My First Book is Out

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the cover of "Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects" (Franz Steiner, 2021)

Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects. Oriens et Occidens Band 32 (Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2021) 437 pp., 8 b/w ill., 4 b/w tables. ISBN 978-3-515-12775-2 EUR 74,– (softcover) (publisher’s website)

My first book is coming out from Franz Steiner Verlag this month. Its the first book on Achaemenid armies since 1992, and the first written by someone who can read any ancient Near Eastern language. I show that most of what we think we know about Achaemenid armies and warfare goes back to classical writers and to 19th and 20th century stereotypes about the east. So many books sound the same because they are repeating the ideas of early authorities in new language. By focusing on indigenous, contemporary sources and placing the Achaemenids in their Near Eastern context- the standard methods in Roman Army Studies and Achaemenid Studies since the 1980s- we can tell a different story.

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Fiscal Crisis at Laurentian University, Ontario

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In most parts of Canada, we are suffering under shockingly bad officials. British Columbia is dealing with a pandemic of a novel coronavirus which emerged late last year but spread early this year when travellers brought it to a ski resort and infected workers who were living in close quarters, and our federal government just found 6 billion dollars to lend to an airline when a lot of people and communities are waiting for less expensive things.

In Ontario, one of these crises is at Laurentian University, whose administration has just entered bankruptcy protection at a closed Senate meeting. They have laid off approximately 100 faculty and closed 60 programs including one of only three midwifery programs in Ontario, all Francophone history at this bilingual university, and all history education above the bachelor’s level. The faculty are being notified by email in the first week of exam season. Faculty have strongly suspected that the university had financial troubles for some time but the administration refused to provide sufficient information until it was too late. Dr. Janice Liedl, the chair of the history department, is my only trusted source about what is happening (she abandoned her blog for birdsite sadly https://twitter.com/jliedl). There is an open letter to the provincial government on Google Docs here (link).

A Path not Taken

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a beach in twilight with sand, an area of rocks and seawead, pebbles, and steep cliffs covered with trees and brush
A beach at low tide in Greater Victoria, BC. Photo by Sean Manning 4 April 2021. At high tide there are two beaches!

The modern international historical fencing movement began in the 1990s, but before that there were isolated or short-lived attempts to collect old fencing manuals and practice their teachings. Like some exiled scholars before me, I am taking advantage of the situation to read books and find references which I could not at home. I read the following long before I discovered the historical fencers or was in the habit of listing all the useful passages I read. It was published in 1969 and describes the foundation of SCA Heavy combat in California. It begins:

Fencers and kendo men occasionally take part in tournaments. At present, some people are experimenting with rapier and dagger. No doubt still other weapons will appear. It will be interesting to see how they do.

It is likely interesting to consider the methods of their appointment. Except for a recent discovery of an old German manual by Jakob Sutor, which treats only a few kinds of arms, nobody has yet turned up contemporary instructions for sword and shield or the like. If any of you out there know of some, the Society will be grateful for the information. Meanwhile, reconstruction has been by trial and error. The influence of judo and karate is noticeable in the results. We would love to know if the men who stood at Hastings or Crécy- a time gap which may well have seen considerable evolution- had developed similar styles or quite different ones. In the later case, which set would be more effective?

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Substack Transmits User Email Addresses in Plain Text

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the landing page for Brad Delong's Substack newsletter
Apparently Substack encourages open discussion threads once a week or month. This has been a common way of encouraging engagement with ‘chatty’ blogs for at least a decade, whether they are hosted by Substack or Blogger

At first I thought substack were just good self-promoters. They managed to convince people to lend them more than $80 million to launch a blog platform with 2010s aesthetics. Most blog platforms will deliver posts by RSS or email if you sign up, and paid and unpaid newsletters go back to the 19th century. Getting people with too much money to give you some is harmless, and convincing people to read and write blogs is good. But then @22@octodon.social suggested I should look at their source code and I saw something as beautiful as the tale of Emperor Norton of the United States.

If you right-click a Substack page and click ‘view source,’ you will see some sections for tracking pixels. These are tiny transparent images which uniquely identify the copy of an email or a webpage sent to a specific person. They are one of the ways sites track you around the web and after you sign out, which is why its a good idea to block HTML and images in your email client. But these images have some metadata attached, and that metadata appears in the text of the page.

<script>window._analyticsConfig = {"user":null,"properties":{"subdomain":"braddelong","publication_id":47874,"has_plans":true,"pub_community_enabled":true,"parent_publication_id":null,"parent_publication_subdomain":null,"is_parent_publication":false,"is_subscribed":false,"is_free_subscribed":false,"is_author":false,"is_contributor":false,"is_admin":false},"optimizelySdkKey":"5kEkU44ABjPW9geWS8dGD"}</script>
        https://cdn.substack.com/min/main.bundle.js?v=12ce06-17894e63490

        <!-- Fallback tracking pixels -->

If you signed up in this browser, or arrived in this window from one of their emails, the user field is filled in with something like:

{"id":12345678, "name":null,"email":"notmyrealaddress+somesubstack@protonmail.com"}, "anonymousId":"abcdefgh-ijkl-mnop-qrst-uvwxyz123456"}

if you were not using HTTPS, anyone between you and your server can see which page and which newsletter someone with your email address and username was visiting. And if you submit the page to the Wayback Machine, your address and other personal information will be archived for posterity. If you use substack and comment on one of those discussion threads, will the email addresses and usernames of everyone who comments be archived? They have fields for Facebook and Google tracking IDs, so anyone who has access to those (and the aspects of your identity they reveal) can search for them. For example, if a cracker wanted to spear phish you, he could use this to send an email that looks like an update from one of your newsletters with a link you really should not click on or attachment you really should not open. The same ID is attached to Substack pages which you did not subscribe to, as long as you have not cleared your history since the last time you subscribed, logged in, or clicked a link in one of their newsletters.

The hilarious thing is that Substack is aware of the undergraduate computer science concept of running user information through a hash function to get an anonymous unique ID and using that in public. Just look at that anonymousId field! A company which just got given $65 million to promote a blog platform is making an elementary security and privacy error. And they are far from the only Southern California software company which does not seem to be very good at developing software (just look at Patreon, if you can bear to load one of their pages!) As I said a year ago, the adults in the room are not, they are just the latest generation of smooth talkers using fancy words and the right dress and deportment to convince rich people to give them money to build a beautiful dream.

A quick duck-duck-go did not reveal any posts on the subject. Some rhapsodize about tracking pixels, but not that your email address is visible in the source code. So why does it take a mad orientalist[1] to notice this? Anyone can right click the page and view source and search for keywords. The terms “confidence game” and “con man” grew out of 19th century New York City, and on the other side of the continent, people are playing the same old game.

[1] I have a diploma that says “orientalist” and I don’t have a mens sana in corpore sano right now.

Building a Website to Last in the 2020s

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The site above was last updated in 1997. It still does everything it was designed to do. How many script-heavy, CMS-based websites from 2017 will still be readable in 2041?

My mental health has recovered to the point that I can work on moving the static part of my website onto its own domain name and server. That is good, because WordPress’ web interface has become even more intolerable. Automattic has other frustrating policies, like storing images on their domain not mine (so if I move the site links on other sites to the images break), and editing a customer’s site to stop them from using someone’s legal and most famous name. If you want to see how a computer scientist[1] thinks about this problem, read on!

[1] a scientist with a diploma that says CSC and a resume with “junior software developer” under work experience, at least

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So Take Your Last Look Upon Sunshine and Brook: Citino’s “Death of the Wehrmacht”

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A round table on a stone patio with lines pointing to Györ 179 km, Volgograd 2165 km, Budapest 277 km, Debrecen 471 km, "east," and Sevastopol 1427 km
Some displaced ambition from the Schlossberg, Graz. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

Robert M. Citino, Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942 (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, KA, 2007) ISBN-13 978-0-7006-1791-3 [Bookfinder]

Robert Citino’s Death of the Wehrmacht (2007) is a third type of history book. Rather than a journalistic history drawing on interviews or a monograph with carefully limited scope, it is a book with a big idea inspired by experience lecturing. He believes that the kind of land war which Germany waged from 1939 to 1945 was not just a product of a bad strategic situation or Nazi ideology but a particular way of fighting wars which went back to Frederick the Great’s Prussia. This type of warfare focused on throwing the army against the largest concentration of enemy troops from an unexpected direction and relying on highly trained officers and men to overcome larger, better-funded armies in a few weeks of fighting. He then uses this way of thinking to explain the major German offensives of 1942: in the Crimea, at Kharkov in Ukraine (where the Soviets attacked first), against the oil fields of the South Caucasus and to the lower Volga, and against the Nile Delta to close the Suez Canal. This is a book about the Prussian and then German officer corps as an institution, anchored in several centuries of history rather than the Third Reich.

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Science Fiction with Egyptian Themes

For Dr. Leire Olabarria and Dr. Eleanor Dobson’s conference “Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?” I have been trying to think of science fiction that engages with ancient Egypt. This was much harder than I expected, and the difficulty became the basis for my proposal. My understanding of science fiction is centered around people who published short stories and novels between the 1930s and the 1970s, but this is the list I came up with after talking to people in different places online:

The number sign # after an entry indicates that I have not seen or read it.

Of course this short list could just reflect my own taste and what was available in the libraries and used book stores of my home town in the 1990s. But writers who loved the ancient world like L. Sprague de Camp, Poul Anderson, and Harry Turtledove are absent, and the things in this list begin in 1975 rather than trailing off after 1975. And most of these films, shows, cartoons and games involve ancient astronauts or archaeologists digging too deep and awaking ancient horrors like in the film The Mummy (the famous ones begin with Universal Pictures, 1932). If you think I have left anything out let me know! And if you want to know what other people have come up with, check out the conference on 9 July 2021. Some talks will be streamed online.

In lieu of a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of all good things in my mortuary temple, I happily accept donations on Patreon or paypal.me or even liberapay

PS. People suggested the following things which I am not sure are science fiction or I am not sure have a strong enough Egyptian theme to count.

(scheduled 17 March 2021)

Why Digitizing Sources is Important

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As human beings and as scientists in the early 21st century, we have a crisis of epistemology and misinformation. Science is a system for distributed, verified trust and as the rate of publications increases, and new discoveries lead to conclusions which threaten more and more wealthy actors, that system has been breaking down. There is lots of talk about blame, but I don’t find that is helpful. Often, what seem to be two opposed factions lean on each other like tired wrestlers, and use the commotion of their fighting to keep their supporters too busy to ask awkward questions about the gap between the policies that their representatives say they support and the policies they enact. Instead of laying blame, I would like to talk about one of the things we are doing to solve this.

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Essentialism, Identities, and History

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“Idiot! All you have to do is stop wearing that silly robe and get rid of that daft hat and no one will even know you’re a wizard! … Just get rid of them. It’s easy enough, isn’t it? Just drop them somewhere and then you could be a, a, well, whatever. Something that isn’t a wizard.” …

Rincewind nodded gloomily. “I don’t think you understand. A wizard isn’t what you do, it’s what you are. If I wasn’t a wizard, I wouldn’t be anything.” He took off his hat and twiddled nervously with the loose star on its point, causing a few more cheap sequins to part company.

Terry Pratchet, Sourcery (Corgi Books: London, 1988) pp. 147-148 the first visit to the tower of sourcery

A Haida filmmaker is pushing for new legislation in Canada to penalize people who pretend to be Indigenous in order to access grants, awards and jobs intended for Indigenous people. Tamara Bell said she wants those who misrepresent their identity to face fines and even prison time.

Angela Sterritt, “Indigenous filmmaker wants fines, jail time for ‘pretendians’ who misrepresent their identity” CBC News, 2021-Jan-19 (link)

If you follow the news or corporate social media, you will see how often the gap between identities as internal self-belief and identities as external attributes leads to conflict. Most people are reluctant to explain what is at issue or how the word “identity” is used in different ways, and they are even more reluctant to talk about why we started talking about the first kind of identity. I am not an intellectual historian, but as a military historian I will tell the bloody story as well as I can. This is a tale of genocide and oppression and the cycles between different ways of thinking about complicated areas of life.

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Shameless Plug: The Chronicle of the Good Duke

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Jean Cabaret d’Orville, The Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis II Bourbon. Translated and introduced by Steve Muhlberger (Freelance Academy Press, 2021) ISBN: 978-1-937439-54-5 USD 49.95 Publisher’s website

My esteemed colleague Professor Emeritus Steve Muhlberger in Ontario has finally finished a major project, a translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke from 15th century France. This is a book of war stories about aristocratic heroes as told by their friends and admirers, but it has never been translated from the original Middle French into a modern language. I read several of his books back in the Before Times when I was hanging out with the fencers, and they are fun to read but scholarly (when I put on my teacher’s hat I have a rant about his translation of Charny’s Questions, but that is something for an informal chat not my website). You can get a sense of his writing style from his free online textbook from 1999.

Freelance is a small publisher, and I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone outside of the United States order anything from that country while the post is so jammed up and international trade and travel are restricted. The cost of sending is high and packages are being delayed or lost. But if you are in the United States, or can wait six months for the US Postal Service, FedEx, etc. to clear up, and you are interested in warfare or the 15th century CE, this might be the book for you.

(scheduled 25 February 2021)

And the Morning Road Leads to Stalingrad

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Three softcover history books on a hardwood floor

The Second World War created the world that I grew up in, and the central event of that war was the Nazi-Soviet struggle. 80% of the Germans and Austrians killed or captured in the war were killed or captured by the Soviets (Glantz, The Soviet-German War1941-1945: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay [2001]). My standby reference on the war, R.A.C. Parker’s brilliantly concise The Second World War: A Short History (Oxford University Press, 1989), was written too early to take advantage of the opening of the Soviet archives and the deconstruction of the German generals’ memoirs. Two recent English books represent two major approaches to writing about this unspeakably terrible conflict.

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