29 May 2007

The First Cyber War

You may not have noticed but we had a real cyber war not long ago. Estonia is a tiny country, not much known about here in the US of A, that has developed a society and economy highly dependent on the Internet. In fact Estonians do much of their business on the Internet.

A few weeks ago the Russians got very, very, angry at the Estonians. The short and ambiguous history of the resulting "war" can be read in the New York Times.

I knew it would come to this.


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27 May 2007

Democrats - getting a little touchy

Things seem to be tightening up a bit for the two top Demos. Here's a summary of their positions as voiced by two supporters, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan. Like our politics these days, it's good for a laugh.

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Goodling's Testimony - NOW I know what bothered me!

Ever since watching clips of the Monica Goodling's testimony about her amazing ability to hire and fire seasoned attorneys at the Dept of Justice I have been bothered by it. I thought she was such a "little-girl" lightweight from a rinky-dink law school that it was an offense that she even had a job in Washington, much less such a job. Now, after reading this article by Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick, I realize what it really was that was bothering me. It was a variation on an age old theme. See what you think.

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On Writing

Last night I found a blog by a frustrated author which stuck a chord with me, so I left a comment. The comment was meant to be helpful, but I doubt that it was. Still, it got me to thinking. I don't think of myself as a writer, though writing is part of my job and I do a fair amount of personal writing - letters, journals, the three blogs. I am working on an article right now I think will get published. The craft of writing has always fascinated me. Actually setting down and doing the work, once described by a famous writer as sitting at your desk staring at the wall until blood forms on your brow, is a whole 'nother matter.

So it was with a certain amused surprise that I found two items on writing this morning that I think are worth passing on. One is by Garrison Keillor, who can certainly write - he may in fact be a modern Mark Twain. Here it is. And here is his advice on what to do when having trouble writing which includes a critique of Moby-Dick!

Walk briskly and it will improve your circulation and your brain will remember the basics of good writing: Cut to the chase. Cut the introductions. Cut the agonized introspection. When in doubt, write something that is fun. Read your work out loud: It's the automatic b.s. detector. Write on a computer if you must but correct by hand on a typescript with a yellow No. 2 lead pencil.

John Berryman once said that if you need to know if it's good or not, maybe you shouldn't be a writer, and now, in the last week of work, I take those words to heart. I just want to get done. And when I am, then I'll be free to read other writers I've been saving up. A young poet who is funny and brilliant, and a couple of novels by a friend, and of course I have a guilty conscience about never having finished "Moby-Dick," being an English major and all, so I may fish Melville down from the shelf and think about him for a while. He didn't cut to the chase, unfortunately, and agonized introspection is the ham in his sandwich, so I may put him off until winter.

The second item is a blog by Miss Snark, a literary agent giving plain, unvarnished... well, actually pretty darn sarcastic and biting... advice to authors. In between the wincing and laughing you will get some very good advice from someone who knows the business.

If you like to write, nurture unrealistic dreams of being a writer, or just like to watch other people suffer, check these out.

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25 May 2007

He's back!

The original Clemens that is. Since I've stolen his name I might as well steal his portrait too. This is the one I put up on my office door. A student saw it and said "Dr Clemens, what were you thinking when that picture was taken?"

Right now I am wearing a beard, so I don't look much like the picture anymore. But the beard will not survive much longer.


21 May 2007


"Evidence that Japanese animators are reaching for the Moon, while most of their American counterparts remain stuck in the kiddie sandbox."
Manolha Dargis, The New York Times

See what the fuss is about.

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18 May 2007

Fred Thompson is NOT running!

After all, he keeps saying so. Yet no one even among Repubs seems entirely happy with their roster of candidates. Some people are even beginning to listen to Ron Paul! There is, however, a great Repub hope waiting patiently out there in the wings: Fred Thompson. I don't know much about him, other than he is a good actor, so I was interested in this analysis by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal [for technical reasons I don't understand I cannot link- sorry]. She thinks he is running a great uncampaign. All he needs to do is wait for the current candidates to disgrace themselves a bit more, to become a bit staler, a bit more unwelcome, and then pounce.

Or something like that.

Here's a taste of what she sees in him:

Why would he run now? Because he thinks there's noone of greater stature on the field. Because he thinks he's got a better, shrewder read of the base than the rest of them. Because he's at an age where you throw the dice or know you never will. Because he thinks the one essential to modern presidential leadership, the one thing you must have now, in the age of terror, is the ability to communicate, and he reads himself as the best communicator. And because he's at a point in his private life where it's possible for him. He's got a wife who's got his back and two kids who've given him a second chance. Even in great careers it's the private life that's hardest to get right. He feels he has.

People speak of Mr. Thompson's movie-star looks. But he's not beautiful, he's heavy and gray. What he has is bearing. He has the manner of someone who thinks a great deal of himself, and thinks it after long personal pondering of his good points, bad points, high points and low. He may or may not be correct in his conclusions, but I suspect they are part of his draw. I suspect people pick them up.

Another actor in the White House might be interesting.

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Well, now that Joey Sobrino is commenting again, I assume he and the Divine Miss Em made it back from Japan alright. For those of you who have an interest in Japan (if not in Mr Sobrino) you can check out his trip here, complete with pictures.

Welcome home Joey!


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17 May 2007

Google Hell

I didn't know there was such a place. Apparently it is real, and once you are condemned to it it is worse than being on the Chinese government's undesirable blog list (which I believe Claw of the Conciliator is on!) For one thing, if Google doesn't like you, your are dead.

And financially ruined.


Happy Settende Mai!

[This post is really for Joey Sobrino*, assuming he finally got on the right airplane at the right time to get out of Japan].

Today is Settende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day. It has a special place in my memory. When I arrived in Minnesota, almost exactly 30 years ago, I had no idea that there was anything special about the 17th of May. It was my first semester in grad school under Master Bernard and I was trying to master Medieval Latin. I spent most of my evenings in the university library, in one particular desk by the big windows, close to the Niermeyer dictionary of Medieval Latin (which is a different critter from classical Latin).

One evening, so late on 17 May that it was almost 18 May, I packed up my books and headed back towards McKnight Tower. I had just turned the corner of Cedar Riverside when I saw a crowd of people marching unsteadily down the sidewalk singing in a language I didn't recognize and carrying the largest Norwegian flag I have ever seen.

It was Settende Mai I was later told, as if I were a child for not knowing.

But now you know.

*Mr Sobrino, who is Hispanic by government definition, loves Norway, and has been mistaken for a Norwegian while traveling in that country. Go figure.

16 May 2007

I thought I was hard on the Bush Admin!

Here's Kevin Drum on the NRO. It's always interesting to see what they will come up with. The gang over there seem to hold Ron Paul in contempt, Kaine in deep suspicion, and only really get excited about Fred Thompson who isn't even in the race, yet. Drum himself doesn't seem to enchanted with any of them, but wonders how they will deal with a Bush admin "that is disintegrating before our eyes?" Good question. Here is a taste of his thought:

Most of us - OK, maybe not the Ron Paul "blame America first" crowd, but most of us - support the foreign policy goals of the Bush administration. But ironically it is the Bush administration itself that is now doing the most damage to its own stated goals: first by its poor execution, not just of Iraq, but of the larger war on terror - and now, second, by abandoning its goals altogether. The president who pledged in 2002 to prevent the world's most dangerous regimes from acquiring the world's deadliest weapons will leave office with North Korea a nuclear weapons state and Iran soon to follow. The president who promised to support democracy throughout the world is yoking US policy more closely than ever to the unstable, unreliable nondemocracies of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

At home, the situation is even worse.

Like I said, it might be an interesting primary season after all.

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The Decline of the Soviet Empire

I've heard lots of theories of why the Soviet Union fell apart, from Reagan's outspending them into oblivion, to the Pope calling on God to destroy it, to Osama and the other mujihaddin in Afghanistan punching an embarrassing hole in the enterprise. This one is a new one though, and one that is at least plausible. The Saudi's did it when they ramped up petroleum production. The source is interesting too - a former Russian prime minister who would be in a position to know. Here's the core of it:

The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.

As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive. The Soviet leadership was confronted with a difficult decision on how to adjust.

Very interesting. Their decision was the wrong one, but so were all the other options. Of course, keep the old Russian saying in mind: 'He lied like an eyewitness!'

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10 May 2007

Kevin Drum manages to hit the nail on the head ...

... or, even a blind chicken gets some corn. Kevin Drum on National Review Online writes an excellent run down of what ails the Repubs in this spring of their discontent. Even Andrew Sullivan agrees with him!

My favorite paragraph:

But as much as I blame the candidates [for the lackluster debate], I have to blame the party too. Have Republicans absorbed how much trouble their party is in? To the (limited) extent that we do, we tend to to attribute everything to Iraq — as if Katrina, the Schiavo affair, corruption in Congress, and the intensifying irrelevance of our domestic-policy agenda did not exist. And so we demand from our candidates ever more fervent declarations of fealty to an ideology that interests an ever dwindling proportion of the public.

A few more people thinking like this and the Repub primaries might get interesting.

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Mora loses another one!

After weeks of truly inspired procrastination, just when it looked like my own personal demon, Mora, would win another round, I came from behind and completed my paper. I admit it was a little too close for comfort. I only had half of it done when I got on the plane with Maeread's mother, Maire (pronounced almost like 'Mora' now that I think of it). We got to Detroit an hour late, thanks to NWA, got a rented car and drove across Michigan. Other than a fortuitous stop at a great German restaurant it was a pretty dull trip. We got to our rooms about midnight and I went right to bed, plotting carefully in my mind exactly what I would have to write today.

Got up early, spent almost the whole day in my room writing the rest of the paper out in longhand - making great use of one of my favorite fountain pens by the way - and got it finished 25 minutes before I had to rush downstairs and deliver it.

It was a great paper. Everyone said so, although they were a little puzzled why the ink was still wet.


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Blogging from beautiful Western Michigan Univerisity

I have been busy, and tired. My little sleep apnea mask that I have been using for the last two weeks seems to do absolutely nothing for me. It doesn't help that Roger the Respiratory Technician says that everything is working right and I am using it right. It just doesn't work for me. It also doesn't help that Roger says "Gee, that's never happened before."

So I am not sleeping well because the mask is uncomfortable, but I am still suffering from the sleep deprivation of the apnea.

BUT ... I am in beautiful Kalamazoo at the biggest collection of medievalists in all of creation. It's a fun bunch if you are into weird body language. Still, I am enjoying it, especially since I came with Maire and have met lots of old friends.

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Orson Scott Card, Mormonism, and Mitt Romney

A few days ago Mitt Romney came up with the jaw dropping statement that he remembered that someone had told him the France had seven year marriage contracts.

Well, no actually, though Mitt's favorite writer, Orson Scott Card (of Ender's Game fame) has mentioned such seven year marriage contracts in his fiction. As one of Andrew Sullivan readers remembers:

I studied playwriting under Card while a student at BYU in the early 80's. He explained how his novels were meant to be symbolic of Mormon theology, and that the seven year marriage contracts were inspired by the non-traditional marriage system that was central to Mormonism in the 19th century (aka, polygamy AND easy no-fault divorces.)

Is it too late to say 'oooops!'


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07 May 2007

And now for something ... French

I am back from Virginia and about to start my paper on urban violence that has to be finished by Wed morning (Mora has won once again). Then off to Kalamazoo for the great meeting of Medievalists so I won't be posting much until next Monday.

But this is interesting. On NRO Denis Boyles comments on Sarko's victory in France and how to mine it for good advice for Repubs running in '08. Here's one of his conclusions:
The whole country knew that Jacques Chirac hated Sarkozy and that Sarkozy thought Chirac was a fraud; they knew Villepin and the whole UDP establishment was uncomfortable with Sarko. Even though he ran a campaign that had more in common with the UDP than with the Socialists, he was smart enough to know that the biggest asset he had was the enmity of Chirac, and he knew that the biggest mistake he could make would be to court the support of a president from his own party. He refused to do it, and the nation loved him for it. After all, most French voters think Chirac is a hopelessly inept and cynical loser — sort of the way most Americans, including many conservatives, feel about George W. Bush. The smart Republican candidate will make Bush his Chirac.

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03 May 2007

Personal interlude: a sad time

My youngest aunt died yesterday and Carmen and I are going to drive up to Northern Virginia for the funeral. It has preoccupied me a bit (along with a paper I am working on for a conference in Michigan next week) so I have not been posting, or even replying to comments, for the last few days. I won't start again until next week.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is well. I will leave you with a homework assignment. If you saw the Republican debate tonight, tell us what you thought. Any candidates stand out, for good or bad? Any favorites?

01 May 2007

The Immigrants

Most of the immigrant debate focuses on the impact of immigration, legal and otherwise, here in this country. This is proper, of course, but there are other ramifications to immigration too. Especially important are the remittances immigrants send back to their home countries, particularly in Latin America. The Washington Post has an article on how those remittances are slumping after several years of strong increases.

Why should we care? According to Donald Terry, manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund at the Inter-American Development Bank:

"We don't know if it's a trend or a minor correction," Terry said. "If it becomes a trend as opposed to a moment in time, this would not be good in terms of U.S. interests in Central America."

In other words, lower remittances would cause some Latin American economies to implode and probably launch larger waves of immigrants this way. The resulting social unrest in the home countries would not be good for us either.

Whatever we decide to do about the large number of illegals in this country it should be done with this fact in mind.

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