Era of the Crusades by Kenneth W. Harl. Thorough, excellent course covering the history of the Crusades through three different sides: the Moslem lands, Western Europe and Byzantium. Avoids over-simplifying and deals with the various motives for going on crusade: honour and glory as well as economic gain and political advantage.
Makes a useful counter to the "clash of civilizations" theory. All the actors seemed as much concerned with battling their local same-civilization opponents as clashing with others. The Crusaders made headway against a moslem world divided between Abbasid Baghdad, Fatimid Egypt and the Turks: just as the initial advance of Islam did not cause Europe to unite, the Crusaders didn't stop them fighting amongst themselves. Saladin is now remembered as a pan-islamic hero, but faced as a Kurd and a Sunni faced tough opposition: at one point even having to fight off an Assassin jumping out of a tree at him. Moreover, crusaders like Alamric I were happy to be hired by Fatimid leaders to fight Egyptian rivals.
Harl makes other interesting points too. At the time, the relevant states had large Christian populations. The occupiers used a feudal model: he regards it as anachronistic to think of the crusader states as much like the later European colonies.
Was also interested by the battle of Myriocephalon, where a large crusader army was ambushed and annihilated from high ground as they marched through a canyon they had failed to scout. This constantly happens in Fantasy books, but I don't recall having seen it in real life before.
Also found that the movie "Kingdom of Heaven" was more accurate than I thought, even down to most of the characters involved. However, Guy and Raymond weren't quite as idiotic in real life: they ran out of water because the enemy had stopped up the wells: not just because they just ignored the need for water even after the hero lectured them about it. However, the basic idea that they made a mistake by choosing a battle to improve their reputation, rather than conducting cagey positional warfare, seems to be true.
Overall, excellent course, well worth listening to.
What I'm Watching
Saw Zombieland at the cinema. Liked it a lot, good comedy playing with zombie-horror stereotypes. Crisply and cleverly done, though it sags a little bit in the middle. Well worth seeing.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw the recent Panorama on racism on the Southmead estate near Bristol.
Somewhat depressing to watch, but didn't seem particularly startling. Didn't like the way supposed journalists seem to have been reduced to victimized wailing: rather than do any investigating, they seem to be there to provide an emotional reaction.
Went to Tate Modern to catch up with the latest batch of exhibitions.
The latest Turbine Hall installation is How It Is by Miroslaw Balka: a giant metal container, dark on the inside, where you walk in to be supposedly baffled and confused.
Very underwhelming. It's not actually that dark and you can see OK once your eyes adjust. It's totally blown away by Anthony Gormley's older take on the concept, "Blind Light" which was a huge glass room full of steam, which was genuinely disorienting and disturbing. This is dull by comparison.
I'm not that keen on Pop Art, but went through the heavily-hyped Pop Life exhibition anyway. Better than I thought, there's plenty of bright colours and shiny objects to look at, and pop music plays to keep you getting bored.
By then was a bit arted out. Zoomed quickly through the conceptual John Baldessari exhibition but it didn't seem very good at a glance: yet another case of all concept, no impact.
Played around some more with the new camera (Canon PowerShot SX200). Seems pretty good: the zoom and the larger aperture make it possible to get shots at a range and with movement that I couldn't with the Ixus.
Glad I didn't go for a SLR as I find even this modest size unwieldy: it's harder to just whip out and snap. At the BNP/BBC demo I could have got a nice snap of the police photographer and his minders with the Ixus, but wimped out and didn't dare be too obvious, so the only pic I got was hopelessly blurred.
Economics. Deficit may still undershoot.
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