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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 03:16:16 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Terminal World", "Marcus Aurelius: Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor". Watching: "Tyson". Links.


What I'm Reading
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds. Interesting set-up: a world divided into zones in which only various levels of technology function. So there's Horsetown, Circuit City, Neon Heights and so on. This provides an excuse for Reynolds to belated jump on the steampunk bandwagon: there are a couple of nice airship battles.

However, the plot is a bit unfocused without much pace the protagonist is a bit bland, and none of the multiple antagonists seems terribly menacing. The ending is a bit disappointing too, as with "Pushing Ice" he seems more concerned with setting things up for a possible sequel than resolving anything.

Overall, a decent enough read, but not brilliant.

What I'm Watching
Saw Tyson on DVD. Documentary biography where the ex-boxer mostly talks directly to camera, intercut with old footage of fights and interviews. There's a gimmick where several monologues are done in split-screen so he talks over himself: thankfully it's not overused.

Tyson has a degree of insight and isn't totally self-aggrandizing. He partly attributes his aggression to being bullied as a child. However it seems to me pretty common for bullies to see themselves as victims. Generally grown-ups who still whine about being bullied as children seem to be pretty malevolent adults.

Pretty interesting to watch, even if you're not into boxing.

I fly pigeons... These pigeons live with each other for ten or fifteen years right. But when I throw feed down, they kill each other to get it. And it's the same way with fighters. We love and respect each other, but we need... we're like mercenaries, we need that money .
What I'm Watching 2
Also saw Back to the Future Part 3 on DVD. Fairly entertaining, much like Part 2 since they were both filmed as part of a single shoot.

Was hoping one thing that I didn't get about Part 2 would be explained but I still don't get it. Why were there two Martys in the Eighties Retro bar, who change places during the fight? Is that a plot hole or did I just miss the explanation?

What I'm Reading 2
Marcus Aurelius: Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor by Frank McLynn. McLynn is a former professor who now mostly writes popular histories: he's apparently quite well-regarded. This is his first book of ancient history, he's mostly concentrated on more modern eras.

The book has several virtues. The first is that it's very thoroughly researched and annotated: the notes are as worth reading as the book itself. He seems to have gone through all the primary and many of the secondary sources in some detail, in philosophy as well as history, and he carefully explains how he drew his conclusions. He doesn't stick too narrowly to Marcus Aurelius, but puts him in the context of the preceding and succeeding emperors.

The book is also well-written: it's fascinating and an entertaining read. Frank McLynn certainly has no fear of expressing strong opinions. Despite the detail, the book's definitely a page-turner.

However, the book did seem to me marred by two serious flaws.

I recently read a book by Pier Hadot, one of the foremost specialists on Marcus Aurelius. Hadot stresses the point that the "Meditations" is a hypomnemata, a book intended for personal self-improvement. For instance, if you feel a tendency towards arrogance, you might copy or write a passage explaining your cosmic insignificance. If tempted by lust, you might write out a passage about how bizarre the human body is biologically. It's tempting but wrong for a modern reader to pick up the Meditations and read it as if it's literally expressing what you're feeling right now, like a mood diary or a Facebook Status or a Tweet.

While McLynn cites Hadot and reluctantly accepts that certain parts of the Meditations are not original. In general though, he rejects Hadot saying he is "obliged to reject the ecstatic praise usually accorded" to his contribution. Sure enough he chiefly treats the Meditations as a personal, literal, and original document of Marcus' transient emotions and thoughts. This means he can write a more interesting book since he thinks he knows what's on his mind. It also means he can elevate Marcus Aurelius to a truly original philosopher. That's far from universally accepted: most ancient philosophy is lost, parts of the meditations are virtual copypasta, so some think Marcus Aurelius was just an average stoic follower regurgitating a standard line.

The second flaw is that the book is written with a general misanthropy, in which almost every individual and group is chastised. Hadrian was "vengeful, brooding and vindictive", "a very dark character" with "psychopathic tendencies" and a "maddening know-all" to boot, Galen was "a tiresome show-off and know-all, hugely self-loving and self-regarding". Tutor and correspondent Fronto was "fatuous and pedantic", "a fusspot and hypochondriac" and a "philistine". The Roman proletariat were "drones in the hive", "as much part of a dependency culture as those who live on welfare in Western societies today" though the wealthier classes are depicted as greedy and self-indulgent too. McLynn particularly dislikes stoic philosophy and devotes a whole appendix to rounding up the usual criticisms. He fondly mentions H.L. Mencken and the satirist Lucian a few times, and seems to see himself as a similar creature. However, they mostly mocked the present: mocking the distant past doesn't seem quite as laudable: it's likely to make us feel self-satisfied by comparison.

I'm not sure whether this is McLynn's usual schtick or if he just despises this era. But it obscures the judgement a bit: much of the time he criticizes Marcus Aurelius as a failure, but casually drops in that he still thinks he was the best and greatest Roman emperor of all.

Returning to McLynn's portrayal of Marcus Aurelius, I don't think it really hangs together. It's not just that the Meditations don't support his ideas in the way he thinks: it doesn't seem psychologically that plausible.

McLynn follows others as seeing Marcus Aurelius as a depressive who wrote the Meditations as a cry of existential despair while on military campaign and thus even more miserable than usual. But in my experience, depressives are at their worst in times of enforced idleness, when the mind is free to turn in on itself. McLynn documents how on campaign, Marcus Aurelius brilliantly executed feats of logistics and politics. He cunningly pursued a complex divide-and-conquer policy: setting tribe against tribe, or faction against faction within each tribe.

This seems to me the kind of situation when a depressive is at his emotional best, not worst. it's when confronted with a series of urgent, objectively important, challenging tasks within his capability; that a depressive finds it easiest to forget his problems. McLynn's portrait doesn't really seem psychologically realistic.

If anything, it might have been the opposite. Feeling himself carried away by his military success, far greater than that of his peaceful two predecessors, the stern warnings against vanity and of the futility of fame in the Meditations may have been a careful stoic exercise in restraining his joy and vanity at his success.

Overall though, a flawed but interesting book. While you need to take his portrayal of the mind of Marcus Aurelius with a great deal of salt, it's a very good account of his actual deeds and his context.

Review, review, review, review.

Web
Socioeconomics. Currency war? US perceptions of inequality. Brazil doing well.

Video. Endhiran trailer, about. NMA News summarizes Facebook movie (slightly NSFW) Cats torture and kill spider. 5 people masturbate (NSFW).

News. Iranian/Canadian blogger hoder jailed for 19 years. Anti-texting laws ineffective or counterproductive. Robert Silverberg accepts Hugo on behalf of Fred Pohl. Flash Crash investigation. "Cuckoos" prey on vulnerable. Weirdstone of Brisingamen 50 year anniversary (via).

Pics. Plane in front of moon. Phone call diagram. Unseen 1965 Hells Angels. Shepperton.

Articles. Academic asks: Why do they hate us? Craig Brown on parody. Peter Oborne on the Milibands and celebrity politics. London-Paris cycle path.

< If you believe in magic don't bother to choose | Civ V diary >
Terminus Est | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden)
Mike Tyson by nebbish (4.00 / 2) #1 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:19:25 AM EST
I don't like him. The "I act bad because of my upbringing" excuse only stretches so far. If you recognise your behaviour is bad it's a very short step to stopping it. He revels in it though.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

True by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 3) #4 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 07:12:18 AM EST
To be charitable you might guess that he's only recently recognized that some of his problems are actually down to himself. At point he's complaining about all the "leeches" around him, and then he admits that he's a bit of a leech himself, just taking what he can get out of people.

He was a phenomenal boxer. It's easy to forget that he's a bit of a shrimp by heavyweight standards, under six foot tall. It's astonishing to watch the footage of his early fights where he just struts into the ring with a much bigger guy and demolishes him in seconds with speed, power and precision.
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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 ]
Never confuse the artist and the art by nebbish (4.00 / 3) #7 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 11:11:07 AM EST
I have a lot of respect for what he achieved.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #17 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 12:59:05 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #19 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 02:33:30 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #20 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 02:34:47 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
Not so sure by bobdole (4.00 / 2) #22 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 10:35:18 PM EST
He had a good thing going for him early in his career. Had he been able to keep the aggro and work on skills I think he would made a fine boxer. By the 90s he was so messed up on "life" and surrounded by entirely the wrong crowd (if boxing was what you wanted to do, for partying it seemed to be a good crowd).

I still think some of his early work is impressive, he was certainly an over the top aggressive heavy weight. I suppose that was also his downfall...
-- The revolution will not be televised.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #23 Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 07:34:52 AM EST

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[ Parent ]
On pigeons. by ambrosen (4.00 / 7) #5 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 10:34:40 AM EST
He was covered in my parents' local freesheet last time he was in the UK. Apparently one of the local pigeon clubs has some pretty special tumbling pigeons, so he was pictured hanging out with all these grey haired ex coal miners. Apparently they got on great.

Say what you want, and indeed you should, but the dude's peristeronic as shit.

[ Parent ]
That is pretty cool by nebbish (4.00 / 4) #6 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 11:10:25 AM EST
He's probably a great guy to be around, until the red mist descends and he rapes you.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
This comment made my night. by toxicfur (4.00 / 2) #15 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 08:20:56 PM EST
Thank you.
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The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
[ Parent ]
My pleasure. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #21 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 04:46:45 PM EST
I do, of course, owe it all to xkcd.

[ Parent ]
SO true. by dev trash (4.00 / 3) #14 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 07:41:08 PM EST
But let's not forget the brain trauma he's had being a boxer.

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Click
[ Parent ]
Paroday link actually about auto-trading by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #2 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:32:13 AM EST
Interesting article anyway. Seems to me they should have had something like the 10% move / suspend rule in place years ago - other electronic markets have it. It is interesting the NYSE isn't blamed at all given the article from the ticker plant form you linked a number of months ago.

Iambic Web Certified

Thanks, should be fixed by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 07:08:17 AM EST
Auto-trading article is still there as "Flash Crash investigation".
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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 ]
Wierdstone of Brisingamen by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 12:12:29 PM EST
Scared the bejaysus out of me - where they're crawling thtough the tunnel and have to take a chance when the tunnel is flooded in a u-bend type layout.


Dunno if you followed the links through by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #9 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 01:39:17 PM EST
To here.

We used to live not far from there, when I was a kid we went to the Devil's Grave and the Wizard's Well and so on from time to time.
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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 ]
My Nan lived in Timperley by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #12 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:01:00 PM EST
I've got eerie childhood memories of Alderley Edge, the Wizard's Well and collecting dusty copper ore in caves.

Been meaning to read those books for a while.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Oh man by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #13 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:13:53 PM EST
BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD

RUN!


[ Parent ]
Reynolds and stuff by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #10 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 02:37:06 PM EST
I've found the last two books similar in that way.  House of Suns was, I felt, about the same in the "oh, I need to wrap this up and leave room for a sequel."

I hate to use the cliched "he's bad at endings", but Chasm City is the only one I can remember being wholly satisfied with.  (Though the only ending I've hated was the one to the Revelation Space trilogy.

The Endhiran trailer reminds me of what I've thought about how computer effects have democratized the film industry.  In truth, those effects look second-rate, but second-rate is better than anything achievable thirty years ago.  Ever since Amelie, it's been clear that what CGI has brought is the ability to do things cheaply that never could be done before.  In the long run, this is more important than the Avatars and the like.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

The best boxing movie ever by wiredog (4.00 / 2) #11 Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 03:29:04 PM EST
is When We Were Kings.

That fight was everything that was wonderful, and horrible, about boxing.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

That is if you refer to documentaries. by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #16 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 12:30:50 PM EST
In the fictional arena, there is a little gem , unknown out of Mexico, called "Pepe el Toro" (Pepe the Bull).

The main character is a boxer from impoverished background that has to fight his best friend and mentor in order to become champion.

After a few rounds of not wanting to beat him, his mentor hurts his pride and Pepe, full of rage, knocks him out with a series of blows that prove fatal.

And then comes the telenovela drama when Pepe, already in love with the wife of his now deceased mentor, has to deal with his conflicting emotions(happy ending in case you were wondering).

Pepe el Toro was played by Pedro Infante, the most popular Mexican singer and actor ever. For this role he actually boxed extensively, so the fighting scenes have a realism I have not seen in other films.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #18 Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 01:07:53 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
Back to the Future by nstenz (2.00 / 0) #24 Mon Oct 11, 2010 at 09:50:11 PM EST
Wasn't one of them from-the-past Marty, and the other one Marty Jr.?

Terminus Est | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden)