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