Day By Day

Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Day In History

This is New Year's Eve and I hope everyone has a safe and happy time celebrating tonight, but before you start your revelries you should also observe "Make Up Your Mind Day". Let's face it. All year long we have all been putting off decisions -- most of them minor, but some important. Today is a good day to finally decide, clear away those doubts, stop procrastinating and get on with your life. Clear the way for the bright New Year.

Apropo of the season, on this day in 1759 Arthur Guiness opened his famous brewery in Dublin, so tonight you can hoist a few brewskis in his honor.

And on this day in 1879 Thomas Edison gave the first public demonstration of his Electric Light in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Here's what it looked like. No person in our nation's history did more to create the modern world than did Edison. His great genius was to see commercial applications in science rather than to try to understand fundamental principles. Others had produced electric light in laboratories; it was Edison who sought to produce a practical item that could be used by ordinary people. Ultimately he held more than a thousand patents on such things as a carbon vibrating mechanism that was used in telephones for nearly a century; the stock ticker; a practical system for electricity distribution; an x-ray machine; a phonograph; a motion picture camera; and numerous other devices that transformed the experience of life for millions of people. It was not just that Edison invented things -- he also founded companies to mass produce, market, and distribute them. And, perhaps most important, Edison founded the first major research laboratory. At Menlo Park he brought together dozens of bright young technicians and scientists and set them to work developing practical ways to realize his numerous ideas and enthusiasms. Edison has been much criticized for underpaying his employees, for patenting the ideas of others, and for using litigation to suppress competition. It's true -- he was a pretty sleazy guy in many ways, but each and every one of us owes him a great debt for his contributions to making our lives richer and more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rush Limbaugh Rushed to Hospital

ABC Reports:

Conservative radio talk host Rush Limbaugh was rushed to a Honolulu hospital on Wednesday afternoon with chest pains, sources told KITV.Paramedics responded to the call at 2:41 p.m. at the Kahala Hotel and Resort.

Limbaugh suffered from chest pains, sources said. Paramedics treated him and took him to Queen's Medical Center in serious condition.

Read the whole thing here.

Chest pains. That sounds bad. Here's hoping he pulls through. All that gaining and losing weight couldn't have been good for his cardiovascular system.

Hang in there, big guy.


TMZ is reporting the story [here] -- the comment below the article reveal the nastiness and sheer hatefulness of today's cultural left. No class..., no class at all.

Diversity Lane's New Airport Regs

Check out all his posts here.

Losing Maureen

Obie has lost Maureen Dowd and, by extension, her corporate masters.
President Obama’s favorite word is “unprecedented,” as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies’ penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he’s getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.
She concludes:
Heck of a job, Barry.
Read it here.

Of course Dowdy has to get in a swipe at Bush and Cheney, which prompts Ann Althouse to write, parenthetically:
I miss Bush jokes! (I miss Bush.)
So do I, Ann..., so do I.

Read it here.

Iowahawk Strikes Again

The funniest man on the web presents a guest editorial from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab:
Yesterday while I was lying in the burn ward getting my crotch bandages changed, I had a chance to catch the air disaster movie marathon on TCM. The lineup included "Zero Hour," "The High and the Mighty," "Skyjacked," and "Airport '75." For all their campy fun and unintentional laughs, those corny old films really serve as a grim reminder how the whole in-flight terror experience has gone completely downhill since the jet set golden years of the 50's, 60's and 70's. What happened to all those pretty stewardesses and polite, well dressed infidels, screaming as the plane plummeted to the ground? Time was, a suicide mission to explode an international jumbo jet was an event full of glamor and excitement; but now it seems to be a endless series of delays, hassles, pushy jerks and third-degree testicular chemical burns. And don't even get me started on the crappy airline food.
Hilarious as usual. Read the whole thing here.

This Day In History

After ingesting all that chocolate and cookies and pumpkin pie and eggnog and pepper pot soup you will probably be relieved to find out that today is "National Bicarbonate of Soda Day". Not only is Baking Soda useful in relieving indigestion and heartburn, but it also reduces flatulence. Good thing to know! But that is just the beginning of its usefulness. Bicarbonate of Soda makes bread rise, it removes odors from the refrigerator after you forgot and left that holiday food in there too long, it can tenderize meat, and is a cleaning agent. You can even polish silverware with it as you prepare for the next round of communal consumption of far too many calories. It is possibly the most useful thing you can keep around the house, so today take a moment and appreciate all the ways this humble material has made our lives better.

On this day in 1922 Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov [you know him better as "Lenin"] proclaimed the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [the USSR, or the "Soviet Union"]. After the collapse of the Tsarist regime in 1917 under the pressure of World War, the Russian empire was thrown into chaos with a number of groups struggling for dominance or independence. The most successful of these was the radical "Bolshevik" movement led by Lenin which by 1922 had established control over key portions of the old empire. This control was formalized by the signing of a treaty among the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian that created a new entity called the USSR. Under Lenin's political and Trotsky's military leadership the USSR gradually reconquered and absorbed most of the regions that had formerly been part of the Tsarist empire, expelled foreign powers, and established the Communist dominated state as one of the great world powers. Eventually the USSR expanded to include seventeen constituent republics that together amounted to approximately one-sixth of the world's land area. When World War II broke out the USSR first allied itself with Nazi Germany with the goal of gaining territories in Eastern Europe then, when betrayed by Hitler, formed an alliance with the United States and Britain that was ultimately victorious. The USSR emerged from the war as one of the two global "superpowers" , dominating a vast empire of satellite states, and for several decades contested with the United States of America for global dominance, a period known as the "Cold War" because the nuclear-armed superpowers sought to avoid direct confrontation, competing instead through proxies. In the late 1980's the Soviet empire began to fall apart as puppet regimes around its periphery were overthrown and satellite states gained their independence. Then many of the constituent Soviet republics began to assert their independence. In December of 1991, nearly eight decades after its formation, the Soviet Union came to an end when the presidents of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine signed an accord that declared the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved. This was followed by a broader accord, the Alma-Ata Protocol a few weeks later signed by the presidents of all the constituent republics except Georgia. Four days later, on Christmas, Michael Gorbachev resigned his position as President of the USSR. On the following day the Supreme Soviet, the Union's highest governmental authority, was dissolved and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was consigned to the "dustbin of history".

Entering the Building:

On this day in 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay. He was possibly the greatest, and by far the most popular, English-language writer of his generation and the great chronicler of the British empire. He was certainly my favorite author when I was a child.

And in 1935 Sandy Koufax was born. For a couple of years at his peak he was possibly the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. He was certainly the greatest Jewish left hander.

"Happy Birthday" to Bo Diddley and Tiger Woods.

Leaving the Building:

Saddam Hussein, Iraqi dictator hanged in Baghdad on this day in 2006.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hitches Explains The Panties Bomber

Christopher Hitchens, who seems to have a way with words, explains what we are up against in terms stark enough for even Obama to understand.

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don't get the point prefer to whine about "endless war," accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.
Read the whole thing here.

This Day In History

Today is "Pepper Pot Day", supposedly commemorating the first production of "Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup" on this day in 1777 by members of Washington's Continental Army in winter quarters at Valley Forge in . In case you want to recreate "the soup that won the war" here's a recipe:


  • 1 pound honeycomb tripe
  • 5 slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 2 quarts beef stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 4 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour


  1. Place the tripe or other meat that you have selected to use in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and turn off the heat. Allow the meat to cool a bit in the water, and then drain and rinse. Cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  2. In a large heavy kettle, saute the bacon until clear. Add the onion, celery, leeks, parsley, and green peppers; saute until tender.
  3. Stir in beef stock, thyme, marjoram, cloves, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and black pepper. Bring the kettle to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Cook, covered, until meat is very tender, about 2 hours.
  4. Add the diced potato and carrots, and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Prepare the roux by stirring the flour into the melted butter or margarine, and cooking for a moment on the stove. When the soup is done to your liking, stir in the roux. Simmer, stirring all the while, until the soup thickens a bit. Correct the seasonings.
Alternatively you can just head down to the local grocery and buy a can of Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup and heat it up. That's what I plan to do.

On this day in 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket is celebrated in both the Catholic and Anglican communions as a saint because of his defense of Church prerogatives against Royal authority.

The story of Becket is well-known. He had risen in the service of King Henry II to the position of Chancellor. Like many monarchs during the High Middle Ages, Henry systematically sought to expand the powers of the King at the expense of other institutions. Becket was his instrument, working zealously to further Henry's interests against aristocratic landholders and even the Church. Becket was more than a loyal servant to the King; he was also his close friend, and even served as tutor and foster father to Henry's son and heir.

In 1162 Henry named Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church in England. His intent was to use Becket to control the Catholic hierarchy in his realms and to thus further consolidate royal power, but Becket took his new role seriously and worked to block Henry's efforts. Tension between the two men reached a peak in 1164 when Becket openly defied a royal command to sign an agreement [the Constitutions of Clarendon] that would have enhanced Henry's power over the Church and weakened its ties to Rome. At that point Becket fled to France where he sought and gained protection from King Louis VII. For several years thereafter Henry II and Becket fought a paper war in which the King would issue edicts against the Archbishop and his supporters and Becket would respond with excommunications and interdicts against the King's men and clerics who took Henry's side in the dispute.

Matters reached a head in 1170 when Henry II, seeking to secure the succession of his son Henry ["The Young King"], had the boy crowned by the Archbishop of York and other loyal clerics. This was an encroachment on Becket's prerogatives to supervise coronations and he in response excommunicated the clerics who had participated in the ceremony. At that point King Henry made an ambiguous remark. Accounts differ as to its wording, but the most common rendering is "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Shortly thereafter Becket was assassinated by four of Henry's knights.

Three years later Becket was canonized as a saint and as such served as a symbol for those who opposed royal ambitions. Facing a domestic revolt, Henry made a pilgrimage to Saint Thomas' tomb and paid public penance there, so Becket in death had some measure of revenge. For centuries thereafter Becket's tomb at Canterbury was a popular pilgrimage destination -- that is where Chaucer's pilgrims were heading. The tomb and Becket's corpse were finally destroyed in 1538 on orders from King Henry VIII, another monarch who had troubles with the Church. Today there is a shrine to his memory marked by a single candle.

And on this day in 1916 another famous murder took place in Moscow. Grigori Rasputin ["The Mad Monk"] was a Russian mystic who became a personal advisor to Czarina Alexandra and her husband, Czar Nicholas II. Opponents of the monarchy charged that Rasputin's influence over the royal family was undermining the government and many members of the regime saw him as a threat. He was a marked man, but getting rid of him would prove to be tough. In 1914 he was knifed by a former prostitute and follower of a rival mystic. Supposedly the wound was so large that his entrails were hanging out of his body, but he recovered and was soon back in the palace advising the Czar. Then on this day in 1916 a group of noblemen lured Rasputin to the Moika Palace where they fed him large quantities of cakes and red wine laced with cyanide. He took no notice of the poison. Frustrated, the conspirators then shot him with a revolver. He fell to the ground, and they assumed he was dead. He wasn't. When they checked the body Rasputin suddenly grabbed the chief conspirator and tried to strangle him. They shot him again three times, and he still struggled. They then clubbed him, knifed him, and castrated him, wrapped his body in a carpet and sank him in the Neva River. Under water he again wakened and burst his bonds, but never resurfaced. When his body was dragged from the water and autopsied it was found that he died from drowning and the position of the body suggested that when he died he had been trying to claw through the ice that covered the river. At least that's the way the story of his death has been told.

And you thought Chuck Norris was tough.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The System Works?

James Carafano, writing in the Corner, notes:
Since 2001, there have been 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. That averages out to about three foiled attempts per year. That was until this year. This year there were six failed attempts that make 2009 a banner year — the most in one year.

The fact that six attacks were foiled is cold comfort. In stopping #28, America just got lucky. Despite the warning signs, authorities did nothing to impede Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's travel. The plan of attack on the Detroit-bound plane didn't work and the passengers and crew stopped the assailant.

Additionally, in 2009, not every terrorist attack was stopped. In November, Nidal Malik Hasan gunned down a dozen of his fellow soldier and shot-up a score more — despite the fact that there were red flags galore that he was some one to worry about. Others were recruited here to attack over there including five young men from northern Virginia who shipped-off to Pakistan; youth from Minneapolis enticed to fight [for] Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate; and David Coleman Headley, who allegedly helped plan the Mumbai attacks and other potential strikes.

In short, the system has failed a number of times in 2009.
Read the whole thing here.

This morning lefty flacks were pointing out that "the system" was designed by the Bush administration. Sounds like they are preparing their talking points for the inevitable FAIL! Same as all their other talking points -- blame Bush. But the upsurge this year in attempts suggests that the system worked fine while the Bush people were running it, but that the new managers are less effective.

This Day In History

As the most wonderful time of the year begins to wind down we can note that over the weekend we failed to note "National Pumpkin Pie Day" and "National Fruitcake Day" so today we can make up that deficit. Of course today is "National Card Playing Day" so while you consume tons of goodies you can play an age and company appropriate game of cards.

On this day in 1688 William of Orange triumphantly entered London to claim the British crown while James II, his father-in-law who had formerly worn the crown, fled the country. This was the culmination of the Glorious Revolution that forever changed the Anglo-American world. Traditionally historians have noted that it was at this point that Parliament finally established its ascendancy over the monarchy, creating a "constitutional monarchy" in which nobody, not even the monarch, was above the law. This revolution also generated much of the political theory that informed the founders of the United States a century later. Catholic historians have alternatively portrayed it as a prime example of Anglo-Saxon anti-Catholic bigotry.

Steven Pincus has just published a new book on the subject, 1688, The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2009) that is getting good reviews. He argues that what happened in 1688 was far more than a political revolution or religious conflict; it was the founding of modern Britain. Far from being an innocent victim of religious prejudice, he argues, James II was actively attempting to transform Britain into an absolutist monarchy, much like that ruled by his cousin Louis XIV [The "Sun King"] in France. Opposing him were Britain's rising middle classes who had a very different model in mind. They looked across the channel toward Holland where the Dutch had established a commercial republic. By inviting Dutch nobleman, William of Orange, to become their next king, the British decisively repudiated the idea of a universal absolutist monarchy in which the King could say (as Louis supposedly did) "the state, it is me", and adopted instead the principles of limited government, constitutionalism, protection of property and freedom of conscience and contract. In short, they adopted the Dutch, rather than the French model of national development and we are far better for it.

Entering the Building:

Thomas Woodrow Wilson [1856] 28th President of the United States. The intellectual elite's favorite president. He had been President of Princeton University and a leading political scientist before entering politics, being elected Governor of New Jersey, and then [in 1912] President. In office he created the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Trade Commission, signed the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Revenue Act of 1913 which established the income tax. After being re-elected in 1916 on the slogan "He kept us out of war" [WWI was raging in Europe] he then led America into the war in 1917 promising that we would be fighting "the war to end all war" and to "make the world safe for democracy". His "fourteen points" did much to shape the post-war world and he helped to establish the League of Nations, although the United States never joined the organization. For most of the Twentieth Century liberals held him up as one of their greatest heroes, and he was routinely listed as one of the top five of all time. Recently, however, he suffered in their opinion because of his virulently anti-immigrant and anti-black views. Last year Jonah Goldberg published a book Liberal Fascism naming him as America's most fascist president. I think that's a fair assessment. His reputation in foreign affairs has also suffered recently as history has shown that many of the principles he advanced led to increased conflict rather than the universal peace he promised.
It was crisp and cold and clear as we set out for Christmas celebrations in Maryland.

There was ice on the Schuylkill

And the hills were leaking copiously

Rising steam signaled that we were approaching Reading.

The Pagoda overlooking downtown Reading.

A familiar sight in Lancaster County

Snow blanketed the garden

Santa was out for an early jog at the inner harbor

But inside everything was festive and warm.

We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Now comes the New Year. May it be bright and beautiful.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Left Wing Haters

Noemie Emery has a terrific piece over in the Standard on liberal use of "hate speech" as a propaganda device.
For years now, those on the left have conflated resistance to any item of their agenda--high taxes, extravagant spending, laxity on crime, what have you--with motives of a dark nature: racism, nativism, fear of "the other," and various species of "hate." Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, a reaction to overregulation, stagflation, and the foreign policy failures and weakness of one James Earl Carter, was described as the bigots' revenge for the civil rights era. The midterm elections of 1994, a reaction against Hillarycare and the Clintons' malfeasance, were seen as a Confederate renaissance.
But now the situation has evolved to the extent that no action or statement on the part of conservatives is required. Democrats simply assume evil intent in anything said or done on the right.
The left, which invented first "hate speech" (opinions they didn't like) and then "hate crimes" (crimes judged less on the criminal's actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is "hate" defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. "Hate" is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.
Emery's point -- that this is simply bigotry, and a frightening form at that -- is a good one. Darleen Click, however, suggests that the tactic is so over the top and offensive that the public is starting to catch on to its use and as that happens it will cease to be politically effective. [here] Let us sincerely hope so. This is dangerous stuff.


There is an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on a group of southern scholars who are of the opinion that the Civil War was more about nationalism and centralization of power than about slavery; that Abraham Lincoln was one of our worst, rather than one our greatest, presidents; and that secession was a constitutionally valid right. They have been meeting for years, but keeping a very low profile, because to go public would jeopardize their academic careers, expose them to charges of racism, and make of them social pariahs. Now that they have been outed, they have come under attack by left-wing organizations like the terminally despicable Southern Poverty Law Center as, you guessed it, racists who "are just trying to revise the history of the South in favor of whites."

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Silent Man

Things are really heating up in the latest round of Iran's ongoing revolution. CNN reports that "several" people were killed and 300 arrested in the latest protests. [here]

Still no comment on this, or on anything else for that matter, from Obie.

Shhhh, don't disturb him. He's got a strategy and it's working, at least that's what the Atlantic tells us. [here] Besides, interruption might mess up his golf swing, and that might be "unpatriotic" [here]. Just move along..., nothing to see here..., and Secretary Napolitano assures us that "the system worked" [here]. Sure it did -- our plans for dealing with terrorism in the skies assume the presence of Dutch film-makers on all flights.

Peace and War

In this season of joy and peace it is perhaps appropriate to note something of which few people are aware -- we are living today in one of the most peaceful periods in modern history. A number of studies conducted by governmental and academic research teams in several countries all confirm this but during the Bush administration they received scant notice from the mainstream media because they didn't fit with the preferred narrative of a world in turmoil. Now, with Obama safely ensconced in the White House, the story is beginning to attract attention. Newsweek recently reported:

[I]f war is defined as a conflict between two or more nations resulting in at least 1,000 deaths in a year, there have been no wars since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and no wars between major industrialized powers since World War II. Civil wars have also declined from their peak in the early 1990s, when fighting tore apart Rwanda, the Balkans, and other regions. Most armed conflicts now consist of low-level guerrilla campaigns, insurgencies, and terrorism— ...the "remnants of war."

These facts would provide little comfort if war's remnants were nonetheless killing millions of people—but they're not. Recent studies reveal a clear downward trend. In 2008, 25,600 combatants and civilians were killed as a direct result of armed conflicts, according to the University of Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden. Two thirds of these deaths took place in just three trouble spots: Sri Lanka (8,400), Afghanistan (4,600), and Iraq (4,000).

Uppsala's figures exclude deaths from "one-sided conflict," in which combatants deliberately kill unarmed civilians, and "indirect" deaths from war-related disease and famine, but even when these casualties are included, annual war-related deaths from 2004 to 2007 are still low by historical standards.
Read it here.

In referring to "historical standards" the obvious contrast is to the Twentieth Century when hundreds of millions of individuals died in wars and the article rightly notes that comparison. But then it starts to get interesting when it observes that even the Twentieth Century carnage pales in comparison [proportionately] to the level of killing characteristic of pre-historic cultures.

Newsweek cited Lawrence Keeley, author of a groundbreaking study War Before Civilization who famously estimated that the level of violence in pre-state societies was an order of magnitude greater than in the Twentieth Century. Keeley's work was not only a stunning repudiation to the romantic Rousseauian notion of the "noble savage" that informs so much of the modern environmentalist movement, it also demolished the Marxist contention [dominant among scholars for most of the Twentieth Century] that warfare resulted from the development of hierarchically ordered complex societies with clearly delineated social classes. It also contradicted the Malthusian argument that levels of conflict correlated with population growth [here].

And this is where things start to get really interesting.

According to Newsweek, while Keeley's work has been generally accepted among prehistorians and anthropologists, some of his conclusions have not. Instead, according to Chicago anthropologist Jonathan Haas, prehistoric warfare is now seen as resulting from overpopulation, resource depletion, and competition for scarce resources in the resulting environmental crisis -- "raiding, killing, and burning appear as a complex response to the external stress of environmental problems". So, as in so many areas of inquiry, the collapse of Marxian doctrine has been succeeded by an emphasis on environmental Malthusianism. Haas also argues that the emergence of warfare owes much to the development of distinctive cultural identities within populations.

The Newsweek article then attempts to account for the recent decrease in levels of violence. Ignoring the obvious point that the sudden downturn coincided with the end of the Cold War, the article suggests that it is the spread of democratic institutions and the role of international organizations such as the United Nations in promoting them as well as increased emphasis on women's rights that have brought about the happy change.

So there we have it, the entire liberal panoply -- environmentalism, population control, cultural relativism, internationalism, and feminism -- advanced as an explanations for the incidence of violence in the world. Quite an accomplishment for John Horgan, the author of the piece. It stands as a striking example of the way in which scientific understanding, in the hands of ideologically-committed journalists at least, can be shaped to support political agendas.

It is also interesting to note what Horgan ignores in making Newsweek's case. He cites Professor Keeley's finding that evidence for warfare dates from approximately 12,000 years BC, but does not note that since the publication of his book more than a decade ago, numerous pieces of evidence suggesting paleolithic interpersonal violence have emerged. What is more, there is reason to believe that warfare may well have antedated the emergence of humans. Studies of our closest relatives among the primates, chimpanzees, shows that gangs of male chimps regularly hunt down and exterminate males from other bands, an activity that looks a lot like the kinds prehistoric human warfare described by Keeley. Humans, like chimps, may well be "killer apes" [here]. It has even been suggested that warfare powerfully influenced the early evolution of the human species, promoting the formation of closely-knit communities capable of defending themselves against marauding bands of young males, and perhaps influencing the development of human cognitive abilities [here].

Horgan makes no mention of these studies because they would undercut his central assertion -- that warfare appeared at a specific point in human history that coincided with specific conditions that he wants to see as causative factors that can explain the existence of warfare. If, however, as these studies suggest, warfare antedates human cultures, then what needs to be explained is not warfare, but peace and that, as I have indicated in earlier posts, opens up a whole other range of controversy [here] and [here].

Behold the Mandelbulb

Most of you will be familiar with the Mandelbrot Set -- a recursive mathematical algorithm that produces spectacular infinitely complex two dimensional pictures. Well, what if it were rendered in three dimensions? The result would be the Mandelbulb. Check out this site for a full explanation and some stunning peeks inside.

Enjoy and be amazed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

They're Still Trying

Islamist radicals are still out there trying to kill Americans. Obama hasn't made a bit of difference in that respect. Today a man claiming to be an Al Qaeda operative tried to set off a small explosion on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Federal officials and police are interviewing a Nigerian man, who allegedly tried to "explode" a powdery substance aboard a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, injuring himself and two other passengers, law enforcement officials said.

The man said he was directed by al Qaeda to explode a small device in flight, over U.S. soil, ABC News has learned.
And of course the coverup is already in motion...
Authorities have no corroboration of that information, and the credibility of the suspect's statements are being questioned, officials said.
Read it here.

Pay no attention to this. It's just another crazy man like that guy down at Ft. Hood. Nothing to see. Keep moving..., keep moving. Don't worry, the Global War on Terrorism ended when Bush [cursed be his name] left office. Obama is in charge now and all that terrorism stuff is just a bad dream. Move along..., move along.

How bout that Tiger Woods? Huh?


The White House has now admitted that it was indeed a "possible terrorist attack" but continues to refer to it as the "Christmas Day incident" Dan Riehl is following the official releases [here]. In their effort to downplay the "incident" early MSM reports suggested it was merely someone setting off "firecrackers".

No comment from Obie, though. Bush was slammed for a seven-minute delay in responding to the news of the World Trade Center attacks. Getting a statement from Obie might take seven days.


The WaPo reports that the "alleged" terrorist is from Nigeria and is an engineering student at University College London. So much for terrorism being a result of ignorance and deprivation. Still no statement from Obie. He's on vacation in Hawaii. One interesting detail -- at least one passenger on board the flight took immediate action to subdue the bomber. The spirit of Flight 93 lives on.

Meanwhile official sources tell us that Obie is "monitoring" the situation from his vacation retreat in Hawaii. No statement from him yet, though.


This is no disadvantaged kid. His father is a Bank CEO and former government minister in Nigeria. What is more, the father six months ago warned the U.S. government that his son was a threat.

According to AllAfrica:

The young man, who yesterday night attempted to ignite an explosive device aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan in the United States has been identified as Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, former First Bank chairman. Mutallab, a former minister and prominent banker recently retired from the bank's board.


According to the family members, Mutallab has been uncomfortable with the boy's extreme religious views and had six months ago reported his activities to United States' Embassy, Abuja and Nigerian security agencies.
Read it here.

Tell me again about how poverty breeds radicalism.

Give Thanks to the Gore Effect

That's the only way to explain it. Nearly two-thirds of the continental United States had a white Christmas this year [here].

Hallelujah, all praise to the Gore! Obie promised to change the climate, to make the seas recede. He just didn't tell us that Al Almighty would be doing it.

In other news, Dallas experienced its first White Christmas in eighty years. [here]

Just think, it was only a few days ago that my niece, who lives in Oklahoma City, was laughing at me for having to dig out from under a snow storm. Right back atya kid.

Breath of Heaven

Recommended by the Anchoress:

Aaaaaah, nice matching of song and image.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

God Bless You each and every one!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Day In History

The most wonderful time of the year just keeps getting better and better. Today is "National Chocolate Day" AND "National Egg Nog Day". Double mmmmmmm! Not only are they delicious, but they are both good for you, so enjoy!

On this day in 1814 Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty in Ghent, Belgium formally bringing to an end the War of 1812. The terms restored the status quo ante bellum, which was a really good deal for the U.S. because we were getting our tails whipped [as any Canadian will proudly note]. We had failed in every one of our war aims and the Brits had raided our shores almost at will. We had to settle for a few minor triumphs -- a couple of naval engagements that we won and barely avoiding a British capture of Baltimore. The point is that we survived the confrontation, although it was a very near thing. Many New Englanders, already upset by the embargoes imposed by Presidents Jefferson and Madison [both Virginians], were seriously considering secession. One more major British victory may well have destroyed the Union. Good thing for us that the British public, and particularly her middle-classes, were war-weary after fighting France for two decades and wanted peace. News of the peace settlement, however, did not reach America for several weeks, during which time military operations went on. The British won a battle at Fort Boyer in Mobile Bay, but lost the Battle of New Orleans. Britain was preparing a major assault on Mobile when word finally arrived that the war had long been over.

Entering the building:

Benjamin Rush [1745], Philadelphia physician, writer, humanitarian and scientist. Founder of Dickinson College, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Continental Congress, Treasurer of the U. S. Mint, Surgeon General of the Continental Army, Professor of Medicine at Penn, founder of Pennsylvania Hospital and the Philadelphia Medical Society, early opponent of slavery and capital punishment, friend and colleague of Benjamin Franklin. Rush was one of the most admirable of the founding fathers, but has not been given as much attention as some. His one great error in judgment (and possibly the reason he has not been treated as kindly as some of his contemporaries) was his stubborn dislike and disdain for George Washington and his repeated efforts to have Washington removed from command of the Continental Army. Just a few years ago Alyn Brodsky produced a laudatory biography of Rush. I have not read it, but it has received mixed reviews. You might want to check it out.

Leaving the Building:

Vasco da Gama [1524] -- perhaps the most important of the Portuguese navigators and explorers. In 1497 he led an expedition that rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean, thus establishing a sea link between Europe and Asia. He then proceeded up the East African coast, getting kicked out of Mozambique because he didn't have a large enough bribe for the local ruler, engaging in piracy and getting kicked out of Mombasa, finally going all the way to Calcutta where he petitioned the government for trading rights. Not surprisingly the Arab merchants, whose ships he had been plundering, opposed his petition and he was forced to sneak out of the harbor during the monsoon, leaving behind a few Portuguese who were soon murdered. During the return trip half of his crew died and the rest were debilitated by scurvy. He finally arrived in Lisbon in 1799 where he was lavishly honored and rewarded for his discoveries. Arabs and Indians, to say the least, were less impressed.

Three years later da Gama returned to India with a fleet of twenty ships. He started a war with Calcutta, but found a safe harbor in nearby Cochin, where he was able to trade. He then decided to persuade the ruler of Calcutta that trade was really in his best interest. He intercepted a ship of wealthy Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca, looted it, locked the crew and passengers inside and set it on fire. After that the ruler of Calcutta assembled a fleet of 29 ships to defend his people from the Portuguese the result was a slaughter. Da Gama had superior firepower and the encounter demonstrated the futility of trying to resist the Portuguese. After that Calcutta was amenable to da Gama's demands.

On his way back to Europe da Gama engaged in his usual piracy and shelled the Arab port of Kilwa in East Africa, exacting tribute from its ruler. His reputation for brutality spread widely and everywhere along his route local rulers acceded to his demands for favorable trade treaties.

In 1524 da Gama returned to India, ordered there by the Portuguese crown to instill fear and awe in the local population, which was beginning to get restive under European dominance. This time, however, things didn't turn out so well for him. He contracted malaria and died.

In Europe da Gama is remembered as a heroic figure in the age of exploration. In South Asia he is remembered differently.

How Sane Is Obama?

Neo-Neocon, a psychologist, notes the president's bizarre recent behavior and wonders:

Reported by Die Welt in its reports from the Copenhagen conference:

According to rumors from the Bella Center, President BO is said to have asked for a conversation with Wen jibao to bring up the matters. But O had to wait. Wen, according to the rumors, almost never left his hotel room and could not be found. Finally the US Delegation succeeded in finding the chinese premier in a conference room. An obviously angry Obama is said to have stormed into the room. “Are you ready yet to talk with me Mr Premier?” he is said to have shouted. “Are you ready now? Mr Premier, are you ready to talk with me?” What a stage entrance for a US President.

However, Wen was not alone in the room, as Obama literally burst in, according to members of the congress. The Chinese (premier) was in the middle of talks with India’s head of state Mammohan Singh and the South African president Jacob Zuma. Suddenly the group found itself forced into a conversation with the US president.

That's right -- Obie barged unannounced into a private meeting to which he had not been invited. Neo wonders, is the stress of the job finally getting to him? Is this merely the "Chicago Way"? Or are these kinds of outbursts part of the personality of the man we elected to lead our country? Whatever, it is wildly inappropriate.

Read her post here.

Check it out, Checkitouters

Animals eating each other. The perfect antidote to romantic environmentalist nonsense. [here] (By the way, that polar bear is eating another polar bear's cub).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's A Wonderful Life, In Obamaland

Iowahawk revisits Bedford Falls here.

"And everytime a Washington angel gets his wings, the national debt goes up one kazillion dollars."

This Day In History

Today is what I said yesterday was -- the annual observance of "Festivus", the holiday for the terminally disaffected among you. So just take yesterday's comments and let them serve for today.

On this day in 558 AD [there is some dispute as to the exact date] Childebert I died and people all over Europe breathed a sigh of relief. Childebert was the son of Clovis I [King of the Franks] and Saint Clotilda. Upon his father's death in 511 AD he and his three brothers divided the kingdom, him getting Paris and the lands west to the sea and Brittany. That didn't last long. Soon he and his brother Chlodomer [King of Orleans] teamed up to attack Burgundy. Chlodomer died [they said] in battle and soon afterwards all of his sons and heirs died mysterious deaths. Childebert then annexed Orleans and its possessions to his own realm. Then he resumed his attacks on Burgundy, annexing much of what is today southern France. He then laid claim to the Ostrogothic land of Provence and his surviving brothers (no doubt remembering what had happened to poor Chlodomer) supported his claim. After taking Provence Childebert turned his attention south. He claimed that his sister Chrotilda, wife of Amalaric, Visigothic King of Spain, was being mistreated by her husband. He invaded Spain, and forced Amalaric to retreat to Barcelona; there he was mysteriously assassinated. Childebert then ordered Chrotilda to return home to Paris but she never made it, dying mysteriously on the journey. This gave Childebert an opportunity to annex yet more lands and to resume his attacks on Spanish kingdoms. As I said at the beginning his death came as something of a relief to a lot of people all over Europe. He is today remembered as a great Christian ruler because most of his victims were non-Christian Arians and he built some churches. Such was life among the Merovingians.

Entering the building: A hearty "Happy Birthday" to Jack Ham, a native of Johnstown [born 1948], graduate of Bishop McCort HS, all-American for Penn State, and then all-pro star for the Super Steelers. He done Pennsylvania proud. "Dobre Shunka".

Watching Avatar

"She Who Must Not Be Named" and I went to see "Avatar" today. It is pitch perfect science fiction, which means that it is an adolescent male fantasy of a kind that has been exploited numerous times in literature and film. I first encountered the story at about the age of seven reading old Edgar Rice Burroughs books that had been first published before 1920. The plot is simple [and I'm not giving anything away here]. An obscure young man is transported to a magical land where he acquires new powers, abilities, and understandings. He wins the heart of a warrior princess [no girly-girl she], performs arduous tasks that mark him as "special", and finally emerges as the hero that defends and saves the mystical realm. So archetypal is this tale that Joseph Campbell identified it an essential hero myth. Hey, it worked for George Lucas in Star Wars, and Kevin Costner in "Dances with Elves", why not Cameron.

Thematically there is nothing much new here either. The essential motif is Rousseauian nonsense, a portrayal of heroic noble savages threatened by the encroachment of corrupt and evil civilization. It may be gussied up with all sorts of Havelockian silliness about the mystical unity of nature and loony left anti-corporate hatred, but once again it is an old story oft told and, it's a bit out of place here (as indeed it is in all of Cameron's work). The film itself is the product of the very high-tech corporate culture it trashes.

Cameron's decision to include references to "pre-emptive strikes", "shock and awe" tactics, and other such swipes at the Bush administration is also problematic. This is a classic fantasy narrative presented in stark, Manichean terms. The good guys are really, really good and the bad guys are horrible monsters. Trying to relate this simplistic scheme to contemporary politics is not only inappropriate, it is offensive and distracting to any intelligent viewer over the age of twenty. This tendency to present the complexity of social and political themes in stark and simplistic terms with a moralistic overlay is also a classic element of science fiction as it is with all adolescent literature. Most people as they grow up begin to realize the limitations of the form and drift away from the genre. Some, like (apparently) Cameron, seem never to have adopted an adult perspective on real life and seek refuge from it in the purity of imagined worlds.

The visuals of the film are well done and are indeed its only virtues. Motion capture technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and the rendered background is impressive. The color scheme is striking and the 3-D moments are not as annoying as they might have been.

All in all, it's not a very good film. Simplistic characters, simplistic plot, and insultingly simplistic moralism are not a very palatable brew and that is something that all the visual stunts in WETA's world cannot disguise.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Day In History

Today is Festivus -- the holiday invented by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. It's for those of you who subscribe to none of the recognized religions.

So if you are so inclined, gather around your aluminum poles and eat your Festivus dinner (consisting of meat loaf or tofu substitute) and follow up with the traditional "airing of grievances" [my personal favorite] protesting and lamenting every indignity visited on you in the past year, and finish with a round of "feats of strength" which consists of wrestling and pinning the head of household until he starts crying.

Another tradition associated with the holiday is the observance of "Festivus miracles" which consist of noting ordinary and entirely unremarkable events and labeling them "miracles".

You can read about Festivus here.

On this day in 1807 the Napoleonic Wars were raging and both French and British warships were intercepting American trading vessels and confiscating their cargoes. American commerce was suffering and there had been hostile incidents such as the Chesapeake-Leopard affair in which a British warship fired upon and boarded an American commercial vessel, confiscated its cargo, and impressed some of its crew. American outrage was running high, but the nation [largely due to Jefferson's demilitarization policies] was in no position to defend its neutrality. Recognizing that a military response was out of the question, Jefferson instead resorted to economic pressure such as had been tried in the runup to the American Revolution -- a boycott. Congress responded to Jefferson's request by passing on this date the infamous Embargo of 1807.

This ban on foreign commerce nearly destroyed the nation. It devastated New England's commercial economy while having relatively little effect on the agricultural economy of the South. Yankee resentment against Jefferson and his Virginia regime began to build and New England merchants resorted, as they always did, to smuggling. This provoked a political crisis when Jefferson, repudiating all his States-rights principles, expanded the penalties for smuggling and sent federal agents north to enforce the embargo. Soon the streets of port cities were filled with anti-administration protesters. As for the warring nations of Europe -- they simply ignored the embargo.

Jefferson remained obdurate in the face of protests and the hated embargo continued -- so did protests and open violation of federal law. Finally, on March 1, 1809, three days before Jefferson left office, it was repealed and replaced by a less comprehensive embargo that banned commerce only with Britain and France. That was no more successful than the 1807 law and was subsequently revised by the Madison administration. Nevertheless resentment against the federal government and the Virginians who ran it continued right down to and through the War of 1812. Reconciliation of the discontent sparked by Jefferson's attempt to employ soft power did not take place until 1815 when a wave of national pride swept over the nation in the aftermath of Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans -- but that is another story for another day.

Economic historians have pointed out that Jefferson's embargo had an unintended side effect that was beneficial to the nation. Many New England businessmen, instead of investing their capital in commercial enterprises, created numerous domestic manufacturing enterprises that are now seen as the first wave of the American industrial revolution.

Monday, December 21, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Forefather's Day" [no mention of foremothers or forechildren]. It was first observed in 1769 in Plymouth, Massachusetts in commemoration of the Mayflower Pilgrims' landing in 1620 on the mainland [probably not at Plymouth Rock -- that's just for tourists]. The Pilgrims were a remarkable bunch of people. They were "separatists" who, disgusted by the corruption they found in contemporary England, decided to leave their homeland and seek a place where they could live and worship in peace according to their own beliefs. They first settled in Holland, but then moved on to America rather than have their children grow up among the Dutch. They were amazingly naive, trusting everyone to treat then fairly. It is not surprising, then, that they were ripped off and exploited by nearly everybody with whom they did business. Still they persevered and finally made it to America where their real troubles began. There is a brilliant account of their experiences titled "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick that won a Pulitzer Prize. I recently read the book and recommend it very highly. By the way Philbrick is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh.

On this day in 69 AD the Roman Senate named Titus Flavius Vespasianus [better known as Vespasian] emperor of Rome. Born into moderate circumstances he rose through both civil and military ranks, distinguishing himself by killing a lot of Britons in 43 AD and a lot of Jews in 66 AD. His troops were fanatically loyal to him, which stood him in good stead when in 68 AD Emperor Nero committed suicide [or so they say]. There followed a year of civil war "The Year of Four Emperors" out of which Vespasian emerged triumphant. He then solidified his position, systematically eliminating potential rivals, establishing strong administrative controls over the provinces, and initiating an intensive propaganda campaign that portrayed him as a semi-divine figure destined to bring hope and change to the troubled Roman empire. In particular he paid historians and commentators to say nice things about him and those who didn't get with the program were executed. Like many dictators he launched major building programs [including the colosseum] and put lots of people on the public payroll. He died of diarrhea. His last words, supposedly, were "Damn, I'm already becoming a god".

And on this day in 1790 Samuel Slater opened the first integrated cotton mill in the United States. Slater was an English engineer who conducted one of the most important instances of industrial espionage in history. Britain had a prohibition on the export of technology but Slater found work in a textile mill and memorized the plans for the place. He then started contacting American merchants, offering to sell his knowledge. They were eager to buy and soon he was set up as a partner in a mill constructed by a Rhode Island merchant. For the next few years Slater entered into similar partnerships with other New England merchants, and finally built his own mills. He became fabulously rich, one of America's first millionaires, and in the process he kick-started the American industrial revolution. Americans tend to celebrate Slater -- to the British he is a traitor.

And on this day in 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 passengers were killed in the explosion. A shower of airplane parts falling from the sky also killed 11 Lockerbie residents. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy in the case and sentenced to 21 years in prison. This August he was released to Lybia on "compassionate" grounds where he was to remain under house arrest until his death (which the British government assured us was imminent). Needless to say, he wasn't dying and a few weeks ago he disappeared. Nobody seems to know where he is, just that he is no longer under arrest.

On this day in 1879 [there is some dispute as to the date] Josef Jughashvili [better known as Stalin] was born in Georgia. And on this very same day in 1940 Frank Zappa (father of Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen Zappa) was born. Coincidence? I leave it to you to decide -- I'm just connecting dots.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mad Crowding

Excellent piece on Climategate over in the Times Higher Education supplement [THE] by Martin Cohen. Cohen points out that the Climate Change enthusiasm is hardly unique. Rather is is a prime example of a phenomenon called "the madness of crowds".

Social scientists call it "cascade theory": the idea is that information cascades down the side of an "informational pyramid", like a waterfall. It is easier for people, if they do not have either the ability or the interest to find out for themselves, to adopt the views of others. This is, without doubt, a useful social instinct. As it has been put, cascade theory reconciles "herd behaviour" with rational choice, because it is often rational for individuals to rely on information passed on to them by others.

Unfortunately, it is less rational to follow wrong information, and that is what can often happen. We find people cascading uselessly - like so many wildebeest fleeing a non-existent lion - in so many everyday ways. A lot of economic activity and business behaviour, including management fads, the adoption of new technologies and innovations, not to mention the vexed issues of health and safety regulation, reflect exactly this tendency of the herd to follow poor information.

He cites a recent example in the field of health science -- an international hysteria over dietary fat. There are many other instances he could have used.

We live in an age of hype, against which we have few defenses other than an all-encompassing skepticism and that may well even more destructive than the mad oversold schemes with which we are now regularly afflicted.

The Dirty Little Secret

America spends far too much on education, and gets far too little in return.

With the exception of a handful of top-flight universities, American higher education is a failure. Kevin Carey, over at Democracy Journal, explains why:

As any parent can tell you, colleges are increasingly unaffordable. Students are borrowing at record levels and loan default rates are rising. More and more low-income students are getting priced out of higher education altogether.


But the biggest problem with American higher education isn’t that too many students can’t afford to enroll. It’s that too many of the students who do enroll aren’t learning very much and aren’t earning degrees. For the average student, college isn’t nearly as good a deal as colleges would have us believe.


Low-income students are increasingly forced to attend inexpensive but under-resourced, non-selective universities and community colleges, where student results are often astoundingly bad. The average graduation rate at four-year colleges in the bottom half of the Barron’s taxonomy of admissions selectivity is only 45 percent. And that’s just the average–at scores of colleges, graduation rates are below 30 percent, and wide disparities persist for students of color. Along with community colleges, where only one in three students earns a degree, these low-performing institutions educate the large majority of Pell Grant recipients. Less than 40 percent of low-income students who start college get a degree of any kind within six years.

Some might argue that colleges are just enforcing academic standards by refusing to graduate unprepared students. But the evidence suggests otherwise. A 2006 study from the American Institutes for Research found that only 31 percent of adults with bachelor’s degrees are proficient in "prose literacy"–being able to compare and contrast two newspaper editorials, for example. More than a quarter have math skills so feeble that they can’t calculate the cost of ordering supplies from a catalogue.

Read the whole thing here. It's a damning condemnation of a system that has been broken for many years and just keeps getting worse.

More Pennsylvania Pictures

Well, what the mainstream media keeps telling us was an apocalyptic storm has come and gone. Up here on the mountain we only got about six inches of snow, but down in the flatlands I understand it was pretty traumatic. So I guess we made a pretty good decision when we headed for the high country to wait it out.

This is for the friends and relatives [all from warmer climes] who are wondering how we weathered the mega-storm.

The snow lay heavy on the holly bushes, and on just about everything else this morning. Still, it's not any worse than what we have received in past seasons.

Clearing the roads and driveways.

Buddy here still thinks he's the king of the hill. Just wait until the neighbor's new puppy is full-grown. Buddy's in for a shock.

Afternoon sun. It's always interesting the day after a snowfall to see what kinds of critters crossed the property while we were sleeping.

Yep, it's me with the camera again. Nothing alarming, and no I don't have any treats for you. Go back to grazing.

Newfallen snow shows up the road to the fire tower across the way.

Late afternoon sun on the valley below.

Who needs a snowplow when you've got an SUV?

That's all for this week. Stay healthy, happy, and warm.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jack Bauer Interrogates Santa

"Think what you're doing Jack, no presents for you this year".

Friday, December 18, 2009

Restaurant Secrets

From Readers Digest:

30 Secrets Your Waiter Will Never Tell You

5. When I was at one bakery restaurant, they used to make this really yummy peach cobbler in a big tray. A lot of times, servers don’t have time to eat. So we all kept a fork in our aprons, and as we cruised through the kitchen, we’d stick our fork in the cobbler and take a bite. We’d use the same fork each time.
—Kathy Kniss

8. If your dessert says “homemade,” it probably is. But it might be homemade at a bakery three miles away.
—Charity Ohlund

14. If you’re having a disagreement over dinner and all of a sudden other servers come by to refill your water or clear your plates, or you notice a server slowly refilling the salt and pepper shakers at the table next to yours, assume that we’re listening.
—Charity Ohlund

Lots more....

Check it out here.

Another Instance of the Unsettling of Science

Not too many years ago it was generally accepted that North American megafauna disappeared at about the same time that humans entered the Americas. The moralistic conclusion drawn in hundreds of popular accounts was that humans despoiled the natural environment and radically reduced the biodiversity of the continent. It was an easy assumption, psychologically satisfying to cheap moralists, and it was politically useful to those activists who were advancing an anti-humanistic form of environmentalism. But, it was based scanty and questionable evidence.

Recently a number of questions have been raised about the idea that humans were agents of extinction in ancient America. It now appears that humans migrated to the Americas much earlier than was previously thought and studies based on different evidence sets have suggested widely divergent times for megafauna extinctions. Scientific American notes that new studies place the extinctions before, during, and after the migration of humans into the Western Hemisphere. So, as in so many other fields what was once settled science has become radically unsettled. Read about it here.

This Day In History

The most wonderful time of the year continues today. Two days ago it was chocolate covered anything, yesterday was maple syrup, and today is "National Bake Cookies Day" which in my case translates as "National Eat Cookies Day". Yum!

On this day in 1865 slavery officially ended in America. the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution -- the one banning slavery -- was formally adopted. It stated that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." This was a remarkable thing, that a country in which slavery had long been an integral aspect of its social and economic makeup, was willing to endure a brutal civil war and sustain hundreds of thousands of casualties in order to end the practice. The thirteenth amendment is something in which we all can take pride.

And on this day in 1916 the Battle of Verdun came to an end. It had lasted ten months, the longest battle of World War One, during which the French and Germans fired nearly 40 million artillery shells and each suffered more than 300,000 casualties, 70% of which were due to artillery bombardments. So blasted was the battleground that tens of thousands of bodies were never recovered and are still being unearthed to this day.

Happy Birthday to Stephen Spielberg. Even if his politics are a bit loopy he made some nifty films.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Keegan's Civil War

John Keegan, perhaps the foremost military historian of our times, has finally tackled the subject of the American Civil War and the result appears to be interesting. Here's a nice review of the book by Yale's David W. Blight. He emphasizes Keegan's appreciation of the geographical context of the war [vast spaces larger than Napoleon's empire and comparable to the extent of Genghis Kahn's conquests, the lack of strategic cities, the importance of the West. especially the Vicksburg campaign], and the sheer brutality of the tactics [this was a "body count" war that in many ways anticipated the early years of World War One]. It sounds interesting and will definitely go on my reading list for next year. You can order it here.


The best climateblog out there: Watts Up With That. [here] Top notch reporting from the Copenhagen fiasco.

This Day In History

Indeed it is the most wonderful time of the year. Yesterday we celebrated chocolate, today it is maple syrup. Yes, indeed, today is "National Maple Syrup Day". So start your day with a stack of pancakes, or even better, french toast, and smother them in butter and maple syrup, and this evening treat yourself to hot maple syrup poured over vanilla ice cream. Mmmmmmm.

On this day in 1843 Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" was published.

And on this day in 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright, bicycle repairmen from Dayton, Ohio, achieved what the best scientific minds of their generation had been unable to do -- the flight of a self-propelled, heavier than air aircraft. Just think about it. Little more than a century ago there were no airplanes. Now we are on the verge of initiating commercial space flight. What a marvelous time we have grown up in!

And on this day in 1944 the Roosevelt administration announced that thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent would be released from prison camps in which they had been held and would be allowed to return to their homes. Just imagine if Bush had tried to do something like that.

The times they have been a-changin'.

That's all for today. I'm up against a deadline.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Russians Drop Bomb on IPCC

Russia reports that data from their weather stations was misused by the CRU's climate alarmists and suggest that the entire IPCC report is bogus.

The crux of the argument is that the CRU cherry picked data following the same methods that have been done everywhere else. They ignored data covering 40% of Russia and chose data that showed a warming trend over statistically preferable alternatives when available. They ignored completeness of data, preferred urban data, strongly preferred data from stations that relocated, ignored length of data set.
Read the whole thing here.

This Day In History

"It's the most wonderful time of the year...." Today is "Chocolate Covered Anything Day". So go out and indulge yourself in anything covered with delicious chocolaty goodness. Mmmmmm. Alternatively, you might heat up a batch of chocolate and do some dipping yourself -- just be careful what or who you dip. It is sad to remember that for most of its history -- prior to the "Columbian exchange" that followed Colombus' voyages -- most of the world's population had never experienced chocolate, but then they never knew what they were missing.

Today is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

On this day in 1773 a large group of colonials, a few of them disguised as Indians, boarded three East India Company ships in Boston harbor and dumped their cargoes into the water. This was a protest against a recently imposed tea tax. The protest was not against higher taxes (the Tea Act actually reduced the price of tea in the colonies) it was an affirmation of a principle -- "no taxation without representation" -- that had become a rallying cry for those who protested the expansion of Parliamentary legislation affecting the colonies.

There had previously been taxes paid on tea shipped to the colonies, but they were paid by British merchants who then simply passed the cost on to their colonial customers. Rather than pay the high prices American merchants simply bought cheap smuggled tea from the Dutch. In an attempt to make British tea competitive with the smuggled Dutch product, Parliament lowered the tax on tea and cut out the middlemen. Under the new Tea Act, the East India Company could sell directly to colonial merchants who would be licensed by the colonial governments. They, not London merchants, would be paying the taxes. As it was conceived, colonists would benefit from cheaper tea, the British government would benefit from increased revenues, and the East India Company would benefit from increased sales of their product. Colonial politicians could benefit by having their cronies named as consignees. What's not to like?

Well, in its new form, the Tea Act imposed a direct tax on the colonists and, since they took the position that they were not adequately represented in Parliament, would be a violation of their constitutional rights. If colonist paid the tax, they would in effect be accepting Parliament's claim to be able to legislate for the colonies.

In New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston mobs of protesters forced the consignees to resign their commissions and East India Company ships left harbor without attempting to unload tea. In Philadelphia the threat was explicit -- if there was any attempt to unload tea the captain of the ship would be tarred and feathered. In Boston, however, it was different. The local consignees were sons of the governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. He refused to allow the ships to leave the harbor until they had delivered their tea cargoes to his sons. So the ships sat in harbor unable to leave and unable to unload their cargoes. That made them targets of opportunity for the local anti-tax activists.

A lot of mythology has grown up around this incident. It was not the simple tax protest many take it to have been. Much of the protest was led by merchants who would be cut out of the tea trade under the new law. Some of it was instigated by political factions opposed to Governor Hutchinson. Some of it was principled protest against expansion of Parliamentary authority in the colonies. Some of it was just young men looking for excitement. Whatever the case, the effect of the tea party was to convince many members of the British government that it was time to take a hard line against colonial insurgents, and we all know how that turned out.

And on this day in 1944 German forces undertook a major offensive through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. The German advance pushed back Allied defenses creating a "bulge" in the lines and set up the "battle of the bulge".

Entering the Building:

Catherine of Aragon [1485] -- Spanish princess who had the misfortune to wind up as a wife of Henry VII of England. She's the one he dumped to marry Anne Boleyn.

Ludwig Van Beethoven [1770] -- Simply the greatest....

Jane Austen [1775] -- The ultimate chick novelist.

Arthur C. Clarke [1917] -- One of Science Fiction's "Big Three" [along with Asimov and Heinlein]. He was also the strangest of the three. There were good reasons why he left England and went to live in Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Day In History

Today is National Bill of Rights Day -- a day to celebrate the prolonged process of constitution making. The "founding fathers" who met at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 set the process in motion by producing a plan of government and submitting it to the States for ratification. Then followed two years of debate during which the basic understandings of what the constitution meant were hammered out and several revisions to the initial plan suggested. Several States ratified the constitution only on the understanding that these revisions would be incorporated into it as soon as the new government was formed. The result was the Bill of Rights. Taken together the first ten amendments to the constitution are intended to protect the citizenry and the States from arbitrary application the power of the Federal Government. It is sobering, and more than a bit disturbing, to note that the current occupant of the White House finds them to be inconvenient.

On this day in 1939 "Gone With the Wind" premiered in Atlanta. Seventy years later it still draws people at revival showings. It has sold more tickets in the U. S. than any film in history and, when adjusted for inflation, is the biggest grossing film of all time. It won ten academy awards, the first film to take more than six. Among the films it beat out for awards that year were "The Wizard of Oz", "Stagecoach", "Mister Smith Goes to Washington", "Wuthering Heights", and "Goodbye Mr. Chips", classics all.

On this day in 1966 Walt Disney left the building. There is an urban myth to the effect that he had his body frozen and stored at Disneyland in hopes that someday he could be revived. It's not true. He was cremated. The story seems to have originated with some Disney animators who cooked it up as a joke.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still Fighting Over Troy

It is not only in the field of climate science that we find journalists and publicity seeking scholars promoting an illusory "scientific consensus". Luke Slattery, writing in the Australian, notes that in recent decades a journalistic and literary narrative has emerged on the subject of the Trojan War that holds that Hissarlik, a small settlement in Northwest Anatolia, is in fact the site of Bronze Age Troy and that Homer's Iliad represents a poetical telling of historical facts. This has been the claim of a long series of excavators at the site who present themselves and their interpretations as representing a scientific consensus, but, as Slattery notes, the scientific evidence supporting this claim is scant. Instead of consensus, what we have is:

a kind of faux science... rolled out in the service of fantasy. For there is no firm evidence that a Bronze Age conflict between West and East -- a kind of world war, in effect -- ever took place at Hissarlik.

The site was dubbed Troy by Heinrich Schliemann in the late 19th century, but its identification has never been secure.

This should be evident to anyone who has ever set foot there...
The problem is that very little in the excavations matches anything related in Homer's account. Trying to force a fit, successive excavators have made extravagant claims for their discoveries that are to say the least questionable. Even the most recent digs directed by Manfred Korffman, have displayed this indulgence in grandiose interpretation.

Korfmann's major discovery was a magnetic anomaly that he interpreted as evidence of a wall enclosing a large settlement, one large enough to plausibly be identified as Homer's city. The trouble is that when excavations actually took place, the anomaly turned out to be merely a ditch. The excavator, Peter Jablonka of Tubingen University, notes that "both the geophysics guys and Professor Korfmann were not pleased with my findings" and admits that evidence for a city wall is "indeed scanty". Another Tubingen scholar, Frank Kolb, brands Korffman's claims for the site "a scandal" and asserts that the actual evidence from Hissarlik shows a tiny citadel surrounded by "a thinly built-up area with dispersed houses or farms" -- hardly the impressive city of Homer's Iliad. Yet when challenged on their interpretation, Korfmann and other promoters of Hissarlik take the position that the burden of proof lies with the skeptics, and not with themselves. Sound familiar?

Scholarly reservations, and there are many, have not made it into recent popular literature on the subject. As Slattery notes, reviewing recent publications:
Largely as a response to the dream promoted by [the excavators] the Trojan War is assumed to have been a historical event, centred on the citadel at Hissarlik. We are to believe that the truth behind the legend has been uncovered; the Troy code cracked.
Read it here.

Once again, in Archaeology, as in Climatology, Medical Science, Nutrition studies, and a host of other disciplines, we find problematic and contentious subjects being presented as scientific certainty. Certainly careerism, corporate interests, and cronyism play a part in all of these scandals, but behind them all lies the essential proposition at the heart of modernism -- the idea that the complexity and uncertainty of the world can be understood as the product of fundamental principles that can be discerned and managed by credentialed experts. Today's technocratic priesthood, like the religious or aristocratically based authorities that preceded them, are selling certainty to a public yearning for simple answers to complex problems and the illusion of control that such answers yield.