Finished Why Socrates Died by Robin Waterfield. (Not just because he was a man and men are mortal.) Short book going through the Athenian politics of the period and discussing why the historical Socrates was executed. It's presented in a crisp, informative and interesting way; though spends a lot of time on basics that will already be familiar if you know a bit about ancient Greek history.
Plato's Socrates of course is as much a fictional, symbolic figure as a an actual person. The real Socrates dabbled in politics, and was on the side of the Oligarchs against the Democrats in the bloody machinations and internal struggle after the Athenians lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta. When the Democrat faction overthrew the Oligarchs, Socrates was one of many pursued through the courts for revenge.
Did have some interesting stuff that was new to me. After the overthrow of the Oligarchs, the Athenians created a strikingly modern-looking version of their democracy. The older version had verged on mob rule: the new one had a set of written laws, literally set in stone, that could only be amended with difficulty, at certain times and with certain requirements. There was a balance of powers between the popular Assembly and the nomothetae (legislative board) who had to approve laws passed by the Assembly. While it's not much heralded, already after the heady days of Pericles and empire, it seems to me this version was more influential on modern versions of democracy.
Waterfield reckons that the contest between oligarchs and democrats was in part a generational struggle, with the oligarchs the "youth" that Socrates was accused of corrupting. Socrates personally taught people like Critias and Alcibiades. Waterfield points out that during the rule of the oligarchic Thirty, even moderate democrats had to flee the city of Athens itself, yet Socrates remains. He speculates that Socrates was partly taken in by the oligarchs' claim that they would create a city of greater virtue.
The book also has a speculative but fascinating 3-page prosecution speech, based on various sources, that Waterfield thinks may have been the prosecution case against Socrates. Waterfield thinks that there was actually some small basis to the charges at least in the mind of the public.
One interesting speculation is that Socrates last words about sacrificing a cock to god-of-healing Asclepius is that Socrates may have hoped that his execution would heal the rifts between the Athenian faction.
Overall, interesting and informative book: liked it a lot.
What I'm Reading
Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughan, Niko Henrichon. Comic book telling the story of the group of lions who escaped Baghdad zoo during the bombings. They're pretty anthropomorphised, holding conversations with other animals.
Interesting concept with some touching moments, though suspending disbelief is a bit tricky at times. Artwork's pretty decent, with nice bleached colours for the setting.
What I'm Watching
Saw Drive Angry on DVD. Missed the 3D version in the cinema. Has an awful lot of hurling objects at the audience which I thought 3D movies had grown out of by now: even Michael Bay's a bit more subtle than that now.
Ostentatiously lowbrow movie with Nicholas Cage pursuing a kidnapped relative: plenty of guns, muscle cars and gratuitous nudity. Action scenes are pretty average though. Seemed to be an odd mix of real-looking but unspectacular stunts, and some hideously shonky CGI. Sadly nothing as good as the genuine car stunts from the underrated 2008 Death Race.
Overall, fairly entertaining, but misses the mark too often to be a cult or camp classic.
What I'm Reading
Bubbles All the Way by Sarah Strohmeyer. One of a series of light mysteries starring Bubbles Yablonksky, hairdresser and reporter in an rust belt town. She's a good character, set up to be a bubbly and immaculate contrast to the typical angst-ridden and down-at-heel detective.
The book's pretty pacey and very funny at times: struggled not to laugh out loud reading it in the Quiet Carriage on the train. However, the ending's a bit of a let-down: from the Amazon reviews even the fans aren't happy about the way it breaks the tone of the series.
Even so, pretty good on the whole, but I think the novelty of the character would wear off if I read my way through the whole series
Socioeconomics. Selection effects could create illusion of increasing polarization. Stanford Prison Experiment participants revisited, via. Companies hostile to small-town Britain. Another quarter of slow growth? The Individualization of The Unemployed. Why is it that some technologies cause moral panic and others don't? via. US jobs growth slow from before recession, via. "Chavs" and family fetishism.
Sci/Tech. Some snails can survive being eaten. Depression: from treatment to diagnosis? 3D chocolate printer. Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Set point theory, but weight graphs don't seem to show it.
Video. How to deactivate a cat. Some Grey Bloke: the Manosphere. 15 minute lecture on stoicism in US military. Orion space vehicle. Daily Show on News of the World scandal. Disappearing car prank. Distorted face illusion via Wide Angle Camera Mounted on Firework.
Random. Digital product placement.
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