Books and Code · A Miscellany

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe (A Review)

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A week or so ago I read Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year which is based on his uncle’s journal of the Black Plague in London in 1665. Yes, this was morbid and Yes, comparing it with present circumstances too closely is obviously hyperbolic. Yet, here are some things I found relevant:

  • Leaders knew about the plague in Holland in late ‘64 but didn’t prepare.
  • London operated as normal for weeks while numbers affected were small and manageable.
  • Safest to leave affected areas early for the country if you could afford it.
  • Infected people without symptoms were the cause of the spread because they did not social distance, self-quarantine, wear masks, etc. (This was also true once the plague got bad and people became apathetic.)
  • Extreme forced quarantines were hard to enforce and probably encouraged people to flee and thereby spread it more, particularly the asymptomatic ones.
  • Lots of misinformation peddled by quacks and charlatans, but also by community leaders.
  • Provisions were attainable so stockpiling was not “necessary,” but required interacting with people which often caused infection so those who stockpiled were better off.
  • Absolute heroic acts of kindness by many nurses and clergy to care for the sick, many of whom died themselves. Clergy who fled ruined their reputations and were run out of town if they returned afterwards.
  • Lots of unemployment which was handled well by private and gov’t charity during the crisis but stopped quickly once the disease receded. This caused a lot of extreme poverty in the immediate economic aftermath.
  • The infected had a good chance of survival if they had a bed in a pest-house, but once those got overwhelmed the death toll ballooned.
  • Once it was clear the plague was on the decline, people stopped preventative measures too early and it flared up again, causing the crisis to last longer and killing people who had protected themselves for months.

Digital Cash, by Finn Brunton (A Review)

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As this book unfolds, Brunton’s tone becomes increasingly filled with smug disdain for his subject until ultimately he is revealed to have been writing in bad faith. As with most effective strawman attacks, his narrative is built on kernels of truth that are amplified and distorted to serve the pre-determined conclusion. He avoids applying his own critical apparatus to the institutions and “cosmograms” of the status quo that his subject is fighting against.

He is fond of using the polemical trick of smearing a character with an irrelevant, unsubstantiated or misleading aside before describing their ideas in order to predispose the reader against them. He abuses all free-market or Austrian thinkers in this way including Hayek (supported Pinochet), Rothbard (“one-note ideologue, racist”), Mises (whose work is “eccentric, convoluted” and “a fantasy”), Milton Friedman (“responsible for some of the most extreme free market policies ever enacted” and also Pinochet apologist) to point out a few. (He associates “free market” with “fantasy” many times as well.) It would be like responding to Bernie Sanders’ critique of crony capitalism by saying “Sanders loved communist Russia, Castro, Chavez and many other terrible totalitarian regimes and therefore his critique is wrong.” Sanders liked all of those people, but that doesn’t mean crony capitalism doesn’t suck.

There is some value in Brunton’s collection and presentation of earlier attempts at creating alternative currencies and the precursor communities like the Extropians and cypherpunks, because there simply aren’t that many such books. However, one must take his interpretations with skepticism and use the book mainly as a guide to discover primary sources. Read the arguments these people made directly and come to your own conclusions about their validity.

Mythgard Movie Club, The Fifth Element

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My appearance on the Mythgard Movie Club episode featuring The Fifth Element.

The Composite Nature of Andreas

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Today I officially became a published Anglo-Saxon scholar! An expanded version of my Master’s thesis was published in a special issue of Humanities focusing on philology.

Abstract

Scholars of the Old English poem Andreas have long debated its dating and authorship, as the poem shares affinities both with Beowulf and the signed poems of Cynewulf. Although this debate hinges on poetic style and other internal evidence, the stylistic uniformity of Andreas has not been suitably demonstrated. This paper investigates this question by examining the distribution of oral-formulaic data within the poem, which is then correlated to word frequency and orthographic profiles generated with lexomic techniques. The analysis identifies an earlier version of the poem, which has been expanded by a later poet.

Full Text

Mythgard Movie Club, Captive State

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My appearance on the Mythgard Movie Club episode featuring Captive State.