Two-thirds of the Company servants who came out never made it back

Friday, March 24th, 2023

Serving with the East India Company was extremely dangerous, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy):

Death, from disease or excess, was a commonplace, and two-thirds of the Company servants who came out never made it back — fewer still in the Company’s army, where 25 per cent of European soldiers died each year.

The Englishmen shave their beards and moustaches, and twist hair into pig-tails

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

William Dalrymple shares a report (in The Anarchy) from a Persian traveller, a learned Sayyid named Abdul Lateef Shushtari, who visited Calcutta after the East India Company had taken over:

Whatever their many vices, wrote Shushtari, the English welcomed and rewarded talent: ‘the English have no arbitrary dismissal,’ he noted, ‘and every competent person keeps his job until he writes his own request for retirement or resignation. More remarkable still is that they take part in most of the festivals and ceremonies of Muslims and Hindus, mixing with the people. They pay great respect to accomplished scholars of whatever sect.’

Intermarriage, he wrote, was common, though the Indian women who took European partners were, he maintained, rarely respectable: ‘The women of people with no future, of corrupt Muslims, of evil Hindus, who of their own desire enter into the bonds of wedlock with the English, they do not interfere with their religion nor compel them to leave purdah veiling; when any son born of the union reaches the age of 4, he is taken from his mother and sent to England to be educated.’

The Englishmen shave their beards and moustaches, and twist hair into pig-tails. They scatter a white powder to make their hair look white, both men and women do this, to lessen the difference between old and young. Neither men nor women remove pubic hair, accounting comely to leave it in its natural state. And indeed, most European women have no body-hair, and even if it does occur, it is wine-coloured, soft and extremely fine.

By reason of women going unveiled, and the mixed education of boys and girls in one school-house, it is quite the thing to fall in love, and both men and women have a passion for poetry and compose love poems. I have heard that well-born girls sometimes fall in love with low-born youths and are covered in scandal which neither threats nor punishment can control, so their fathers are obliged to drive them out of the house. The streets are full of innumerable such once-well-bred girls sitting on the pavements.

Brothels are advertised with pictures of prostitutes hung at the door, the price of one night written up with the furnishings required for revelry … As a result of the number of prostitutes, atashak [gonorrhoea] – a severe venereal disease causing a swelling of the scrotum and testicles – affects people of all classes. It spreads from one to another, healthy and infected mixed together, no one holding back – and this is the state of even the Muslims in these parts!

His son was too morose and difficult for the Church, and far too hot-headed and impatient for the law

Monday, March 20th, 2023

Robert Clive first went out to India as a humble accountant, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), but proved to have unexpected talents in a quite different sphere:

With no military training and no formal commission, and still only in his mid-twenties, the curt, withdrawn and socially awkward young accountant had been the surprise star of the Carnatic Wars, and the man who as much as anyone had prevented Dupleix from realising his dreams of expelling the EIC from India and establishing the French Compagnie in its place.


Robert Clive was born on 29 September 1725 at Styche Hall in the Shropshire village of Moreton Say, into a family of minor provincial country gentry. He had quickly gained a reputation as an unusually unruly and violent child: by the age of seven he had become ‘out of all measure addicted to fightin’’, according to his worried uncle, ‘which gives his temper a fierceness and imperiousness, so that he flies out upon every trifling occasion … I do what I can,’ he added, ‘to suppress the hero, that I may help forward the more valuable qualities of meekness, benevolence and patience.’


By the time Clive turned seventeen, his father Richard recognised that his son was too morose and difficult for the Church, and far too hot-headed and impatient for the law. Luckily, Richard Clive happened to know a director of the EIC.


None of his letters from Madras contain a word about the wonders of India, and he gives no hint of the sights he saw; nor does he seem to have made any attempt to learn the languages. He had no interest in the country, no eye for its beauty, no inquisitiveness about its history, religions and ancient civilisations, and not the slightest curiosity about its people whom he dismissed as universally ‘indolent, luxurious, ignorant and cowardly’. ‘I think only of my dear Native England,’ he wrote home in 1745.


What he did have, from the beginning, was a streetfighter’s eye for sizing up an opponent, a talent at seizing the opportunities presented by happenchance, a willingness to take great risks and a breathtaking audacity. He was also blessed with a reckless bravery; and, when he chose to exercise it, a dark personal magnetism that gave him power over men.


On 26 August 1751, Clive first made his name when he volunteered to march through torrential monsoon rains to relieve the siege of Arcot, the capital of the Nawabs of the Carnatic, with only a small force of 200 Europeans and 300 sepoys. Clive surprised the French and their allies by attacking in the middle of a thunderstorm, and soon raised the Nawab’s Mughal colours from the gates.


The use of speed and surprise was to remain his favourite strategy as a soldier. War in eighteenth-century India was often a slow, gentlemanly and formal affair, as much a sophisticated chess game as an act of aggression: bribes and negotiation usually played a more important role than formal assaults; armies could be bought off, or generals turned and made to break with their paymasters. Clive was happy to play these games when it suited him, but as often as not broke with these conventions, attacking when least expected and with as much ruthlessness and offensive force as possible, making forced marches in monsoon rains, laying down unexpected ambushes and attacking at night or in thick fog.


As a reward for his success he was given the lucrative position of Quartermaster in the Commissary, a post which earned him the huge sum of £40,000 in commissions in a very short period.


‘Calcutta,’ wrote Clive a few years later, ‘is one of the most wicked places in the Universe … Rapacious and Luxurious beyond conception.’


Indeed, 60 per cent of all EIC exports from Asia were now passing through Calcutta.


To pay for these exports, the EIC sent out annually to Bengal £180,000, 74 per cent of it in the form of gold and silver bullion.


Calcutta probably now contained around 200,000 people — though some wilder estimates put the figure at almost double that — of whom around a thousand were Europeans.


The profits from Calcutta’s trade were huge and still growing, but what really attracted Indians to this foreign-owned Company town was the sense that it was safe and secure.


Against artillery and cities defended by the trained musketeers of the European powers, the Maratha cavalry was ineffective.


Already Calcutta had become a haven of private enterprise, drawing in not just Bengali textile merchants and moneylenders, but also Parsis, Gujaratis and Marwari entrepreneurs and business houses who found it a safe and sheltered environment in which to make their fortunes.


This large Indian population also included many wealthy merchants who simply wanted to live out of the reach of the Nawab’s taxation net.


The city’s legal system, and the availability of a framework of English commercial law and formal commercial contracts, enforceable by the state, all contributed to making it increasingly the destination of choice for merchants and bankers from across Asia.


As a result, by 1756 the city had a fabulously diverse and polyglot population: as well as Bengalis, and Hindu and Jain Marwari bankers, there were Portuguese, Armenians, Persians, Germans, Swedes and Dutch, some – judging by an early census – with sophisticated and sometimes bizarre skills: watch- and clockmakers, painters, pastry cooks, goldsmiths, undertakers and wig fabricators.


Whatever their many vices, wrote Shushtari, the English welcomed and rewarded talent: ‘the English have no arbitrary dismissal,’ he noted, ‘and every competent person keeps his job until he writes his own request for retirement or resignation. More remarkable still is that they take part in most of the festivals and ceremonies of Muslims and Hindus, mixing with the people. They pay great respect to accomplished scholars of whatever sect.’

One was later scalped and another ceremonially boiled and the most delicious parts of his body eaten

Saturday, March 18th, 2023

What Americans call the French and Indian War, William Dalrymple reminds us (in The Anarchy), was a global conflict known elsewhere as the Seven Years War:

On 21 June 1752, a party of French Indians led by the French adventurer Charles Langlade, who had a Huron wife and was also influential among the Seneca, Iroquois and Micmac, led a war party of 240 warriors down Lake Huron, across Lake Erie and into the newly settled farmlands of British Ohio. Tomahawks at the ready, they fell on the British settlement of Pickawillany, achieving complete surprise. Only twenty British settlers managed to muster at the stockade. Of those, one was later scalped and another ceremonially boiled and the most delicious parts of his body eaten.


It would carry European arms and warfare from the Ohio to the Philippines, from Cuba to the coast of Nigeria, and from the Heights of Abraham outside Quebec to the marshy flatlands and mango groves of Plassey.


But the part of the globe it would transform most lastingly was India.

Europeans had long suspected they were superior to the Mughals in tactical prowess

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

In anarchic India, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), the English weren’t the only European power:

In Pondicherry and Madras, two rival European trading companies, alerted to Mughal weakness and the now deeply divided and fragmented nature of authority in India, began to recruit their own private security forces and to train and give generous wages to locally recruited infantry troops.


It was not until 1664 that they had set up a rival to the EIC; eight years later, they had founded Pondicherry, successfully bribing the Marathas to leave it alone on their periodic raids into the Carnatic.


In its first incarnation, the Compagnie lost substantial amounts of money and in 1719 it had to be refounded by the brilliant Lowland Scots financier John Law de Lauriston, who had fled from London to France after a duel and rose to become an adviser to the Regent Orléans. Law combined two small insolvent French Indies companies and raised enough money to make it a going concern. But the Compagnie des Indes remained permanently underfunded. Unlike the EIC, which was owned by its shareholders, from the beginning the French Compagnie was partially a royal concern, run by aristocrats who, like their king, tended to be more interested in politics than trade; Dupleix was relatively unusual in that he was interested in both


As one of his first acts he got De Volton, his representative at the Mughal court, to petition the Emperor to make him a Nawab with the rank of 5,000 horse, and to give the French in Pondicherry the right to mint coins. When both wishes were instantly granted, Dupleix began to understand how far Mughal authority had been weakened by Nader Shah’s invasion.


He made immediate plans to increase the Compagnie’s military capability, and for the first time took the initiative to begin training up locally recruited Tamil-, Malayali- and Telugu-speaking warriors in modern European infantry tactics.149 By 1746, two regiments of ‘cypahes’ (sepoys) had been formed, drilled, uniformed, armed and paid in the French manner.


France in the 1740s had by far the larger economy, double that of Britain; it also had three times the population and the largest army in Europe. Britain, however, had a much larger navy and was the dominant power on the seas; moreover, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it had more advanced financial institutions built with Dutch expertise, and capable of raising large amounts of war finance very quickly. Both sides therefore had reason to believe that they could win a war against the other.


Morse would personally have been happy to agree to such a pact of neutrality, but he knew what Dupleix did not: that a Royal Navy squadron had already been despatched eastwards and that it was expected any day. He therefore equivocated and told Dupleix he had no authority to make such a pact. The squadron arrived in February 1745, and promptly attacked and seized a number of French ships, among them one in which Dupleix had a large financial interest.


His reinforcements – around 4,000-strong and including several battalions of highly trained African slave troops and some state-of-the-art siege artillery – arrived in early September. Immediately, Dupleix took the initiative. His new regiments of sepoys and the African and French reinforcements from Mauritius were all sent north on troop transports overnight, supported by eight men-of-war. Landing just to the south of Madras, near St Thomas Mount, they then marched quickly north, moving in to invest the city from the opposite direction to that from which they were expected. In this way they appeared without warning behind the British lines and to the rear of the EIC defences. The siege began on 18 September with such an immense bombardment of mortars that the EIC’s nervous chief gunner, Mr Smith, died there and then of a heart attack.


Within three days, having lost many of his troops to desertion, Governor Morse sought terms. On 20 September, after the loss of only six EIC lives and no French casualties at all, Madras surrendered to the French.


On 24 October 1746, on the estuary of the Adyar River, Mahfuz Khan tried to block the passage of 700 French sepoy reinforcements under Paradis. The French beat off an attack by the 10,000 Mughal troopers with the help of sustained musketry, their infantry drawn up in ranks, file-firing and using grapeshot at close quarters in a way that had never before been seen in India.


Only two French sepoys were killed, while Mughal casualties were over 300.


Europeans had long suspected they were superior to the Mughals in tactical prowess, but they had not appreciated how great this advantage had become due to military developments in the previous half-century since 1687 when the pike-wielding Jacobean troops of Sir Josiah Child were quickly overwhelmed by Aurangzeb’s Mughal troopers. But the wars of late seventeenth-century Europe had seen rapid development in military tactics, particularly the widespread introduction of flintlock muskets and socket bayonets to replace pikes. The organisation of the infantry into battalions, regiments and brigades made continuous firing and complex battlefield manoeuvres by infantry a possibility. The standard infantry tactic was now a bayonet charge after devastating volley firing, supported by mobile and accurate field artillery. The invention of screws for elevating the guns gave the artillery greater precision and increased the firepower of the foot soldiers, giving them an edge in battle against cavalry.


Selling the services of his trained and disciplined troops, he soon realised, was an infinitely more profitable business than dealing in cotton textiles.


The warfare that followed, which usually involved very small Company armies, was often incoherent and inconclusive, but it confirmed that the Europeans now had a clear and consistent military edge over Indian cavalry, and that small numbers of them were capable of altering the balance of power in the newly fractured political landscape that had followed the fall of the Mughal Empire.

The Carnatic Wars that rumbled on over the next decade might have had few conclusive or permanent strategic results, but they witnessed the transformation of the character of the two Companies from trading concerns to increasingly belligerent and militarised entities, part-textile exporters, part-pepper traders, part-revenue-collecting land-holding businesses, and now, most profitably of all, state-of-the-art mercenary outfits.

Within a few minutes, the flower of Mughal chivalry lay dead on the ground

Tuesday, March 14th, 2023

William Dalrymple titled his book The Anarchy, because India was torn apart just as the East India Company started to grow:

On 21 May, Nader Shah with a force of 80,000 fighting men crossed the border into the Mughal Empire, heading for the summer capital of Kabul, so beginning the first invasion of India for two centuries.


Less than three months later, at Karnal, one hundred miles north of Delhi, he defeated three merged Mughal armies — around a million men, some half of whom were fighters — with a relatively small but strictly disciplined force of 150,000 musketeers and Qizilbash horsemen armed with the latest military technology of the day: armour-penetrating, horse-mounted jazair, or swivel guns.


Nader Shah lured Sa’adat Khan’s old-fashioned heavy Mughal cavalry — armoured cuirassiers fighting with long swords — into making a massed frontal charge. As they neared the Persian lines, Nader’s light cavalry parted like a curtain, leaving the Mughals facing a long line of mounted musketeers, each of whom was armed with swivel guns. They fired at point-blank range. Within a few minutes, the flower of Mughal chivalry lay dead on the ground. As a Kashmiri observer, Abdul Karim Sharistani, put it, ‘the army of Hindustan fought with bravery. But one cannot fight musket balls with arrows.’


Having defeated the Mughals in an initial engagement, Nader Shah then managed to capture the Emperor himself by the simple ruse of inviting him to dinner, then refusing to let him leave.


On 29 March, a week after Nader Shah’s forces had entered the Mughal capital, a newswriter for the Dutch VOC sent a report in which he described Nader Shah’s bloody massacre of the people of Delhi: ‘the Iranians have behaved like animals,’ he wrote. ‘At least 100,000 people were killed. Nader Shah gave orders to kill anyone who defended himself. As a result it seemed as if it were raining blood, for the drains were streaming with it.’135 Ghulam Hussain Khan recorded how, ‘In an instant the soldiers getting on the tops of the houses commenced killing, slaughtering and plundering people’s property, and carrying away their wives and daughters. Numbers of houses were set on fire and ruined.’


The massacre continued until the Nizam went bareheaded, his hands tied with his turban, and begged Nader on his knees to spare the inhabitants and instead to take revenge on him. Nader Shah ordered his troops to stop the killing; they obeyed immediately. He did so, however, on the condition that the Nizam would give him 100 crore (1 billion) rupees before he would agree to leave Delhi. ‘The robbing, torture and plundering still continues,’ noted a Dutch observer, ‘but not, thankfully, the killing.’


‘Now commenced the work of spoliation,’ remarked Anand Ram Mukhlis, ‘watered by the tears of the people… Not only was their money taken, but whole families were ruined. Many swallowed poison, and others ended their days with the stab of a knife… In short the accumulated wealth of 348 years changed masters in a moment.’


Among the sequestered objects was the Peacock Throne whose imperial jewels were unrivalled even by the treasures of ancient kings: in the time of earlier Emperors of India, two crores worth of jewels were used as encrustation to inlay this throne: the rarest spinels and rubies, the most brilliant diamonds, without parallel in any of the treasure of past or present kings, were transferred to Nader Shah’s government treasury.


Nader never wished to rule India, just to plunder it for resources to fight his real enemies, the Russians and the Ottomans. Fifty-seven days later, he returned to Persia carrying the pick of the treasures the Mughal Empire had amassed over its 200 years of sovereignty and conquest: a caravan of riches that included Jahangir’s magnificent Peacock Throne, embedded in which was both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the great Timur ruby. Nader Shah also took with him the Great Mughal Diamond, reputedly the largest in the world, along with the Koh-i-Noor’s slightly larger, pinker ‘sister’, the Daria-i-Noor, and ‘700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones’, worth in total an estimated £ 87.5 million in the currency of the time.


Many observers, like the nobleman Shakir Khan, put the blame on the corruption and decadence of society under Muhammad Shah, and turned to a more austere form of Islam in reaction to the Emperor’s careless hedonism: ‘At the beginning of this period,’ he wrote, ‘there was music and drinking, noisy entertainers and crowds of prostitutes, a time of foolery and joking, effeminacy, and chasing after transvestites.’


In just a few months, the Mughal Empire, built up over 150 years, shattered and fragmented like a mirror thrown from a first-storey window, leaving in its place glinting shards of a mosaic of smaller and more vulnerable successor states.

The days of huge imperial armies, financed by an overflowing treasury, had ended for ever. Instead, as authority disintegrated, everyone took measures for their own protection and India became a decentralised and disjointed but profoundly militarised society. Almost everybody now carried weapons. Almost everybody was potentially a soldier. A military labour market sprang up across Hindustan — one of the most thriving free markets of fighting men anywhere in the world — all up for sale to the highest bidder. Indeed, warfare came to be regarded as a sort of business enterprise.143 By the end of the eighteenth century, substantial sections of the peasantry were armed and spent part of their year as mercenaries serving in distant locations.

As the Empire fell apart around it, it hung like an overripe mango, huge and inviting, yet clearly in decay

Sunday, March 12th, 2023

Delhi in 1737 had around 2 million inhabitants, William Dalrymple notes (in The Anarchy):

Larger than London and Paris combined, it was still the most prosperous and magnificent city between Ottoman Istanbul and imperial Edo (Tokyo). As the Empire fell apart around it, it hung like an overripe mango, huge and inviting, yet clearly in decay, ready to fall and disintegrate.


Ruling this rich, vulnerable empire was the effete Emperor Muhammad Shah — called Rangila, or Colourful, the Merry-Maker. He was an aesthete, much given to wearing ladies’ peshwaz and shoes embroidered with pearls; he was also a discerning patron of music and painting.


Muhammad Shah somehow managed to survive in power by the simple ruse of giving up any appearance of ruling: in the morning he watched partridge and elephant fights; in the afternoon he was entertained by jugglers, mime artists and conjurors. Politics he wisely left to his advisers and regents; and as his reign progressed, power ebbed gently away from Delhi, as the regional Nawabs began to take their own decisions on all important matters of politics, economics, internal security and self-defence.

The compromise that emerged was UTC

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

What used to be called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is now called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Wait, UTC?

English speakers originally proposed CUT (for “Coordinated Universal Time”), while French speakers proposed TUC (for «temps universel coordonné»). The compromise that emerged was UTC.

AR-15s are mindbogglingly safe

Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

AR-15s are mindbogglingly safe:

All told, in 2019 there were 364 rifle murders, out of a total of 10,258 firearm murders, accounting for approximately 3.5% of total firearm murders. Nobody uses rifles to murder people because they’re big, bulky, difficult to conceal, and a handgun can do the job just as well.

But that’s all rifles, not specifically AR-15s. What percentage of all privately owned rifles are semiautomatic with detachable box magazines, what the NSSF calls Modern Sporting Rifles and the gun controllers call Assault Weapons? It’s hard to say.

According to NSSF estimates, there are approximately 24.4 million MSRs in circulation today. That’s quite a lot, accounting for around 6% of all privately owned firearms in the country. They’re very common. How many total rifles are there? I can’t find a clean estimate. The NSSF probably knows, but I can’t find any published data on the subject more recent than 2009, where estimates that there were 110 million total rifles out of 310 million total guns at that time. In 2009, 35% of all firearms in private domestic circulation were some kind of rifle. If we presume the ratio today stays the same, then we should have around 150 million rifles in 2019, meaning 16% of all rifles at that snapshot in time were AR-15s or similar.

How many of those 364 rifle murders were from AR-15s or similar? If we presume rifle murders are evenly distributed among rifles owned, we get 60 murders with a MSR / “Assault Weapon.” I don’t know of a better way to do it. Even if the rates were double an even distribution, it’s still only 120 murders. How do we visualize 60 murders in a country of 340 million people?


AR-15 murders are somewhere between “Death By Bucket” and “Death By Lawnmower” in the United States. They’re a little bit more common than getting struck by lightning, a little over half as common as “Death By Bees,” and less than a tenth as likely as “Death By Falling Out Of Bed.” Over twice as many people kill themselves during masturbation as die from AR-15 murders, and triple the number of people die by hitting errant deer with their cars at night as are murdered by AR-15. Feel free to check the sources, they’re in the graph. I have never yet heard a politician claim we were experiencing an Epidemic of Death By Lawnmower.

These weapons are mindbogglingly safe. We have over 24 million of them in circulation, and only 60 deaths a year. This has to be one of the safest consumer products in the marketplace. Way safer than cars.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)

Many English words connected with weaving come from India

Monday, March 6th, 2023

After a number of bruising encounters with the Dutch, William Dalrymple’s explains (in The Anarchy), the East India Company left the lucrative Spice Islands and their aromatic spice trade to focus on less competitive but potentially more promising sectors of the trade of Asia: fine cotton textiles, indigo and chintzes. The source of all three of these luxuries was India:

India then had a population of 150 million — about a fifth of the world’s total — and was producing about a quarter of global manufacturing; indeed, in many ways it was the world’s industrial powerhouse and the world’s leader in manufactured textiles. Not for nothing are so many English words connected with weaving — chintz, calico, shawl, pyjamas, khaki, dungarees, cummerbund, taffetas — of Indian origin.


In comparison, England then had just 5 per cent of India’s population and was producing just under 3 per cent of the world’s manufactured goods.


A good proportion of the profits on this found its way to the Mughal exchequer in Agra, making the Mughal Emperor, with an income of around £100 million, by far the richest monarch in the world.


For their grubby contemporaries in the West, stumbling around in their codpieces, the silk-clad Mughals, dripping in jewels, were the living embodiment of wealth and power — a meaning that has remained impregnated in the word ‘mogul’ ever since.

The aim was to drive all private schools in the state out of business

Sunday, March 5th, 2023

In 1922, Oregon passed a law requiring every child to attend a local public school:

Supporters including the KKK admitted the aim was to drive all private schools in the state out of business. But before the law went into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional.

Undeterred, the Klan continued pursuing its education agenda in the public sphere. Members bullied Catholic teachers and principals into vacating public school jobs. They made donations of (Protestant) Bibles and agitated for mandatory (Protestant) prayer and religion classes. And they lined up behind the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers union, as it lobbied over more than a decade for the establishment of a federal Department of Education.

The groups wanted an Education Department that would provide funding to schools across the country, thereby promoting literacy and patriotism. An influx of immigrants had raised concerns that pockets of the country were not being assimilated into the American way of life. Compulsory education was meant to build national unity, ensuring the country’s future workers could speak the same language and preparing them to be productive members of society.

Supporters of this effort often portrayed it as a grand humanitarian crusade. “We must have a compulsory education system to reach and uplift every future citizen,” national Ku Klux Klan leader Hiram Evans said in 1924. If the campaign was successful, “all our humanity might live in harmony.”

The cruelly coercive nature of the proposals nevertheless was apparent. “We will be a homogeneous people,” Evans told a friendly audience in 1923. “We will grind out Americans like meat out of a grinder.” Or as an early Progressive education reformer chillingly put it in 1902, “The nation has a right to demand intelligence and virtue of every citizen, and to obtain these by force if necessary.”

As the NEA and KKK pushed to federalize education funding, they met opposition from Catholic institutions. The National Catholic Welfare Council, a U.S. body of Catholic bishops and staff, worked diligently to oppose bills that would have elevated an Interior Department bureau collecting education statistics into its own cabinet agency. America, a Jesuit magazine, editorialized against the legislative proposals as well. Fearing that federal funding of education would lead to federal control of education, Catholic leaders argued that parents must be allowed to determine what kind of schooling was right for their kids.

History was on the Catholics’ side. Education in America had always been a state and local issue. Although the Founders “wanted a nation of virtuous, informed citizens,” wrote Kevin Kosar, then of the R Street Institute, in 2015, “almost nobody saw educating them as the federal government’s job. The Constitution didn’t authorize the federal government to make schools policy.”

In the 1920s and ’30s, opponents were successful at preventing the establishment of a standalone cabinet agency. But the push for a centralized education authority didn’t go away even when the Klan did. Lawmakers in Washington began appropriating school funding in the decades that followed, and a federal Department of Education was officially created in 1979.

The wording was sufficiently ambiguous

Saturday, March 4th, 2023

The royal charter the East India Company received, William Dalrymple’s explains (in The Anarchy), was more expansive than they expected:

As well as freedom from all customs duties for their first six voyages, it gave them a British monopoly for fifteen years over ‘trade to the East Indies’, a vaguely defined area that was soon taken to encompass all trade and traffic between the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan, as well as granting semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies.

The wording was sufficiently ambiguous to allow future generations of EIC officials to use it to claim jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia, mint money, raise fortifications, make laws, wage war, conduct an independent foreign policy, hold courts, issue punishment, imprison English subjects and plant English settlements.

History is littered with examples of how service identity diverted attention away from munitions

Friday, March 3rd, 2023

The Ukrainians’ success highlights weaknesses in the U.S. arsenal:

Production lines for weapons like the Javelin and the Stinger were all but shut down. The GLSDB received a hard pass from the U.S. military services. To launch the Harpoon from land, the Department of Defense had to draft a whole new emergency requirement.

As analysts Stacie Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser concluded, the U.S. has been underinvesting in many munitions, including “anti-ship and area-effects weapons,” and is “not buying enough of these weapons” or “stockpiling enough precision-guided munitions (PGMs) for a protracted war.”

Why doesn’t the U.S. focus more on munitions? A large factor is armed force service identity — or how the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines and Space Force associate weapons with their organizations’ identity.

The Navy identity, for example, centers on tradition and independent command at sea with a focus on aircraft carriers and submarines. In contrast, the Air Force, a relatively young service, is insecure about its independence and therefore advocates technology that emphasizes strategic air power, including bombers and (more recently) fighters.

The Army is often a late adopter of technology, advocating for personnel-heavy doctrine and armored platforms like tanks. In general, these service identities create a bias towards platforms (tanks, planes, ships) over munitions (missiles, bombs, rockets).

History is littered with examples of how service identity diverted attention away from munitions — both unintentionally and intentionally. For example, despite a proven combat record during World War I, an interwar U.S. Navy de-prioritized torpedoes and decimated their industrial capacity to produce the munitions. When World War II began, the Navy had only a limited number of outdated systems available.
The Air Force also famously sabotaged cruise missile testing during the 1970s, fearful it would jeopardize the B-1.

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations, William Dalrymple’s suggests, in The Anarchy:

The spark of the idea sprang from the flint of the medieval craft guilds, where merchants and manufacturers could pool their resources to undertake ventures none could afford to make individually. But the crucial difference in a joint stock company was that the latter could bring in passive investors who had the cash to subscribe to a project but were not themselves involved in the running of it. Such shares could be bought and sold by anyone, and their price could rise or fall depending on demand and the success of the venture.

Such a company would be ‘one body corporate and politick’ — that is, it would be a corporation, and so could have a legal identity and a form of corporate immortality that allowed it to transcend the deaths of individual shareholders, ‘in like manner’, wrote the legal scholar William Blackstone, ‘as the River Thames is still the same river, though the parts which compose it are changing every instance’.

Forty years earlier, in 1553, a previous generation of London merchants had begun the process of founding the world’s first chartered joint stock company: the Muscovy Company, or to give it its full and glorious title, The Mysterie and Companie of the Merchant Adventurers for the Discoverie of Regions, Dominions, Islands and Places Unknown.

They were already socially distanced when Covid arrived

Tuesday, February 28th, 2023

The CDC put out an 89-page summary of trends from its Youth Risk Behavior Study (YRBS) data from 2011 through 2021, and, Jon Haidt reports, there’s not much evidence of a covid effect:

If we start with girls, we see a steady rise since 2011, with an acceleration in the 2019 administration, and then, if you squint, you can see a slight acceleration beyond that in the 2021 administration. We can call that extra acceleration the covid effect. For the boys, we see no covid effect at all. The big jump was between 2017 and 2019, and the rise slows down between 2019 and 2021.


Why did covid not cause a bigger increase in teen mental illness?

My tentative answer: When school closures and social distancing were implemented in 2020, teens had already lost most of their social lives to their phones. You can see the spectacular loss of time with friends in this graph of time use data plotted by age group.


So 2 hours a day with friends was the norm right up to the time when teens traded in their flip phones for smartphones, in the early 2010s. Once they did that, they moved their social lives onto a few large social media platforms, especially Instagram, Snapchat, and later Tiktok. They were spending vastly more time online, even when they were in the same room as their friends, which meant that they had far less time for each other (in face-to-face interaction or physical play).

I suggest that this is why the effect of covid restrictions on teen mental health was not very large: Gen Z’s in-person social lives were decimated by technology in the 2010s. They were already socially distanced when Covid arrived.