Books 2017

You might also be interested in my booklists from 2014 and 2016

Arabian Sands

The Aryans

The Big Show

The Camel and the Wheel

Civil War on Western Waters

Company Commander

Double-edged Secrets

The Forgotten Soldier

Genes in Conflict

Hive Mind

The horse, the wheel, and language

The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History

Habitable Planets for Man

The genetical theory of natural selection

The Rise of the Greeks

To Lose a Battle

The Jewish War

Tropical Gangsters

The Forgotten Revolution

Egil’s Saga


Time Patrol

Suggestions are welcome. Only great books, mind you.

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Still not yet.

Here are the National Merit finalists for the Albuquerque Public Schools system, for 2018:

Cibola High School
Gage Boman, Michael Kiesling

Del Norte High School
Benjamin Cochran

Eldorado High School
Maria Anna Cheshire, Caroline Pineda, Nicolas Savignon, Todd Snow

La Cueva High School
Thomas Brown, Gabriel Cuneo, Kaan Dokmeci, Matthew Eck, Emma Hazard, Akshay Jain, Abigail Jones, Nicholas Justice, Brandon Limary, Siddharth Namachivayam, Daniel Ndibongo, Megan Tran, Elizabeth Vaughan

Manzano High School
Emily Clarke

Volcano Vista High School
Naomi Rankin, Matthew Sanchez

Again, the Hispanics and Amerindians, that make up more than two thirds of the students, don’t show up much. I forget why they were supposed to. It’s not happening in California, either.

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Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis was a strong supporter of endosymbiotic theory, the [correct !] notion that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as independent prokaryotes, first put forth by Konstanin Mereschkowski in the early 1900s. Andreas Schimper had a similar notion as early as 1883.

Margulis went on to theorize that symbiotic relationships between organisms are the dominant driving force of evolution. There certainly are important examples of this: as far as I know, every complex organism that digests cellulose manages it thru a symbiosis with various prokaryotes. Many organisms with a restricted diet have symbiotic bacteria that provide essential nutrients – aphids, for example. Tall fescue, a popular turf grass on golf courses, carries an endosymbiotic fungus. And so on, and on on.

She went on to oppose neodarwinism, particularly rejecting inter-organismal competition (and population genetics itself). From Wiki: [ She also believed that proponents of the standard theory “wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him… Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk.”[8] ‘

Symbiotic relationships are important, but they don’t explain nervous systems, or complex methods of reproduction, or livers, or wings. In other words, they certainly are not the dominant driving force of evolution. Mitochondria are important, no doubt about it – but they were incorporated into eukaryotes over a billion years ago. What has endosymbiosis done for us lately?

Margulis was interested in many biological questions , but as far I can see, except for her work on endosymbiosis, she was always wrong. She was wrong in her dabblings with the Gaia hypothesis, wrong in rejecting Carl Woese’s three-domain system, wrong in what she had to say about AIDS research. And, just in case someone somewhere hadn’t noticed that she was a complete nut, she was a 9-11 truther: there was “overwhelming evidence that the three buildings [of the World Trade Center] collapsed by controlled demolition.”[5]

You might think that Lynn Margulis is an example of someone that could think outside the box because she’d never even been able to find it in the first place – but that’s more true of autistic types [like Dirac or Turing], which I doubt she was in any way. I’d say that some traditional prejudices [dislike of capitalism and individual competition], combined with the sort of general looniness that leaves one open to unconventional ideas, drove her in a direction that bore fruit, more or less by coincidence. A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.

Posted in Speaking ill of the dead | 79 Comments

The Index

I heard an interesting true story: a CIA analyst, around the time the Iraq war started, said that anyone that didn’t believe in an Iraqi nuclear program was a racist.

The Baathists were broke & under sanctions. More than half the population was either in open revolt (Kurds) or still seething after revolt (Shi’ites). We were watching – spy satellites, recon planes, other ‘national technical means’ – and had seen nothing. There are five (now six) ways of preparing fissionable materials – and all are difficult, especially if they must also be invisible.

Iraqis were/are poorly educated and unskilled. Not much of an industrial economy – just oil.

And they’re dumb. Of course they didn’t have a nuclear program.

Personally, I keep (in my head) a rough index of national technical capability: what could country X do, what could they not do? Could Brazil build a fission bomb? Sure. Could they build LIGO, or the Large Hadron Colider? Probably not. Might we see important new mathematics come out of Nigeria – or any other new and important ideas? ? Nope. Holland? Quite possibly. For every country on Earth: the CIA does not do this, and is apparently unable to do so. Not just because they don’t know much – although they don’t – but because figuring it out would be racist.

An expanded version of that would rank corporations and other entities according their technical capabilities. What could GE do, what is Los Alamos capable of? Etc.

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The Same Old Story

People often reinterpret past events, recast them in terms of some contemporary ideology. When historians talk about the Monophysites in Byzantine times, they often suggest that those struggle are a mask for a kind of proto-nationalism. Maybe they were: and maybe nobody involved was thinking anything remotely like that. The Communists tried to come up with Marxist interpretations of ancient history, which led them to spend way too much time talking about Mazdakites in Sassanian Persia and the Zealots of Thessalonika . And Spartacus: but at least Spartacus was cool.

Then there are feminist versions of history. Let us never speak of them again.

Generally, this is all crap. But we could at least hope for something new along these lines: bullshit perhaps, but at least fresh bullshit. Obviously
the reality underlying both the Punic Wars and the Crusades is the ancient struggle between EEF and ANE.

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The recent popularity of men choosing to be castrated and wear a dress ( a ‘sex-change’) has some similarities to certain past practices. The people involved had very different things to say about their reasons, but it’s sometimes better to consider actions, rather than words.

The Skoptys were a secret sect in Tsarist Russia, known for castration of men and mastectomy of women.

Nobles, military officers, priests and merchants joined its ranks – not just peasants. In the late 19th century, there were scandals when some high-ups in the Orthodox church were found to be Skoptys. Pull down their pants: surprise! Cf The Kreutzer Sonata.

There may have been as many as 100,000 Skoptys by the early 20th century. The Commies seem to have wiped them out, confirming that there’s a little bit of good in the worst of us.

The Galli, the eunuch priests of Cybele [ Magna Mater], are another example. “The Galli castrated themselves during an ecstatic celebration called the Dies sanguinis, or “Day of Blood”, which took place on March 24.[4] At the same time they put on women’s costume, mostly yellow in colour, and a sort of turban, together with pendants and ear-rings. They also wore their hair long, and bleached, and wore heavy make-up. They wandered around with followers, begging for charity, in return for which they were prepared to tell fortunes. On the day of mourning for Attis they ran around wildly and disheveled. They performed dances to the music of pipes and tambourines, and, in an ecstasy, flogged themselves until they bled.[3] ”

Self-castration was un-Roman and forbidden to citizens, except for the period between Claudius and Domitian. So the Galli were generally foreigners.

Rome officially adopted this cult at a low point in the 2nd Punic war. It lasted for a quite a while: St. Augustine complained about them.

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