Open Thread, 11/29/2014

k8858Right before Thanksgiving I was in San Francisco for a friend’s wedding. Back when California was a sunny & exotic land I really enjoyed checking out the North Beach district of the city. Often this involved something as banal as swinging by City Lights, purchasing a book, and then reading a lot of it at a local coffee shop (usually Caffe Greco) Since I read Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, I was on the market for something covering Mesopotamia. So it wasn’t a surprise when I picked up Civilizations of Ancient Iraq at City Lights to pass the time between lunch and dinner.

10675530_10152523928987984_249001114248133538_nCivilizations of Ancient Iraq  is a rather thin and light-weight book. Nothing equivalent to Wilkinson’s attempt to distill dense scholarship into a form accessible to non-specialists. Rather, it almost reads like a primer for those interested in that part of the world after the late geopolitical events which the United States has gotten itself into. Nevertheless, it’s a nice refresher, since I haven’t read anything on this topic since A History of the Ancient Near East. The most interesting fact which always jumps out at me about this period and place is that the greatest geographical influence of ancient Iraq likely occurred before writing, ergo, before history. The archaeological record is clear that there were at least two relatively uniform cultures which expanded rapidly from Iraq, and pushed as far as Anatolia directly, and indirectly into Lower Egypt in at least one instance. The latter of these seems to have been centered around the great city of Uruk, the literal megalopolis of its age. With the authors of the book being somewhat archaeological in their focus they don’t probe in detail how this sort of phenomenon could have come to be, but it strikes me that one possibility is certainly that there were empire-scale polities before that of the Akkadians. We’ll never know definitively, but this is one area that a better consensus as to human nature could probably improve our sense of the prehistoric past in its broad likely outlines.

In relation to my recent op-ed in The New York Times (which at one point was the most emailed piece on the website, I have the screenshot to prove it!), Steve put up a nice link to it. I was expecting a few comments of the “Would not bang” genre, and of course they came up. Usually these are from people “butthurt” that I banned or verbally abused them. All I have to say to anonymous commenters on the internet who perceive themselves to be brilliant: you are an anonymous commenter on the internet, and I am not. Reality hurts. Sorry. The most trenchant critics of Cultural Marxist egalitarianism never reflect to consider they themselves may not be notable or worthy in all domains. The reason I’m mean to the unintelligent or uninformed commenters is that life is short and I get tired of having to filter that sort of stuff out, not that I enjoy being mean. As people who’ve met me in person can attest I enjoy being nice. But the plain fact of the matter is that some people have low memory hardware which can’t launch certain useful applications (the stupid), or, they haven’t bothered to install anything worthwhile to tackle the tasks which they have in their sights (the ignorant).

sense_of_style_book_coverFinally, I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. I’ve gotten a lot of advice on how I should write in the 12 years I’ve been blogging. Most of it has been influenced by The Elements of Style. I haven’t paid much of it any attention because I think I’m doing rather well in terms of gaining some level of notice for my writing despite not being a self-conscious writer all these years. And second, it always seemed weird to me that maxims spouted by Strunk & White really were somehow written in stone. So far Pinker has quickly refuted slavish adherence to The Elements of Style as being somehow meritorious, particular because Strunk & White themselves don’t adhere to their own style when making the case for it! But he’s also making it clear why a lot of the “Post-Modernist” style of prose strikes as bad on the face of it. Definitely enjoying it so far, though I don’t know if it will change how I write. But likely it will at least make me a bit more self-reflective, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I shifted things on the margin. We’ll see.

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