Rough Trade

I have another piece in my very small collection of Thucydideana! Like the last one (discussed here) it’s a collectible card, but it’s a good deal less impressive all round – monochrome printing on a thin brown card, with an abstract design on one side and a drawing of a distinctly bad-tempered bust of Thucydides on the other.

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Gone Fishing

Sometimes, however much you need to take the weekend to rest and recuperate, just do a bit of reading or music and spend time with loved ones, there is a task that simply can’t wait. Actually it should have been done last weekend but you were then too tired to do more than a bit of preparatory work, and of course there was no time during the week with all the regular demands of teaching and meetings and seeing students; so, regardless of the consequences for Monday, it’s bye-bye Saturday and much of Sunday…

I’m referring, of course, to the pressing need to press this year’s apple harvest into juice, for cider-making and pasteurising, before it all rots. Continue Reading »

Doubling Down

If Thucydides was so bloody clever and full of real insight into human nature, the opening of Book 8 – set in the immediate aftermath of the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, ignominious retreat and surrender of the expeditionary force, execution of its commanders etc. – would have read more like this:

When the news reached Athens, for a long time they refused to believe that their forces had been so utterly destroyed, and would not accept even the unambiguous reports brought back by those who had actually witnessed the events. When these become too numerous to ignore, they declared that these were signs of a period of transition that would lay the foundations for a still more glorious victory in due course, while others insisted that the expedition had now been completed and so it was time to discuss other things. They did not blame their leaders or the others who had persuaded them to the original course of action, because the provocative behaviour of the Syracusans in defeating their army simply reinforced the case for having attacked them in the first place. And when they could not see an adequate number of ships in the docks, adequate funds job the treasury or an adequate supply of grain in the markets, they denounced as the consequence of Spartan overreach when Athens’ hands had been tied by the treaty it had been compelled to sign of its own volition…

I am celebrating – very quietly, as I very much doubt that any fees were paid to the original publishers – the appearance of the Iranian translation of my old Theories, Models and Concepts book; partly, it is nice that anyone still thinks it might be useful, and mostly I just find the script so beautiful even if I can’t understand a word of it. Apparently my name gets transliterated as Noobil, which I rather like… I did write a short preface for the translation, reflecting on the writing of the original, and since I imagine that few of the small number of people who might be interested in this will actually be able to read Farsi, it makes sense to reproduce it here…

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Weaponised Parochialism

This week I shall mostly be suffering from a filthy cold just when I wanted to be finishing my teaching prep for next week and getting various other things out of the way before term starts. Just after I’d returned from a refreshing break, too… But if I was going to have to come down with something, I suppose it’s better this week than next. And I’m taking the optimistic view that underlying the current floods of snot and phlegm I am actually in a better place, mentally speaking, than I have been for a while, because despite the thickness of my head I have actually come up with an Idea this morning, or if not an idea then a pithy phrase that encapsulates a particular kind of contemporary political discourse. Googling suggests that no one has previously proposed this characterisation, so I might at some point develop it further, but for the moment I just wanted to scribble it down for the record… Continue Reading »

The abuse of so-called ‘history’ for political purposes is as old as Herodotus’ invention of it a couple of years ago. Recently we have seen concerted campaigns to rewrite the history of Athenian democracy so as to undermine communal solidarity, our sense of achievement and total superiority over all other Greek states, and even our basic legitimacy. The foundational story of Athenian autocthony that expresses the deep connection between the pure indigenous inhabitants and their land is rationalised and rewritten in order to promote a multicultural, pro-migrant agenda that threatens to undermine our collective identity. Figures central to our history like the heroic Tyrannicides are stigmatised as self-interested and incompetent, and our noble leaders in the present are mocked and caricatured. Athens’ civilising mission is cast in negative terms as a mere exercise in power and self-interest. Continue Reading »

It Wasn’t Me

One of the weirder experiences this summer – another minor symptom of the whole lingering plague thing – has been an intermittent feeling of total dissociation from my own publications: looking at books and thinking, well, I know I wrote this, and I can recall the circumstances and motive and so forth, I just don’t feel as if it’s mine. This is probably not unconnected to struggles with getting any new writing done; besides persistent fatigue and brain fog, apparently I need to feel like the sort of person who writes academic sentences for more than the odd hour at a time in order to actually write any – and actually writing some, as I have managed to do occasionally, unfortunately doesn’t seem to do much to convince my psyche that, yes, this really is what I do for a living. I do feel extremely sorry for the various editors who have had to put up with delayed submissions and requests for extensions because of chronic existential crisis. Continue Reading »

We’re back in the season of lecture fetishism. ‘Workshy’ lecturers are being ‘ordered’ back into the classroom to provide ‘proper’ value-for-money education rather than cut-price online stuff, while apparently the university life of a Times‘ columnist’s offspring would be ruined by having too much online learning. What’s striking is how far their conception of what should be restored is the sort of lecture that went out of fashion, at least outside basic introductory courses in the hard sciences, decades ago: to quote the old joke, the lecture as a means of transferring information from the lecturer’s notes to the student’s notes without passing through the brains of either. And, as I commented last week, some of the defences of the shift to online learning are equally ignorant of what actually happens in lecture rooms these days. It really feels like a debate about the current state of popular music between adherents of 7″ flexidiscs and proponents of cassette singles; not just total indifference to the content (hey, maybe someone should suggest to the Times that it’s easier to promote decolonisation and cultural Marxism in in-person classes where there are no recordings…) but utter ignorance of how technology and techniques have changed, and what the real issues are. Continue Reading »

Come What May

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently preparing next term’s teaching – it’s been one of those weeks when the lingering effects of the plague make me incapable of stringing coherent thoughts together for more than five minutes at a time, and the better prepared I am for the new academic year then the bigger the chance I may be able to get writing done then, if the brain finds its way out of the doldrums. Bibliographies, guidance on assessment tasks, seminar texts, thumbnail pictures for the VLE. And then we come to the description of teaching and learning methods, and summary of how students will be expected to engage with the modules… Hmm. Can I get back to you on that? Continue Reading »

The Real Thing


I have, so far, quite mixed feelings about The Hundred. On the one hand, it’s been great to see some more cricket on television, the level of skill and excitement involved has been pretty impressive (and I remain delighted – cf. T20 – that the advent of shorter forms of the game has brought about a dramatic revival in the art and importance of slow bowling, rather than, as I feared when the bush-bash style first appeared, destroying it). On the other hand, so much of it seems to be gratuitously gimmicky, revealing total lack of belief in the inherent attractions of the game itself so it’s necessary to switch to decimal, add a pointless DJ and adopt fluorescent colours that were the cutting edge of modernity back in 1986. And the franchise names. Oh dear gods, the names. The only explanation is that the marketing people were given a brief to exclude anything that gave the slightest hint of place or tradition, as that might accidentally remind people of the county game. So instead we get things that sound like cheap aftershave or rapacious hedge fund operations.

What I really like is the degree to which the women’s game is being put, if not front and centre, then at least in a much more visible position, with matches being played in parallel with the men’s as part of a day’s entertainment. After the hugely entertaining series between England and India earlier in the summer, which must also have persuaded some people that there’s just as much skill and excitement on offer here as in the regular men’s competition, this is all for the good. The one thing that’s missing is a combined table – why not treat the whole thing as a single competition? This has been noted by a few people (I owe it to Paul Cotterill, @Bickerrecord), but for some reason no one yet seems to have actually constructed said table. So, here it is – and, no, I am not planning to go down the rabbit-hole of calculating strike rates as well, unless I get seriously bored, but I will keep this updated over the course of the season…

Update: belated thought that what would be really good is if, once it becomes obvious that some franchises’ women’s teams are much better than their men, they switch round the double-header order occasionally, so the men’s match is the curtain-raiser…

[Note on the table: should be self-explanatory, but MW = Men Won, WL = Women Lost, NR = No Result, and teams on the same points total are listed in alphabetical order pending me deciding that, yes, I am going to waste time calculating their run rates…]