26 February 2007

The immigration Debate

Apparently it is more complicated then we even thought.

An alternative to Wikipedia?

It's called Conservapedia. Jon Swift, who bills himself as a 'reasonable conservative' has the whole sorry story.

Check it out

and then contact me immediately to buy some family real-estate on the coast of Florida and invest in a Nigerian retirement fund I am handling.

25 February 2007

A New Clemen's Contest

That's right folks. You have another chance to win a prize (to be determined). Try to guess which subset of the human race Michael Medved is being most insulting to in this quote taken from a recent column:
There is no rational basis for discomfort at playing with athletes of another race since science and experience show that human racial differences remain insignificant. The much better analogy for discomfort at gay teammates involves the widespread (and generally accepted) idea that women and men shouldn’t share locker rooms. Making gay males unwelcome in the intimate circumstances of an NBA team makes just as much sense as making straight males unwelcome in the showers for a women’s team at the WNBA. Most female athletes would prefer not to shower together with men not because they hate males (though some of them no doubt do), but because they hope to avoid the tension, distraction and complication that prove inevitable when issues of sexual attraction (and even arousal) intrude into the arena of competitive sports.

Tim Hardaway (and most of his former NBA teammates) wouldn’t welcome openly gay players into the locker room any more than they’d welcome profoundly unattractive, morbidly obese women. I specify unattractive females because if a young lady is attractive (or, even better, downright “hot”) most guys, very much including the notorious love machines of the National Basketball Association, would probably welcome her joining their showers. The ill-favored, grossly overweight female is the right counterpart to a gay male because, like the homosexual, she causes discomfort due to the fact that attraction can only operate in one direction. She might well feel drawn to the straight guys with whom she’s grouped, while they feel downright repulsed at the very idea of sex with her.

Just be sure to fill out your entry form in modern Kirghiz so you're entry can be properly judged (to cover expenses we had to offshore this job) and your prize, whatever it is, will soon be on its way.

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Giant steps for Humankind

All these accidental discoveries come from Wired magazine.

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took the world's first acid hit in 1943, when he touched a smidge of lysergic acid diethylamide, a chemical he had researched for inducing childbirth. He later tried a bigger dose and made another discovery: the bad trip.

Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming was researching the flu in 1928 when he noticed that a blue-green mold had infected one of his petri-dishes - and killed the staphylococcus bacteria growing in it. All hail sloppy lab work! [I especially like this one]

Microwave emitters (or magnetrons) powered Allied radar in WWII. The leap from detecting Nazis to nuking nachos came in 1946, after a magetron melted a candy bar in Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer's pocket.

In the early 1940s, General Electric scientist James Wright was working on artificial rubber for the war effort when he mixed boric acid and silicon oil. V-J Day didn't come any sooner, but comic strip image-stretching practically became a national pastime [since the resulting goo was named Silly Putty - I can still remember getting the first little plastic egg of the stuff and putting it to good use]

Chef Geoge Crum's concocted the perfect sandwich complement in 1853 when - to spite a customer who complained that his fries were too thick - he sliced a potato paper-thin and fried it to a crisp. Needless to say, the diner couldn't eat just one [it was the first potato chip].


Medieval wine merchants used to boil the H2O out of wine so their delicate cargo would keep better and take up less space at sea. Before long, some intrepid soul - our money's on a sailor - decided to bypass the reconstruction stage, and brandy was born. Pass the Courvoisier! [which, by remarkable coincidence, is exactly what I am sipping on at this very moment].

So what are you guys cooking up in your kitchens, workshops, ateliers, etc. ?

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Education: A view from the Front

Annie B., a good friend of mine down in the capital of Jeb Bush land, has recently retired after 35 years as a high school English teacher. This is what she has to say about ending her career:

It was getting too frustrating dealing with students with ringing cell phones that take pictures of tests, who send text messages with test answers, and who have lost the desire to read because they camp out in parking lots to buy $600 play stations while playing other video games. Books are almost a thing of the past, and so are many parents who back teachers who expect high standards.

So welcome to the post-literate world our society is creating. Everyone can read, but they can't read for more than about 10 seconds - witness the advice to bloggers to keep posts short.

Annie thinks she may not enjoy retirement since she is a high energy person who needs to be doing something useful (like sky-diving, or bungee jumping, or chaining herself to trees in front of bulldozers). If it is anything like my sabbatical I think she will have a blast.

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24 February 2007

The Law and Fiction from Rumpole himself

Well, not exactly the Rumpole, but his creator, John Mortimer. The WSJ (love those initials) has his top five works of fiction dealing with the Anglo-American legal system. Shakespeare is on the list, as is Trollope, and Dickens (twice) and the only living 20th century author, P. D. James who turned the detective novel into real literature. She's also the author of Children of Men by the way. A very impressive author.

23 February 2007

D'Souza once again.

Another review of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home, this one by Scott Johnson in the New Criterion. Worth a read, especially if you are not going to read the entire book itself (and I probably won't). It is easy to mischaracterize a book with some selective quotes, but the sentence “The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11," is about as clear a thesis statement as I have ever seen.

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22 February 2007

A productive waste of time

Now that I have burnt through an entire morning reading the e-news and posting here, I think I'll go have lunch. I'll take some of the work I should have been doing and make it a working lunch. Honest. I am taking a book on 11th century Maine (the one in France) written by a friend of mine. He is a good medievalist even though he is, as they say up where I work, "off the mountain." He lives in one of the cities of the plain.


John Edwards and his bloggers

Edwards' campaign stumbled at least a bit when the brouhaha broke out over the bloggers he had hired and the reaction to what they had written on their own blogs. A lot of words have blasted around blogland over it, most of them nonsense.

Finally I have found one commentary that makes good sense. In fact, it agrees pretty much with my opinion!

It's a cautionary for all us bloggers out there with political ambitions.

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"Sacred Causes" a WSJ book review

Michael Burleigh has written a book called Sacred Causes, reviewed here in the Wall Street Journal. It is worth a read since it makes me want to read the book as an antidote to a certain smug triumphalism on the part of soi-disant secularists. While I consider myself a secularist in a political sense it is because I am a child of the Enlightenment. I do not share the view that a totally secular society is something good in its own right, nor is it the end point of human social and intellectual development. So I find this paragraph, for example, compelling:
By undermining European stability, Mr. Burleigh notes, World War I created a space for radical alternatives to the bourgeois norms that had gone before. He shows how the Protestant middle classes in Germany, for instance, distanced themselves from their churches, viewing traditional religious observance as the remnant of a discredited past. Science and culture, along with militant nationalism, filled the role that churches had once played, and the pattern replicated itself beyond Germany. A traditional outlook gave way to cultural pessimism, intensifying throughout the 1920s.

This type of secularism is a peculiarity of the horrors of the 20th century. And it can be pernicious if it leads to a blindness to the spiritual needs of the human creature.

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The Government, illegal immigrants and Family Values

What are we to do with families trying to make their way across the borders until our government can make a ruling on their status and decide what to do with them? We used to take the children away and house them in federal facilities while their folks were locked up.

Now we have a better way: Camp Hutto.

Granted political asylum and now living temporarily in a home for immigrant women and children in Austin, Hosen said that she and other parents in Hutto were threatened regularly with separation from their children for minor infractions such as youngsters running inside the prison. She lost 30 pounds while detained, and her son lost weight and suffered from diarrhea. Concerned about her son's health, Hosen asked for a multivitamin for him but was denied the request, she said.

How to spin in Spanish

There has been some bad feelings among female members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus lately. The problem reached a flash point when Rep Loretta Sanchez resigned from the caucus over a remark the caucus chairman, Rep Joe Baca, allegedly made. According to this article in the Washinton Post Sanchez 'said that Baca called her a "whore" in a conversation with another Latino politician in Sacramento last summer. She said she did not hear the remark firsthand but learned about it later, and she has not revealed the source.'

Baca's effort at spin control included this gem: "I never used the five-letter word," he said. "

Now when a denial from a politico is phrased that carefully you naturally have to wonder. And if you are wondering, the Spanish word for 'whore' is puta.

Four letters.

Baca professes to be confused over what the ladies are upset about: "They haven't specifically spelled out where the problems are." Maybe not, but we just did.

20 February 2007

Clemen's Notebook

How can we do that?

The nation's average personal savings rate fell to negative 1 percent in 2006, meaning that Americans spent more than they earned. The last time the rate dipped into negative territory was in 1933, during the Great Depression (Assoc. Press)

We CAN beat the energy crisis

To save energy, daylight saving time will begin four weeks early this year, on March 11. Many computer systems are programmed to change the time on the old April date, so technicians are warning of possible problems. (Washington Post)

I guess I missed the religious subtext

Every February, the Philadelphia Meditation Center hosts a screening of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day. To Buddhists, Murray's portrayal of a jaded weatherman stuck in an endlessly repeating day illustrates the concept of samsare, the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. "It's a very Buddhist movie," say Ken Klein of the Tibetan Buddhists Center of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Yeah, but they also said Old Milwaukee was the best beer in America

McDonald's coffee tastes better than Starbucks, says Consumer Reports. The fastfood chain introduced a heartier blend last year, and taste-testers preferred it to Starbucks' brews, which they described as "burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water." (Consumer Report)

Haven't we heard this someplace before, like the Georgia state legislature

A New Jeresey high school has beened students from tape-recording their classes after a teacher was caught telling non-Christian students they were going to hell. Kearny High School history teacher David Paszkiewicz also told students that the Big Bang and global warming are myths. School officials say that Paszkiewicz should not have shared his religious beliefs in class, but that the taping violated the teacher's a nd the students' privacy.

I suppose that means that according to these bright lights on the public payroll what they do to your children in a publically funded school is a strictly private affair.

I have more, but its late and I am going to bed. Adios.

Religion and Politics

On the Time/CNN page Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, has an interesting take on what he sees as a turn away from the Religious Right in American politics and the start of a much healthier integration of religious life and society at large. It's worth a read.

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19 February 2007

"Pan's Labyrinth"

Saturday I took Carmen and Clovis down to the big Twin City to see Pan's Labyrinth. All three of us loved it (and all three of us despised the fact that the giant mega cinema we saw it in wouldn't even bother to clean up the garbage between shows). Most of the popular movies the mega cinema was showing had Rotten Tomatoes ratings of single digits (e.g. Norbit). The more exotic fare, like Pan's Labyrinth and The Queen has respectively 96% and 98%. I'm not sure what that means exactly but it was striking.

As for Pan's Labyrinth, obviously most reviewers liked it. So when you find one, you naturally wonder what it was that this one reviewer found so negative, or what unusual insight they brought to it. Or simply, why?

Courtesy of Claw of the Conciliator, here is one very negative review of it by Barbara Nicolosi. If you have the time, please read it and see what you think. Let us know. It seems to involve politics, but I'll wait to hear from anyone who has seen the movie and/or reads the review before writing anything else about it. My immediate response is found on Claw's post - and after readinig the review again, seeing the movie, and thinking about the comments on Claw's page, I still would stand by that reaction. But - see for yourself.

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The French language and a hero for our times

Now that I am trying to improve my French, and have already written a lot on this blog about Muslims in this age of terror, here is my idea of a contemporary hero.

Pilot Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine, a 20-year-veteran of Air Mauritania.

Lemine's Boeing 747 was hijacked by a lone gunman waving two pistols when it took off from the capital of Mauritania bound for the Canary Islands. While talking to the hijackers the pilot realized that he could not understand French.

So he got on the intercom and told the passengers and crew in French of the ploy he was going to try: brake hard upon landing, then speed up abruptly. The idea was to catch the hijacker off balance, and have crew members and men sitting in the front rows of the plane jump him.

It worked perfectly. When the hijacker was caught off guard he fell and dropped his pistols. The flight attendants then threw boiling water from a coffee machine in his face and at his chest, and some 10 people jumped on the man and beat him.

Not quite United 93, but still, A for courage, A for cleverness, A for passenger participation and A+ for using French to do it!

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Hybrid Cars -- they should be noisier!

From The Week magazine:
A proposed law in Maryland that would promote the use of eco-friendly "hybrid" cars is being opposed by advocates for the blind -- because hybrid cars are harder to hear. "We use the sound of the traffic not only to determine when to cross the street but to navigate," said Chris Danielsen of the National Federation of the Blind, "and hybrid vehicles are silent." The NFB is asking that the law be amended to require hybrids to make noise.

Maybe they could each have it's own little chime sound, like our cell phones.

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Great kung-fu movie characters: AUNT ABACUS!

Years ago Camen and I watched a hilarious kung-fu epic callen Wing Chun, mainly because it had caused a stir at a local lesbian film festival.

Since there isn't a lot to do here in Lykesboro on a Monday night when you can only pick up one TV station, we had enough time on our hands tonight to start remembering our favorite character - the notorious Aunt Abacus! She was a succesful tofu manufacturer and business woman known as the fastest abacus in the East. She had her own gold plated abacus about the size of her hand. Because she ran the tofu factory her breath was affected and she was known as "Stinky Tofu Breath." This disability prevented her from being married.

Now keep in mind that she was one of the secondary characters in this little epic of tofu, martial arts, attempted rape and cross dressing. In fact, treat yourself to a look at the whole plot - take notes and discuss quietly among yourselves. First person who fully understands the plot and can recite it in Urdu will win a prize (to be determined)

Wing Chun by the way is played by Michellel Yeoh. She specializes in humiliating all the males who come into contact with her trying to pull some illicit hanky panky. Which, it being Michelle Yeoh, means the entire male population of several prefectures.

Anyway, check the review, and if you have a chance watch the video.

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17 February 2007

Make that a really dumb, VICIOUS ape...

... the one at least some of us are descended from. A holocaust denier attacked Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner in a San Francisco hotel. After roughing up the 78 year old and berating him, the attacker fled. Later someone calling themselves Eric Hunt left a post on an anti-Zionist site taking credit for the attack and explaining he was simply trying to force Wiesel to "truthfully answer my questions regarding the fact that his nonfiction Holocaust memoir Night is almost entirely fictitious."

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16 February 2007

More proof we ARE descended from apes...

... and not very smart ones at that.

You will have to read this post from Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" to get the full flavor of it. A Georgia state representative named Ben Bridges sent a memo to state legislators around the country with new evidence that "evolution science" as he calls it (with the quote marks), is a lie and to teach it is unconstitutional. Since the theory of evolution is all a made up story taken from the Jewish holy book the Kabbala, it is not science but religion! And thus cannot be taught in our schools.

How he came to this conclusion is interesting, but you can view the actual memo, passed on to members of the Texas legislature by Texas rep Warren Chisum. Chisum, btw, seems to be trying to distance himself from the web site that Bridges got his info from, fixedearth.com. You should also check it out.

Bridges is one of the leaders in the fight to have Intelligent Design taught in Georgia schools. Chisum is of like mind. To fully understand why they feel so strongly about this, check the links above.

Then recall that both these people were elected by majorities in their home districts.

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Mitt Romney, Mormons, and the Polls

Some little time ago I asked if Mormons were regarded as Christians and would this have an effect on Christian voters. Now there is at least a partial answer to this question in a new Foxx TV poll that is posted on RealClearPolitics. Here is the question on Romney's religion:

Are you more or less likely to support a candidate who is a Mormon?
Republicans only:
More likely 8% (a lot more likely 4%, somewhat more likely 4%)
Less likely 30% (a lot less likely 19%, somewhat less likely 11%)
Not a major factor 59%

Now it's hard to say what to make of this, but I will try. Those who are less likely, 30%, probably represent Christians of one sort or another, otherwise, what would be their objection? Unless they were secularists who don't want to vote for anyone identified by religion.

The 59% who say it would not be a major factor is probably a bit too high, on the theory that just like people answering polls rarely admit they would not vote for a black candidate because of race, people might not want to appear to vote against a candidate for his religion. The theory is that a significant number are probably lying.

With at least a third of those polled, and we will never know what portion of them may actually vote, saying they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, Romney might face an uphill battle among the very social conservatives he ought to otherwise appeal to.

But then again, as I was reminded the other night at my Episcopal book club, many people said the same thing about John Kennedy's Catholicism. Since these figures reflect only Repubs, maybe the general electorate would feel differently.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

And please notice I've learned how to spell Mormons in the meantime. It does NOT follow the example of the Normans.

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Dammit Jim, I'm a DOCTOR, not a dictionary!

Tech-support staffer: Type http://...

Caller: It didn't work.

Tech support: OK, read me the address you typed.

Caller: H-T-T-P-C-O-L-O-N -

Tech support: No, no. Colon. On the keyboard.

Caller: What?

Tech support: Do you know what a colon is?

Caller: Of course I do. I am a doctor.

From my "365 Stupidist Things Ever Said Calendar." God I hope it's true.

Victor Davis Hanson makes sense ... for a change

Lately I have become disenchanted with Hanson for drinking too much of the kool-aid about Iraq. Here he is on Iran, though, and what we should do about it. It is an interventionist policy, but restrained. Here is a sample of his plan:

And we should announce in advance that we don't want any bases in Iran, that we don't want its oil, and that we won't send American infantry there. That would preempt the tired charges of imperialism and colonialism.

The United States also must stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing Iran wants is a democratic and prosperous Middle East surrounding its borders. The televised sight of Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Lebanese and Turks voting and speaking freely could galvanize Iranian popular opinion that in time might overwhelm the mullahs.

Compared to what we have been dealing with from the administration this is reasonable and restrained. No infantry into Iran. As for bombing, he doesn't call for that exactly. On the other hand, he doesn't rule it out. He does, however, hint darkly that Israel might - which is something I think most observers agree with.

Anyway, read it for yourself and remember, a nuclear armed Iran is a threat to a lot of people out there other than Americans. Iran's rockets can't hit the US, but they can hit Europe and all points in between.

15 February 2007

More on D'Souza's "The Enemy at Home"

As I said, Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home is getting roundly trashed almost wherever it is reviewed. Now Stanley Kurtz at National Review Online gives his take. It is by far the most sympathetic and nuanced review of the work, and the more damning for all that. The review is worth a read, though, because Kurtz uses D'Souza to spin off some interesting ideas about Islam, Muslim society, and the roots of the violence that he promises to develop in more depth.

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12 February 2007

Me and French ... a tortured tale

I have had a torturous relationship with the French language since I first signed up for a special graduate class for reading French (I have a less conflicted relationship with the French themselves ... I like and admire them). Since I was not sure I had the talent or the brains to ever complete my PhD I did not work at it very hard. Same with my reading German class which was much more difficult.

Then I went to France for a semester to research my dissertation - something my thesis director had advised against, so I had never bothered to work on spoken French - an entirely different language. Spent 2 1/2 months in France and loved the country, and the French, but I was very shy about trying to speak to many people. Most days I was in an archives reading room with a stack of 11th century charters written in Latin in front of me.

When I came home, years went by and I heard no French spoken. Every now and then I would think I should learn to speak it, or at least understand it when I hear it and would go out and by some language tapes, or rent a French movie which did no good whatsoever. Then I went back to France with Carmen for several weeks and realized just how bad my French was.

Still, for my work I have to read through a fair amount of French history texts, which are written in a clear simple French with few if any idioms or slang - unlike, say, a newspaper.

I have just read a book by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, two Canadian journalists, called The Story of French. It's a fascinating book and has gotten me all fired up about the French language again. So I drug out an old book I have had for years called How to Learn any Language and reread it.

Now I am all set to try one more time to actually learn spoken French. I am listening to tapes, watching French movies, listening to French Canadian radio, and reading French newspapers on the web. It's great fun, hard work, but is it going to work? Sometimes a little bit of French drill goes a loooong way. Maybe Carmen and I need a vacation to Quebec. Or Algeria. Tunis? I've always wanted to see Carthage.

Of course, we could always go back to Paris.

German justice

Don't know how I feel about this, though I think I don't like it*. European criminal justice is often held up for admiration in this country because they don't have the death penalty. But here is a case of a five time stone-cold murderer sentenced to five life sentences. She is not repentant at all but she is a free woman.

And now she is free because Germany is so civilized, as one German puts it. Anyway, check it out and see what you think.

*yes, I am aware the Germans weren't waiting for me to check in with my opinion.

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Dinesh D'Souza's latest book gets a hot reception

Dinesh D'Souza, whose first book or two I rather liked, has now come out with The Enemy at Home. In it he concludes that the main reason the jihadists hate America and want to attack it, or rather 'us', is because we have become so disgustingly immoral. I could say a lot about that general premise, but it has been said a lot better by Bruce Bawer, who I am told, is a conservative.

At any rate, check out his review. Here's a sample about the reaction to 9-11:

Leftists railed that America had gotten its payback for imperialism; Jerry Falwell insisted that pagans, abortionists, gays, and others of that ilk had “helped this happen.” This claim was elaborated in an unpublished text later sent to me by a retired member of the Norwegian Parliament who blamed 9/11 on the stateside degenerates—principally “homosexual heroes and anal addicts” (yes, “anal addicts”)—who offend Muslim family values. Now right-wing hack Dinesh D’Souza makes this same accusation in a jaw-droppingly repulsive screed, The Enemy at Home. Charging that “the cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11,” he wants good Christians to recognize that Islamic values resemble their own—and that the real enemy is those fags next door. If only they’d retarget their rage, thereby showing their respect for “traditional values,” Muslims would stop hating the USA.

I guess he didn't like it.

Notice that D'Souza's basic take is that we were attacked for something wrong in our society and that we should change immediately. It's hard to interpret this as anything other than saying the terrorists have a point and we should follow their commands. Lots of people have hated this book, but conservative magazines and journals. while defending D'Souza, have not reviewed it. Which is a little odd.

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11 February 2007

Jonah Goldberg of NRO - ooops

It seems that Jonah Goldberg over on National Review Online dared Juan Cole to make a bet with him. Cole refused - alas! Here is the result, as reported on Salon.com:

Today is Feb. 8, 2007, a fact we mention only because on Feb. 8, 2005, National Review (and now Los Angeles Times) columnist Jonah Goldberg had the following to say about Iraq in a back-and-forth pissing match with Juan Cole:

"I do think my judgment is superior to [Cole's] when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn't want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now). This way neither of us can hide behind clever word play or CV reading. If there's another reasonable wager Cole wants to offer which would measure our judgment, I'm all ears. Money where your mouth is, doc."

Cole declined to make what he called "a wager on the backs of human beings."

So what does Goldberg have to say for himself now? He admits that he would have lost the bet if Cole had taken it, but he seems to resent the fact that folks are reminding everyone -- including media outlets who now carry his column -- that his underlying argument was so totally wrong. In a new post up at the National Review, Goldberg complains that the "vitriol and bullying of this crowd is something to behold."

I love that last line. I guess like Juan Cole many of us lack Goldberg's grasp of "the big picture."
Want to bet on another two years?

10 February 2007

History in Paraguay

One of my favorite bloggers, Jim McCulloch, aka Huitzil, has a short essay up that starts with a near religious experience in Paraguay that caused him to doubt his faith in science, and ends up with an account of Aime Bonpland, a botanist, and Dr Francia, a dictator.

I recommend you read it. And if you like superb photography of cats and birds and insects, click on Huitzil.

Karl Rove and work

Over on National Review Online's in house blog, 'The Corner,' Mark Krikorian has a post about honest work, among other things. He spins it off from an alleged quote of Karl Rove's which may or may not mean something. What I think it means, though, is that we are moving rapidly towards a society like that of the Late Great Roman Empire - a society of Potentiores and Humiliores. This is most visible among Republicans at the moment, but it is true of both parties and of all our political and economic elites.

Anyway, check out the post. Oh, and keep in mind that many of the other bloggers at National Review have criticized it in several ways.

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09 February 2007

The mystique of Laos

Carmen is working on her second murder mystery set in Laos. This one is The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill. It is about an aging doctor, educated in Paris (where he met and married a committed Communist), now a disillusioned veteran of the 'revolution' that put the Pathet Lao in control of Laos (this was once daily newspaper fare in my young days). Carmen says she likes the novels because they remind her of Cuba. Cotterill has lived some years in Laos and seems to have an accurate ear for dialogue. Here is a taste, a conversation between Dr Siri and another old comrade from his Pathet Lao days:

"How was your weekend?"
"Sensational. Spent both days up in Van Viang at a political seminar. You?"
"Dug a ditch."
"How was it?"
"Sensational. My block won first prize in the 'Uplifting Work Songs' competition."
"Well done. What did you win?"
"A hoe."
"Just the one?"
"We got it for a week each, alphabetically. What's the big news of the month up on the roundabout?"
"Big news? We made it to the top of a world list last week."
"Lowest crime?"
"Highest inflation."
"In the world? Wow. We should have a party or something."
"Then there's the ongoing puppet scandal."
"Tell me."
"The party ordered the puppets at Xiang Thong temple in Luang Prabang to stop using royal language, and said they had to start calling each other 'comrade.'"
"Quite right, too. We have to show those puppets who's pulling the strings." Civilai hit him with a lettuce leaf. "What happened?"
"Puppets refused."
"Subversive bastards."
"The local party members locked them up in their box, and they aren't allowed out till they succumb."
"That'll teach them."

To my taste, this reminds me more of Mexicans than Cubans. A hot sense of quiet irony.

Next episode: The great Vientienne Traffic Light Debate.

More Laotian Flora

Carmen has gotten another Laotian murder mystery from the library - one of the perks of working in a library. It has yet another brief but tantalizing mention of the plant life in Laos:

He walked reluctantly along the embankment and kicked up scents from the Crow Shit blossoms that grew there. On the far bank, Thailand stared rudely back at him.
Apparently Laotians have an interesting sense of humor. Check my earlier post if you missed it. Almost makes you want to go there.

03 February 2007

Foucault and Paglia

I have never been much of a fan of Michel Foucault or the school of post modernism. I am, though, something of a fan of Camille Paglia, despite her self-promotional lunacy. For one thing, you can never be quite sure what she will come up with next. She also writies with such passion about culture that after reading her chapter in Sexual Personae on Spencer I found myself in the library reading Faerie Queene. She even got me started on Emily Dickenson! Good or bad, an author who can do that to a reader has real power. It helps, of course, if you have a taste for crazed invective.

Anyway, here is her take on Foucault*. Its title, "Why I hate Foucault," says it all, but here is a taste:
Foucault's analysis of "power" is foggy and paranoid and simply does not work when applied to the actual evidence of the birth, growth and complex development of governments in ancient and modern societies. Nor is Foucault's analysis of the classification of knowledge particularly original -- except in his bitter animus against the Enlightenment, which he failed to realize had already been systematically countered by Romanticism. What most American students don't know is that Foucault's commentary is painfully crimped by the limited assumptions of Saussurean linguistics (which I reject).

She also stresses one part of the historical critique of Foucault that a number of writers have commented:
Foucault, for all his blathering about "power," never managed to address Adolph Hitler or the Nazi occupation of France, I received a congratulatory letter from David H. Hirsch (a literature professor at Brown), who sent me copies of riveting chapters from his then-forthcoming book, The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism After Auschwitz (1991). As Hirsch wrote me about French behavior during the occupation, "Collaboration was not the exception but the rule." I agree with Hirsch that the leading poststructuralists were cunning hypocrites whose tortured syntax and encrustations of jargon concealed the moral culpability of their and their parents' generations in Nazi France.

And she concludes:
American students, forget Foucault! Reverently study the massive primary evidence of world history, and forge your own ideas and systems. Poststructuralism is a corpse. Let it stink in the Parisian trash pit where it belongs! [my emphasis - you can see why I like her]

*thanks for the link to Andrew Sullivan.

02 February 2007

Sci/Fi and the Hurricane no one could predict

Remember Hurricane Katrina? I just finished listening to the Recorded Book version of Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars and was struck by this account of Frank Chalmers, one of the characters who had died somewhere before this volume of the Mars Trilogy even starts.
The Florida panhandle was one of the poorest areas of the nation at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with Caribbean immigration, the closure of the local military bases, and Hurricane Dale combining to cause great misery. "You felt like you were working in Africa," one National Service Corps worker said. In his three years there we get our fullest view of Chalmers as a social creature, as he secured grants to expand a job program that made an immense impact on the entire coast, helping thousands who had moved into shelters after Dale.

You'll notice he got one thing wrong: with the discovery of the War on Terrorism the military bases remain open. Yet there it is - a hurricane on the Gulf coast so devastating that its aftermath causes national political changes. Sci/Fi may, or may not, be literature, but it sure is fascinating.

Apes and God - or at least, religion

The great apes are funny creatures in that they challenge Homo Sapiens exceptionalism. Most of our most cherished talents they have to some degree. Now there is a provocative interview in Salon.com with Barbara J. King about what gorillas can tell us about God - or at least that is the way the editors bill the story. Take a look, it's interesting (you may have to click through as a guest, but I think you can view it). Here are the first two questions:

Why would an anthropologist who studies apes be interested in religion?

I think religion is all about emotional engagement and social action. And we can get a whole new read on the evolutionary history of religion by asking the kinds of questions that we ask of language and culture. We can see that way back in our past -- literally, millions of years ago -- some practices are visible in the archaeological record that reflect the deepest roots of religion. And apes today are pretty good stand-ins for those very early human ancestors. So when I go to the National Zoo in Washington, or spend time in Kenya looking at monkeys, what I see is very social. It's about emotional connection that's at the very ancient roots of religion.

So you're not saying that the great apes you study are religious -- or have spiritual lives -- but they show behaviors that are required if you're going to develop religion.

That's right. I'm not suggesting that apes are religious. In fact, I have to say that, because Jane Goodall, who is such a renowned and loved figure for her chimpanzee studies, has said very provocatively that chimpanzees may have an incipient sense of religious awe. For example, when she comes upon them looking at a waterfall -- something in nature that is amazing -- they're riveted. She's wondering what's going through their minds and if they may be spiritual in some sense. That's a fascinating idea, but that's not my approach. I don't look for things in apes that are religious. I look at how their behavior relates to the very foundation of what later became religion. For me, the question turns on how I understand religion. I want to be very careful to differentiate between what we think about religion today and how it evolved. I'm really talking about the earliest origins of religion, which was a social and emotional process.

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Photo op: a few orphans would help too

Here is a quote from former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) speaking to an aide during a photo op, while visiting tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka.

"Get some devastation in the back."

I am sure the locals were happy to oblige.

But, there is hope. Frist has decided not to run for President. Seems he mispoke once too often on the Terry Schiavo affair too.

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01 February 2007

A Few Problems with Blogger

I am not sure what has been going on, but Blogger seems to have gone crazy the last 48 hours. Maybe it is better now. About a week ago it gave me no options for signing in except to convert over to new Blogger, which I tried to do. Unfortunately it didn't bother to tell me that my e-mail address would now be my new user name. Since I only have one e-mail address for personal use, I dutifully plugged it in when asked. But that meant two different blogs with two different user names and two different passwords were now trying to fit into one account.

I don't know if that is the root of my problems, but all through yesterday I could not access Sententiae in any way, and then late in the afternoon it blocked me from the second blog too. Then just for good measure on my third, family, blog it refused to allow the link to my other two blogs to operate. To top it off blogger would not let me sign in using any of my user names, nor my e-mail address, to make comments on Claw of the Conciliator and Theocoid*. At that point I gave up in frustration, went to bed and finished listening to Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. (Quite an epic by the way)

Today, in between the darkest thoughts about the state of the souls of the people who run Blogger and Google, and thoughts of simply tanking all three blogs, I read up on the development of towns in the early middle ages. Good stuff, and its what I should have been doing anyway.

I also took lots of notes with my favorite fountain pens, Maire, because THEY WORK!! Reagan was wrong - the most frightening words in English are NOT "I'm from the Federal government and I'm here to help you" but rather "I'm from technical support and I am here to upgrade your system."

*They were brilliant comments, too! In one I tried to encapsulate the history of the entire Spanish Civil War and its aftermath while discussing movie reviews.

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