Sunday, August 28, 2016

Amatrice: the Lost Town

Images of Amatrice, the town at the epicenter of Italy's August 24 earthquake. At least 200 residents of the town were killed and half its buildings destroyed. Many of the rest are unsafe and will have to be demolished. Some people are making brave noises about returning, but given the extent of the devastation and the region's declining population, the town may never be rebuilt.

And below, before and after shots of San Agostino, a fifteenth-century church.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Australian Landscapes: Arthur Streeton and Penleigh Boyd

In my random wanderings through the internet's art displays I stumbled across two Australian artists I like: Arthur Streeton (1867 – 1943) and Penleigh Boyd (1890 – 1933). Both painted landscapes in a style sometimes called Australian Impressionism. Above is the painting that first started me exploring these characters, Landscape with White Gum by Boyd, 1922.

Arthur Streeton was part of the "Heidelberg School", a group of artists who introduced Impressionism to Australia. Heidelberg was an outer suburb of Melbourne where Streeton liked to paint. This is one of his Heidelberg paintings, Golden Summer, Eaglemont, 1889. To get a sense of how these wide paintings look you'll have to click on them.

Portrait of Streeton in 1891, when his friends called him "Smike."

Two more Streeton landscapes, The purple noon's transparent might, 1895, and Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide, 1890. The titles are quotations from Shelley and Wordsworth, transposed to scenes of Australia. Streeton lived from 1897 to 1906 in England, and he returned during the Great War to serve as a medical orderly in London's hospitals.

He painted several battlefield landscapes, all of the quiet aftermath of battle rather than the bloody mess.  Mount St. Quentin, 1918.

And one more, Railway Station, Redfern.

Penleigh Boyd came from a whole family of painters – both of his parents, one of his brothers, and three of his nephews all painted professionally. The Three Sisters, 1914.

He followed along after the Heidelberg Group and was much influenced by them. The River, 1919.

Winter Triumphant. Which is not sentiment I associate with Australia, although I know that have winter of sorts in the southern parts.

Ghost Gum at Kangaroo Flat, 1921. A very Australian name for our final Australian painting.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Civil War and Foreign Intervention, or, Why Syria's Nightmare Drags On

Historians who study civil wars say that foreign intervention tends to make them last much longer:
Most civil wars end when one side loses. Either it is defeated militarily, or it exhausts its weapons or loses popular support and has to give up. About a quarter of civil wars end in a peace deal, often because both sides are exhausted.

That might have happened in Syria: the core combatants — the government and the insurgents who began fighting it in 2011 — are both quite weak and, on their own, cannot sustain the fight for long.

But they are not on their own. Each side is backed by foreign powers — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey — whose interventions have made Syria an ecosystem with no entropy. In other words, the forces that would normally impede the conflict’s inertia are absent, allowing it to continue far longer than it otherwise would.

Government and rebel forces are supplied from abroad, which means their arms never run out. They also both draw political support from foreign governments who do not feel the war’s costs firsthand, rather than from locals who might otherwise push for peace to end their pain. These material and human costs are easy for the far richer foreign powers to bear.

This is why, according to James D. Fearon, a Stanford professor who studies civil wars, multiple studies have found that “if you have outside intervention on both sides, duration is significantly greater.”
There is much more in that article, including evidence that foreign intervention leads to more atrocities against civilians. In the Syrian case foreign support seems to make it impossible for the war to ever end, since whenever one side starts losing the other side's sponsors step up their support until the stalemate is re-established.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Hunterston Brooch

Hiberno-Scottish, made around 700 CE. Found in either 1826 or 1830 (depending on whose memory was right) by two workmen digging drains at the foot of Goldenberry Hill.


Details. The brooch is now in the National Museum of Scotland. Some think it was made in Ireland, but the National Museum says that it mixes a predominantly Irish style with Anglo-Saxon elements and was therefore most likely made in western Scotland where the two traditions met.

The University of Chicago Welcomes New Students

With a warning about the intellectual dangers of education:
Welcome and congratulations on your acceptance to the college at the University of Chicago. Earning a place in our community of scholars is no small achievement and we are delighted that you selected Chicago to continue your intellectual journey.

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. … Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Fostering the free exchange of ideas fosters a related University priority – building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.

Peace in Colombia?

Today's best news is the signing of a peace accord between the government of Colombia and the FARC rebels, which may end a conflict that has been going on for fifty years:
Peace in Colombia now looks more likely than ever.
Count me as skeptical, though, that this will really solve Colombia's problem with violence. Because there is still the big issue of drugs:
But even if the deal is approved by the public, its success is anything but guaranteed.

Will it be accepted by all rebels, who vowed to bring a Marxist revolution to Colombia but are being asked to accept far less?

How will thousands of guerrillas — many of whom were kidnapped as children and know only life in the jungle — find their way into mainstream society, and will they be accepted there?

And perhaps most crucially: Will the rebels give up not only their weapons, but their control of the lucrative drug trade as well?

The State Department calls the FARC a terrorist organization that “controls the majority of cocaine manufacturing and distribution within Colombia, and is responsible for much of the world’s cocaine supply.”
I have a feeling that many rebels will give civilian life a try and then decide that life as a well-paid soldier of a drug-funded revolution was a better deal.

But we can always hope, and we should never stop trying to bring violence to an end.

Protesting Mosquito Control

The latest magic bullet in the ancient war between humans and mosquitoes is a genetically modified strain:
Oxitec scientists said they had reduced the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus, by 90 percent or more in other areas where the company’s modified mosquitoes have been released, including Brazil. The male mosquitoes carry synthetic DNA as larvae. They are hatched and then released as adults to mate with females (who do all the biting) in the wild. The DNA infuses their offspring with too much protein, causing them to die.
Given the immense slaughter mosquito-borne diseases wreak on humanity, this seems like a good idea to many of us. But a plan to test these genetically-neutered mosquitoes in Key West is running into the same sort of unease with technology that drives vaccine avoidance and many other issues:
“People here can survive what nature throws at them,” said Gilda Niles, 64, who arrived in Key West from Cuba in 1967 and moved to Key Haven in 1980, when it was just a plot of earth with cheaper land, water on three sides and more space. “Hurricanes, bring them on; long-timers here seldom evacuate. Mosquitoes, well, that’s the price of paradise. Zika, this too shall pass, like dengue. But science and government, I’m not so sure about.”
We can survive anything but science and government – there's a sentiment to ponder. How did we get here, and what can we do about it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Two Pictish Hoards: Norrie's Law and St. Ninnian's Isle

Hoard from Norries' Law, near Fife, 6th or 7th century, consisting mostly of hack silver. This was found in 1819 by workmen who spirited away much of it before the landowner found out what was going on. So some of the silver was probably melted down and re-used, which is appropriate in a way because that is what hack silver was for.

One of the fascinating things about this hoard is the pairs of objects, one of which is old and worn, the other new; presumably the new is a copy of the old. This, combined with the large amount of hack silver, makes this look like the contents of a silversmith's workshop.

Notice the two brooches, one old when it went the ground, the other new.

Detail of silver pins with enameled heads

Detail of plaque

And a famous hoard from St. Ninian's Isle, 8th century. Discovered in 1958.

Pennanular brooch, silver gilt

Mount, silver, and detail

Silver bowl, and detail

Scabbard end with Latin inscription.


My Office

The latest version of my personal work space; I've been in this corner for about three years but just recently got it set up to my liking. The two larger, green-bordered drawings are reconstructions of 18th-century archaeological sites I excavated in Delaware. The African mask was a present from a friend; it's in my office because my wife refused to have it in the house. She says that it is obviously possessed and if we had it at home the eyes would start glowing red and we would all be slain by hyena demons.

The Vicarello Goblet

Roman, Augustan period. Now in the Cleveland Museum.

EpiPens and American Health Care

Lots of news this week about the rising price of EpiPens, life-saving devices that automatically inject the right dose of Epinephrine to control allergic shock:
Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price. In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.
As Aaron Carroll explains, this is the culmination of a series of moves by the government and the manufacturer, all made with zero regard for cost. I think this bit is a perfect symbol of one reason why health care costs are rising:
Then in 2010, federal guidelines changed to recommend that two EpiPens be sold in a package instead of one. Studies showed that about 10 percent of children who received epinephrine from an EpiPen needed more than one dose. Better to be safe than sorry. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration changed its recommendations to allow for the prescription of EpiPens for prevention for at-risk patients, not just for those with confirmed allergies. Mylan stopped selling individual EpiPens and began to sell only twin-packs.
So because 10 percent of children need a second dose, no more single doses will be sold, effectively doubling the price. And there is no benefit to, say, using one and keeping the other around, because Epinephrine degrades over time and EpiPens need to be replaced every year or so. If you want to know why health care costs rise inexorably, there is a big part of your answer: a determination to avoid any preventable risk. Newborns that would once have spent an extra day in the hospital, because of jaundice or breathing issues, are now transferred to neonatal intensive care units for a week of monitoring at a cost in the tens of thousands, because you never know which baby is the one in a hundred or a thousand who might otherwise die.

In the case of EpiPens we can add three other regular features of American health care: tight FDA regulations that make it difficult and expensive for competitors to enter a market like this one, the laziness of doctors who don't bother to prescribe a generic substitute even when one exists, and the insane greed of pharmaceutical companies.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Falkirk Hoard

A hoard of 1,925 Roman coins found by workmen in 1933 near Falkirk in Scotland. Now in the National Museum of Scotland. The hoard contains coins from the period 38 BCE to 230 CE, most of them rather evenly distributed across the whole 69 to 230 period. Since coins tended not to circulate within the empire for that long, the general thinking is that this hoard was accumulated in Scotland.

Presumably by some strange family of wealthy Scottish misers who kept all their coins for 150 years.

David Brooks on American Leadership

David Brooks is wondering why, in his words "American leadership fails." Why, he asks, are we not addressing our big problems?

He dismisses corruption as the explanation, and I agree, for reasons I'll get to in a moment. He also dismisses insularity, the common notion that our leaders don't solve our problems because they are too removed from ordinary life to understand them. I also agree with Brooks about this; there may be problems in some communities that our leaders don't understand very well, for example the scandalous way we handle bail bonds. But our elites do understand and have experience of many problems – traffic, housing costs, student loans, credit card debt, drugs, depression, all of which are scourges of upper middle class life – and they aren't solving those, either.

Brooks thinks that people get into politics with a "vocation" to help people,
but over the years, many get swallowed by the system: all the calculating consultants; the ephemeral spin of the media cycle; the endless meetings with supplicants; the constant grind of public criticism; the way campaigning swallows time so they get to spend less time thinking about policy; the way service to a partisan team eclipses service to the cause that brought them into this in the first place.
Certainly many politicians are cynical, and maybe this is a big problem with some political actors. But if what you really want is to be re-elected again and again, solving certain problems would probably help: raising the median income, for example. Or reducing traffic congestion. Plus in America right now the people who want to shut down the government include some of the most committed ideologues.

So I don't think cynicism is the real answer, either.

I think our problem is that 1) our problems are hard to solve, and 2) we don't agree at all on how to go about solving them.

Providing health insurance to all Americans is a fantastically difficult problem, which can be solved only by either doubling the average person's tax bill to pay for a single payer system or creating a mind-boggling bureaucratic maze like Obamacare. Either path requires millions of decisions about what to pay for and how, every one controversial.

Getting the median family income rising again is a problem that no rich nation in the world is solving very well right now. The economic headwinds against this seem to be very strong, and nobody I trust has a clear plan to make things better.

Drug addiction in poor communities is another very tough nut to crack. Traffic is a nightmare; I of course support building more public transit, but this is hugely expensive and every attempt to add new subway or light rail lines is bitterly fought by some coalition of neighbors and other interest groups. Terrorism is a fiendish scourge.

Even a whole Congress full of idealism and vocation would find it hard to solve these or any of our other real problems.

And then there is ideology. One reason we don't "solve our problems" is that we don't agree on what they are. Many American conservatives think the reason people are poor is that they can get by without trying very hard because of welfare, food stamps, disability, etc., and the only way to really help them is to cut off all those subsidies and make them stand on their own. They don't say this because they are cynical or because they have been bought by the Koch brothers; they really believe it.  It is almost impossible to imagine how such a person and I could ever agree on a plan to fight poverty. The same is true for many other issues. Despite what some people seem to think, this is not just a problem of Washington insiders; the whole country is divided on these questions, and the divide is too close for either side to get a real upper hand.

The second part of my explanation depends to some extent on the first. That is, one reason we have these ongoing ideological debates is that we lack clear solutions to our problems. If there were some way to organize public schools that made kids dramatically happier and smarter, it would be adopted around the country regardless of which side dreamed it up. But since the whole field is a muddle, ideology reigns. Sometimes ideologues refuse to believe that the evidence refutes them even when it does, but I think those clear examples are only a small subset of the problems we face.

Here's my answer to Brooks' question: American leadership fails mainly because the problems we have are not susceptible to solutions handed down by leaders, and secondarily because our leaders follow our citizens in being deeply divided in what our problems are and how we should approach them.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tile, Iran, 17th Century

Geel: Living with the Mentally Ill

Geel is a small town in Belgium with a modern population of about 39,000. In the center of the old town is a medieval church dedicated to St. Dymphna, a protectress of the mentally ill:
According to legend, Dymphna was a 7th-century Irish princess who fled to Geel from a maddened father and devoted her life to serving the mentally disabled. But she became a martyr when her father discovered her location and traveled to Geel to behead her.

The town built St. Dymphna's church in the 14th century to honor the saint and enshrine her supposed remains. It became a popular pilgrimage site for people across Europe, who would bring loved ones to the shrine in the hopes of finding relief from their mental distress.
That tradition continues to this day:
For over 700 years, residents of Geel have been accepting people with mental disorders, often very severe mental disorders, into their homes and caring for them.

It isn't meant to be a treatment or therapy. The people are not called patients, but guests or boarders. They go to Geel and join households to share a life with people who can watch over them. Today, there are about 250 boarders in Geel. One of them is a Flemish man named Luc Ennekans. He's slim and has green eyes, and he's 51 years old. . . . Like all of the guests in the town today, Ennekans first went to a public psychiatric hospital in Geel that manages the boarder program. Ennekans saw medical professionals and received treatment and an evaluation. Then he was paired with a household.
At times there have been many more borders than this, more than 3,000 in the 1930s. There is no treatment as such, just tolerance and acceptance:
That acceptance of mental differences has become something of a tradition in Geel. It's at the heart of the boarder program, and some observers think it's also responsible for the system's success. Around the world, many different experiments have been attempted over the centuries to provide humane care for people with mental illness and mental disabilities. Geel is one that has endured. . . .

The integration of people with mental disorders into Geel society has fascinated scholars for centuries. In 1862, Dr. Louiseau, a visiting French doctor, described it as "the extraordinary phenomenon presented at Geel of 400 insane persons moving freely about in the midst of a population which tolerates them without fear and without emotion." Nearly 100 years after that, an American psychiatrist named Charles D. Aring wrote, "The remarkable aspect of the Gheel experience, for the uninitiated, is the attitude of the citizenry."

Early psychiatrists who observed Geel noticed that the treatment prescribed for mental patients was, in fact, no treatment at all. "To them, treating the insane, meant to simply live with them, share their work, their distractions," Jacques-Joseph Moreau wrote in 1845. He and others advocated for that communion. "In a colony, like in Geel, the crazy people ... have not completely lost their dignity as reasonable human beings." In the next half-century, many would uphold Geel's model as the best standard of practice for mental disorders.
I don't want to be utopian about this. One reason families took in "boarders" was to have help around the farm or the house, and there are tales of abuse. But considering all the horrible ways we have treated the mentally ill over the centuries, how wonderful that this kind medieval model has survived.

Max Hastings, The Secret War

Spies are liars. It is part of the job description, and for most of them it becomes a part of their nature that they don't shed when it comes time to write their memoirs. So if, like me, you have read a stack of books about spying and codebreaking during World War II, you have perhaps wondered how much of them was true. If so, read The Secret War. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Max Hastings works judiciously through the claims that have been made over the years for spying, sabotage, and Ultra, sorting out what really happened and what effect if any it had on the outcome of the war.

Because frankly a lot of intelligence work made no difference whatsoever. All the nations spent huge sums on spies who hatched cloak and dagger schemes in various neutral countries, all to no effect. From 1943 on various German officers came up with scheme after scheme to contact British or American agents with proposals for a separate peace and a joint war against the Soviets, all of which was a waste because the British and Americans were not going to make a separate peace. Of all the combatants only the Soviets got much value from secret agents, because the worldwide appeal of communism gave them a large pool of potential traitors and their own expertise in conspiracy enabled them to make good use of these volunteers.

One of the striking things about the war is that even when the commanders had clear intelligence of their enemies' plans, they sometimes refused to believe it. Stalin's spies delivered to him detailed information about the Germans' coming invasion, but he never took their warnings seriously. Hastings regards the warnings the Americans received about the coming Pearl Harbor attack as definitive, and thinks that George Marshall among others should have been sacked for failing to take appropriate action. Before the 1944 "Market-Garden" airborne landings in the low countries, Ultra revealed that the 2nd SS Panzer Corps had been moved to Arnhem, but Montgomery asserted that this must be a German deception and ordered the operation to go ahead. (In the book and movie A Bridge too Far the discovery of panzers at Arnhem is attributed to aerial reconnaissance, but this seems to be a fabrication designed to protect the Ultra secret.) Japanese decrypts of American merchant ship codes made it clear that the US was about to attack the Marianas and Iwo Jima in 1944, but the high command ignored the intelligence and sent reinforcements to the Philippines. There are many such stories about all the combatants.

At other times commanders provided with good intelligence lost anyway. For example Ultra gave the British detailed plans for the 1941 German airborne assault on Crete days in advance, and the commanders took this seriously. But they were defeated despite this knowledge because the German paratroopers simply outfought British and Greek soldiers. No amount of intelligence could save an overmatched force from a determined assault. At other times perfect intelligence was rendered useless by changes on the battlefield; Ultra decrypts showed that in 1943 the Germans were planning to evacuate southern Italy, all the way past Rome, and this word was passed to the commanders planning the Allied invasion. That didn't happen, but not because the intelligence was wrong; Kesselring, the German commander, simply persuaded Hitler to change his mind. Mark Clark, commander of the US 5th Army, was so put off by this one failure that he never put much stock in Ultra again until near the end of the war.

Another problem with intelligence was that some leaders, especially Hitler and Stalin, ignored intelligence because they already knew what they wanted to do. There are several books about the massive effort the British mounted to deceive the Germans about the planned location of the D-Day invasion. Most of this effort was also wasted, because Hitler had already decided the landing was going to come at the Pas de Calais, and only the most nakedly obvious intelligence would have persuaded him to move troops to Normandy. Some American officers thought the British were wasting far too much effort trying to fool the Germans instead of just beating them. They had a point; Hastings notes that most spies and saboteurs could have served instead as infantry officers, of which the British in particular had a critically short supply.

The most important intelligence of war was signals work, the interception and (if necessary) decoding of enemy radio signals. World War II was the first radio war, in which land, sea and air units were in constant communication with each other via radio. Some communication, for example between pilots on missions or between tank commanders, was in plain speech, with just a few code words for objectives and units. All the belligerents employed teams of men to listen into this chatter and interpret it, and this was very useful. During their 1940 invasion of France the Germans had complete knowledge of French plans and movements from this one source. Rommel attributed much of his success in Africa to his excellent signal corps, which he said always identified the units he was fighting and much about their plans. Communications at a somewhat higher level were guarded by codes, sometimes generated by machines. These were not the most elaborate ciphers and all the combatants (even the Italians) regularly broke the low-level codes that brigade commanders used to message each other. At the highest level were top secret missives, for example from foreign ambassadors to their governments, or from central commands to army or theater commanders. These were protected by high-level codes that at the start of the war were widely considered unbreakable. They were not.

It is amazing, looking back, that governments and armies put so much reliance in their codes that they regularly broadcast their deepest secrets over the airwaves. The trust in these codes was so great that even when told by spies that their signals were being read, leaders refused to believe it. But none of the codes used during the war were entirely unbreakable and some part of the messages in all of them was read by enemies.

Two of the most important intelligence coups of the war were the American cracking of the Japanese naval code and the British breaking of the German Enigma. It was intelligence from code-breaking that made possible the American victory at Midway, which Hastings says is the clearest occasion in the whole war when an intelligence coup led to a military victory.

The breaking of Enigma is of course the most famous intelligence story of the war, how Alan Turing and a band of other geniuses cracked the "unbreakable" German code, built one of the world's first computers, and generally used brain power to somewhat even the odds on the battlefield. This is a hugely complex story, because Enigma was not just one system – the naval version was always harder to crack than the army or especially the Luftwaffe codes – and even at their best the codebreakers at Bletchley Park could only read a portion of intercepts fast enough to do any good. But cracking the Enigma really was a masterstroke; Hastings says that from 1942 on Ultra, as the British called their breakthrough, was their biggest contribution to the allied war effort.

Here's something I did not know. The most important use the British made of Ultra in 1941 was to fight German U-boats in the Atlantic. Using decrypted information about the locations of submarines and their planned movements, they were able to route convoys around ambush points, greatly reducing losses. But for most of 1941 the Germans were also reading the British merchant ship code. This summons up a vision of a weird situation in which the British get information about U-boat locations and re-route their convoys, and then the Germans get information about convoy re-routes and move their submarines accordingly, and so on. Almost incredibly, it took both sides nearly a year of this to realize that their messages were being read. The British eventually changed their code to one the Germans never reliably cracked, and the German navy responded by adding a fifth coding wheel to their Enigmas. This refinement called forth Turing's greatest display of genius, as he and his team broke the new code after nine months of disturbing silence.

As for spies of the regular sort, Hastings asserts that only the Soviets got any real intelligence from secret agents. (Nazi spying, he says, was comically bad.) Communist sympathizers in the US and Britain passed mountains of data to their bosses, so much that less than half of it was ever translated. Philby, Burgess, and the rest of the Cambridge spies kept Stalin well informed about the thinking of the British government and general staff, including much of the intelligence that the British were getting from Ultra. At one crucial point in the war, this actually hurt them; Hastings explains that one reason Stalin did not believe the Germans would attack the Soviet Union in 1941 was that British general staff did not think Hitler would do it, and Stalin trusted the judgment of the British high command more than that of his own agents. On the other hand communist sympathizers kept the Soviets well informed about the British and American nuclear weapons programs, eventually delivering detailed plans of not just the Nagasaki bomb but centrifuges and other devices for enriching uranium.

Intelligence can on occasion be vital, but it has a big problem. The more you have, the more likely it is to contradict itself. It hardly ever happens that all sources tell the same story, and leaders always have to decide what to believe. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper spent the war as a British intelligence analyst, and Hastings relies heavily on the long-classified report that Trevor-Roper wrote in 1945 summing up the intelligence efforts of all parties in the war. Trevor-Roper noted that in the three weeks before the allies landed on Sicily in 1943 German intelligence received at least 75 reports of planned landing sites for the armada that was obviously being assembled, which he cataloged as Norway 3, Channel Coast 4, Azores 1, Spanish Morocco 1, Southern France 6, Italy 8, Corsica 7, Sardinia 4, Sicily 6, Dalmatia 9, Greece 7, Crete 8, Dodecanese 8, Cyclades 1, Romania 2. Such "information" can be worse than useless. It requires good judgment to make sense of the flow of intelligence, and then decisive leadership to take advantage of the insights gained. The mere accumulation of secret information does no good at all.

We and They

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They.

–Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Today in America

The Okunev Culture: Southern Siberia in the Early Bronze Age

The Okunev Culture is the first Bronze Age culture of southern Siberia, specifically the region known as the Minusinsk Basin. It is known primarily from two kinds of archaeological remains: burials and stone monuments.

The carved stone stelae are up to 4 meters (13 feet) tall. Russian archaeologists believe that these faces are all solar symbols.

Similar images have been found on rock cliffs and smaller stones.

This antler figure is also attributed to the Okunev culture.

Since 2008 spectacular finds have been unearthed at a large cemetery known as Itkul II, on the shore of Lake Itkul in the Republic of Khakassia. The cemetery dates to between 2500 and 1800 BCE.

Last year an infant grave was reported, the tiny skeleton half hidden under eight antler figurines. The figurines were carved to represent humanoid figures, birds, elk, boar, and a carnivore. If they were attached together with a thong, as seems likely, they would have made a rattle, such as Siberian shamans still use to drive away dangerous spirits. The baby had a hat made of 11 copper plates sewn to cloth, and it had been buried in a birchbark cradle. Somebody was very upset about this child's death.

And now comes word of another spectacular burial, this one of a mature woman with an accompanying child. The woman wore more than a hundred animal teeth and 1,500 bone and shell beads, probably sewn to her clothing.

Even more exciting was this clay incense burner, because it was decorated with symbols that nail down the hitherto iffy connection between the burials and the carved stones, allowing the stones to be precisely dated.

Amazing stuff.