Madrid Bombings

by Henry Farrell on March 11, 2004

As more news filters through, it looks as though the Madrid train-bombings are going to be one of the worst terrorist atrocities in modern European history, if not the worst. More than twice as many people have been killed as in the Bologna train station bomb; there are nearly an order of magnitude more casualties than there were in the Birmingham pub bombing. If ETA is responsible (as it almost certainly is, “Glenn Reynolds'”: speculations to the contrary), it’s a move born out of desperation. Paddy Woodworth, who knows as much about the Basque country as any English speaker, suggests that ETA have been in trouble for a while. Their political wing’s support among voters was cut in half when ETA went back to terrorism, and many of their established leaders are in jail, so that the current active leadership is young, radical and politically inexperienced. It’s hard to imagine how they could have more effectively discredited a cause that was hardly very creditable to begin with.

Update: This may turn out not to have been an ETA attack after all, in which case my arguments above would be quite beside the point – there’s some evidence pointing to Islamic terrorists. I should also note that Glenn Reynolds, in fairness to him, is now sounding considerably more equivocal about the likely perpetrators.

A Distant Mirror

by Maria on March 11, 2004

I’ve just bought a double-bill of Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’ and Barbara Tuchman’s ‘A Distant Mirror’ for Henry’s and my younger sister. Nelly’s a huge fan of historical mysteries who can tell you more about Richard III and the murdered princes, the Holy Grail and Pompei than is probably healthy for a 16 year old.

I thought Tuchman would be a good all-round introduction to medieval European history – I bet I’m not the only one who read it as a teenager and took a degree in medieval history as a result. I was amazed to see the book is now over 20 years old and I wondered – has it aged well? How is the book regarded by medievalists? Any other recommendations?

Here’s another question while I’m tapping CT’s collective brain power; Nelly’s thinking of applying to Oxford to study history, maybe with politics. (I think she should do PPE, but she says I’ll have to live vicariously through my own children if I have them, and not through my younger siblings.) Any ideas/prejudices/anecdotes about which colleges to apply to? The little I know about Oxford colleges I learnt from University Challenge.

Where’s a good place to be challenged but not hot-housed? What are the women’s colleges like? (bearing in mind that one blue-stocking in the family is probably enough) How to avoid the rugger-buggers? (fine people, but you don’t necessarily want to be sharing accommodation with them for 3 years.) And, how important is the choice of college for both academic and social life? Answers on the back of a postcard…

Meetings Meetings

by Harry on March 11, 2004

David Lester has come under fire in a number of places for, among other things, not attending faculty meetings. But judging from the tenor of the piece he is doing his colleagues a favour by not attending. Don’t we all have colleagues to whom we are grateful when they refrain from doing committee work, attending meetings, etc? Lester sounds as if he is, very generously, sparing his colleagues torment.

British university axes staff websites

by Chris Bertram on March 11, 2004

In a disproportionate and heavy-handed response to a specific problem, the University of Birmingham (UK) has banned staff from hosting personal web pages (including blogs) on their systems. “The Guardian has the story”:,9860,1166989,00.html . And staff at Birmingham have “a campaign”: to defend their right to host personal material.

Interesting stuff

by Henry Farrell on March 11, 2004

“Bill Tozier”: and “Cosma Shalizi”: on the tough-love approach to academic peer review. Cosma opts for the frank and brutal – “This MS. is completely lacking in scientific interest and should be rejected.” I’ve never had the heart to do this myself, but I don’t know that my slightly more hesitant approach to stinkers (usually something along the lines of “this manuscript may have had some merit, but I couldn’t see it”) is any more pleasant or helpful for the author.

Also via Cosma, this admirable “Michael Chabon piece”: on Philip Pullman’s _His Dark Materials_ series in the _New York Review of Books._ Chabon captures precisely the strengths of the first two volumes, and the weaknesses of the third. Nor does he worry about catching genre-cooties – he unapologetically situates the books in a wider fantasy/sf tradition dating back to Vance, Moorcock and others.

“Ellen Fremedon”: on ‘grading with Gollum’ (via “Chad Orzel”:

And “sometime blogger”: Scott McLemee “savages”: William Vollmann’s multi-volume ‘treatise’ on violence in a review for the NYT. My favorite bit:

bq. Vollmann’s prose has a distinctive way of cycling between two styles. In one, the sentences snake through dense thickets of figural language, wrapping themselves around elephant-size metaphors, which (jaws unhinged) they try to swallow. In his other voice, the tone is flat, narrating the scene in a detached and almost affectless way, like some cross between Alain Robbe-Grillet and Joe Friday on ”Dragnet.”


bq. Appreciation of ”Rising Up and Rising Down” properly begins — and will, for most people, immediately end — with awe at its physical presence. Whatever the genre, it is a remarkable example of the book as furniture.

is rather well put too.