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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Only Human

This blog remains, if not in full hibernation, then certainly in a deep torpor; reducing all but essential functions until the warm weather returns, or the rains come and the valley is green again, or whatever other metaphor one chooses for the idea that, some day, I will once again have the sort of levels of energy and mental agility that will allow me to complete all my teaching, teaching prep and essential emails in less than the full working week, thus making space for research, writing and even blogging. Could be worse; there are lots of people having a much harder time of it, and this has actually freed me of the addiction to checking my viewing stats daily and getting depressed about them. Now I can get depressed about the decline of this blog without needing to look at the stats! (more…)

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Head Hunters

I have been head-hunted! Not, alas, for a lucratively-endowed chair in Thucydides Studies at the new University of Austin, despite all my best efforts to promote this icon of neocon power politics and the innate cultural superiority of paunchy middle-aged white men. No, it’s for an academic leadership position – which would involve dealing with a lovely group of colleagues (just in case whoever put my name forward reads this and makes the deductive leap), but would also involve trying to manage modern historians and archaeologists as well. You know that simile about herding cats? Okay, you know what simile cats use for the same phenomenon..? (more…)

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I’ve been having flashbacks to that time in my previous outfit when I was sent to have a word (with extreme prejudice) with a Faculty Education Director who’d stopped answering emails. Professor Kurtz was a fine academic manager, combining military efficiency with a broad background in the Humanities, the Arts and Sciences. He viewed his career as the dedication of his talents to bringing our values and way of life to those darker, less fortunate people – students. He’d been sent out to survey student ideas about feedback and assessment, after rumours of NSS discontent had reached senior management. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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…

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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… (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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