Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on amazon.ca, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

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I’ve been flirtin’ with Pierre Berton …

November 24, 2017

’cause he’s so smart in his books.

So, a few weeks ago I was wandering through a bookstore downtown looking for some books to read, and I picked up a few historical ones. The first one I read was “The War of 1812”, which combined Pierre Berton’s two books on the subject: “The Invasion of Canada” and “Flames Across the Border”. As Berton is Canadian, there is a bit of a focus on the Canadian side of the battle — most noticeably when he talks about the impact it had on creating a Canadian identity — but for the most part he does a good job of describing the details of both sides of the conflict.

He also has a very interesting style, one which might be more prominent in historical works than I think but that I personally haven’t come across very often. He writes much of the time in a third person present tense, describing thoughts and actions as “Historical figure knows that they need to attack, and so prepares his defenses accordingly”. This makes the events seem more immediate, and not just a description of what happened in the past. Even if you know what the outcome is — especially since sometimes Berton tells you what it is before he describes it — you almost can’t help but be caught up in the immediacy of the event and feel that it’s happening right now. To be honest, I actually think that the WWII documentary “The World at War” often pulls off the same trick, which might explain why I like it so much myself. Maybe it’s a British thing …

Anyway, Berton is also much more colloquial and much less academic than other works I’ve read, particularly when it comes to calling out leaders who are, shall we say, less than intelligent or brave, especially when those traits lead to unnecessary deaths. Berton’s lists of adjectives for failing leaders are quite impressive, and generally entertaining. And since he’s usually right — and since he will generally give props for reasonable caution or heroic bravery — you are more likely to be amused at his comments rather than offended by them, unless you happen to consider that person a hero. He’s also very generous to the native allies of the British, focusing on them more than a work written at the time he was writing might be expected to, but neither emphasizes their savagery nor ignores or excuses it. At the end, he even concludes that the side that probably lost the most in that war were, in fact, the native tribes.

As for the war itself, Berton’s account makes it clear that it was a very strange war. Most of the people on both sides — even the leaders — didn’t really want the war. There were some “War Hawks” on both sides that saw it as a good, either as an attempt to gain more territory or to give the other side a bloody nose and regain honour lost either to the Revolutionary War or to the often draconian and insulting policies of the British, especially impressment of British citizens from American ships. The sad thing is that the really insulting policy that caused the Americans to declare war was repealed right before hostilities began … but once started ending them was not easy, especially with both sides burning villages and committing other atrocities that created very bad feelings on both sides.

But as Berton says, this war is what created the Canadian identity and made it not only distinct from the American identity, but proud of that distinctness. To this day, Canadians are more proud of the traits they gained from their British heritage than they are of the traits they gained by cultural osmosis from the United States. We are less individualistic, less boorish, more polite, more concerned about others and other nations, more welcoming and accepting of other cultures than Americans, and we take great pride in that. And the seeds of that started from us wanting to separate ourselves from those people who invaded us and burned our villages and killed our people, and grew from that even as we became, in country terms, staunch allies and good friends. We may no longer hate Americans, but we’re still happy to not be Americans for the most part. And this makes me wonder if some of the reason for stronger reactions to calls to become more of an American style republic and remove the Queen as Head of State are spawned by a subconscious cultural reaction to the idea of becoming more American.

At any rate, this was a very entertaining book that taught me things about the War of 1812 that I didn’t know before. It is a book that I will almost certainly read again at some point.

Thoughts on two books by Adrian Goldsworthy …

October 13, 2017

So, I recently somewhat read two books on Roman History by Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar and Pax Romana. I really liked Caesar, but couldn’t even manage to finish Pax Romana. I could have finished the latter if I had really tried, but I bought and was reading these books for entertainment and found at about the midway point that I wasn’t enjoying reading Pax Romana and wasn’t likely to start any time soon.

I think the main issue is that Pax Romana doesn’t really have a purpose, or at least one that the book supports. Goldworthy frames it as examining whether the Roman Empire could be considered peaceful and civilizing or aggressive and oppressive, but all he ends up doing is talking about how Rome gained its territories and how it governed them. While he generally slips in a comment or two about whether this made Rome oppressive or not, most of the time there’s no real direct relevance to the main thesis, and so if you are thinking about that premise you would be wondering how this all fits. However, most of the time you will have completely forgotten that that was what he was going for, and so simply be working through the details of how things worked in those areas or provinces. But he doesn’t go into enough detail on the everyday life of the people in those provinces or areas for it to work as just giving background history, and there’s no real chronological or even causal/narrative link between the sections to draw you along. Without a strong tie to the overall theme, the sections seem disconnected from each other, and the sections talk too shallowly about their specific topics to work as an interesting examination of those topics. At the end of the day, the topics examined were neither detailed enough to be enjoyed for their own sake or tied enough to a main thesis to work as establishing evidence for whatever conclusion Goldsworthy wanted us to draw.

Caesar works better — and is the one I read first — because it has an overarching framework to work with: Caesar. While there may be quibbles here and there, generally the book both has a reason for detailing what it does — telling us about Caesar — and has a chronological and causal chain carrying us from one chapter to the next, as we examine Caesar’s career. If we have to hop back into the past, it’s because what happened then is important — at least in the author’s mind — for understanding what happens to Caesar next. If we talk about political systems or historical events that don’t directly involve Caesar, it’s because it’s important to establish them in order to understand Caesar and how things got to that point. While the ending seemed a bit rushed, overall we get a pretty good narrative of Caesar and his life, as well as the cultural factors that made Rome what it was at the time and the systems that Caesar took advantage of and opposed.

Pax Romana had none of that, and so ended up seeming, at least to me, like a series of disconnected sections rather than any kind of comprehensive, unified work. And that, ultimately, bored me.

Rise of Dictators …

October 6, 2017

So, I just finished reading a biography of Julius Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy. Not long before that, I read a book talking about the French Revolution exploring how it turned into the Terror. I’ve also, of course, read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. All of which talk about how governments that weren’t restrictive dictatorships/tyrannies turned into far more restrictive and tyrannical nations. While reading it, it struck me that it is precisely this that is making progressives very angry and scared, the idea that the United States is moving from being more liberal and democratic to becoming a Trump-led dictatorship. And there’s one commonality in at least those three historical events that I think they are missing.

In all of those cases, the tyranny came about because the people, in general, didn’t feel that the current system and people in power were serving the people, and so were willing to accept someone, anyone, who was in a position of some power and promised to fix all of that up.

Germany had been in dire straits for a long time after WWI, and had suffered what many of the people considered to be egregious humiliations for their part in it. The Socialists were blamed — quite likely wrongly — for the surrender, and were blamed for not making things better and/or for not trying to restore German honour. Hitler, on the other hand, directly promised to restore their honour and make the country better, and when he received power he actually did both, although how much of the economic recovery was due to his policies or just a generally recovering economy is not entirely clear. Given that he at least at first seemed to be fixing things and pretty much every move he made he won in the beginning, it’s not surprising that the general German public supported him, at least until he started losing. By the time his policies started impacting the common German, he and his party were too entrenched to be easily removed. And what is also critical to note is that his opponents often spent more time attacking him than in understanding why the common German at least somewhat supported him and trying to appeal to them.

Whatever else you might say about him, Caesar actually had a lot of support from the common person in the Civil War. Throughout his entire political career, he had advocated for and enacted a number of policies to benefit the common voter. Meanwhile, the existing Senators were seen as being ineffective at best and corrupt at worst. Pompey and his supporters, fearing that he might take over, actually precipitated the conflict by essentially setting up a case where Caesar could be prosecuted for purported crimes while he was in charge of Transalpine Gaul, which Caesar felt could be used to deny him what he saw as his rightful power. Given that it was clear that political trials in Rome did not turn on truth but instead on the personal interests of the people prosecuting and voting, this left Caesar potentially taking a huge risk if he accepted it. And even as official dictator, he continued to promote the interests of the common person, and at least tried to maintain the image of being merciful and conciliatory.

But the most indicative one is the French Revolution. The government was corrupt, and so the Revolutionaries rode a wave of popular support, making strong accusations and riding mob rule to carry out punishments on those people, whether or not those accusations were really founded. And then when they got into power, they continued to splinter and to make the same sorts of accusations against each other, resulting in a tug of war where the person who could actually convince the people that one of their former leaders and comrades was really a traitor to the cause winning and gaining power through that, which led to the Terror.

You can argue that Trump is taking the Caesar/Hitler route, presenting himself as the only person who can fight the corruption in the government and “drain the swamp”. And yet you can also argue that the progressives are taking the Revolution route, attempting to muster popular support by making often dramatic and poorly founded accusations against Trump and anyone who supports him in any way, and presenting his government as the corruption that they must fight and — using the Nazi parallels and the “Punch a Nazi” rhetoric — fight with violence if necessary, which means fight with violence if they can’t win. If we take these historical parallels to their logical conclusions, you’d have the choice between an American Empire or an American Terror. Is it any wonder, then, that so many moderates don’t support either side?