Oh look it’s a new year, so I must be trying to blog more and not leave this site fallow. Here’s some interesting things I’ve read recently:

Where will we live? – A long but fascinating and informative article on Britain’s housing issues from James Meek in the London Review of Books.
Seeming Female: Gender In Digital Spaces – Some interesting data on how men react to female characters in online gaming, regardless of whether or not their players are women.
Reds Under The Archive Table – “Charitably, the article can be put down to youthful hubris. But it is also complete bollocks.” Academic history is not a conspiracy of leftists, despite what certain Tory activists think.
Dear James Delingpole: You Are The Problem – I’m pretty sure we all knew that already, but this Foz Meadows piece shows why.
Sorry, I actually don’t want a “digital firepower onslaught”. I’d prefer better politics. – A short, but accurate, piece from Jon Worth on how doing more online isn’t changing politics.

And only taken me a month to gather these…

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Gove’s proposed history curriculum forgets that we live in 2013, not the 1950s – Anna Claeys explains how the proposed new history syllabus is missing a huge amount of context in the rush to celebrate ‘Britishness’.
The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine” – How a night-time DJ created a non-existent literary sensation.
February 19, 1942 – The day Nazi Germany invaded Winnipeg, Canada. It happened, though maybe not in the way you’d expect.
Five Days In North Korea – A report from a trip inside the DPRK.
Run For Your Wife review – Possibly the greatest ever review of a Danny Dyer film as a fully immersive theatre performance.
Letter from the prostitute that didn’t want saving, 1858 – A fascinating slice of social history from Victorian London.

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Because history repeats itself, except for all the times it doesn’t.

Barack Obama’s re-election this week meant that three successive US Presidents (Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Obama) had all been elected to two terms in office. The only other time this has happened in American politics was 200 years ago, with the Presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

The interesting thing about this is that in both of these sequences, the President who served immediately beforehand was a holder of the office for a single term (John Adams and George HW Bush), who’d previously been Vice-President for two terms (for George Washington and Ronald Reagan). In the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe sequence, the next President was a son of that former President who served for a single term: John Quincy Adams.

As perfect symmetry can’t be achieved unless someone finds a way for George W Bush to run again for the Presidency, the burden of history falls on the other politically-active son of George W Bush, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. To keep up with history, he should win a bitterly disputed election that ends up decided by the Congress, after the ruling party has split several ways. The winner of the popular vote and the most electoral votes (Andrew Jackson in 1824) will then swear revenge, get elected for two terms immediately afterwards and make radical changes to the way the political system of the country works.

Of course, the parallels break down when you look too closely, not least in how James Monroe’s period as President was known as ‘the era of good feelings’ with so little domestic strife that he was re-elected without serious opposition to his second term. When the historians write about this period of US history, I somehow doubt ‘good feelings’ will be used much. However, Jeb Bush is being mentioned as a potential Republican candidate next time round, so maybe history is preparing for the tragedy or the farce.

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To go one better than Jonathan Calder, and as a reminder that this blog will be reaching its tenth anniversary next year. Here’s what I was writing about on or about the 16th May in previous years:

18th May, 2011: Maths, Hanningfield Style proved that Essex is not larger than Croatia.
16th May 2010: I was about to head to the Birmingham NEC for the Liberal Democrat Special Conference.
15th May 2009: Poem: In search of a gilded benefactor found me singing the ironic praises of Hazel Blears.
10th May 2008: Some fly, some sleep with the fishes as I find an amusing line in a BBC News report.
12th May 2007: Just a simple question about Eurovision generates a huge nine comments!
15th May 2006: Where the road leads reveals the route I’ll be taking on my walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End
14th May 2005: The sins of the father is my review of the Doctor Who episode ‘Father’s Day’.
16th May 2004: We’re back to a Blogger-produced site with Dude, where’s my taste? In which I thought the US had scraped the bottom of the reality TV barrel with a series in which two men pretended to be gay. Oh, such innocent times.
16th May 2003: It was so long ago, posts made with Blogger didn’t have titles. In this post, I talk about PR in European elections and some of the disingenuous arguments around it. Of course, if I’d done this exercise yesterday, I’d have linked to this post about London bidding for the Olympics to show how nothing’s really changed in nine years.

See you again for the next version of this exercise in 2021!

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Found via Nosemonkey, this time-lapse map of European history is rather good:

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Here’s an interesting bit of local history for you all, going all the way back to when I was born in 1972. This was a year of many interesting events, and also the 1972 Local Government Act which brought about wholesale changes to the way large parts of the country were governed. It brought in the two-tier system of local government (counties and districts/boroughs) that’s been continually tampered with since, and also carved many new counties out of the old borders. I grew up in Redditch, so was under the auspices of the county of ‘Hereford and Worcester’ for a while, though if things had gone slightly differently I could have known it as Malvernshire or the County of Wyvern.

But today, we’re not looking at H&W, Avon, Humberside or any of the odd agglomerations that were created then, but one that was proposed and never came about – Colchester becoming part of Suffolk.

Read the rest of this entry

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Not had much of a chance to read over the last few weeks, and when I have, my time’s been occupied by this rather detailed look at life in Britain during its time as part of the Roman Empire. The focus is a bit more archaeological than historical compared to my usual reading, but still had lots of interesting information about life during the period. Not one to read if you’re looking for a simple history of the period, but the wealth of detail does make it useful and interesting if you have the time.

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Helping me keep up my average of a book a week this year, The Inheritors is Golding’s second novel (after Lord Of The Flies) and like that, it’s also a look at some of humanity’s darker impulses. Here, though, the focus is on humanity’s beginnings as seen from the viewpoint of a group of Neanderthals encountering this new type of people for the first time. Golding expertly creates a perspective that’s non-human but understandable as what’s effectively a tragedy unfolds through a mutual incomprehensibility and fear. Definitely a classic novel, and well-worth a look.

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But who will be eaten first?

The House of Lords by numbers – interesting data on how many Lords of different parties have been appointed in the last few years.
The Poisonous Drivel of Dr Denis MacShane MP – A Labour MP and the Daily Mail conspire in quoting something out of context to disparage the work of a feminist academic? Hands up anyone not surprised by this latest attempt to drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator. (via)
The People’s Pledge campaign: More lies, irrelevancies and distortions from the British EU referendum campaign – Luckily, Nosemonkey doesn’t get tired of pointing out all the times when people get things wrong about the EU. Contains more refutations of spurious factoids than you’ll find in most newspapers.
China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work – Welcome to the future. It’s written by Charles Stross, but just be glad they didn’t use that part of his work that features the Elder Gods.
Humor from historians – A fully peer-reviewed joke.

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Another bit of my attempt to widen my historical knowledge, this book does exactly what it says on the tin an provides a good overview of 200 years of Roman history. There’s obviously a limit to how much detail Scullard can provide in this overview, but he does a very good job of linking the different trends in Roman society and politics together to explain how the Republic began to crumble under the pressures its expansion had put in under, how the early Empire emerged from that process and then how it stabilised itself.

Scullard does presuppose some knowledge of how the Republic worked, so perhaps not one to read if you know nothing of the Roman systems, and sometimes the pace of events and the tide of similar sounding names can get a bit overwhelming. He also has a tendency to moralise on occasions, and I sometimes suspect that he wished he could be back in the midst of the events, advising the Senate about where they were getting it wrong and how the Republic could survive if only they’d listen to him.

Also, while Nero as the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors does seem to mark an appropriate point to stop, it does bring the narrative to a rather abrupt halt in the midst of a crisis. There’s a quick summing up of the Year of Four Emperors and the rise of Vespasian, but it perhaps needs a bit more detail to wrap up the historical narrative and show the future course of the Empire. Though as with any history of Rome, any end date is somewhat arbitrary.

All in all, a rather good history and a useful guide to the period.

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