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Categories: Ancient, Medieval, Modern

Quote Dump

As always, citation implies neither approval nor disapproval.

A specialist in early medieval archaeology spells out one big problem with the modern fixation on fitting ancient people into boxes and assigning them distinctive labels:

Before I start, though, I want to address the obvious criticism of the topic, which is that modern scholars work a lot on identities, but did past people care as much? Certainly it can be argued that early medieval people did not say very much about identities, and nor do modern people, outside academia. But they did not say very much about a lot of things that modern scholars obsess over, such as gender, ethnicity, social age, or sometimes even aristocracy or nobility. The only social categories that they wrote much about were ones with precise legal importance, status that had implications for property and legal rights.

It is almost certainly the case that the inhabitants of sixth-century northern Gaul did not think of themselves in terms of many – perhaps most – of the categories that I have discussed here, although some of those aspects of their identity were remarked upon and thought of as important. Nevertheless, even if entirely modern in its framing, I think that, if theorised in sophisticated fashion, the concept of identities and their interplay provides a valuable means of analysing past societies and, on that basis, thinking about the present.

– The thinly pseudonymous Historian on the Edge https://edgyhistorian.blogspot.co.at/2016/06/thinking-about-identity-in-early.html

I’m writing about this now because these vulnerabilities illustrate two very important truisms about encryption and the current debate about adding back doors to security products:

1) Cryptography is harder than it looks.
2) Complexity is the worst enemy of security.

These aren’t new truisms. I wrote about the first in 1997 and the second in 1999. I’ve talked about them both in Secrets and Lies (2000) and Practical Cryptography (2003). They’ve been proven true again and again, as security vulnerabilities are discovered in cryptographic system after cryptographic system. They’re both still true today.

– Bruce Schneier, “Cryptography is Harder than it Looks,” https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/03/cryptography_is.html

The re-enactment world in general, but the Roman one in particular, is very prone to breakaways. I have heard recently of a group of only six breaking in half as egos clash.

– Chris Haines, “History of the Guard,” http://erminestreetguard.co.uk/History%20of%20the%20Guard.htm

That trolling is a shameful thing, and that no one of sense would accept to be called ‘troll’, all are agreed; but what trolling is, and how many its species are, and whether there is an excellence of the troll, is unclear. And indeed trolling is said in many ways; for some call ‘troll’ anyone who is abusive on the internet, but this is only the disagreeable person, or in newspaper comments the angry old man. And the one who disagrees loudly on the blog on each occasion is a lover of controversy, or an attention-seeker. And none of these is the troll, or perhaps some are of a mixed type; for there is no art in what they do. (Whether it is possible to troll one’s own blog is unclear; for the one who poses divisive questions seems only to seek controversy, and to do so openly; and this is not trolling but rather a kind of clickbait.)

– Pseudo-Aristotle, On Trolling http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10293503&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S2053447716000099 (preserved in a single manuscript found among the papers of Rachel Barney at the University of Toronto).

I think that the idea that the Greeks from Hesiod to Demosthenes are the alter egos of small-town Anglos, and no other ancient people are, is bad history, but it is also bad tactics:

We offer one last piece of advice to philosophy departments that have not already embraced curricular diversity. For demographic, political and historical reasons, the change to a more multicultural conception of philosophy in the United States seems inevitable. Heed the Stoic adage: “The Fates lead those who come willingly, and drag those who do not.”

– Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden, “If Philosophy Won’t Diversity, Lets Call It What it Really Is,” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/opinion/if-philosophy-wont-diversify-lets-call-it-what-it-really-is.html?_r=0

The unpredictable and brutal violence of Game of Thrones is – in my view at least – distinctly modern: it looks more like the casual brutality of Islamic State, for example, than Anglo-Saxon England or Carolingian Francia.

– Philippa Byrne https://theconversation.com/why-medievalists-should-stop-talking-about-game-of-thrones-61044

As the former employee of a software startup on the edge of Chinatown whose primary school was full of students with Chinese grandparents, I should resent this article:

On a grey, rainy morning in mid-March, I flew from Toronto to Victoria, picked up a tiny rental car and drove straight toward this Chinatown. But if I had hoped to gain insight into the experiences of early settlers, I was out of luck. Chinatown’s labyrinth of brick buildings and narrow alleyways – once crowded with tenements and brothels – is now the site of coffee shops and office space for tech startups.

By the mid-20th century, many of the city’s Chinese had moved to Vancouver and across the country, essentially leaving Victoria as a museum, a Chinatown for tourists with street fixtures decorated in red and gold dragons. Only a few hints of the original Chinese remain, like the Chinese public school that was built in 1909 after locals complained that the Chinese children enrolled in regular public schools didn’t belong.

– Ann Hui, “Chop Suey Nation,” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/chop-suey-nation/article30539419/

Massification [the switch from a system where a small minority of the population attends university, to a system where a large minority attends- SM] can widen access to knowledge, skills and credentials. But it cannot widen access to status. Status is a game of “who are the cool kids” where membership must, by definition, be exclusive. Government policy cannot make the cool kids let people into to club. If it tries, the cool kids will change the rules of the game (read Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath’s The Rebel Sell for more on this).

Two things happens in virtually every country where massification occurs. The first is a concomitant increase in graduate education. Partly, that can be justified in the same terms as the expansion of undergraduate education – producing more specialists, more people able to teach others, etc. But often it’s simply an arms race. You have a degree? Bully for you – I have two.

The second is stratification within higher education. As governments (or non-profit private institutions in some countries) expanded the number of institutions to meet rising demand, institutions didn’t all obtain the same level of prestige. So another way the “cool kids” game plays out is that you start to see an increasing concentration of prestige at a very few schools: Todai & Kyoto in Japan; Peking, Tsinghua and Fudan in China; Harvard, MIT and Stanford in the US. It’s now no longer if you go, it’s where you go (if you want any nauseating details on that from the US, I highly recommend Lauren Rivera’s Pedigree). You’d better believe that rich parents then do what they can to make sure it’s their kid and not someone else’s who makes into those institutions.

In Canada, we don’t see this quite as much as in other countries because of a peculiarity of our higher ed system. We don’t have national exams, and we don’t use SATs, which reduces some of the push towards exclusivity. We also are peculiar in the sense that our top institutions are simply gargantuan. The top three institutions in the US accept maybe 0.1% of the incoming undergraduate class; the top three institutions in Canada accept about 10% of the incoming undergraduate population (thanks to Joe Heath and his In Due Course blog for this observation). It simply isn’t as special to be at a top institution. But it’s worth remembering what an outlier that makes us on the international field.

– Alex Usher, “Massification Causes Stratification,” http://higheredstrategy.com/massification-causes-stratification/ (but don’t more egalitarian countries like Canada have more equal access to status than less egalitarian countries like the USA? And don’t decisions that people make and laws and customs that they enact make it easier or harder for groups of old schoolmates to control access to jobs and money, or for some universities to build up massive endowments which often have a lot to do with their status?)

The blog post which Usher cites is also worth quoting, if you have a vague idea that the Ivy League universities are like big Canadian universities only richer and snobbier:

“Furthermore, all of the best schools in the United States are tiny. Here is a list of the top 10, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, along with the number of students (undergraduate, I believe):”

  • Princeton: 5,336
  • Harvard: 6,658
  • Yale: 5,405
  • Columbia: 6,068
  • Stanford: 7,063
  • Chicago: 5,590
  • Duke: 6,655
  • MIT: 4,503
  • UPenn: 9,682
  • CIT: 997 [seems to be something called California Institute of Technology, and yes that is less than a thousand undergraduate students!- SM]
  • Dartmouth: 4,193

“That means the top 10 universities in the United States – a country of over 315 million people – at any given time are educating a grand total of only 62,150 students.”

“By contrast, here are the rough numbers of undergraduates at the top 3 Canadian universities:”

  • McGill: 30,000
  • UBC: 47,500
  • UofT: 67,000

“So the top 3 Canadian schools are at any given time educating a grand total of 144,500 students – more than twice the total of the top 10 U.S. schools. (In fact, the University of Toronto alone has more student capacity than the top 10 U.S. schools combined.) The United States has almost exactly 9 times the population of Canada, so in order to have the same sort of capacity in higher education, the top 27 schools in the United States would have to have 1.3 million students.”

– Joseph Heath, “The Bottleneck in U.S. Higher Education,” http://induecourse.ca/the-bottleneck-in-u-s-higher-education/

Edit 2022-06-13: converted to block editor and fixed some of the resulting format issues (others are not fixable, WordPress does not like lists inside blockquotes)

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