Windows filled with see-through wood layer help hold in heat

Sunday, April 30th, 2023

A see-through aerogel made from wood could replace air in double-glazed windows and make them as insulating as walls:

Windows with air sandwiched in the gap between plates of glass can be made better insulators by either increasing the number of glass panels, which can affect visual quality, or expanding the width of the air layer — but anything beyond around 1.5 centimetres becomes detrimental to the insulation effect because convection currents circulate more easily.

To address this, Ivan Smalyukh at the University of Colorado Boulder and his colleagues used nanofibres of cellulose to create an aerogel, a solid gel containing pockets of gas, that could function better than air in double glazing.

Who funds Antifa protests? We all do

Saturday, April 29th, 2023

Who funds Antifa protests?. We all do, Andy Ngo argues:

Through a developed network of radical leftist legal groups, like the National Lawyers Guild, lawfare against cities and police departments is the go-to method for payloads. At nearly every left-wing “direct action” or riot, you’ll see NLG “legal observers” move in and out with the mob to record police. This “evidence gathering” is propaganda made to portray the police in the worst possible light while specifically omitting any recordings of what their comrades do.

Independent press are subjected to assault and robbery by others in the group to maintain tight control over the narrative and any photographic evidence. Kyle Seraphin, a former-FBI agent who was assigned to do surveillance in Portland during the 2020 Antifa riots, says the green-hat “legal observers” were linked via radio with the mob and worked as auxiliary counter-surveillance.

Seraphin told me: “My team witnessed several instances of NLG hat-wearing ‘legal observers’ calling out the license plates of suspected surveillance personnel [over] radios — sometimes accurately, sometimes not. These call-outs were met with a response by 5-6 uniformly clad, black-bloc individuals who attempted to intimidate the suspected ‘fed.’ ”

On March 5, an NLG member and staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center named Thomas Jurgens was charged with domestic terrorism for his alleged involvement in a violent Antifa attack on police in Atlanta.

When the NLG’s legal observers and their comrades are arrested, they’re immediately provided with pro-bono legal aid and connections for bail money (rioters often write the NLG’s phone number on their body in anticipation of arrests.)

And then the lawsuits come.

Last year, New York City agreed to pay tens of thousands to NLG members arrested in the Bronx in June 2020.

In Detroit, NLG members are suing the city for alleged wrongful conduct stemming from its police response in 2020.

Nearly every American city afflicted by mass protesting and rioting in 2020 ended up settling and paying out millions in taxpayer money to radical protesters who were allegedly subjected to force by law enforcement.

Denver settled to pay $1.6 million to just seven people.

Austin settled to pay $17.3 million.

The cities, led by Democrats, don’t even bother to fight the cases, preferring to write a check.

The settlement cash doesn’t just end up rewarding the protesters, awarded inflated attorney fees are used to reinvest in the legal groups to grow the operation for the next cause. Additionally, law enforcement morale declines as they are punished for doing their jobs.

But lawsuit settlements aren’t the only way that militant protesters and riot suspects get paid. Bail funds have emerged as a lucrative cash source with progressive district attorneys refusing to prosecute most left-wing riot-related cases.

In Portland, for example, the 2020 riot suspects that needed bail money due to the seriousness of their felony charges later received the cash back when district attorney Mike Schmidt declined to prosecute. I witnessed this creating an incentive for rioters to get arrested, as outside groups covered the bail and the suspect would keep the returned cash when the case was dropped.

At the Emperor’s request, he was left at Court to advise on political and financial negotiations with His Majesty

Friday, April 28th, 2023

After the Battle of Delhi, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), the victorious British commander ‘bowed his head at the feet of the imperial throne’, then conversed with the blind Emperor through his deputy, Colonel Sir David Ochterlony:

Ochterlony’s father was a Highland Scot who had settled in Massachusetts. When the American Revolution broke out, his loyalist family fled to Canada, and David entered the Company’s army in 1777. He never returned to the New World, and, having made India his home, vowed never to leave it. He had collected a variety of Indian wives, to each of whom he gave an elephant, and through whom he learned to speak fluent Urdu and Persian. This was something that impressed and surprised the chronicler Munna Lal, who noted that Da’ud Akhtar-Luni Bahadur (as he called him) ‘was unrivalled for understanding and penetration and very well-versed in Persian letters. At the Emperor’s request, he was left at Court to advise on political and financial negotiations with His Majesty.’

An accidental experiment during COVID suggests too many children are removed to foster care

Thursday, April 27th, 2023

An accidental experiment during COVID suggests too many children are removed to foster care:

COVID changed things.

With children home from school and routine doctors’ appointments and other activities canceled, the number of maltreatment reports fell by half.

The New York state child welfare agency waived the requirement that caseworkers visit children’s homes and directed them to conduct remote check-ins instead, unless the caseworker was unable to reach the family by video call, or if a remote visit raised concerns.

And the family court no longer allowed ACS to file petitions for court-ordered supervision; it would consider only requests for removal.

“For the first time, ACS was forced to triage the cases it filed, no longer able to seek court intervention for less severe cases,” Friedman and Rohr wrote. “On every level — reporting, investigation, monitoring, and court intervention — New York City’s child welfare apparatus dramatically shrunk its footprint.”

As a result, the numbers of children placed in foster care dramatically decreased: from April through June 2020, roughly half as many children were removed from their families compared with the same period the previous three years, according to Friedman and Rohr’s analysis.

If these plummeting numbers of reports and removals had obscured a wave of abuse, the authors point out, one would expect signals of that abuse to emerge, for example, in an increase in children with suspicious injuries at city emergency rooms. But as David Hansell, the ACS director at the time, testified at a city council hearing in June 2021, there were no significant changes in ER visits for children during the lockdown, as “you might think would happen if there were more children suffering any kind of serious physical abuse,” he said.

If the pandemic hid a wave of abuse, one would also expect a surge in substantiated reports of abuse once schools and courts reopened, as previously undetected signs of maltreatment were finally discovered. But that didn’t happen either, Friedman and Rohr found.

Around 600 well-trained Company civil servants, guarded by 155,000 Indian sepoys, were to administer most of peninsular India

Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

After the Battle of Delhi, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), the East India Company consolidated a land empire that controlled over half a million square miles of territory, which, fifty years later, would become the British Raj:

Around 600 well-trained Company civil servants, guarded by 155,000 Indian sepoys, were to administer most of peninsular India. Here the Company’s army was now unequivocally the dominant military force, and the Governor General who controlled it the real Emperor. Not only had Lord Wellesley gained many more subjects than Britain had lost a decade earlier in North America — around 50 million — he had also created a cadre of young men committed to his imperial project, and who would carry it forward after he had gone. Wellesley’s ambitious protégés were working for the establishment and spread of an Anglicised colonial state that would provide an efficiently regimented but increasingly remote and alien administrative infrastructure for this new empire. As one of them, the young Company diplomat Charles Metcalfe, wrote, ‘Sovereigns you are, and as such must act.’

In London there was surprisingly little awareness as yet of what had been achieved. The country was still obsessed with the struggle with Napoleon, and despite the swathe of territories Lord Wellesley had conquered, there was little interest in what had taken place in India outside those organisations or people directly concerned with it. Even Wellesley’s ultimate boss, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, declared himself ‘totally unacquainted with every part of this subject’ when Lord Wellesley’s aggressively expansionist Indian policy was briefly discussed in a half-empty House of Lords.

But within India everyone knew that a major revolution had just taken place. Many Muslims, led by the puritanical Delhi imam Shah Abdul Aziz, saw this as the moment that India had slipped out of their hands for the first time since the twelfth century: ‘From here to Calcutta, the Christians are in complete control,’ wrote Shah Abdul Aziz in an 1803 fatwa of jihad. ‘India is no longer Dar ul-Islam.’ Company officials realised it with equal clarity: ‘We are now complete masters of India,’ wrote Thomas Munro, ‘and nothing can shake our power if we take proper measures to confirm it.’

The sinews of British supremacy were now established. With the exception of a few months during the Great Uprising of 1857, for better or worse, India would remain in British hands for another 144 years, finally gaining its freedom only in August 1947.

The model underlying Dolly only has 6 billion parameters, compared to 175 billion in GPT-3

Tuesday, April 25th, 2023

ChatGPT, a proprietary instruction-following model, was released in November 2022 and took the world by storm:

The model was trained on trillions of words from the web, requiring massive numbers of GPUs to develop. This quickly led to Google and other companies releasing their own proprietary instruction-following models. In February 2023, Meta released the weights for a set of high-quality (but not instruction-following) language models called LLaMA to academic researchers, trained for over 80,000 GPU-hours each. Then, in March, Stanford built the Alpaca model, which was based on LLaMA, but tuned on a small dataset of 50,000 human-like questions and answers that, surprisingly, made it exhibit ChatGPT-like interactivity.

Today we are introducing Dolly, a cheap-to-build LLM that exhibits a surprising degree of the instruction following capabilities exhibited by ChatGPT. Whereas the work from the Alpaca team showed that state-of-the-art models could be coaxed into high quality instruction-following behavior, we find that even years-old open source models with much earlier architectures exhibit striking behaviors when fine tuned on a small corpus of instruction training data. Dolly works by taking an existing open source 6 billion parameter model from EleutherAI and modifying it ever so slightly to elicit instruction following capabilities such as brainstorming and text generation not present in the original model, using data from Alpaca.

The model underlying Dolly only has 6 billion parameters, compared to 175 billion in GPT-3, and is two years old, making it particularly surprising that it works so well. This suggests that much of the qualitative gains in state-of-the-art models like ChatGPT may owe to focused corpuses of instruction-following training data, rather than larger or better-tuned base models.

The next fifty years would be remembered as ‘the Golden Calm’

Monday, April 24th, 2023

The Battle of Delhi was, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), the last time British troops faced French officers in South Asia, ending more than a century of rivalry:

At 10 a.m., after marching eighteen miles, with the sun beginning to beat down on the column, Lake ordered a halt for breakfast beside a marshy lake on the banks of the Hindan. Tents were erected, boots were removed, fires lit and the sepoys began to cook their parathas. The general sent a dram around his officers.

Quite suddenly there was a series of bright flashes and the thunder crash of heavy artillery, ‘shattering not only the tranquillity of the day but the eardrums of men closest to the guns … The accompanying pressure wave generated by the explosive muzzle-blasts, which flattened the obstructing grass, was immediately followed by other, unnatural and far more eerie auditory sensations that played upon deafened ears. Grape shot tore and chain shot scythed through the grass with a shearing sound which was followed by a metallic clatter or muffled thuds depending on whether the projectiles struck equipment or the flesh of men and horses.’

It was a massacre. Among the many casualties was Pester, who was hit by some of the first volleys: ‘A grapeshot passed through the housing of my pistols, and shattered the stock of one of them, and I felt my horse stagger under me; another grape had grazed his side and lodged under the skin; a third went through him. It entered at his near quarter and passed out at the other. He staggered and fell onto me.’

Chaos broke out, but the Marathas remained at their defensive position on the raised ground, failing to advance and scatter the terrified Company sepoys. This gave Lake time to rally his men. Deciding to lure Bourquien off his strong position, Lake gave the order for the infantry to fall back in a feint, and they did so, between two wings of cavalry who lay hidden behind the tall grass. The Marathas took the bait and rushed forward, only to find themselves caught in a pincer movement. The Company infantry then turned and advanced methodically forward with bayonets, supported by the galloper guns. ‘We drove them into the Yamuna,’ wrote the badly bruised Pester, ‘and hundreds of them were destroyed in endeavouring to cross it.’

The Flying Artillery was up, and the river appeared boiling by the fire of grape kept up on those of the enemy who had taken to the river. It was literally, for a time, a stream of blood, and presented such a scene as at another period would freeze a man’s very soul. When this was past, we faced about, and returned to the field of battle to collect our wounded men and officers …

There the scene was truly shocking … About thirty surgeons were absolutely covered in blood, performing operations on the unfortunate soldiers who had had their legs and arms shattered in the action, and death in every shape seemed to preside in this assembly of human misery. Their exclamations were enough to pierce the hardest heart. Numbers were fainting, and even dying under the operation; others bore the pain with as much fortitude as they could … In one corner of the tent stood a pile of legs and arms, from which the boots and clothes of many were not yet stripped off.

That night, five French commanders gave themselves up, and Lord Lake wrote to tell Wellesley what had passed. He added: ‘Your Lordship will perceive that our loss has been very great … under as heavy a fire as I have ever been witness to …’ Later he expanded on the bravery and skill shown by his Maratha opponents. ‘Their battalions are uncommonly well appointed,’ he wrote, ‘have a most numerous artillery, as well served as they possibly can be.’

All the sepoys of the enemy behaved exceedingly well, the gunners standing to their guns until killed by the bayonet … I was never in so severe a business in my life, and I pray to God I may never be in such a situation again. Their army is better appointed than ours; no expense is spared, and they have three times the number of men to a gun we have. These fellows fought like devils, or rather heroes, and had we not made a disposition for attack in a style that we should have done against the most formidable army we could have been opposed to, I verily believe, from the position they had taken, we might have failed.

Terrible as it was, the Battle of Delhi was the last time British troops faced French officers in South Asia, ending more than a century of rivalry which had caused so much bloodshed, mostly of non-Europeans, across the subcontinent. It also brought to a close Hindustan’s unhappy century of being fought over, and plundered, by rival armies. As Khair ud-Din put it shortly afterwards, ‘the country is now flourishing and at peace. The deer lies down with the leopard, the fish with the shark, the pigeon with the hawk, and the sparrow with the eagle.’ mKhair ud-Din was, of course, writing to flatter his British patrons, but there was a measure of truth in what he wrote: in comparison with the horrors of the last century – ‘the Great Anarchy’ – the next fifty years would be remembered as ‘the Golden Calm’.

Most importantly, the Battle of Delhi decided the future fate of India. The Marathas were the last indigenous Indian power that was militarily capable of defeating the Company and driving it out of South Asia.

United Airlines will fly an air taxi service between the downtown Vertiport Chicago and O’Hare

Sunday, April 23rd, 2023

In 2025, United Airlines will fly an air taxi service between the downtown Vertiport Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, using electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft it is purchasing from Archer Aviation:

The Archer Midnight eVTOL aircraft will complete the route in about 10 minutes; according to local resident and Ars Managing Editor Eric Bangeman, that journey by car can take over an hour due to road construction.


United placed an order for 200 eVTOL aircraft from Archer back in 2021 at a cost of $1 billion.


The Archer Midnight has a range of 100 miles (160 km) and a top speed of 150 mph (241 km/h).


Asked about the cost, an Archer spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times that the company hopes to make the service competitive with Uber Black, so it will be roughly $100 for the trip.

Damn your writing! Mind your fighting!

Saturday, April 22nd, 2023

Before Arthur Wellesley’s victory at Assaye, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Lake, advanced on the Mughal capital, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy):

Lord Lake, who liked to claim descent from the Arthurian hero Lancelot of the Lake, was not a man who admired diplomacy or who liked being told what to do: ‘Damn your writing,’ he is alleged to have cried at an army book-keeper. ‘Mind your fighting!’ The phrase became his maxim. Although sixty years old, and a veteran of the Seven Years War and, more recently, the American War of Independence, where he fought against Washington at Yorktown, he was still famous for his boyish charm and immense energy, often rising at 2 a.m. to be ready to lead the march, blue eyes flashing.

Determined to take the offensive, Lake left Kanpur on 7 August, a day after he heard about the declaration of war, even though it was in the middle of the monsoon and the roads were awash with mud. He headed due west towards Perron’s fortress at Aligarh. Intent on fighting a fast-moving campaign, Lake brought with him a small but highly trained Grand Army of 10,000 men, including a cavalry division armed with his light galloper guns; but he deliberately brought little heavy artillery and no siege equipment.

His intention to lead a small and mobile force was, however, somewhat challenged by Indian reality. By the early nineteenth century, East India Company armies had accumulated a huge establishment of attendants and assistants and support staff. In the end, the total body heading west amounted to more than 100,000 people, including mahouts and coolies, grass-cutters and horse-keepers, tent lascars and bullock-men, Banjarrah grain-collectors and money-changers, ‘female quacks, jugglers, groups of dancing girls, and votaries of pleasure’. These numbers did not, of course, include the thousands of elephants, camels, horses, poultry and flocks of goats and sheep which followed close on their heels: ‘The march of our army had the appearance of a moving town or citadel,’ remembered Major Thorn, ‘in the form of an oblong square, whose sides were defended by ramparts of glittering swords and bayonets.’

After three weeks of difficult marching through heavy rain, wading through mud and badly flooded roads with carefully sealed ammunition boxes carried aloft on men’s heads, on 29 August Lake’s army crossed into Maratha territory and advanced swiftly on the mighty polygonal fortress of Aligarh, with its massive French-designed walls, reinforced corner towers and deep moat.

Aligarh was regarded as one of the strongest and best-provisioned forts in Hindustan; a siege could have taken months. Throughout the march, however, Lake had been in negotiations with General Perron over what he would charge to deliver the fortress into the hands of the British. Through intermediaries, the two commanders had eventually come to an understanding, and when Lake’s army advanced on his headquarters, Perron obediently withdrew, along with his bodyguard, after only the briefest of skirmishes with Lake and a few salvoes from his galloper guns.

Perron told his men he was off to gather reinforcements from Agra and Delhi, and to his deputy, Colonel Pedron, ‘a stout, elderly man with a green jacket with gold lace and epaulettes’, he sent a remarkably disingenuous letter: ‘Remember you are a Frenchman,’ he wrote, ‘and let no action of yours tarnish the character of your nation. I hope in a few days to send back the English general as fast, or faster, than he came. Make yourself perfectly easy on the subject. Either the Emperor’s army or General Lake shall find a grave before Allyghur. Do your duty, and defend the fort while one stone remains upon another. Once more remember your nation. The eyes of millions are fixed upon you!’

These brave words were belied by the last conversation he had before fleeing up the Delhi road. One of his junior cavalry officers, of mixed Scottish and Rajput blood, attempted to ride with him, but was waved away, ‘Ah, no, no! It is all over!’ Perron shouted over his shoulder, ‘in confusion and without his hat’, at the young James Skinner. ‘These fellows [the cavalry] have behaved ill: do not ruin yourself, go over to the British; it is all up with us!’

Distrusted by the French, all the Anglo-Indians among the Maratha forces, including Skinner himself, crossed the battle lines at this point: ‘We went to General Lake and were kindly received,’ wrote Skinner later. Pedron and many of Perron’s French mercenary colleagues were equally happy to surrender if they were assured of a safe passage home with their lifetimes’ savings intact. But Lake had not reckoned with the honour of Scindia’s Rajput and Maratha officers, who stoutly refused all inducements to drop their weapons and quickly withdrew behind the walls to begin There they deposed and imprisoned Pedron, elected a Maratha commander of their own, and prepared to fight to the death.

For three days Lake continued to negotiate, making the men a variety of extravagant promises, but the defenders remained firm. ‘I tried every method to prevail upon these people to give up the fort,’ wrote Lake, ‘and offered a very large sum of money, but they were determined to hold out, which they did most obstinately, and, I may say, most gallantly.’

Lake was daunted by the challenge now lying in front of him: ‘The strength of the place cannot be described,’ he wrote to Wellesley. ‘A Seventy-Four [gun ship] might sail in the ditch.’ But ever the hyperactive sexagenarian, Lake was temperamentally incapable of conducting a patient siege, and anyway had left his siege equipment in Kanpur. So, on 4 September he opted for the only alternative: a frontal assault on the main gate of a fortress long considered impregnable. An Irish deserter from Scindia’s garrison, Lieutenant Lucan, offered to lead the storming party, under the supervision of Lake’s deputy, Colonel Monson.

Two hours before dawn, the storming party set off and shortly after that had their first stroke of luck. Had the Marathas withdrawn behind the moat and destroyed the bridge, there was very little Lake could have done. But the defenders had stationed a piquet of fifty men with a 6-pounder gun behind a breastwork in front of the fort, leaving the bridge undamaged and the wicket gate open. Lucan and his storming party edged up in the dark and found the men smoking at their post. ‘They ran at them like lions,’ wrote Skinner, and slit the throats of as many as stood their ground. The rest ‘ran away to the wicket, and got in. The assaulting party attempted to get in along with them, but were shut out.’

Instead, however, of retreating, these brave fellows stood upon the goonjus [bridge] under one of the heaviest fires of musketry and great guns I have seen … [attempting to scale the walls.] Only at sunrise did they fall back about one hundred yards … and in going back they carried with them the [abandoned] Maratha gun.

They fired the gun twice, then a third time, but failed to blow open the heavily reinforced gate. While waiting for a new and larger cannon to be hauled up, the attackers continued their attempts to mount the walls with scaling ladders. As before, they were driven down by the Marathas on the battlements, who had long pikes waiting for them. A heavy 12-pounder cannon was finally wheeled forward to the gate, but just before it could be fired its weight broke through a mine gallery that the defenders had skilfully tunnelled under the area in front of the wicket gate, leaving the gun half in, half out of the tunnel beneath.

As Monson and Lucan tried to lever the cannon out, the attackers were raked with musketry from above and exposed to the fire from two heavy mortars filled with grape that the defenders had prepared and positioned for just this moment. To add to the chaos, the defenders then began to climb down the scaling ladders that the British troops had left propped against the walls. One of them wounded Monson in the thigh with a thrust of his pike; four of his officers were also killed. ‘This misfortune detained us considerably, and at this time it was that we lost so many of our officers and men. Never did I witness such a scene. The sortie became a perfect slaughter house, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we dragged the gun over our killed and wounded.’

In the Company camp, Lake was on the verge of blowing the bugle to call off the attack. But at the last minute the cannon was righted, pressed against the wood of the gate and fired. It was a muzzle-blast containing no shot, but the pressure from the powder charge at close quarters finally buckled one of the great doors open. ‘I was close to Lord Lake,’ wrote Skinner, ‘and saw and heard everything that passed.’

The God of Heaven certainly looked down upon those noble fellows … for they blew open half the gate, and giving three shouts, they rushed in. The Rajputs stood their ground, like brave soldiers, and from the first to the second gate the fight was desperately maintained on both sides, and the carnage was very great … Then spurring his horse [Lake] galloped to the gate. When he saw his heroes lying thick there, tears came to his eyes. ‘It is the fate of good soldiers!’ he said; and turning round, he galloped back to the camp, and gave up the fort to plunder.

In the hours that followed, the garrison of 2,000 was massacred. No quarter was asked for and none was given. ‘Many of the enemy were killed in attempting to escape by swimming the ditch after we got in, and I remarked an artilleryman to snap his piece at a man who at the same instance dived to save himself,’ wrote John Pester, Lake’s quartermaster. ‘The soldier coolly waited his coming up and shot him through the head.’

Daenerys Targaryen is modeled on Moses

Friday, April 21st, 2023

Misha Saul suggests that Daenerys Targaryen is modeled on Moses:

  • Born into royalty.
  • Led her people out of destitution.
  • Freed slaves.
  • Works miracles.
  • Suffers trials and doubts and betrayals on the way to the Promised Land.
  • Ends up a hardened warrior, dictator and self-righteous killer of men, women and children.

All agree that the battle was the fiercest that has ever been seen in India

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

In July, 1803, Lord Wellesley sent Scindia an ultimatum to withdraw north of the Narmada or to face the consequences, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy):

In the end, Daulat Rao Scindia did not back down; instead, like Tipu, he began making preparations for hostilities. On 1 August 1803, he gave Collins a formal declaration of war and dismissed him from his camp.

It took a week for express couriers to carry the news to Calcutta; but only a few hours for Lord Wellesley to give the order for his carefully laid war plans to be immediately put into action on no less than four fronts — with minor thrusts along the coasts of Orissa and Gujarat as well as the two main assaults which were designed to take control of the entire Deccan and all of Hindustan.

To Scindia and Bhosle, the Governor General wrote a brief note: ‘While we have no desire to open war against you, you two chiefs have given a clear indication of your intention to attack us, since you have collected large forces on the Nizam’s frontiers and you have refused to move away from your positions. You have rejected the hand of friendship I have offered you, and I am now starting hostilities without further parleys. The responsibility is entirely yours.’

Major General Arthur Wellesley heard the news of Scindia’s declaration of war on 4 August. On the 6th he broke camp and with 40,000 troops headed off north towards the mighty fortress of Ahmadnagar which he captured on the 11th after a brief bombardment and the payment of a large bribe to the French and Arab mercenaries holding the fort for Scindia. Inside was found large amounts of gunpowder, part of Scindia’s remaining treasure and ample food supplies. Arthur Wellesley garrisoned the fort as his base while he sent scouts out to search for the main Maratha army.

Scindia and Bhosle, meanwhile, had succeeded in bringing their forces together; they then marched their confederated army south to plunder the Nizam’s territories around Aurangabad and draw Wellesley out of the safety of his fortifications. In this they succeeded. Leaving a large garrison behind to guard Ahmadnagar, Wellesley moved eastwards to defend his allies’ territory and stop the Maratha advance. The two armies finally came within sight of one another in the dusty alluvial plain to the north of the Ajanta Pass, in the early morning of 23 September, after Wellesley’s troops had just marched eighteen miles through the night.

The major general had broken his force in two the day before to avoid the delay that would have taken place in sending his whole army through the narrow Ajanta defile; half he had sent off to the west under his deputy, Colonel Stevenson. He therefore had less than 5,000 men — half of them Madrasi sepoys, the other half kilted Highlanders — when he heard from his scouts that Scindia’s camp was only five miles away and that the Marathas were about to move off. His small army was exhausted from their night march. But, worried that his quarry might escape if he waited, Wellesley made an immediate decision to head straight into the attack, without giving his troops time to rest or waiting for the other half of his force.

Reaching the crest of a low hill, the major general saw the two Maratha armies spread out before him, next to the fortified village of Assaye. Their tents and qanats (tented enclosures) extended for as much as six miles along the banks of the shallow Khelna River to near where it reached a confluence with another smaller stream, the Juah. He calculated that there were around 10,000 infantry and around five times that number of irregular cavalry. They were clearly not expecting an attack and their artillery bullocks were out grazing along the riverbank.

Leaving his baggage and stores behind him under guard, Wellesley marched straight forward, as if to make an immediate frontal attack over the river. Then at the last moment he turned eastwards to cross the meandering Khelna at an unguarded ford whose position he had guessed at due to the proximity of two small villages just before it. His guess was a lucky one: the water was between knee and waist high, and Wellesley just managed to get all his troops across without them getting their powder wet. Even so, his artillery had trouble crossing, and several guns got stuck in the mud, leaving his infantry to form up and face the opening salvos of the Maratha bombardment without the protection of artillery cover.

Arthur Wellesley had hoped that the speed and surprise of his movement would leave the Marathas in disarray and allow him to attack their unguarded right flank; but to his surprise he found that Scindia’s troops had managed not only to get themselves into full battle formation but had also skilfully wheeled around to the left in order to face his new direction of attack, all the while maintaining perfect order. This was a difficult manoeuvre that he presumed they would be incapable of, but which they instantly effected with parade-ground precision.

This was only the first in a whole series of surprises in a battle that Arthur Wellesley would later remember as one of the hardest he had ever fought, and altogether tougher than his later confrontation with Napoleon at Waterloo. ‘Their infantry is the best I have ever seen in India, excepting our own,’ he wrote afterwards to his friend John Malcolm. ‘I assure you that their fire was so heavy that I doubted at one time if I should be able to induce our troops to advance. All agree that the battle was the fiercest that has ever been seen in India. Our troops behaved admirably; the sepoys astonished me.’

A particular shock was Scindia’s heavy field guns which proved just as deadly as Collins had warned: ‘The fire of the enemy’s artillery became most dreadful,’ remembered Major John Blakiston. ‘In the space of less than a mile, 100 guns worked with skill and rapidity, vomited forth death into our feeble ranks. It cannot then be a matter of surprise if our sepoys should have taken advantage of any irregularities in the ground to shelter themselves from the deadly shower, or that even, in some few instances, not all the endeavours of the officers could persuade them to move forward.’ Major Thorn concurred: ‘It was acknowledged by all the officers present, who had witnessed the power of the French artillery in the wars of Europe, that the enemy’s guns at the Battle of Assaye were equally well-served.’

The major general himself had two horses shot under him and had several of his immediate staff killed around him by the clouds of grape the Maratha gunners sent in his direction. One large round shot just missed Wellesley as he was crossing the Khelna but decapitated his dragoon orderly as he paused midstream. The horrifying sight of the headless horseman features in many accounts of the battle, ‘the body being kept in its seat by the valise, holsters, and other appendages of a cavalry saddle, and it was some time before the terrified horse could rid himself of the ghastly burden’.

The Madras infantry sepoys in the centre and the Highlanders on the right wing of Wellesley’s front line were targeted with particular violence, as the Maratha gunners tried to blow away the core of Wellesley’s formation with large canisters of anti-personnel chain and grapeshot, fired at short range and at close quarters: whirring through the air with a terrifying screeching noise, ‘it knocked down men, horses and bullocks, every shot’.

Nevertheless, Wellesley’s infantry continued to advance at a steady pace, through the smoke. They fired a single volley, then charged the Maratha guns with bayonets, killing the gunners as they stood at the gun muzzles ‘and none quitted their posts until the bayonets were at their breasts … nothing could surpass the skill or bravery displayed by their golumdauze [gunners]’.

A final surprise awaited the British as they marched forward to drive Scindia’s men from their fallback position. Once the British infantry lines had safely passed by, many of the Maratha ‘dead’ around the cannons ‘suddenly arose, seized the cannon which had been left behind by the army, and began to reopen a fierce fire upon the rear of our troops, who, inattentive to what they were doing, were eagerly bent upon the pursuit of the flying enemy before them’. The British lines were raked with yet more canister shot until the major general personally led a desperate cavalry charge ‘against the resuscitated foe’, during which he had his second horse shot beneath him.

Two hours later, after a final stand in the village fort, Scindia’s Marathas were driven from the field and back over the Juah, leaving ninety-eight of their guns in British hands; but the casualties on both sides were appalling. The Marathas lost around 6,000 men. Wellesley lost fewer, but as the smoke cleared the major general found he had just left fully one-third of his army dead on the battlefield: 1,584 out of 4,500 of his troops were later burned or buried on the plains of Assaye. Indeed, so battered were his forces that Wellesley declared pursuit of Scindia and his fleeing men impossible, writing to his elder brother, ‘Scindia’s French[-trained] infantry were far better than Tipu’s, his artillery excellent, and his ordnance so good, and so well equipped, that it answers for our service. We never could use Tipu’s. Our loss is great, but the action, I believe, was the most severe that ever was fought in this country.’ As one of Wellesley’s senior officers wrote to the major general soon afterwards: ‘I hope you will not have occasion to purchase any more victories at such a high price.’

Arthur Wellesley went on to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo.

Individualism, impersonal sociality, and a pacified environment allowed the market economy to grow beyond its former limits

Wednesday, April 19th, 2023

Europe, particularly northwest Europe, was pushed forward by an expanding market economy, Peter Frost explains, in the fourteenth century, when England and Holland embarked on sustained economic growth:

That expansion was driven, in turn, by a population that tended toward individualism and “impersonal sociality.” For at least the past millennium, Europeans were behaviorally distinct north and west of a line running approximately from Trieste to St. Petersburg:

Almost everyone was single for at least part of adulthood, and many stayed single their entire lives.

Children usually left the nuclear family to form new households, and many individuals circulated among unrelated households, typically young people sent out as servants.

People were more individualistic, less loyal to kin, and more willing to trust strangers (Frost 2017; Frost 2020; Hajnal, 1965; Hartman, 2004; Hbd*chick 2014; ICA, 2020; MacDonald 2019; Seccombe, 1992, p. 94-95, 150-153, 184-190).

According to Schulz et al. (2019), the above behavioral pattern was created by the Western branch of Christianity, particularly through its decision in the ninth century to broaden the ban on cousin marriages to any couple who shared a common ancestor seven generations previously. That ban, they argued, had the effect of creating the Western European pattern of late marriage, frequent celibacy, and nuclear households. That pattern, in turn, encouraged individualism and impersonal sociality.

Schulz et al., however, ignore two points. First, the broadening of the cousin marriage ban resulted from a decision to abandon the Roman method of calculating degrees of kinship, whereby first cousins were considered to be fourth degree. The new method, of Germanic origin, made them second degree, thereby doubling the number of forbidden marriage partners (McCann, 2010, pp. 57-58). In sum, the ban was Church-enforced but of pagan origin.

Second, when the cousin marriage ban was broadened in the ninth century, Western Europe already had high rates of late marriage, celibacy, and nuclear households. This has been shown at two locations in ninth-century France: the estates of the Abbey of St Germain-des-Prés near Paris, where about 16.3% of all adults were unmarried, and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, where the figure was 11.5%. At both locations, households were small and nuclear (Hallam 1985, p. 56). A ninth-century survey of the Church of St Victor of Marseille shows both men and women marrying in their mid to late twenties (Seccombe 1992, p. 94). Further back, in the first century, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about the Germanic tribes, “Late comes love to the young men, and their first manhood is not enfeebled; nor for the girls is there any hot-house forcing; they pass their youth in the same way as the boys” (Tacitus, Germania 20, 1970).

It seems more correct to say that Western Christianity promoted individualism and impersonal sociality because it had assimilated a pre-existing pattern of weak kinship, late marriage, and openness to non-kin. A fusion took place between the Christian faith and the pre-Christian values of northwest Europe (Russell 1994). With the loss of North Africa and Spain to the Muslims, and the rise of the Frankish-dominated Carolingian Empire, Western Christianity saw its ideological center of gravity move northward and westward.

From the eleventh century onward, the Western Church also strove to pacify social relations. Both Church and State came around to the view that the wicked should be punished so that the good may live in peace. Courts imposed the death penalty more and more often and, by the late Middle Ages, were condemning to death between 0.5 and 1.0% of all men of each generation, with perhaps just as many offenders dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial. The homicide rate plummeted from the fourteenth century to the twentieth, with the result that the pool of violent men dried up. Most murders would now occur under conditions of jealousy, intoxication, or extreme stress. (Frost and Harpending 2015).

Those three causes — individualism, impersonal sociality, and a pacified environment — allowed the market economy to grow beyond its former limits (Frost 2020; Macfarlane 1978; Weber 1930). The first two causes had long been around in northwest Europe, being what we may call “pre-adaptations” to the market economy. It was the third one, the pacification of social relations, that sparked the economic takeoff of the fourteenth century. The “market” was no longer a marketplace—an isolated point in space and time. It was now a means to carry out transactions wherever and whenever. It could thus spread farther and farther beyond the marketplace, replacing older forms of exchange and ultimately replacing kinship as the main organizing principle of society.

The Permanent Settlement, introduced in 1793, gave absolute rights to land to zamindar landowners

Tuesday, April 18th, 2023

In India, Cornwallis set about making a series of land and taxation reforms guaranteeing a steady flow of revenue, particularly in time of war, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), as well as reinforcing the Company’s control of the land it had conquered:

The Permanent Settlement, introduced in 1793, gave absolute rights to land to zamindar landowners, on the condition that they paid a sum of land tax which Company officials now fixed in perpetuity. So long as zamindars paid their revenues punctually, they had security over the land from which the revenue came. If they failed to pay up, the land would be sold to someone else.

These reforms quickly produced a revolution in landholding in Company Bengal: many large old estates were split up, with former servants flocking to sale rooms to buy up their ex-masters’ holdings. In the ensuing decades, draconian tax assessments led to nearly 50 per cent of estates changing hands. Many old Mughal landowning families were ruined and forced to sell, a highly unequal agrarian society was produced and the peasant farmers found their lives harder than ever. But from the point of view of the Company, Cornwallis’s reforms were a huge success. Income from land revenues was both and enormously increased; taxes now arrived punctually and in full. Moreover, those who had bought land from the old zamindars were in many ways throwing in their lot with the new Company order. In this way, a new class of largely Hindu pro-British Bengali bankers and traders began to emerge as moneyed landowners to whom the Company could devolve local responsibility.

So even as the old Mughal aristocracy was losing high office, a new Hindu service gentry came to replace them at the top of the social ladder in Company-ruled Bengal. This group of emergent Bengali bhadralok (upper-middle classes) represented by families such as the Tagores, the Debs and the Mullicks, tightened their grip on mid-level public office in Calcutta, as well as their control of agrarian peasant production and the trade of the bazaars. They participated in the new cash crop trades to Calcutta–Dwarkanath Tagore, for example, making a fortune at this time in indigo–while continuing to lend the Company money, often for as much as 10–12 per cent interest. It was loans from this class which helped finance colonial armies and bought the muskets, cannon, horses, elephants, bullocks and paid the military salaries which allowed Company armies to wage and win their wars against other Indian states. The Company’s ever-growing Indian empire could not have been achieved without the political and economic support of regional power groups and local communities. The edifice of the East India Company was sustained by the delicate balance that the Company was able to maintain with merchants and mercenaries, its allied nawabs and rajas, and above all, its tame bankers.

In the end it was this access to unlimited reserves of credit, partly through stable flows of land revenues, and partly through the collaboration of Indian moneylenders and financiers, that in this period finally gave the Company its edge over their Indian rivals. It was no longer superior European military technology, nor powers of administration that made the difference. It was the ability to mobilise and transfer massive financial resources that enabled the Company to put the largest and best-trained army in the eastern world into the field.

The original meaning of skin color

Monday, April 17th, 2023

Today, Peter Frost notes, skin color has a primarily ethnic meaning:

It had other meanings in the past, apparently even our nonhuman past. In many primate species, the infant is light-skinned, and this coloration not only identifies the infant as an infant but also induces feelings of caring and protectiveness in the adult observer. At some point in human evolution, the same coloration was acquired by women, along with other visual, audible, and tactile characteristics of the infant. Skin color thus became a means to distinguish women from men, with lighter skin being unconsciously perceived as feminine and darker skin as masculine. Such perceptions would influence an observer’s behavioral and emotional state when interacting with a man, a woman, or a young child.

In modern Western societies, those gendered perceptions have been so eclipsed by ethnic ones that they remain largely unconscious. But they are still part of conscious experience elsewhere in the world.

Cornwallis’s mission was now to make sure that the same never happened in India

Sunday, April 16th, 2023

As soon as he recovered from his duelling wound in October 1780, Philip Francis returned to London, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), where he used his new Indian wealth to buy a parliamentary seat and to lobby to bring Hastings down:

In February 1782, he found a sympathetic ear in Edmund Burke, then a rising Whig star. Burke had never been to India, but part of his family had been ruined by unwise speculation in East India stock.


Nor did he even look the part: far from being an ostentatious and loud-mouthed new-rich ‘Nabob’, Hastings was a dignified, intellectual and somewhat austere figure. Standing gaunt at the bar in his plain black frock coat, white stockings and grey hair, he looked more Puritan minister about to give a sermon than some paunchy plunderer: nearly six feet tall, he weighed less than eight stone: ‘of spare habit, very bald, with a countenance placid and thoughtful, but when animated, full of intelligence.’


If anything, the Impeachment demonstrated above all the sheer ignorance of the British about the subcontinent they had been looting so comprehensively, and profitably, for thirty years.


Few were surprised when, after seven years, on 23 April 1795, Hastings was ultimately cleared of all charges.


Amid all the spectacle of Hastings’ trial, it made sense that the man sent out to replace him was chosen by Parliament specifically for his incorruptibility. General Lord Charles Cornwallis had surrendered the thirteen American Colonies of the British Empire over to George Washington, who then declared it a free and independent nation.

Cornwallis’s mission was now to make sure that the same never happened in India.


In America, Britain had lost its colonies not to Native Americans, but to the descendants of European settlers. Cornwallis was determined to make sure that a settled colonial class never emerged in India to undermine British rule as it had done, to his own humiliation, in America.

By this period one in three British men in India were cohabiting with Indian women, and there were believed to be more than 11,000 Anglo-Indians in the three Presidency towns.61 Now Cornwallis brought in a whole raft of unembarrassedly racist legislation aimed at excluding the children of British men who had Indian wives, or bibis, from employment by the Company.


Yet, like their British fathers, the Anglo-Indians were also banned from owning land. Thus excluded from all the most obvious sources of lucrative employment, the Anglo-Indians quickly found themselves at the beginning of a long slide down the social scale. This would continue until, a century later, the Anglo-Indians had been reduced to a community of minor clerks, postmen and train drivers.

It was under Cornwallis, too, that many Indians – the last survivors of the old Murshidabad Mughal administrative service – were removed from senior positions in government, on the entirely spurious grounds that centuries of tyranny had bred ‘corruption’ in them.