Quotulatiousness

March 10, 2017

The Russian February Revolution 1917 I THE GREAT WAR Week 137

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 9 Mar 2017

Food shortages, an overall desolate supply situation and great political turmoil make Russia ripe for revolution and this week 100 years ago, the people take to the streets. The US adopts a policy of armed neutrality.

February 21, 2017

Political “discussion” in Trump’s America

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

L. Neil Smith on what has happened to political discussion since the accession of Il Donalduce:

It’s very difficult to convey the unreality, the surreality, of things that those of us who think for a living (or at least a serious hobby) have been subjected to, since the General Election last November, and especially since Inauguration Day in January. The other day I found myself embroiled in a passionate argument with an old friend which had started out to be about my reasons for voting for Donald Trump and had somehow inched its way around to the subject of lynching black people. I don’t exactly remember how, but, apparently, since I was born decades after the era of lynchings in the South, had never actually seen a lynching, or been lynched, myself, in the view of the person I was arguing with (who was black, but had also never seen a lynching), I was denying that lynchings had ever happened.

I was not, of course. Nor did my friendly antagonist ever explain to me what alleged factual or historical connection exists between lynchings and Donald Trump. I play very close attention to these things — for example, I actually heard the man when he accused the Mexican government of deliberately sending its criminals to the United States, which is decidedly _not_ a racist remark — and, to my knowledge, Trump, who is the same age I am, never lynched anybody, either. Unfortunately, this is a reasoned observation I am making, and the Leftists’ way of dealing with a reasoned observation is to scream as loud and talk as fast as they can, peppering everything they say with absurd Orwellian slogans. They do this all over the country to shut down speakers they don’t like and to stifle truths they can’t bear to hear—or to have heard by the public.

If you require an example, I suggest that you look up Milo Yiannopoulis on YouTube. He is a remarkable young man, an editor for Breitbart, who combines the outlooks of Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, and H.L. Mencken. He is constantly shouted down on college campuses, although what he has to say is witty and urbane. The Left just can’t take a joke any more, it seems. These are the very mobs, first seen in France, that our Founding Fathers feared, and the reason they made Presidential elections indirect. If you don’t like the Electoral College, blame Black Lives Matter or the disgraceful and disgusting Precious Snowflakes who make our political lives so tedious these days, If they were on fire, the Founding Fathers wouldn’t have crossed the street to piss them out.

January 21, 2017

Trump and libertarian concerns

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Peter Suderman can only come up with nine reasons for libertarians to be worried about Il Donalduce‘s new regime:

Here are nine reasons why libertarians should be very concerned about a Trump presidency:

1) He has repeatedly promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants upon taking office, relying on a “special deportation force” to carry out the task. And even in the occasional moments in which he has seemed to recognize that this task would be logistically impossible, he has continued to insist that he will deport several million people right away, and that other undocumented immigrants who are in the country will not have a path to citizenship unless they leave the country first.

2) More generally, Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and outsiders ranges from disdain to outright hostility. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the closure of mosques, and he opened his primary campaign by declaring that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. were rapists and criminals.

3) Trump has also promised to build a massive, expensive wall along the southern border, and has insisted that Mexico will pay for its construction, an absurd notion that is already crumbling, as the incoming administration has asked Congress, not Mexico, to pay for the wall.

4) Trump has made clear that his administration will take a much more aggressive stance on trade as well. During the campaign, he floated the idea of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, which would be deeply harmful to consumers and the U.S. economy. Since winning the election, his administration has raised the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on all imports, a policy that could spark a global recession. After winning in November, he said he would pull the nation out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on day one of his presidency.

On the other hand, Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy are a bit more upbeat about libertarian causes in Trump’s America:

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian but his presidency provides a tremendous opportunity to advance libertarian policies, outcomes, and aspirations in our politics and broader culture. Those of us who believe in reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government and expanding the autonomy, opportunities, and ability of people to live however they choose should welcome the Trump era. That’s not because of the new president’s agenda but because he enters office as the man who will inevitably close out a failing 20th-century model of governance.

Liberal, conservative, libertarian: We all understand that whatever the merits of the great political, economic, and cultural institutions of the last 70 years — the welfare state built on unsustainable entitlement spending; a military that spends more and more and succeeds less and less; the giant corporations (ATT, IBM, General Motors) that were “beyond” market forces until they weren’t; rigid social conventions that sorted people into stultifying binaries (black and white, male and female, straight and mentally ill) — these are everywhere in ruins or retreat.

The taxi cab — a paradigmatic blending of private enterprise and state power in a system that increasingly serves no one well — is replaced by ride-sharing services that are endlessly innovative, safer, and self-regulating. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign slogan — Uber everything — was the one self-evident truth uttered throughout the 2016 campaign. All aspects of our lives are being remade according to a new, inherently libertarian operating system that empowers individuals and groups to pursue whatever experiments in living they want. As one of us (Nick Gillespie) wrote with Matt Welch in The Declaration of Independents, the loosening of controls in our commercial, cultural, and personal lives has consistently enriched our world. The sharing economy, 3D printing and instantaneous global communication means businesses grow, flourish, adapt, and die in ways that perfectly fulfill Schumpeterian creative destruction. We live in a world where consuming art, music, video, text, and other forms of creative expression is its own form or production and allows us to connect in lateral rather than hierarchical ways. Pernicious racial and ethnic categories persist but they have been mostly supplanted by a tolerance and a level of lived pluralism that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, when less than [50%] of Americans approved of interracial marriages. Politics, Welch and Gillespie wrote, is a lagging indicator of where America is already heading and in many cases has already arrived.

Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Jan 2017

The winter of 1916/1917 is the harshest one so far in the war. Nowhere do the soldiers suffer from these extreme conditions than on the Italian Front in the Dolomites. The fighting there is fierce already but the cold, avalanches and height make it even more brutal. After the failed peace negotiations, the cry for ethnic self determination can still be heard all around the world. And German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sends a fateful telegram to Mexico that is today remembered as the Zimmermann-Telegram.

January 16, 2017

100 years ago today

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

From the Facebook page of The Great War:

On this day 100 years ago, a coded telegram was sent by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. In this telegram, Zimmermann instructed von Eckardt to offer Mexico a military alliance and financial support against the United States should they not remain neutral. This was a possibility since Germany was about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare by February 1, 1917.

To understand this telegram, it is important to understand that talks about military cooperation and even a military alliance between Mexico and the German Empire had been going on since 1915 already.

The telegram was sent via the American undersea cable since the German cable was interrupted by the British when the war broke out. US President Woodrow Wilson had offered the Germans to use their cable for diplomatic correspondence. What neither Wilson nor the Germans knew: The cable was monitored by the British intelligence at a relay station in England. Furthermore, the British codebreakers of Room 40 had already cracked the German encryption.

The biggest challenge for the British now was to reveal the content of this telegram without admitting that they were monitoring the cable while ensuring it had the desired impact.

December 11, 2016

Re-negotiating NAFTA (and the Defence Production Sharing Program, too)

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ted Campbell is in favour of bringing NAFTA up-to-date and reminds us that there’s another diplomatic item that could use modernization at the same time:

In my opinion, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or the next Conservative leader is really interested in restoring Canada to a leading position in real, practical, long term peacekeeping then (s)he will abandon the United Nations and, instead, turn Canada into a free trade powerhouse by dropping our remaining protectionist measures, as Maxime Bernier and Colin Robertson both advocate, and making deals with all comers. And it is important to remember that “deals” involve two sides and both sides must gain something which means that both sides probably “give” something, too, and that produces short term “losers” and it is politically important to try to “soften” the transition for those who are bound to lose in the short term. But, in the mid to long term most losses are “covered” by gains in new products and services and the utilitarian goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is achieved … most of the time.

One of the things Colin Robertson mentioned was shipbuilding and it leads me to consider that one of the things we want to renew if or when we must renegotiate NAFTA is the Defence development sharing agreement between Canada and the United States of America. The stated objective of the existing (since 1963) agreement are:

  1. To assist in maintaining the Defense Production Sharing Program at a high level by making it possible for Canadian firms to perform research and development work undertaken to meet the requirements of U.S. armed forces.
  2. To utilize better the industrial scientific and technical resources of the United States and Canada in the interest of mutual defense.
  3. To make possible the standardization and interchangeability of a larger amount of the equipment necessary for the defense of United States and Canada.

The Defence Production Sharing Program is, too often, hamstrung by US (and Canadian) protectionist measures and it needs to be brought more fully into the area of bilateral free trade. I am not suggesting that the Pentagon would ever let, say, a significant shipbuilding contract to a Canadian yard but it must be possible for Canadian shipyards and factories and service providers to bid on US defence contracts on at least a “near equal” basis and vice-versa, of course. This, free(er) trade in defence materiel and services is one area where we, North Americans, can learn from the Europeans. I am not suggesting that Canada should abandon the idea of having a national defence industrial base but, rather, that we should have a base that fits, neatly, into a larger continental base that is, somehow, connected to other allied defence production systems.

So, broadly, when (if) President elect Trump says he wants to renegotiate NAFTA we should, indeed, say “bring it on!” But we should go into negotiations with our eyes wide open, prepared to surrender some “losers,” as good bridge players do, in order to finesse some winners for ourselves.

August 10, 2016

Populists and open borders

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, Victor Davis Hanson says the rise of Trump and other populist politicians is being powered by lower- and middle-class rejection of the elite preference for open borders:

Driving the growing populist outrage in Europe and North America is the ongoing elite push for a borderless world. Among elites, borderlessness has taken its place among the politically correct positions of our age — and, as with other such ideas, it has shaped the language we use. The descriptive term “illegal alien” has given way to the nebulous “unlawful immigrant.” This, in turn, has given way to “undocumented immigrant,” “immigrant,” or the entirely neutral “migrant” — a noun that obscures whether the individual in question is entering or leaving. Such linguistic gymnastics are unfortunately necessary. Since an enforceable southern border no longer exists, there can be no immigration law to break in the first place.

Today’s open-borders agenda has its roots not only in economic factors — the need for low-wage workers who will do the work that native-born Americans or Europeans supposedly will not — but also in several decades of intellectual ferment, in which Western academics have created a trendy field of “borders discourse.” What we might call post-borderism argues that boundaries even between distinct nations are mere artificial constructs, methods of marginalization designed by those in power, mostly to stigmatize and oppress the “other” — usually the poorer and less Western — who arbitrarily ended up on the wrong side of the divide. “Where borders are drawn, power is exercised,” as one European scholar put it. This view assumes that where borders are not drawn, power is not exercised — as if a million Middle Eastern immigrants pouring into Germany do not wield considerable power by their sheer numbers and adroit manipulation of Western notions of victimization and grievance politics. Indeed, Western leftists seek political empowerment by encouraging the arrival of millions of impoverished migrants.

July 12, 2016

Mexico in WW1 – The Mexican Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Americas, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Jul 2016

The full text of the Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmerm…

Mexico was mainly focussing on internal struggles and the Mexican Revolution during World War 1. But Germany’s stance against the USA actually brought the country into the international spotlight. After the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram, sent by the Germans to Mexico, was decoded it was clear that Germany wanted to bring Mexico into the war – against the United States.

July 1, 2016

In the UK (and in the USA), the peasants are revolting

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Questions and Observations, Dale Franks writes about the distrust of the traditional “elites” among the non-elites of society:

There’s a growing sense, not only in Great Britain, but in the US as well, that the elites, or the political class, or whatever you’d like to call them, are incompetent and have been leading us astray. And the response from elites is to call those criticisms illegitimate. Those doing the carping are assumed to be racists or nationalists, both of which, of course, are unpleasant, dirty types of people. Both the UK’s Leavers and the US’s Trumpers share some commonalities. Among them are skepticism over free trade and free immigration; concerns that elites dismiss as foolish and uneducated. And, of course racist.

But perhaps the Leavers weren’t so concerned with brown people because they were brown, but because they were concerned at seeing buses being blown up in London, British soldiers being beheaded in broad daylight in the High Street, and dozens of children being raped for years in Rotherham. Perhaps, the British people have come to wonder about immigration because many immigrants seem less interested in becoming British than they are in making Britain more like the Middle East. And, maybe, just maybe, the Leavers prefer to live in Britain, in the free and modern culture that has developed over the last 1,500 years, rather than go back to live in the year 692. Maybe they wouldn’t be any more interested in living in the 13th-century culture of Richard the Lion-Hearted any more than they are in living in the Dark Age culture of Middle Eastern immigrants.

When people come into your country from elsewhere, they don’t do so simply as fungible economic units, but as real people, who bring along cultural and political ideas that may conflict those that are traditional in your country. It is almost at the point where elites cannot even conceive of an argument that implies the superiority of one culture over another, so they dismiss this argument as nationalism and nativism. But, the thing is, a free society that continually imports immigrants who have no interest in individual liberty, religious freedom, and political pluralism, will eventually have none of those things. The problem isn’t race. It’s culture.

National sovereignty means something. At the very least, it means that the people of a country have the absolute right to restrict immigration to the sort of people that will, in their judgement, benefit the country, and, once the immigrants arrive, to force them to assimilate to the country’s national culture more than the country accommodates the culture of the immigrant. No obligation exists, in any sense whatsoever, that requires the people of a country to allow entry to immigrants who desire to transform the country into something different. It is entirely legitimate to reject calls for sharia in the UK, just as it’s entirely legitimate to be upset by seeing political protestors in the US waving Mexican flags or wearing “Make America Mexico Again” hats, explicitly letting us know where their primary political allegiance lies. Nor is it illegitimate to wonder why such people are in this country, and not in the corrupt shithole of a country that they so obviously prefer, yet so oddly fled.

December 7, 2015

If not amnesty, then what?

Filed under: Americas, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer cuts to the chase on the whole amnesty “debate” in US politics:

Mickey Kaus wonders why the GOP elite is still “clinging to amnesty” for illegal immigrants. I have the same thought every time I hear someone rail against “amensty”: What the f*ck else are we going to do? Put 12 million people in jail for violating immigration laws? Are we really talking about deporting 12 million people? Do you have any idea how ugly this will be? I don’t want to commit a Godwin’s Law violation, but rousting people — whole families — out of their homes at gunpoint and loading them up on trucks and trains to be shipped en mass somewhere else — does this sound like any other 20th century event to you? If you wanted to find some other precedent for this that was not the German shipping of Jews to Poland, what would even be close?

Looked at another way, the disastrous government and civil war in Syria has created, by UN estimates, 4 million refugees. At a stroke, do Republicans really want to create 12 million refugees?

October 29, 2015

For a change, a sensible trademark ruling

Filed under: Americas, Business, Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Timothy Geigner on a remarkably sensible trademark judgement from a BC court:

For this, we travel up to Canada, where a Federal Court judge presided over a trademark dispute between Pacific Western Brewing and Cerveceria del Pacifico over the branding of their brews. At issue was the labels on packaging for PWB’s Pacific Pilsner and Cerveceria’s Pacifico Clara. PWB argued at court that the branding and language was too similar and would confuse customers. Here are samples of each beer’s branding.

Pacific Pilsner vs Pacifico Clara Cerveza

So, yeah, other than roughly similar uses of the word “Pacific”, there’s not a whole lot of similarity here. Normally, this is about when we’d hold our collective breaths and wait to see if the court comes down with a sensible ruling based on the likelihood of customer confusion, or if the court instead chooses the over-protectionist route, focusing on the common language and nothing else. In this case, Justice Luc Martineau appears to have gotten every last bit of it right.

    Martineau said the first impression given by the label Cerveceria uses for its Pacifico brand “is of its obviously foreign origin” and that it’s “highly stylized, with many distinctive design elements, including strong and contrasting colours and font in red, gold, blue, green and yellow.” He further said the label “differs visually, phonetically, and semantically” from all of the marks PWB uses for its Pacific brands of beers.

    Martineau also dismissed as without merit PWB’s argument that contrary to a statement on the register, Cerveceria del Pacifico was not first sold in Canada as early as April 1986. He noted that an affidavit from Cerveceria stating the beer was introduced at Expo ’86, where it was sold at a Mexican restaurant called Ole Cantina, was not challenged by PWB counsel. By December 1989, Pacifico was listed with the B.C. Liquor Distribution branch and in August 1990, a registration protecting the mark was issued.

    “The delay of almost 25 years before attempting to invalidate the registration weighs heavily against a finding of confusion,” Martineau said of PWB’s action.

August 27, 2015

Comparative Advantage Homework

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Feb 2015

Make sure you’ve completed the homework introduced in the Comparative Advantage video before you watch this video, as we’ll be going over the answer. We take a look at our example which compares shirt and computer production and consumption in Mexico and the United States. At the end of this video, you’ll have a better understanding of why it makes sense for countries to engage in trade.

August 18, 2015

Donald Trump’s immigration “policy” proposals

Filed under: Americas, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle found herself coming back to the phrase “bag o’ crazy” when she tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals:

To be fair, he does have some practical positions. Some of them will be controversial, like criminal penalties for people who overstay temporary visas. Some of them are theoretically feasible, but wildly expensive, such as tripling the size of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and stepping up detentions and deportations.

Then there are the less practical ideas, which are — well, there’s a reason I got stuck on “bag o’ crazy.”

Most notably, Trump is promising to end birthright citizenship and get Mexico to pay for building a giant wall across our nearly 2,000-mile border. He also adds bizarre promises like a temporary halt on issuing any green cards at all until the domestic labor market recovers and a “refugee program for American children” aimed at getting foster kids into better homes.

This is not a serious policy document. Ending birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional amendment, which would never pass Congress, much less the three-quarters of the state legislatures required to ratify it. The difficulty of this task is exceeded only in the difficulty of getting Mexico to pay for a 2,000-mile wall that Mexicans have no interest in.

But critiquing Trump on the basis of his policy fantasies sort of misses the point. The precise reason that people like him is that his campaign is completely unmoored from underlying realities.

Every election season, candidates release white papers outlining what they will do when they take office. Those policy papers inevitably have a bunch of magic asterisks where the candidate has substituted heroic assumption for plausible numbers. These heroic assumptions do the bold and necessary work of hiding the costs of their rosy promises from voters. For example, Obama’s promise that his health care plan would save the average family a bunch of money, and also, never include a legal mandate forcing them to buy health insurance.

While those policy documents always have a certain … let’s call it a “muscular optimism” — they’re ultimately at least weakly tethered to the plausible. Viable Republican presidential candidates do not promise that on their first day in office, they will repeal Roe v. Wade. Democrats do not claim that they will provide universal preschool education for a net cost of $5. That’s just unrealistic.

But a broad swath of American voters are hungry for those sweet little lies. Or big lies. These voters don’t want some guy who crafts a policy agenda that could actually be enacted, some triangulated plan that could get past the American system’s checks and balances. In Dave Weigel’s terrific piece on a Trump rally in Flint, Michigan, two quotes, from two different people, stand out:

    “Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”

And:

    “I compare Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan. He lets people know what he’s going to do, not what to ask for.”

This is, of course, a completely inaccurate picture of how government works. But they’re sick of how the government works.

June 25, 2014

Mexico’s champion crony capitalist

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:31

I don’t read the various financial magazines’ regular fanboi coverage of multi-billionaires, so I wasn’t all that aware of the fabulous wealth of Mexico’s Carlos Slim. Slim is one of the richest men in the world, but he doesn’t owe his success to technical innovation or outstanding business skills … he owns the Mexican telephone market thanks to a sweetheart “privatization” deal he got from his good friend in the Presidential palace back in 1990. In other words, his fortune largely derives from his ability to skim off vast profits from a captive customer base. Steve Sailer rounds up some interesting snippets about Slim, including a bit from French economist and current media darling Thomas Piketty:

Andres Oppenheimer wrote for PBS:

    Mexico in the early nineties was similar to American capitalism in the late 1870s. Azcarraga, Slim, and Hernandez were not much different from railroad and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie or oil trader John D. Rockefeller. Like the American “Robber Barons” of their time, the Mexico Twelve were making a fortune from their close partnership with the government. And to their immense relief, Mexico was not contemplating anything like the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which had broken up U.S. monopolies through forced sell-offs.

In return, Salinas demanded at a private dinner party on February 23, 1993 that Slim and Mexico’s other 29 oligarchs donate $25 million each to the ruling party’s campaign war chest, a total of $750 million. Oppenheimer notes:

    Telecommunications magnate Slim … supported the motion, adding only that he wished the funds had been collected privately, rather than at a dinner, because publicity over the banquet could “turn into a political scandal.”

Now, you might think that there is something unseemly about a regular contender for the title of World’s Richest Man making his fortune off the relatively small Mexican economy. We’re constantly told that Mexicans have to be allowed to flock to America to escape starvation in their own land. Yet one well-connected monopolist is permitted to pile up an enormous trove by charging exorbitant fees for the lifeblood of any economy, communications.

A 2006 article in the New York Times pointed out:

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an association of wealthy countries based in Paris, reports that Mexicans pay some of the highest phone rates in the world, with calls costing 50 percent more than the group’s average. Forbes reported that the average monthly phone bill for a small business in Mexico is $132, compared with $60 in the United States.

Slim epitomizes the toll taken on the Mexican economy by monopolists:

    As a result, said Mr. Ortiz of the Bank of Mexico, economic growth is one percentage point less than it could be with real competition. There are not enough jobs to keep workers from migrating to the United States …

Piketty, however, is offended by how Slim

    … is often described in the Western press as one who owes his great wealth to monopoly rents obtained through (implicitly corrupt) government favors…

(Slim, himself, has been proactive about improving his press coverage: in 2008 he financially bailed out the New York Times and is now the newspaper of record’s second-biggest owner. Not surprisingly, Slim, who profits lavishly off long distance calls between illegal immigrants in America and their loved ones in Mexico, doesn’t get mentioned much in the Times’ vociferous denunciations of immigration skeptics.)

Piketty, in his inimitable prose style, explains that criticizing Slim is a mistake, if not downright racist:

    Rather than indulge in constructing a moral hierarchy of wealth, which in practice often amounts to an exercise in Western ethnocentrism, I think it is more useful to try to understand the general laws that govern the dynamics of wealth—leaving individuals aside and thinking instead about modes of regulation, and in particular taxation, that apply equally to everyone, regardless of nationality.

In other words, rather than the citizens of Mexico using the rule of law to break up Slim’s monopoly, as Americans did with Rockefeller’s, the important thing is for readers of Capital to take global control.

What could possibly go wrong in Piketty’s planetary empire?

December 20, 2013

Why we know so little about the Maya

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

David Friedman is running a seminar called “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours” and one of the students in the seminar chose to do her paper on the Mayan legal system … or at least what we can deduce from the various sources. We don’t have a coherent view on many aspects of the Mayan culture, but he identifies the key sources that can be drawn from:

1. Modern Archeology.

The advantage is that one can dig up ruins, artifacts, other physical remains of a civilization and date them. Physical objects, unlike written texts or oral tradition, can’t lie or be mistaken.

The disadvantage is the problem of interpreting what you find — which may well depend in part on what you expect to find. As Chesterton pointed out, future archaeologists might conclude that the 19th century English believed the dead could smell things, as shown by the evidence of flowers in grave sites.

2: The oral traditions and current practices of the descendants of the Maya civilization.

The advantage of that source of information is that there are lots of people who are bilingual in one of the Maya languages and a modern language, so anthropologists who interview them can avoid the problem of making sense of an ancient language and an extinct system of writing.

The disadvantage is that we do not know how much of what current Maya believe about events in the distant past is true, nor to what degree current institutions preserve the institutions of the distant past.

3. A book written in Spanish by a 16th century Spanish Bishop describing his observations shortly after the conquest.

The advantage is that it is written in a language we can read, using a writing system we can read, based on first hand observation.

The disadvantages are, first, that it is first hand observation by a single observer of a society very different from his own, and second that the observer had serious biases that may well have affected what he observed and recorded. […]

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