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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 05:26:17 AM EST) Listening, Reading, Watching, MLP, ODGF, OBLF (all tags)
Listening: "Wisdom of History". Reading: "Justice". ODGF. Web,


What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was Wisdom of History by J. Rufus Fears.

Course attempting to draw general lessons from history. Nice idea, but I think Fears was a pretty bad choice for it. Fears is one of the few remaining adherents in the Great Man theory of history, repeatedly stating "one of the central themes of this course, that history is made not by anonymous social and economic forces but by great individuals."

Since he rejects economic and sociological influences on history, therefore there's no discussion of how these might produce common patterns in history. There's little discussion of geography, and not much on ideology except as an influence on the Great Men.

Instead his ten fundamental lessons are rather negative.

1. We do not learn from history.
2. Science and technology do not make us immune to the laws of history.
3. Freedom is not a universal value.
4. Power is the universal value.
5. The Middle East is the crucible of conflict and the graveyard of empires.
6. The United States shares the destinies of the great democracies, the republics, and the superpowers of the past.
7. Along with the lust for power, religion and spirituality are the most profound motivators in human history.
8. Great nations rise and fall because of human decisions made by individual leaders.
9. The statesman is distinguished from a mere politician by four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to create a consensus to achieve that vision.
10. Throughout its history, the United States has charted a unique role in history.

One of the good things about the course is that he's a fairly good storyteller, giving self-consciously dramatic accounts of events. Also since it's a wide-ranging course you get a kind of highlights reel of History's Greatest Hits.

One of the bad things about the course is that it's poorly sourced. He tells you what he thinks happened, but he rarely explains the sources much. When he does, he tends to use one source and take it at face value. He doesn't worry much about what biases the source may have. More often, he just describes things without any explanation of how he knows.

Moreover, much of his unsourced data seems highly dubious in the light of other things I've read. Just a few examples He claims that the Trojan war was probably fought to secure deposits of iron to penetrate bronze armour: but iron is much more abundant than tin, and only good steel is better the bronze. He says that "climatic change in Mesopotamia led to the development of civilization." but that seems to be only one of several theories. He says the Nazis thought that the peasantry of Russia would rise up against Stalin, but they don't seem to have made much effort to recruit them due to their notions of Slavic racial inferiority. He thinks the Golden Rule was important in stoic philosophy. He says that Islam used the fabric of the Roman Empire to expand.

He also omits things that might be relevant, like Alexander's killings of friend an allies: he presents Alexander as a great champion of equality.

His broader analysis isn't that convincing either. Whenever a tyranny comes along, he presents it as evidence that "freedom is not a universal value". But using the same logic you could look at all the famines in history and declare "wanting enough to eat is not a universal value". I don't necessarily degree with the thesis, at least insofar as political freedom, but it's hard to argue for it when you reject all social and economic analysis.

The last third of the course is better than the earlier sections. He concentrates on American history, where he seems much more comfortable with the material, and I didn't notice any inaccuracies. Fears is strongly opinionated, and his enthusiasm for the Great Men and their battles for freedom seems a lot more justified when it's Thomas Jefferson instead of Alexander the Great.

Overall, not a brilliant course. Has a certain amount of interest for its character studies and Fears idiosyncratic point of view.

What I'm Watching
Finally got around to seeing Quadrophenia, but can't really get into teen angst.

What I'm Watching 2
Also saw the Eighties Hong Kong movie sometimes known as Police Assassins, early in the careers of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Very cheesy, pretty fun, but not brilliantly done despite some nice ladies doing nice fight scenes.

What I'm Reading
Picked up a comic in the library. Justice by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Dougie Braithwaite is the middle of a storyline about the Justice League being attacked.

Couldn't get into it. It probably helps to start from the beginning. But also, while I can suspend disbelief for a single superhero, having a whole bunch of them, some with magical powers, some with pseudoscientific powers, makes it a lot harder.

Even so, some good touches to the story and dialogue, and some nice artwork with unusual angles and fractured panels.

Operation Don't Get Fatter
Haven't weighed myself in a while, but no change since last time. Probably coincidence, suspect there have been ups and downs. Just have to see what happens over Xmas.

Weight graph: Week 209

Words
The German word kummerspeck, literally 'grief bacon', means an excessive gain in weight prompted by emotional problems.

Editorialised Web
Stephanomics on the hung parliament upsetting the markets. I think the kerfuffle is interesting for the things it doesn't say.

First, previous Labour governments always faced Sterling crises and market turbulence: what Lenin's Tomb calls a virtual parliament of investors who can vote instantaneously and powerfully on any government policy they dislike. But now it seems a Labour victory doesn't worry them compared to a lack of victory.

Second, when the chips are down, it seems the markets like strong government.

Third, in the Great Depression as well as the world wars, the precedent is to form a Government of National Unity to provide strong government in a time of crisis. Strange that that's not being mooted much as a solution.

Web
Video. Bright meteor seen in South Africa. Rammstein and cookie monster toy phone. Canada 1936. Rotating kitchen. Ad: Mr W. Bizarre overdub: Apple juice.

Random. Web designers whiny webcomics. Shrink It physics puzzle game. Gmail will send a free postcard in the US.

Sci/Tech. Computers don't save hospitals money. (via) Are asexuals real? Scientists and religion.

Pics. crocodile fails to surf hippos. Use of ladies' toilets. Missile defence.

Articles. Fowler's Modern English Usage updated. Lenin's Tomb on the language of 'colonization' in the racist right. Sexism in mockery of Twilight. Paddy Ashdown on Obama's Afghanistan plan:

His message to the domestic audience was supposed to be "troops home in 18 months" and to the Taleban, "30,000 extra troops". My worry is that the wrong people got the wrong message. What the US heard was "30,000 more troops" while what the Taleban heard was "in 18 months, they’ll be gone".
Socioeconomics. Odd convergence: Global Sociology reviews John Scalzi novel. 2010 won't be like 1981 recovery. Anatole Kaletsky and Stumbling & Mumbling on bankers bonuses.
Last year’s banks’ losses seem to have been put into a separate mental box, and are regarded as an exceptional item now that business is back to normal. But this shouldn’t be the case. Those losses vindicate Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s point that banks, on average, don’t make money because occasional huge losses wipe out years of profits. Which suggests bankers don’t have the skill they pretend to...

Throughout history necromancers, witch-doctors, alchemists and ju-ju men have extracted high incomes. They’ve done so because their patrons have believed their job to be very difficult, demanding supreme skills. But in truth, the jobs of foretelling the future, controlling the weather and turning base metals into gold haven’t been difficult ones. They’ve been impossible.

So it is, perhaps, with banking. Making high risk-free returns isn’t difficult, but impossible. In failing to see this, we give bankers the fortunes our ancestors gave other charlatans.

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Ting tang, wallawalla bing bang | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Jug sauce elite. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #1 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 07:35:02 AM EST
I suspect that as far as the metal deposits are concerned, it's not the rarity of iron ores, it's the rarity of ones that you can make steel from. At a guess (I'm no chemist otherwise I'd say ferric vs ferrous, knowing which was which) magnetite (Fe3O4) rather than haematite (Fe2O3). Any tin ore's going to be obvious and easy to extract from. That said, reading your other examples, it looks as if your impression's right.

Great Man theory by ni (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 12:08:51 PM EST
It seems clear, as in most of these eternal debates, that the truth lies somewhere between the 'great man' theory and the 'environment and conditions' theory. But which explanation is more interesting? My vote is conclusively on the great man theory. Perhaps I'll try to pirate this course.


"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM
"Great Man" theory by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 02:18:41 PM EST
It's easy to find places in history where one man's decision very obviously changed the course of history.  That said, it's also pretty easy to find big historical events that were inevitable.  For instance, it is obvious that war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia was inevitable, yet the decision to invade late in the summer, while still at war with England, had massive ramifications for the course of the war.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Web designers whiny webcomics by duxup (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 01:51:34 PM EST

As a non designer I find many websites suck. I however am not of the mind like many such comics indicate that they'd be all that much better if designers were left on their own. I’ve visited many sites where it seems the designer was left to his own devices, often a personal site, and they’re clunky, gimmicky, illogical, and stupid in their own way. I always read those comics that complain about interference by corporate drones in the voice of comic book guy.
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Damn your eyes man by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 01:55:06 PM EST
Oooh, eee, oooh oooh aah ah ooh eee
Walla walla bing bang!

A most unfortunate earworm.


Ooo. Eee. by ObviousTroll (2.00 / 0) #6 Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 10:07:55 PM EST
Ooo. Ah-Ah.

An Angry and Flatulent Pig, Trying to Tie Balloon Animals
Welcome back! by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #14 Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 08:17:56 AM EST
How's life in grad school treating you?

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
I do stop by occasionally. by ObviousTroll (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Dec 23, 2009 at 11:40:50 PM EST
It's just that I haven't been able to find any reason to talk about myself that wasn't just simple whining. I've written at least a couple of diary entries that I deleted at the preview stage (or after) for that reason. I've been posting on facebook, but the larger audience of that forum has kept me censoring myself.

But - I haven't stopped thinking about my friends at Husi; and I've been reading their diaries. I'll try to post something now.



An Angry and Flatulent Pig, Trying to Tie Balloon Animals
[ Parent ]
I wonder if by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 05:21:46 AM EST
The lessons from history school were mostly Marxists and are now so desperately out of fashion even Great Men look preferable.

The Great Man thing is a bit silly, but it does make for better narrative histories. There is some stat about Napoleon increasing the chance of his armies winning by 50%. That has got to count for something.

I thought witch doctors were now considered to be providing some valuable medical and community services, appropriate to the culture and the economic environment available? Does this mean in fifty years we will view 20th century bankers with a paternalistic affection? "They did the best they could with the crude theories and computers they had, poor dears"

Will sig for food

(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #8 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 08:24:03 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth



I like them a lot by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 10:08:18 AM EST
But bear in mind they have an odd strategy where the full price of each course is ridiculously expensive, but once a year every course goes on sale for a reasonable amount.

So, make sure the subscription applies to sale prices, and that the person you're giving it to understands that and doesn't try buying the full price ones.

They now have a UK website at the unhelpful url greatcourses.co.uk.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #11 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 12:29:38 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth



[ Parent ]
cookie monster ftw by clover kicker (2.00 / 0) #10 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 11:15:58 AM EST
The great man thing is a lot of fun to think about.

I think it may be most applicable to Ghengis Khan, afaik there was no historical inevitability to one dude uniting the Mongol tribes and conquering all of China and beyond instead of the status quo of disunited tribes nibbling on the edges.

And yeah the Mongol Chinese dynasty didn't last long, but the fragments of that empire were freaking enormous, and some of them lasted for centuries. The Russians didn't fully get out from under the Mongol boot until the late 1400s.

Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #12 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 12:38:58 PM EST
I reckon it's a mixture of all factors. Decisions of people in power make a difference, though often not the ones they want. Fears reckons that Alexander wanted to create a tolerant, inclusive, multicultural superstate; but ended up spreading Hellenic cultural imperialism all over the place when his generals took over after his death.

Chance is also a big factor: if the wind hadn't wrecked the Spanish armada things could have been different.

But neither of those are much help in looking at the big picture of historical processes though. The War, Peace, and Power: Diplomatic History of Europe course did a good job of explaining how the concept of the "balance of power" explains a lot of European history. But Fears doesn't really believe in balance of power.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Great men by jump the ladder (2.00 / 0) #13 Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 01:08:53 PM EST
Seem to need armies that have some tactical advantage, not necessarily technological. Alexander the Great had no better technology than the Persians but he had the Greek Phalanx. Likewise Genghis Khan had his horsebacked archer. Napolean had conscription etc.

[ Parent ]
Ting tang, wallawalla bing bang | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback