The Kennedy Center

I’m giving a lecture at the Kennedy Center in October. Not, I’m sorry to say, the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC; nor (even more exciting) the John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida; nor, alas, the John F Kennedy School of Government in Harvard; nor even the Robert F Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Washington DC; but in fact the David M Kennedy Center for Intrernational Studies, part of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. David M Kennedy (no relation to the others) was Nixon’s first treasury secretary, and also a Mormon bishop; no Mormon has ever held a higher position in the US government. In 1971 Nixon sacked him and replaced him with John Connally, the guy who was in the same car when President Kennedy was assassinated. It will be an interesting trip.

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Reflections on Waugh’s Scoop

Prompted by :

I first read Scoop as a schoolboy in the mid-1980s and thought it was hilarious and surreal. I reread it again while working in the post-war Balkans in 1998 and realised that all the bits I had thought wildly exaggerated were perfectly true. In particular, he vividly describes the herd mentality of the journalists who go chasing up-country for the story while the real stuff is happening in the capital, their peculiar relationship with the local expatriate community, and the odd banality of events that actually have a dramatic political significance. It should be required reading for any international relations student, as well as (of course) for budding journalists.

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The Books Are My Friends Test

Via :

The Books Are My Friends Test

The Literati
And the Survey Says: 90%

        You are one of a select group of intellectuals. You appreciate good literature and you nurture an affinity for elegance. You probably have a library of books waiting on your shelf, so put away the computer and start reading.

        Recommendations:
        Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged
        Daniel Keyes – Flowers for Algernon

Well, my essay on Flowers for Algernon is one of the most visited pages of my website. I haven’t read Ayn Rand, but perhaps I should, if only for amusement’s sake. Of course, it’s perfectly true that I have a library of books waiting on my shelf.

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Museum

At F’s insistence I took him to the Africa Museum in Tervuren this afternoon. Mainly this was an hour zooming round the exhibits at five-year-old speed, with special attention paid to the very large animals, though some of the small ones caught his interest too – “Daddy, what’s that?” “Er, hang on, let me try and read what it says in Dutch/French” – I admit I was defeated by the “Kuifparelhoen” aka “Pintade plumifère”, which turns out to be the Crested Guineafowl. Of course. (see right)

But I was particularly struck by a small corner dedicated to the explorations of H.M. Stanley, who did a lot of work for the Belgians, and a battered metal trunk (“It’s got holes in it!” said F perceptively) that had actually belonged to Dr David Livingstone and had been taken by him on his last journey (later retrieved, and given to the museum by his grandson). Having just read Niall Ferguson’s account of the two men’s rather contrasting careers (and of course their dramatic meeting in 1871) it gave me a bit of a historical thrill.

There are now a number of apologetic notices in French, Dutch and English pointing out the museum’s own colonial and frankly racist heritage. In the Gallery of Remembrance of the 1500 Belgians (and a few Luxemburgers) who died bringing “civilisation” to Central Africa, a small sign now says “The attentive visitor will not fail to notice that, at the time, no need was felt to question the Belgian presence in Central Africa. There was no mention of the Congolese victims, for instance.” In a weird sort of way this is becoming a museum of a museum. And a good thing too.

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Astrology correspondence

Archived here for my reference.

First email to me from astrologer:

You invited comments or questions about the astrological material posted on your site.

I’m a traditional astrologer and am undertaking a review of Latin with special interest in astrology. I was looking for some examples of chart interpretations written in Latin to acquire more exposure to the Latin technical language of astrology. I happened across your site.

I wonder if you don’t mind telling me why you think your chart example of the female family member visiting the king is a birth chart rather than a horary (asking a question) chart. It is certainly interpreted like a horary chart, which is quite distinct from the way a natal chart is interpreted.

Just wondering what prompted you to take this tack.

Second email to me from astrologer:

I became curious about your chart; to me, it seemed that you noted it was drawn up well after the fact, which suggests to someone who uses this kind of astrology that any inaccuracies may be due to the astrologer forgetting the exact date of the question, but remembering (years after the fact) the answer to the question and the approximate positions of the planets.

The background information tells us how to find the answer to the question. As the astrologer has drawn the chart the answer will be shown by aspects and reception between the planet which signifies the old woman, who is evidently a family member of the person who asked the question, and the planet which signifies the King.

The fourth house signifies family members, and the tenth house signifies royalty. There is a strong aspect between the two planets found in these houses:
the Old Woman–Venus, significator of the feminine, in Capricorn, significant of old age, found in the fourth, significant of family members; and Jupiter, significator of rulers, found in the house of authority, in his exaltation (strength), apply to an opposition. This is vivid imagery, and for an astrologer it is much easier to remember this sort of response to a question than it is to remember the precise date of the question!

This type of error suggests that the astrologer did not have access to whatever notes or records he was keeping at the time the question was asked.

I wish to propose an alternate date for this chart which may resolve most of the problems it poses. If we add two years to the date, we have a chart with Jupiter in his exaltation (Cancer), retrograde, in the tenth house, while Venus is in Capricorn in the fourth. The houses all have the same signs on the cusps as on the chart you list.

This is using the New Calendar date December 1, 1124, 3:00 am.

The only minor discrepancies on this chart from the one you have posted show Mars in the third, not the ninth; Saturn in the eleventh in Virgo, not Leo; and the degrees of each planet do not match precisely, although the houses, signs, and aspects described do. The adjustment in degrees is possibly due to the different mathematical methods used in modern chart calculation. But Saturn and Mars, the showing the greatest discrepancies, are not named as major players on this chart. So the astrologer was more likely to misremember their precise locations.

My reply to first email:

It’s a good question, one of many good questions that need to be asked about this curious piece of history. At first I was pretty sure it must be a horary chart (as you put it), but the problem with that theory was that the text in which it was embedded was known to date from the last quarter of the 12th century, and I could not get a sensible date out of any reasonable permutation of the given planetary positions that would fit that period.

The obvious next possibility was that the chart and interpretation might come from an Arabic source, since I know that much of the material in the rest of the text was drawn from Abu Ma’shar and Al-Khwarizmi. However even then the only even slightly convincing fit for the dates I could get was 770 AD, really too early for either; and in any case it wasn’t very satisfactory.

Then I realised that if Jupiter position was out by precisely one sign, I had a decent fit from Saturn, Mars and the Sun for 14 December 1123, and the Sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus rather less convincingly for 14 December 1122. (At the time I plumped for 1122 anyway since that was the generally accepted latest possible date for Eleanor’s birth. I’ve since seen research by Andrew Lewis arguing that she was born in 1124 – the evidence being a statement that she was 13 at Eastertide in 1137 when her father died. Of course this fits a birth date of December 1123 just as well, if not better, than any date in 1124.)

If the early 12th-century date was correct, I had to choose between either an otherwise unknown astrologer of that period happening to cast a horary chart, which Roger just happened to come across half a century later to include in his text along with all his other material from a completely different time (the 9th-century Arabs); or else that, along with the other material in the book, it was compiled in the late twelfth century (we know Roger was active from the 1170s to the 1190s). Obviously in the latter case, a natal chart is the most likely (though of course not the only) possibility.

I agree that it’s interpreted like a horary chart. I would point out that despite Roger’s laborious compilation of other people’s teaching, his own work has a certain lack of thoroughness about it. In the chart in question, Venus is placed in the 4th house even though it is at 15 Capricorn and the imum coeli at 18 Capricorn. His notes in MS Arundel 377 indicate that he was still confused about the tropical vs the sidereal zodiac. Also, if he had had any intention of actually applying the Arabic lore I think he would have tried to edit out (or at least comment on) the inconsistencies within and between the Arabic writers. The fact that he didn’t do so tells us a lot.

Bear in mind that there were probably only three people in England capable of casting horoscopes at this period – Roger himself, Daniel of Morley and William the constable of Chester. The training and cross-checking which we expect of professionals in any field today simply did not exist in the twelfth century, certainly not in astrology; these guys were self-taught, using texts in a language they did not understand well, and producing charts that were rarely or never shown to each other. It doesn’t make for a particularly glorious picture but I think it is a realistic one.

And my reply to the second email:

I see what you mean; but in this case “years after” means at least 50 and possibly 60 years later, and we then have someone who started his professional career before 1124, and remained silent and un-heard of until 1176, yet was appointed a *peripatetic* judge along with a number of much younger men in 1185, and was around Hereford to impress Simon de Freine with his knowledge of the length of the day at different times of the year in 1192! OK, such a person could certainly expect to suffer a certain fuzziness of memory with regard to their early professional assignments, but I’m not yet convinced…

I’m also not convinced by your suggestion that we can simply ignore the precision with which the degree of each planet is given. If that were the case, it is more than a little surprising that the planets fit either of my proposed dates as well as they do. My impression of Roger is that he was really quite conscientious about grinding out results to a certain degree of precision – hence the table of hour lengths at Hereford at different times of the year, the most substantial chunk of original work in the text – but not so good about the accuracy (if you follow the difference), hence the fact that the table of hour lengths appears to have had about a dozen mistakes even in its original version.

Still, if (when!) I ever get around to writing this up properly I’ll include your proposal as an alternative possibility.

Astrologer’s response to my first:

Thank you for doing me the kindness of considering my suggestions.

The dates you are giving suggest that the chart was passed to Hereford by another astrologer, or by the querent himself/herself (it was apparently his/her _mother_ who brought the matter to the king). This would have been done routinely if the matter brought before the king was of long-standing interest to the querent. The original astrologer may have gone on to his reward by the time Hereford was practicing astrology. Yet the original chart would have been preferred, even if the second astrologer were too young to practice when the question was first asked! Because the matter was predicted come before the King a second time (Jupiter retrograde), this older chart might have been of interest for a longer time than the average chart.

I use several older charts in my study; they simply don’t coincide with modern caculations. Ever. I don’t think it’s Hereford’s fault. Since Kepler, we calculate the planetary positions differently.

And please do look at the alternate time for that chart. The resemblance is very convincing; if you have done much astrology, you will realize how little chance there is of such a coincidence ocurring. I will try to figure out a way to send it to you.

And a brief additional note on Venus being placed in the 4th house:

I would do the same thing, using Ptolemy’s law of including any planet within 5 degrees of a cusp in the next house. This is standard practice on a horary chart using traditional techniques. In fact, the five degrees before the cusp are thought to be a very strong placement, particularly on the angle of a chart.

My considered response, having thought about it a bit more:

Thanks again for your response. Your hypothesis is now getting a bit complex, I fear; on the one hand you have another unknown astrologer, or the querent, passing the chart to Roger, but on the other hand apparently all they actually passed to Roger was the detail of the interpretation of the chart, leaving him to work out where the planets must have been in 1124 for himself; while making up these details he nonetheless worked out the places of the planets to the nearest degree.

You also have to bear in mind that *all* of Roger’s astrological lore and vocabulary – including the vocabulary of this horoscope – comes from the translations of Robert of Ketton and Hermann of Carinthia, which were not made until the 1140’s. That to me is fairly good internal evidence that the horoscope was drawn up later.

So your theory requires us to postulate two otherwise unrecorded entities, an otherwise unknown early 12th century astrologer (Adelard of Bath’s recorded horary charts are from almost twenty years later), and a lost chart of planetary positions drawn up in 1124. Mine requires only Roger interpreting a natal chart in the way that you would prefer to interpret a horary one, a sloppy approach true, but in character with his sloppiness in other ways.

That’s more a feeling of style than content, I admit. But the content I think doesn’t support your idea either. You suggest any planet within 5 degrees of a cusp can be considered to be in the next house. My interpretation is that Roger feels the entire sign in which the cusp falls to constitute the house; this is supported by his placement of Mars in the ninth house (at 10 Gemini, whereas the cusp if calculated would have been around 18 Gemini).

Leaving that aside, the planets identified in the interpretation are:

1) the ruler of the ascendant (Venus)
2) the Sun
3) the Moon
4) The lord of the seventh house (Mars)
5) Mercury
6) Jupiter, in its exaltation, and retrograde, and opposed to Venus

You suggest that Saturn and Mars are not named as major payers; Saturn, granted, is not but Mars is. And the Moon, also a player in the interpretation, is in Virgo on 1 Dec 1124, nowhere near Gemini. It seems to me a very long stretch to say that someone would have cast a horoscope on 1 Dec 1124 and then misremembered all these details, while remembering others accurately.

I completely take your point about old charts never coinciding with modern calculations. Of course Kepler produced a much better method of calculation, and I’m sure you have spent much more time interpreting old charts than I have. Tell me though, surely the Sun is the least likely to be calculated wrong, given that it is in more or less the same place every year and that even a geocentric system will produce pretty accurate results? My own efforts to calculate planetary positions using the Toledo tables convinced me that it would be pretty easy to drop a sign, or a year, in the calculations.

Anyway, thanks very much for opening up this dialogue. I’m really glad that there is someone else out there who finds this subject of interest! Have you looked at the Adelard of Bath horoscopes reported by J.D. North, or at the Great Conjunction of 1186? I think they add up to a convincing picture.

And the astrologer’s response, ending the discussion for now:

You have to look at Dec 1, 1124 _New Calendar_ (Gregorian Calendar). That puts Moon in Gemini in the ninth. Sorry, I keep all my pre-1700 charts iin New Calendar for consistency. Using Old Style Calendar, I believe it would be December 18, 1124.

I apologise if this caused any inconvenience for you, but you were looking at a different chart.

I believe I have a reference in The Astrological Judgement and Practice of Physick by Richard Saunders of how he was passed a case which predated his practice of medicine which had belonged to another astrologer, employing an older chart. The same mistakes of memory I find myself commiting may apply to the older astrologer; he may have known the opposition, but not the precise date. I will see if I can find this for you.

But if you can demonstrate that no one else was practicing astrology in England at this time, I would very much like to see your sources. I’ve always heard that it is difficult to prove a negative. Smile.

Interesting discussion. Thank you foe letting me take part.

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What kind of God are you?

I can cope with this. (Thanks to .)

What kind of God are you?
Name
DOB
Favourite Color
You earthly time was spent “Laying” with the sons and/or daughters of men for hours… and days… and weeks…
Your throne is A great mountain wreathed in silver cloud, attended by angelic beings of light, arced with lightning and bathed in glory
You wear Golden, breathtaking robes, girded in the middle with silver chains
Your Godly superpower is A flaming, indestructible sword with which you shall avenge the slain innocents and humble the arrogant
This fun quiz by pelagicboreas – Taken 12665 Times.

New – Help with love and dating!

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August Books 18) Mother Tongue

18) Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson. A good read on the history of English, including light on the “vulgar monosyllable” that has sometimes muttered about writing up. But a lot of it was recycled from other books on the subject I have read, and some of the facts have dated (five languages spoken in Yugoslavia, for instance). But it’s probably a sufficiently engaging non-academic introduction to the subject for those who are afraid of Barber’s The Story of Language or Aitchison’s Language Change: Progress or Decay. Also I must save up for an Oxford English Dictionary CD-ROM – or find a job with someone who has a work subscription to the on-line version.

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Picture of my bald spot

Looking at pictures of and ‘s wedding, I’m amused that my bald spot figures prominently in the top one here – I’m standing beside ‘ cousin Eimear (in the red trousers) and trying to squint at the happy couple embracing. My head appears to be trying and failing to block out – not an easy task.

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001 EURO

On the way in to work this morning, as I got on the motorway at Bertem, I saw a silver Audi in front of me whose numberplate was “001 EURO”. Immediately I wondered whose it might be – the speaker of the Belgian parliament’s car has the “A.001” numberplate or something similar, but this must be a Eurocrat as they get those blue-inked plates (most Belgian ones are pink). Weaving through the motorway traffic I got close enough to squint sideways at the driver through heavily tinted glass, but it was nobody I recognised. Of course, maybe it was a publicity stunt for the Audi.

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Relationship key

20 Questions to a Better Relationship

eXpressive: 6/10
Practical: 5/10
Physical: 8/10
Giver: 6/10

You are a XSYG–Expressive Sentimental Physical Giver. This makes you a Sex Bomb.

You are sexy sex sex sex! The sexness! You are the sexiest, hottest and most charismatic of all types. You are a captivating speaker and a great dinner date — relaxed, self-effacing, charming and generous. Your type probably has origins in something sad — trying to keep the peace in a tough family situation, or an early heartbreak — and you’ll probably want to address and resolve that at some point, but in your relationships that heartache is pure gold!

You lie effortlessly — not necessarily a bad thing. You can have problems with fidelity. You need frequent praise and validation, and in seeking it you can make decisions that aren’t consistent with your general good judgment. In other words, don’t cheat on your significant other just because someone is paying attention to you.

You strongly dislike conflict, and will avoid it. Like an XPYG, you give so much of yourself to your partner that you feel dismissed and unappreciated if you don’t get the same in return. But you internalize your feelings more and have a hard time getting over them. You don’t *want* to cheat — you just keep finding yourself in vulnerable situations. But you’ll stay with your partner in the long run from guilt and a desire to please.

Your sex life will always be hot. You are one of the rare people who can keep the fires of passion going forever — if you find a good match. Find another XSYG and you will never need (or want) anyone else again.

Of the 9119 people who have taken this quiz, 10.2 % are this type.

Diagnosis not quite right? Now that you’ve taken the quiz, you can view the Relationship key. If you have any attributes that are on the cusp, check out the Relationship that complements that attribute (in other words, if you’re an XPIT but only 6/10 Practical, take a look at XSIT.)

But beware — the Taker/Giver attribute is very strong in defining a Relationship type! A RPYT is very different from an RPYG!

Write down what Relationship composite this quiz has given you, because viewing the key will erase your score.

XY Sexy IT In control/can be controlling
XG Good parent RG Good-natured/even keel
XP Good at resolving conflict RT Trouble communicating
XSI Honest to a fault SG People-pleaser

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Job hunt latest

Hmm. Over lunch yesterday, a friend convinced me that I had been too dismissive of the prospects of working with the new Austrian commissioner, the outgoing foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Perhaps I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket with Commissioner Rehn (whose people at least acknowledged my application last week) but try for a position with her as well, as a backup?

So this afternoon I called a terribly grand retired Austrian diplomat in Vienna, who doesn’t particularly like her, and asked his advice. He was very supportive and urged me to go for it, subject to checking with another Austrian friend who works in a senior position in Brussels.

So I emailed the guy in Brussels for his advice (couldn’t get him on the phone). He replied almost instantly:

Dear Nicholas,
I know Benita quite well and I know you, and frankly it would not work. As a comforting thought I can tell you that she asked me to join her and I said no, also largely for reasons of personal incompatibility. That [our friend in Vienna] should have suggested this to you is somewhat disingenuous, as he did not at all get along with her. Joining Rehn sounds a much better idea.

Well, I’m convinced. I’ll hold on to see what the Finns say, but leave the Austrians alone.

[Later edit: Hooray, the chap from the Foreign Office finally got back in touch! He was most encouraging about my application to Commissioner Rehn, promising to have a good word put in for me at a very high level. And it turns out there is an extra reason why Ferrero-Waldner might be tricky – her newly appointed chef de cabinet is a British citizen as well, who I don’t especially like, and also she would be hesitant about losing another nationality position – though I could probably get around this by being Irish.]

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Out In Out In

Kate Bush, “Breathing” (1980):

     Breathing the fall-out in,
     Out in, out in, out in, out in.

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (Hargreaves/Damerell/Evans), “Hunting Tigers Out In India” (1969)

     Hunting tigers out in India
     Out in, out in, out in India – Yah!

Anyone know any others?

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Reading habits survey

From hddod as modified by coalescent:

So, how much do you read?

At work I read a lot – daily news summaries from four to seven countries depending on my energy level, plus keeping up with official documents, often before they have been officially published. At home, also a lot; I’d say an hour a day at least, plus four or five hours at weekends.

What have you been reading this year?

See this list. That’s 93 books, of which 41 are science fiction or fantasy novels, 7 anthologies and 4 collections of stories by different authors (another 2 mix non-fiction essays with more-or-less genre fiction); 4 non-genre novels, 2 detective novels, 2 non-genre short story collections, 2 humour, 1 short story collection for children, and 1 graphic novel, for a total of 66 more-or-less fiction; and 27 non-fiction – 6 about sf and fantasy literature, with 9 history, 5 biography or autobiography, 4 politics, 2 self-help, and 1 travel.

How do you find time to read?

Usually just before going to sleep. Also while travelling (other then when driving by myself). And at the weekends.

Given two hours a night for a week, how many books would you get through?

About one a night (though depends on the length of course). I am a very fast reader.

goes on to repeat the survey for film and TV but I watch so little of either that it’s not worth my doing the same here.

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Friendly

In a fit of enthusiasm I’ve added loads of people to my friends list, either because they live in Belgium and list science fiction as an interes, or because they live in Leuven, or just because it seemed like a good idea. Hi, folks.

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My vote in the presidential election

That is, in the election for the post of President of the UK Liberal Democrats, of which I have been a member since the party was founded in 1988.

The two candidates are Simon Hughes and Lembit Öpik, both members of parliament, both of whom I have met. Simon has been an MP since the astonishing 1983 Bermondsey by-election, Lembit since the 1997 general election. Simon is clearly the more “establishment” candidate, with 90-odd big names backing him, including several people I’m personally friendly with like Chris Davies MEP, Baroness Falkner, Baroness Ludford MEP, and Neil Sherlock. Lembit has only about a third as many endorsements (at least in the freebie literature circulated to all party members), but they include two people I’ve been very close to in the past, David Howarth and Ben Rich. Simon’s policy agenda is awfully slight and includes much usage of the word “build”. Lembit points to his personal record in human resources development. The one strike against Lembit is that he flaunts his fianceé, TV weather forecaster Siân Lloyd, as if to point up the fact that Simon is still a “bachelor” at the age of 53. However, for various reasons (not least the fact that he grew up in Northern Ireland) I still like Lembit better and am casting my vote for him. I expect Simon will win though.

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August Books 17) Scandal Takes a Holiday

17) Scandal Takes a Holiday, by Lindsey Davis

Well, this really was an improvement. Rather than drag in extraneous characters from real history, Davis introduces a few more of Falco’s extended and eccentric family. Of course we know right from the start that the journalist he is sent to Ostia to trace is probably dead, but there’s an entertaining chase through various other aspects of criminality in the environs of first-century Rome and some impressive misdirection of the reader by the author in her helpful maps and charts at the front of the book. Back on form, I think.

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August Books 16) The Accusers

16) The Accusers, by Lindsey Davis

Hmm. I’ve very much enjoyed some of Davis’ novels featuring Marcus Didius Falco, a detective of ancient Rome; this wasn’t one of the best. The hero and his colleagues spend ages failing to interrogate the person who is fairly obviously the murderer, and by the end nothing really is resolved. I did wonder if the two chief villains, Paccius Africanus and Silius Italicus, might actually be real-life characters from our time-line who Davis was shoe-horning into a fictional plot; and alas, this indeed turns out to be the case (I even found an article where she brags about it). Oh well, as long as my mother-in-law keeps buying them I suspect I’ll keep reading them, but this wasn’t really as rewarding as I had hoped.

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Doctoring the evidence

This is sparked by reading someone’s post about considering whether to start a Ph D,and simultaneously seeing two other people pick up on ‘s piece about writing and depression.

I get a lot of students coming through my office asking how they can end up with a job like mine (ie medium-level international politics in the NGO sector). Usually one of the questions is “Where did you do your Ph D?” – the assumption being that it was a key part of my career strategy.

It was not. Until late 1996 I thought I was going to be an academic working in the obscurity of the history of science. My doctorate, available in undersold book form, tracked the reaction of the Irish scientific community to the political turmoil of the early 20th century. My heart, however, remained (and to an extent still does) with my M Phil work on medieval astrology. But, alas, there are few career opportunities in that; and I didn’t really have the application or interest in the subject to invest sufficient time and effort in it. In late 1996 I had an interview for the perfect job in the field; but I blew it due to insufficient preparation, and I knew I had not prepared sufficiently. (I was still the runner-up candidate; they kindly called and told me precisely where I had gone wrong.)

At the time I was working in the early stages of the Northern Ireland peace talks as an assistant to the Alliance Party’s delegation. I went for a weekend in Waterford as a fraternal delegate to the Young Fine Gael conference. This was during the short-lived Bruton coalition, and Fine Gael were the largest government party; half the cabinet was there. I looked around and realised that even if the talks up north went well (and they were not going well) my political future could not possibly lead to anything this interesting if I stayed in Belfast. I came home, found in my email a job advert to do political development work in Bosnia, and the rest is history.

So for the next few years I took a very anti-Ph D line. I’d been working on the damn thing from 1991 – a year as a research assistant, working on the project, then three years as a full-time student, and another year with a fellowship at the QUB Institute of Irish Studies, and all the time the sense that the target was not getting any closer, and a feeling that my heart wasn’t in it, and that even once the f*cking thesis was finished there was not really much of a career to look forward to. This was accentuated by the fact that once I got the Bosnia job, it took me about three weeks to finish and hand in the thesis, three weeks that I could really have put into it any time in the previous two years, if I had wanted to. The effect of having spent five and a half years of my life on this project on my career has been much the same as if I had decided to spend three years in professional politics instead, which I would have enjoyed much more. Whenever any of my colleagues or friends muttered to me that they were thinking about doing a Ph D, my advice to them was simple – “Don’t!”

I’m getting over it now. The fact that I can put “Dr” in front of my name does help overcome the disarming effect of my youthful good looks – though that will not be a problem anyway for much longer! The writing skills one gains, especially for someone like me who never wrote essays as an undergraduate, are useful (though would be equally if not better honed by work as a journalist). The most useful skill is simply to walk away from it half-done – of the three sections I had projected for the thesis I completed only two, but it was acceptable to the examiners anyway.

I also have to admit that of my three heads of office in the field, two actually have Ph D’s in the relevant part of the world and the third has a Master’s. So having a doctorate doesn’t do any harm, if you want to work in jobs where you make a living through non-fiction writing. And if you want to be an academic it is, of course, essential.

But… I think of my two American friends, who both did stunningly original work in their PhD’s in history of science, and both went to work on Wall Street instead, and both are nostalgic for the field they “couldn’t afford” to work in. I think of my good friend Sean who has decided this month to throw in the towel on his Cambridge history Ph D and concentrate on developing a real career as a librarian. I think of the many people I knew in Belfast who started but could not finish their Ph D’s – and the fact that they were not in any way less able than those who did finish. It’s a soul-destroying experience, the chance of failure – after many years invested in the project – is dauntingly high, and the rewards – unless you are committed to an academic career – are pretty intangible.

Still, having said all that, my reaction no when people tell me they are doing a doctorate is no longer “Don’t”, it’s “Good luck!”

Taught masters courses, now, they’re a completely different matter…

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August Books 15) The Dream Millennium

15) The Dream Millennium, by James White

Managed to finish this on the ferry today while fielding children and enduring a very rough Irish Sea crossing… Rather an interesting little novel by this unjustly neglected Irish sf writer; central character (as so often with White) is a doctor, but this time in charge of a crew in cold-sleep on a colonisation starship. Through his dreams during the centuries in cold sleep he (and as it turns out the rest of the crew also) recapitulate evolution, in a way that reminded me of both Stephen Baxter’s recent Evolution (reviewed by me last year) and Roger Zelazny’s little-known novel Bridge of Ashes, except that I think White pulls it off better than either. His bleak near future from which hero is escaping sounds awfully like only a slight exaggeration of early-70s Belfast (book published in 1973). One other odd bit of writing ahead of its time – hero meets his love interest while treating her as a patient for self-harm. This is unfortunately balanced by a very weird jibe at homosexuals (which looks as if it may have been mangled from something more sensible by an editor).

ObLJ: White’s granddaughter is a livejournal subscriber (indeed on my friends list); if I don’t point this out in the body of this entry someone else will certainly add it as a comment.

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End of holiday

Well, waiting for laundry to dry on a rainy day in Banbridge, scanning the very few work emails that look of relevance, coming down gradually after a much more relaxing holiday than last year – three weeks actually much better than four, and having somebody watching B almost full-time made a huge difference.

I’ll be back in Ireland in late September for a conference in Belfast, and then am due to give a speech in Dublin on November 1st; of course other things may intervene before or after then. Good to have seen those of you who I saw, and the others, well, look me up if passing through Brussels (as some of you already have).

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August Books 14) Lucky Dip

14) Lucky Dip, by Ruth Ainsworth. First published 1961, this copy published 1971, given by my wife to her sister in 1980 as a birthday present. Lovely little collection of stories for the under-fives. Could never sell today as it doesn’t have enough pictures.

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August Books 13) Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

13) Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, by Niall Ferguson

I saw Ferguson lecture at a conference I was speaking at in Yale last year; he really wound up the academic lefties present (ie almost the entire audience) by talking about imperialism as if it was not a completely evil thing. The striking thing for me was the political difference between the Yale Law School and the institutions of government in Washington and New York where I had spent the rest of that week. I suppose that when I was an idealistic student politician I would have been more comfortable in the academic environment as well.

But even so, I would have felt then, as I feel now, that Ferguson’s critics were not being fair. He is brutally honest about the downside of the British Empire – the nineteenth-century famines of Bengal and Ireland; the Amritsar massacre; the cynical parceling up of ancient African states; the South African concentration camps; the massive death rate among African slaves in the Caribbean. But he also argues that the Empire brought to the British a sense of engagement with the world which (he believes, and I think he’s right) contemporary American lacks. More controversially, he argues that the countries ruled by the British on the whole ended up better off than they would have been if ruled by other empires or if left to their own devices. He doesn’t really produce enough quantitative data on this point to satisfy me (and this of course was the point that most aggravated the Yalies), though it’s fairly clear that he has a case.

Some very interesting snippets: that in fact the Boston Tea Party was a reaction by smugglers to the reduction of the tea tax, which made their business much less profitable, and that the American colonists of the time were probably better off on average than the residents of Britain. His statistics on the large numbers of Scots and Irish, in comparison with the numbers of English, who participated in the activities of Empire. His somewhat cynical line on nineteenth-century moral panics over slavery, suttee, and the powers of native judges. All in all a very stimulating read.

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