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By TheophileEscargot (Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 12:50:46 AM EST) Reading, MLP, Me (all tags)
What I'm Reading: "The Leveller Revolution", "The Collapsing Empire", "The Maintenance of Headway". Me. Links.

What I'm Reading
The Leveller Revolution by John Rees. Book about the Leveller movement of the English Civil War period. It's balanced somewhere between being an academic and a popular book. It's written in an accessible style but Rees assumes quite a lot of background knowledge: I had to resort to Wikipedia a lot. He also sticks to chronological order, which helps in that there's a kind of story, but also leaves the early chapters a bit bewildering as it has a lot of names of people (John Lilburne, Thomas Rainsborough) with no clear significance.

The academic background is that there was apparently a revisionist tendency recently to play down the scale, significance and unity of the Levellers. One of Rees purposes is to refute that, which he seems to do quite successfully, quoting them and showing where the evidence contradicts. I wasn't aware of this revisionism before so I feel a bit unnecessarily educated about it now, though it might be useful if I encounter it again.

Rees also emphasizes how much the Levellers were like a modern political movement, rather than a political party. They had a great deal of organisation: it took a lot of work to generate their massive petitions. They were able to coordinate for particular goals, uniting with more moderate factions to oppose a peace deal with the King. Using secret, illegal presses to produce pamphlets and then distribute them was more difficult: managing to produce frequent and regular illegal newspapers still more so.

The author is a Marxist but the book wears it lightly. It might mean he's a bit too pessimistic about the significance of the Levellers, underplaying the way their ideas gradually made it into the mainstream.

Rees quotes the opponents of the Levellers a lot, and the melodramatic accusations of how radical they were contrast with how modest their actual programme was. They wanted to extend the franchise to most men, but not servants or women. They wanted regular elections. They were against debtors prisons. They wanted freedom of worship for other Protestant denominations (not just the state Church of England). They didn't actually want to level everyone, though some eventually accepted the label as so many groups have had to reluctantly accept insults as descriptive terms (Tories, Quakers, Suffragettes, Mormons etc).

You can see it as either depressing how ferociously their modest goals were opposed, or perhaps more optimistically as how ideas can go from being seen as horrifically radical to plain common sense.

The book has a lot of detail on the divisions and conflicts within the Parliamentary side of the civil war that I wasn't previously aware of. The Long Parliament seems to have been both more oppressive and less functional than I was aware of. They imprisoned and censored rivals within their faction, struggled to govern, and at one point were mobbed by royalists who entered the building.

Cromwell also comes across as more of a centrist here. He was desperate to make a deal with the King and turned against his radical allies in an effort to do so. In response Charles I, never missing an opportunity for self-harm, decided to ditch him and ally with the Scots instead. In some ways you can see his execution as a kind of suicide by stupidity: hardly anyone originally wanted him dead but he created a situation where no-one could trust him alive.

Overall, an interesting and worthwhile book, but despite the short length you'll need to put in some effort unless you're already a Civil War buff.

What I'm Reading 2
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. First volume in a science fiction series with an interesting series: an interstellar civilisation linked by a hyperspace network finds that the network is about to collapse, which is a particularly big problem as their space habitats are dependent on trade to survive.

There's a decent amount of action and the pacing is fine. But the book is badly let down by poor world-building. You hardly get any sense of place: what life is like, how things look and feel. The characters mostly don't feel believable either: they're mostly aristocrats born into privilege but just seem to talk and act like average citizens. Some bits almost seem like a case study in bad writing:

The imperial guard pushed the door open and Marce Claremont walked into the ornate and cavernous room where the executive committee was having its first meeting of the morning. Marce sported a folder and eyes as large as plates as he took in the baroque design of the immense room and realized that no matter how long he stayed at the imperial palace he would probably never get used to its ridiculous sumptuousness. It was, in a word, excessive.
It's "ornate", "cavernous", "baroque", "sumptuous" and "excessive" but we have no idea what makes it so. Are there paintings? Great expanses of polished wood? Intricate moving sculptures? We're just chucked a handful of adjectives.

Overall, can't really recommend it. Feels like something written in haste without being really thought through.

What I'm Reading 3
The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills. Short novel about life amongst bus drivers in a thinly disguised London. (The Routemaster becomes the Venerable Platform Bus, Oxford Street the Bejewelled Thoroughfare). Nothing much happens except for conversations, but I found it fascinating and easy to read.

The great conflict is between the drivers and the inspectors who constantly strive for "The Maintenance of Headway": an even spacing of intervals between buses. "There's no excuse for being early", they declare. The drivers like to be early: a shorter gap means fewer people on the bus and less stress.

It's hinted that the Maintenance of Headway is more of a religion than about practicality, but any allegory is kept very light.

I loved this book, but if you need a decent plot, or even just something to happen, it might annoy you.

Running going pretty well again. Managed a couple of personal bests at 5km and 10km. Managed a glacially slow 22km, about a half-marathon, to see if I can do it. I can do, but my knees aren't too happy about. Might try to enter a 10k race or something if I get the time.

Work is OK. Still on the other team, will be moving back to the original team next month in theory. They've amalgamated my old team with another so looks like I won't be a full time Scrum Master again for the moment as they're already one over. As long as I can keep it on LinkedIn it should be fine. My other team's group has a new boss who looks ominously clueless, but we'll see, maybe he'll learn fast.

Socioeconomics Federal Regulation Is Not the Cause of Declining Dynamism. The sociology of science fiction.

History. 18th Century Cudgelling Matches: "two Shillings for the man that break a head; and One Shilling for the man that has his head broken". "The Second World Wars". The last casualty of WW1. Lost soldiers fighing WW2 after the end. Transvestite protesting.

Politics. In the face of strongmen, conservatives are letting their principles vanish. The Conservatives can't rely on Brexit to win them the next election. Complete list of swearing in "Fallout" by Tim Shipman. The captured economy:

TELES: I think one thing that we tend to underestimate about Britain is the fact that there's very large barriers to entry to the agenda. The problem with the United States is, you can get lots of things on the agenda but there's all these things that keep it from getting all the way to passage. But if you wanna do something creative, there's lots of little holes, places where you can start. You can start in states, you can start in one branch of government, you can start in the bureaucracy, you can start in the courts. Britain has a much more compressed system of agenda setting and that dramatically reduces the overall creativity of the system, although it does mean that when you actually get a desire for action, you can produce it. Now that can also produce disasters like the poll tax and so in that sense I think our political system is also… At least at its best, is more deliberative. It's a lot easier to do really big stupid things, at least through legislation, than it is in the British system than it is in the American system.
Random. Words:"Both fiddle and violin come from the Roman goddess of joy, Vitula, who gave her name to a stringed instrument; fiddle came down to us via the Germanic languages, violin through the Romance one". Why the flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands featured an igloo. How to Perform 11 Strongman Stunts.

Sci/Tech. Skeleton screens. Usernames.

Articles. Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil.. why? (via). David Bentley Hart's New Testament translation illuminates the strangeness of the texts.

Pics. Eastern European Star Wars posters. Skypixel contest winners.

< I'm a sick bastard | To The Emperor! >
Levelling up | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden)
This good and evil business by dark nowhere (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 02:29:22 AM EST
is a sickness. The MeFi thread has a lot of discussion around bad guys not being so bad, but I think we'd all be healthier if the good guys weren't so great. I mean there are role models, but then there's accepting the fact that everyone is deeply flawed.

To present this idea that we should live up to being thoroughly good is really just an exercise in making us think we're infallible when we're right, and to take for granted that "right" is an accessible thing. This is the foundation of abusers with clear consciences, and of self-flagellators who find themselves no less perfect than anyone else.

See you, space cowboy.

Role models by Merekat (4.00 / 2) #2 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 02:45:22 AM EST
I’ve never really got that. I suspect I am too much of a control freak to abdicate an aspect of myself to others who will ultimately disappoint. And while I do also disappoint myself, it doesn’t get all meta.

[ Parent ]
Good guys not being so great by lm (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 06:07:38 AM EST
Funny thing about that Aeon article, it seems to me that pop culture has been shifting away from that binary good/evil dichotomy for some time. An increasing tendency in culture is to erase any meaningful distinction between good and evil or at least deal directly with the question of whether there is a difference.

That may not be prominent in Disney Marvel superhero movies. But from the Riddick movies (and almost every Jason Statham movie) to shows like The Americans, the heroes are pretty unsavory.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Cherry picking by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #8 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 12:01:21 PM EST
It seems like you have ignore a whole lot of current "pop culture" to make this argument work.  Where's "Game of Thrones"?  Where's "Breaking Bad"?  Where's "The Walking Dead?"

If anything, it seems to me that modern pop culture is going entirely the other way.  It's telling that the "modern pop culture" artifacts the essay leads with are "Star Wars" (origin 1970s) and The Lord of the Rings (origin 1950s) rather than the stuff actually being written now.

You can especially see this with remakes.  Look at the 70s Battlestar Galactica, clearly good vs. evil compared to the remake, which had a lot more nuance.  Compare the 70s Westworld with the modern remake, which has tons of ambiguity.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by Metatone (2.00 / 0) #18 Thu Feb 15, 2018 at 03:05:28 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by Metatone

[ Parent ]
There's some really crappy... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #19 Thu Feb 15, 2018 at 03:12:23 PM EST
stuff in that piece. Yes, the Mahabharata has lots of multidimensional characters, but there's a huge moralising streak in it. Likewise, the rewrite to "modern goodies accept turncoats" (e.g. Han Solo) is a way to pretend that there isn't multidimensional aspects to Star Wars characterisation.

[ Parent ]
That quote by hulver (4.00 / 1) #5 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 04:04:09 AM EST
The end bit doesn't make sense, transcription error in the original article? Or am I just being daft.

It's a lot easier to do really big stupid things, at least through legislation, than it is in the British system than it is in the American system.

Cheese is not a hat. - clock
Looks like a mistake by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #12 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 02:33:36 PM EST
In the original transcript.
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 ]
That usernames article by hulver (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 04:20:01 AM EST
Very interesting, thanks.
Cheese is not a hat. - clock
I have a colleague whose email is by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #15 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 03:31:01 PM EST
He is most definitely not, who is someone else.

It is frustrating.

[ Parent ]
We have lots of this by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #16 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 05:28:21 PM EST
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Conversely... by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 12:03:10 PM EST
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
Usernames by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 12:07:12 PM EST
Fortunately there aren't typically consequences for getting username handling wrong.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
The Levellers by Herring (4.00 / 1) #11 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 02:20:29 PM EST
I remember them. Lots of criticism about their alleged leftie roots but really expensive gig tickets. And people only remember One Way

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

Tories and Brexit by Herring (4.00 / 2) #13 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 03:01:45 PM EST
I read something earlier today (no link, sorry) but it was on the lines of this:
In its 186 year history, the Conservative party has had two themes: commerce and the economy on one hand and nationalism and tradition on the other. When the two coincide, they are electorally unbeatable. When the two diverge, they are fucked.

In the case of Brexit, the two strands clearly diverge. This is a major problem for them. They are only really saved at the moment by the fact that, outside of the Momentum group, the Labour party are viewed as being led by leftie amateurs.

At some point soon though, May is going to have to make a call. And the three options are:

As one of Britain's top teams in Europe said: you will find that there comes a time for making your mind up

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

the fact that her coalition depends by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 07:59:08 PM EST
the fact that her coalition depends on the ulster unionists makes me concerned that "fuck the good friday agreement" is a requirement.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
cussing in fallout by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #14 Tue Feb 13, 2018 at 03:15:27 PM EST
wrong fallout. Granted, in the original game, there was lots of cursing..

last casualty: no police/ordinance disposal folks killed from old un-exploded ordinance ?

Levelling up | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden)