29 May 2008

A possible solution to the gas crisis?

This little video about Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia, my homeland, is the most encouraging news I've read for a long time about American urban planning. It is a necessary part of any long term solution to the energy crisis. Instead of fearing and resisting such developments one should remember how vibrant and livable Manhattan can be (note: I didn't say cheap).

And I can still remember vividly when Tysons was nothing but open farm land. Those days are gone with the wind, I am afraid.

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28 May 2008

Satire and the NRO

If I were clever, and wanted to do a send up of the self-absorbed blinkered views of the folks over at National Review Online, I would write a fake NRO post reading something like this.

But I am not that clever.

and please tell me that "the splendiferous Kate" is not K Lo. Please god.


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26 May 2008

Do NOT shop at Exxon/Mobil

Have you, perhaps, noticed that the prices at the pump keep going up? Want to know who to blame? Well, so would most of us, but the big oil companies keep telling us they have nothing to do with it. Even though they are making record breaking profits, that is simply an unintended consequence of market forces that the oil companies simply can't control.

If you want to know just how much bullwhaah this is, read this article in The Washington Post. It explains how Exxon Mobil, the biggest of big oil, uses computer price tracking to make sure that while the company is rolling in money, its station owners do NOT benefit at all. Exxon allows them to make about 8 cents a gallon no matter what. If the owners raise the price by even a penny, then Exxon raises the wholesale price by exactly that penny, often by the next day.

Read this:
Major integrated U.S. oil companies -- which produce crude oil, own refineries and sell gasoline -- have been reaping billions of dollars in profit from high oil prices over the past two years, but they are still working to extract every penny they can from the marketing end of the business. Exxon Mobil doesn't break out its earnings from marketing alone, but its 2007 profits in worldwide refining and marketing -- known as the downstream part of the oil business -- reached $9.6 billion, 43 percent of that coming from the United States.

And if weren't enough, Exxon has started raising the rent on the land the stations are on by roughly a third over the next three years.

But let's get back to Exxon's fine tuning of the prices. One station owner interviewed by the Post for the article owns five different stations in Northern Virginia, yet Exxon charges him different amounts depending on unstated variables in the market. But ..

... he still cannot fathom how the oil company can charge him different wholesale gasoline prices for each of the five Northern Virginia stations he owns. The stations all sell the same Exxon-branded gasoline, delivered from the same terminal in Newington, where it arrives via the same pipeline. Sometimes, Daggle said, it's even dropped off by the same truck and driver hours apart on the same day.

The only thing that's different is the price, which can vary by 35 cents per gallon, Daggle said. "If I could have driven a truck to Gainesville and drive the gas from there to Shirlington, I could have made 50 cents a gallon."

So, part of that nearly $4 a gallon you are paying is fudgable; by as much as 35 cents at the whim of the oil company. So what explains that 35 cents?


Every time you and I fill up our tank, we are sending money to a bunch of people who bear us no good will whatsoever and only see us as a bunch of dupes who will pay endlessly for a product whose supply they control. This is as true of the folks who run Exxon Mobil as it is of Hugo Chavez or the Saudi royal family or the mad mullahs of Iran.

And two of our three presidential candidates think it is a good idea to lower our gas tax so you can continue doing this. These clowns have to go. All of them.

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National Review editor defends Hilary!!

Rich Lowry, the designated adult over at NRO seems to think Hilary got a raw deal from the press over the unfortunate RFK gaffe. Even seems to feel sorry for her.

Well, guess that's it folks. She's toast.

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Medieval Criticism

Carmen loves the "Get Fuzzy" comic strip. I like it too, but I never thought it would turn to pithy criticism of a work of historical fiction, about the Middle Ages yet. And yes, this is just about the way medieval historians feel about Pillars of the Earth.

This link was actually sent out over the Mediev-L list serve by a professional medievalist.

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24 May 2008

Great Cinematic Moments in History, II

The Vikings discover wind power.

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A Lighter Side of Death

After that last downer of a post, here is a different take on the same subject, Death.

It's even suitable for kids, honest.


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Music to die to

A few posts back we were discussing music that might be appropriate for your final moments. A dear friend who very nearly died* claims he heard the music of Celtic Women while floating over the world.

I always thought I would hear something like this, the Sad Songs from Gorecki's Third Symphony: my favorite music performed at the most terrible place on earth.

*the doctors couldn't believe he even made it to the emergency room, much less survived the whole affair.


Expensive gas - a changing America

Actually, I am not sure we can say that we now have expensive gas in America. Gas prices have gone up to where we are getting close to the price much of the industrialized world has paid for decades. I remember driving around in a rented Renault Twingo in France twelve years ago and marveling at both how expensive gas was and how fuel efficient the little Twingo was.

This clearly spells the end of cheap gas, however, in America. Changes will be made, either slowly and painfully as each family adjusts or more quickly but equally painfully by big government. I would favor a mixed approach, but even that will be expensive and painful for some.

At any rate, Paul Krugman has some interesting observations about the problem.

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Symphony for a Sot - or "99 bottles of beer on the wall"

You must watch this very important music video.

Just another example of Clemens' sophistication and good taste.

Think I'll donate my beer bottle collection to the Charlotte Symphony of something.

Maybe I could get a tax write off.


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21 May 2008

The Old Gods die Pathetically

At least that seems to be the case in the dialogue Henryk Sienkiewicz' novel Knights of the Cross between two Polish nobles about campaigning in Lithuania. Lithuania had been pagan and only recently converted to Christianity when its prince became king of Poland/Lithuania. If Paris were worth a mass, think how much Poland and Lithuania might be worth! You will notice that neither of the two Christian knights assume that the old pagan gods were imaginary, simply that they had been demoted by Christ. I think Sienkiewicz got to the heart of something important about the faith of Europeans before the modern era.

"We cannot complain," answered Zbyszko [...]. "A part of
our booty, we sold in Krakow and received forty silver _grzywiens_ for

"You don't say so! Why, one can buy an estate for that."

"Yes. There was one Milanese armor which my uncle, expecting to die, sold
for a good price."

"I know! Well, it is worth while to go to Lithuania. I wanted to go there
also; but I was afraid."

"Of what? Of the Knights of the Cross?"

"Ej, who would be afraid of Germans? I was afraid of those heathenish
gods or devils. It seems there are plenty of them in the woods."

"They do not have any other place for shelter, because their temples have
been burned. Formerly they were well-to-do; but now they live on
mushrooms and ants."

"Did you see them?"

"No, I did not see any myself; but I heard of people who had seen them.
Sometimes one of them sticks out a hairy paw from behind a tree and
shakes it, begging for something."

"Macko told me the same," answered Jagienka.

"Yes! He told me about it on the road," said Zych. "Well, no wonder! In
our country also, although it has been a Christian country for a long
time, one can hear laughter in the marshes; and although the priests
scold about it in the churches, it is always good policy to put a dish
filled with something to eat, for the little devils; otherwise they will
scratch on the walls so much that one can hardly sleep. Jagienka, my
dearest! put a dish at the threshold."

Jagienka took an earthen porringer full of noodles and cheese, and placed
it at the threshold. Zych said:

"The priests scold! But the Lord Jesus will not be angry about a dish of
noodles; and a god, as soon as his hunger is satisfied, will protect one
from fire and from thieves."

Begging for a plate of noodles and cheese. How the mighty had fallen.

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20 May 2008

Great Cinematic Moments in History

The Swedish army, 17th century, invades Poland. They're Lutherans and they mean business.
If the creepy Protestant music doesn't tip you off, the hats and hair will.

from the film Potop


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"Sine Mora, hac in hora"

A line from 'O Fortuna' in Carmina Burana. Without Mora (Delay), in this very hour. A motto to help fight what Mora personifies, procrastination. My plan has always been to make it work for me: without creative procrastination I would get absolutely nothing done. Now someone has put the plan into writing. And I have to admit, this quote from the article has a certain resonance:

In the evening, faced with papers to grade, lectures to prepare, committee work to be done, I would leave our cottage next to the dorm and go over to the lounge and play ping-pong with the residents, or talk over things with them in their rooms, or just sit there and read the paper. I got a reputation for being a terrific Resident Fellow, and one of the rare profs on campus who spent time with undergraduates and got to know them. What a set up: play ping pong as a way of not doing more important things, and get a reputation as Mr. Chips.

Ah yes - but I must go off to fight with Mora some more .

Sort of like Sir Galahad in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: I can handle her.


18 May 2008

Well, two out of three ain't bad

"Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Rudy Giuliani married their cousins."

From a column in Slate by William Saleton which seems to be advocating, well, just about anything.


P T Barnum was right

Which is also the name of one of Jay Leno's funniest bits, back in the days when I still watched him. Any way, I seem to be in an unusually snarky mood today, so here is a scholarly rumination on the judgment of the American public.

As for me, I never drink .... water.

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Why you should study HISTORY ...

... So you don't look like a complete, blustering, blithering idiot.

Surely the Right can come up with a better public face than this. Of course, Munich was so long ago, and why should we let something so petty as knowledge interfere with a political slogan, delivered at full shout.

Extra bonus for watching this video: Chris Matthews looks good, for once.

BTW, this post is brought to you by Appstate, the football powerhouse that beat Michigan, while torching its requirement to take any history at all.

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Maybe Conservatives have a point

... at least as far as their sneers at the crowd that watches PBS. You know, those latte sipping yuppies from hell who during pledge week watch stuff like .... Celtic Women.

Maire: this is the real reason the Irish won't take over the world: not the "water of life" stuff. Which is sacred, btw.


Republican woes

Because I feel that the Republican party has pushed too far into social issues that should not be the concern of government, abandoning any genuine conservatism while enshrining feudal loyalty over competency and honesty , I believe that it must suffer a complete defeat in the fall to come to its senses to refit and regroup. It can do this but it will not be easy. Hard choices and hard battles lay ahead. Fortunately, they can almost count on the Demos giving them an assist by acting like complete idiots once they are in power, but that is for another day.

All of which is just an intro to why I take a certain vicious delight in stories like this one about how the Repubs are trying to keep the red meat social issues out of sight.

In an effort to appeal to moderates in their uphill push to retake the House, Republicans have pushed divisive social issues off center stage and replaced them with a host of pocketbook items they hope will appeal to working women, moderates and even some Democrats.

Fine, but what do they do when the moderates figure out it is the same old Party? Or, if the change really means something and the social conservative "base" figures out that the Party really means it?

De-emphasizing issues that were Republican signatures for many years is tricky. It risks alienating the party’s base in a challenging election year when it needs loyalists to turn out. And it does so when conservative Republicans are already uneasy about their party’s presumed presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

But GOP leaders see little choice. Democrats this year won three special elections in House districts long held by Republicans. The party’s campaign unit is struggling to raise funds. And polls show a strong generic preference for Democrats this year.

Me? I'm just surprised that social conservatives, the so-called Religious Right, did not figure out long ago that the elites who run the Party don't give two flips in Hades about their concerns. They are simply used for electoral clout, then forgotten. And for good reason.

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16 May 2008

So, how bad off ARE the Republicans?

Peggy Noonan has an hilarious column in today's Wall Street Journal detailing with some relish just how much trouble the Republicans are in. It seems that she has resented and feared what this president had been doing to the country, her fellow citizens, and the Grand Ol' Party for at least the last two years.

Which means she is not as dumb as I once thought. I have always wondered why there was not more anger and resentment among conservatives at President Bush. Now I know: like that prize buffoon Rush Limbaugh they were holding it in until the next election was past. Now they are heading for a brick wall and can't afford to hold it in. Of course, the uncharitable among us might point out the Bush no longer has the power to punish and reward, so it is safe to come out of the shadows and be brave.

But Noonan also points out that this is exactly the problem: too many Republican politicos sold their souls for ... well, what men always sell their souls for, money and power.

They are also – Hill leaders, lobbyists, party speakers – successful, well-connected, busy and rich. They never guessed, back in '86, how government would pay off! They didn't know they'd stay! They came to make a difference and wound up with their butts in the butter. But affluence detaches, and in time skews thinking. It gives you the illusion you're safe, and that everyone else is.

And so the Republicans have come to where they are now. The central problem is clearly diagnosed:

... this week a House Republican said publicly what many say privately, that there is another truth. "Members and pundits . . . fail to understand the deep seated antipathy toward the president, the war, gas prices, the economy, foreclosures," said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia in a 20-page memo to House GOP leaders.

Well, we live in interesting times.

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15 May 2008

Ban the Rainbow!

But keep the Confederate Flag. There is a secondary question here, but on the surface it is goofy enough. A principal of a Florida High School has attempted to ban all symbols that suggest support for gays - including most definitely the rainbow.

Davis [the principal] also testified that he believed rainbows were "sexually suggestive" and would make students unable to study because they'd be picturing gay sex acts in their mind. The principal went on to admit that while censoring rainbows and gay pride messages he allowed students to wear other symbols many find controversial, such as the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag? Symbol of, what exactly? Armed rebellion and slavery? Desperately trying to topple the Federal government? That's OK, but the rainbow makes you think dirty thoughts?

Well thank God we have educators like Mr Davis to protect our school children from being corrupted by rainbows.

Secondary question: Why, in a field overwhelming dominated by females, are principals and other top administrators usually male? Just curious.

This post has been brought to you by the color lavender. Now don't have any dirty thoughts.

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The Laboratory of History

Which model of politics and economy would work best for a developing country in the 21rst century? Hard to tell, but let's go to the history lab and take a look at our two latest experiments.

Oh dear, one of the test tubes seems to have exploded, destroying the experiment and the lab assistants.

Oh well. There are plenty more grad students to conduct further tests while I remain at a safe distance here in my office at History Central.

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12 May 2008

This Bud's for You, Mr Sobrino

Yes. Now you can bathe in the odor of your favorite suds.

Though I am still trying to figure out why.

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The Kindle - electronic readers again

A friend showed me her new Kindle a few weeks ago. I am still tempted to get one, but Clovis, my computer adviser, told me to wait until the second version of it with a lower price comes out. Sounds good. My chief hesitation is that it would encourage me to buy and read books because they are available rather than because I really wanted to read them. If I spend 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, reading this summer I will barely make a dent in the books I want, need, or in some cases, have to read.

So what about the Kindle? It may not replace books, but there are all kinds of things that could be exploited that neither books nor newspapers can do. Here's Ezra Klien in the Columbia Journalism Review explaining.

Since I blew my $300 economic stimulus package on two cases of local wine, I'll have to come up with the $399 for the Kindle some other way.

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06 May 2008

When Conservatives fight

It can look pretty nasty. Not, I must admit, as nasty as when liberals like Hilary and Barack go at it, and at it, and etc. But still, it's nasty enough for some genuine entertainment [btw: Hilary just got her clock cleaned here in North Carolina, and Barack is about to lose it in Indiana, even as I write]

Where were we? Oh yes. Over on National Review Online Derbyshire panned Ben Stein's movie Expelled without ever having seen the movie. Purely in the interest of science, I posted his review. And because I thought it was hilarious.

But the Steinians (Steinists? Steinistas?) aren't going to take this laying down! David Berlinski has fired off a post claiming that the Derby's effort "is an exercise of striking vulgarity" in which he "writes foolishly." Well, I must modestly admit that I have been pointing that out about the Derby for some time. But do I get any credit from the Creationists?

He then goes on to show that the Derby has his facts wrong, wrong, wrong about the movie: They did SO create their own cartoons and Yoko Ono did NOT have to give her permission for the use of a John Lennon song! What those two points have to do with the central thesis of the Derby's writing, or of the movie, I will leave to your imagination. Read the whole thing here.

Not to be outdone, a staunch supporter of the Derbyist Side, one Jim Manzi, also posts a defense of science called "Show me the science." Manzi doesn't waste any time leveling the meanest put down of all in his very first lines:

Expelled seems to me to be the right-wing analog of Fahrenheit 9/11. Stylistically, it is almost an homage to Michael Moore:

I don't think I've enjoyed reading NRO so much since D'Souza claimed that liberals caused the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

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01 May 2008

Darwinism, Science and the Holocaust

Yes, Darwinism was used by the Nazis, as we were discussing on an earlier post. So, for that matter, was medical science (think Dr Mengele), and even automotive engineering (think Volkswagen). Along with history and archaeology. To argue that because science or medicine or engineering were used by the Nazis therefore there must be something suspect about them seems a logical fallacy. Not that the creator of "Expelled" isn't willing to go there:

"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you," - Ben Stein.

It also leads to the polio vaccine, airplanes that don't fall out of the sky (usually) and computers.

Of course, that last one may actually be evil.

in fact, computers are keeping me from reading half a dozen papers about medieval Spain even as I type! So, good-night folks, for a few days perhaps.

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