Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Modus armandi milites ad torneamentum.

Primo fit ignis et extenditur tapetum, et spoliatur ad camisiam; pectine parat capillos, in pede calciatur  de quyr, induit ocreas, gall. muscylers, in tibiis de ascer ou de quyr boily. Deinde quysouns in femoribus et genicularia, gall. genulers. Deinde aketoun, et deinde camisia de Chartres et coyfe de Chartres , et pelvim in qua debet esse cerveylere defendens capud ne contiguetur pelvis cum capite. Deinde loricam quyrée, cote armée, in qua fuerit signa militis, et gayne payns ou gayns de baleyne sa espeye, .i. gladius, et flagellum et galeam, .i. heaume. 
Ad Bellum: aketoun, plates de Alemayne ou autres cum, aketoun ut supra et bone gorgeres, gladius, haches a pik, et cultellus. Scutum raro portatur ad bellum quia impediret plus quam promoveret.

Ad Hastiludia: aketoun, haubert, gambisoun, quod fit de panno serico et consimilibus, si sit preciosum, nuelere ke sunt plates de ascer, sicut bacyn et galea.

First the fire is made and the carpet spread, and he is stripped to his shirt and his hair is combed in preparation, and leather shoes put on his feet and greaves, in French muscylers, on his legs, of steel or of cuir bouilli . Then on his thighs he puts cuisses and knee pieces, in French genulers. Then an aketon, a shirt of Chartres and coif of Chartres, and a bascinet with a lining to keep it from contacting the head. Then body armor fashioned of leather, coat armor on which should be the knight's device, gayne payns* or whalebone gauntlets, his espeye, i.e. sword, and a riding whip, and a helmet, i.e. heaume.

For War: an aketon, plates from Germany or elsewhere, and in addition to the aketon as above, a good gorget, sword, axe with a spike, and a long knife. The shield is rarely carried in war as it hinders more than it helps.

For Jousts: aketon, hauberk, and gambeson, which is made of silken cloth and the like, and can be so costly that the steel plates, basinet and helmet are as nothing in comparison.

*A type of gauntlet

From BL MS Additional 46919, compiled by William Herebert before his death around 1333. The author, writing in Latin but describing gear unknown to Cicero, was frequently forced to lapse into contemporary French.
Meyer, Paul, Gaston Bruno Paulin Paris, Antoine Thomas, and Mario Roques. 1884. Romania. Paris: Société des amis de la Romania [etc.].  P. 530 Translation copyright Will McLean 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Layers Beneath Armor

An image from Lancelot du Lac et la Quête du Graal, BNF Francais 343, showing the layers a man-at-arms normally wore beneath his armor: breeches, shirt and arming doublet. Note that this differs from How a man schall be armyd, which I believe is specific to a judicial duel.

Modus armandi milites ad torneamentum, a manuscript compiled around 1330 and Chaucer's Sir Tophas both describe a man-at-arms wearing a shirt as his innermost layer. Cloth worn next to the skin accumulates sweat, skin oils, dead skin cells and dirt. For a soldier on campaign, it is both pleasant and convenient to be able to simply put on a clean shirt in the morning.

However, a shirt worn beneath a tight fitting doublet can ruck up awkwardly. A man planning to fight a judicial duel won't need to wear the same doublet the next day, so having the doublet lining the innermost layer is a reasonable approach in that context.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Six Miles Above the Moon

This stunning video was created from images captured by GRAIL's Ebb spacecraft, three days before it lithobraked into a Lunar mountain.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Suppose You Were Conscripted

Suppose that the government required you, as a citizen, to perform military service regardless of your consent. Also, they required you to provide weapons and ammunition to government specification at your own expense, and present it for regular inspection.

Also, by you, the government meant a free, white male of military age.

This is what the Congress that passed the Militia Acts of 1792 thought  necessary for a well regulated militia.

A few observations.

By well regulated, they didn't mean restricted by law. They meant something more than that. They meant to produce a militia that was militarily efficient, sufficiently trained that they could fight effectively as units on the battlefield.

Second, to avoid the possible evil of oppression by a standing army, they were willing to subject virtually the entire population that mattered to the contemporary mind to compulsory military service and compel them to arm themselves at their own expense.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why the Federal Assault Weapons Ban Worked

After the passage of the AWB of 1994, the percentage of guns seized by the police in Virginia in connection with crimes with high capacity magazines dropped from 13% in 1994 to 9% in 2004. How was this possible, since many high capacity magazines were in criminal hands prior to 1994, and pre1994 magazines were grandfathered, and continued to be available from private sellers?

To know why, it is important to understand three things.

The stock of guns in criminal hands has very high turnover. If 70% of armed robbers are rearrested within three years, the stock of guns in criminal hands has a very short half-life, either through arrest and confiscation or death before another criminal has a chance to loot the body.

During the AWB, criminals needed to replenish their supply of munitions, but during the ban, their supply of high capacity magazines was constricted. Before the ban they could steal new high capacity magazines from licensed dealers or shippers, buy them from corrupt dealers, obtain them through straw purchase or from friends or family who had bought them from a licensed dealer. All of these sources were greatly diminished, although new high capacity magazines for law enforcement or military use remained vulnerable to diversion.

Used high capacity magazines made before the ban were still available from private sellers and licensed dealers in used munitions. However, second hand guns and magazines seem to have been a clear minority of the inventory available at any given time for corrupt diversion, theft, or straw purchase.

Third, guns possessed by criminals are a positional good. If an illegal drug dealer is arrested, the supply of that drug is diminished and other dealers rush to respond to the demand. If a criminal with superior firepower is arrested, other criminals need less firepower to maintain the status quo.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Medieval History: But What Are the Civilian Applications?

In my last post, I suggested that history (and my favorite sub-field of medieval history) doesn't have a lot of practical application to the 21st century. But I lie.

Medieval history has a lot to say about the failure modes of anarchism and oligarchy, and the seductive lure to the powerful of the idea of power as private property and its pernicious affect on the common good. Also, the eagerness and effectiveness of concentrated interests in rigging the rules of society in their favor, including but not limited to upper management in large organizations finding ways to improve their personal welfare at the expense of the greater enterprise.

On a more positive note, it also demonstrates the value of the rule of law and even limited efforts to bind the government to the consent of the governed.

Also, that humans want joy. They will find it or make it, somehow. And succeed, even in a society by our standards poor and oppressed. Chaucer lived through the plague, but still he was more joyful than otherwise.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

"Nobody ever suggested that Picasso should spend fewer hours painting per picture in order to boost his wealth or improve the economy."

In the middle of a very wise post about the long term value of accumulated intellectual capital that is often difficult or impossible to measure in monetary terms when it is first produced, Kevin Kelly uses the above example of Picasso as an argument.

It's a very poor choice, because Picasso was enormously successful at monetizing his intellectual output, and acutely aware that he could produce more faster by selling prints and book illustrations than by making individual drawings.

It's a poor example, but his fundamental argument is correct and important. There's a tremendous amount of intellectual output that's completely invisible to conventional measures of GDP. I learned about Kelly's article through Steve Muhlberger's blog. Steve doesn't carry advertising, so his blog is a free gift to the world. In conventional terms, its direct contribution to the economy is zero, but so much the worse for conventional measures of economic activity.

There's a whole enormous but difficult to quantify gift economy where we spend time making things for friends and strangers: blog posts and cat photos and Improv Everywhere performances, mostly unmediated by the exchange of money. We're like a planet of Kirstendalers, living well by spending time as each others' servants.

And one of the great strengths of this gift economy is that transaction costs can be very low. As the citizen of a rich society I can afford to spend my leisure as I wish. I can give it away if I want to.

Now a lot of this simply gives pleasure to friends and strangers, not that there's anything wrong with that. Those that do this do well.

Some fields, like my primary interest of history, don't do a lot to put bread on the table of the poor. Still, those that know their own past better are richer for it. Those that do that do better.

But, some ideas are so powerful that they can clearly make a society richer as long as the society survives, and successors that inherit it until they perish, and so on until the end of time. Those that do this do best of all.

One of the great ideas of the 20th century was nonviolent civil disobedience. It made the world better, and once invented could not be uninvented. But the inventors who brought it forward drew no worldly profit from it, but the reverse.

But think of the unlocked potential at the end of the struggle! How many U.S. citizens would prefer the laws and norms of 1954 to those of today? Few, I hope.

There are a lot of ideas like that, although few as powerful. Sometime the first draft is flawed (See: French Revolution 1.0) The second great strength of the 21st century gift economy is that each of us can throw our thoughts into the marketplace of ideas, and others can refute them or improve  on them, and we can respond to do better. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Guns in the USA

My preferred policy:

Declaring a place "gun free" without putting in effective means of enforcing that does more harm than good.

All gun buyers should be subject to a background check.

The overall length of short barreled rifles under the NFA should be measured with folding stocks folded, since someone trying to conceal such a gun would fold the stock.

High capacity magazines holding 10 or more rounds should be regulated as Title II NFA weapons. Current owners of such magazines who don't want to comply with those regulations should be allowed sell them to government at a fair price, exchange them for lower capacity magazines, or convert them or have them converted to lower capacity magazines.

Looking at mass shootings since 1982, it seems that killers with military-size magazines holding 20-35 rounds were significantly more lethal than those with magazines holding 10 or less.This is unsurprising, since this is the size favored for the primary weapons carried by most soldiers on the modern battlefield. In the Mother Jones database of mass shootings, shooters with guns holding ten rounds or less killed about 7.1 victims per shooter. Those with 20-35 round magazines killed 10.3 victims each.

Magazines holding over 10 but less than 20 rounds are currently popular  choices for modern semiautomatic pistols and offer increased firepower for defensive use. New production for civilian use was illegal under the Federal Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) of 1994. For mass shooters, they increased lethality only modestly, to 8.3 victims each. Oversized magazines holding more than 35 rounds were not significantly more lethal than those holding ten rounds or less, probably because of an increased tendency to jam.  Such large magazines are rarely used for military assault rifles or machine pistols, probably for the same reason.

In spite of the enormous stock of pre-1994 high capacity magazines grandfathered under the Assault Weapons Ban, the ban seems to have  eventually had a significant effect on criminal use of such magazines. These gains were reversed after the act lapsed.

The ban seems to have been somewhat effective at keeping the most lethal 20-35 round magazines out of the hands of mass shooters. Only three shootings that I know of used that size magazine while the act was in force from 1994-2004, the Caltrans maintenance yard shooting of 1997, Westside Middle School, and Columbine, compared to five since it lapsed. Six deaths per mass shooter was the norm during the ban, and nine per shooter since.

It has been argued that magazine capacity has little impact on criminal lethality, since a shooter could simply carry more magazines and reload more often.  And yet at least three mass shooters were subdued while trying to reload: the Long Island Rail Road shooter of 1993. the Thurston High School shooter of 1998, and the shooter of Gabrielle Giffords and others in 2011, in spite of the wide availability of high capacity magazines that allowed the shooter to fire many shots without reloading during most of the period since 1982.

It has been argued that mass shootings are only a small subset of gun homicides. This is true, but policies that reduce the body count in mass shootings will also reduce the body count in homicides by criminals.

There is some evidence that the AWB had a positive affect on the broader impact of shooting casualties. Shooting deaths were rising before 1994, and fell during the 1994-2004 period. They were roughly flat after the act lapsed in 2004, but there was a significant countervailing factor. Gunshot wounds increased significantly after 2004. The only reason the death count did not rise correspondingly was that better emergency room treatment saved more victims.

No further federal regulations of assault weapons, as defined in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, are desirable. Regulations should concentrate on the objective considerations of magazine capacity and concealability.

States and municipalities should not be prevented from setting reasonable safety training standards for gun owners.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Above Five Planets

MESSENGER continues to orbit Mercury, sending back new data.

Venus Express orbits over Venus.

Earth has a constellation of satellites, including the great honking enormous ISS, on which primate flute-playing occurs.

Mars has a respectable little flotilla in orbit.  Also, we have two operational rovers on the surface. One of them has a laser, and isn't afraid to use it.

Cassini continues to orbit Saturn, sending back awesome images.

This is a temporary low. Dawn left Vesta en route for Ceres on September 4, 2012, ETA February 2015.

Juno is heading for Jupiter, ETA July 2016.

When exploring the solar system, patience is a virtue.