30 December 2007

The ever-current Edward Gibbons.

Over on National Review Online's "The Corner" Mark Styn, whose book
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It is under legal attack in Canada for insulting Islam (or something like that) resorts to the great Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as all educated pundits ought. The key quote is from Gibbon's description of the Battle of Poitiers (aka The Battle of Tours). Gibbon takes a short flight of fancy that Styn thinks is now coming true:

“Perhaps,” wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, “the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”

You should read the whole thing though. Gibbon I mean. Not Styn. The latter seems a bit overheated (just check out the subtitle of his book).

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29 December 2007

Movies that really really stink

At least according to William Booth at the Washington Post. And he does seem to have fun ripping into the worst 10 of the year. No 1 of the worst ten is an effort by Diane Keaton of all people, something called "Because I Said So." Didn't see that one, but critical reaction like this doesn't lead me to want to:

"Unusually toxic waste" is the blurb from the usually decorous Wall Street Journal. The Christian Science Monitor used the term "wince-inducing." The general lament: Why, Diane, why? As in, "Diane Keaton has a lot to answer for," according to the Toronto Star. Richard Roeper called it "the worst performance of Diane Keaton's career." Or as the Rotten Tomatoes "critical consensus" puts it: "an unfunny cliche-ridden mess that manages to make Diane Keaton temporarily unlikable."

They really didn't like "The Reaping" either. How much did they really not like it?

Hilary Swank. "The Reaping." Why? Alimony? Chad Lowe not working? "What, I shudder to think, were the projects Hilary Swank turned down in favor of this?" asks the Seattle Times. ... "The Reaping" is one of those biblical mumbo-jumbo Satan- spawners that was hailed for its well-executed locust attack. As noted by the New York Times, the "only remotely notable thing about this particular jumble of boos, bangs and door creaks, swaying Spanish moss, creeping blond kids and swelling decolletage, creatively presented from various angles in various contexts, is that it tries to wed the horror trend with the heated-up God market."

Let's hear it for swelling decolletage.

It gets worse, believe it or not. So what was the worst movie you have seen this year? I can't really member mine. I saw one or two almost stinkers, but they were children's' movies and were redeemed by the fun had by the children I was with.

But what were your picks for the worst of the worst?

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26 December 2007

Immigration: As Arizona goes, so goes ....?

Well, let's hope not the rest of the country. Arizona has just passed some draconian, not to say stupidly harsh, laws against illegal immigration. It is designed to hit businesses that hire illegals as well as the illegals themselves. Since illegals in Arizona represent about 14% of the workforce this could have dramatic repercussions on Arizona's economy, law enforcement, and society in general.

The Washington Post is pessimistic. Me too. Except for this: we can all watch what happens in Arizona - if it is the disaster that the WaPo thinks it will be, we will be forewarned. If not, we can take that lesson to heart also.

Though I for one would be dumbfounded.

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20 December 2007

How Repubs run a campaign

Or, the aquatic habits of sea-borne rodents. Seems that as the good ship "Repub Revolution" sinks slowly into the muck many of its former operatives seem to want to set the record straight.

So, here is Allen Raymond, the former GOP consultant of New Hampshire phone jamming fame (he served some time for it in fact), spilling the beans on the work he did for the Grand Ol' Party. That would be the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. It seems that Raymond is a little bitter after being thrown to the legal wolves by his former associates, and Josh Marshall over on TPM wants to tell us about it.

How bitter?

[Raymond] writes about heading to prison for his role in the jamming: "After ten full years inside the GOP, ninety days among honest criminals wasn't really any great ordeal."

So about those phone tricks. The jamming, Raymond says, was a unique stunt. Much more common were false information campaigns via robocalls, push polling, and then sneakier stunts like the one described in the passage below.

Just click on the link and read "the passage below." It's a doozey.

Though a bit insulting to Ukrainian Americans.

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The Destruction of a Galaxy

Click here.

What you are looking at is a jet from a black hole touching the edge of a galaxy a bit less than a million years ago.

A galaxy. Home to millions of planets that might have earth like conditions and, perhaps, earth like sentient creatures.

Wonder what they worshiped as they underwent this destruction?

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19 December 2007

History Science Fiction Theater 1832

Now here it the way to teach American history.

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Or words to that effect. It seems that everyone in the Republican debates have been calling on God's Son (or God's favorite son if you are not THE Christian candidate) to endorse them lately. So it's about time that some clever political operative out there gives the dirty tricks treatment to the Prince of Peace.

And here it is.

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We could call it "Ratatouille"!!

Or has that been done?

Also from AOL:

Suspicious Sprinkles

Just one week after unveiling the world's most expensive dessert -- the $25K Frrozen Haute Chocolate -- New York restaurant Serendipity 3 is shut down for failing its second health inspection in a month. Inspectors find a live mouse, multiple piles of mouse droppings, fruit flies, houseflies, and more than 100 live cockroaches.

I think I'll just get the $3.95 special at Diary Queen.

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The failure of our business leaders

During the Bush years virtually every class of leadership within American society has failed. Don't know why this is, but it is so. Here is just one example of how unserious American elites have become. It's from AOL, so no link.

What Subprime Mess?

In July, as Bear Stearns execs futilely attempt to prop up two hedge funds that ultimately collapse amid the subprime meltdown, CEO James Cayne spends ten of 21 workdays out of the office, playing golf, competing in a bridge tournament and, allegedly, smoking marijuana.

I am sure that all that down time allowed him to recharge and face the problem with a perfectly clear mind. Clear ... as in utterly blank.

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17 December 2007

The wonders of the Anglosphere

Nice concept the Anglosphere, but does it mean anything?

Possibly. Here is a video of Margaret Thatcher's grandson, a football star in Texas according to Andrew Sullivan.

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10 December 2007

Flaubert on ancient warfare

I am just about finished with Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo on Project Gutenberg. It is an amazing recreation of a past that never existed. And yet ... and yet ... Flaubert loads his work with so much convincing detail that you begin to believe. Consider this little snippet from his description of the preparations among the Carthaginians for the last battle. I don't know if it bears any resemblance to the actual event, and I've never heard of a military historian noting these little details. But once you read them, you realize that they ought to be true.

The Carthaginians arrived first in the plain. They rubbed the edges of their shields with oil to make the arrows glide off them easily; the foot-soldiers who wore long hair took the precaution of cutting it on the forehead; and Hamilcar ordered all bowls to be inverted from the fifth hour, knowing that it is disadvantageous to fight with the stomach too full.

What a writer, to make it all seem real.

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07 December 2007

Peggy Noonan - AGAIN!?

Something is wrong when on the same day I read a column by Peggy Noonan and one by Charles Krauthammer that I agree with. Must be some kind of harmonic convergence. Either that or all hell has frozen over (come to think of it, all schools were closed today because of ice). What worries me the most is that this is not the first time Noonan has come up with something I liked.

This time it was about Mitt Romney's speech about his faith last night. For the most part she liked it - which seems to be the consensus out there in both blogland and the MSM. Her conclusion is a bit less of a consensus, though I have seen similar sentiments expressed here and there.

There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.

My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else.

I believe the idiots in her last paragraph refers to idiots in general. In which case, she left out education.

She also left out the fact that Romney's political opponents would almost certainly have 'operatives' who would have spun the reports and claimed that Romney was a crypto-atheist himself.

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06 December 2007

Mormonism and Christianity

As I have said, as an historian of medieval history I am fascinated to see that the nature of Christ has become a topic of political conversation. It all hinges on whether or not people who vote their religion will accept voting for a Mormon. Mormonism is a religion that I know very little about, but I thought it was surprising that Romney and his supporters sometimes seem to be insisting that he a Christian. My memory was that Mormons did not claim that.

Now I find an interesting comment on the topic from a Mormon reader over on Andrew Sullivan's blog. We will have to wait to see how this plays out. A myself wouldn't vote for Mitt because he seems so craven in changing his views to anything the base wants, but I think I would have voted for his father in an instant. He was a fine man and a decent politician.

Keep in mind that the comment could be a plant by political opponents, or from someone with an ax to grind, or simply someone who doesn't know what he is talking about. But it does match up with what little I know.

Update: Yet another reader of Andrew Sullivan writes in with a rebuttal to the post I link to above. You will notice that Andrew doesn't seem too impressed with the differences being discussed. This is getting interesting. Positively medieval. And I at least do not mean that as an insult.

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03 December 2007


Or perhaps I should say 'handwriting.' What good is teaching it, since every kid is now wired into a keyboard almost from birth?

As it turns out, quite a bit, according to Newsweek (via Andrew Sullivan). And as many of us have always suspected, it should still be taught, and more intently than the less than 10 minutes a school day at best that is now devoted to it.

Hand-writing. It's not just for fountain pen fanatics.

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02 December 2007

Ancient Carthage and her Gods

I have started reading Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo available free at Project Gutenberg. It is a lot of fun, though it can not be taken as seriously as the author wished as a work of historical research. Nonetheless, Flaubert's creative imagination is at a white hot peak when he wrote this. Consider a brief scene involving the fearsome general Hamilcar Barca as he visits a temple on his return to Carthage. It is rare for an author of historical fiction to attempt to delve into the mind of a pagan fanatic, and even rarer to pull it off. See what you think.

[The chamber] was softly lighted by means of delicate black discs let into the
wall and as transparent as glass. Between the rows of these equal discs,
holes, like those for the urns in columbaria, were hollowed out. Each of
them contained a round dark stone, which appeared to be very heavy.
Only people of superior understanding honoured these abaddirs, which had
fallen from the moon. By their fall they denoted the stars, the sky, and
fire; by their colour dark night, and by their density the cohesion of
terrestrial things. A stifling atmosphere filled this mystic place. The
round stones lying in the niches were whitened somewhat with sea-sand
which the wind had no doubt driven through the door. Hamilcar counted
them one after another with the tip of his finger; then he hid his face
in a saffron-coloured veil, and, falling on his knees, stretched himself
on the ground with both arms extended.

The daylight outside was beginning to strike on the folding shutters
of black lattice-work. Arborescences, hillocks, eddies, and ill-defined
animals appeared in their diaphanous thickness; and the light came
terrifying and yet peaceful as it must be behind the sun in the dull
spaces of future creations. He strove to banish from his thoughts all
forms, and all symbols and appellations of the gods, that he might the
better apprehend the immutable spirit which outward appearances took
away. Something of the planetary vitalities penetrated him, and he felt
withal a wiser and more intimate scorn of death and of every accident.
When he rose he was filled with serene fearlessness and was proof
against pity or dread, and as his chest was choking he went to the top
of the tower which overlooked Carthage.

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