Saturday chit-chat

By skepticlawyer

Well, we’ve now got two people doing Missing Link style ’round-ups’, although that said, the choices they make are rather different. As mentioned last week, Club Troppo’s Don Arthur has been doing his bit: here is the latest installment. However, Rafe at Catallaxy is also doing something similar, a reprise of the job he used to have to do at the Centre for Independent Studies (for their quarterly magazine Policy). Do read, both are excellent. That both ’roundups’ are so diverse is genuinely fabulous, and I have to say that I especially like the fact that there is zero crossover, but no rubbish. This is a good thing, and ought to be encouraged.

I must confess that I, too, have been exerting some blogospherical pressure of my own, to which the redoubtable Lorenzo has responded. I studied (old-fashioned me) Anglo-Saxon and Norse as part of my English major (consistent with my preference for languages over history and pretty much anything else), which has left me with a yearning for a greater knowledge of Anglo-Saxon England (DEM will record how I once dragged her along to a Beowulf recitation in the original as part of the Edinburgh International Festival). Please read Lorenzo’s fabulous post, and recall while you are doing it that while history may not repeat, it does rhyme, and that even we moderns may have something to learn from Anglo-Saxon England.

In the meantime, please clink together like ice cubes and drop any links you fancy in the comments thread.


  1. Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the plug and I am glad to be helpful 🙂

    One of our presentations is “Gender” and we disabuse kids of the notion that improvement in the rights of women is linear: the main counterexample is that women were better off — in terms of legal rights and status — in Dark Age Europe than C18th Europe.

    DB, if you are passing, I provide an example that fulfilled your suggestion on the “First Cut is the Deepest” thread which, if you don’t know about, you should. The Sokal Hoax is so an example to read and enjoy.

  2. Henry2
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink


    Thank you for the direction to Lorenzo’s review. I will try to find the book. I’m sure you will already know of it but I will direct everybody else to Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode by Tolkein (His lecture notes) and Alan Bliss. This too is a meaty read about life in the first millennia.

    Council election today. Wish me luck.



  3. TerjeP
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Tim Andrews does a regular “best of the web” at Menzies House.

  4. Posted November 13, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Henry2: Are you standing? Which council? Or is that classified information? Do tell (and share) when you have a moment!

  5. conrad
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to Lorenzo’s post. I might get the book he is referring to and read it over Christmas (although I’m not convinced England is the best documented place in history — it all depends on what you consider best documented).

  6. Posted November 13, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I am referring both to length and the depth of documentation. Sure, China, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt have millennia longer histories of writing, but it is also very thin for a lot of that. What England, NW Europe and Japan have is far more extensive written records, even if their extant writings do not go back nearly as far as the earliest writings elsewhere.

  7. Posted November 13, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Japan is a veritable thicket, that I do know. They have never had nasty book-burning religious upheavals (indeed, this was one of the reasons given by the Tokugawa Shogunate for obliterating Christianity) and have long been obsessed with records and writing.

    Being an island helps, too (as with Britain).

  8. Posted November 13, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    “while history may not repeat, it does rhyme”

    Love that line.

    It may be valid to add “often contrapuntal”

  9. Posted November 13, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Not mine, alas, Dave — the original version (longer than this) comes from Mark Twain.

  10. kvd
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    To put some Hope into your day, but also to see if I got this linky stuff working. Sorry to distract.

  11. conrad
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with Japan (that would be my first bet) — however, after working in a department with people doing Chinese linguistics, I was amazed by the amount of stuff that is available from most times (minus the obvious ones) in case you care to dig it up and translate it. In case you wanted to know what was going (or in their case, just interested in linguistic typology), in, say, 25BC, you can probably get literally mountains of government documents (the Han dynasty loved documenting everything). Sure there’s holes in some places where there aren’t in other places, but when there’s not, you have huge amounts of data on many many topics (the wonders of bureaucracy!).

    I think one really interesting thing that could be done would be to take these sorts of documents and compare them across cultures. It would be really interesting to know the extent of the overlap between daily government business and what they found important — especially if it could be done quantitatively (which is probably getting more possible these days), rather than just have people spotting differences — you could have little graphs showing the extent that certain types of information were discussed and how they differed over time and across countries.

    The other way to look at things is that, rather than empires, what happened in particular geographical locations or with particular cultural things. We only have really good historical data on things like the solar flares and the environment in some places because multiple different groups observed them.

  12. Posted November 13, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: One of my books on mesopotamian economic and social life told the story of a discovery of tons of clay tablets… The archaeologist was hoping for literature… But it was something like the archives of the sumerian tax office. The economic historians were of course, delighted.

    Tax records are probably the most standardized, useful, reliable, and preserved data. The domseday book is a wealth of info, and implies not that william the bastard could organize things well, but that the anglo-saxons must have already had a sophisticated administration.

  13. Posted November 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Conrad: on China, my understanding is that there are major gaps in between unified dynasties. The thing about Japan and England etc is you have village records (in the form of parish registers) that go back centuries. Along with wills, commercial records, all sorts of stuff. It is not merely central office records one is talking about.

    DB Hope you notice my hey to you in my first comment above!

  14. Posted November 13, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of online round-ups, Reclusive Leftist suffers the consequences of getting instalanched (linked to by Instapundit). It is refreshing to read her pieces, because she really dislikes Obama from a left perspective (and is currently feeling vindicated, hence being Instalanched). Her commentary is a useful corrective to Obama Derangement Syndrome from the right of US politics

  15. Peter Patton
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Yes the budding Historian can hardly go wrong with choosing English History. The available material is just extraordinary.

  16. Peter Patton
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Which of course makes the English and their stupendous civilization completely open to critique. Imagine what the same access to material within S.Arabia would reveal.

  17. Posted November 13, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Imagine what the same access to material within S.Arabia would reveal.

    That’s just depressing. But yes. Short of the whole House of Saud and all their hangers on vanishing into the ether, I don’t think we’re ever going to gain any sort of access.

  18. Henry2
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]
    I got whupped big time. So no, Im not saying which council. 🙁

  19. Tom B
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    [email protected]
    You can encounter similar ‘snobbery of chronology’ (what a wonderful phrase – I’ll have to remember it) in discussions of human rights. I had occasion to read Robertson’s Crimes Against Humanity recently and his early chapters wouldn’t be out of place in Macaulay. The general tenor was of a continual upward ascent towards today’s sunny Elysium Fields.

    [email protected]
    Hope did his bit to keep the Fairness Doctrine alive with this. I love the joke the soldiers used to tell about him – ‘where’s there’s death there’s Hope’ – I guess Death must have disagreed as he was certainly not in any hurry to claim Hope!

  20. kvd
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks Tom B. I was going to link to that as well in the interests of balance. Still puzzling over my need to do that. Whatever the object of the joke, it seems these days we have mostly lost the ability to smile at ourselves, without apologising to the potentially offended

    LE I hope today’s a cake walk for you..

  21. Posted November 14, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    [email protected] Ta. When I am feeling evil, I refer to people being ‘chronocentric’. 😉

  22. Posted November 14, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Fair enough, Henry2. Condolences and better luck next time if you decide to throw your hat in the ring.

  23. conrad
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    “my understanding is that there are major gaps in between unified dynasties”

    I’m pretty sure there are gaps — however, the records you do have go back a very long time, and when there is data, there is often mountains of it, although a lot is like that which Dave Bath mentions (taxes etc.) so it’s good if you want data rather than inspirational readings (there are even various censuses that have been run from time to time throughout history). As China prospers more and has more money for academics and historians, it will be interesting to see what emerges, and hopefully we will start seeing more stuff that translates some of the Chinese stuff into English (not surprisingly, most of the work goes from translating classic Chinese to Mandarin Chinese, so if you don’t read Chinese, actually finding out about what might be quite interesting is rather hard).

    I don’t know much about it, but I wonder if there are other areas where there is a fair bit of documentation — some of the guys I have chatted to about Sinitic phonology also use Sanskrit writings from time to time.

  24. Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: Thanks for the links. You might get a giggle out of the links in an old post of mine (here) with an automated paper generator (“for amusement not coherence” goes the disclaimer) – one of which got published in a journal apparently endorsed by nobel laureates, despite the affiliations of the paper authors to CRAP (Centre for Research into Applied Phrenology).

    I’d imagine the software could have the keyword datasets kludged to out-produce your anti-favorite departments in a single night.

  25. Posted November 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Well done that man 🙂

    [email protected] I might have to add in a China caveat in future 🙂

  26. Posted November 15, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    [email protected], amazing how many people don’t think in terms of acronyms and anagrams (speaking as someone who does; friends are aware of my devotion to the cryptic).

  27. Posted November 15, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    [email protected]: Who needs to see the acronym when you have PHRENOLOGY spelt out?

  28. Mel
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Anyone doubting Timothy McVeigh was a libertarian might like to read this wish list, which McVeigh composed while in prison:

    “1.) Neither Speech, Press, Religion, nor Assembly shall be infringed, nor shall such be forced upon any person by the government of the United States.

    2.) There shall be no standing military force during peacetime, (this) to include large bodies of federal law enforcers or coalitions of these officers that would constitute a military force, with the exception of sea-based maritime forces.

    3.) The Executive Office shall hold no power to unilaterally alter Constitutional rights.

    4.) No person shall be subjected to any form of direct taxation or wage withholdings by the Federal government.

    5.) No person’s life or liberty shall be taken without due process. Any government employee circumventing due process rights shall be punished with imprisonment. Citizens shall not be subjected to invasions of their homes or property by employees of the Federal government. Property or other assets of United States citizens shall not be subject to forfeiture to the Federal government.

    6.) Personal activities that do not infringe upon the rights or property of another shall not be charged, prosecuted, or punished by the United States government. Any crime alleged will be prosecuted by the jurisdiction most local to the alleged crime, respectively. No person shall be twice tried for an offense alleged and adjudicated in another jurisdiction. No person shall be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, nor shall the Federal government hold power to execute any individual as punishment for a crime convicted, or contract to another entity for this purpose. No person shall be held to account for the actions of another, unless proven by more than one witness to be the principal figure.

    7.) All currency shall be redeemable in a globally recognized material of intrinsic value, such as silver.

    8.) Legislative members shall earn no more than twice the current poverty level and shall not be subject to any additional pay, bonuses, rewards, gifts, entitlements, or other such privileges, as holding such office is meant to serve the people and should not be looked upon as a capitalist career opportunity.

    9.) Where non-violent checks and balances fail to remedy government abuse or tyranny, the common people reserve the right to rebellion. Inherent with this right, the common people maintain the absolute right to own and possess those weapons which are used by any level of government for domestic policing.

    10.) Any rights not enumerated here belong inherently to the people or the states respectively, and shall not be assumed by omission (to be) delegated to the jurisdiction of the federal government. ”

    Note how Timothy was opposed to fiat currency, not unlike some of the rowdier libertarians in the blogosphere 🙂

  29. JC
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink


    Mel, you’re not turning this into a variation of catholic hour I hope.

    On the other thread you were arguing the case for Muslims. You were more less arguing they’re not monolithic and should not be tarred with the same brush. It seemed spirited and heartfelt.

    So how do you square the circle that somehow libertarians are tarred with the same brush as McVeigh because he believed is some of the things libertarians do.

    Should we think that those Greek socialist that threw the bomb in the bank killing about a dozen people 2 months ago are illustrative of every leftist in the world? Do you? lol.

    You don’t make sense as you’re again contradicting yourself intellectually.

    Now do you have a link for this scrawl, as you may have the wrong individual.

  30. JC
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    What’s with the fascination with a mass murderer anyway? You seem to be a little obsessed with this loon, mentioning him here and the other thread I notice.

  31. Mel
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m not trying to make any point here, I’m just experiencing a spot of schadenfreude 🙂

  32. JC
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Note how Timothy was opposed to fiat currency, not unlike some of the rowdier libertarians in the blogosphere 🙂

    Charming.. So you’re now equating our feathered friend, who you are obvious referring to, as somehow similar to McVeigh:a mass murderer.

    What a right royal charmer you are.

    I wouldn’t wear that cloak of superiority if I were you for obvious reasons, Mel.

    If you want rattle the cage around I suggest you go over to his site and make the accusation.. In other words man up for a change as casting those aspersions is cowardly done from a distance.

  33. JC
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m not trying to make any point here, I’m just experiencing a spot of schadenfreude

    Bullshit. You’re doing this because I called you out a few days ago about doing this sort of stuff and you think I should be corrected about McVeigh.

    No one gives a crap about McVeigh , what he believed in and even that he lived. In fact it would have been better if he was never born.

    You’re the one who is obsessed with this murderous creep.

    SL has libertarian tendencies, is she a potential mass murderer. Or am I or Jason?

    You really are offensive, Mel.

    Right on queue , just after midnight you start up another version of Catholic hour. Amazing.

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