Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Microsoft Launches 3D Virtual New York
Ottawa, Calgary, and Levis are also live in Canada, Brighton, Bristol, Gloucester, Northampton, Plymouth, Swindon, and Wolverhampton in England, and Cardiff, Wales, and many more cities in the US.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Today we read that Sheehan quits as face of US anti-war fight (I linked to the Guardian's edition for the sake of delicious irony).
And today we see that All Hell Breaks Loose in Caracus as protesters take to the streets when the thug closes another independent outlet for news:
We do live in interesting times.
Where is this?
Answer to Sunday's puzzle: Austin.
Did 9/11 Kill the IRA?
In recent years there has been no further terrorist threat from the IRA. No blown up schoolbuses, no assassinated heroes of yesteryear. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but it would seem that all's quiet in Ireland-town.
I have frequently heard that this is the result of the good works of St. Bill Clinton and St. Tony Blair. They got both sides talking, made everybody happy, and peace broke out as it inevitably does since war is now obsolete.
But maybe there's a different explanation. Lately I heard from a UK policewoman that the flow of money from America to the IRA dried up after 9/11. For years, the IRA had been largely funded by American money, by second- or third- or higher-generation immigrants who were nostalgic for the old country, though they had never been there and were no more Irish in actual fact than you or I. I had a friend like this once in Indiana. He was from Cincinnati. He worked as a busboy in a restaurant while going to college. He was a nice enough guy but didn't have anything special to look forward to in life. When he would talk about the IRA his eyes would light up—sending money to the IRA really made him feel like his life had special meaning.
After 9/11, it was no longer politically feasible for Irish politicians from Boston and New York to keep up the pretense that sending money to a terrorist organization was good because it was Irish. It was no longer politically feasible for the police to overlook the flow of money with a wink and a nod. Particularly when the ties between the IRA and the other terrorist groups became public knowledge. Or, so I hope.
I don't know what really happened. If indeed the flow of money to the IRA has stopped and has caused peace to break out all over because the IRA has no other options, then I suppose that at least one good thing has emerged from the awfulness of that day that shall live in infamy (among Republicans at least).
Monday, May 28, 2007
The Few. The Proud.
Paul - or, rather, Major Paul A. Konopka - retuned to civilian life for a while after that, but now is back in theater. Yesterday he sent me a poem by John McCrae in honor of Memorial Day. I thought I would share it with you:
In Flanders Fields, 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The Marines may be 'proud,' but not nearly as proud as we are of them.
Here's to Paul and all our fantastic young men and women whose service keeps the rest of us safe and free.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Where is this?
Answer to yesterday's puzzle: Indianapolis
Vitamins the Answer
I have heard it told from a Harvard authority who ought to know that the biggest single benefit to public health in the last few centuries has come almost entirely from better public sewage practices.
But in the realm of the army of medical researchers we fund annually, surely one of the most important discoveries of all time was an accident—the existence of antibiotics. These compounds, which we depend on for our health, are not to be taken for granted. I had an East German friend whose cousin died because the Communist Authorities had refused to issue her antibiotics for an ear infection. I guess good German socialists were supposed to be tougher than mere bacteria. Antibiotics are head and shoulders above all other medicinal compounds put together in their value to our health.
Which is not to slight other more recent discoveries which have proven to be quite beneficial. I myself can no longer live a fulfilled life without daily doses of Ranitidine and Prozac. I would never voluntarily give these up. Andrew Sullivan is alive only because of recently discovered anti-viral compounds.
Yet despite the clear benefits of medicinal compounds for solving health problems, there has been a quiet revolution in medicine in recent years, a revolution in the very way in which we view disease.
A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error….
One of the researchers who made the discovery, professor of medicine Robert Heaney of Creighton University in Nebraska, says vitamin D deficiency is showing up in so many illnesses besides cancer that nearly all disease figures in Canada and the U.S. will need to be re-evaluated. "We don't really know what the status of chronic disease is in the North American population," he said, "until we normalize vitamin D status.
My mother informed me the other day that B-12 deficiency runs in her family, and it might account for various health problems. Maybe vitamins are an answer after all?
What He Said
More than anyone I can think of, this onetime war protester, who had pacifism drummed into his head as child by his mother, admires the US troops. Not only are they defending our county, they are defending the best of our civilization. They are more than our hope. They are humanity's hope, even if some sections of our body politic and media do not want to admit it.
But I wouldn't be surprised if ... just like us "Off the Pig" hippies calling the cops in days of yore when our houses were broken into ... those same anti-war "progressives" will soon be screaming bloody murder for the help of that military to whom they now pay only lip service. That would be poetic justice, but much as I might enjoy it, I sincerely hope that it is justice that doesn't have to be served. And if it isn't, it will be, ironically, because of our military. --- Roger L Simon
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Where is this?
Here's the first one (click to enlarge).
Product of the Week
But I still love this one too.
Or, better than Charlie Chaplin?
Friday, May 25, 2007
Saudi Oil Running Out?
That's the question upon which the "peak oil" theories turn. This article provides a fascinating analysis which seems to indicate that Saudi Arabian oil production is declining faster than predicted and that this alleged underproduction is adequate to explain the recent rise in the price of gasoline prices we have seen (that, plus the recently shut-down refineries). Read the links at the bottom if you have a week to spare, some background in geophysics, and some time to do analysis.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The rest of the story
A flurry of anti-immigration-bill conservative pundits are about to start quoting (selectively) from the new Rasmussen poll on immigration. Most will only tell you about two of the questions:
* "From what you know about the agreement, do you favor or oppose the immigration reform proposal agreed to last Week?" Favor: 26%; Oppose: 48%; Not sure: 26%.
* "How Important is it to improve border enforcement and reduce illegal immigration?" Very important: 72%; Somewhat important: 16%; Not very important: 8%; Not at all important: 2%.
And from this, the opinion-makers will conclude that the very idea of a comprehensive immigration bill should be dropped, and we should move to the enforcement-only approach, which "everybody wants."
This leaves aside the political dilemma: Since we live in a country that has a political government, not a military dictatorship, how can we simply ignore the majority in Congress -- which overwhelmingly wants regularization? Is the president supposed to issue an executive order dissolving the legislative branch?
But the conclusion that Americans oppose any regularization also pretends not to notice a much more proximate point: Those were not the only two questions asked; and among the other questions is one that utterly upends the first question, transforming it instead into a pop quiz on current events:
Still, 65% of voters would be willing to support a compromise including a “very long path to citizenship” provided that “the proposal required the aliens to pay fines and learn English” and that the compromise “would truly reduce the number of illegal aliens entering the country.” The proposal, specifically described as a compromise, was said to include “strict employer penalties for hiring illegal aliens, building a barrier along the Mexican border and other steps to significantly reduce the number of illegal aliens entering the United States.”
That would be 2/3rds of Americans willing to support such a compromise; but only 26% willing to support this particular compromise.
Putting these two answers together, we find that a minimum of 39% of Americans (but probably much more) do not read Big Lizards... because, in fact, every single one of those provisions is in the current compromise legislation.
So, who are you going to believe? Your government or talk show hosts fighting for market shares and political oppurtunists demagogueing the issue?
Tough call, but one we have to make.
I'm referring to the newish book by Tony Judt, which seeks to tell the tale of Europe since World War II from an entirely fresh perspective. I have only read the first chapter so I can't write a definitive book report. But I have read enough to say it's the first popular history book that has excited me in a decade, the best I can remember since Modern Times or the marvelous Citizens. I've gone far enough to believe that we should all be reading this book.
What makes a new history book particularly compelling? New ideas, new views of old stories which bring together disparate facts which were itching in the back of one's mind, forgotten, for a long time—and now suddenly they all fall into place.
Here's a fact. Kafka, one of the greatest German writers, lived in Prague. How or why did this great German writer come to live in Prague? Well, little groups of Germans lived all over Eastern Europe prior to the Second World War, mixed up here and there with little villages of Jews or Poles or Romanians or Magyars. Different ethnic groups speaking different languages had been all mixed together all over the place for hundreds of years, sheltered under the Holy Roman and later the Austrian empires. Such circumstances didn't fit well with the nation-state, the modern idea that everybody who speaks the same language should live under the same set of laws, and that everybody in a single country should speak the same language. During the war, the Nazi regime of Hitler sought to remove alien nations such as the Slavs from the lands of their control; Stalin's Communist regime sought to do the same to Germans and other nationalities within the confines of the Soviet Union. Hitler's grand plan, the reason he abandoned the Battle of Britain on the verge of victory, was to populate the vast plains to the east of Germany with new German colonies. Hitler had planned to do to Eastern Europe what Europe had been doing to the rest of the world for centuries—clear the natives and colonize. The Second World War was the first example of what we now call "ethnic cleansing" in Europe, but the Communists and the Nazis were equal partners in this new enterprise. The process was accelerated after the war, when the Western Allies helped to continue the process.
As early as 1942 the British had privately acceded to Czech requests for a post-war removal of the Sudeten German population, and the Russians and Americans fell into line the following year. On May 19th 1945, President Edouard Benes of Czechoslovakia decreed that 'we have decided to eliminate the German problem in our republic once and for all.' [Ed: does "final solution" ring a bell here?] Germans (as well as Hungarians and other 'traitors') were to have their property placed under state control. In June 1945 their land was expropriated and on Auguste 22nd of that year they lost their Czechoslovak citizenship." Nearly three million Germans, most of them from the Czech Sudetenland, were then expelled into Germany in the course of the following eighteen months. Approximately 267,000 died in the course of the expulsions.
So that's what became of Kafka's Germans in Prague. Kafka's family, being Jewish, didn't even manage to last that long in many cases, as Hitler was already cleansing all of Eastern Europe of Jews. The Jews, having no "homeland" to be pushed into prior to 1945, were simply exterminated directly. But the urge to ethnically purge, to purify by language and race, was not uniquely applied to the Jews nor by the Germans. Nor is it absent today. Ask the Iraqis.
That Hitler was at heart a socialist, and that he actually shared many fundamental views with the Communists of the Thirties (such as the concept that there are no fundamental bounds to the power of the state, that anything—any crime if need be—deemed necessary to the good of the state is allowable, even desirable) is one of Johnson's great themes in Modern Times. Postwar shares the same high intellect and nearly encyclopedic yet honest accuracy of detail as that tome, but compared to Johnson's book it is less partisan, less shrill, and far more effective for it.
That Hitler was colonizing Europe is another trenchant theme present in Judt's first chapter.
Wars of occupation were not unknown in Europe, of course. Far from it. Folk memories of the Thirty Years War in seventeenth-century Germany, during which foreign mercenary armies lived off the land and terrorized the local population, were still preserved three centuries later in local myths and in fairy tales....
But the peoples who fell under German rule after 1939 were either put to the service of the Reich or else were scheduled for destruction. For Europeans this was a new experience. Overseas, in their colonies, European states had habitually indentured or enslaved indigenous populations for their own benefit. They had not been above the use of torture, mutilation or mass murder to coerce their victims into obedience. But since the eighteenth century these practices were largely unknown among the Europeans themselves....
It was in the Second World War, then, that the full force of the modern European state was mobilized for the first time, for the primary purpose of conquering and exploiting other Europeans.
And it goes on, with interesting new thoughts on nearly every page. As they say, read the whole thing.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The stock market is in one, and I'm starting to get that funny tickling feeling in the back of my neck. Starting, but not quite there yet. Why is the stock market in a weird state? Because stock price growth follows economic growth, and the American economy is set to grow less than two percent this year and maybe slightly more next year (nobody knows for sure of course), yet certain portions of the market are being bid up like there's no tomorrow. That puts it out of kilter. What goes up must come down.
Then there's the China factor. A friend remarked to me the other day that China is to the US of today as the US of the Twenties was to the United Kingdom. There's a lot of truth in that in many ways, but let's focus for a moment on financial assets. In February, you may recall, the Shanghai stockmarket plunged 9%, causing a massive selloff on Wall Street. Since then, it has rocketed back up 45%. As Crossing Wall Street says, we all know how this story ends. At least, we know how it ended in the Twenties.
Then there is the Europe factor. A recent survey by Merrill Lynch indicated that most money-managers are overweight in Europe. What most big money managers have already done is a fairly reliable counterindicator. It may be that European stocks, which have done very well for the last couple of years are getting frothy.
Then there is the Microsoft factor. It paid $6 billion for aQuantive the other day. That amounts to $2.85 million for each of the employees. At that price, it could have hired 60,000 new engineers and managers at 100k each and practically doubled its size. This seems a little over the top, exactly the kind of buying panic we typically see at market tops.
So what is driving the market relentlessly upward if not the economy? As I posted in November, there's a huge amount of cash sloshing around the world. The rich have indeed been getting richer by leaps and bounds for the last quarter century, and many of the middle classes have moved into the ranks of the rich. With inflation relatively low, with housing prices in all the desirable locations higher than a cat's back, with two Beamers already sitting in the garage, what are you going to do with it? As I read back in the late Nineties, the economic purpose of a stock market crash is to remove excess capital from the system.
Finally, is our ability to extract cheap oil about to peak? How would a rational stock market react to that?
But if you're not worried, here are ten red hot Chinese stocks (little joke, that) to invest in now.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The content of Flares Into Darkness is subject solely to the personal whim of its contributors. We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to remove any and all posts or comments, at any time, for any reason which takes our entirely capricious fancy, or for no particular reason whatsoever, without restriction.
Just a reminder for those incapable of the effort required to scroll down and read.
If you want a playpen - build your own.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Facing the Market
The sad fact of life in a market economy is that you have to do what somebody else wants in order to get paid. You don't generally get paid for what is fun for you or for what you want to do; you get paid for what somebody else wants you to do, and usually that's something they themselves don't want to do for some reason. Maybe the work is tedious, maybe it requires high levels of responsibility, maybe it is dirty or dangerous. One thing you can be guaranteed is that it's something somebody else doesn't want to do themselves.
Now this is contrary to what most of us learn in school and in our cultural role models. We learn that we should be "free". We learn that we should be self-actualizing. We learn that we should break the rules and make things better and in the end everyone will reward us for "doing the right thing". Don't bet on it.
Universities are divided into sections, departments such as Chemistry, Physics, Women's Studies, Philosophy, English, etc., and people study these things for four years and they come out thinking they are getting a job for the rest of their lives doing Chemistry or Philosophy or whatever it was. In fact, for almost all of them, they are going to get a job in business and they are going to spend their lives in business. Their livelihoods will depend to a great degree on their sales skills, not on their skill in writing History papers. Naturally there is some friction there. Naturally the students are disappointed that what was only one, scoffed-upon department among many is in fact the only place to eat. How could society be this way? We need social change!
The truth is that most of us make our livings in some sort of business because that's the only place where we are really doing what other people want, and that's the only place they will pay us. The frustrated young recent graduates frequently believe that "the government should fix this". We should have a society where one is rewarded for doing whatever one feels like, for painting pictures, singing songs, proving math theorems. So there is always pressure to "subsidize" the arts and sciences, i.e., to take money away from Grandma at the point of a gun and give it to somebody else whom Grandma would never have rewarded voluntarily. In one of the Babar stories, Babar stumbles across exactly such a world. He orders ice cream and only has to pay the man by singing a song.
And maybe we should take away Grandma's money by force. I don't know. I've pretty much given up on knowing exactly what we should and shouldn't do, exactly how society should and shouldn't be organized. I've discovered that I don't know and am unlikely to ever know. But my observation is that in the whole history of mankind, the market-based system we have developed is the only one capable of delivering all the wealth we depend on and take for granted. And if we choose to go away from it, millions of people will end up without food. The present population of the planet is not sustainable without it.
So my advice to all of us is: face the market. It's often hard, it's often unpleasant, it's almost never what we want, but it's the right thing to do.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Immigration Bill
Am I right in thinking that now is the right time for them to come over for an extended (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) 'vacation' ?
Friday, May 18, 2007
This is all to introduce Bill Roggio's latest post on Pakistan, I hope you all are paying attention. And I do wonder what contingency plans the US has if Pakistan should come apart or fall into civil war. I don't see much discussion of that possibility on the net, and yet that is surely more likely than the same happening in Iran and the dangers would be more immediate: there are those nukes to consider if nothing else.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
It has been plenty long enough now that I should see some evidence of Ospring. At least one. But activity at the nest is downright slight. Spottings are rare. One today but it was just one bird making a simple little Twig Delivery. By now I expected to see Mom and Dad both feverishly making Fish Deliveries. I suspect the weather has been too funky and the Ospring just didn't make it.
The ugly beast Turkey Vultures are everywhere. They gather up a half-dozen at a time. There just isn't any time, other than storms, when the sky is clear of them. Brazen they are. Nasty beggars spit and hiss at you if you approach them (I'm prone to that sort of thing) when they're hanging around on or near the ground.
Oh well, if anyone is interested in some quick reading material, I reluctantly recommend So Much for the New European Century, Autism Unveiled, Hayek & the intellectuals, and The Return of the Idiot. All were discovered during what has become a far too infrequent visit to Arts & Letters Daily.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Greensburg, KS used to be an oasis for my family. Located approximately halfway between my house and my grandparents' house in far Western Kansas, it was a peaceful, prosperous, and pleasant farming town where one could break the endless monotony of the empty prairies. It had two claims to fame, and as children we inevitably demanded of our parents that they stop and let us investigate them: the "World's Largest Hand-Dug Well" (109' deep, shown), and the "Brenham Meteorite" (third largest stony-iron meteorite ever discovered). There was also a good family restaurant that we always stopped at whose owner had amassed a massive and impressive antique car collection. The last oasis of civilization for literally hundreds of miles.
On May 5th, 95% of the town was destroyed.
The 1,000 lb. meteorite was picked up and tossed out of its building.
The movie below is earlier from the same storm cell, when it formed in Oklahoma. This is the most dramatic footage of a tornado I've ever seen; you can see trees being uprooted less than 100 yards from the camera.
Apparently a group of people showed up a couple of days later from Mississippi, toting heavy equipment and trucks. When asked who they were, they said simply "We're here to help." It turns out that when Katrina hit New Orleans, it also wiped out their small town in Mississippi. Though amidst all the footage of the troubles of New Orleans, no one seemed to be paying attention to the devastation which had struck them. Then a delegation from the Mennonite Disaster Services from Western Kansas came and helped rebuild. The Mississippians wanted to repay the kindness of the Kansans.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Sad but true
A peek into the par-for-the-course treatment in New Orleans. This comes from a post titled, "Why nothing gets done in New Orleans" by Forgotston.
April 25, 2007
C. Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans
City Hall – Room 2E04
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
Dear Mayor Nagin:
I just had occasion to telephone your office to leave a message on three issues. I spoke with someone named “Sandra” who answered the 658-4900 number.
I opened the conversation by telling her that I had called Sanitation (658-3800) about some garbage that had not been picked up in the neighborhood and that the automated system instructed me to call Metro Disposal at 520-8331. I called that number 5 times and kept getting another automated system that requested that I enter the extension of the person I was calling. When I was unable to do that, the system advised that no number had been entered and the system could not be accessed through a telephone without touchtone capabilities. At that point the call was disconnected. I explained that the Sanitation Department should have someone answer the calls.
“Sandra” proceeded to tell me that “(I) need to call my councilman. That’s who (I) elected. This is not the mayor’s job.”
I then told her that I also wanted to let you know that I had been leaving messages on the Sanitation Department’s automated system for Veronica White asking her to return my call and advising that I wanted to speak with her about addressing our neighborhood association regarding the new trash system. “Sandra’s” response to this was, “Maybe she’s not interested in speaking to your group.” I told her that may well be the case, but Ms. White could at least do us the courtesy of having someone call and tell us that and that I thought that was all part of her job. If she does not have time to return calls, the least she could do is have her secretary call with regrets.
Finally, I told “Sandra” that I also wanted to speak to Ms. White about the message that is on her department’s automated system. It says, “Thank you for calling the City of New Orleans, Department of Sanitation. All of your calls is important to us….” I told “Sandra” that this grammatically incorrect message should be changed ASAP. This is not the image that I would think the city would want to put out to the public. “Sandra’s” response was that she had already told me I needed to call my councilperson. It’s his job.
First, let me say that I find it very discourteous for a telephone operator to be so flip with callers, especially when she had no clue as to whom she was speaking. I could have been calling from the governor’s office for all she knew. I just wanted her to write down the message and give it to someone who might recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed when:
– callers trying to reach a city department can only get a machine that sends them to another machine without giving them sufficient information to make the second system work,
– a city government head does not take the time to, at the very least, have someone call a civic group back in response to a request to speak at its meeting and
– automated systems have grammatically incorrect messages and no one in City Hall seems to either notice it or take the time to see that it is corrected.
We need a Sanitation Department that isn’t too good to have a real person answer the phone and operators who can take messages and resist the temptation to insult the callers.
cc: The Hon. James Carter
The Hon. Arnie Fielkow
The Hon. Oliver Thomas
And it appears that Nagin's approval rating is hovering in Bush territory, as indicated by the latest Times-Picayune poll:
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin wasn't popular with 63 percent of New Orleanians, a slight increase from the 56 percent rating he received last year. The proportion of people who like him dropped from 40 percent to 33 percent.
And while this happens, the state was unable to attact a steel mill that would have been an aid to economic development:
Louisiana's higher electricity, labor and site preparation costs contributed to ThyssenKrupp AG's decision Friday to build a $3.7 billion steel plant in Alabama instead of St. James Parish, state and company officials said.
hat tip: Ernie the Attorney
Who’s Your Daddy?: Part I
We're now a couple of weeks away from the 30th anniversary of the release of the movie that is number two in all-time domestic (USA/Canada) box office behind Titanic and number two in inflation-adjusted all-time domestic box office behind Gone With The Wind. When it opened on the 25th of May in 1977 it was called Star Wars. It was long ago given a longer name: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. The movie was an unassuming and unmitigated joy that changed the culture in ways both good and bad and, unlike the two number one movies, did not rely upon the romantic/sexual attractiveness of its male and female leads to one another and to moviegoers for more than a small part of its box office success and also, unlike them, was not a dramatization involving a historical event. The sequel more than lived up to hopes and expectations and then, in my fairly lonely opinion, the whole thing went off the rails through four more sequels—all mostly joyless and all spectacularly successful at the box office.
Earlier this year a movie about a long-ago battle between Greeks and Persians opened to some laugh-inducing reviews and commentary and to substantial box office. This isn't a review; it's a reaction to two of those subjects (both trivial where movies are concerned) discussed and debated ad nauseam in many of the reviews and quasi-political/historical commentary which resulted from the release of 300 on March 9th. If you read the reviews and commentary you likely read that the Greeks as played in 300 are in exceptionally good physical shape and don’t wear anywhere near as much armor as was worn by the 300 Spartans who actually battled the Persians at Thermopylae. This criticism brought to mind the great poster for Star Wars that I and countless others attached to walls in 1977. I'd call your attention to two chests and a thigh (so not in evidence in the movie) but it hardly seems necessary given how good a job the artist did of selling the supposed romantic/sexual attractiveness of the male and female leads. Now, of course, 300 is an adaptation of a graphic novel and muscular, buxom, striking, grotesque, etc. are the norm when it comes to the physical attributes of the characters who most often populate those. Generally speaking, movies marketed to mass audiences do not go so far in deviating from actual norms (something to do with audience identification with characters,) even today. Nonetheless, attractiveness in heroes and some measure of grotesqueness in villains has likely never done the box office prospects of any work product in any entertainment medium any harm.
The second subject has to do with its accuracy in depicting the historical event being dramatized. Much of the reason movies and television series about the classical world are being produced is because Gladiator was such a financial and critical success. That movie begins at the moment in history which the historian Edward Gibbon identified as the beginning of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Anyone who pays attention to the story of those times as it’s told in Gladiator and knows next-to-nothing about the times would have to think that it was a moment in history which resulted in a new birth of freedom and republican governance brought about by the death of an Emperor named Commodus (historical) and a general-turned-gladiator named Maximus (fictional) and that the decline and fall, well, that must have begun another hundred or two hundred or five hundred years later.
In another financial and critical success that won a Best Picture Oscar in the ‘90s, Mel Gibson dies hideously (hardly a surprise) while crying “Freedom” (hardly a surprise) and after having sired, by implication, the future King Edward III of England. Of that I was reminded recently during the final episode of the infuriatingly good, bad and ugly classical-world HBO series, Rome, which ended in comedy as the miraculously spared and in Rome Cesarion vowed vengeance when old enough and his protector (and real father) gave voice to the last line of the series and the episode's title De Patre Vostro (About Your Father).
I'd begun a review of Rome back in January when what turned out to be its best episode, Passover, opened the second season. Most of what I was writing had to do with how the dramatists involved were neatly avoiding putting themselves in a position to be compared unfavorably to Shakespeare. While checking facts I learned that Max Pirkus would not be playing Octavian to the completion of the series and that so annoyed me that I deleted all that I'd written. I'm still annoyed, but then maybe the dramatists gave him a fair idea of how they saw his character developing and Pirkis (potentially the best actor in the production, but apparently not yet committed to making acting a career) opted out. Not a chance. The producers wanted an older actor so they could include an explicate copulation scene involving Octavian and Max didn't celebrate his eighteenth birthday until a week and a day before the second season began.
Now that I’ve maneuvered myself back to the subject of the romantic/sexual attractiveness of actors and actresses (provided they’re of age,) I couldn't but notice amid all the flesh on display throughout (noble Roman women of the period were treated as if they were their great-granddaughters) that when it came time for James Purefoy, playing Mark Antony, to fall upon his sword, he looked mighty buff for a guy living such a dissolute life for lo those many years with Cleopatra. The actor holding the sword, Kevin McKidd playing Lucius Vorenus, played his male lover in a romantic triangle of sorts approximately nine years ago in a mediocre movie called Bedrooms and Hallways.
Looking through the release dates at imdb.com it looks like it played only on the big screen in the U.S. at Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals. I watched it late one night, no doubt on HBO, when I was in the midst of my trek back to CA from my three-year sojourn in PA. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and Jennifer Ehle (Pride & Prejudice) are also in it.
When Rome began its run I was still in CA and the brother who kept me supplied with graphic novels (my Christmas present from him for many years was a selection of what he considered to be the best in graphic novels and comic books from the previous year) and I spent an entertaining hour matching actors to previous movies we'd seen them in before turning to imdb.com to confirm and enhance our memories. Purefoy I’d forgotten. McKidd I remembered from Topsy-Turvy and his debut. He played Tommy to Ewan McGregor's Renton in Trainspotting.
Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?
It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched miserable servile pathetic trash that was ever shat on civilization. Some people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to get colonized by. We're ruled by effete assholes. It's a shite state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and all the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!
What a difference in attitude 700 or so years or even a year (Trainspotting was released a little over a year after Braveheart) can make. Ewan, of course, went on to play a role from longer ago and further away which also required not nearly so much of a talent for acting (not to mention romantic/sexual attractiveness) in the three Star Wars prequel-sequels.
One of the perks that come with working in cable is that on occasion DVDs of coming attractions come your way. My wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of the Showtime series The Tudors a few weeks before its debut. Not surprisingly, romantically/sexually attractive men and women spend time in bed while a version of history having something to do with what actually happened serves as the backdrop. The series begins with Henry VIII on the throne. It might be reasonable to ask why a series called The Tudors doesn't begin with Henry VII somewhere in the vicinity of Bosworth Field, but then what does reason have to do with it. I think it’s safe to say that the only thing most people know about Henry VII, assuming they know anything about him, is that he was king before Henry VIII and “Was he his father or was that Mel?”
We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death on the battlefield is the greatest glory he could achieve in his life. Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known.
I, and I'd venture to say most of the people who make movies, understand the attraction of any story about the nobility and courage of a doomed mission/defense that served as an inspiration to those who later won the war (Remember the Alamo!) and also inspired a memorable poem or story or song or two and the story of the Battle of Thermopylae has all that (and a great name.) We also understand that, in general, successful movies result from a certain clarity and simplicity of plot (however complicated the history if it’s placed in times historical) and a certain identification with and attractiveness in the heroes (whatever their actual personalities and looks.) That being written, for me the 10,000 are much more representative of what it is about Classical Greece that, from what we know, made it so admirably different and, in many ways, worth emulating.
Approximately eighty years after the heroic stand at Thermopylae and the great naval victory at Salamis, 10,000 Greek mercenaries left unemployed by the end of the Peloponnesian War (Sparta beat Athens) signed on to help a Persian named Cyrus take the Persian Empire away from his older brother. They eventually found themselves deep in hostile territory without an employer and without leaders. Xenophon tells his and their story in Anabasis.
Edith Hamilton from The Greek Way:
The Anabasis is the story of the Greeks in miniature. Ten thousand men, fiercely independent by nature, in a situation where they were a law unto themselves, showed that they were pre-eminently able to work together and proved what miracles of achievement willing co-operation can bring to pass. The Greek state, at any rate the Athenian state, which we know best, showed the same. What brought the Greeks safely back from Asia was precisely what made Athens great. The Athenian was a law unto himself, but his dominant instinct to stand alone was counterbalanced by his sense of overwhelming obligation to serve the state. This was his own spontaneous reaction to the facts of his life, nothing imposed on him from outside. The city was his defense in a hostile world, his security, his pride, too, the guarantee to all of his worth as an Athenian.
So far as I know, to date the closest the story of the 10,000 has come to being adapted into a movie is The Warriors, an adaptation of a novel about a Coney Island street gang of that name. Why no adaptation featuring Greeks? I like to think it’s because no one with the requisite talent to do so felt/feels that he or she had/has the requisite talent to do so.
As I don't expect to see a dramatization in my lifetime, I’d like to dwell on Xenophon and his Cyrus for a couple more paragraphs before concluding. Xenophon doesn’t begin to write of himself as distinguished from the army of which he is a part until Book III and when he does (in the third person) he begins by telling us that when he consulted Socrates as to whether or not he should accept or refuse an invitation to join the venture Socrates sent him to the Oracle at Delphi where, as Socrates later points out, he doesn’t ask whether he should accept or refuse, but rather to which Gods he should sacrifice to make his going a success. In Book I he writes of the army as Cyrus organized and then led it until his death. Part IX of Book I begins: So died Cyrus; a man the kingliest and most worthy to rule of all the Persians who have lived since the elder Cyrus: according to the concurrent testimony of all who are reputed to have known him intimately.
In Of Pedantry, Montaigne writes of Xenophon’s account of Cyrus’s account of the last lesson in his education:
“It was this,” he says. “In our school a big boy who had a small coat gave it to one of his scoolmates who was smaller and took away his coat, which was larger. Our teacher, having made me judge of this dispute, I judged that things should be left in that state, and that both seemed better suited in this way; whereupon he pointed out to me that I had done badly, for I had stopped at considering fitness, whereas I should first of all have taken care of justice, which willed that no one should be forced in regard to what belonged to him.” And he says he was whipped for it...
We know something of Cyrus the Younger besides dates, genealogies and battle outcomes because a Greek named Xenophon thought him important enough to write about on more than one occaision and to our great good fortune many of Xenophon's words can still be read.
I enjoyed 300 despite its relatively minor rewrite of history as it probably happened and its adherence to many of the conventions of the mediums from which and into which it was adapted, but I don’t love it for, in part, the same reasons. As I looked through this ridiculous list* last weekend I realized that I don't much like a single one of the movies on it whose screenplay is an adaptation of material from another medium and I like all but one of the movies whose screenplay is called "original." The list does get a few points for excluding all the Star Wars sequels that made it to the big screen (including the extended versions of the first two) during the last 25 years.
I am your father.
What do I remember about first seeing a movie I've loved for almost 30 years? It was a Saturday morning at the Piedmont Theater in Oakland, CA and the audience was big, but it wasn't a sellout. This skeptical and critical 19-year-old loved it from the moment the 20th Century Fox logo appeared and the fanfare began in Dolby Stereo and that love intensified when a simple title card bearing the words which lead this post appeared and intensified again with the opening chord of the theme music, in Dolby, and the appearance of the movie title and intensified again when Princess Leia's ship entered the frame and yet again when Lord Vader’s battle cruiser entered the frame in pursuit and then again and again and again, with a bump or two along the way, right through to the closing credits. And this is where I stop trusting my memory, but I think it was at this showing that for the first time in my movie-going experience there was general and sustained applause for a movie in current release by a large audience who mostly stayed through the closing credits. For years and years afterwards this behavior was not unusual. Before this movie I’d only seen anything like it at repertory movie theaters. What a day.
*I think Star Wars the best Science Fiction (known to me) produced for the movies and television in the past 30 years and I'd have no problem with pairing it with The Empire Strikes Back as the best. Babylon 5 is, in my opinion, number 2. That it isn't on the EW list at all renders that list ridiculous.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
No Reality!—Latest Quantum Weirdness
Albert Einstein is often revered as a religious icon of our secular society, a genius rebel who came from nowhere to change the prevailing "scientific paradigm" using mathematics few can understand, and got away with it. An older and much brighter version of James Dean. What is much less widely known is that fairly early on in his career Einstein himself, much like John Kerry today, became "the man", the authority figure dogmatically imposing his older version of reality on a younger generation, despite the abundant empirical evidence in favor of the younger view.
I'm referring of course to Quantum Mechanics, which Einstein never accepted and which he spent a good forty years trying to refute without success. Einstein was a very bright guy, and he and two colleagues came up with an ingenious thought-experiment which did seem to refute it, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment. Unfortunately for the conventional dogma represented by Einstein, a version of the experiment was performed and Quantum Mechanics won out, with certain "classical" ideas like the "principle of locality" having to be thrown out the window. Variations on the experiment have been performed many times, confirming Quantum Mechanics every time, and the results (often termed "spooky action-at-a-distance") form the basis of the nascent field of Quantum Encryption among other things. There seems to be a very real sense in which everything in the universe is related to everything else, whether nearby in space-time or not. What that really means nobody knows exactly.
Still the idea that things are all somehow related doesn't seem to be too much to swallow on its own. However, Quantum Mechanics still seems to point strongly to the conclusion that, at bottom, reality is nothing but complete randomness, a conclusion which physicists in the Einstein tradition ("God doesn't play dice with the universe.") are extremely reluctant to believe. They have concocted an alternate theory, one in which there is a deep order beneath the quantum events after all, but an order which is not detected by experiments because it is in its essence hidden to experiment (ed: Isn't that called String Theory?). Such theories are called hidden-variables theories. A new experiment has just shown—yet again—that Quantum Mechanics appears to be right and its detractors wrong. Worse, not only must we throw out locality and the idea of an underlying order, but apparently even more cold water has been thrown on the eternal hope that reality exists when we're not looking at it.
Now physicists from Austria claim to have performed an experiment that rules out a broad class of hidden-variables theories that focus on realism -- giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it (Nature 446 871).
Monday, May 07, 2007
Only the Second Level?
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
|Purgatory (Repenting Believers)||Very Low|
|Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)||Moderate|
|Level 2 (Lustful)||Very High|
|Level 3 (Gluttonous)||High|
|Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)||Moderate|
|Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)||Moderate|
|Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)||Moderate|
|Level 7 (Violent)||High|
|Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)||High|
|Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)||Low|
Take the Dante's Inferno Test
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Cold Fusion Keeps Coming Back
I had the good fortune last Fall to have the opportunity to visit the US Navy's SPAWAR facility, located in the Ft. Rosecrans U.S. Military reservation near Pt. Loma in San Diego (see picture, or look around in 3D for yourself). The setting is stunning and the research being accomplished there is impressive.
Little did I know that right around the corner from where I sat another team was finding yet more evidence of the reality of cold fusion. The abstract is here.
In this report, we present additional evidence, namely, the emission of highly energetic charged particles emitted from the Pd/D electrode when this system is placed in either an external electrostatic or magnetostatic field. The density of tracks registered by a CR-39 detector was found to be of a magnitude that provides undisputable evidence of their nuclear origin. The experiments were reproducible. A model based upon electron capture is proposed to explain the reaction products observed in the Pd/D-D2O system.
To me, this remains a fascinating chapter in the history of epistemology, one we are fortunate enough to watch close-up during our own lifetimes. I laid out my personal version of the story here about a year ago. How do we know what we think we know?—remains to me one of the most fascinating of all questions, one which bears directly on our political beliefs. Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is Bush Cheney's puppet? Is he dumb as all getout or is he an evil genius? It is largely in the answers to these questions upon which one's political beliefs turn. Before we can decide what to do, we have to first decide what reality is, and there is vast difference of opinion on the subject.
The cold fusion story shows that we can't even easily come to an agreement on the nature of physical reality, even when no one's ox should be gored, it shouldn't particularly become a political battle. And yet it did, physicists vs. chemists, big-science vs. little-science, East Coast Ivy leagues vs. Western State Universities. The NY Times vs. the rest of the country. And we still don't know what the truth is. Personally, I am strongly of the opinion that there is something real here, that it is an undiscovered and completely surprising nuclear effect which doesn't fit at all into the prevailing wisdom, and that it will be fascinating to watch the social process by which the current dogma ("Cold Fusion was a hoax") turns into the new dogma ("Cold fusion is a hitherto undiscovered part of reality"), should I live so long.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Joshu Sasaki on his 100th Birthday
Team Mordor (boo/hiss):
On the Issues
On the Issues
On the Issues
Team Gandalf (our heroes):
On the Issues
On the Issues
On the Issues
Thompson (draft site)
On the Issues
PLEASE NOTE: These are all politicians, changes in political wind direction may affect views on issues without warning. Also note that the "On the Issues" site may not be particularly impartial. It's a nice compendium though.
Friday, May 04, 2007
France's Royal warns of violence if Sarkozy wins
While Sark is no conservative it will be interesting to see how he deals with the unions and immigrants. He's strongly against the 35 hour loaf week so there should be some outstanding strikes this summer and fall when (or if) he actually tries to get rid of it. Between that, Airbusted and the immigrant problem he's going to have his hands full.
I hope he's up to it.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows
It's a good thing, too, since the EU has decided that fancy-arse mercury barometers are an unacceptable risk to Gaia's health. Wait'll they catch on to the huge push to assault poor Gaia with bajillions of mercury-carryin' CFLs.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Freedom to Tinker » Blog Archive » Miracle Fruit: Tinkering with our Taste Buds
Makes sour things sweet. Really.
"The grapefruit was stunning, perhaps the best-tasting fruit I have ever eaten. The ones we had were pretty sweet already as grapefruit go, but with miraculin they were distinctly but not overly sweet, and the underlying grapefruit flavor came through beautifully. I had to stop myself from wolfing down several grapefruit."
09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0
Habu says -
Sure Obama 'yo Momma is the dandy now but just wait until the Clinton chipper shredder gets fired up on the take him down now setting. He'll be g-o-n-e.
Hillary hasn't been working on this centrist-kinder-gentler-I-love-the-military pose for nothing.
It's probably taken some strong pills and psychotherapy for her to do it but she badly wants the POWER. It might mean a trip to Fort Marcy Park for Obama but that's politics.
Also it is rare when a US Senator is elected to the Presidency. Last one that comes to mind was LBJ and he first ascended over the dead body of JFK, so he was technically voted in as a sitting President..But before that? Yep JFK, with a good deal of help from the dead of Cooke County ,Ill. and Richard Daly. And before that you have to go back to Warren G Harding. That's the full list folks Kennedy and Harding straight from the Senate to the WH.
Yep, I'll be a world beater for Obama Heussin, a first term Senator to make it to the WH.
In fact I understand Hillary is already trying to hire a NJ state trooper to become Obama's driver.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
How'd that happen?
1) First the obvious - the unemployment rate sits at 4.4%. That's low.
2) The 12-week trailing average of the Job Insecurity Index (TM) - a measure of the proportion of the "insured workforce" (people who are eligible to file for unemployment) that actually files for unemployment each week - sat at 0.245% as of the end of March, just above its all time low (since 1971) of 0.221% recorded in May of 2000, and lower than at any point between 1971 and July 3, 1999. Oh, for the good old days, when the JII could reach as high as 0.832% (April 5, 1975), and never dipped below 0.448% (January 1974 through December 1983). [Note: I've modified the JII slightly from the previous post linked above, now using the total insured population rather than total civilian employment as the denominator. I'll probably modify it again in the future to use insured population less continuing unemployed, but hey, this is an iterative process.]
3) The 3-month trailing average proportion of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population that says it wants a job now but is not looking for one (primarily because of discouragement - "there aren't any jobs out there!") hit a new record low in March, 1.95%, for the third month in a row. The previous record was in June of 2006, and before that April of 2001. That should put to rest the idea that the unemployment rate is low because people have given up looking - a favored canard of those with a vested interest in creating the perception of a weak labor market. In fact, a smaller percentage of people have given up looking than ever before in recorded history. Or at least since 1994, which is the limit of the data I have available. Oh, and in March of 1994, it was 3.26%, which is a lot higher than it is now, so you can almost certainly go back to the 1980s before you have any chance of finding a lower one.
4) The ratio of people who have a job to people who want a job stood at 93.0% in March. The record (again, since 1994) was 93.4%, recorded in October-November of 2000. In March of 2000, at the height of the boom, it was... 93.0%. Before September of 1999, it never reached 93.0% - even with rounding.
5) As of March of 2007, the labor force participation rate (66.2%) sits 1.1 points below its high of 67.3% recorded in January-April of 2000. The proportion of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population not participating because they simply don't want a job right now (31.9%) is 1.3 points higher than it was in January-April of 2000 (30.6%), explaining the entire drop in the participation rate (and a little bit more).
The drop in the participation rate is part of a long-term demographic trend toward more people who are "of age" to be included in the Civilian Labor Force not seeking a job because they don't want to work. Just to be clear - it is not part of a nefarious plot by the Bush administration and their cronies at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make the unemployment rate look lower than it actually is. I know that's been a worry of some people out there, and I hope this eases your minds.
The real reason, and I don't have numbers to back this up, but I'll eat my hat if it isn't the real reason - as the Baby Boomers have aged, some proportion of them have also retired early. So yes, the participation rate is lower. It's lower because a greater proportion of people have retired. Early. Heaven forfend.
That's one of my favorites, because people have been so fond of saying "well, if the participation rate were as high as it was then, unemployment would be a lot higher". In fact, though, if the proportion of people who had decided they'd rather not work had stayed the same the participation rate would be slightly higher now than it was then, and they'd be making the opposite adjustment. If they were intellectually honest, that is.
So somehow, while the punditocracy was shouting about the soft labor market and the jobless recovery, we managed to rocket back to conditions remarkably similar to those at the height of the 1999-2000 boom. Astonishing, isn't it?
Rice Calls For Bush To Resign
The equivalent is happening in Israel. Tzipi Livni holds the portfolio of Foreign Minister in Olmert's cabinet. Her call for his resignation may be somewhat less than a sterling example of principle over personal political gain.
You see, she didn't call for elections and she appears quite ready to throw her support behind the person she feels best qualified to lead the shabby Kadima coalition. She has examined the person and found no fault or blemish that would be a hindrance to being the Prime Minister.
The paragon's name? Why, Tzipi Livni, of course. Who else?
Meanwhile, over in Turkey, the Constitutional Court weighed the issues involved in Gul's grab for the Presidency very carefully. After a thorough and complete examination, the court voted
Oh, the AQ guy in Iraq who has been in the news is definitely dead.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Real Clear Politics continues to provide the best polling data synopsis that I've found. Their National Head to Head matchups. They indicate that the Clinton machine will have to destroy Obama before turning its guns on Giuliani. Tom Maguire has a post up referencing a NYT article that is marvelous in its opacity. I must say that while Obama appears to share Clinton's deep and abiding faith that control and power are the sine qua non of existence his 'faith journey' is marred a bit by his choice of fellow travelers. He does have the useful knack of casting them aside when they become a burden but Clinton has a definite edge in ruthlessness. He's a smart man and he will be even smarter when Clinton gets done with him.
I noticed that the President's approval ratings continue to not move much at all (according to Rasmussen). He's been stuck at 41 +-2 for twelve months now and is still holding 78% among Republicans. We'll see if it's a real floor as gas prices move up for the summer. I hope it's the floor - that 41% represents the core base needed to hold off Clinton in '08. I don't believe that Giuliani will weather the Clinton attack machine very well, McCain is way too mercurial to hold the core and I doubt Romney's ability to get over the 'Who?' hump. Thompson can hold the core and his chances of taking the necessary 10% from the muddle are much better than McCain's or Romney's.
I wonder what the actual issues will be in '08 (barring another AQ attack)?