Day By Day

Saturday, October 31, 2009

America's First Serial Killer

Appropriate for Halloween, the story of Matthias Shambacher, America's first serial killer, who lived on Hawk Mountain. Read about him here.

I've passed the place many times crossing Hawk Mountain. Never stopped, though. Maybe someday soon.

Halloween at the White House

Are Liberals Smarter than Conservatives?

It all depends on what the meaning of "Conservative" is. Read Jason Richwine's analysis of the question and evidence relating to it here. His conclusion: any meaningful definition of conservatism in this regard has almost nothing to do with political attitudes and political liberals can sustain a sense of their own intellectual superiority only by isolating themselves from society-at-large.

Freaking Out Over Freakonomics

Bret Stephens has an excellent piece in the WSJ on the objections to global warming hysteria raised by the authors of "Superfreakonomics" and the, well..., hysterical reaction to them on the part of Al Gore's "little helpers".

Read it here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "National Candy Corn Day" so stock up on the stuff for feeding tomorrow's trick-or-treaters; better yet stuff yourself with fistfuls of the delicious little sweets. Don't worry about running out -- Brach's Confections, the largest producer of candy corn, each year Americans eat enough Brach's candy corn that if the kernels were laid end to end, they would circle the Earth four times. You might find that impressive, I find it a bit scary -- think of the dentist bills, the stuff is made from sugar, corn syrup and honey. Yum!

On this day in 1785 Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII of England. His ascension to the throne brought to an end the dynastic struggle between York and Lancaster called the "War of the Roses". Under Henry and his Tudor successors the British economy flourished and trade expanded, state power was greatly enhanced, the Royal Navy established, and the nation emerged as a major power in the modern world. The story of the Tudor monarchs also makes for some of the greatest soap operas in history.

And on this date in 1838 Oberlin College in Ohio becomes the first American institution of higher learning to admit women.

And on this day in 1922 Mussolini led a bloodless Fascist revolution in Italy. On the following day he was made Prime Minister and the rest, as they say, is history.

And on this day in 1938 H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" was broadcast nationwide by Orson Welles' Mercury Players. This was the broadcast that panicked the nation. You can download it from the Mercury Theater website [here]. In keeping with the holiday mood, you can also get their version of "Dracula" at the same site. Just perfect for scaring the kids [or me for that matter].

And on this day in 1948 industrial "smog" killed twenty people in Donora, a little industrial town on the Mon just south of Pittsburgh, [famous as the home town of Stan "The Man" Musial, Ken Griffey, and Ken Griffey, Jr.] The thick, yellowish cloud [containing sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, and flourine] formed on the 27th and persisted for three days during which it is said, "smoke ran like water". In its aftermath at least another fifty people died, including Stan's father. Here's a link to a Post-Gazette story on the killer smog.

Happy Birthday to John Adams, second president of the United States [1735]; to William F. "Bull" Halsey, admiral extraordinaire [1882]; to Ted Williams, "the Splendid Splinter" [1918]; and to Andrea Mitchell, Philly broadcaster who made it in the bigs [1946 -- jeez, I thought she was older than that].

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Hermit" day, so dig out your dusty old picture of Peter Noone and the boys and spend the day [like so many days lately, it seems] sitting alone in a dark room, staring at a computer screen and softly singing, "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I Am...." If anyone should approach your house, walk out on your porch brandishing a shotgun and, in your best Clint Eastwood voice tell them to "Get Off My Lawn!!!"

On this day in 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh was executed. Rising from obscure origins Raleigh had gained favor with the English court by killing and oppressing lots of Irishmen. By all accounts he was extremely charming [he was a poet back when that was cool] and gained the favor of the Tudor queen, Elizabeth I. Eventually he parlayed that into knighthood and a royal patent to explore the New World, which resulted in the unsuccessful attempt to found a colony at Roanoke. Raleigh screwed up his career, though, by secretly marrying one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton [the things men do for love]. When the Queen found out she had the newlyweds imprisoned in the Tower of London. Raleigh gained their release by promising to leave court and retire to Dorset. Once there began a publicity campaign aimed at gaining another royal patent, this time to find "El Dorado", the City of Gold. Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and the new monarch, James Stuart (whose mother, Mary "Queen of Scots", had been executed by Elizabeth), looked upon Raleigh and other favorites of the Tudors with suspicion. He suspected Raleigh of treason, imprisoned him again in the Tower, and released him only after Raleigh promised to leave England on an expedition to locate El Dorado. That didn't work out well. Not only did Raleigh fail to find the City of Gold, but men under his command sacked a Spanish colonial outpost, which led to strenuous protests from the King of Spain. When Raleigh returned to Britain King James, who was trying to repair relations with Spain, had him arrested and beheaded. It was tough being a courtier back in those days, even if you were a poet and devilishly handsome.

And on this day in 1885 Major General George McClellan, a Philly boy, died at the age of 58. As commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War he was consistently outmatched and humiliated by Robert E. Lee. Eventually Lincoln removed him from command. Historians are divided on the justice of this. Most consider Lincoln's actions warranted and judge McClellan a failure, but there are those who see the political attacks on McClellan as an attempt by Lincoln partisans to shift blame for the President's misjudgments and ineptitude onto the backs of his military commanders. In 1864 McClellan was nominated for President by the Democrats who adopted a platform promising an immediate end to the war and unconditional negotiations with the secessionist States. The Democrats went into the election divided between a "peace faction" that demanded an end to the slaughter and a "war faction" that attacked the incompetence and corruption of the Lincoln administration and promised to prosecute the war more effectively. Even so divided, the Democrats had a good shot at taking Lincoln down. The President himself expected to be defeated. But Sherman's capture of Atlanta, just a month before the election, and Grant's approach to Richmond allowed the Republicans to plausibly argue that the war would soon be over and that it would be a mistake to change horses in midstream. Lincoln won convincingly. Later McClellan served as Governor of New Jersey. The State has posted his biography online here. He's a fascinating guy. Check him out.

Today is the eightieth anniversary of "Black Tuesday". On two successive days in 1929 the Stock Market plunged by nearly 25 percent. This collapse precipitated the greatest financial crisis of the Twentieth Century, but it did not [as popular imagination has it] create the Great Depression. That was the result of inept and wrongheaded actions by the government as it sought to manage the financial crisis. For an overview of what happened and an introduction to theories as to why it happened check out Murray N. Rothbard's America's Great Depression. [here]. It's a pretty good introduction to the subject that explains a lot of basic concepts and terms, but don't take it as gospel.

Happy Birthday to Bela Lugosi [1884], the first and still the best of the Draculas; and to Ed Kemmer [1921 in Reading, PA], who we kids knew as Commander Buzz Corey of the United Planets Space Patrol. He was the fifties radio prototype for TV's James Kirk. You can hear a bit of his work here. Ed shares his birthday with William H. "Bill" Mauldin, the greatest newspaper cartoonist of the WWII era. His "Willie and Joe" cartoons spoke were for millions of readers the voice of the American GI. You can see some of his work here and here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "National Plush Animal Lovers Day" so get yourself a plush animal and love it [in an entirely appropriate way, that is].

This one'a a biggie: On this day in 312 AD the Emperor Constantine [the Great] defeated a challenger to the throne [Maxentius] at the battle of Milvian Bridge. He afterward [probably for political purposes] claimed that he had been inspired by a vision of a cross inscribed with the words "in this sign conquer" and sort of converted to Christianity. The significance of this conversion was that Christianity became a prestige religion throughout the Roman Empire and as a consequence spread throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

On this day in 1636 "The College at New Towne" was founded in Massachusetts. Three years later it changed its name to Harvard College. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and is the alma mater of many members of the Obama Administration and Al Gore.

And on this day in 1740 Ivan VI became Czar of All the Russias. At the time he was less than ten weeks old. It didn't last long. Thirteen months later his cousin, Elizabeth [daughter of Peter the Great], deposed Ivan and had him and his family imprisoned. After a few months he was separated from his family and put into solitary confinement, seeing no human other than his jailer. He remained in that condition for twenty years. Finally, in 1762 word of his confinement leaked out and an attempt was made to release him. Under standing orders from the new empress Catherine the Great, Ivan was murdered by his jailers and buried in an unmarked grave. Being a Czar is not easy.

On this day in 1793 Eli Whitney applied for a patent on the "cotton gin". This was a labor-saving device designed to efficiently separate cotton fibers from embedded seeds [a process that previously had been done by hand]. The major historical significance of this invention is that it greatly increased the efficiency of cotton plantations and sparked a major economic revival of the southern States. It also revived the institution of slavery, which had been in steep decline in the late eighteenth century. Many contemporary observers had felt that there was no need to abolish slavery as it was likely to die out naturally over the course of the next few decades. However, as cotton production rose so too did the demand for slaves and the institution grew and rapidly spread into new parts of the country. Whitney was also a pioneer of industrial organization, building one of the first integrated factories in the country, and is credited by many [although this is controversial] with developing the concept of interchangeable parts.

This day saw the development of a few important cultural markers: the emergence of a large urban middle class with leisure time and disposable income; a massive wave of immigration that changed the cultural contours of the country; and a major failed effort on the part of government to control the behavior and attitudes of the American public.

On this day in 1858 Rowland H. Macy opened Macy's department store in New York. It was not the first department store [there were earlier ones in England and France], nor was it the first in New York, but by the 1920s it was the biggest one anywhere. Here's a link to information about several major stores, including some nice pictures of Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.

And on this day in 1886 President Grover Cleveland formally dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

And on this day in 1918 the Volstead Act was passed. Prohibition began.

Happy Birthday to the Bride of Frankenstein [1902] Elsa Lanchester was born in London. And on this day in 1914 Jonas Salk was born. While at the University of Pittsburgh he developed a polio vaccine. And in 1955 Bill Gates, America's richest college dropout, was born.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bedard on Continetti on Palin

Matthew Continetti has a new book out titled The Persecution of Sarah Palin. It chronicles the many ways in which the MSM and elite media concocted and elaborated an entirely false image of a remarkable woman. Paul Bedard, who writes the "Washington Whispers" column for USA Today, isn't planning to read the book, but suggests that it is worth looking at to see how "the other side" views Governor Palin.

Check out Bedard's column here.

Bush Speaks

George W. Bush seems to be doing pretty well on the lecture circuit. Speaking at a motivational event he charmed the audience and steered well clear of political commentary. What I found interesting about the article was the different reactions of the British and American commentators. Americans liked Bush and found his performance well worth while. The Brits, on the other hand, seem to have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Democrat slanders directed against Bush in recent campaigns. They were astounded to find that he could speak directly and coherently without a teleprompter. I suspect that in coming months they will continue to be pleasantly surprised by what they see from our best recent president.

Read about it here.
Just for fun, Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins performing "Poor Boy Blues".

That always makes me smile.


It's been a while since I posted anything by Zo. I should do it more often -- he and his friends are funny and say intelligent things about uncomfortable subjects. Here's "Victicrat". Watch and enjoy.

Dealing with Zombies

Dan Drezner over at Foreign Policy, considers how International Relations theorists might respond to a global zombie plague [here].

It's all in fun, at least I think it is, but it does serve as a nice introduction for the general reader to the major schools of thought currently informing debates over foreign policy.

This Day In History

Today is "Navy Day" so find yourself a swabbie and demonstrate for him or her your heartfelt appreciation [in an entirely appropriate way, of course].

And on this day in 1492 Christopher Columbus tooling around the Caribbean trying to figure out just where he was, discovered Cuba and claimed it for Spain.

The area along the Gulf coast between the Mississippi and the Chattahoochee rivers was long in dispute, claimed at different times by France, England, Spain, and the newly-formed United States. In 1810 American settlers in the region, under the leadership of the felicitously named Fulwar Skipwith, staged a revolt and proclaimed themselves to be the independent "Republic of West Florida". They even organized a military expedition to capture Mobile, but it failed. Then on this day of that year President James Madison announced the annexation of West Florida over the objections of the residents and sent in federal troops to occupy the region. The West Floridians eventually acquiesced to the land grab, but Spain continued to claim West Florida until 1819 when the Adams-Onis treaty transferred ownership to the United States. This is only one of many times when the American government acted aggressively, unilaterally, and possibly in defiance of international law when vital interests were considered to be at stake. Such is the way of the world.

And on this day in 1920 Westinghouse Radio, KDKA, America's first commercial radio station, begins broadcasting in Pittsburgh.

On this day in 1941, in a national broadcast commemorating Navy Day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that "America has been attacked, the shooting has started". He was referring to a German attack on the destroyer Kearney but the remark seemed prescient when Pearl Harbor was attacked less than two months later. Read the speech here and note just how strongly, one might say hysterically, Roosevelt was building the case for war. The American people were just not ready to believe the hype yet. Pearl Harbor changed that.

And on this day in 1962 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev accepted JFK's capitulation in the Cuban Missile Crisis, bringing it to an end.

Happy Birthday to Isaac Singer, whose sewing machine made the lives of millions of women easier; to Theodore Roosevelt, America's most bizarre president; Sylvia Plath, crazy lady who really, really hated her father and wrote poems about it; and John Cleese, the guy who walks funny and, for that matter, does just about everything funny. And a very special "Happy Birthday" to Ralph Kiner [1922], who was the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Pirates when I was a boy and to Astronaut Terry N. Hart [1946], Pittsburgh's contribution to the Space Program.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "National Mincemeat Day", so get out your chopping block and implements. Here's a nice little recipe from the Sixteenth Century:
Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it / suet or marrow a good quantitie / a lytell vynegre / pruynes / great reasons / and dates / take the fattest of the broath of powdred beefe. And if you will have paest royall / take butter and yolkes of egges & so to temper the floure to make the paest. (Pie filling of mutton or beef must be finely minced and seasoned with pepper and salt and a little saffron to colour it. [Add] a good quantity of suet or marrow, a little vinegar, prunes, raisins and dates. [Put in] the fattest of the broth of salted beef. And, if you want Royal pastry, take butter and egg yolks and [combine them with] flour to make the paste. )[1]
Source: Wikipedia.

On this day in 1682 William Penn gained clear title to land along the Delaware River. He decided to call it New Wales, then changed his mind and called it "Sylvania", but King Charles changed the name to "Pennsylvania" to honor Penn's father, the Admiral William Penn. So Billy Penn is not the guy the State is named after -- it's his father, and Penn didn't do the naming.

On this day in 1774 the First Continental Congress adjourned at Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia. It had drawn up a formal protest against the "Intolerable Acts", couching its objections in terms of the rights of Englishmen, it had proposed a restructuring of the relations between Britain and her colonies [an "Act of Union"], it had organized a continental boycott of British goods to apply economic pressure to the mother country, and it called for a second Congress of all the continental colonies [including Florida and Canada] for the following year.

Not bad.

And on this day in 1825 the Erie Canal opens for business. Huge advantage to New York in its continuing rivalry with Philadelphia.

And on this day in 1881 the "Gunfight at the OK Corral" took place between the Earps [and Doc Holliday] and the Clantons in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. It was the most famous, if not the most lethal shootout in the history of the "Wild West". Here is a decent online source if you want to go through the details of the encounter. Here's a good link to several of the primary sources. There have been a number of attempts by serious historians to place the gunfight in a cultural, political or social context [my favorite, just for the laughs, is an explanation that the Earps were agents of Republican oppressors of the people, and the Clantons were freedom-loving Democrats] and, of course, there have been numerous books and movies based on the incident. My personal favorite is "Tombstone" [that's the one with Val Kilmer] although Kevin Costner's "Wyatt Earp" is in many ways more interesting. Rent either one and enjoy. And, if you want to see a great filmic shootout, rent "Open Range". The gunfight there is legendary even if tere aren't any Earps involved. If you were wondering why Wyatt Earp became so famous consider this. In his old age he moved to Hollywood and made friends with lots of actors, including William Hart and young Marion Morrison [you know him as "John Wayne"].

And on this day in 1911 Philadelphia defeats New York in the World Series, 4 games to 2. Don't get excited -- it was the Athletics who beat the Giants.

And on this day in 1942 the Battle of Guadalcanal was raging on both land and sea. The eventual American victory there was, in the minds of many, the turning point of the War in the Pacific. Yes, I know about Midway, but it was Guadalcanal that convinced President Roosevelt to switch from defense to offensive operations in that theater. There are several good online sources on the battle. I would recommend this one by the Army as a good starting point.

And on this day in 1954 Walt Disney's "Disneyland" premiered on ABC TV.

And on this date in 1962 Nikita Khrushchev offered to withdraw nuclear missiles from Cuba if JFK removed them from Turkey and guaranteed never to invade Cuba. This was the deal that finally resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy and Khrushchev went eyeball to eyeball and JFK blinked and accepted Russia's terms. The US backed down, but the administration kept all the negotiations secret for fear of looking weak and instead published self-serving accounts of how Kennedy had stood up successfully to the Communists and to his own advisors. The truth didn't come out until two decades later.

And on this day in 1982 Philly Steve Carlton won his fourth Cy Young award, the first pitcher to do so.

Happy Birthday Hillary [1947] and to John Cardinal Krol [1910], former Archbishop of Philadelphia, and to the Minute Men [1774]. Also born on this day, Leon Trotsky [1879], one of the most loathsome figures of the Twentieth Century; Lauren "LoveBoat" Tewes [1954, the Pride of Braddock, PA]; Shah Reza Palavi [CIA stooge who used to run Iran before the Mullahs took over]; and Desideratus Erasmus [1466], one of my favorite Renaissance characters.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Artsy Stuff

Baltimore's culture season is in full swing and we are taking advantage of it. Last week we attended a concert by the Belcea String Quartet at Shriver Hall. Quite good they are. Here's a sample of their work.

They are enormously versatile and the program we heard showed it. They started with Hayden, followed by Shostakovich, and finished with Beethoven. Dmitri's by no means my favorite composer [to say the least], but they made even him sound pretty good.

This week was devoted to the visual arts. We started with lunch at the Lebanese Taverna then on to the Walters Gallery where my brother and I spent some time studying their small, but interesting, collection of Middle Eastern art and armor. He was more interested in the art, but I spent more time with the weaponry on display. Stuff like this:

We then toured a new exhibit on Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece and watched a short amateur dance recital, neither of which I found particularly interesting.

Then we headed up to the BMA for a preview party for an exhibit of Matisse prints. The Cone Collection has long boasted a major holding of Matisse's work. Recently that was augmented by a contribution from the artist's children, and yesterday highlights of the combined collection of more than 600 works were on display.

What fascinated me was that the sheer number of works allowed us to see Matisse refining his style, developing ideas over time, and transferring images from one medium to another over the course of the career. The suspicion remains, though, that the high proportion of female nudes among the prints represent a convenient way of getting the wives and girlfriends of his friends and colleagues to take their clothes off for him.

Then it was home after a long day and evening. Fortunately today was Sunday and we could sleep in.

Revisiting and Revising Agincourt

In keeping with my theme, oft expressed, that the "lessons of history" are many, varied, contradictory, and in a constant state of revision rather than being a repository of authoritative wisdom, I note the following piece in today's New York Times:

Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt

Agincourt’s status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers.
Read it here.

The article notes that some military historians now argue that Henry V had more troops, and the French far fewer, than traditional accounts would credit, that these revised figures are strongly disputed, and that a composite biography of the British troops infers that they had long been a cohesive fighting unit [almost literally a "band of brothers"] that had a strong corporate identity.

Most importantly, the article also notes that even when the facts of the battle are not in dispute, they have been reinterpreted in the light of current concerns. Rather than placing it within the context of a century-long conflict between British and French royal lines, revisionists now see Agincourt as an episode in a long English intervention in an ongoing French Civil War in which the English, whatever their victories on the battlefield, lost the confidence and support of their French allies by failing to protect them. The outcome of the Hundred Years War, in their view, was simply the result of the English being unable to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy. The analogy to ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is obvious.

And so it goes. New information, new ways of organizing information, new perspectives, and most of all new contemporary concerns shape, reshape, and constantly revise historical understanding and the "lessons" that can be drawn from it.

You are There -- The Fall of Troy

So cool -- I used to listen to this when I was a kid.

You can find other podcasts here.

More Pennsylvania Pictures -- Realms of Gold

It's that time of year again, when the trees show us just what they are capable of. This year is not quite up to the standard of some recent years, and the weather turned bad just as the trees peaked, but even so Fall splendor in the gorgeous commonwealth is a joy to behold.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fukuyama, Twenty Years After

Twenty years ago Francis Fukuyama set off an immense wave of controversy with the publication in "The National Interest" of an essay titled The End of History? He followed this up with a small book The End of History and the Last Man.

What Fukuyama argued was that two centuries of experience since the French Revolution have shown conclusively that liberal democracy is the best of all forms of government and that the evolution of societies will inevitably tend toward that best form. The collapse of the Soviet empire shortly after the publication of his initial essay seemed to dramatically confirm his predictions as did an impressive wave of democratization that followed in its aftermath. Since then the rise of theocratic Islamism and a socialist backlash against democratic liberalism have called his thesis into question. What does Fukuyama think now? Read this interview in the Christian Science Monitor and find out.


Michael Moynihan has a nice essay over at on the continuing historical debate over the end of the Soviet empire.
Twenty years ago this month... the Berlin Wall, that monument to the barbarism of the Soviet experiment, was finally breached. The countries held captive by Moscow began their long road to economic and cultural recovery, and to reunification with liberal Europe. But in the West, where Cold War divisions defined politics and society for 40 years, the moment was not greeted as a welcome opportunity for intellectual reconciliation, for fact-checking decades of exaggerations and misperceptions. Instead, then as now, despite the overwhelming volume of new data and the exhilaration of hundreds of millions finding freedom, the battle to control the Cold War narrative raged on unabated. Reagan haters and Reagan hagiographers, Sovietophiles and anti-communists, isolationists and Atlanticists, digested this massive moment in history, then carried on as if nothing much had changed....
And the debate continues today, and probably will indefinitely. I have often asserted that those who look to history as the final judge on the meaning of our experience will be frustrated. There is no such thing as an objective authority and that goes for historians as much as for contemporary pundits who write the "first draft" of history. All historical accounts, no matter how scholarly, are the products of ideology, expediency, and bias and history, rather than being an impartial judge or teacher of truth, is a continuing dialogue in which nothing is finally settled.

Orwell's 5 Rules for Effective Writing

From "Politics and the English Language". Read it here.

The short version:

1. Avoid cliches.

2. Use short words.

3. Cut out words you don't need.

4. Use active, not passive, verbs.

5. Avoid foreign words and jargon.

6. Feel free to break these rules.

Read a slightly longer version here.

Great rules if you are a telegrapher or a modernist author. Post-modernists use rule 6.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This Day In History

Happy Mole Day! No, I'm not referring to the little critters that drive gardeners crazy, but to the chemical term. It refers to a standard unit for measuring the amount of a pure substance.
The mole is defined as the amount of substance of a system that contains as many "elementary entities" (e.g. atoms, molecules, ions, electrons) as there are atoms in 12 g of carbon-12 (12C).[1]. A mole has 6.0221415×1023[6] atoms or molecules of the pure substance being measured. A mole will possess mass exactly equal to the substance's molecular/atomic weight in grams. Because of this, one can measure the number of moles in a pure substance by weighing it and comparing the result to its molecular/atomic weight.
From Wikipedia [here].

It's been a long, long time since I took chemistry [although I do recognize Avagadro's number in that mess] so I'm not sure just how to celebrate National Mole Day. It's something that chemists dreamed up. I suppose I'll just go out this evening and imbibe some chemicals. I urge you all to do the same.

And a very happy birthday to the World. According to Bishop James Ussher the world was created on this very day in 4004 BC, at precisely 9:oo in the morning.

And on this day in 1641 Felim O'Neill led a rebellion in Ulster that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands [estimates range between 40,000 and 100,000] Protestants. People in Northern Ireland still remember him, some of them fondly. That's scary, but true.

And on this day in 1862 President Abraham Lincoln tramples civil liberties underfoot by suspending the writ of habeas corpus in the District of Columbia for any matters relating to military activities.

And on this day in 1956 the people of Hungary rose spontaneously in revolt against their Stalinst government. Throughout the country people formed militia units and attacked government officials. Many of those officials were killed, others imprisoned. At the same time political prisoners were released and a new political leadership promised free elections and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. By the end of the month it seemed that Hungary had gained its freedom. It didn't last long, though. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary and crushed the revolt. Despite desperate pleas for assistance from the Hungarian patriots the Eisenhower administration, NATO and the United Nations did nothing. This was not, to say the least, America's finest hour.

Today is also the anniversary of the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. 237 U. S. Marines were killed in the blast and another 80 injured. President Ronald Reagan ordered the withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon, which only reinforced the conviction among Islamist radicals that America was, indeed, a weak horse. Another not-so-shining moment in our national history.

Happy Birthday to Michael Crichton [1942] and Johnny Carson [1925] two men who provided me and many millions of other people with lots of thrills, chills and laughter.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to the Savanna?

The recent spectacular publication in Science of data on Ardipithecus has shaken up the field of evolutionary anthropology and forced reconsideration of what was considered to be settled scientific consensus [see discussion here]. The last time that happened was about fifteen years ago when palaeobotanists disproved the, to that point, universally accepted "savanna theory" which argued that human bipedalism and associated traits resulted from movement out of the forests and into grassland environments [here]. Now two studies are published that restore the savanna hypothesis to some, if not all, of its earlier prominence.

Artifacts found in southeast Kenya show that hominins were living in savanna environments 2 mya, long after the emergence of obligate bipeds but possibly before the development of many associated traits like hairlessness which might represent adaptations to the grasslands environment [here]. No sooner had this emerged than another team reported that close analysis of wear marks on Australopithicene teeth showed that grasses formed a large part of their diets [here]. That would seem to suggest that early bipeds inhabited an environment in which grass was common.

So we apparently cannot completely dismiss the possibility that much of what makes us different from other closely related species is due to life on the savanna after all. All the nice neat models lie in shambles and things are getting really messy. That's good science.

This Day In History

Today is "National Nut Day". There is absolutely no reason to believe that it refers to you. Really! So quit acting that way. I mean it! Stop that!

On this day in 741 AD, Charles "The Hammer" Martel, hero of the Battle of Tours dies. He served as Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian Kings of the Franks and was, at his death, the de facto ruler of France. He was one of the greatest military leaders of all time. During his life he revolutionized western warfare, conquered much of Western Europe, began the Reconquista, and established the foundation for the Carolingian Empire. His son was Pepin the Short, his grandson Charlemagne. Quite a legacy!

And on this day in 1746 the "College of New Jersey" was founded. We know it better as Princeton University. Currently it is 0-2 in league competition and 1-4 overall. Heck of a job, Tigers.

And on this day in 1836 Sam Houston, one of the most fascinating figures in our early history, was sworn in as the first President of the Republic of Texas.

Born in Virginia, Houston as a boy had moved to Tennessee and lived for a while among the Cherokee. Later he returned to White society and was in the process of setting himself up as a schoolteacher in Tennessee [despite being basically uneducated himself] when the War of 1812 broke out. He signed up to fight the British, served under Andrew Jackson, and at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was wounded three times. Jackson was impressed and later hired Houston as an Indian agent overseeing the removal of the Cherokees from Tennessee to Arkansas. Houston's sympathies lay too much with the Indians and he didn't last long in that position. He then studied for and passed the bar, then ran successfully for Congress and in 1827 was elected Governor of Tennessee. His future seemed bright, but then he met a woman.

After a mysterious affair with a young woman Houston was forced into marriage. Then within a matter of weeks his wife left him. He then resigned his governorship, went back to live with the Cherokee, opened a trading post, was adopted into the tribe, and married an Indian woman [which technically made him a bigamist since his estranged wife and he were not divorced]. From there it was downhill. He took to drink, got involved in some questionable business deals, was arrested for assaulting one of his business partners, was convicted in civil court and fled the country for Mexico rather than pay the fine. His future seemed dark, but once again he pulled off a stunning reversal.

His Indian wife refused to accompany him so he left her behind. In Texas he got involved with the independence movement and when the revolution broke out he was given a military command and within a year became Commander in Chief of the Texican forces. After independence he was elected President of Texas twice, finally divorced his first wife and, at the age of 47 married a 21 year old woman. Third time was a charm. They had eight children.

After Texas was annexed in 1835 Houston was elected Senator and returned to Washington in triumph. Then in 1857 as sectional tensions rose he returned to Texas determined to keep it from leaving the Union. He was elected Governor in 1859 [the only person to have been elected governor of two different States] and worked to keep the State from seceding. He failed and in 1861, after Texas joined the Confederacy, was removed from office. After that he retired and devoted himself to Masonic activities. He was in poor health at that point and two years later he contracted pneumonia and died.

Quite a career, one that stands as testament to the extreme fluidity of early American society and to the amazing range of opportunities it afforded ambitious individuals. Sam Houston was a remarkable man living in a remarkable country.

And this day in 1844 followers of William Miller, a religious leader, gathered together to welcome the second coming of Jesus Christ. He didn't show up.

And on this day in 1918 the Spanish Influenza epidemic was raging. Both Baltimore and Washington ran out of coffins in which to bury the dead. Before it had run its course more than half a million people died in the United States. Globally mortality estimates range between 50 and 100 million people. The "Spanish Lady" probably killed more people than the "Black Death" of the Fourteenth Century.

And on this day in 1962 the Kennedy administration was blundering its way through the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a result of some spectacularly stupid covert activities engineered by the White House Fidel Castro, fearing yet another invasion, had invited the Soviets to send troops and missiles to his country. We had learned of the missile deployment as early as September and had hard proof of their existence early in October, but the adminstration dithered. Finally on the 22nd Kennedy went on TV to tell the American people about the missile threat, ordered a blockade of Cuba [technically an act of war] and placed the American military world-wide on high alert [DEFCON 3 -- we would go to DEFCON 2, for the only time in our history, on the following day]. I was living in Florida at the time and remember how scary it was to look up several times a day to see military jets flying over [to be continued].

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Science Hokum -- The Missing Link

Don't believe what you see on TV. This critter, Darwinis Massilae, discovered by reputable scientists and even endowed with a cute name, "Ida" [as all primate fossils seem to be] was hyped by no less a figure than David Attenborough as a direct ancestor of Homo Sapiens. Any real scientist knows that such claims are ridiculous -- even if a direct ancestor were to be found there would be no way of telling that it was directly on our line of descent -- but journalists, often abetted by academic careerists looking for headlines, keep pimping the concept. Well, as it turns out "Ida" is only remotely related to the hominin line of descent, but viewers of Attenborough's documentary are unlikely to know that. He kept calling her a "missing link".

Read about it here.

This Day In History

For all you blatherskites out there, today is "Babbling Day". So, for most of us on the inter-whatchamacallits, that means go out there and just behave the way we always do.

On this day in 1492 Cristopher Columbus "discovered" America. I wrote about this a few weeks ago [here] so I won't repeat myself.

And on this day in 1692 Willim Penn was deposed as Governor of Pennsylvania. His friendship with the Stuart monarchs did not stand him in good stead after they were driven from the throne and opened him to charges of being disloyal to the new Hanoverian monarchy. He also had some problems paying his debts that landed him in prison and almost cost him his proprietorship. He had a complicated life.

On this day in 1792 USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" was launched in Boston.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought in 1805. It is perhaps the most important, certainly the most celebrated, naval battle in British history. In it Lord Horatio Nelson, directing battle from the deck of his flagship HMS Victory, was slain, but lived long enough to see his fleet utterly destroy a combined French and Spanish fleet. In the battle the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 of 33 ships of the line. The British lost none. This overwhelming victory confirmed British naval superiority, forestalled any attempts on the part of France to invade England, and gave the U.K. a decisive advantage in the Napoleonic conflicts. Henceforth Britain could without interference tap the commercial resources of the entire Atlantic world and the rest of its far-flung empire. The result was that with each succeeding year Britain became wealthier while France, cut off from global trade networks, was forced to adopt a command economy that drained its commercial resources. Britain could afford to fund Napoleon's antagonists on the European continent. In addition Britain could, and did, easily move troops to attack any point on Napoleon's periphery and resupply them. After Trafalgar Napoleon was doomed, but it would take another ten years for him to realize it.

This was not a good day for Native Americans, but then what one was?

On this day in 1837 Billy Powell was captured and imprisoned. Never heard of him, you say? Billy was better known by his Indian name, Osceola [which translates loosely as "loud drunk"] the leader of Seminole resistance in Florida. This brought an end to the Second Seminole War and ended Indian resistance in the Southeast. Osceola's English name points up an interesting and important aspect of the Indian wars in the East -- many combatants were of mixed ancestry. Osceola, for instance, was of Indian, English, Irish, and Scottish descent and was raised in a mixed community. What is more, at various times in his life Osceola was affiliated with the Muscogee, the Creek, and the Seminole Indians. This speaks to a cultural fluidity that is seldom recognized by historians who try to shoehorn these conflicts into a simple moralistic narrative of racial antagonism and oppression. Reality was far more complex.

And on this day in 1867 the first round of the Medicine Lodge Treaties were signed. This complex set of treaties involved representatives of the US government and of the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, and some elements of the Cheyenne, and Arapaho nations. In them the Indians agreed to cede traditional lands in exchange for reservations in Oklahoma and life on the dole. As it turned out the Treaty was pretty much of a sham. The signatories for the Indian tribes were immediately challenged by the leadership of their own communities and the terms of the treaties were never ratified. Conflict continued for years thereafter. On the US side Federal agents and territorial [and later State] officials systematically defrauded the Indians that did accept the treaty terms. Eventually the Indians carried their case all the way to the Supreme Court which in 1903 decided that they had no protection under the Bill of Rights because they, by signing the treaty, had become "wards of the state".

Happy Birthday to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [1772] -- "In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure-dome decree...."

And also to Alfred Nobel, the prize guy [1833]; "Dizzy Gillespie, the best!!!! [1917]; and Ursula Kroeber LeGuin [1929].

And on this day in 1980 the Phillies won their first World Series Championship ever [after 98 years of futility]. I remember it well.

Demise Of the Dollar

Niall Ferguson, economic historian extraordinaire, predicts the imminent demise of the dollar. [He] warns that China's love affair with the dollar is fading faster than anyone realizes.

Check it out here.

Ferguson is always provocative, but his arguments are solid and backed up by a deep understanding of economic history. I would not dismiss him, although in this case I am by no means convinced he is right.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sarah and Oprah -- Together at Last

You just knew it was going to happen.

Newsday reports:
"In a world exclusive, Oprah Winfrey will interview former Alaska
governor Sarah Palin
for an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to air Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. Winfrey and Palin will meet for the very first time on the episode, which will mark Palin's first interview to discuss her upcoming book, "Going Rogue: An American Life" and her first-ever appearance on the "Oprah" show.
Read it here.

I'll be watching.

This Day In History

It's only unofficial, but who cares about that? Today is National Brandied Fruit Day. So get yourself some fruit, some brandy..., ok, a lot of brandy..., and get marinated.

On this day in 1818 the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 was signed. It settled a lot of long-standing issues between the UK and the USA over fishing rights, boundary disputes [between the USA and Canada] and the status of the far Western territories.

People forget that for a century after independence our greatest international foe was Britain and much of our foreign and military policy was aimed at keeping the Brits from expanding their influence in North America. In 1812-1815 open warfare had broken out, in large part because of friction between Canada and the USA. This treaty was an attempt to find a long-term solution to this perennial set of problems. It set the northern boundary of the United States at the 49th Parallel running between the Lake of the Woods and the Rockies. By its terms Britain and the US would jointly administer and settle the territory we called Oregon [they called it Columbia]. The US gave up claims to southern Alberta [the last major territorial concession by the US] and the Brits gave up claims to Ruperts Land south of the Parallel. And lest we forget, the Brits agreed to compensate American slaveholders for slaves that had been freed during the War of 1812.

Commentators often suggest that this convention solved the major border problems between the US and Canada for all time, but it didn't. The main theater of conflict just shifted westward to the Oregon territory.

And on this day in 1947 HUAC [the House Committee on Un-American Activities] began hearings on the influence of communists in Hollywood. There is an enormous amount of mythology surrounding this committee and its investigations.

First of all, it was not a Republican creation. Through the 1930s bipartisan House committees had looked into both Communist and German influence in America. In 1938 a special investigating committee was set up under the chairmanship of Rep. Martin Dies, Jr. [D, Texas]. At first it mostly investigated Nazis and other German immigrants, then the KKK, but committee member John Rankin [D, Mississippi] protested, arguing that the Klan was "an old American institution". It then shifted its focus to investigate Communist infiltration of New Deal agencies and non-governmental Communist "Popular Front" organizations that were proliferating in immigrant communities on both coasts. As it turned out, even the committee itself was not immune to infiltration. Samuel Dickstein [D, New York], the committee Vice-Chairman, was named in NKVD documents as a Soviet agent. You don't get any more Anti-American than that.

In 1945 the Committee was reconstituted as a standing committee under the chairmanship of Edward J. Hart [D, New Jersey]. It launched a number of investigations into Communist infiltrataion of American institutions, including government agencies. The most famous of these was an investigation, spearheaded by a young California representative, Richard Nixon [R], that resulted in the prosecution of Alger Hiss, a high ranking State Department official. The investigation made Nixon famous and jump-started his rise to national office. In 1947 the committee scheduled nine days of hearings on Communist influence in Hollywood. Several leading figures in the film industry were called to testify. Ten of the witnesses who were called before the committee refused to answer any questions put to them and were cited for "contempt of Congress". These were the much lionized "Hollywood Ten". Hollywood lefties have ever since treated them as martyrs. At no time did Joseph McCarthy have any direct involvement with the committee. McCarthy, after all, was a Senator and this was a House committee.

And on this date in 1973 President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor [and Kennedy acolyte] Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. This was branded by the press as the "Saturday Night Massacre" and was an important development in the Watergate scandals. It led directly to numerous calls from Democrat leaders for Nixon's impeachment. It would not be long before he would return to private life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bad Stats, not Bad Teaching

I have complained before that many "scientists" unknowingly arrive at erroneous conclusions because they are incompetent at statistical analysis. Bill Gates advisers on education reform are no exception. After spending two billion dollars on research the Gates Foundation has arrived at an explanation for poor student performance -- bad teachers. The key finding:
"Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."
Read about it here.

Sounds good, doesn't it? An emphasis on teacher skills leads naturally to a whole slew of policy prescriptions and Gates obviously wants to put them into place, after all he's spent 2 billion dollars coming up with them.

But not so fast. John Hawks, who really does understand statistics, points to an obvious flaw in the Gates analysis.

So let's say a typical elementary school has 20 students in each class and 4 classes in each grade level. What Gates is saying is that the variance in means between samples of 20 students within a school is greater than the variance in means between samples of 80 students among schools.

Uhh...the standard error in a sample of 20 is twice the standard error in a sample of 80. Seems like Gates' point is pretty easily explained by statistics without blaming the teachers.

Read it here.

Nice catch! I guess that the "scientists" who have been spending Bill Gates' money skipped class the day they covered ANOVA in Stat 101, or maybe they just had a bad teacher.

This Day In History

Today is "Evaluate Your Life Day". Of course that assumes you have one. I don't.

On this day in 439 AD the Vandals, led by Gaiseric, captured Carthage in North Africa [Tunisia today]. People today forget that the Vandals [an East German people who have gotten really horrible press over the centuries] were once a Mediterranean sea power based in Africa. For nearly a century they controlled much of North Africa until finally defeated by Roman forces under the command of Belisarius in 533 AD.

On this day in 1739 a British sea captain, Robert Jenkins, stood before Parliament and delivered an impassioned statement recounting his bad treatment by Spanish coast guards. At the end of his speech he held aloft his severed ear which had been cut off by the Spanish troops who had boarded his ship. This dramatic gesture may or may not [probably not] have led Parliament to declare war on Spain but the conflict has ever since been known as the "War of Jenkins' Ear". It raged for eleven years and became embroiled in a more general struggle, the "War of the Austrian Succession". The real point of issue was Spain's attempt to control the sale of slaves in Latin America.

Here's a biggie. On this day in 1781 Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington and the Count de Rochambeau at Yorktown. This effectively ended the military phase of the American Revolution.

And on this day in 1812 Napoleon began his retreat from Moscow. It is one of the most disastrous military campaigns in history. There is a famous graphical representation by Charles Joseph Minard illustrating how the march on Moscow and subsequent retreat affected the French forces. You can view it here.

And speaking of enormous disasters, on this day in 1949 the People's Republic of China was formally proclaimed.

And on this day in 1879 Thomas A. Edison held the first public demonstration of the electric light bulb. Life would never be the same.

And on this day in 1932 Philly Chuck Klein won the National League MVP. Way to go, Chuck.

Perspectives on Human Evolution

Some of the best discussion to be found on the web is at "Bloggingheads". A dialogue I found particularly interesting over the weekend was conducted between a population geneticist [Razib Kahn] and an evolutionary anthropologist [John Hawks]. Here's the first segment which discusses basic issues in human evolution and then spends some time on the Flores Hobbit.

And here's the second segment that considers the recent publication in Science of a new species of hominin, Ardipithecus.

These guys are really good. Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hawk Mountain

There's a really nice article in the travel section of tomorrow's [Oct 18, 2009] Baltimore Sun on Hawk Mountain. Check it out here.

Here are a few pictures I've taken from up on the mountain. The fall migration is in full swing, so head on up to the sanctuary and don't forget to take your cameras.

Ted Turner on Poverty

"You know, if you economize and don’t buy new airplanes or long-range jets, or that sort of thing, you can get by on a billion or two.”

Read it here.

Shake Your Breasts

Mark Steyn keeps us up to date on the latest in the application of Sharia Law.

The insurgent group Al Shabaab has sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust, residents claimed yesterday.

The women are then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra. If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts....

Read it here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Dictionary Day" so here goes:


–noun, plural -ar⋅ies.
1. a book containing a selection of the words of a language, usually arranged alphabetically, giving information about their meanings, pronunciations, etymologies, inflected forms, etc., expressed in either the same or another language; lexicon; glossary: a dictionary of English; a Japanese-English dictionary.
2. a book giving information on particular subjects or on a particular class of words, names, or facts, usually arranged alphabetically: a biographical dictionary; a dictionary of mathematics.
3. Computers.
a. a list of codes, terms, keys, etc., and their meanings, used by a computer program or system.
b. a list of words used by a word-processing program as the standard against which to check the spelling of text entered.

1520–30; < class="ital-inline">dictiōnārium, dictiōnārius < class="ital-inline">dictiōn- word (see diction ) + -ārium, -ārius -ary Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.
On this day in 1701 a group of New England Congregationalists founded "The Collegiate School of Killingworth" as a conservative alternative to Harvard College. Today the school is known as "Yale University".

And on this day in 1793 "Prisoner No. 280", the "Widow Capet", better known as Marie Antoinette, was beheaded. The one thing that most people remember about her was that she was supposed to have said "Let them eat cake" but she didn't. Jean Jacques Rousseau, made that up. Anyone who closely follows today's partisan politics can sympathize with her tragic life. Read about it here.

And on this day in 1849 Avery College, for the education of free Blacks, was founded in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. You can read about it here.

And on this day in 1859 anti-slavery fanatic and domestic terrorist John Brown led a force of 21 men in an assault on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry (then VA). He thought this would provoke a slave uprising and race war in America. It didn't. Instead a troop of marines led by Robert E. Lee captured him. He was tried by the State of Virginia, convicted of treason, and hanged by the neck until he was dead. Anti-slavery politicians and intellectuals made a martyr of him while Democrats claimed that he was the true face of the Republican Party. Historians agree that the controversy surrounding his trial and death was important in exacerbating the tensions that led to the Civil War. A popular song commemorating his death ("John Brown's Body") became a national sensation and was the basis for Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

And on this day in 1909 the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series, beating Detroit 4 games to 3.

And on this day in 1916 eugenics fanatic Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. Make of that what you will.

And on this day in 1934 a strong candidate for the worst human being ever to live, Mao Tse Tung, began the "long march" that brought Communists to power in China.

And on this day in 1978 Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, a Pole, was elected Pope and took the name John-Paul II. He was the first non-Italian Pope since 1523.

Happy Birthday to a gaggle of writers: Noah Webster (1758), Oscar Wilde (1854), Eugene O'Neill (1888), Cleanth Brooks (1906), Kathleen Winsor (1919) and Gunther "I vas not a Nazi" (but he vas) Grass (1927).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

False Modesty

Toby Harnden, writing in the Telegraph, notes that protestations to the contrary Obama seems to be very pleased with himself for winning the Nobel Prize:

it’s become abundantly clear that Obama isn’t even faintly sheepish about the award. Yeah, there’s all the usual guff about him being humbled, it’s about us not him blah blah blah. But this can’t mask the fact that he’s as pleased as punch about landing the prize. He’s lapping it up and seems to view it – sadly and mistakenly – as a major validation.
I would not be surprised to learn that the White House was pressuring the Nobel Committee to make the award. Of course there's not evidence yet of any such manipulation, but I certainly wouldn't put it past these clowns. As Harnden notes the White House misses no opportunity to remind people that Obama won the award.

Read the whole thing here.


This Day In History

On this day in 1529 Ottoman armies led by Suleiman ("the Magnificent") finally retreated from the walls of Vienna. For more than a century Muslim armies had relentlessly attacked and conquered Christian realms in Eastern Europe. This was their first significant defeat. Historians are divided as to whether Suleiman intended the conquest of the entire continent or whether he simply saw Vienna as an easy prize after having conquered Hungary. Either way this marked the maximum expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. Christianity would survive and eventually turn back the tide of Muslim conquest in the East as it already had done in Spain.

On this date in 1878 Thomas Alva Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company. This company in the 1880's was combined with other Edison business ventures under the name "Edison General Electric" and eventually, when combined with other independent companies, emerged as the General Electric Corporation we all know and love today. Well..., maybe not love exactly.

Thomas Edison is one of the most fascinating figures in American history. Born into poverty, homeschooled [he only had three months formal education], and lacking any marketable skills, he achieved success through hard work, relentless self-improvement, and a fascination with practical science. He was an obsessive tinkerer. When as a young man in the 1860's he secured a job as a telegrapher he immediately began experiments to improve the technology. This led to the first of his patents; by the time his career ended he held 1093 of them, including patents on the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the first practical long-lasting light bulb. His greatest contribution, however, was his creation at Menlo Park, New Jersey of an industrial research laboratory that systematized the process of invention. It is not too much to say that he had a greater positive impact on the lives of more people around the world than any political figure in our history.

On this day in 1894 a French artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. His trial and conviction became one of the most famous political dramas of modern French (and European, for that matter) history. Dreyful, it turned out, had been falsely charged and his trial had been a sham. When evidence clearing him emerged the Army had tried to cover it up. The whole thing, charges and counter-charges, was fought out in the popular press, largely due to a series of exposes written by Emil Zola, who rode this story to international fame and fortune. Argument centered on the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish and evolved into a general discussion of anti-semitism, militarism, and the role of Jews and the military in French life. Some historians credit the "Dreyfus Affair" with playing an important role in fostering modern anti-semitism. Others note it's contribution to the emergence of a coherent class of intellectuals who functioned as critics of the society and culture that sustained them.

Happy birthday to three of my least-favorite intellectuals: Friedrich Nietzsche [1844]; John Kenneth Galbraith [1908], and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr [1917]. Don't get me started....

And, most importantly, on this day in 1933 the Philadelphia Eagles played their first NFL game. They lost to the Giants 56-0.
I was in a mellow mood tonight so I fired up some Al Jarreau on You Tube and settled in for some nostalgic easy listening, then I came across this. I knew that Jarreau was a religious guy but I had never heard him do gospel standards. Here he is singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain".

Aaaaah! Now wasn't that nice? You bet it was!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sarah Won't Go Away Quietly

Don Surber reports on Sarah Palin's new initiative. Read about it here and keep your eyes peeled for announcements.

Shifting Paradigms in Population Studies

There's a terrific post over at Dienekes' blog in which he systematically traces the changing consensus view on European origins over the course of the past century. An invasion [arrows on the map] model was replaced by a cultural diffusion model, which was supplanted by a demic diffusion model, which was replaced by a paleolithic persistence model, and now today we have come full circle to the current position.

What does seem certain... is that dramatic events took place starting at the Neolithic, and that modern Europeans trace their ancestry principally to Neolithic and post-Neolithic migrants, and not to the post-glacial foragers who inhabited the continent.
which is essentially to restate the old multiple invasions [arrows on a map] understanding. It's been a long strange journey that has brought us back to where we started, and it's not over yet.

Read it here.

What this points out is the way in which "science" operates as one consensual view is replaced time and again by another and yet another. In other words, scientific consensus is constantly changing and scientific authority is a foundation of shifting sands. Only a fool would build a public policy structure on it.

More Science Follies -- The Collapsing Warmist Narrative

The tide is finally turning -- the media are at last beginning to question the global-warming narrative being pushed by the environmental alarmists. Here's a report from ClimateDepot.

It appears at long last that media's faith is waning. Appeals to authority about the alleged global warming “consensus” are now being met with a healthy dose of skepticism by increasing large portions of the mainstream media. Statements like UN IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth that the UN IPCC "has spoken" no longer have the comforting effect on many key members of the journalistic flock.

A steady stream of peer-reviewed studies, a continued lack of global warming, real world data and scientists continuing to dissent, have finally moved major establishment media outlets to report that the debate not only is "not over" but that skeptics may have been correct all along. [Note: Journalists are now sensing what Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh, warned about in 2008. “Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined," Peden said.]

The estimable Tim Blair points, for instance, to the Daily Mail, formerly a warmist organ, that now presents this balanced story.

This Day In History

Today is "Be Bald and Free Day" so go out there, shave off your hair, and experience true freedom.

On this day in 1066 AD William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. This was the decisive battle in the Norman Conquest of Britain. This was the last successful invasion of England and it had enormous impact on English elite culture. Before Hastings the dominant influence had been Scandinavian, afterward it was French.

And on this day in 1322 Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeated King Edward II of England thus forcing him to recognize Scotland's independence. Eventually the two kingdoms would be united, but under a Scottish, not an English monarch.

And on this day in 1773 the First Continental Congress adopted the "Declaration and Resolves", one of the fundamental documents of American political culture. It sets out in specific terms the rights to which Americans were entitled including rights to "life, liberty, and property" and the right to representation. Read the whole text here.

And on this day in 1884 George Eastman patented the "roll film" that allowed the efficient recording of sequential images on a chemically-treated strip of material. This technique made possible the invention, four years later, of the motion picture camera and soon thereafter the emergence of an international film industry. Art and life would never be the same. Eastman went on to found Kodak and become one of the great philanthropists of his day.

On this day in 1912 former President Theodore Roosevelt (and current candidate for re-election on the Progressive Party ticket) was on his way to a speaking event in Milwaukee when a shot rang out. The bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest but penetrated only three inches because it passed through his eyeglass case and a copy of the speech he intended to give. The shooter, John Schank, was immediately apprehended and Roosevelt, noting that he was not coughing up blood, refused to seek medical attention. Instead he delivered a ninety-minute speech during which he said, with reference to the shooting, that "it takes more than that to kill a bull moose". The press had a field day with the story and the "Bull Moose" became fixed in the public mind as the symbol of both Roosevelt and the Party. When he finally did submit to medical examination doctors determined that it would be too risky to remove the bullet so they left it in place. Roosevelt carried it in his body for the rest of his life. I don't know about you, but I find TR to be a pretty scary guy.

And on this date in 1917 Mata Hari [real name Margaretha Geertruida Zelle], an exotic dancer and paramour of many of Europe's most powerful men, was executed in Paris for being a German spy. Debate still rages around her. Was she really a spy or was she the innocent dupe of a French spymaster who himself was a double-spy? I get a headache thinking about things like that. She was not a great beauty, but men certainly found her interesting and she led an exotic life. Her fame was only enhanced by her death and the subsequent mysterious disappearance of her body. In death she became one of the most famous females of the twentieth century and the archetype for the femme fatale. You can read about her here. Take some time to do so -- she was, as they say, interesting.

Happy Birthday to William Penn [1644], Dwight D. Eisenhower [1890] and Lillian Gish [1896]. And a very special "Happy Birthday" to my wife. Today is an embarrassment of riches -- so much could be written about any of these fascinating people -- but I'm limited in time and space and so must call a halt here.

Neat Site -- Presidential Inaugurals

Check out this site. It presents the full transcripts and videos [if available] of presidential inaugural addresses. And (this is what makes it neat) it does a world cloud analysis of each speech. It's fun to watch the emphases change over time.

HT -- Twisted by Knaves

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Talk, Talk, Talk

Oh you just knew this was going to happen. Despite all the assurances to the contrary issuing from the administration Russia is backing away from any effective sanctions on Iran.

From AFP:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that for the moment it would be wrong to talk about a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

"Threats of new sanctions and pressure against Iran under current circumstances are counterproductive," Lavrov said.

Clinton said world powers were "actively pursuing the engagement track" with Iran but that in "in the absence of significant progress... we will be seeking to rally inernational opinion behind additional sanctions."

The top US diplomat denied she had come to Russia to ask Russia for favours: "We reviewed the situation and where it stood," she said.

Russia has the most robust relations with Iran of any major world power, has supplied Tehran with military hardware and is building the country's first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

Read it here.

This is the way it always goes with the "international community". Talk, talk, talk leads only to more talk, talk, talk and nothing is ever decided. The "process" becomes not just the means to an end but the end itself. Unless, of course, some "cowboy" decides that the time has come for unilateral action.

This is the fatal flaw of the liberal transnationalist approach to world affairs. Nations have interests and goals that are, in the end, mutually exclusive and all the talk, talk, talk, until the end of time will not change that. What is worse, expanding the number of participants in the dialogue simply makes agreement even more remote.