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June 1, 2002

Worth Your Time (1) New Electrolite feature: links to other writing on the web, all guaranteed worthwhile but unencumbered by more than a line or two of further comment by me. Often, because fourteen-eleven other bloggers have already commented on the piece in question. Not everyone who reads Electrolite reads fourteen-eleven other blogs, however. Thus.
  • “Bomb Saddam?” by Joshua Micah Marshall, in the Washington Monthly. A liberal concludes that (1) the neoconservative Iraq hawks are sloppy with the facts, pursuing unsavory agendas, and generally untrustworthy, and (2) we probably have to go after Iraq anyway.
  • “Power and Weakness” by Robert Kagan, in Policy Review. Much-discussed analysis of why Europe and America are drifting apart, and why (in Kagan’s view) this is liable to continue.
  • “Bigotry in Print. Crowds Chant Murder. Something’s Changed.” By Paul Berman, in the Forward. Spooky, thoughtful examination of the worm of anti-Semitism and its return to center stage in the West.
  • “Japan’s Voluntary Shut-Ins,” by Kathryn Tolbert, in the Washington Post. “As many as a million Japanese — most of them young men — are considered shut-ins, either literally cloistered in their rooms or refusing to work and avoiding all social contact for periods ranging from six months to more than 10 years.” WTF?
  • “The end of multiculturalism,” by John Lloyd, in the New Statesman. If “multiculturalism” means tolerating practices like nonconsensual arranged marriages within immigrant communities, Western liberals are increasingly likely to reject it.
  • “In Praise of Vulgarity” by Charles Paul Freund, in Reason. Outstanding libertarian analysis refuting the idea that popular culture is dictated by entertainment tycoons. (We tycoons just wish.) Many fascinating digressions, like the tale of the “stilyagi” in the 1950s USSR.
  • “1491,” by Charles C. Mann, in the Atlantic. Mind-blowingly provocative overview of controversies over the true state of the New World’s natural environment before the European conquests. Some of its suggestions are sure to be refuted, but it can’t be emphasized enough that American aborigines were as enthusiastic about modifying their environment as we are—and darn good at it.
[12:52 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Worth Your Time (1):

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2002, 03:11 PM:

On Matthew White's fascinating "Historical Atlas of the 20th Century" Web site, there is an appendix of sorts about pre-20th-century atrocities that includes an interesting literature survey about the pre-Columbian population of the Americas:

http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat0.htm#America

White is a librarian and seems to have an infinite capacity for exhaustive literature searches. As usual when he comments on these historical-statistical controversies, White's own hunch, which he admits is nothing more than that, is somewhere in the middle of the vast range he cites-- a number around 40 million. He notes that the population of Europe at the time is a "magic number" that has a distorting effect on estimates. (It reminds me much of the way Marc Herold kept emphasizing that his estimate of civilian deaths in the Afghanistan war exceeded the WTC death toll.)

White's own argument against the very highest numbers, such as Dobyns' estimate, is that they don't seem consistent to him with the effect such a large Indian population would have on the land-- interesting given that this Atlantic article actually argues that the effect was much larger than widely believed.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2002, 03:22 PM:

One more thing worth noting about White's survey: it flatly contradicts the Atlantic article's caricature of the scholarly history of the subject, in which everyone in the field believed Mooney's extremely low numbers until Dobyns came along and shattered the consensus utterly. This clearly wasn't the case. *None* of the references White cites have a number anywhere near as low as 1.15 million, and relatively large numbers, if not quite as large as Dobyns', showed up in several studies in the 1920s.


Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2002, 03:46 PM:

Aha, my mistake-- Mooney was talking about *North* America alone, so his numbers could well have been those used by the early 20th century low counters cited by White. But it's also true that there were high counters writing before Dobyns.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2002, 01:12 PM:

Interesting; thanks. In fact I was less fascinated by the debate over pre-Columbian population levels (although that's interesting enough) than by the glimpses of North America in the early 1500s, when (for instance) Spanish mariners off New England, decades before the Pilgrims, reported farms and towns far too extensive to conquer with less than a major military effort. And other similar, fragmentary yet suggestive, details.

Regarding the Japanese shut-ins story, Nigel Richardson sends a link to a two-year-old story on the same subject.