Berkeley, Bin Laden and another 'Great Debate'
It’s nine o’clock Tuesday evening and I have just finished writing Thursday’s lecture. The aim is to finish in time each week to give me at least 8 hours to get my graduate class together (on Suetonius' Life of Nero, a text I know quite well, but still need thinking, planning and looking up time -- and these are very smart students, who are a pleasure and a challenge).
The second lecture in a series like this is in some ways worse than the first. How many people will turn up? The first occasion (plus the party) will always get a crowd…but what is the respectable drop off for the second? On this occasion the calculations are complicated by it being Yom Kippur (hence podcast of second lecture…I know you’re still waiting for the first too; I’ll let you know the progress as soon as I hear).
The anxiety is quite humbling. I’m not a hugely good attender of such events in Cambridge. If you’re too busy and will only sit through the lecture fretting about the things you haven’t done, you tend to think: what’s the point? Well the point is to boost the morale of the PBL (poor bloody lecturer).
Anyway, I’m up to speed. And, of course, as everyone finds, I have too much material to get in and the cutting hurts. I had so wanted to squeeze in the Roman medical writer Galen’s total uncertainty about the physical causes of laughter, partly – lets admit it – because the quotation comes from a book of Galen surviving only in Arabic, and I thought that would look very smart. Anyway this appalling piece of showing off was intercepted by the time constraints. 50+ minutes is only just a bit more than 5000+ words. So Arabic Galen hit the cutting room floor. Good job too, some may say.
The truth is that by the time I was reaching the last page or two, the second presidential debate was on the television – and I watched it (hermits are allowed the tv).
But I still don’t like the whole rhetoric of these occasions, even from my side. Does Obama really have to reiterate that America is the greatest nation on earth (err . . . if you need to say it..?). And does he have to look forward so gleefully to killing Osama Bin Laden, “taking him out”? I am sure that Bin Laden is a very nasty individual and has masterminded terrible things, but aren’t we supposed to aim first to get him on trial at the Hague, and only into a body bag if that fails.
Last week Palin was so awful that it was easy to overlook the slips of uncle Joe. I watched the thing with the graduates before Lecture number one ( a demonstration of calm). But I was struck by the fact that Biden boasted that he had argued against having Palestinian elections because they would be bound to vote for Hamas and that would give Hamas legitimacy.
Isn’t democracy about letting people vote for whomsoever they want – and abiding by the result?
Oh well, back to lecture number three…our old favourite, Emperor Elagabalus and the whoopy cushions.