The Just City by Jo Walton is the first volume of a trilogy with a great premise: the gods Athena and Apollo try to set up an actual version of Plato's Republic, starting by gathering from history anyone who's prayed for the chance to do so.
This gets around the problem of it being an evidently terrible idea: the gods are oblivious to human nature and the human adults self selected.
The characters are very well defined, especially the female characters torn between the attractive sexual equality of the Just City and its oppressive aspects. I found the chapter where Maia takes a newborn baby to be exposed absolutely chilling.
Overall, a great book, will definitely read the sequels.
What I'm Reading 2
Where Shall We Run To? by Alan Garner. Memoir by the children's author of "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" and others about his childhood, growing up near Alderly Edge in the second world war.
I'd expected a full autobiography but it's purely about his childhood. A short book but packed with vivid detail, mixing nostalgia and harsh reality.
A worthwhile read, but for me it covered fairly familiar territory from my own childhood reading and my father's stories.
What I'm Reading 3
Bluffocracy by James Ball and Andrew Greenway. Very short book arguing plausibly that the UK is primarily run by bluffers who by temperament and training are primarily focused on winning short term arguments without mastering much detail or thinking about the long term.
The authors are both Oxford PPE grads and it's very good on how this actually works. The degree "Politics, Philosophy and Economics" was deliberately created as a course to incubate the British ruling class after the university worried that candidates were starting to move away from the Classics degree that traditionally served that purpose. While the degree sounds good in theory, the authors criticise it for not actually providing the broad interdisciplinary study it should. Instead students take a small selection of modules from a vast range, without having to take a broad overview or think about the links between them. Until the final year exams the emphasis is all on tutorials where you have to present an essay to a small group, attacking others and defending your own. The skills this develops are debating, making quick summaries, being provocative. This makes them good performers in meetings and TV interviews, but not much else.
The sections on how this affects politics and the media are fairly interesting and convincing. The civil service section is the weakest: the book The Blunders of Our Governments (diary) makes a much better case that it's relatively recent management reforms like the Next Steps agencies that have crippled it, splitting it into a junior Operational branch of people who know what they're doing, and a senior managerial branch who constantly shift between departments and don't.
One point it makes is that for a government minister it's a handicap to be a specialist in any area as that limits you to one department, while the generalists climb the ladder by moving around between departments.
Overall, interesting and informative.
What I'm Watching
Saw Venom at the cinema. Pretty much what I expected, reasonable Marvel movie with the protagonist possessed by an alien symbiont. Quite well done but suffers a bit from predictability and the best scenes being in the trailers.
Not sure it's good for the MCU in general that its best villains like Venom and Deadpool get turned into heroes. The actual villains are a bit boring.
Socioeconomics. Female Managers and Gender Disparities: The Case of Academic Department Chairs : "...female department chairs reduce gender gaps in publications and tenure for assistant professors and shrink the gender pay gap. Replacing a male chair with a female chair increases the number of female students among incoming graduate cohorts by ten percent with no evidence of a change in ability correlates..."
Pics. Tinted Venus by John Gibson, 19th century interpretation of how a classical statue should be painted, with subtle tints. 2000 year old Egyptian 20 sided die with Greek characters.
Politics. Brazil shows how the elite responds when forced to choose between fascism and the left. Merkel's finest hour. The Budget shows the Tories are now fighting on Corbyn’s turf. The return of David Cameron:
The key is lack of principles. There was simply no other prime minister like him before. The others, no matter how shallow you thought they were, or how misguided, did genuinely believe in something...
He was ruined not by principle, judgement or ambition, but by the same quality he'd brought to the entire endeavour of his leadership: short-sighted, self-interested marketing techniques. He is an advertorial which thought it was a politician.
Random. 1934 Westminster Bridge sprint, Video. Background noise generators including rain, rain on a tent, spaceship, data centre. The Godziliad by Adam Roberts. Quiz: Doctor Who or UK government jargon? (I got 11/15)
Video. Neanderthal's nasal squeak?
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