Another year ends in the manner of the one which ended Xenophon’s Hellenica: after terrible battles and startling results, there is not peace but confusion and disorder. Xenophon’s perplexity lead to a Sacred War, 300 dead lions on the plain of Chaeronea, and the King dead in an abandoned carriage as his conqueror bent down and took his seal with clean white hands. As for me, I am getting to know the local deer and my old library.
I have now been blogging for three years, three months, and a day. Traffic has roughly doubled every year since 2014 to the dizzying heights of 20 unique visitors and 40 page views per day and ten comments a month. My post on learning Sumerian is still popular, as is my outline of “Armour of the English Knight,” my confession of error about the historical fencers, and my posts on whether we have any evidence that the Greeks used glued linen armour and on the scale armour from Golyamata Mogila. No other posts received more than 300 visits in the year.
Amongst people who like to write on the internet in English, there is a meme that 2016 has been an especially bad year. For many people, that is political news and the death of favourite celebrities. For me, it is sickness, a serious illness in my family, and watching people react to that political news in ways which are very human but make the problem worse. From ever-fiercer posturing against evil outsiders, to shouting louder and louder about the meaning of events, to sitting down and writing another column which attempts to predict the future using the same methods which just failed to predict the present, a lot of people are doubling down on strategies which they know do not work. But as I look back, I notice a big contrast between the real world that I live in and the artificial world of the media (from blogs to newspapers).
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
It has come to my attention that there is a shortage of pictures of cats on the Internet. Although I am not equipped to deal with most global problems, my trip to Iran has armed me to fight against this one. There are also some dogs and lizards, but my photos of birds on the wing did not turn out very well, and other bloggers seem to have squid covered.
Today is Data Protection Day. I don’t know all of my gentle readers, and I do not give unsolicited advice to strangers, so I won’t nag you to change your habits. There are plenty of people and groups which can give better advice to people interested in data security and privacy than I, including the GNU Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Bruce Schneier, and Eleanor Saitta. What I would suggest is that you throw a few dollars or Euros in the pot of some of the free software and online services which you use.
On Sunday the 13th Germany announced that it was imposing customs inspections on the border with Austria in response to the flood of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and the horn of Africa and the reluctance of countries to the south and east to accept them. On the morning of Monday 14 September I took a bus to from Innsbruck to Munich via the narrow pass through Seefeld and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and on the evening of 19 September I returned the same way. In both cases the bus rolled across the border without stopping, and the only requirement was booking a ticket and, I think, showing one piece of photo ID. While I have not taken a train since then, ÖBB is still booking tickets across the border, and those normally do not require any form of identification at all. I wish future historians good luck in understanding what is actually happening.
While I keep this blog focused on ancient history and modern research where I have some reason to think that my opinions are worth more than average, it seemed fitting to record this dog which failed to bark. I am a migrant too.