31 May 2010


The old fashioned way. Unconched.

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Drill baby drill

One of the dumber slogans of all time. But here is a more recent take on drilling, or rather on one very specific and hard to spin drilling operation, from within the Oil Industry itself:
The LAT quotes him [chief operating office of BP] as saying, chillingly, at a news conference Saturday in Robert, LA, “After three full days, we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it is time to move on to another option . . . This scares everybody — the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing or the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far.”

This scares everybody. Well, not everybody. We still need that oil.

Reigniting the Kindle debate

There was a pun there waiting to happen, but I ignored it. Anyway, here and there I have speculated about getting an e-reader, particularly a Kindle. It now seems that they are not anywhere near as tough as Amazon would like everyone to believe. The muckraker himself, Josh Marshall, tells the the story of his Kindle.
When last we spoke, I was telling you about my Kindle's sudden demise. Or rather the apparently sudden demise of its screen. One of the reasons I like sharing things with you is that I immediately find out more than I could possibly have learned on my own about the subject. So this is what I've found out so far.

First, my Kindle is pretty clearly toast. The screen is broken, which I guess is probably pretty obvious from the picture (but denial goes a long way). And this actually seems to happen a lot. It turns out that the eInk which the whole system is based on has a layer of glass in it. And it's actually quite fragile. It seems like quite a few of you have had the same thing happen to yours.

If I understand this right, a Kindle is only as tough as a thin layer of glass?!!

think I'll stick with the old technology for awhile yet - I've never had a book shatter.

Trying to get to full employment

In our little county the library and the school systems have had their budgets cut so much that there are starting to be layoffs. It is very odd to watch a local government that cut taxes about seven years ago when times were good rather than build up their rainy day fund but routinely tries to offer expensive incentives to get companies to relocate now calmly watching while the county fires workers.

And, via The Week, a story from the New York Times:

The teaching profession is usually thought of as recession-proof, but with many state and local governments in severe financial distress, teachers are facing their worst job market since the Depression. More than 150,000 teachers are expected to lose their jobs over the next year.


American Business practices II

Can't really say if any of this is true but the last time we all went into the Boone Mellow Mushroom the staff was in an uproar. The name Phil Templeton was written all over the bathroom wall with various crude and improbable acts associated with him. The explanation, according to the staff?

Mellow Mushroom may be going out of business and all of its staff will be out of work. Not because of a lack of business, the Mellow Mushroom has done consistently good business as the best pizzeria in town. But the owner of the building (apparently this Phil Templeton) will not renew their lease. Instead he is going to lease it to another pizzeria that wants the location. Why? Don't know, but undoubtedly there is an interesting story out there.

That would be bad enough, but Templeton is alleged not to have bothered to tell the folks at Mellow Mushroom about this. Their first hint of trouble was when the other pizzeria called them and asked for details on when and how Mellow Mushroom was vacating the premises.

So now the Mellow Mushroom is scrambling to try to find a new location which is extremely difficult.

Nice. If true, of course. We only have the Mellow Mushroom staff's take on it. So don't jump to conclusions.

That would be wrong. I'll undertake some more investigation.

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American Business practices, I

One way a business can be sure to make a bigger profit, at least for awhile, is to fire a lot of their workers and tell the rest to work harder. That's partly why we have had good economic news for the last few months with little impact on the unemployment figures. The result, as report in the Economist via The Week:
Since the recession began, the average "job footprint" - a measure of what a worker is expected to produce - had increased by a third, says the Corporate Leadership Council, while pay has stagnated. A separate survey found that 63 percent of workers feel their bosses do not appreciate their extra effort.

No, they don't. And that contributes to the anger, frustration, and lack of faith in institutions that seem to be defining the zeitgeist right about now.

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Statistics of Interest: on Seat Belt Use

About 45 million Americans still do not use their seat belts, says the federal government. An average of 38 unbelted people die in traffic accidents every day. [From the Associated Press].

Or nearly 14,000 deaths a year. Wonder how many of them could have lived?

judging from the detailed traffic accident reports our local paper carries, most of them.

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News Flash!!

This just in from The Week:
Britons actually spend slightly more time reading news online than looking at pornography.

Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne was accused in a GOP rival's campaign ad of believing in evolution. Byrne insisted he's a creationist who believes "every single word" in the Bible.

Proving once again just how far apart the England and the US are culturally.

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30 May 2010

The Credit Card Industry

The Washington Post has a revealing look at the problems of the credit card industry. Essentially, they handed out too many cards to too many overextended borrowers, and then got used to raking in vast profits with unpopular and predatory practices. Comes a reckoning. Here is a bit of the article:
"Millions of American families can't pay off their credit card bills right now," said Warren, who estimates that they're spending $100 billion a year on fees and interest-rate payments. "Are their economic lives better off because they are spending the hundred billion? I don't think so."

There has been a bit of a backlash:

Credit card customers, meanwhile, are still furious after years of rising rates, snowballing fees and less time in which to pay their bills. Citigroup's Galant, who took over in April 2009, gets hundreds of e-mails a month.

"They are angry at us; they are angry at the system; they are angry at the government," he says. "All they want to do is get back to a peaceful existence."

By nature, faith and upbringing I am almost constitutionally incapable of NOT paying off my credit card debt by the month. Nevertheless I am doing my best to relieve the industry of my little share of their profits: I have begun to use my cards as little as possible. Why should 3-5% of each purchase leave my community and fly off to a big bank?

btw, did I mention my belief that faith in all our elites and institutions dissolved during the Double Aughts? Lately?

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29 May 2010

Globalizatin, Central Asian Version

This is also a story written by Richard Frye, the scholar of Iranian studies I admire as mentioned in the last post.

At the end of summer 1976, on the way home, we went the same way we had traveled earlier in June, by boat across the Caspian to Baku, and both same Afghans were on the boat. They had been sullen and unwilling to talk but this time in surprise they laughed and talked to us, believing we were in the same business of trading as they. And what were they bringing to Moscow? They had started from northern Afghanistan with karakul furs which they brought to Tehran to sell. Then they bought panty-hose and luxuries for the Russian market, which they sold in Moscow, and bought industrial diamonds to bring to Germany.

Their next goal was Stuttgart where they sold the diamonds and bought Mercedes Benz cars which they drove to Tehran and sold them there, because of the great demand in Iran for that make of car. After their log trip back to Afghanistan they obtained more karakul skins and set out for the same journey. In the morning at the customs in Baku it was clear that the Afghans had an arrangement with the Azeri officials to expedite their passage. They were only following an age old tradition in that part of the world, to trade where the highest rewards were to be found, even if it meant long distances and much trouble...

So something like the Silk Road still exists! The Mercedes Road? Blood Diamonds in Farsi?

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Who do you spy?

Richard N. Frye has been a scholar in Iranian studies all of his very long life. He spent much of his academic career as a visiting prof in Tehran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He is the author of The Heritage of Central Asia From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion which I have just finished as part of my North Iranian research project. That's the one I am working on with the Mad Cossack of the History Department. Knowing the Mad Cossack and working with him, the following anecdote Prof Frye wrote has a special resonance.
In 1965, on another trip to Moscow I met my friend Bobojan Gafurov, Tajik head of the Orientalists in the USSR, and I said to him, "Bobojan I have a problem." "What is it?" he asked." In the USA they say I am a Soviet spy and in the USSR people think I am an American spy, what can I do?" He answered, "Don't worry, we who are your friends know that if you are a spy you are a spy for Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan."

From my experience with Prof Cossack I am not sure Frye's friend was joking.

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27 May 2010

Not conservative enough!


Josh Marshall has the story"
The Virginia Citizens Defense League wrote an open letter yesterday to the AG, Ken Cuccinelli, accusing him of throwing his principles "in the trash" for his brief defending George Mason University for prohibiting firearms in university buildings, including the library and dorms.

All I can say, for being a conservative if not the Cuch, than who?

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25 May 2010

Politics in the Tarheel State

... just got a whole lot more interesting - and weirder. This from Josh Marshall:

D'Annunzio is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC) this fall. He was the leader in a primary earlier this month, but didn't win enough of the vote to avoid a runoff in June....

... To undermine D'Annunzio, the state GOP has been circulating records from his 1995 divorce and from a 1998 child support judgment. In the latter, as the Charlotte Observer reported Sunday, the judge called D'Annunzio "a self-described religious zealot," and wrote that D'Annunzio had "described the government as the 'Antichrist'."

In the divorce case, Anne D'Annunzio said her husband had told her that "God was going to drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid" on Greenland, and also that he had found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona, among other unusual beliefs.

DiAnnunzio is the local Tea Party backed candidate and it is the "regular" Repubs who are trying to deep six him.

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23 May 2010

News Flash!!!

A news alert of great importance has just come in to Clemens Central from Josh Marshall:

"Nevada elections officials have banned people wearing chicken costumes from polling places for the remainder of 2010. "

it's a long story


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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mummy in possession of money must be in want of more mummies.

And we now have more mummies. Complete with funerary equipment.

The ubiquitous Zahi Hawass has struck again.

I know. That first line makes no sense, unless you have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


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22 May 2010

"Puerto Rico....

... let it sink back in the ocean."

Lyrics from "America" in West Side Story.

Another last ditch effort by a Republican to try to win the hearts and minds... and votes... of Hispanic citizens.
Vaughn Ward is running for the Republican nomination in Idaho's 1st House district. Asked in a debate this week whether he would support a measure on Puerto Rican statehood, Ward said he opposes "extending statehood to some, to any other country," adding that he doesn't care "what country ... wants to become part of America." Told that Puerto Rico is an American territory, not a foreign country, Ward said, "I really don't care what it is."

Wonder what he thinks Hawaii was before we "acquired" it.

Since we have gotten used to 50 states, and it's a nice round number, if the Puerto Ricanos vote for statehood, can we just swap Puerto Rico for Idaho?

I would prefer Texas but it is too big to fail (but if at first you don't secede....)


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Congress does something postive!!

No, really. From the Washington Post by Dana Milbank:

... the House of Representatives found a new way to deal with the nation's problems. It passed a resolution in support of beer. "It does seem like a no brainer," sponsor Betsy Markey (D-Col) told Politico. Depends on how many you have.

now that's a change we can believe in.


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21 May 2010

T E Lawrence has an encounter.

Lawrence, he of Arabia, was on campaign and climbed up an escarpment to bathe in a fresh pool of water flowing from between the rocks.
Upon the water-cleansed and fragrant ledge I undressed my soiled body, and stepped into the little basin, to taste at last a freshness of moving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool. I lay there quietly, letting the clear, dark red water run over me in a ribbly stream, and rub the travel-dirt away. While I was so happy, a grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and weariness, came slowly along the path till opposite the spring; and there he let himself down with a sigh upon my clothes spread out over a rock beside the path, for the sun-heat to chase out their thronging vermin.

He heard me and leaned forward, peering with rheumy eyes at this white thing splashing in the hollow beyond the veil of sun-mist. After a long stare he seemed content, and closed his eyes, groaning, 'The love is from God; and of God; and towards God'.

His low-spoken words were caught by some trick distinctly in my water pool. They stopped me suddenly. I had believed Semites unable to use love as a link between themselves and God, indeed, unable to conceive such a relation except with the intellectuality of Spinoza, who loved so rationally and sexlessly, and transcendently that he did not seek, or rather had not permitted, a return. Christianity had seemed to me the first creed to proclaim love in this upper world, from which the desert and the Semite (from Moses to Zeno) had shut it out: and Christianity was a hybrid, except in its first root not essentially Semitic.

This observation leads him into a dream like incantation of the progress of Christianity.

A most peculiar man.

taken from Seven Pillars of Wisdom

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R. A. Lafferty and the Semitic Germans of 300 BC

The Science Fiction School of History

One of my favorite history books is The Fall of Rome by R. A. Lafferty, who was better known for his science fiction writing. I am not sure about his science fiction, but when such a creative imagination was turned loose on the declining years of the Roman Empire and the career of Alaric the Goth, the results were spectacular. The odd thing is, Lafftery really knew the ancient sources and created an image of a living, breathing world with complex characters whose lives made no concessions to our 19th century notions of how it really was. Any historian of the period worth their salt could probably pick holes in his story, but I learned a lot about history, and a lot more about the disciplined, informed historical imagination from this book. [for some big chunks of it, check here]

One of the odder notions that he put into the book was the idea that the Balti, the leading clan of the Visigoths, were not originally from Germania but were aliens to northern Europe. He makes the cryptic statement that the noble house had come from a strange land hundreds of years earlier and they remembered Rome. If I recall rightly after 40 years the italics were in the original. Nowhere in the text does he explain this but on the map on the inside of the book cover there is a note showing Carthaginians coming to the coast of Germania, right about at the foot of the Danish peninsula.

An interesting but wild idea, backed up by nothing I have always thought.

Then I read a book by the linguist John McWhorter called Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. In the last chapter he points out that proto-Germanic, the ancestor of Norse, English, German, Dutch and Gothic, is like no other version of Proto-Indo-European found in Europe. It has some very odd features (e.g. all proto-Indo-European p's become f's as pater ---> father). McWhorter, whose specialty is the formation of creoles, believes that these oddities are typical of a language, such as Proto-Indo European, that had been picked up by a number of people speaking an entirely different type of language. He then suggests that the specific oddities of proto-Germanic would be explained by contact with a Semitic language. At first you scoff, then you read his examples and you begin to wonder.

But what Semitic languages would be out on the North Sea coast near the Danish-German border in around 300 BC? Well, Phoenician. Which as Punic was the language of Carthage.

So now I am curious: just where did Lafferty come up with this particular idea, a half century ago.

his day job was working as an electrical engineer, Mr Sobrino.


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20 May 2010

An art disappearing.

A simple little film about working class guys.
Producing art.

soon to be gone in a neighborhood near you

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19 May 2010



"At the opening of the fourteenth century of the Christian Era, the North and Central Italian regions of Lombardy, Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marches were partitioned between seventy or eighty city-states; or, in other worlds, there was a larger number of fully-self-governing states in one half of Italy in A.D. 1300 than can be counted in 1935 in the whole world."

Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History

On the whole, Toynbee thinks that the replacement of the Italian city-state model by larger nation-states was a Bad Thing.

but then, he is largely forgotten these days, so what did he know?

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Proof Darwin was wrong

Proof that Darwin was wrong...

Daniel Pipes
Franklin Graham
William Kristol

Think of it as a prose poem.


The Poetry Nook

[I am clearing out files on my little NEO. I don't think I have posted this before, but if I have, forgive me.]

by W. S. Merwin

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

This morning, while I was having my coffee and cereal, I idly picked up a book of poetry Carmen was reading. Good Poems for Hard Times. Opened it up to a poem called "Minnesota Thanksgiving" by John Berryman. I read it because it had "Minnesota" in it.


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18 May 2010

More oldies

Here is a capsule review of a book that now seems prescient, though I remember reviewers thinking the author was throwing too much stuff that wasn't really related to the decline of the American republic. Here's what I said about it a few years ago:

17. American Theocracy by Kevin Philips (audio). I am not in a mood to write much about this right now. It’s a good book examining three major trends in American political life that Philips thinks are terminal for the Republic: dependence on foreign oil, the rise of a religious party (the Republicans) for the first time in American politics, and the rise of high finance as America’s principle industry. Over drawn and overly pessimistic, but an important read if you are a politically aware citizen.

I am not so sure after three years of crazy politics and imploding banks that his view was as over drawn as I thought!

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Blast from the past

And I mean 'blast' quite literally. I was rereading some old posts looking for something and stumbled across this post from January 2007 entitled "What you pay for when you pay for gas":

Well, it's certainly not even a minimal amount of safety, neither for the giant BP gas company's own employees nor the environment. Here's the results of a damning report on BP's systematic shortchanging safety at its refineries - one of which blew up killing 15 people. And then there is the Alaska pipeline that BP allowed to deteriorate to the point it burst.

The Texas City plant was not the only refinery in need of greater company spending. The panel said that many hourly workers interviewed at BP's Whiting, Ind., refinery reported that as a result of underfunding, "preventive maintenance was seldom practiced, the refinery had a 'run until it breaks' mentality, and the workforce had a great deal of experience running equipment with 'Band-Aids.' " A survey of people working at a Toledo refinery showed that 33 percent of operations managers, 44 percent of maintenance technicians and 63 percent of health-and-safety employees disagreed with the statement that "process safety programs . . . have adequate funding."

After a consultant hired by BP urged bigger refinery budgets, BP increased spending somewhat. But in late 2004, weeks before the explosion, BP headquarters had asked its refineries to trim costs by an additional 25 percent. "It is not clear to the Panel why the U.S. refineries did not receive greater funding," the Baker report says.

Remember the billions in windfall profits BP and other companies raked in when your gas prices went up to $3 a gal? The price spike that ended, oh, just before the last election?

Well, the Good Book is right: there IS nothing new under the sun.

Enjoy your next fill up.


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Freudian slip?

Well, only if I believed in Freud the way I do Darwin.

Matthew Yglesias in talking about the latest politico to have an embarrassing moment, claiming he was in Vietnam when he wasn't:

"people have been urging Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to run for hire office"

"hire office" I like that.

Sort of like our stipendiary pundotcracy.


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15 May 2010

Back at last

The last two posts mark the return after a long hiatus. First there was the usual crush of the end of the semester madness. Then Carmen and I rushed down to that Unnamed Port City to Our South (the hellhole) on some family business. Then over to Walt Disney's Animal Kingdom to talk to the animals (and to eat at the Yak and Yeti Restaurant), and finally back home. I will describe the trip on that other blog.

But now I am ready for the summer and intend to do some more writing, at least some of which should find its way to these pixels.


Reading projects for the summer

I have set aside an enormous pile of books to read this summer. Probably overly ambitious, but I might as well dream.

One that I am reading on Gutenberg.org is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, a memoir of his service during World War I among the Arabs of what would become Saudi Arabia. It is fascinating on many levels, not least as a peek into an arresting and complex personality. Lawrence is a superb observer of the natural world and an even better one of human natures. The pen-portraits he draws of so many are fully fleshed, subtle, and convincing.

But Lawrence is a peculiar person, one who constantly goes off on tangents you would not expect. Here he is after a battle in which the Arabs destroyed most of a battalion of Turkish troops.
The dead men looked wonderfully beautiful. The night was shining gently down, softening them into new ivory. Turks were white-skinned on their clothed parts, much whiter than the Arabs; and these soldiers had been very young. Close round them lapped the dark wormwood, now heavy with dew, in which the ends of the moonbeams sparkled like sea-spray. The corpses seemed flung so pitifully on the ground, huddled anyhow in low heaps. Surely if straightened they would be comfortable at last. So I put them all in order, one by one, very wearied myself, and longing to be of these quiet ones, not of the restless, noisy, aching mob up the valley, quarrelling over the plunder, boasting of their speed and strength to endure God knew how many toils and pains of this sort; with death, whether we won or lost, waiting to end the history.

After a battle that had lasted most of the day in a heat Lawrence describes as the worst he had ever experienced in Arabia and in which he had exerted himself far beyond his last nerve, he finds time to wander among the dead, admiring their beauty and arranging them in neat little rows.

A most peculiar fellow. And absolutely ruthless.

actually it was Anactoria who showed me how to find Lawrence on the internet. I don't think she visits anymore, but thanks anyway.

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The course of true love... etc.

Especially when you are a male Darwin's Beetle. BTW, it will make a human female appreciate the fact that male humans simply fall asleep after they are done.

and male humans appreciate the fact that they don't have to fight their way up a three mile tree to meet her. [thanks to Sullivan again]


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