Suggested readings, #79

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Why are we in the West so WEIRD? A Theory. According to copies of copies of fragments of ancient texts, Pythagoras in about 500 B.C. exhorted his followers: Don’t eat beans! Why he issued this prohibition is anybody’s guess (Aristotle thought he knew), but it doesn’t much matter because the idea never caught on. According to Joseph Henrich, some unknown early church fathers about a thousand years later promulgated the edict: Don’t marry your cousin! Why they did this is also unclear, but if Henrich is right — and he develops a fascinating case brimming with evidence — this prohibition changed the face of the world, by eventually creating societies and people that were WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. … (New York Times) [I’m not at all convinced that we are that WEIRD, but it makes for a challenging read.]

The new, nicer Nero. Reassessing history’s most maligned ruler, notorious for fiddling while Rome burned. The Colosseum in Rome draws close to eight million tourists a year, making it one of the world’s most-visited archaeological attractions. I could see the crowds converging on the magnificent first-century amphitheater as I headed across the street to a small park on a hillock. There was almost no one here, aside from a few young mothers pushing strollers along the pathways. A cluster of nuns passed by, and one of them pointed me toward a poorly marked gate at the base of the hill—the entrance to the Domus Aurea, or what’s left of it, anyway. … (Smithsonian) [Not too convinced by this one either, smells a bit too much of historical revisionism. But, again, interesting read nonetheless.]

Why the Supreme Court ended up with nine justices—and how that could change. Why the Supreme Court ended up with nine justices—and how that could change. The U.S. Supreme Court changed size seven times in its first 80 years, from as few as five justices to as many as 10. Now, some argue it’s time to revisit the issue. … (National Geographic) [Lots of good ideas here, from unpractical ones to those that make a lot of sense but will never be implemented.]

A four-year timeline of Trump’s impact on science. Since he took office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump has not made science a priority; he has proposed massive cuts to many science agencies and took 19 months to nominate a science adviser. But his policies and actions have had strong impacts — many of them harmful — on researchers and issues related to science. Here’s a timeline of those events ahead of the US presidential election on 3 November. … (Nature)

Columbus is the wrong hero for Italian-Americans: In fact, associating him with us is a form of cultural erasure. Cultural erasure occurs when a people’s history becomes mythologized to support the values of their oppressors. The association of Italian-Americans with Christopher Columbus is a good example. During a summer of protests decrying racial injustices and the United States’ history of white supremacy, Gov. Cuomo was asked whether it was time to remove the statue adorning Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. The governor replied: “I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support…But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York. For that reason, I support it.” Meanwhile, in Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza, some gathered with weapons to “protect” a statue of Columbus from being removed. The statue has subsequently been slated for removal. … (Daily News) [Very good points about little appreciated aspects of Italian and Italian-American history.]

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

2 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #79”

  1. Having shared those first two links, I can comment right away.

    I’m in the middle on how WEIRD we are. THAT said, the “E” for educated, as scientific method is scientific method, and some elements of and related to philosophy like logic, are also constant across cultures, many people in the West may be WIRD vis a vis China, Japan, etc without being WEIRD, setting aside rich, industrialized, developed. That said, yes, I found the “cousin marriage” stuff interesting.

    Nero? This fits up MY academic background, and how I did intellectual judo on it. I have become ever more convinced that not only were Tacitus and Suetonius throwing Nero under the bus in general, but, re the Great Fire? Based on an itacism of their use of a certain Greek term in Latin, they were talking about CHREEStos not CHRISTos, and ergo, knew very little about Judaism. As anointing of priests, kings etc wasn’t part of Roman culture, but was a fair part of the Greek world, and of course, Jews and Semitic cousins, this is understandable. Anyway, once you know this, it seems likely Tacitus was referring to “general Jewish messianic disturbances.” As Claudius had booted the Jews from Rome about 15 years earlier, at the time of the Theudas mentioned in both Acts and Josephus, no surprise. Tacitus, writing at the time of the Jewish disturbance in Alexandria, found a “hook.” Also, it seems ever more clear to me, per my text-critical studies as part of that divinity degree, that Suetonius has some sort of literary dependence on Tacitus here. Finally, to the degree Xns actually distinguished themselves from non-Xn Jews circa 64 CE? There probably were no more than 200 in Rome. That’s 1/50 of 1 percent of an estimated 1 million population. Would have been literally invisible to Nero.

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  2. Interesting piece on Columbus Day. I’m aware, per recent books on how non “Nordic” whites became white in America, about Italian immigrants’ gradual “transitioning.” One thing not clearly brought out is the broader effort beyond just the Columbus Day holiday, like American Italian Catholics creating Knights of Columbus as a parallel to Masons, etc.

    SCOTUS? Arguably 4 more justices is a no-brainer. We have 11 enumerated appellate courts plus DC court. Chief Justice should not be “riding circuit” over any appellate court. They don’t literally “ride circuit,” no, but on things like emergency appeals, having 1 justice per one appellate circuit still makes sense. Chief Justice has the whole court system to oversee, so focus on that. So, 4 more justices is simple math. Also, constitutional amendment to eliminate life tenure.

    Finally, I could satisfy the Religious Right, were I president, by appointing a fertilized ovum from an egg bank! There is NO MINIMUM AGE to serve ANYWHERE in the federal judicial system.

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