece

Josiah Ober:
Basically, sustained economic growth lead to the rise of Ancient Greek civilization.

At the Early Iron Age nadir, in ca. 1000 BCE, the Greek world was sparsely populated and consumption rates hovered near subsistence. Some 650 years later, in the age of Aristotle, the population of the Greek world had increased at least twenty-fold. During that same period, per capita consumption probably doubled.

That rate of growth is far short of modern rates, but it equals the growth rate of the two standout societies of early modern Europe: Holland and England in the 16th to 18th centuries. Historians had long thought that the Greek world was impoverished and its economy overall static – which of course made Greek culture (art, philosophy, drama, and so on) seem that much more “miraculous.” But, thanks to the recent availability and quantification of a huge mass of data, drawn from both documentary and archaeological sources, we can now trace the amazing growth of the Greek economy, both in its extent (how many people, how much urbanization, and so on), and in terms of per capita consumption (how well people lived).
The great economic growth of the classical world has always puzzled me; I mean, most people were still peasants, doing what they had done since the Neolithic. In early modern economies, from the 17th-century Netherlands to 21st-century China, economic growth has been created by moving people out of agriculture and into factory and service work. But how many peasants left the land in the classical world? I know that there were big advances in mining and smelting, and I understand that trade and specialization led to great improvements in certain other branches of the economy, but how did that transform overall productivity when farming was still done with such primitive methods?

Checking around, I see that Wikipedia shows the Roman Empire as 90% rural. I don't see how that can be right; economic growth on the scale that must have taken place would surely have involved moving more people into non-agricultural work.

Maybe I should read Ober's book.

The 11,000-Year-Old Shigir Idol

The Shigir Idol, found in 1890 in a peat bog in the Urals, has been redated with new radiocarbon methods and determined to be 11,000 years old.

The whole idol is huge, 17 feet (5.3 meters) tall.

The announcement of the new date by Russian archaeologists was accompanied by a lot of blaph about how advanced the people who made it must have been:
with the new date, the Idol will get a huge recognition in the world and will show that the centre of cultural development in Eurasia was not only the Middle East but also in the Urals.
Which is just silly. All modern humans have made art, and the idol doesn't really bear comparison with cave paintings 10,000 years older. As you can tell by glancing at minimalism or pop art, the power of a society's art is not a good measure of its complexity or "advancement." The Russians also made much of some faces and other carvings on the idol, saying that they are "encoded information." And they may be, in the same way that a northwest coast totem pole encodes information. But they are not writing.

But anyway the idol is very cool.

Newt likes Trump's Chances

One publicity hound to another:
RADDATZ: Could he be the nominee?


RADDATZ: You think — you have to know he could be the nominee?

GINGRICH: Absolutely. I don't think he — I think he also could be the president.

RADDATZ: How does he do it?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you're ahead everywhere and you — and your lead is increasing, as it is in Iowa...

RADDATZ: Among the Republicans.

GINGRICH: Among Republicans, which started with the nominee. First, you have to become the nominee. I think you might be surprised...
Given how wrong Gingrich has been about everything in the past decade, this is probably bad news for Trump. E.g., earlier this month Gingrich said Hillary would not be the Democratic nominee.

I haven't written very much about the Democratic contest because I don't find it very interesting. Hillary is ok with me. Bernie Sanders is interesting but I can't see America electing an avowed socialist. Nobody else has a chance. So I see the race trundling along until a majority of Democrats realizes that nominating Sanders would hand the Presidency to Rubio or Trump, at which point they turn back to Hillary and try to be enthusiastic about it. Maybe the chance to elect the first female president will stir up people enough to get them to vote.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Notch is Sad

Notch -- Markus Persson in the non-digital world, but forever Notch to all fans of Minecraft -- is now very rich. At 36, he sold his company Mojang to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. He has a $70 million mansion in Beverly Hills, for which he supposedly outbid Jay Z and Beyonce. But he is not very happy. Saturday he sent out a stream of tweets like this:
The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.

Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I've never felt more isolated.

In sweden, I will sit around and wait for my friends with jobs and families to have time to do shit, watching my reflection in the monitor.

When we sold the company, the biggest effort went into making sure the employees got taken care of, and they all hate me now.

Found a great girl, but she's afraid of me and my life style and went with a normal person instead.

I would Musk and try to save the world, but that just exposes me to the same type of assholes that made me sell minecraft again.
I have to say that Minecraft always seemed to me like the creation of a melancholy mind, so this doesn't surprise me at all. Maybe Notch will adjust and find new ways to spend his time, but I have a sad feeling that he will always look back on the insane time when he was creating Minecraft as the happiest part of his life.

Claude Vernet

Claude Vernet (1714-1789) was a French painter from a family of painters. He started working in his father's shop at 14, painting the panels of sedan chairs and other such. But young Claude wanted more, so when he was sixteen he set off for Rome. (Mediterranean Scene with Fishermen and Boats, 1752).

The sight of the port of Marseilles and the ships made a huge impression on Vernet, and he painted ports and ships for the rest of his life. (Carpentras -- the Calm, 1735).

At Rome Vernet worked for four years in the workshop of Bernardino Fergioni, who painted mainly marine scenes. Vernet remained in Rome until 1753, selling many paintings to French and English aristocrats making the grand tour. He gradually perfected a style that some people call "proto-Romantic" because of the atmospheric moonlight and clouds. (Above, Seaport by Moonlight, 1771, and detail.)

As an acquaintance of mine once said when the subject of origins came up, "When you look into beginnings, they're always a terrible muddle. And endings are worse." So whether Vernet's work is Romantic depends on how you define Romantic, a circular enterprise. (Detail from Morning, 1752)

In 1753 Vernet was recalled to Paris, where he spent a few years painting French ships and harbors. (The Port of Rochefort, 1759). Then he drifted back to Rome.

Portrait of Vernet done in 1778 by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette's favorite painter.

I was in Richmond, Virginia this weekend, and I visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. They have a splendid Vernet, Moonlight Scene, 1760, but the image of it they put online is so dark you can hardly see it. It looks nothing like the original. So even though that was the painting that launched this post, I won't bother to display their horrid reproduction. Instead, here is A Calm at a Mediterranean Port, c. 1775.

Storm on the Mediterranean Coast, detail.

Evening, from a series of four times of the day done in 1759, and detail.

The Shipwreck, 1772.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sumerian Rock Crystal Leopard, c. 3000 BC

Ant Colonies have Personalities

Yet another way that ant colonies resemble organisms:
To determine how group behavior might vary between ant colonies, a team of researchers led by Raphaël Boulay, an entomologist at the University of Tours in France, tested the insects in a controlled laboratory environment. They collected 27 colonies of the funnel ant (Aphaenogaster senilis) and had queens rear new workers in the lab. This meant that all ants in the experiment were young and inexperienced—a clean slate to test for personality.

The researchers then observed how each colony foraged for food and explored new environments. They counted the number of ants foraging, exploring, or hiding during set periods of time, and then compared the numbers to measure the boldness, adventurousness, and foraging efforts of each group. They also measured risk tolerance by gradually increasing the temperature of the ants’ foraging area from 26°C to 60°C. Ants that stayed out at temperatures higher than 46°C, widely considered to be the upper limit of their tolerance, were considered risk-takers.

When they reviewed their data, the scientists found strong personality differences between colonies, they reported online this month in Behavioral Ecology. Some were bold, adventurous risk-takers with highly active foragers. Others were shy, risk-averse, and fearful of new environments. Their foragers were less active, and they were less inclined to search for food at very high temperatures. When the team performed the same tests 11 weeks later, they saw that these differences persisted over time.

The Apolitical Nerd

David Roberts has a long article at Vox about nerds who seem smart about so many things but either don't understand or refuse to understand politics. It's very interesting because it brings out some of the many ways smart people miss the whole point of democracy. He spends a while on Tim Urban, the creator of the explanatory site Wait but Why and a sort of nerd star. One of Urban's best explainers is on climate change, but although he grapples with the science he refuses even to comment on the politics:
This is a highly politicized issue, but this post has no political agenda. I’m not political because nothing could ever possibly be more annoying than American politics. I think both parties have good points, both also have a bunch of dumb people saying dumb things, and I want nothing to do with it. So I approached this post—like I try to with every post—from a standpoint of rationality and what I think makes sense.
See? There seems to be thousands and maybe millions of people like this in America, people who understand cars or computers or both but just throw up their hands at politics. Later on in the same post, Urban says this:
When it comes to a carbon tax, the only explanation for not having one seems to be the power big oil has over the US government—because to me, it seems like every politician in either party should be in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Right?
Only a hyper-rational nerd can fail to understand why so many people distrust the schemes of technocrats and would rather not hear about your plan to transform the world.

And then there these people:

Because, you know, what to do about poverty or racism or education is perfectly obvious and the only reason we don't do it is because we are distracted by partisan politics.

That was sarcasm, in case you were wondering.

I do understand where these people are coming from; I used to be a rational centrist myself. What I eventually learned is that politics is not just about solving problems. It is about creating a narrative for a whole society. People like Tim Urban and the No Labels folks want the narrative to be about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work like engineers faced with a balky generator. Conservatives and liberals don't just have different ideas about how to solve our problems, they want to tell a different story about who we are and how we got here and where we are going.

It certainly can be maddening when the narratives get in the way of solving urgent problems. I think a carbon tax would be a great idea, too. I think that right now the Republican Party is wedded to a narrative that has become actively destructive of America, and even more destructive of the Middle East. Which is why I vote Democrat. But to not understand why conservatives resist social engineering requires a willful blindness to how most humans think and feel, a sort of smug indifference to the irrational choices of all the little people scurrying pointlessly around the suburbs. Smart people, even nerds from somewhere out on the spectrum, ought to be capable of more insight than that.

Tim Urban and lots of other nerds claim to care about the future of the planet. If they really do, they need to roll up those sleeves of theirs and figure out how to do politics.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Viking Coins of Llandwrog

Back in March, a metal detectorist found a horde of Viking silver in Llandwrog, Wales, which just became one of my favorite place names. Study of the horde shows that it was deposited between about 1020 and 1030.

Some of the coins were minted for Sihtric Anlafsson (989-1036), one of the Norse kings of Dublin.

To understand the Viking world you have to turn your mind around and imagine things centered, not at any place on land, but at sea; that was the Vikings' true home, and they and their coins might turn up on any bit of land to which their sea might take them.

Can the Government Get Children to Eat Vegetables?

The Agriculture Department rolled out new requirements in the 2012 school year that mandated that children who were taking part in the federal lunch program choose either a fruit or vegetable with their meals.

...."The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no," Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Not only that:
Because they were forced to do it, children took fruits and vegetables -- 29 percent more in fact. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables actually went down 13 percent after the mandate took effect and, worse, they were throwing away a distressing 56 percent more than before.
Can we please stop putting silly mandates on school systems when they already have enough to do?


The world belongs to me because I understand it.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


I suspect this is just the journalistic hype of a slow news summer, but for what it's worth I am starting to see a lot of scenarios like this:
Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.

Political analyst Tom Charles Huston predicts the establishment Republican presidential candidates will sputter—Trump quipped Jeb Bush puts his audiences to sleep—and the business “donor class” elite will desert them, happy to support Hillary or Joe Biden to advance their crony capitalism rather than moving to a conservative with an edge who might be able to confront Trump—and them.

If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to see any opponent who could rally South Carolina two weeks later, or Nevada. Then on March 1 a half-dozen Southern states will split the opponent’s ranks further. On March 15 Bush could be ousted by Marco Rubio in Florida, with John Kasich winning by a smaller than expected margin in Ohio. Trump could win by losing, saying they were only favorite sons. No one would be left anyway. If he wins either state, it is all over.

So what was impossible a few weeks ago now becomes a real possibility.
If you ask me, better Trump than Scott Walker or Ted Cruz.

The Mildenhall Treasure

The Mildenhall Treasure is a major hoard of Roman silver tableware allegedly found near Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Based on the style of the work, it has been dated to the fourth century. The hoard consists of:
two large serving platters, two small decorated serving plates, a deep fluted bowl, a set of four large decorated bowls, two small decorated bowls, two small pedestalled dishes, a deep flanged bowl with a deep, domed cover, five small round ladles with dolphin-shaped handles, and eight long-handled spoons (cochlearia).
The circumstances of the discovery are obscure. The hoard "came to the attention of the authorities" (a phrase repeated by wikipedia and the British Museum) in the spring of 1946. In inquest was held that summer, and the hoard was held to be "treasure trove" and therefore the property of the crown. At the inquest, Gordon Butcher said he had found the hoard while plowing n 1942 and dug it up with help from Sydney Ford, for whom he was working at the time. The men said they did not immediately notify the police because they did not realize what they had found. This unconvincing tale led to rampant speculation about the actual origin of the hoard. Because at that time no comparable hoard of Roman silver had been found in Britain, some historians said it must have come from the continent. Since then a handful of other Roman silver hoards have been found in Britain, so that argument is no longer taken very seriously, but there are still experts who dismiss Butcher and Ford's story as a fabrication.

The "Great Dish," and details. The set as a whole seems to depict mainly the rites of Bacchus, but the central image on this dish is Neptune with dolphins in his beard.

A platter.

The two smaller dishes.

The cover.

A bowl. You can see that this is heavy stuff, not thin or flimsy.

Spoon. Each of the many hoards that have been found around the Roman world must have had a story. Only one of the wealthiest and most prominent families of the empire could have owned such a set, so it must have been hidden because of some great turmoil. Could it have been when Constantine proclaimed himself emperor at York, in 306, and took most of Britain's legions to the continent? During the major barbarian incursion of 367-368? Or was it some strictly local, family matter, like a disputed inheritance? To me, wondering about these things raises these objects from the merely lovely to the magnificent and mysterious.

How Much Does a Word Matter?

Thanks to Kevin Drum, I have discovered a nationwide movement to change how we talk about automobile accidents. Emily Badger in the Post:
An "accident" is, by definition, unintentional. We accidentally drop dinner plates, or send e-mails before we're done writing them. The word also suggests something of the unforeseen — an event that couldn't have been anticipated, for which no one can be blamed. That second connotation is what irks transportation advocates who want to change how we talk about traffic collisions. When one vehicle careens into another or rounds a corner into a pedestrian — call it a "crash," they say, not an "accident."

"Our children did not die in 'accidents,'" says Amy Cohen, a co-founder of the New York-based group Families for Safe Streets. Her 12-year-old son was hit and killed by a van on the street in front of their home in 2013. "An 'accident,'" she says, "implies that nothing could have been done to prevent their deaths."
Whoa. Since when does calling something an accident mean nobody was at fault, or that nothing can be done about it? That is, I would say, simply wrong. An accident is something that was done unintentionally, nothing more. Most traffic accidents, to take just one example, are found to be the fault of one driver or the other. Another activist:
"If we stopped using that word, as individuals, as a city, in a national context, what questions do we have to start asking ourselves about these crashes?" says Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives. How did they happen? Who was to blame? An erratic driver? A faulty vehicle? A perpetually dangerous intersection?
Like Drum, I am baffled by this. Are these people saying that we as a society don't care about traffic deaths and are not doing anything about the problem? Drum:
I'm mystified. We already do all that stuff. Collisions are routinely investigated. Fault is determined. The NTSA tracks potential safety problems in vehicles. Municipal traffic departments make changes to intersections. We pass drunk driving laws. We suspend the licenses of dangerous drivers.
After Drum published his first post on the issue, dozens of people took him on on Twitter: 
@DroptheAword: 30k people die on US roads each yr. Acceptance of this as inevitable comes from the “accidents happen” mindset.

@jakekthompson: Calling a crash an "accident" takes blame away from the cause, and removes incentive to fix the problem.
This is magical thinking. Changing the words we use does not change the world; I would say that it rarely changes much of anything. Sometimes it makes people feel better -- which is not an insignificant thing -- but if what you want is to reduce traffic fatalities, you need a better approach.

Reducing the rate of accidents in any dangerous system is a very hard problem. I have written here before about the ongoing battle to reduce hospital errors, which are usually called errors rather than accidents but have not as a result magically disappeared. One thing safety experts say about all such situation is that blaming people who mess up does no good: "Telling people to be careful is not effective." Instead the focus has shifted to designing systems to make human error much less likely. For driving that means separating the lanes of traffic using median strips and roundabouts, and installing sensors and automatic braking systems in cars. One common kind of accident was almost eliminated by designing transmissions so that you can't put the car in gear without having your foot on the brake.

That is taking the problem seriously; tweeting about the word "accident" is not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Daniel Tjongari

Indonesian photographer, born 1977. A portfolio of these storm images has been making the rounds on Tumblr.

But if you visit his web site you discover that he has done all sorts of striking stuff. (Also here.)

This is the ninth century Buddhist temple of Borodur on Java.

Today's Extraordinary, Remarkable, Unbelievable News

Can it really be that this happens in America?
The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress.
Generals exaggerating their success! Unheard of! The next thing you know, salesmen will start exaggerating the merits of their products, professors will exaggerate the novelty of their research, and fishermen will start claiming that the really big one got away.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dave Kleinschmidt, Tridents

Tridents brought as offerings to Guna Devi, near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

The God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

– C.P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Dismaland: What's the Point?

In the English un-paradise of Weston-super-Mare, graffitist Banksy and a bunch of other artistes have erected a sort of faux theme park they call Dismaland. You go there, get roughly frisked by rude guards at the gate, and then wander around being insulted by performers in various booths and admiring grim scenes, which I guess is supposed to show your superiority to the people who go to Disneyland. Mostly I don't really care what Banksy, Damien Hurst, and their ilk are up to, but this installation, or artscape, or whatever it is, is calculated to irritate me and all of my tribe. It inspires people to say things like:
Naomi Woodspring, 66, an academic visiting from nearby Bristol, where she lives, contrasted Banksy’s show with an installation based on Thomas More’s Utopia that she recently attended in London, saying that she saw in Banksy’s exhibition “a visioning of real change.” She added, “It pushes us to envision a whole other way of being, and to begin to live that way of being.”

I don't understand how anybody can look at this and be inspired to anything. What change? What way of being? Isn't there enough rudeness in the modern world without adding to it in the name of art? Most days I just think, you have your thing, I have mine. But sometimes they get to me. They get to me because I think there is something inherently defeatist about the whole culture of artistic negativism. Artists have been skewering the bourgeoisie for so long that there is no longer any target left to aim at, just a pile of dirty straw and a few shreds of red and yellow cloth. Saul Bellow wrote an essay about these people back in 1965 to which I have little to add:
The fact that there are so many weak, poor and boring stories and novels written and published in America has been ascribed by our rebels to the horrible squareness of our institutions, the idiocy of power, the debasement of sexual instincts and the failure of writers to be alienated enough. The poems and novels of these same rebellious spirits, and their theoretical statements, are grimy and gritty and very boring too, besides being nonsensical, and it is evident now that polymorphous sexuality and vehement declarations of alienation are not going to produce great works of art. . . .

The separatism of writers is accompanied by the more or less conscious acceptance of a theory of modern civilization. This theory says in effect that modern mass society is frightful, brutal, hostile to whatever is pure in the human spirit, a Waste Land and a horror. To its ugliness, its bureaucratic regiments, its thefts, its lies, its wars and its cruelties, the artist can never be reconciled. This is one of the traditions on which literature has lived uncritically. But it is the task of artists and critics in every generation to look with their own eyes. Perhaps they will see even worse evils, but they will at least be seeing for themselves. They will not, they cannot permit themselves, generation after generation, to hold views they have not examined for themselves. By such willful blindness we lose the right to call ourselves artists; we have accepted what we ourselves condemn -- narrow specialization, professionalism, snobbery and the formation of a caste.

Unfortunately the postures of this caste, postures of liberation and independence and creativity, are attractive to poor souls dreaming everywhere of a fuller, freer life.  The writer is admired, the writer is envied. But what has he to say for himself? Why, he says, just as writers have said for more than a century, that he is cut off from the life of his own society, despised by its overlords who are cynical and have nothing but contempt for the artist, without a true public, estranged. He dreams of ages when the poet or the painter expressed a perfect unity of time and place, had a real acceptance and enjoyed a vital harmony with his surroundings -- he dreams of a Golden Age. In fact, without the Golden Age there is no Waste Land.

Well, this is no age of gold. It is only what it is. Can we do no more than complain about it? We writers have better choices. We can either shut up because the times are too bad or continue because we have an instinct to make books, a talent to enjoy, which even these disfigured times cannot obliterate.

From what I have seen, there are actually a few flashes of wit in Dismaland, including the statue above. I like what this guy says:
Trey Cruz, 40, who lives in Seattle and works in software development, had a more laid-back take on the exhibition. Mr. Cruz took himself on a monthlong tour of Europe to celebrate his birthday this month. He canceled his flight home when he heard about Banksy’s show; checked into a hotel on Saturday; and visited the show Saturday and Sunday. “I just like that I’ve met a ton of people,” he said. “Just kind of randomly ended up, like, walking around with some people for a little while, then went and met other people.”
That is the only way I can stand preachy modernism; as a conversation starter. Sometimes it is fun to look at this sort of stuff with your friends and mock it or enjoy it as the spirit moves you. But meaning? Change? New ways of being? Please.

Whining is what toddlers do. Artists should have something more to offer.

Brent Scowcroft Endorses the Iran Deal

Another sane Republican, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, has endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran:
Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends. We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve. And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful. . . . I urge strongly that Congress support this agreement.

My generation is on the sidelines of policymaking now; this is a natural development. But decades of experience strongly suggest that there are epochal moments that should not be squandered. President Nixon realized it with China. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush realized it with the Soviet Union. And I believe we face it with Iran today.
Scowcroft was one of the architects of U.S. policy during the first Gulf War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, and he opposed the invasion of Iraq, so I think he has some right to speak on these issues.

The Cruciform Monument of Manishtushu

This fascinating object was found during British excavations in Sippar, Iraq, in 1881 and is now in the British Museum.

It purports to be a grant from the Akkadian King Manishtushu (reigned 2276-2261 BCE) to the temples in Sippar. For example
From Abshan to Akshak east of Durdanum, thirty-eight townships were released to Shamash. I did not covet their labor, and did not call them up to service; they labor for the E-babbar only.
The text concludes,
This it is not a lie, it is the truth. He who damages this monument, let Enki fill up his canals with slime! Let Ninhursaga stop childbirth in his land! Though he make plans, let Adad smash them, and reap in all his descendants!
The style of writing appears at first to be ancient. But it is not; the cruciform monument is a fraud perpetrated in the Neo-Babylonian period, around 600 BCE. Careful examination of the language shows that it is not really ancient Akkadian, and it uses words not attested until a thousand years later. Not only that, but the scribes made an interesting mistake. The monument was recovered from the temple archive. Not far away another copy of the text was found, but this one in correct Neo-Babylonian, with none of the archaisms of the monument. The supposed ancient text recreates the word order and some of the vocabulary of the Neo-Babylonian version, even when they violate the conventions of Old Akkadian. The allegedly ancient version is obviously a translation of the newer text, rather than the other way around.

As to how scribes of 600 BCE knew how to write in the style of 2200 BCE,that is the most interesting part of the story. Neo-Babylonian scribes had built up a whole library of resources showing how to translate texts written in ancient languages and styles. I am not sure in what contexts they needed to do this -- perhaps ancient religious verses? searching out precedents for unusual omens? -- but they they put a lot of effort into it. Above is a fragment of one of these dictionaries, showing the late cuneiform translations for signs in the Old Babylonian style. Using one of these lexicons, a scribe tried to create an Old Akkadian translation of the temples' notion of their privileges. His work does not fool modern scholars, and I doubt it fooled Nebuchadnezzar's tax men, either; after all, they had their own library of dictionaries, and probably more experience with ancient Akkadian grants than anyone does today.

"Black Lives Matter" has a Plan

You all know that my beef with Occupy Wall Street was that they had no plan for fixing any of the problems they called intention to. Instead of trying to change policy, they got all involved in trying to live anarchism within their own tiny community. Predictably, they have vanished and nothing has changed.

What about Black Lives Matter? Would this turn out to be just another moment of anger and passion, or would it make things happen? It seems that some people involved in the movement have been wondering the same thing. They have founded something called Campaign Zero -- for zero police shootings of innocent people -- and they have a Ten Point Plan. With a cool graphic.

Obviously the biggest factor that might make police behavior change is the spread of videocameras, and police body cameras are one of the thing Campaign Zero plans to push. But that isn't the only possible improvement. With the great crime wave easing and public attention focused on the problem, this seems like a good time to push for concrete improvements to police methods, training, and oversight.