Archive for May 20th, 2011

Kagan on Greece

To help keep myself focused, basically by staying tethered to the computer when I’m working, I’ve been listening to podcasts.  First of all, it’s more comfortable than getting up and going outside.  With the humidity running well over 100%, I feel as though I’m being waterboarded much of the time.  Sure, I grew up outside of DC, but I’m acclimated to Denver now.  Really, you want the Gitmo guys to break?  Send ’em here and just have ’em walk around for a few minutes.  They’ll be singing like Maria Callas.

Which podcasts?  There’s a wealth of stuff.  Radio Lab.  This American Life.  The Stanford Business School Entrepreneurship Corner.  The Hoover Institution has a bunch of stuff.  The nice thing is that when miss some of the lecture because I’m concentrating too much on work, I can back the thing up and hear it again.  Try that with an actual professor.

A friend of mine turned me on to the Open Yale Courses, though, and for the last week, I’ve been sitting in the classroom of Donald Kagan’s survey course on ancient Greek civiliation.  Kagan’s a real researcher, has written a great history of the Peloponnesian War.

He’s can also be hugely entertaining.  He understands that teaching stadiums-full of undergraduates a survey course is almost as much showmanship as scholarship.  His description of hoplite warfare is worth the price of admission (although not necessarily the price of tuition, which I guess is why it’s online).  Fortunately, this doesn’t translate into misguded attempts to be “cool.”  Kagan’s disdain for the state of core liberal arts education is, I think, quite real.  I have no idea what his politics are, but he wears his small-c academic conservatism well.

On second thought, I do know, at least a little, what his politics are.  He can’t be a raging leftist because he’s a fan of Victor Davis Hanson’s scholarship.  He credits Hanson, as a farmer, with the key insight into how the Greeks developed oligarchic and then democratic institutions, that being the invention of the family farm.  The connection to the land gave the farmers  a literal stake in the society, and a desire to participate in the polis‘s decision-making.  The steady virtues required to be a farmer also benefitted one who wanted to be a citizen, rather than a subject.  It’s a story that’s also part of America, something we still consider to be true today.

Productive work itself is virtuous.  But it’s nice to be able to combine it with learning something about how the world.

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The Speech

There have been and will be a lot of pixels spilled over Obama’s Middle East Address yesterday at the State Department.  Still, in all the discussion of whether or not the speech marked a change in US policy towards Israel (it did), I think it amounts to Obama going in and kicking over a sand castle because it’s not perfect yet, and because it was largely built by someone he doesn’t particularly like – Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yossi Klein Halevi – a lefty, but a pragmatic one – wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about Netanyahu’s achievement in consolidating a political consensus in Israel on how to deal with the Palestinians:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a remarkable speech to the Knesset on Monday outlining future Israeli concessions to a Palestinian state. In doing so, he essentially ended the ideological debate within mainstream Israeli politics over the so-called two-state solution.

Mr. Netanyahu’s historic achievement has been to position his Likud Party within the centrist majority that seeks to end the occupation of the Palestinians but is wary of the security consequences. There is no longer any major Israeli party that rejects a West Bank withdrawal on ideological grounds. Instead, the debate is now focused where most Israelis want it to be: on how to ensure that a Palestinian state won’t pose an existential threat to their country.

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