Monday, October 29, 2007

Political Correctness, Imperial Rome, and a Little Validation

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds' being the center of the blogging universe for the time being, a post by Gail Heriot at The Right Coast came to my attention dealing with a book by Dr. John Ellis of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dr. Ellis is a professor emeritus whose specialty is Germanic literature. Now, as a History major, I had to dabble a bit in literature, a bit in economics, a lot in political theory, a lot in research and finding primary sources, and some amount in interpretation and writing. It is the primary sources, interpretation, and political theory which I'll deal with for this post.

Dr. Ellis' book excerpt in the Washington Post from his 1997 book Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities upholds within its first few paragraphs an idea I was explaining to my professor before she dismissed it out of hand as "wrong." For all the problems I may have with Dr. Stocking's office politics, she is an excellent professor for Roman history. She specialized in 5th-century Spain, putting her right into the study of the Late Western Empire and the effects of its collapse. We were discussing the concept of German tribal structures as shown in Tacitus' Germania. In his description of German tribes, Tacitus compares the nobility, wisdom, and morality of these "barbarians" with the moral depravity, laziness and general unworthiness of Roman upper-class life.

If this sounds familiar like the "noble savage" myth of Rousseau, you'd be right, and Dr. Ellis says it as such. Tacitus was projecting the qualities of his desired Roman society upon a rather warlike and bloodthirsty group of people back in the first century A.D. He had no actual primary source, relying on secondhand accounts from travelers. Where Tacitus lacked information, he plugged in his ideas of what their society would be like based on a simple but faulty premise. His premise was that Roman society was rotten to the core, and that as the Germans were not Romans, therefore their culture was not rotten either. This, mind you, was the same group of enlightened people who later invaded Roman lands, trashed the place and tossed Western Europe into the era known as the Dark Ages.

The evidence I used to back up why Tacitus would project his own wishes upon foreigners were my professor's own lectures on previous Roman writers and their own problems with historical accuracy. Men like Livy and Cicero couldn't always get a verbatim report of which general said what to his army especially if the battles they recounted took place centuries before the author's birth. So, they had to figure out what they would say if placed in that historical event and then ascribe it to the historical figures. This was done to not only inspire the reader but also to pass along a moral truth as seen by the author. Tacitus followed in the same tradition as these men, ascribing certain moral traits to the varied characters in the books. The issue here was a matter of scale as Tacitus wrote of the tribes in a manner stereotyping them as more noble than mere Romans. He gave the tribes the aspects of the morals he wished to instill within his readers. How then could Tacitus be one hundred percent accurate with his descriptions of the Germanic tribes? He was not one hundred percent accurate because he projected his ideal Roman society on a group that was nothing like Rome at all.

For this defense, I was simply told I was wrong and the matter was settled. Tacitus was not accurate in everything, but the Germans were morally and culturally superior to the crummy old Romans. He contention was that at least Tacitus got that part right. I should have known better than to badmouth the Visigoths' ancestors in front of someone who studied them so closely.

However, let's go to 7 and a half years later. Thanks to pure happenstance, I find that a professor from the University of California at Santa Cruz is of a similar mind that Tacitus was projecting his desires for a better Rome upon the Germanic tribes. Dr. Ellis does go off on a different tangent showing the roots of the "noble savage" myth, where a writer filled in what he didn't know with what he thought was ideal. This leads to all kinds of wackiness with folks like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his rebirth of the noble savage myth, the troubles with the French Revolution, and so on.

The effect is still the same though. Someone else agrees with me that Tacitus wasn't accurate in his descriptions, and wasn't accurate because he wanted to show everyone what Rome had thrown away in terms of morals and civil society. The fact it was an idealized Roman society doesn't make it less of an embellishment. Tacitus wasn't a liar out of intent to deceive, he was a poor guesser. It's a minor victory, but it's nice to have my arguments backed up by scholarly writing. I only wish I'd had Dr. Ellis' book in my possession when I made my argument.
Three Words:

Freakin' Red Sox!!!

The Rockies just did not have the energy to go past 8 innings against the Freakin' Red Sox. This is the second sweep that they can chalk up for the Rivals of Those Stinking Yankees. Well, Colorado, maybe next year your team will be in again, ready to avenge this year's loss. This is under the supposition that St. Louis doesn't self-destruct like this year.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meh, it doesn't look like the Rockies are doing too well. I'm still hoping for the best for Colorado, though. I'd like to see another expansion team get a championship.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another World Series Looms...

While my Cardinals sucked their way into third place in the National League Central (aka "The Special League" considering how bad all the teams were this year), I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Colorado Rockies managed to play their way into the World Series. When I was in tech school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, the Rockies had their inaugural season. I watched a lot of their games on tv and saw two of their first-season games live. As a result I've got a place in my heart for the Rockies, though nothing like the Cardinals I've followed since childhood. I'm hoping they'll give their opponents in the American League a challenging series.

As far as the American League goes, I'm pulling for the Indians. Cleveland is a good team, sure, but it also helps to have a vocal and devoted fanbase to energize the team. They're like Cubs fans in that respect. I don't care how Boston loses the American League Championship Series as long as they lose. 2004 wasn't that long ago, and I'll admit to being just a tad bitter over that.

I'm hoping that the Rockies win in in 5 games.

Friday, October 12, 2007

SIU Pres. Poshard: Not A Plagiarist

I've kept this on the back burner for a while, watching the process here and there. Basically it looks like the people who charged President Poshard with plagiarism used more recent standards of citation practices to make their claims. When Poshard's dissertation citations were compared to those of other students in the same time period, he was found to be maintaining the standards set back then. This was at its core a big game of "gotcha" from whatever group of people at SIUC were ticked off at him. I think it's kind of stupid for him to have to update his dissertation to newer standards when no one else is required to do that, but it's a minor hassle at worst. President Poshard has been exonerated according to this article. I have no idea how much of that is true outside of the article.

I graduated from SIUC with my BA in History. Naturally, I followed with great interest when a former history professor who taught there when I attended was raked over the coals for offering a different viewpoint of race radicals in the 1960s and 1970s as an optional reading assignment. I never went to any of Dr. Bean's classes, but a problem in the History Department still made me take notice anyway. The situation with Pres. Poshard is quite similar: find a minor difference and present it as damning evidence of malfeasance. Way to go, Southern.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's not even Winter and the Blahs have hit

This is one of the many things I hate about changing seasons. As soon as it starts getting colder, I have less and less desire to go out and actually do stuff after work. Weekends are no trouble but after work I want little else but to go home and vegetate. I don't even feel like going to my competition shoot tonight. It must have something to do with the lack of sunlight. Well, there's always next week.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I didn't shoot this past week either. The car was in the shop, so I had no transportation out to the range. It was getting some body work done. Last week did provide a pretty good-sized surprise for the City of Heroes MMO community. We got our first looks at Issue 11.

It was known that in Issue 11 two new powersets would be available, those being Dual Blades and Willpower. These two sets will provide some new options for the melee archetypes in the game (Brutes, Scrappers, Stalkers and Tankers). Most of the ranged and support players weren't too happy as this doesn't help them much. The biggest surprises of all came in a one-two punch combination: Weapon Customization and Flashback.

Weapon Customization is a nice cosmetic feature for the game, as all the various players of weapons-using archetypes can swap out older weapon models for newer ones. The ability to change colors on some weapons will help make the characters a little more unique. I was very surprised to hear about all of the custom weapons models for the underused War Mace powerset that Tankers can choose. This set has been the neglected child of the Tanker secondary powersets for quite a long time. Mediocre damage plus a chance for weak stuns did not make this a very good set. This set will be getting many new models to replace the standard mace. It seems War Mace tankers will now have a plethora of tools such as hammers, wrenches and shovels to use in place of the spiky war mace, as well as other mace designs.

Flashback is touted as giving players a chance to replay their favorite story arcs with their favorite characters. In addition, you can also set a lot of parameters for each mission to further challenge yourself. If this is pulled off properly, I think it could be as big as the previous Issue's hero and villain co-operative zone and random Rikti attacks. I think it ought to be pretty decent as the level of people complaining about it is still outweighed by the number of people willing to give the developer team a chance to stand or fall on their own. The last Issue was a big success, I hope this will be the same.