Articles about History

This is how feudalism starts

The conditions that produced feudalism in the middle ages are eerily familiar.

Words, violence, and the mind-body problem

Our discussions of free speech could be much more interesting.

Kill them! Kill them all!

The King of France was twenty-two years old, he was tired and angry, and he feared for his mother’s life.

Proof that the first humans came from Eden?

The Sumerian word édin means “steppe” or “plain”. It compounds “éd” (send forth) and “in” (straw). So let’s speculate wildly for a moment: what if we were never meant to take seriously the idea that there was a literal garden called Eden? What of the original authors of the tale were just saying “people came from the steppes”? Or what if it was a pun, a bit of deliberate humor, a 5000+ year old joke that nobody gets any more? We will likely never know one way or the other, but it is food for thought: how many ancient ideas that many people take literally today were never meant to be taken literally at all?

1700 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Was 8000 Feet Tall And His Cross Could Talk

A short while back, the government of Turkey told the world that they seized a book from smugglers that appears to be about 1500 years old. The book claims, among other things, that Jesus wasn’t crucified, was not resurrected, and was a prophet but not the “son of God”. The internet freaked out, with claims like “THE VATICAN IN AWE!” and suggestions that this will grievously disrupt the Christian church. All of that is wrong. The reality is, there are tons of 1800+ year old books about Jesus that say some of the most cracked-out weird-ass shit you’ve ever seen. So for fun, let’s take a look as some examples.

Alright, so you were a fucking virgin! That’s not the point!

The Tudors is a brilliant television show about King Henry VIII, who reigned England from 1509 to 1547. King Henry VIII was a vibrant and scandalous figure, with many wives, many vices, and a personality as grandiose as that of any monarch. A great subject for both biography and fiction. The television show, as you might expect, gets some things right and some things wrong. You can see discussions about many of these things all over the internet. But there is one little tid-bit that I have not seen discussed other places: a passing exclamation that King Henry made during an argument…

Maybe it’s all just a joke.

This past week has put me in a cynical mood, but has also made me wonder: how many of our “long-held beliefs” might have originally been intended to be…. well, bullshit? Let me start at the beginning. People have a difficult time with satire. I experience this first-hand, since a lot of my online humor […]

Copernicus: scientist or magician?

Atheists and scientists love to cite Copernicus as a hero of science, who used logic and math to triumph over religious superstition. But it’s also possible he was just a sun-worshiping mystic. Now, let me be absolutely clear: the calculations of Copernicus were meticulous. His hypothesis that the planets moved around a stationary sun, rather […]

Edward Kelley, a con-artist of the ages

One of my favorite con-artists in history, and there have been plenty, was Edward Kelley. He successfully conned wise men and emperors, and eventually died of his own success. Ed Kelley was born in Worchester, England, in 1555. His youth was an obscure life of petty crime. He was caught and charged for corpse-stealing. He […]

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

The idea of “good magic” versus “bad magic” has not been around forever, and hasn’t been present in every part of the world. So how has it become so very all-pervasive in the mythology and fantasy stories of today’s Western culture? The idea that there is a fundamental distinction between “Good Magic” and “Bad Magic” […]

Will you be remembered as a great wizard?

Imagine for a moment that you were a crazy drunkard and a simpleton living in the mid 500’s A.D. How do you suppose you might be remembered, a millenium and a half later? You never know: you could be remembered as the greatest wizard of all time. Suppose your name was Myrddin Wyllt. You are […]

What would your Medieval signature be?

I’m not going to post about politics for the next two weeks. Instead, I’ll focus on other things that matter to me: science, philosophy, history, and of course… handwriting. The reason that I’m not going to post about politics is that I would feel compelled to say something about the upcoming election, and I really […]

maximum wage in the year 1351

It’s easy to feel like today’s economic problems are chronic and universal. So for a change of pace, let’s look back to a time when elites complained about too many jobs and called upon government for a maximum wage. The story starts in the 1340’s in England. The King, Edward III, had been dealing with […]

Why you cannot calculate the “richest person who ever lived”

In the article “The 25 Richest People Who Ever Lived – Inflation Adjusted“, Brian Warner concludes that Mansa Musa I was the richest person of all time. But, his calculations are incorrect. The fact is, there is no way to directly compare numerical wealth in the Middle Ages to numerical wealth today. At the top […]

As free as Monflanquin

I’m proud of America. I really am. I think we have a lot of interesting social and cultural traditions, and a lot of good laws. But it makes me crazy when people who know nothing about history talk about America being the “first” to have freedom or being the ones who “invented” individual rights.  So, […]

The broken free market: now, and 200 years ago.
American Expansion

The “standard model” of free market capitalism functions well under limited “idealized” circumstances, and is adequate in many situations. However, it breaks down completely under certain specific conditions.  Those conditions were true in the early 1800’s, and they are also true today. I’d like to look at exactly what “broke” the free market in the […]

A computer programmer should never touch a computer
A team of programmers at work.

Believe it or not, that’s the way it was in 1950! The person whose job was “computer programmer” never actually touched a computer. Did you know that? Also: the computer’s memory was built out of cooled mercury and vacuum tubes, and data was keyed onto magnetic tape by typists. If you didn’t know these things, […]

Aristotle meets Einstein
Aristotle meets Einstein

For the last week or so I’ve been contemplating this question: What would it have taken for Aristotle to have come up with the iconic equation of the Theory of Relativity, E = mc2, two thousand years before Albert Einstein was born? It’s a fun question to ponder. Without considering the details, it’s exciting to […]

my anbaric distopticon
Ben Franklin

Language is such a beautiful thing. It is at once both completely arbitrary and completely foundational to the way that we construct our understanding of the world. It is both a random accident of history and culture, and the set of fundamental building blocks from which we build our most complex theories of logic and […]

John Calvin’s utopia

Last year there was a big news story about the Texas Board of Education changing the textbook curriculum standards to make them more “conservative.” Among the changes introduced were the removal of the idea of “separation of church and state,” an increased emphasis on the idea that Nixon wasn’t such a bad dude after all, […]