Thursday, June 30, 2022

African Founders

David Hackett Fischer has followed up Albion's Seed with African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals.

Summary: If you found Albion's Seed valuable (I did), you will probably find this likewise valuable. However, his picture here is much less clear, because it is much more complex. You will very likely find it interesting too, and on that score I say "read it."

He looks at more regions:

  • New England, Hudson Valley, Delaware Valley
  • Chesapeake Virginia and Maryland, Costal Carolina Georgia and Florida, and Lousiana, Mississippi and the Gulf Coast
  • Western Frontiers, Maritime Frontiers, Southern Frontiers

Within each region, slaves came from different parts of Africa, depending in part on internal African politics. For example, one Bamana ruler fighting other Bamana clans decided he didn't want to kill his captured fellow-tribemen, so he made slaves of them and sold them as far away as he could. The result was a surge in Bamana slaves. (Most slaves went to the Caribbean or South America; relatively few to the current USA.)

African cultures varied as much or more than European ones did. With written records so scarce, it would be very hard to compare the various cultures as they were circa 1600-1700; Fischer only touches on the obvious ones like the Kru (watermen and fishermen, in great demand as pilots). I think the origin of the Jonkonnu celebration (p445 in the hardcover edition) might be a melding of wassail and the way Poro society boys are supplied: dancing masked spirits with an entourage visit the villages and collect food and other goods for the boys in the Poro bush school.

Sidenote: When US servicemen built an airfield in Liberia during WWII, they apparently had a Santa one Christmas, and Liberians on the other side of the fence devised their own Santa on the local "begging devil" lines. Santa Claus boys come round with a shrouded and masked dancing figure. They play (mostly percussion) and sing and explain Santa's tale of woe and ask for funds to help him get back home.

Louisiana was one of the places where the law and practice differed dramatically. The laws required humane treatment--it was one of the most feared places for slaves. And yet it was also one of the centers of freeman culture, and the freemen and slaves maintained strong connections.

... two African women owned by the Ursilines. Both woment were assaulted by a drunken soldier named Dochenet, and severely wounded with a bayonet. Dochenet had earlier commited crimes against other slaves ... The Ursilines' Reverend Mothers Xavier and Magdalene refused to press charges against him, saying that "they would prefer to lose their negresses rather than do anything against charity toward their fellow men." Louisian's Superior Council was less forgiving, and more protective of the slaves. It ordered Dochenet to be hanged.

Slave drivers were responsible partly for making sure the slaves worked, but also for resolving disputes between slaves. In some places the slave owners were terrified of their slaves, and in a vicious cycle treated them badly enough too make them more dangerous. In others, many masters didn't care what slaves did at night so long as they showed up for work.

But you're probably asking: what were the "Expanded American Ideals?"

I wouldn't have picked that subtitle.

It would be more accurate to say something along the lines of "changed American cultures." In some times and places the slaves and freemen and "half-slaves" (like serfs owing fealty) quickly picked up on how the legal system could work for them, and in many places where they couldn't were still able to pry loose some customary rights. Aspects of different African cultures and technologies came with them and merged with Indian and European ones. In many of the cases he documents, the new culture was pretty much limited to the black slaves, but things like new boat designs spread more widely. Mutual aid groups formed. Individuals earned prominence and respect.

Fischer gives a good sense of how much experience varied across regions. Explaining how it varied with ethnicity is probably too hard to explore in adequate detail (too much information was lost)--but some cohorts of slaves were captured warriors and brought over their attitudes and training.

On the downsides, he is a bit repetitious: in a short section he'll say the society was diverse, give the section's example, and then say it again. He overuses "unimaginable." Somebody told him "black" was supposed to be capitalized these days, and "people of color" loses the distinctions they made between mulattoes and quadroons and octaroons--which was kind of important in Louisiana, although the one-drop rule makes it useful in other regions.

There's lots of history, some to cheer for and some to deplore. Slavery was never unanimously supported: Oglethorpe tried to forbid it in founding Georgia and the Quakers were split but eventually came out in consensus opposition. As slaves became freer or free there was usually an outbreak of intense racism that hadn't been nearly so conspicuous before.

I spent some time following up on some of the footnotes--I've a few more I want to look through still--which is why this is a bit late.

Read it

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

"Photogenic memory"

After time has had a chance to buff it up a little.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

To Space

For the hardier cargoes...

The article on SpinLaunch--spinup to orbit--referenced Project HARP, which I'd forgotten about. Gerald Bull's idea was to send solid stuff to orbit with a cannon loaded with a rocket. You need the rocket to change the direction of your satellite once you get high enough and maybe get some extra speed as well--otherwise your orbit will intersect the Earth again. It could have worked, though the design would have needed some changes to get different orbit directions. Made of two 16 inch battleship guns, one version sits in Arizona and another in Barbados. They're impressive bits of hardware, though the Barbados one is pretty rusty.

SuperHARP is still active. It uses hydrogen/oxygen for the propellent (with some helium in there too) in a 2-stage push. For the same energy, the hydrogen and helium get higher speeds, which helps getting the maximum speed out of your projectile. They claim greater than Mach 32 for the record so far. "Green Launch estimates the acceleration forces involved will peak at around 30,000 G, and it's got a simple enough test for whether a piece of electronics can withstand that sort of shunt: sticking the component to a golf ball with epoxy and whacking it with a three wood."

SpinLaunch sounds interesting too, though it has its own problems--the jolt the bearing will take when the rocket is released, for example.

I'd bet there's some advantage to launching from a nice tall mountain--less atmosphere to go through.

Reversible lanes

High traffic roads sometimes have reversible lanes. Some have barriers to temporarily separate the reversible lane's traffic from that going the other way, but some don't and count on drivers obeying the overhead lights.

I gather from my sister's videos that in Liberia they have innovated traffic lanes that are reversible on the fly. Is traffic too heavy? Move into oncoming traffic and claim the lane until something bigger than you are can't get out of your way. All lanes plus any pedestrian areas are available for such use.

It was sad to see what was left of the old house: it hadn't been maintained and a tree fell on it. Most other buildings were bulldozed and not replaced, including half of a duplex--the French NGO that rented the area apparently had more plans than money.

But just living there a few years doesn't give me a claim on anything. They're under no obligation to keep things the same, or even working. There are other priorities than being a museum.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Lying by omission

The abstract of the paper says "We find that SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students."

Liz King, the senior program director for education at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said: "She thinks the guidance should reflect recent research showing police in schools don’t reduce gun violence but do increase suspensions, expulsion and arrests of students — especially for Black students."

Lying. I hoped that maybe I'd learn something, maybe even something counterintuitive. But no.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


E Glenn Hinson, retired Senior Professor of Church History and Spirituality at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, has a series of lectures (I'm partway through it) on the history of prayer in the church. He noticed something curious about the Puritans.
In their central concerns I see the Puritans in the same stream as the ascetics and contemplatives of the Middle Ages. They shared both in the concern for discipline and in the concern for prayer which the latter had. True, the Puritans did not espouse celibacy or the cloistered life. However, they stressed sexual purity and, in regard to possessions, they called for frugality. They tried to get people who did not live in monasteries to live with the dedication of monks. Above all, they wanted contemplatives. Richard Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest is a Puritan treatise on meditation. It has much in common with the exercises taught in the contemplative tradition. Despite the avowedly anti-Catholic sentiment of the Puritans, it sounds much like Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises in its use of imagination on scriptures.

I'd bet they'd have been shocked by the comparison.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022


Today's our anniversary.

Back in '74 a cohort of MK's were brought to Richmond for a get-together, survey, and trip to Colonial Williamsburg. One of the things the Board tried to do was make sure the missionaries didn't have to worry about their children, so they were checking up on how we were doing on our return to the States and giving us a little advice on integrating into US culture--all of which I quickly forgot.

The trip to Williamsburg was interesting and fun. I made the acquaintance of a very attractive young woman, and we toured together for the afternoon. No, I didn't see her again after that Saturday afternoon, and I don't remember her name, but "Come Saturday Morning" played in my head that day and for long afterwards.

I'd noticed for years that women could be fascinating, but it hadn't occurred to me until that afternoon that I could be fascinating in return.

It turns out fascination is just the start.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Modern Classical Music

Why is modern classical music so bad?

We've good composers--everybody knows John Williams, and there are plenty of others writing in classical styles, but they generally write for movies or play--and probably ads too. Not for concerts. I've not found much recent concert classical music to be memorable, even when it isn't unpleasant.

A review of The War on Music finds the book's thesis inadequate (postwar suppression of music the Nazi's liked and things they disliked), but its critique accurate:
About one thing, though, he is absolutely right. He writes with derision about the “trinity” of postwar music: the donor (usually the government), the critic (not infrequently an idiot) and the institution (the university that employs the composer, the orchestra that commissions his music). It’s a nice arrangement, Mr. Mauceri remarks, but it “leaves out something quite significant: the audience.”

Wright has a somewhat polemical attempt to understand why recent efforts in books and movies have often been dull. Painting and sculpture have been famously weird for decades, and "performance art" seems to delight in nonsense and chaos. An old joke says that "Modern art is what we got when painters quit painting women and decided they had a better idea."

Francis Schaeffer suspected that the modern world slowly came unmoored from Christianity, from tradition, and finally from reason, with the disconnect starting with the more rarified disciplines (philosophy) and working its way out through the rest of culture.

It's hard to see how to maintain a connection to tradition and roles when you're hooked on novelty. After a while novelty-hunger corrodes everything else: nothing else matters as much.

Hat tip to Maggie's Farm

Sunday, June 19, 2022

How to celebrate Father's Day

At 6 in the morning, one of the stair steps broke.

So, before we have to head off to music rehersal for the morning service, the father reseats the step and screws a temporary reinforcement in place.

The old carpet on the steps concealed a flaw that the home inspector missed 28 years ago: the free-standing stringer is splayed slightly at the bottom. Lower steps just barely fit in the slots, and are mostly held in place by the nails.

UPDATE: the carpet is held in place with over 55 staples per tread, each 1 1/2 inch long. In order to get the fresh support to be wood-to-wood, the carpet has to come off, and yanking those staples raises blisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Strange Adventures of Andrew Battell

The Strange Adventures of Andrew Battell of Leigh, in Angola and the Adjoining regions.

His adventures and Knivet's are included with editor's comments. Names are not necessarily the same as modern names--for example Sierra Leone is probably not the modern country.

Granted, captives aren't always perfectly accurate witnesses (Knivet claims to have been places he probably wasn't), but I grant witnesses on the scene a bit more credibility than commenters centuries later.

Battell's group are not paladins:

We found a village of negroes, which are sent from San Tome, for the Portugals of San Tome do use, when their slaves be sick or weak, to send them thither to get their strength again. For the islands are very fruitful, and though there be no fresh water, yet they maintain themselves with the wine of the palm-trees. Having refreshed ourselves with the fruit of this island, we burned the village.

Granted, this might have been revenge against the San Tome folk, but then it would seem to miss the mark a bit.

In search of trade, he found himself captive (although a useful one) to the Gagas, when his Portugese captors abandoned him. ("Adventures" is a better description than "Travels".)

The women are very fruitful, but they enjoy none of their children: for as soon as the woman is delivered of her child, it is presently buried quick [alive], so that there is not one child brought up in all this generation. But when they take any town they keep the boys and girls of thirteen or fourteen years of age as their own children. But the men and women they kill and eat. These little boys they train up in the wars, and hang a collar about their necks for a disgrace, which is never taken off till he proveth himself a man, and bring his enemy’s head to the General: and then it is taken off and he is a freeman, and is called Gonso or soldier. This maketh them all desperate, and forward to be free, and counted men: and so they do increase. In all this camp there were but twelve natural Gagas that were their captains, and fourteen or fifteen women. For it is more than fifty years since they came from Serra de Lion, which was their native country. But their camp is sixteen thousand strong, and sometimes more.

Later visitors suggest this may have only been the children born inside the war camp--but maybe customs changed.

He succeeds in escaping, but the Portugese wind up with him again.

Here they made me serve like a drudge, for both day and night I carried some stone and lime to make a fort.

It lyeth right under the Line, and standeth in a bottom in the middle of four hills, and about are many fogges [bogs] but not one river. It is the unfirmest country under the sun. Here the Portugals die like chickens. You shall see men in the morning very lusty, and within two hours dead. Others, that if they but wet their legs(*), presently they swell bigger than their middles; others break in the sides with a draught of water. O, if you did know the intolerable heat of the country, you would think yourself better a thousand times dead, than to live there a week. There you shall see poor soldiers lie in troops, gaping like camelians [camels?] for a puff of wind.

Here lived I three months, not as the Portugals did, taking of physick, and every week letting of blood and keeping close in their houses when they had any rain, observing hours, and times to go abroad morning and evening, and never to eat but at such and such times. I was glad when I had got anything at morning, noon, or night; I thank God I did work all day from morning till night; had it been rain or never so great heat, I had always my health as well as I have in England.

Perhaps the Portugals' approach to medicine left somewhat to be desired.

"Of all these friars the Italian Capuchins alone appear to have done good work; ... Many of the other friars seem to have been men whom their superiors in Europe were glad to part with; and the same may be said with reference to the secular clergy."

UPDATE (*): elephantiasis? but that's mosquito-borne. But there are snail-borne diseases, not all classified.


I wonder how many of the crowd before Pilate had a family member who Jesus had healed.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Man does not live by bits alone

Joel Kotkin in Quilette accepts the notion that modern cities must be "cities of bits", though this has some serious problems that he also notes--no middle class to speak of, new parents leave, it has great class divides, and "work from home" pulls people away from the city entirely. To fix the problems: "The key is not forcing people into cities but making them more attractive to people as they enter adulthood and enter family formation years." ... "Successful future cities can only compete by providing a more dynamic, vital alternative to the periphery or small towns. In the “city of bits” era, success depends on tapping the skills and entrepreneurial penchants of its denizens."

But somebody has to "bend tin", process the food to make it edible, package and move things--where do those people live? Don't tell me robots will do it all, and offshoring just shifts the problem somewhere else and generates a new one--unemployment. Where do the factories go? Where is the space for the children?

Fixing the crime problems are a sine qua non for restoring a city, and fixing the corruption would be an excellent follow-up, but the systemic problems of space (where do you put something when everything is already full?) and inhuman scales need attention too.

Chesterton and monuments

I think he would have had choice words for our iconoclasts.
It is not enough for a popular monument to be artistic, like a black charcoal sketch; it must be striking; it must in the highest sense of the word be sensational; it must stand for humanity; it must speak for us to the stars; it must declare in the face of all the heavens that when the longest and blackest catalog has been made of all our crimes and follies there are some things of which we men are not ashamed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022


"How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” "

If the smell of a little nard can last a couple of days, I suppose the smell from a pound's worth could have lasted 6 days, from Mary's anointing to Passover.

Of course Jesus wasn't announcing salvation, but accomplishing it--with His feet anointed. I wonder who noticed.

Saturday, June 04, 2022


JMSmith has an interesting take on Uvalde et al. Among other things: "Peer pressure is good for people who are worse than their peers!"

"They begin with the obvious truth that the root of the problem of school shootings cannot be guns, or mental health, or bullies, since school shootings are a distinctly American problem. Every country has enough guns, and nuts, and bullies." ... "Since Americans are unusually prone to run amuck, there must be something about America that drives people especially crazy."


Something about our culture shapes the craziness into this form. The language of our imaginations is the language of our memes and movies and songs: "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws." I doubt that it's a single aspect that shapes it, and that makes it extremely hard to pin down--you could make an argument for almost anything. Superhero movies--the hero has to keep himself secret, but he's really a superpowerful being who could take revenge if he was pushed too far. Or our apotheosizing of children--if they're so much smarter than the adults, they're the ones really responsible for my situation. Etc.

It probably would help to Damnatio memoriae the culprits. And combat the notion that "the measure of their violence ... is ... the measure of the injustice done to them". Is there a good reason not to start?

These things wouldn't be universally popular: people like to know whodunnit, and the Internet is forever (sort of). Some enjoy special power through their disproportionate reaction to subjective slights and stand to lose that power if we start honoring measured response and self-control.

Hardest of all, these changes are things we have to do ourselves and in ourselves.

School shootings are, outside of gang battles, rather rare. It's hard to understand why we have them at all; hence the arguments. The "gang" fights, on the other hand are getting more common in the local schools. But that's a touchier subject, so the noise is about the rare and dramatic problem.

Friday, June 03, 2022


A bumblebee is a fish.

"In October 2018, the public interest groups petitioned the Commission to list four species of bumble bee as endangered species" They did. "In September 2019, petitioners challenged the Commission’s decision": the Fish and Game Commission of California had no authority to do so.

They didn't claim that the bee wasn't endangered--just that the Commission had no statutory authority to include it.

"Prior to 1969, section 45 defined fish as “wild fish, mollusks, or crustaceans, including any part, spawn or ova thereof.” In 1969, the Legislature amended section 45 via Senate Bill No. 858 (1969 Reg. Sess.) (Senate Bill 858) to add invertebrates and amphibia to the definition of fish." Of course this was accompanied by the note that "[t]he expanded definition of fish will permit closer control and monitoring of the harvest of species such as starfish, sea urchins, sponges and worms, and the . . . "

Later regulation changes added some specific species: 3 butterflies and a snail. Their DNR pled that

"The [1970 Legislation] defined species as birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, and amphibians. Although, technically, these terms name only vertebrate classes of animals, it was the Department’s understanding of legislative intent that the [1970 Legislation] was to extend to invertebrates as well. It was not believed necessary to include the term invertebrate in the original legislation because ‘fish’ is defined in the Fish and Game Code to include ‘invertebrates’

Page 19 mentions a "rule against surplusage", "which provides courts should “avoid, if possible, interpretations that render a part of a statute surplusage." I'd not heard of it before, but that's a good principle. If a statute spells out details, don't expand one of them to encompass others--the statute presumably has a reason for the breakdown. And if there is no good reason (contempt for congress seems mandatory sometimes), why am I to believe the judge is any smarter?

The ruling promptly ignores this on page 27, where the separate addition of the bristle snail to the list is taken to prove that the definition of "fish" is already expansive.

Never mind whether some organization needs to keep track of endangered species in California. That's a different question. As constituted, the Fish and Game Commission didn't have the authority to monitor "non-watery" things besides game. The Third Appellate Court seems to go at the issue backwards--they want a result and are willing to expand definitions beyond the law to get it. It seems like an innocuous goal, but HumptyDumpty means are dangerous. And in this case, also ridiculous.