Sunday, August 13, 2017


On August 4-5-6, 2017, the 39th annual Armadillocon science fiction convention brought possible futures and alternate pasts to Austin. A friend of mine said that it is “a very literary con” and it lived up to that. On the second night, I saw a couple in Steam Punk dress, but there were no other costumes, no t.v. or movie stars, just books, authors, artists, editors, publishers, and, of course, readers. We had a great time.

Armadillocon prides itself on introducing the best new talent. The GoH (Guest of Honor) was Nisi Shawl. Her steampunk novel, Everfair, is set in an alternate Belgian Congo that is – going on the reviews; I have not read it - inclusive to minorities of gender and color. In addition, as is customary, there was a Fan GoH (A. T. Campbell III). Other special guests were Mark A. Nelson (Artist GoH), and Trevor Quachri of Analog (Editor GoH). Fantasy writer Tamora Piece was the Special GoH.
The panel discussions were all about the craft and business of writing, from how to get an idea, to how to turn an idea into a story, to how to sell to Analog (or anyone). Laurel and I attended several panel discussions together and split up for others. 
Brad Foster of
Artist, Panelist, and Pictionary player
“Writing Golden Age Fiction Today” (billed as Lou Antonelli, Alan J. Porter, James Reasoner, Adrian Simmons, but with Shane Friesner and Keith West filling in for Adrian Simmons) was interesting to me because I have an unfinished anthology, Millennium Wonder Stories, set the present, but as if written in 1937-1939.  Like any good story, the action must be plot driven, fun, and adventurous, with a touch of romance. It has to be “a story that moves.” Introducing a new world is key. A weird menace with “a Scooby-Do ending” (unmasking the threat) is one way to frame those.  A point made in other panels was that a plot is not “an extended conceit.” In a Golden Age story, there are no moral ambiguities. We get the future we deserved, not the one we got.
One of Many Panel Discussions
(Barbara Ann Wright was inspirational.)
Also on the first night, I went to “Timeless versus Tired Tropes.”  Like a riff in music, a trope is a recurring shorthand: the plucky girl, the evil corporation, the mysterious elf, star-crossed lovers, coming of age, bad-assed robot, first person smartass, alien invasion, the dream sequence.  Panelist Ari Marmell said, “A trope is a cliché done well.” Steven Brust suggested subverting the trope, changing the reader’s expectations. Panel chair Shawn Scarber offered the city as a character.

Friday night closed with an investigation into the sidekick, “Frodo had Samwise, Han had Chewie…” with Michael Ashleigh Finn, Josh Roundtree, Patrick Sullivan, Rhonda Eudaly, and Skylar White. The sidekick can be relatable or inspirational, a friend whose presence relieves the author of writing interior dialog. It opens the opportunity for a story about the friendship. The relationship can be unequal or equal. The sidekick can also be a stand-in for the audience. It is also possible to “subvert the trope” as was done in Without a Clue in which Dr. Watson is the protagonist.
Kurt Baty built a replica of the Antikythera Device with LEGO
Saturday opened with Kurt Baty’s presentation on the Antikythera Device. The topic was a little far afield, though science is essential to science fiction. Kurt focused on the machine. I noted that the Antikythera Device does open up both alternate history and lost history as story devices. What would “wine punk” science fiction be like? A world of Daedalus hang gliders, mirror-and-lens burning rays, bronze gear calculators, for a society that speaks of geometry and astronomy. In the real world of the time, a legal slave could be a lawful millionaire.

Laurel and I went to “Writing 101.” They suggested taking a common domestic event and twisting the story, and other advice.

I went to the Guest Editor interview while Laurel was at “Pantsing versus Outlining.”  (“Pantsing” is writing by the seat of your pants, not the now-criminal harassment we suffered in our childhoods.)  I followed the Guest Editor interview with “How to Sell to Analog (and other Markets)” while Laurel attended “Sitting Pilates for the Sedantary.” We met up again for “You Have a Great Idea for a Story—Now What?” Laurel went to “Serial Killers: Books that Ended a Series” while I walked out of “Technology – Art – Business” which was supposed to be about how recent advances in graphic arts technologies have changed the markets, but turned out to be about where to get free copies of programs that let non-artists find out why they are not artists. 
Tristan Thorne of Sinister Smile, local publisher of
eBooks, Paperback, or Hardcover
on Demand or Otherwise.
I bought one their scifi anthologies and
showed him my "Millennial Wonder Stories."
We both attended the session, “Novel or Short Story?” chaired by Louise Marley, with T. Eric Bakutis, Urania Fung, Michelle Muenzler, Patrice Sarath, and William Browning Spencer. We both took a lot of notes. Among the good information was an introduction to where to find markets. Laurel does more reading than I do, but we both benefited from learning about the meta-lists of markets. That was all explored again in depth on Sunday with “Short Story Markets.” That presentation started off rough with the panelists just naming markets in random conversation until another frustrated guy in the audience finally pointed to the easel and flipchart.

The same problem struck the presentation on Cartography which I walked out of. I completed my master’s degree with two classes in geographic information systems. I was looking forward to this. But I was astounded (and not in a Golden Age way) by a panel on Cartography without any graphics.

On Sunday, Laurel was at one of the very many readings by authors that are the structural skeleton of the convention.

Meanwhile, I attended “Clarke Centennial: 2001: A Space Odyssey.” I had a few problems with their opinions. It seemed a common assumption that HAL 9000 typified “technology out of control” a harbinger for petroleum which will kill us all with global warming. Quoting Dr. Chandra, I replied, “HAL was told to lie, by men who find it easy to lie.” Then, I lost my cool over global (even-if-it-is-real-so-fucking-what?) warming. However, I did meet panelist David Afsharirad who edited three volumes of “Year’s Best Military SF” for Baen Publishing Enterprises. I found him later in the dealers room. (He was buying at a table, not selling from one.) I bought all three volumes. He autographed them for me, inscribing them to my units in the Texas State Guard, the Maritime Regiment, and Domestic Operations.
Hard SF
From New Atlantic Industries.
Find them on Facebook, 

and of course, at
Laurel and I closed out the show with “What is This Thing Called Plot?” The panelists were Lou Antonelli, Michael Bracken, Urania Fung, Joe R. Lansdale (chair), Louise Marley, and Barbara Ann Wright. They recommended Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” website for screenwriting ( and his “15 Beats” that pace a story.

We picked up a ton of art cards, bookmarks, and other freebies, including self-published little stories. I bought a cool t-shirt, “Book Wyrm” in rich colors depicting a dragon in front of stacks of books. I also was happy to find a spin-off X Files/Star Wars poster (“I want to believe” with the Millennium Falcon for the flying saucer) from Vyktohria, who also draws pin-ups (website here). This was Laurel’s first scifi con. I went to a trekker con in Livonia, Michigan, back in the 20th century. All in all, we both benefited, and we brought home a lot to talk about, even a week later. One reason for this write-up is that we are still transcribing our notes in order to facilitate discussing them. We don’t do that for computer security conferences.

Previously on Necessary Facts
2017 Austin Energy Regional Science Fair

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Antikythera Device

The wonderfully complex mechanism that predicted eclipses, the positions of the planets, and the dates of Olympic games may have been a collaboration among Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and Apollonius.  Eratosthenes was the Librarian at Alexandria. Apollonius was the best geometer of the time. Or maybe Archimedes built it himself. Although this device is singular, its intricate gearing suggests that it must have been the result of a long series of development. But all the others are lost.
from the Freeth Presentation at Stanford
The best citation we have to the mechanical works of Archimedes come from De Re Publica by Marcus Tullius Cicero. You can find the citation archived at “Spheres and Planaria” at NYU Math here:
“Cicero (106-43 BC), De Re Publica, Book I, Sections 21-22
(In this passage Cicero writes of a discussion that takes place in 129 BC among a group of learned Romans. One of them relates an incident in 166 BC in which a Roman consul, Gaius Sulpicius Gallus, is at the home of Marcus Marcellus, the grandson of the Marcellus who conquered Syracuse in 212 BC.)
. . . he [Gallus] ordered the celestial globe to be brought out which the grandfather of Marcellus had carried off from Syracuse, when that very rich and beautiful city was taken, though he took home with him nothing else out of the great store of booty captured. Though I had heard this globe mentioned quite frequently on account of the fame of Archimedes, when I actually saw it I did not particularly admire it; for that other celestial globe, also constructed by Archimedes, which the same Marcellus placed in the temple of Virtue, is more beautiful as well as more widely known among the people. But when Gallus began to give a very learned explanation of the device, I concluded that the famous Sicilian had been endowed with greater genius that one would imagine it possible for a human being to possess. For Gallus told us that the other kind of celestial globe, which was solid and contained no hollow space, was a very early invention, the first one of that kind having been constructed by Thales of Miletus, and later marked by Eudoxus of Cnidus (a disciple of Plato, it was claimed) with the constellations and stars which are fixed in the sky. He also said that many years later Aratus, borrowing this whole arrangement and plan from Eudoxus, had described it in verse, without any knowledge of astronomy, but with considerable poetic talent. But this newer kind of globe, he said, on which were delineated the motions of the sun and moon and of those five stars which are called wanderers [the five visible planets], or, as we might say, rovers, contained more than could be shown on the solid globe, and the invention of Archimedes deserved special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed. And when Gallus moved the globe, it was actually true that the moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind in the sky. Thus the same eclipse of the sun happened on the globe as would actually happen, and the moon came to the point where the shadow of the earth was at the very time when the sun . . . out of the region . . .
(Translation by Clinton W. Keyes in Cicero: De Re Publica, De Legibus, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1928.)”
The Google Doodle for May 17, 2017  celebrated the 115th anniversary of the discovery of the device.  Sponge divers found it amid the treasures of an ancient wreck. Among these are some of the finest bronze statues we have from that context.  Archeologist Valerios Stais (1857-1923) was the first to suggest that the gearing was evidence of a clockwork, but his theory was discounted at the time. The next significant studies were the work of Derek DeSolla Price.
PBS NOVA Presentation
Derek John De Solla Price (1922-1983) held two doctorates, one of them in the history of science. You can find 23 one-hour lectures Neolithic to Now from Yale on his honorary blog site. Also there is the full text of Babylonian Science also on his honorary blogsite.  
Derek spent from around 1951 until about 1959 figuring out what that lump was and in a June 1959 Article in Scientific American he first announced to the mass public his theories on the device.” Price DeSolla worked with Charalampos Karakalos who used x-rays and gamma rays to create images of the 82 fragments.  They published 70-page paper, “Gears from the Greeks. The Antikythera Mechanism: A Calendar Computer from ca. 80 B. C.” in the November 1974 issue of Transactions of the American Philosophical Society New Series, 64 (7): 1–70.
from the lettering styles help to
place the time of construction
In our time, Dr. Anthony Freeth speaks for the team that has decoded much more of the Antikythera device.  Their papers are here:
You can view a 2-hour lecture delivered November 6, 2015, at Stanford.  (I did it in three sittings.) This link takes you to a lead-in article which provides links to their YouTube channel presentation (here) and Apple Store podcast. Freeth answers the basic questions: What, How, When, Where, Who, and Why.
Kurt Baty built a faithful LEGO model
That no other similar mechanism are known is troubling. It is easy to underestimate how much was lost over the centuries of the slow decline of Rome. We know from other citations that the wife of the emperor Claudius was Etruscan. For her, he wrote a history of her people, perhaps in their own language. Not only is that work – the creation of the most powerful citizen of Rome – lost, so is knowledge of the language. We can read the inscriptions we have found, sounding out the letters. Except for the names of some gods such as Minerva and Mercury, and other smatterings, we know nothing. As a weapon of war, a single thermonuclear bomb, exploded 50 miles above the surface will create an electro-magnetic pulse that erases just about all of our electronic storage.  In the wake of even a “limited” nuclear exchange, the subsequent nuclear winter might force us to burn our books to keep warm. Civilization is fragile.

Also on Necessary Facts

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Irene Louise Babos Marotta Joseph

Today would have been her 86th birthday. My mother left me with two enduring learning points.
  • Good music is cheap and cheap music is expensive.
  • It does not matter how much money you have as long as you are educated. 
5th Grade Buhrer School
Miss McGovern, 1941
There were many others. She was given to maxims, glittering generalities, and statements of opinion as fact. From my point of view, she had about 12 or 13 good years, and then slid downhill for about 25, though she enjoyed a couple of counter-trend peaks. After she died, we cleaned out her apartment and two salient facts gave me pause:
  • She had no mirrors (except for the one that is standard in the bathroom). When we were kids, we used to make Transylvania jokes about being Hungarian; maybe it was not so funny. 
  • We found a candle that had been burned at both ends.

c. 1964
Mom played the piano and owned a couple of them over the years. She taught my brother, Paul, and me to play, though I soon stopped because he eclipsed me. Nonetheless, I learned to read music, and later did not learn to play the coronet and French horn. We had classical (mostly Romantic) music on high fidelity 33-1/3 rpm records. Interestingly enough, Mom was supportive of rock ’n’ roll. Mindful that good music is cheap and cheap music is expensive, she still paid for 45s of hit songs from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, mostly at my brother’s request. I was not much for pop music until 1966, when I had my own favorites.

Cleveland Dental Manufacturing 
is now a residential loft space
Her best years started in 1956 to 1961 working for Walter S. Smith’s Cleveland Dental Manufacturing Company. Cleveland Dental did some overseas business, and Mom brought home envelopes with foreign stamps. She tried to get us interested in stamp collecting, but neither of us had much passion for it.

When Mr. Smith retired she worked a year or so more for the new president, but after the sale to Cavitron, she found another job. She then went to work for Dr. Robert Morgan Stecher who had offices at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital from its days as City Hospital. He was not a practicing physician, but an academic researcher whose passions included early horses and the genetics of arthritis. He was independently wealthy. His father, Fred W. Stecher, was a pharmacist who invented Pompeian Massage Cream  and built his home in Lakewood on a natural gas well that brought lease income.
No longer interested in politics.
City Hall Chambers 1998.
Working for Dr. Stecher broadened her horizons. She took us to the Cleveland Health Museum, bought me memberships in the Natural Science Museum, and split season tickets to Severance Hall with neighborhood doctors. (Our home was two blocks from City Hospital. Some of the rentals, ours and others, went to interns and residents. I benefited from a lot of extra-curricular education and exposure to the research labs at the hospital.)  She wrote Dr. Stecher’s international correspondence and prepared his journal manuscripts. Their office was next to the hospital library; and I bought some discards for a dime each.
After Dr. Stecher retired, she worked as an office temporary until she met her second disastrous husband. That marriage lasted no longer than the first, but the comparison is between the harsh voyage of the Mayflower and the gaiety of the Titanic.

When it became clear that neither Paul nor I was going to graduate from college, she took over management of our sister’s education and got Kelly through Baldwin-Wallace with a major in English and a minor in Biology, including a field trip to the Galapagos Islands. Mom did not live to see Paul and me go back to graduate with honors.

However, she did participate from the audience in the Cleveland punk music scene hanging out with Paul’s band, and billing herself as “Irene Styrene.”  

Her last job was as a full time administrative assistant at Cleveland City Hall. By then, she had lost her passion for politics. Forty years earlier, she had sent me to school with a Nixon-Lodge pin and the next time around, it was AuH2O in 64, which is how I ended up in Young Americans for Freedom in 1965, and ultimately wrote a blog.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Do You Know Your Military?

The unremediated challenge is that only 1% of the population is in the military; only 2% ever has been. During World War II, that number was 10%. Up through the 1970s, the draft ensured that very many people either had military experience or lived (or worked) closely with someone who had. Today, even though the military enjoys broad moral support, few people actually know anything about it. 

Warriors and Citizens:
American Views of Our Military,
Kori N. Schake and James Mattis, editors
(Hoover Institution Press, 2016)
The extensive pair of surveys by Schake and Mattis examined attitudes within the general population and contrasted them with samples from within the military. The 200 pages of numerical results provide a treasury of salient facts. One of the reasons for the disconnect between the military and civilians is that the person in your family most likely to have served in the military is your father (39%), all the moreso, if you are between the ages of 45 and 64 (52%).  The geopolitics of military spending put most of the largest bases in the South and West. As a result, youngsters leaving high school from Georgia, Texas, Missouri, and California are more likely to enlist in the military, with Massachusetts and Connecticut  statistically under-represented.

In all, these three comprehensive surveys reveal a deep, broad, and rich array of opinions across political affiliation, race, gender, and income.  They also query the military itself, separated by rank, combat experience, and other parameters.  Overall, very few majorities exist and most of those are slim, closer to 50% than to 60%.  The minority views are most revealing. 
Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American
Civil-Military Relations
by LTC Jason K. Dempsey
(Princeton University Press, 2009)
Citing Schake and Mattis, it would be easy to report that 36.7% of those who self-identify as “very liberal” believe that the military gets more respect than it deserves. However, without also reporting that 27.9% of those who self-identify as “very liberal” believe that the military gets less respect than it deserves, that would be an incomplete characterization of the “very liberal.”

Comparing the Citizenship and Service Survey (2004) designed by Jason K. Dempsey and the National Annenberg Election Survey (2004), revealed strong self-identified minorities of liberals among West Point cadets (20%) and serving Army lieutenants (24%).

Dissertation by Col. Heidi Urben
Online here.

Discussing politics at work is always problematic. For her doctoral dissertation, Civil-Military Relations in a Time of War,  at Georgetown (2010), Heidi K. Urben found that, broadly, senior officers (major and above) who self-identify as Republican tend to speak up and speak out at work.  Liberals and Democrats (about 27% of the junior officers and about 47% of the enlisteds) tend not to speak up at work. That allows the easy assumption that the Army is Republican. However, it appears that affiliation with the GOP is not as strong as perceptions suggest. Democrats and liberals are more likely to wear a political campaign button (in civilian clothes) and also have a bumper sticker and also attend a political meeting. A minority of Republicans might do one of those three, but not more than one.

Perhaps the single defining statistic revealed by Schake and Mattis and their team is that across all sectors of America, only the “elites” believe that the military should share the same values as society at large. Most people across the political spectrum believe that the military has a different value system than everyone else in America – and this is good. In particular, the “elites” hold that a liberal education is important to good citizenship.  Behind that statistical fact is the definition of who those “elites” are. Schake and Mattis created their lists from Who’s Who, and similar inventories of known and self-identified social leaders. And overall the attitudes of those elites, while skewed to the left, include the fact that 52% of them believe that the military gets less respect than it deserves.

Complete set of statistical tables from the book Warriors & Citizens
Schake and Mattis (1)
Schake and Mattis (2)

I work in a military office. Our commanding officer is leaving. He is a combat veteran who earned a master’s in anthropology from Texas A&M. His replacement is a Ranger who completed his bachelor’s in philosophy at Princeton.  Numbers hide individuals.


Monday, July 24, 2017

200,000 Pageviews

On or about July 17, 2017, this blog tallied its 200,000th page view. Launched on 2 January 2011, about 100 people per day read the posts, often as a result of Internet searches for topical information. Everyone can be a publisher, and perhaps too many people are. But I believe that we are experiencing a renaissance, a silver age, if not a golden age, in which the sharing of information – facts and opinions alike — creates a flourishing. Our lives are better.

In a previous post, I wrote about Jerry Emanuelson’s algebraic proof of Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage. Emanuelson has other interests. He previously created and marketed a high school level kit for experimenting with superconductors. The Internet gave him an easy and extensive exposure.

Science hobbyists of our generation knew well the Edmund Scientific Catalog. Edmund also wrote about the scientific method. He taught it as a 14-step engagement in discovery. Norman W. Edmund lived long enough (1916-2012) to bring his work to the Internet (see here ). It proved much more efficient than the U.S. Post Office.

The most popular articles from this blog so far are:
What (if anything) did Dorothy Learn? (4626)
Contradictions in the Constitution (2400)
Alongside Night to Run in Austin (1799)
Bob Swanson and Genentech (713)
William Sheldon: Psychologist, Numismatist, Thief (655)
Debt: the Seed of Civilization (556)
Crimes Against Logic: Exposing Bogus Arguments (409)
There is no John Galt and that’s Worse (356)
Supplies and Demands (340)
Romantic Realism (339)

Those numbers come from the Stats under the All time button on my control panel. However, I also have other numbers under View Count in the Posts:

Forgery and Fraud in Numismatics 1187
Debt: the Seed of Civilization 1183
Harriman’s Logical Leap Almost Makes it 884
(see, also, David Harriman’s Logical Leap 408)
Junk Criminology as Pseudo-Science 877
Nerd Nation: Natalie Portman, Danika McKeller, and Felicia Day 831
Unlimited Constitutional Government 797
ELI the ICE Man: Science and Technology 788
Hacking Computer Security: BSides Austin 2013 747
Art & Copy 729
Megacities 726
… that goddam Ayn Rand book 717
To Make Money 658
The Problem of Induction: Karl Popper and His Enemies 643
Employee Theft 639
The Fallibility of Fingerprinting 634
Sándor Kőrösi Csoma 626
Murray Rothbard: Fraud or Faker? 592
Shifting the Paradigm of Private Security 569
Venture Capital 566
Where All Children are Above Average 556
Karl Marx and the Dustbin of History 553
Gregory M. Browne’s Necessary Factual Truths 529
Republicans for Voldemort 528
Ayn Rand versus Conservatives 527
Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard “Serenity” 517
De Magnete by William Gilbert 466
George Boole’s Laws of Thought 459
Money as Press and Speech 439
Money as Living History 433
Against Gulching 396
Ma Kiley: Railroad Telegrapher 367
Short Snorters 354
The Virtues of Aviation Culture 339
A Successful Imitation of Alan Turing 335

The search terms that bring people here include Çatal Hüyük, (catal huyuk), supply and demand, supply and demand curve, contradictions in the Constitution, Merry Newtomas, and Employee Theft Facts. Although I write about Newtonmas every year, none of them makes the top of the lists.

Mirror sites
Among others…


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Jerry Emanuelson’s Algebraic Proof of Ricardo’s Law of Association

Most likely in the summer of 1970, Jerry Emanuelson published a proof showing that if two people work at two tasks at relatively different rates, they can trade their labor for mutual gain, even if one of them does both tasks better than the other.  His work appeared in The Libertarian Connection #13.  It is known to economists as Comparative Advantage, and it was suggested by Adam Smith, but argued forcefully later (1817) by David Ricardo. However, the formal statement was not known outside of academic economics; and it was, of course, compelling to libertarians. So, Jerry worked out several pages of algebraic inequalities for our benefit. As of this posting, it remains a lost work.

The Libertarian Connection was modeled on the science fiction fanzine. For your subscription, you were allowed to contribute two pages of content. The publishers collated the submissions, copied them, and distributed them to the subscribers.  The magazine came out every six weeks.  Originally, it was mimeographed. Contributors sent their works on stencils. The LC eventually went to photo-offset.

My comments about LC for Rebirth of Reason here:

In those early days, libertarianism was a very small set of people. Dale Haviland, a professional printer, produced the A is A Directory in 1971, which listed just about everyone who wrote an article for a libertarian magazine. He also produced a directory of those publications. That is what made Jerry Emanuelson’s proof important: it influenced a small group of people who themselves went on to become the Libertarian Party, Reason magazine, the Cato Institute, and much else. 

Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, also became famous.  Not only do libertarians know all about it …
… but even Paul Krugman accepts it:

You can find the original treatise On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
(London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street), by David Ricardo, 1817 (third edition, 1821) as a text file here:

You can find the algebraic statements for Comparative Advantage in Wikipedia  The bibliography of sources for that article includes these:
· MacDougall, G. D. A. (1951). “British and American exports: A study suggested by the theory of comparative costs. Part I.”. The Economic Journal. 61 (244). pp. 697–724.
· MacDougall, G. D. A. (1952). “British and American exports: A study suggested by the theory of comparative costs. Part II.”. The Economic Journal. 62 (247). pp. 487–521.
· Stern, Robert M. (1962). “British and American productivity and comparative costs in international trade”. Oxford Economic Papers. pp. 275–296.
· Balassa, Bela. (1963). “An empirical demonstration of classical comparative cost theory”. The Review of Economics and Statistics. pp. 231–238.
· Chipman, John S. (1965). “A Survey of the Theory of International Trade: Part 1, The Classical Theory”. Econometrica 33 (3): 477–519. Section 1.8, p.509.

The theory and its algebra were known, but not widely known to those with great interest in promoting free trade.

It is specifically inequality that makes Comparative Advantage be true.  The governing assumption is not that A is better than B, but that A and B produce what they trade at different comparative costs within their own economies. They have different opportunity costs. In order to maintain autarky (to produce all of their own goods themselves) they each must give up the opportunity to produce more of what they do better.  Even if Nation A or Person A is better at producing both items, it is still in the interests of both A and B to specialize and exchange, rather than attempting to produce everything for themselves.

If all things were equal this would not work. Or so it is claimed.  In fact, I believe that the economists have not considered an important aspect of human nature that supports trade: alleviation of boredom. Eventually, the carpenter buys a bookcase, rather than making one. He can do it cheaper and better, but he has done enough of it that making another costs marginal utility and brings diminishing returns.  This is an old fact. Ancient Greek cities that produced good local wines, exported them, even to other cities that produced good local wines. The wines tasted different, and the difference created value.  Ancient Greek towns named for their wine include Oinoanda in Lycia, Oinoe on the island of Ikaros, and Oiniadai in Akarnania. 

For much more see, for instance, “Ancient Greece and Wine” in Wikipedia
But see, also, modern Greece and wine here:

Erwin S. “Filthy Pierre” Strauss bought The Libertarian Connection from Sky and Natalee, and soon changed its masthead to The Connection.  Filthy is active in science fiction fandom. As neither Jerry nor I can find our archives, I wrote to him to see what his terms and conditions may be.

Jerry Emanuelson's homepage is called Future Science here:


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Not Conned by Seghal’s Coined

A degreed economist (LSE) who works for J. P Morgan, Kabir Sehgal is the author of Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History has Shaped Us. By its title, it is obviously a book with a great breadth of scope for its 257 pages of narrative. However, every story that I already knew was arguable. This is a scissors-and-paste effort, quickly assembled without deep reflection, insight, or questioning. In truth, throughout the book, the author does present the facts approximately. He gets almost all of it almost right. But as we say, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” 

As this is a book about the history of money, the origins of money are important. His narrative is incomplete, coming from secondary sources. Sehgal apparently failed to grasp the central facts of the event. The same is true for the invention of coinage. Sehgal does correctly understand the fact that seems curious to us today, that promissory money, “soft” money, preceded precious metals as hard money by thousands of years. That said, the story of ancient Sumer and the creation of promissory notes (pg. 86) is wrong in so many details that it is wrong in substance. His deepest misunderstanding is the claim that clay balls containing tokens were a form of proto-currency (page 104). They may have been a harbinger or foreshadowing of that, but he completely misses the significance of the contemporaneous invention of writing. For the correct accounting see “Debt: the Seed of Civilization” on this blog, which points to the works of Denise Schmandt-Besserat.  

On the invention of coinage, he again relies on secondary popularizations, rather than the best academic research. And he fails to ask delving questions. He claims (as many do) that coins were invented in Lydia before 630 BCE. But he also identifies the famous hoard of the oldest known coins and coin-like objects, from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Why were the oldest known coins and proto-coins not uncovered within the excavation of Sardis, the royal site of Lydia?  Ephesus, Miletos, and Kolophon have been suggested as possible candidates for the first cities to strike coins, not for commerce, but as bonus payments to mercenaries.

Sehgal never questions the economic motive for the origin of coinage. But if they were invented to facilitate commerce, they would have originated at a center of commerce. And they would have been commercially convenient. In fact, the first coins came from a cultural hinterland, the Turkish coastline of archaic Greece. And they were worth more than anything you could buy with them, as if today, the smallest bills were $1000 and relatively rare, while $10,000 bills were common. And Sehgal completely misunderstands electrum, the naturally occurring alloy, nuggets of which the first coins were struck. Lacking anything like an atomic theory, gold, electrum, and silver were three distinct metals, even though the ancients knew that electrum could be made by alloying gold and silver; and that electrum gold could be parted from electrum silver.  

Seghal never stops to ask why but just keeps going with a facile, though interesting, narrative.  He correctly identifies the fact that coinage is closely tied to the development of democracy, but he misplaces the origin of democracy at Athens.

It does not get any better with his stories about Nero, Diocletian, Lincoln’s greenbacks, or Bretton Woods. 

Kabir Sehgal lavishes praise on the deep knowledge base of the numismatic auction house, Stack’s (pgs 247-249) and rightfully so, but simply cites Q. David Bowers as “David Bowers, legendary numismatist and business partner of Harvey Stack.”  Harvey Stack gets all the credit. And he is worthy, indeed. But everyone in the know calls Q. David Bowers “the dean of American numismatics.”

So, as much as I would like to believe that a cash economy created niche employment for the beggars of Jakarta as extra riders to validate a taxi cab’s right to the high-occupancy high-speed traffic lanes, I have to remain doubtful that Sehgal actually understood what was happening.