strange_complex: (Asterix Romans)
Well then. For what it's worth, after the initial disbelief and disappointment, my basic response to the referendum result is the 'rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it' one. I won't be at all sorry if for one reason or another we never actually do end up leaving the EU - e.g. if the country ends up in such a deep economic, political and / or constitutional mess that Article 50 is never invoked. But I'm not pinning my hopes on that, and I'm certainly not signing any petitions calling for a new referendum under different rules (though I don't at all mind other people signing that petition as a way of registering the extent of disappointment and anger in the country). Rather, I now want to focus on trying to make this country the best place it can possibly be, given the hand we are now holding.

[That said, I think I will have a go at claiming the Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship to which I am perfectly entitled by dint of having an Irish grandmother - though it won't be a trivial process. As far as I can tell, I'll need no less than nine original copies of birth / marriage / death certificates and certified passports, including one (the original birth certificate on which the whole thing rests) which would have been issued in County Sligo in (I think) 1912. Yikes!]

Anyway, going back to making this country the best place it can possibly be, living through the entire referendum process has certainly done a lot to reaffirm my liberalism. Two main issues stand out, both connected, and both of which strongly reinforce (for me) the essential core of liberalism - a concern with excessive concentrations of power, and a desire to break them down and redistribute it.

Firstly, the power concentrated into the hands of people like Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond. For decades now, newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express have been publishing front-page lies and hatred about both immigrants and the EU, while inadequate bodies for press regulation have failed to challenge them, and, on the rare occasions when they were were successfully challenged, they have only needed to publish retractions in tiny print on the inside pages of the papers. Meanwhile, the requirement on the broadcast media to provide balanced political coverage is interpreted as an instruction to give equal air-time to voices on either side, rather than to challenge lies themselves or identify any kind of prevailing consensus. This approach has been characterised by some as "Shape of the Earth: views differ".

At first sight, it may seem illiberal to restrict the freedom of the press, but the press is in any case not currently free from powerful individuals seeking to propagate lies for their own financial or political gain. More fundamentally, a democracy (which is a tool for distributing political freedom) cannot function properly if the people who live in it do not have access to accurate and impartial information on which to base their voting decisions. See e.g. Russia or North Korea for details. And it is very clear indeed that in this referendum (as also in the AV referendum five years ago), people voted on the basis of claims which were untrue, while any attempts by moderate people to counter those claims, or the decades worth of misinformation and bigotry which they tapped into, were hopelessly drowned out by the power of the tabloid press. If that press had been properly regulated years ago, this might not have happened.

Secondly, the power concentrated into the hands of the 'big two' political parties by our First Past The Post voting system. One of the most common arguments against proportional political systems is that they allow members of extremist parties to win seats at elections. But in my view, this is a good thing. Once a party's representatives have been elected to office, they are subject to the white light of accountability. If they implement policies which turn out to be disastrous, or fail to deliver on their promises, they will lose their popularity and be voted out again. In my view, we would be much better off today if UKIP had started winning council seats and parliamentary seats in serious numbers twenty years ago. Then, people might have had the chance to discover that they are a bunch of self-interested con-merchants while the damage they could inflict was still relatively limited, and before we arrived at the almighty mess we are in now.

Furthermore, most proportional voting systems, but especially the Single Transferable Vote, make politicians much more accountable to the electorate than FPTP. Safe seats largely disappear, parties campaign meaningfully against one another in all parts of the country, and voters can choose between individual members of the same party, based on nuanced preferences (e.g. liking Blairite Labour candidates but not Corbynistas), without harming that party's overall political prospects. I believe that if we had been using STV already for decades, the main parties would not have been able to get away with parachuting their favoured candidates into seats where voters were not being presented with any meaningful alternative option. Then, we would not have the huge yawning gap between the electorate and their supposed representatives which seems to have contributed to enough of that electorate deciding to use the EU referendum to deliver them a kicking in return for years of neglect and dismissal. Under STV, parties would have had an incentive to develop real solutions to the problems which older working-class voters are trying to express, rather than just telling them it's all the fault of immigrants and the EU. Even UKIP would probably have evolved into a more responsive, solution-focused party, rather than the fantasists they are.

If you've been nodding along while reading the above, and would like to help solve these problems for the future, here are some things you could do (if you haven't already):

1. Join Hacked Off, who are campaigning for a free and accountable press. It's free to sign their declaration or sign up for campaign bulletins, though of course they would love donations too.

2. Join the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and / or Make Votes Matter, all of which are campaigning in different ways and with different emphases to improve our political system. It's £24 p.a. (or less for concessions) to join the ERS and Unlock Democracy, and free (though again donations welcome) to join Make Votes Matter.

3. Join the Liberal Democrats. I know we're far from perfect. We too have floundered in the white light of accountability. But we are the only political party in the UK which stands fundamentally and explicitly for the liberal principles I have discussed above. If you'd like to know more about what we think we stand for, read the preamble to our constitution. The final paragraph (beginning "Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries...") explains why we have always been, and will always remain, committed to collaborative international organisations like the EU.

4. Join any other political party. Yes, even UKIP (though I hope you'll prefer not to). Because the more people in this country are members of political parties, the smaller the gulf and the better the dialogue between politicians and the electorate.

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strange_complex: (Anas Penelope)
The news has been full of travel woes of all sorts today, but I was particularly struck by this picture, which has been featuring on various BBC News reports today:

That's the jack-knifed lorry I drove past on the right (southbound) carriage-way there, while the car in the middle lane on the northbound carriage-way could literally be mine. It's too dark and blurry to tell, of course, and the odds of it actually being mine in reality are low - but I think I was in that lane at that point, and it looks plausibly like the rear view of a red Honda Jazz.

Anyway, it's a striking memento of a situation I hope never to experience again. Feel free to imagine me sitting inside that car, saying words like "Jesus Effing Christ on a bike!" a lot as I took in the scene to my right.

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strange_complex: (Clegg checks the omens)
I can't be at the LibDem party conference this year, because it clashes hopelessly with a very busy freshers' week here in Leeds. But I have been following along as much as possible via the BBC Parliament channel and my many friends who are busy tweeting from the conference hall.

I've been following with particular interest this morning (either side of holding a meeting to explain to freshers how Study Abroad works), because conference has been debating the Equal Marriage proposal which LibDems for LGBT action (aka Delga) were drafting when I went to their strategy conference in the summer.

The good news is that that motion has now passed, making the LibDems the first UK party in government to officially support the introduction of equal marriage. You can read the full details of the new policy, including the equality of opportunity which it pledges for transgender people, religious organisations, and the status of relationships across international borders, here.

I am really, really, really, really pleased about that.

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Sunday, 18 July 2010 22:03
strange_complex: (Cities Esteban butterfly)
I've had a very lovely weekend, centred around a visit from my old chum [ profile] hollyione (aka Amy), her very-nearly-six-year-old daughter Holly and her partner Pete. It's always nice to have guests, as it provides a great excuse to go off and do fun local things which you don't normally bother with on your own, and it's especially nice when those guests are such congenial people to have around. Amy, Pete and I seemed to spend most of our time joking, laughing and sharing our enjoyment of the various things we went to see and do, while Holly was extremely well-behaved - and of course also full of laughter, high-spirits and funny observations in the way that six-year-old children usually are.

Our main excursion was to the National Media Museum in Bradford - the same place that I go to for the Fantastic Films Weekend, but this time in its everyday capacity as a museum. I've looked around the exhibits a bit while there previously for the festivals, but they're more extensive than I'd realised, and really well-designed for children. We played vintage video and arcade games, looked at televisions, video recorders and cameras from the earliest days of TV to the present day, played around in a mock-television studio, pretended to read the news, messed around with strange mirrors and lighting effects, and watched an episode of Mr. Benn together - a nostalgia trip for the three adults, but a new discovery for Holly. Amy was amazed that it was all available to visit for free, and she was right - we're very lucky to have it.

Being out with a child certainly makes you see things in a different way )

Afterwards we wandered through a surprisingly sunny Bradford, where the locals were out and about enjoying a street market and a vintage car rally, and where Amy bought Prosecco while Pete was given a free two-minute Indian head massage. Then we returned home for dinner and a local cinema trip to see Shrek Forever After, which I shall write up separately, and which Holly seemed to enjoy. And today we indulged ourselves in the charity shops of Headingley, had a nice lunch together and walked home past some Scottish country dancers strutting their stuff at a school fête, before my guests had to pile themselves in the car and hit the road for the journey back home to Bristol.

I should add that in the evenings while little Holly slumbered upstairs, we adults settled down with Prosecco and G&Ts to enjoy some more grown-up activities. Well... slightly more grown-up, anyway. We played a few rounds of Eat Poop You Cat, for which I owe a huge debt to [ profile] whatifoundthere for alerting me to the game's existence. Unlike her, I can't scan our efforts, because my scanner is currently bust, but I can tell you that we collectively managed to transform the simple phrase "Highway to Hell" into the sentence, "You can listen to great music along the road to hell, but the reception on your car radio may be affected by lightning storms", and also "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" (Amy's contribution, not mine!) into "Dog punt atom mother".

We also watched a couple of episodes of Blake's 7 - though unfortunately not starting with the first one, which would have been the most logical for me, as it was missing from Amy's box-set. That meant that it took me a while to tune in to the characters, but by the end of the second episode I'd definitely warmed to Cally, Jenna, Avon and Vila (for rather different reasons in each case). I also appreciated the way that the stories didn't always end neatly or happily in the same way that they do on Doctor Who (not that I dislike that in Who - but it's nice to see a different approach). I've still got a lot of Doctor Who to watch (and write up for that matter), but I'm definitely up for some more Blake's 7 at some point.

So, yes - a great weekend. I'm a bit physically tired now, but mentally refreshed and ready to face the week. Wonder if that will last into tomorrow morning? ;-)

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strange_complex: (Twiggy)
Seen with [ profile] ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road Cinema.

I went into this film forewarned that it would reduce the cause of feminism to a shallow, materialist parody, while also being terrifyingly offensive about Middle Eastern culture to boot. Some of the reviews I had read included:And you know, OVERALL, those reviews are all absolutely right. This film buys straight into any number of questionable western patriarchal stereotypes, which should be enough to write it off on its own. It also isn't a patch on the TV series, and is catastrophically out-of-touch with its recession-hit audience. It is poorly paced and structured, with minor characters popping up one minute and forgotten the next, and minor plot-points rushed through so fast that if you blinked you would miss them. It is crawling with unsubtle product placements (Rolex, Spanx, iPhone, and doubtless many others which I am too fashion-ignorant to spot). AND it includes a superfluous apostrophe, clearly visible in the title of a Vogue article entitled 'Marriage and the terrible two's' which we see Carrie printing out in the first half of the film. ARGH! [ profile] ms_siobhan and I certainly had plenty to exclaim in horror and disbelief over as we headed for delicious Thai food afterwards, and I fervently hope that my memories of the TV show won't be further tarnished by yet another foray into sequel territory.

But the experience of watching it ended up being for me above all an object lesson in the dangers of over-stating a rhetorical case. Because while I agree with the basic points which all of the above reviews are making, now that I have seen the film I can also see that in several places all three of them have slipped into caricaturing what the film actually does in order to get those points across. The result is that I find myself in the rather odd position of feeling that I need to defend certain aspects of the film against particular points made in those reviews, even though I entirely agree with their overall assessments.

See the thing is - yes, Samantha is shown taking 44 vitamin pills every morning )

And yes, we are shown that Miranda's job is interfering with her home life )

And yes, we do indeed witness the sorry spectacle of Samantha hurling condoms at Middle Eastern men in the street )

So all in all, this may be a pretty crappy film, peddling some seriously unsound ideologies and not even terribly well put-together as a story. But you know, when the reviews make that very point by peddling distorted half-truths, they also undermine their own case. I guess I should know by my age that that's how journalism works (she says, still scowling angrily at The Telegraph). But sometimes I don't half wish it wasn't.

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strange_complex: (Amelia Rumford archaeologist)
I couldn't post this last night, because I just could not get onto LJ at any point after Doctor Who ended. So what follows was actually written in Yahoo! Notepad yesterday evening, and lightly edited this morning in order to get the tenses right.

Gosh, well. I think I can only possibly start writing about this with the end first )

So where the hell does this go now? )

Anyway, as for the rest of the story, yes, it did play out much like Three's encounters with our reptilian cousins )

The Doctor and Ambrose )

Nasreen Chaudhry )

So, Chris Chibnall may not be the most highly-regarded of Doctor Who writers, and it may well be that without the shock ending (which must surely have been largely Steven Moffat's work), this would have ended up as another largely predictable and forgettable story. But, as it was, it worked for me. Looking forward to yet more historical action next week.

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Well, this election aftermath story is certainly throwing up some surprises, isn't it? I was a bit downcast about it all on Friday afternoon. I didn't think the LibDems had a strong enough hand to make electoral reform a central tenet of a coalition with either of the other parties. And if that couldn't be achieved, I couldn't really see how any of the three most likely outcomes (Con-Lib coalition, Lab-Lib coalition or Tory minority government) would ultimately do anything much else other than damage the Liberal Democrats in the long term - and hence damage the prospects of them having any serious input into the formation of government policy in the future. Like a lot of people, too, my immediate instinctive reaction to the idea of a Con-Lib coalition was "ugh!".

But I clearly underestimated Nick Clegg and his negotiating team )

What will actually happen is still anyone's guess )

Not everyone is happy with the outcome of this election )

I've got to say that I'm not seeing horror and betrayal in my corner of the internet )

Personally, I'm pretty OK with Con-Lib if it's going to achieve the implementation of as many of the LibDems' key manifesto commitments as it looks like it might. It's not going to be 'Torygeddon' - that wasn't the outcome of the election, and it's not how the Tory party would be able to behave while held on a tight leash by the LibDems in the context of a formal coalition. I'm not sure Lab-Lib is as workable - but if it can be made to work, I'd be perfectly happy with that too on the same grounds. It's a pity that the particular type of electoral reform that's being talked about by both Labour and the Tories at the moment is alternative vote, when single transferable vote is a lot fairer - see [ profile] innerbrat's excellent discussion for details. But that any kind of electoral reform is being seriously offered at all is amazing - never mind all the other issues surrounding the economy, taxation and education which are all clearly going to end up being resolved in ways that are much more to my taste than either the Tories or Labour could have managed alone.

Everything could still fall apart, of course, without any of us really getting anything we want - no matter what we voted for. But one thing is for sure. Between the outcome of this election, the priorities of the Liberal Democrat party, and the activities of groups such as the Take Back Parliament coalition, the issue of electoral reform has become a central part of the political discourse. People are talking about it all over the internet, and yesterday evening the BBC News channel provided a detailed outline of the differences between FPTP voting, AV and STV. It feels to me as though this issue won't just fade away again now. And that is one of the main reasons why I voted LibDem in the first place.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this on Wednesday evening at the Cottage Road Cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and [ profile] big_daz. Classic film nights are a regular feature at the Cottage Road Cinema, and it's not just the film itself you get to see, but a Pathé news reel and some period adverts as well. It was ace! We saw news items about a new cable-car being opened in Wales, and another about Russian plans to import British cattle for breeding, the not-terribly-subtle subtext of both being effectively "Three cheers for good old Blighty, and down with everyone else!" Then we saw adverts for local fabric shops, record emporia and restaurants, all conveniently located in Caernarfon in the early 1960s. Finally - and best of all - we were wished a very Happy Christmas and a Gay 1964 - in tinsel. Whereupon I had no option but to punch the air in post-ironic joy.

Also, there was a film! I've seen isolated chunks of it before, as you do when channel-hopping, so knew I was in for a lavish technicolor Saint Judy-fest (as [ profile] ms_siobhan quite rightly calls her) - and in that I was not disappointed! I was kind of assuming the film would turn out to have some kind of a plot when seen all in one go, but honestly the efforts in that direction were a bit half-hearted, really. It's more like a series of set-pieces, and quite a few turns of events never really get explained or followed up properly. Not that that matters, because the set-pieces are ace. I think I possibly liked Saint Judy beating up the insipid, generic boy next door best of all... though it was a bit more disappointing when she later agreed to marry him. :-( Also, there were some great lines - especially from the little kid, Tootie. Like, "I have to have two kinds of ice cream. I'm recuperating." So, really, who cares about the plot.

Finally, as the credits rolled, the Cottage Road Cinema put the last touch to the period-appropriate atmosphere by playing 'God Save the Queen', and projecting a youthful picture of Her Madge onto the screen. And because it was the kind of place where everyone was really getting into the Classic spirit of the thing and doing the same, [ profile] big_daz and I stood up. It made for a perfect end to the evening - and I can't wait for the next one.

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strange_complex: (Penny Dreadful)
Because its vice-chancellor thinks it is OK to publish an article like this one (scroll down to the 'LUST' section) about sexual relationships between (female) students and (male) staff at Universities, which includes such choice phrases as these:

"Equally, the universities are where the male scholars and the female acolytes are."

So, no female scholars, then? All the women at University are there purely to enable men, and possibly drink admiringly from the founts of male knowledge?

"The fault lies with the females"

Like everything, of course!

And, worst of all in my view:

"Normal girls - more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos - will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers"

I think I would like to go and vomit now. What a wanker!

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Firstly, thanks to everyone for their comments on my last post. 'Cathartic' would be an understatement.

But secondly, because not everything is about doom and gloom, I have some lovely pictures to share. They are from two publications of the 1930s, and both were found in the family archive last weekend, where they'd obviously been preserved by my step-grandmother.

The first ones come from a page of the Daily Mirror, published on Monday September 17th 1934. It's the women's page (page 23), which she had torn out and kept, though we're not quite sure why. Anyway, it's an absolutely brilliant snapshot of feminine life in the 1930s. You've got recipes, fashion reports, household tips and (best of all) an article about Meg Lemonier, a 'charming little French actress' who is also a male impersonator. I've scanned it in four over-lapping parts, so that every article can be read in its entirety on at least one of the scans.

Daily Mirror, 1934 )

The other side of the page is sporting news, but apart from a few pictures of very 1930s-looking rugby-players, it's nothing like so exciting. Teams win and teams lose in every era, and unless you're invested in their fortunes, it's pretty dull to read about.

Meanwhile, my second find was a souvenir programme printed to commemorate the centenary of the City of Birmingham being awarded a royal charter in 1938. The official content is again kind of dull - there's a great deal of stuff about centenary committees and awards, and a bit of stuff about decorations, floodlights and pageants put on to mark the occasion. Best of all by far, though, are the period adverts, which take up about 50% of the booklet. Click on each one to go to the gallery, and then again for the full-size version.

Vintage ads ahoy! )

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Seen last night at the Cottage Road cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy.

I didn't expect to be so absolutely gripped by this, but it really was enthralling. At micro level, it focusses entirely on the preparations for and recording of the series of interviews which Nixon gave to David Frost in 1977, but in the process it casts a very searching light indeed over the nature of politics and the media and the relationship between them.

Martin (oops!) Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are absolutely brilliant as the nervous young Frost and the ageing and embittered Nixon respectively, managing to capture the mannerisms and speech patterns of their subjects beautifully without ever coming across as slavish impressionists. And I very much liked the device of having most of the major secondary characters appearing not only within the story itself, but also in 'talking head' guise, looking back on their experience of the interviews from a perspective in what appears to be something like the early '80s. It was a great way of allowing the interviews to be commented on from a position of hindsight at the same time as presenting the unfolding process as it occurred, which was important given that one of the main things the film wanted to do was emphasise the contrast between the eventual success of the project and the risk of total failure which had been run along the way.

That said, I think it would also be incautious to be too easily swayed by a film which demonstrates so clearly the persuasive and distorting power of the screen (small or large). It's fairly clearly mythologising both Frost and the interviews, and it presents Nixon's final confessions about Watergate as a crushing and unexpected defeat for him. But I find it hard to believe that so canny and manipulative a politician as Nixon would really have allowed himself to be pushed by Frost into saying anything he didn't entirely want to say anyway. And then again, we do in fact see Nixon's Chief of Staff looking back on the interviews a few years later on and saying that he felt they had been a success - so maybe the possibility that Nixon knew exactly what he was doing is allowed for as well.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the close treatment of such a fascinating moment in the history of both television and politics. I'll be looking out to see how this one does at the Oscars.

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strange_complex: (Belly Pantheon)
I don't normally comment about the reporting of my subject area in the media, because I've long ago accepted that it's bound to seem flawed from my perspective, and am basically just happy it's in the news at all. But since today the alternative is further work on my Teaching Portfolio, I will!

The item that's caught my eye today is coverage of a story about the Capitoline Wolf. Background on the statue's dating )

Today's news reports, and why they are clearly not telling the whole story. With Science! )

What must be missing )

I'm happy enough for the wolf to be medieval. In fact, I think that would be fantastically cool, since it would constitute a charming response to stories of the ancient past on the part of the medieval inhabitants of Rome. Good for them. But I am not happy that the general public should be asked to accept this redating on the basis of half-information.

Rant over. I guess I'd better get some work done.

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
You've probably heard about this on the news already, but the government is planning to cut the budget of the British Library by up to 7%. The library is saying that the only way it can survive if this happens is to dramatically reduce its opening hours, and charge fees to use its reading rooms.

In other words, the nation's greatest and most comprehensive repository of printed information could be changed from a freely accessible resource into one which is only available to those with the wealth to pay its entrance fees and the flexibility to attend during limited opening hours. Personally, I feel very strongly that this should not be allowed to happen.

Thankfully, over 6000 people so far have shown that they feel the same way by signing a petition on the new Downing Street petitions website to protest against this. If you'd like to join them, the link is here. (But only UK residents and ex-pat citizens can sign up, I'm afraid).

Edit: or, as [ profile] sushidog advises, go to Write To Them to send an email about it directly to your local MP. It only takes a minute or two, and you don't even have to know who they are - just where you live.
strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
Some very interesting new research is reported over at Rogue Classicism today.

The origins of Etruscan culture have long been debated - was it imported into Italy by immigrants from Lydia (in modern Turkey), as Herodotus claims; was it imported by immigrants from somewhere else; or did it just develop out of the existing indigenous Villanovan culture?

Well, now some people from the Università di Pavia in Italy have applied DNA evidence to the problem. It seems that in the small town of Murlo, at least, an unusually high proportion of the population (17.5%) have 'Near Eastern mtDNA haplogroups' - which apparently points towards 'a direct and rather recent genetic input from the Near East'.

It's still a bit of a leap from there to saying that Herodotus was correct, and the immigrants came specifically from Lydia, as the authors of the report seem to do (though I've only seen the abstract, so don't know exactly how strongly they're pushing the case for that link). But still, this is much more persuasive that any of the existing evidence, and quite the opposite of what I'd been expecting. Previously, I fell largely into the established 'evolvement from Villanovan culture' camp - although I'll admit that that's partly because of personal emotional prejudices in favour of Italy as a cradle of civilisation in its own right, and a more rationally based general dislike of overly-simplified models of 'civilisation' spreading in linear fashion from culture A to culture B. And of course, the new evidence doesn't in the least rule out the involvement of the Villanovans in the creation of a new culture based on ideas imported by a small number of immigrant easterners.

In any case, I'm surprised. And, of course, rather excited and eager to hear more. I'll look forward to seeing how this 'settles in' with the existing scholarship over the next few years.
strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
[ profile] nhw, who's currently stuck at Heathrow, trying to get to Belfast on a flight that was supposed to leave at 06:55. Update: He's made it to Liverpool by train, and will sail from there overnight.

[ profile] violetdisregard, who's currently on a bus to I'm-not-sure-which-London-airport, planning to fly to New Zealand. And not just for a jolly jaunt, either: she is moving there for (at least) two years, and this is the day she picked to move. Oops. Update: apparently she's in the check-in queue now, and although the airline say there might be a delay, they're still optimistic enough to be aiming to set off on time.

[ profile] stompyboots, whom I've a horrible feeling is trying to get back from Ibiza today, and is quite probably relying on being able to work en route.

Fleur WINOLJ, who ditto north Italy, and who really hates flying even under normal circumstances. I mean to the extent that she has to take Valium to do it. (Despite being a travel journalist...)

Those remaining members of the summer school staff who were planning to fly back to the US today. (Thankfully the vast majority of the students went on Tuesday).

Anyone else who gets caught up in all this.

Still, it's a damned sight better than having to extend sympathies to 3+ plane-loads of dead people and their relatives.

Also: what happens when news agencies try to file their copy really quickly. And don't you just feel the pain of the young lady who commented, "Eight hours without an iPod, that's the most inconvenient thing"?

Past and present

Thursday, 16 March 2006 17:34
strange_complex: (Latin admirable sentiment)
In November, I made a passing comment in my LJ about using the word 'fuck' in one of my lectures. I'd done so, perfectly legitimately, because it cropped up in an accurate translation of some Pompeian graffiti I was covering in a lecture on literacy. My comment was tongue-in-cheek, but the point I was making in the lecture was serious. I was showing the class that writing wasn't just used to display educated erudition in the Roman world, but as a means of expressing the simple pleasures of the flesh: much as it is on walls today.

Now, I've learnt that a High School teacher in America was recently suspended for using what I presume must have been much the same material in a Latin class.

I realise that this is a one-off case, and it's clear from the link above that plenty of parents associated with the school were shocked and horrified by the suspension, and fully in favour of their children encountering the material which had prompted it. But that this should have happened at all is to me a sad reflection on the current cultural climate.

I believe that learning history, and the languages which help us to access it, is about broadening our horizons. It's about coming into contact with cultures whose values may not be in keeping with our own, and / or encountering aspects of human experience which we may not have encountered before. The knowledge so gained allows us to assess, understand and re-evaluate our own lifestyles and beliefs. It gives us the chance to ask whether, just because we have always done or believed X, that is necessarily the best available option, given that others prefer, or have in the past preferred, Y. And it helps to reveal to us the great wealth of variety which has always characterised, and will always characterise, human interests and experiences.

The same, in fact, could be said to apply to almost any avenue of intellectual exploration. Scientia est potentia, no? But it is history that is at stake here, so forgive me if I restrict my focus to that topic.

Does it harm a High School Latin student to learn that the inhabitants of Pompeii paid for sex, and then wrote about it cheerfully and explicitly on the walls of their city? If that was the truth of their experience (which it was), then, I believe, no. In fact, to try to pretend otherwise is willingly to apply blinkers which surely have the potential to cause far more harm than the use of the word 'fuck' in a Latin lesson ever could. The Romans were not emotionless automatons who spent all day sitting on pedestals, composing lofty poetry or designing aqueducts. They fucked, they shat, and they enjoyed a good knob joke: just as we do today.

If we cannot accept their humanity, how can we ever learn to accept - or to manage - our own?
strange_complex: (Claudius)
So, the noble whale of London town is dead. What's more, a dead porpoise was found yesterday on the shore at Putney (I can't seem to find an online source for this Important News Item, but I assure you it's true - I saw pictures yesterday as part of Sky News' continuous live whale coverage).

In summary, dead and dying marine mammals are hurling themselves at our shores. You know what Cassius Dio would say. Get out of the stock market - now!

The next stage, apparently, is for experts to examine the body to ascertain the cause of death. I do hope they will pay special attention to the liver, since everyone knows that's where the gods most like to leave their messages to humanity.

B'ham update

Sunday, 10 July 2005 09:44
strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Apparently the threat in Brum last night was "real and credible", but everything's back to normal now. Some people had a pretty tedious night, because there are quite a few who live within the evacuated area, and had to spend the night in places like Aston University instead. But they've been allowed home now, and all traffic is moving as normal.


Saturday, 9 July 2005 22:46
strange_complex: (Trouble at mill)
Hmmm: so apparently there is a bit of a Thing going on in Birmingham city centre at the moment. Police received 'intelligence', evacuated a few areas, found a suspect package on a bus, evacuated more areas, carried out a controlled explosion, and now everyone has been sent out of the city centre and no vehicles are allowed to move around within the inner ring road.

It's probably a lot of panic about nothing, and sitting here in Selly Park, we only knew about it because one of my cousins phoned to check my aunt (who is staying here this evening) was OK. Presumably all will be back to normal by tomorrow morning, but if not, it could be pretty tedious for guests trying to get to our party.

It's certainly already wrecked a lot of nights out - according to the editor of the Sunday Mercury, who was interviewed about it on BBC News 24, there were 30,000 people evacuated, which is quite normal for B'ham city centre on a Saturday night. One lots of wedding guests apparently congaed out of the evacuation zone, but the bride and groom themselves were, understandably, in tears.

Anyway, let's hope it is all just a storm in a tea-cup, and that it won't have any impact on tomorrow.


strange_complex: (Default)

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