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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 01:25:03 PM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Age of Ra". Listening: "Origin of Civilization". Web.


Reading
Age of Ra by James Lovegrove. Kind of alternate history SF / fantasy. In the Nineteenth century the Egyptian gods returned, wiped out the other pantheons, and the major gods took over different regions of the world, encouraging their believers to wage war against each other along the lines of their feuds and alliances.

It's all very competently done, reasonable amount of action and an adequate plot. Seemed a bit disappointing from this author though. Lovegrove has written some very good books like Days and Untied Kingdom: this seemed like a bit of a potboiler by his standards. The gods-returning idea has been pretty much mined to exhaustion too: Roger Zelazny's did it brilliantly in "Lord of Light" back in the Sixties, but by the time of Stargate it felt pretty well-worn. Dan Simmons only just did his own gods-return thing with "Olympus" and "Ilium", Neil Gaiman did "American Gods", enough with the gods, guys.

Overall, fairly entertaining and passes the time, but not outstanding. There's already a sequel "Age of Zeus" and apparently "Age of Odin" follows soon.

Listening
Latest TTC course was Origin of Civilization by Scott MacEachern. Pretty thorough course, longer than most at 48 half-hour lectures, covering most of the ancient civilizations that seem to have sprung up fairly independently.

Pretty good once you get into it, though he's one of those guys who spends a lot of time summarizing what he last said and outlining what he's going to say. If he stuck to the point and spoke a bit faster, could probably have got this into 36 or even 24 lectures. Other than that he's a pretty good speaker though: enthusiastic and knows his stuff.

He's cautious and doesn't draw many overarching conclusions though, apart from the fact that there's a lot of diversity in the way civilizations arise.

Some things that I found interesting.

  • The earliest states probably didn't have tight control over their citizens, as if you didn't like your treatment you could just walk away.
  • In some situations there seems to be a kind of cycle between egalitarian and hierarchical social relations, as in the Lake Chad basin, or the Kachin highland farmers of Burma, documented in the book "Political Systems of Highland Burma" by Edmund Leach. While this might look like a minor Fall of Civilization, in fact people just get fed up with it and stop.
  • However, some Falls of Civilization appear to be genuinely bad: for instance there was a decline in population during the Greek Dark Ages.
  • There's little evidence of social differentiation even after the invention of village agriculture, and the very earliest cities showed no evidence of it. For instance, in Çatalhöyük all the houses were much the same size, and there were no palaces, temples or official buildings/
  • The bevelled edge bowls of Mesopotamia seem to be the first mass production. They were standard size, so may have been part of a ration system.
  • The same flood soil that made Mesopotamia fertile also gave it a shortage of metal and stone. They even had to resort to inefficient clay sickles.
  • Mesopotamian cities were multiethnic and multilinguistic.
  • Sometimes they showed "hyperurbanism": people lived in cities a long way from their fields, possibly for protection.
  • "These zones of empire often included an inner zone under day-today state control; a tributary zone, loosely integrated with the state’s administration, from which resources flowed to the state center; and an outer predatory zone, in which the writ of the state was exercised only by force."
  • "One striking feature of the Harappan [Indus Valley] civilization is the lack of evidence for great internal social differentiation."
  • There may have been a powerful state called Funan, covering much of southern Vietnam and Cambodia, but doubt over whether it existed or was just loose network.
  • In Africa "By the 8th century B.C., farming communities appear in the archaeological record, and a complex network of prosperous towns like Jenné-jeno existed throughout the region by the 2nd or 3rd centuries A.D."
  • Writing doesn't seem to be essential. Teotihuacán must have known of writing from their neighbours the Maya but never mastered it, but still had a large and powerful civilization/
Thoughts on Civilization
As a serious scholar, Scott MacEachern is careful not to start drawing wildly speculative conclusions from the civilizations he studies, so I guess it's down to me.

I was particularly interested by the lack of evidence for social differentiation in some civilizations. It's sometimes implied, especially by conservatives, that social classes are innate to human nature, but this suggests that's not true. It's also interesting in the light of the anthropological division of societies into bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states: bands generally have no leader, and tribal leaders have only a tentative and temporary status.

Rousseau's view was that it was the invention of agriculture that ended the blissful state of nature and created ruling classes. The archeology suggests that agriculture had been established a long time before states existed though.

Hobbes also takes a knock. His view was essentially that the Leviathan of the state was necessary to give individuals security. But the relatively late invention of the state, and the way they often started without any social differentiation, suggests that wasn't true. Often it seems, states came first, ruling classes came later.

Web
Helen Kane inspired Betty Boop (via).

Politics. Tea partiers: We're being driven as herd by these hot microphones. Unsurprising: no ideas adopted from ConDem crowdsourcing. Gaming: Arab Shooting Gallery.

Economics. ConDems and generational equity.

Video. Is this a fake? Girl flipped by flop. Random. Inception prefigured by Scrooge McDuck. Italic section explains door buttons on the Tube. Maslow's Hierarchy of Robot Needs

< Shedyssey Part Ten: Ongoing. | Ahhh vacation >
There was a cat that really was gone | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)
door button on tubes link by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #1 Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 02:03:49 PM EST
goes to the shoot arabs brainy gamer...

Should be fixed now by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 02:07:09 PM EST
It's not as exciting as you might think though.
--
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 ]
pictures may have helped by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #3 Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 02:11:55 PM EST
but it sounds like a failure in UI.

[ Parent ]
Sounds like you should skip by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 02:26:55 PM EST
the new Thor movie when it comes out.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

(Comment Deleted) by aggressive cyclist (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 05:30:59 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by aggressive cyclist



Helen Kane by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 06:21:42 AM EST
Pretty sad really. Imagine being bodysnatched by a cartoon.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

There was a cat that really was gone | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)