I Like Stories Too

But the categories ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’ exist for a reason

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One of my favourite childhood memories of my late grandmother happened when I was about eight years old. My grandmother had been on holiday and when she returned she brought back presents for myself and my siblings. My present was a Ladybird book of Greek myths containing the stories of Theseus and the Minotaur and Perseus and the Gorgons. I read the book over and over again. I’m pretty sure it was one of the reasons I got into History – wanting to know more about the society that created such fantastic tales. What I never did however, even as a child, was get my ideas about morality from the legends of Classical Greece. The gods of Olympics and the heroes of these legends seem to behave in a pretty immoral, or rather amoral, fashion. All societies have produced stories about superhuman beings – those of the Norse are particularly good and the Viking view of heaven as an endless drinking party is definitely one I can relate to. The great misfortune of History is that a large number of people have been forced to live according to the primitive morality contained in the myths and legends of the Ancient Hebrews. Continue reading “I Like Stories Too”

Book Review #3

The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson

It may be because I am a natural contrarian (or a pedantic, middle-aged git) but I am always suspicious when everyone seems to agree on something. Hence my dislike for ‘national treasures’ like Bruce Forsyth (hint, so was Jimmy Savile) and the fawning sycophancy meted out to the deeply ordinary and talentless Winsor- Mountbatten clan – news exclusive in the Daily Mail and Daily Express, Kate Middleton wears clothes. Whilst I would have probably (and reluctantly) voted to remain in the European Union if I still lived in the UK, the fact that all the main political parties, the entire media Establishment and most of the ‘celebrities’ who represent public opinion in modern Britain were on the Remain side made me very sceptical. But my contrarianism (is this even a word?) pales into insignificance compared to the great iconoclastic historian Niall Ferguson. Continue reading “Book Review #3”

A Proposal For Change

Time to end the stranglehold of the Establishment

It is fair to say that the West is going through a period when faith in politicians and the  political system is at a very low point. Whatever one thinks about the UK’s decision to leave the European Union or Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States, these are, by any standards, unusual events. As were the Front National’s Marine Le Pen winning 34% of the vote in the French presidential election in May (double what her father achieved in 2002) and the AfD winning 1 in 8 votes in the Bundestag last month.

And as faith in politicians has declined so has faith in religion; outside the USA, Christianity is dying in the West and the indigenous population of Europe and North America is not warming to the latest aggressive and intolerant version of the Abrahamic delusion that has poisoned Western society since the fourth century.

People are at once cynical and ill-informed about politics – witness the enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn among people in their 20s and 30s. Some of Corbyn’s most ardent fans support his plan for large-scale nationalisation but also want to want to stay in the neoliberal EU. Both of these positions are intellectually valid but they do tend to be mutually exclusive – you simply can’t have both. Look at the way Greece was treated by the EU when it was forced to sell off state utilities to pay debts to international banks. There was no ‘bailout’ for Greece, only for the banks – privatised profits but socialised losses.

It is time acknowledge that the democratic institutions of the West are in need of a thorough overhaul. I have written before about the debt the West owes to the Classical Greece and Rome rather than to so-called ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. One of the key ideas I think can revitalise democracy and end the domination of the neoliberal Establishment (by which I mean all the main political parties in the West) is sortition – the selection of public officials by lot. Continue reading “A Proposal For Change”

Leap Of Faith 

Science and Religion are not competitors 

If the Sun was scaled down to the size of a white blood cell, the Milky Way would be the size of the continental United States. There are between 100,000,000,000 and 400,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way and it is estimated that there are between 100,000,000,000 and 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Even if you take the lowest estimates there are about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 sextillion) stars in the universe. Then there are the spaces between galaxies which are even larger than the galaxies. The Milky Way is between 100,000 and 160,000 light years across but the closest galaxy to our own, Andromeda, is around 2,500,000 light years away. The sheer scale of the universe is incomprehensible to poorly-evolved east African primates who only learned to speak properly less than 200,000 years ago. But the most important things to the ‘creator’ of all this are the genitals of one species on one planet that orbits one of these stars and whether one half of said species shows its hair to the other half. Continue reading “Leap Of Faith “

In Defence Of Classical History 

Imagine a world untouched by Christianity.

I recently attended a three day history conference. Now I know that sounds like torture to a lot of people but I loved it. One of the highlights was a professor of ancient history giving a lecture comparing democracy in ancient Greece and modern Europe. In particular he drew parallels between the Brexit Referendum in 2016 and the Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War (431-404BC). Whatever your views of the referendum, it was an exercise in democracy on an very large scale. Over 33,000,000 people voted – 72% of registered voters and 65% of the voting age population. In Athens, the people’s assembly (demos) voted on all government business; it was a direct rather than a representative democracy. In 415BC, the demos voted enthusiastically in favour of a plan to conquer Sicily. The expedition was a disaster and the Athenians lost 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. Whether the Brexit vote turns into a disaster on the scale of Sicily is anyone’s guess (personally, I doubt it). The point I am trying to make is that studying Classical History helps us to understand the workings of democracy. People are people, demagogues are demagogues – although I would hesitate to compare Boris Johnson to Alcibiades because he would like it too much. Upper-class playboy with a penchant for rabble-rousing and swapping sides? Sounds familiar? Continue reading “In Defence Of Classical History “

Education In The Twenty-First Century

University is not for everyone

I saw this on Pinterest and it made me laugh.

Teaching Maths over 50 years

Teaching Maths in the 1950s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Maths in the 1970s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Maths in the 1980s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? Yes or No.

Teaching Maths in the 1990s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: underline the number 20.

Teaching Maths in the 2000s: A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living?

Topic for class participation after answering the question: “How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers. Feel free to express your feelings eg, anger, anxiety, inadequacy, helplessness, etc).

Should you require debriefing at conclusion of exam there are counselors available to assist you to adjust back to the real world. Continue reading “Education In The Twenty-First Century”