Last Emperors of the West – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 2

Last Emperors in the westMaximus had achieved almost nothing in his short reign.  And certainly, setting up the most humiliating sack of Rome itself earns him pretty much the uncontested medal for the most unsuccessful holder of the purple.  But his foreign policy did bear one fruit.  He had sent the seasoned veteran politician Avitus to negotiate with the Visigoths.  The negotiations went well and Avitus got the support of the Visigothic king Theoderic. Continue reading

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The UK General Election in 1983

1983 General Election

I didn’t vote in the 1979 election because of some reason or other that I no longer remember.  I wasn’t too fussed by the outcome of it, though I think I would have voted Labour had I managed to get to the polling booth.  I was vaguely disappointed that the Conservatives had got in, while being quite pleased that we had a woman prime minister. Continue reading

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The Vandals Sack Rome – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 36 Part 1

Vandals Sack Rome

The death of Attila was greeted with enthusiasm and relief by most of the courts of Europe. It must have been like having a troublesome neighbour finally move away. But in Carthage there was one man who was sad to see him go. His alliance with Attila had been Genseric’s trump card which had prevented the long overdue reassertion of the empire’s authority over the fertile strip of northern Africa that the Vandals and their Alan allies had wrested from them. Continue reading

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Attila Invades Italy – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 35 Part 3

Attila Invades Italy

Chalons was hardly a victory in the tradition of Rome.  When you look at the Roman victory over the Dacians portrayed on Trajan’s Column you see a large professional organisation using technology to wipe out a brave but outmatched enemy.  They display tactics, well drilled formations and sophisticated logistics.  It is clear that the Romans are more advanced than the people they are fighting against.  Three hundred years later we are in a world of tribal battles with both sides indistinguishable from each other.  Individual feats of arms are important – so Thorismund the son of Theodoric becomes a hero by dint of his bravery.  Men are inspired to great deeds by orations and martial music.  Omens are sought and used to influence morale.  It wasn’t really a Roman victory in anything other than name and certainly did not herald any kind of rebirth of Roman power in the west. Continue reading

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Making Colour – National Gallery London

history of pigments

I was glad I made the time last summer to visit the National Gallery’s exhibition of the pigments artists have used over the years.  It was a fascinating business, and it is a bit sobering to remember just how much work the great masters of painting had to do before they even got to the stage of getting to the actual painting.   It was also interesting to note that changes in the availability of raw materials and the technology for processing them have had a big influence on what could be done and therefore what was done. Continue reading

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Margaret Thatcher – Right About Nearly Everything By Niall Ferguson

 

Just before sitting down to right this review I listened to the news.  A delivery company went bust on Christmas Day.  The venture capital firm that owned it no doubt calculated that this was the most advantageous point in the year to go bust.  The positive cash flow of the festive season would have swelled the money in the bank giving them plenty of scope for spending it in creative ways before the receivers moved in.  It wasn’t such good timing for the workers who found out that they were out of work via the media.  One twist was that the distinctive green and yellow vans were not all owned by the company.  Many were owned by the drivers who were technically self employed, subcontracting their services.  So that will cut the redundancy bill.   In other news it turns out that the UK is poised to regain its economic position ahead of France in the size of the economy. Continue reading

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The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences is one of those pieces of writing whose title really sums up the whole thing.  It started life as a lecture and was subsequently published in the mathematical literature in 1960.  It is something that a lot of people have noticed.  It is really quite surprising how often a mathematical idea developed for a particular purpose, or for no other purpose than simple pleasure in the exercise of the mind, turns out to be a useful tool later for something completely different. Continue reading

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Enoch Powell – The Dangers Of A Classical Education

Enoch Powell - Dangers of a Classical Education

Enoch Powell has become one of those figures about whom the myth matters more than the reality.  The basic facts are that he was a reasonably successful Conservative politician until he, apparently inadvertently, made a speech which articulated the feelings of many British people about the dangers of immigration.  He became too hot to handle for the Conservatives.  He was sacked and ended his career representing the unionists in Ulster.  By all accounts he was a highly intelligent man with a strong sense of honour who commanded the respect and affection of those who knew him well.  Whether or not he was actually a racist is almost impossible to tell.   He probably didn’t know himself – but learning Urdu is hardly the typical behaviour of your average racist. But whether he was or not, his rivers of blood speech was certainly music to the ears of people who definitely were racist.  And it definitely wrecked his career and left him to be remembered as a bogeyman. Continue reading

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Byzantium – A Tale of Three Cities BBC4

byzantium

Dr Johnson is supposed to have said of Milton’s Paradise Lost that all admire but few have wished it longer.  The BBC’s three hour history of Istanbul aka Constantinople aka Byzantium on the other hand really could have done with being a good deal longer.  How is anybody supposed to tell the story of a place with such an event filled history in so little time?  Brevity and compression are great things in many ways, but you can take them too far.  Quite apart from having to leave so much out, you also just don’t get the sense of depth you need to appreciate such a large subject. Continue reading

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The Great War – BBC Series 1964

 

The hundredth centenary of the Great War has been marked by the BBC with a huge quantity of retrospective coverage.  We have already had hours and hours of broadcasting.  Some people think it will all be over by Christmas, but it looks like the schedules have become gridlocked and it may be four years before we can return again to normal viewing. Continue reading

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