Published on 28 May 2015
After the defeats of Austria-Hungary against Russia, Italy is seeing her chance to grab disputed territories from them. Even though they are not prepared for a full scale war economically or militarily, the declare war against the Central Powers. So, just one month after the landing at Gallipoli, yet another front is opened in Europe. Meanwhile the Russians are still on the run from August von Mackensen and in Gallipoli the fighting stops to collect the dead.
May 29, 2015
Radley Balko reports on the recent release of two former Austin, Texas daycare owners … who’ve been in prison since 1992 on the testimony of a toddler and “expert evidence” from a satanic ritual expert and how the moral panic of the day made it impossible for the courts to see how utterly unlikely the case actually was:
The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.
But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.
That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.
Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.
There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.
But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.
Sarah Hoyt coined the term “the historian’s blindfolds” to describe historical situations where “the ‘everyone knows’ [happenings don’t] get recorded, and the ‘never happens’ or ‘happens so rarely it’s big and sensational’ gets recorded ALL the time”:
I’ve – for instance – for the last several years been very suspicious of Dickens, because my other sources for the time (not just primary sources, but those writing often in a family/biography) context paint quite a different picture.
I mean, yes, there were horrible conditions at the time, but they were horrible conditions by our perspective, and we live in an era of superabundance. And the underclass lived very disordered lives. Well, I read student doc. Our underclass just uses different substances and is better fed. Go to Student Doc “Things I learn from my patients” (it’s not coming up for me, hence not linked. Also, prepare to lose hours there. [This might the site]) BUT as “bad” as the industrial revolution might have been, it attracted droves of farmers from the countryside. And having seen it happen in real time in India and China, I’m no longer able to believe the propaganda that they were “forced” off their lands.
Farming looks like a lovely, bucolic occupation to those who have never done any, but the farming they did at the time involved no tractors, no milking machines. It was inadequate tools and inadequate strength beating inadequate livelihood out of inadequate (in most places) soil. Yeah, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the girls wove wreaths for Michaelmas, and everyone danced around the Maypole, but in between there was a very harsh reality that made the rather horrible conditions in the early mills seem like heaven and depopulated the countryside and packed the cities – as we see now in China and India.
So, our first problem with finding out if there really was a “first night” right for the seigneur is to figure out the difference between the accounts and the truth. There is no direct evidence, but remember all the recording of the times was done by church men who might very well not know what was going on. Sometimes, granted, it was willful not know. The village priest determinedly didn’t know of certain things that went on around May Day and I’m fairly sure would continue not knowing if he walked in on it and saw it. Because he wasn’t stupid and stuff that’s been going on for two thousand years and yet is of a nature not to be co-opted into the church celebration of this or that saint (St. Anthony and St. John with bonfires and wild herbs and jumping over the fires, and trekking to the city and across the city to see the sunrise on the sea, for instance, for Summer solstice. Yeah. Perfectly normal Catholic tradition) couldn’t be stopped cold, but knowing about it would mar his ability to preach against certain things which he must preach against. (“It was a morning in May—” And for the record this particularly guppie always thought going amaying is about gathering the flowers to put in every entrance to the house to word off evil spirits. But I am an ODD and often unable to see what’s right before my eyes because I was told it was different.)
The problem of the “first night” is compound by several issues: we’re talking a span of about 2000 years. It’s about sex and everyone lies about sex, or shuts up about it, which can be the same. We have fundamental disagreements on the basic nature of men and women. And that’s what I’m going to go with. Because that’s the interesting part.
In The Observer, Amy Alkon suggests that following the “lean in” advice may lead to unanticipated problems for a lot of women:
Remember junior high? Well, the reality is, if you’re a woman, you never really get to leave.
This rather depressing truth about adult mean girls isn’t one you’ll read in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book, Lean In.
Unfortunately, according to a near mountain of research on sex differences, the “You go, career girl!” advice Ms. Sandberg does give is unrealistic and may even backfire on women who take it.
The problem starts with her book’s title, unreservedly advising women to “lean in” — to boldly assert themselves at the office — without detailing the science that lays out the problems inherent in that.
Ms. Sandberg goes clueless on science throughout her book; for example, never delving into what anthropological research suggests about why women are not more supportive of one another and why it may not be reasonable for a woman to expect other women in her workplace to be supportive of her in the way men are of other men and even women.
Joyce Benenson, a psychologist at Emmanuel College in Boston, doesn’t have Sandberg’s high profile, but she’s done the homework (and research) that’s missing from Sandberg’s book, laying it out in a fascinating science-based book on sex differences, Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes.
Silicon Valley is an American success story. At a time of supposed American decline, a gifted group of young entrepreneurs invented, merchandized, and institutionalized everything from smartphones and eBay to Google and Facebook. The collective genius within a small corridor from San Francisco to Stanford University somehow put hand-held electronics into over a billion households worldwide — and hundreds of billions of dollars in profits rolled into Northern California, and America at large.
Stranger yet, Silicon Valley excelled at 1950s-style profit-driven capitalism while projecting the image of hip and cool. The result is a bizarre 21st-century 1-percenter culture of $1,000-a-square-foot homes, $100,000 BMWs, and $500 loafers coexisting with left-wing politics and trendy pop culture. Silicon Valley valiantly tries to square the circle of driving a Mercedes or flying in a Gulfstream while lambasting those who produce its fuel.
But the paradox finally has reached its logically absurd end. In medieval times, rich sinners sought to save their souls by buying indulgences to wash away their sins. In the updated version, Silicon Valley crony capitalists and wheeler-dealers buy exemption for their conspicuous consumption with loud manifestations of cool left-wing politics.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.
May 28, 2015
At Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is still trying to fight the public domain availability of anything Sherlock Holmes, even though they’ve lost at each stage of the legal proceedings:
And thus, Sherlock Holmes is considered to be mostly in the public domain. One might argue that a US federal court outside of the 7th Circuit might find otherwise, but it appears that the Estate has given up the fight and now will readily admit that the earlier works are in the public domain. That does not mean, however, that it is done suing. Not at all. The Estate has now sued over a book and movie that purport to tell the story of Holmes’ retirement. The author, Mitch Cullin, wrote the book A Slight Trick of the Mind about a decade ago, and that’s now been adapted into a film called Mr. Holmes, being released by Miramax.
First, the Conan Doyle Estate at least seems willing to admit that the earlier works are now fully in the public domain:
The first fifty of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels are in the public domain. But the last ten of his original Sherlock Holmes stories, published between 1923 and 1927 (the Ten Stories), remain protected by copyright in the United States. These copyrighted ten stories develop the details of Holmes’s fictional retirement and change and develop the character of Holmes himself.
And that’s where the trouble comes in. The Conan Doyle Estate makes some reasonable claims that Cullin used a few details from the stories that are still under copyright in developing the ideas for his book and the subsequent movie (where he worked on the screenplay). As the complaint notes, the public domain works mention Sherlock Holmes’ retirement just twice, without that much detail. The works still under copyright delve into it much more. The complaint also notes some pretty clear similarities in certain scenes. For example, it points to this passage from the (still under copyright) Holmes story “Blanched Soldier”:
It is my habit to sit with my back to the window and to place my visitors in the opposite chair, where the light falls full upon them. Mr. James M. Dodd seemed somewhat at a loss how to begin the interview. I did not attempt to help him, for his silence gave me more time for observation. I have found it wise to impress clients with a sense of power, and so I gave him some of my conclusions.
“From South Africa, sir, I perceive.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, with some surprise.
And contrasts it with the following from Cullin’s work:
As was my usual custom, I sat with my back to the window and invited my visitor into the opposite armchair, where — from his vantage point — I became obscured by the brightness of the outside light, and he — from mine — was illuminated with perfect clarity. Initially, Mr. Keller appeared uncomfortable in my presence, and he seemed at a loss for words. I made no effort to ease his discomfort, but used his awkward silence instead as an opportunity to observe him more closely. I believe that it is always to my advantage to give clients a sense of their own vulnerability, and so, having reached my conclusions regarding his visit, I was quick to instill such a feeling in him.
“There is a great deal of concern, I see, about your wife.”
“That is correct, sir,” he replied, visibly taken aback.
Certainly a similar setup, but is it infringing? That’s where things get pretty tricky, and why I still have trouble with the idea of using copyright to cover “a character.” After all, copyright is supposed to only protect the specific expression, rather than the idea. That’s why it’s never made sense to see courts accept the idea that someone writing a different story using the same characters should be seen as infringing. The courts here seem to handle different cases differently, allowing something like The Wind Done Gone (a retelling of Gone With The Wind from another character’s perspective) but not allowing Coming Through the Rye, an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye. For reasons that are not entirely clear, judges seemed to feel that The Wind Done Gone was more acceptable as a commentary on the original, rather than just a new work building off of the original.
A fascinating little bit of German history (by way of Open Culture:
The more World War II history you read, the more you understand not just the evil of the Nazis, but their incompetence. Sometimes you hear variations on the observation that “in Nazi Germany, at least the trains ran on time,” but even that has gone up for debate. It seems more and more that the Holocaust-perpetrating political party got by primarily on their way with propaganda — and in that, they did have a truly formidable apparatus.
Much of the dubious credit there goes to Hitler’s close associate Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda and an anti-semite even by Nazi standards. “Power based on guns may be a good thing,” he said in a 1934 Nuremberg Party Convention speech. “It is, however, better and more gratifying to win the heart of a people and keep it.” He understood the power of film in pursuit of this end, providing not only essential assistance for productions like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, but also attempting to recruit no less a leading light of German cinema than Fritz Lang, director of three Doctor Mabuse pictures, the proto-noir M, and the expressionist epic Metropolis.
Goebbels loved Metropolis, but had rather less appreciation for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, going so far as to ban it for its supposed potential to instill in its viewers a distrust of their leaders. And so, on one fateful day in 1933 when Goebbels called Lang to his office, the filmmaker wondered if he might find a way to get the ban lifted. But Goebbels preferred to talk, at great length, about another proposal: Lang’s employment in artistic service of the Nazi cause.
At Vox.com, Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman show how perverse incentives and human frailty contribute to the wasted efforts — and sometimes outright fraudulent methods — that get “scientific” results published. It’s getting so bad that “the editor of The Lancet … recently lamented, ‘Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.'”:
From study design to dissemination of research, there are dozens of ways science can go off the rails. Many of the scientific studies that are published each year are poorly designed, redundant, or simply useless. Researchers looking into the problem have found that more than half of studies fail to take steps to reduce biases, such as blinding whether people receive treatment or placebo.
In an analysis of 300 clinical research papers about epilepsy — published in 1981, 1991, and 2001 — 71 percent were categorized as having no enduring value. Of those, 55.6 percent were classified as inherently unimportant and 38.8 percent as not new. All told, according to one estimate, about $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on flawed and redundant studies.
After publication, there’s the well-documented irreproducibility problem — the fact that researchers often can’t validate findings when they go back and run experiments again. Just last month, a team of researchers published the findings of a project to replicate 100 of psychology’s biggest experiments. They were only able to replicate 39 of the experiments, and one observer — Daniele Fanelli, who studies bias and scientific misconduct at Stanford University in California — told Nature that the reproducibility problem in cancer biology and drug discovery may actually be even more acute.
Indeed, another review found that researchers at Amgen were unable to reproduce 89 percent of landmark cancer research findings for potential drug targets. (The problem even inspired a satirical publication called the Journal of Irreproducible Results.)
So why aren’t these problems caught prior to publication of a study? Consider peer review, in which scientists send their papers to other experts for vetting prior to publication. The idea is that those peers will detect flaws and help improve papers before they are published as journal articles. Peer review won’t guarantee that an article is perfect or even accurate, but it’s supposed to act as an initial quality-control step.
Yet there are flaws in this traditional “pre-publication” review model: it relies on the goodwill of scientists who are increasingly pressed and may not spend the time required to properly critique a work, it’s subject to the biases of a select few, and it’s slow – so it’s no surprise that peer review sometimes fails. These factors raise the odds that even in the highest-quality journals, mistakes, flaws, and even fraudulent work will make it through. (“Fake peer review” reports are also now a thing.)
Published on 8 Feb 2015
In this video, we discuss how markets link people and places all over the world. We’ll take a look at production and consumption markets and, importantly, the role that prices play in it all. Following up on our example of a rose, we take a look at other global products such as the Apple iPhone. Where is the iPhone made? It’s produced by thousands of people all over the world, working in cooperation in order to make one product that many of us enjoy. Join us as we observe the invisible hand in action.
This is a general and pernicious failing of the left in my view. They really, just really, don’t get what it is that markets do and do very well. What markets do do is they produce the information, through the price system, of who is willing to produce what at which price and who desires to consume what at which price. Thus we get an efficient allocation of scarce resources by our use of markets. And Hayek pretty much got his Nobel for proving that there is no other system to hand which can perform this function. The planner simply cannot gain enough information to be able to perform that function, nor process it real time (and no, computing can’t do it either, Allende and his computer to run the Chilean economy was wrong.)
It’s entirely possible to critique markets on the grounds of equity though. For example, too many people are too poor if we just leave it to the market. Perhaps we agree with that idea, perhaps we don’t: but that argues for changing peoples’ incomes through intervention, not for abolishing the market in the provision of goods. Or, as I’ve said before, if Chavez and Maduro want poor Venezuelans to be better off then send them more money. Don’t mess with the market: the result of that messing will inevitably be the sort of breakdown we see here.
As for the people of Venezuela, well, obviously, this isn’t going to work out well. Their rulers have pretty much bankrupted the country through their incompetence: and now they’re taking more economic power unto themselves?
Not going to work, is it? Even competent governments haven’t been able to make nationalised food distribution systems work…
Tim Worstall, “Amazingly, Maduro Is Going To Make The Venezuelan Economy Even Worse. Yes, Worse”, Forbes, 2015-05-03.
May 27, 2015
Your weekly dose of Cold War nostalgia this week comes by way of Dmitry Rogozin, the eminently quotable Russian deputy PM in charge of the Russian defence industry:
“I’ve always joked about it… so what if they won’t give us visas, put us on sanctions list … tanks don’t need visas,” he told an interviewer on Russian state television last Sunday, according to AFP.
Last year, the former ambassador to NATO and notorious Putin loyalist, was put on a sanctions list of both the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union, which made Rogozin announce that the Russian defense industry has “many other ways of traveling the world besides tourist visas.”
Additionally, after Romania prevented the deputy prime minister’s plane from entering its airspace in 2014, he announced that “next time I will fly in a Tu-160″ — referencing Russia’s newest strategic bomber. That comment made the Romanian Foreign Ministry issue a statement calling Rogozin’s words “a serious threat.”
Back in 2013, after the commissioning of the first Borei-class SSBN (see: “Putin’s Red October: Russia’s Deadliest New Submarine”), the Russian Cabinet member tweeted: “You bourgeoisie tremble! You are screwed!”
The most recent diatribe comes in the wake of two-week long Western military maneuvers in the Arctic, codenamed “Arctic Challenge” and involving 115 fighter aircraft and 3,600 military personnel from nine countries.
In response to yesterday’s launch of “Arctic Challenge”, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a four-day long military exercise of its own, a “massive surprise inspection” involving 12,000 troops 250 aircraft and 689 units of “various weapons and military equipment” targeting an “imaginary enemy.” The snap maneuvers are taking place in the Ural mountains and Siberia – home to Russia’s central military district.
Dmitry Rogozin’s most recent comment on Russia’s ties with the West was published yesterday on his Twitter account: “It’s not Russia that threatens the West. Its foundations will crash down under the pressure of ISIS and gays.”
Published on 8 Jul 2013
Garnet Rogers – Night Drive
Album: Night Drive
Buy the album here:
How bright the stars
How dark the night
How long have I been sleeping?
Sleep overtook me on my westward flight
Held me in its keeping
I had a dream; it seemed so real
Its passing left me shaking
I saw you’re here behind the wheel
On this very road I’m taking
Hurtling westward through the prairie night
Under the spell of motion
Your eyes were clear and bright in the dashboard light
Dreaming of the western ocean
The dusty towns left far behind
Mountains drawing ever nearer
Your face was then as it was tonight
I know this road
And its every curve
Where the hills commence their climbing
We rested here
If my memory serves
The northern lights were shining
You lit a smoke
We shared some wine
We watched the sky in wonder
Your laughter echoes after all this time
In that high and wild blue yonder
I don’t know why I write these lines
It’s not like I could send you the letter
It’s that I love your more after all this time
It’s that I wish I’d shown you better
Years have slipped
Beneath my wheels
Dwindling in my rear view mirror
As time has passed
Your life has seemed less real
But these night drives bring you nearer
So tonight I’ll wish upon these stars
As they rise upward to guide me
That I’ll see you here just as you are
Now, as then, beside me
Scares me how the years have flown
Like the leaves drift in September
They’ve lost sight of you as your legacy’s grown
But this road and I
Mark Steyn on the result of the British general election:
It would be churlish to deny oneself the pleasure of hooting at the politico-media establishment, but, when that’s done, this is a deeply unhealthy electoral result. The Conservatives won because Labour got wiped out in Scotland and the Liberals got wiped out in England. But the reality is that, for a supposedly United Kingdom, the country no longer has any national political party. England and Scotland have taken on the characteristics of Northern Ireland — hermetically sealed polities full of weird, unlovely regional parties (“SNP”, “Conservative”, “Labour”) that have no meaning once you cross the border, and whose internal disputes are of no relevance to the other three-quarters of the kingdom: Nobody outside Ulster cares about “official” Unionists vs the more red-blooded Democratic Unionists. And so it goes with the Scots Nats and Labour in Scotland: nationalist socialists vs unionist socialists; Likewise, with the Tories and UKIP in England: transnationalist conservatives vs nationalist conservatives.
Wales is the exception that proves the rule, where UKIP outpolled Plaid Cymru, albeit with no seats to show for it. The Scottish National Party got 4.7 per cent of the UK vote, and 56 seats. UKIP had nearly thrice as many voters — 12.6 per cent — but only one seat. That discrepancy is because there is no longer any such thing as “the UK vote”. I far prefer the Westminster first-past-the-post system to European “proportional representation”, but it only works if you have genuinely national parties. If the system decays into four groups of regional parties, the House of Commons will look less and less like a genuine national parliament, and more and more like some surly conditional arrangement — Scottish Kurds, Tory Shia and seething Labour Sunni triangles.
The composition of the new house would strike any mid-20th century Briton as freakish and unsettling. It’s a bit like Canada in the Nineties — where Reform couldn’t break out of the west, the Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec, the rump Tories clung on in the Atlantic provinces, and Ontario and a few seats hither and yon gave the Liberals their majority. The difference is that the Bloquistes are pretend separatists; the Scottish National Party are not.
And that’s before you take into account the competing nationalist dynamics of the Anglo-Scottish victors: secession from the UK north of the border and detachment from the EU south. Cameron is a wily operator and one notices he uses the words “United Kingdom” far more than his predecessors. But saying will not make it so.
At The Diplomat, Francis P. Sempa looks at the early commands of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) as formative experiences:
Before Waterloo, Wellington had brilliantly commanded armies on the Iberian Peninsula, where they wore down and drained French forces, causing Napoleon to refer to it as “the Spanish ulcer.” But Wellington learned how to command, supply, and lead soldiers to victory not in Europe, where he is most remembered, but in India. Wellington in India, wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford, was “a great commander in embryo.”
Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wesley (the last name was later changed to Wellesley) of the 33rd regiment, arrived in Calcutta at the age of 28 in February 1797, after a journey of more than three months. His most recent biographer, Rory Muir, described Colonel Wesley as “an unusually ambitious, intelligent and well-read officer who looked far beyond the horizons of his regiment … and who was already comfortable assembling his thoughts into coherent arguments …” In all, he spent eight years in India, where for much of the time his brother was Governor-General. Wellington’s time in India, writes Muir, “were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor.” It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain first dealt with questions of war and peace and civil government.
On March 26, 1799, troops under Wellington’s command came under attack by forces of Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. As the French-trained enemy forces approached, wrote Elizabeth Longford, Wellington’s men held their fire “with the utmost steadiness until the enemy were sixty yards away.” British infantry then decimated the columns of enemy attackers, spreading confusion, while cavalry forces scattered the remnants of the attacking force. Then, during April and May 1799, Wellington participated in the siege of Seringapatam in Mysore, and led an attack on the entrenchments of the fortress there. After Seringapatam was taken, Wellington was made civil governor and remained there until 1802.
During his time in Seringapatam, Wellington was ordered to suppress a rebellion in north Mysore led by Dhoondiah Waugh. For the first time, Wellington exercised independent command in battle. During this operation, Rory Muir explains, Wellington “displayed all the characteristics of his subsequent campaigns, …” which included attention to logistics and “unremitting aggression.” He fought a battle at Conaghul and won a complete victory. Muir writes that Wellington exhibited a remarkable flexibility on the field of battle. A British officer commented on Wellington’s “alacrity and determination” during battle.
… I revere Classical Antiquity. But, once your eyes adjust, and you look below the glittering surface, you see that it wasn’t a time any reasonable person would choose to be alive. The Greeks were a collection of ethnocentric tribes who fought and killed each other till they nearly died out. The Roman Empire was held together by a vampire bureaucracy directed more often than in any European state since then by idiots or lunatics. Life was jolly enough for the privileged two or three per cent. But everything they had was got from the enslavement or fiscal exploitation of everyone else.
Now, while the Roman State grew steadily worse until the collapse of its Western half, the Eastern half that remained went into reverse. The more Byzantine the Eastern Roman Empire became, the less awful it was for ordinary people. This is why it lasted another thousand years. The consensus of educated opinion used to be that it survived by accident. Even without looking at the evidence, this doesn’t seem likely. In fact, during the seventh century, the Empire faced three challenges. First, there was the combined assault of the Persians from the east and the Avars and Slavs from the north. Though the Balkans and much of the East were temporarily lost, the Persians were annihilated. Then a few years after the victory celebrations in Jerusalem, Islam burst into the world. Syria and Egypt were overrun at once. North Africa followed. But the Home Provinces — these being roughly the territory of modern Turkey — held firm. The Arabs could sometimes invade, and occasionally devastate. They couldn’t conquer.
One of the few certain lessons that History teaches is that, when it goes on the warpath, you don’t face down Islam by accident. More often than not, you don’t face it down at all. In the 630s, the Arabs took what remained of the Persian Empire in a single campaign. Despite immensely long chains of supply and command, they took Spain within a dozen years. Yet, repeatedly and with their entire force, they beat against the Home Provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Each time, they were thrown back with catastrophic losses. The Byzantines never lost overall control of the sea. Eventually, they hit back, retaking large parts of Syria. More than once, the Caliphs were forced to pay tribute. You don’t manage this by accident.
The Byzantine historians themselves are disappointingly vague about the seventh and eight centuries. Our only evidence for what happened comes from the description of established facts in the tenth century. As early as the seventh century, though, the Byzantine State pulled off the miracle of reforming itself internally while fighting a war of survival on every frontier. Large parts of the bureaucracy were scrapped. Taxes were cut. The silver coinage was stabilised. Above all, the great senatorial estates of the Later Roman Empire were broken up. Land was given to the peasants in return for military service. In the West, the Goths and Franks and Lombards had moved among populations of disarmed tax-slaves. Not surprisingly, no one raised a hand against them. Time and again, the Arabs smashed against a wall of armed freeholders. A few generations after losing Syria and Egypt, the Byzantine Empire was the richest and most powerful state in the known world.
Richard Blake, “The Joys of Writing Byzantine Historical Fiction”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-07-27.