29 June 2010

Your tax dollars at work

I learned something I did not know today. It was in an article by Matt Taibbi reaming a suborned soi-disant journalist named Lara Logan. You can read his rant here, but this is the part with the new info:
True, the Pentagon does have perhaps the single largest public relations apparatus on earth – spending $4.7 billion on P.R. in 2009 alone and employing 27,000 people, a staff nearly as large as the 30,000-person State Department – but is that really enough to ensure positive coverage in a society with armed with a constitutionally-guaranteed free press?

Hope you feel like you are getting your money's worth.

As for the content of the article, read it yourself and keep in mind the obviously forgotten advice of the old battle weary and drunken journalist who once told a rookie reporter:
When you interview someone you always have to ask yourself 'why is this lying bastard lying to me?'

But of course, I am only an historian. We never lie to anyone.

though we may not know what we are talking about.

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Robert Byrd

Robert Byrd died today at 92. I was 11 when he entered the Senate. For me, he has simply always been there, in the Senate, for good and ill. Highlights of that career here.

Now I learn in the local paper that his life and mine intersected at two points, widely separated in time. He was born in North Wilkesboro, just a mile or two from where I am setting. And during World War II he worked as a welder in the Tampa ship yards not far from where I lived once.

I did not always like him, nor all of the things he did and stood for. But compared to what we have in the Senate today he was a giant.

23 June 2010

Hi-Tech Saints

This is amazing. Using new laser technology restorers working in the catacombs of Rome have discovered and restored icon paintings of Sts Peter and Paul, and several others. These are the oldest such icons yet discovered dating from around AD 375 or so.

For me, here is the amazing part, using the lasers to burn through several inches of calcium deposits without damaging the paintings:
Using the laser technique, restorers were able to sear off all the deposits by setting the laser to burn only on the white of the calcium carbonate; the laser's heat stopped when it reached a different color. Researchers then easily chipped off the seared material, revealing the brilliant ochre, black, green and yellow underneath, Mazzei said.

We will probably never invent a time machine, but short of that this will do. I can't wait to see what we can do ten or twenty years from now.

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15 June 2010

Ex libris

I have been doing a lot of reading this summer in between taking long naps and walking the silly dog. I keep meaning to leave posts on all the books that I have read or listened to but this is the first one. First, what I read last semester, that is from January to May.

For school I read the usual stuff on Medieval Warfare, all done before.

For the Migrations in history class the only book I assigned was Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times by Arno Karlen. I found the book packed with lots of scary information. In fact after reading it you wonder why any humans managed to survive the Neolithic Revolution, much less the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century. The plague, btw, gets only passing mention because there are so many other diseases fighting for attention in Karlen's pages. The class Aryan supremacist found it delightful. I may not assign it again.

I listened to The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. A staggering work to keep straight with one battle and disaster after another. Yet Thucydides always interlaces his narrative with well considered assessments of the politics and emotions involved. Perhaps he does this too much. Since he is the only source for so much of this era we have nothing to check him against. He started the practice of making up speeches for the main actors feeling this was the best way to summarize what they thought - or probably thought - in the author's opinion. At bottom though it is a tale of a society tearing itself apart for reasons that are still hard to fathom. I lost a lot of respect for V D Hanson who has an expert's knowledge of this era (I read his War Like No Other last semester) and yet found only reinforcement for his view that we should go into Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Iran. Thucydides paints a horrifying portrait of the original and never to be forgotten case of 'imperial over reach' and Hanson doesn't even see the irony.

Also read Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran by Parvaneh Pourshariati. It is rare for a book to really impress me but this one knocked my socks off. It is simply brilliant. It is a major piece of revisionist history covering the entire make-up, meaning, and fate of the Sasanian Empire. It sees the empire as a condominium of the Persian ruling family and the great Parthian dynasts that has been poorly understood. When that condominium fell apart under the pressure of both the Long War with the Roman Empire and the centralizing efforts of the Persian emperor the empire fell apart. And then the Arabs showed up. One of the major points of revisionism that Pourshariati pushes is that Muhammad was still alive when the Muslim conquest of Iraq began. I'll deal with that in a later post on Crone and Cook's Hagarism. The two books are both brilliant, show a masterful command of languages and sources, and call for major readjustments to our understanding of Near Eastern history. Both may also be completely wrong. Scholarly books intended for specialists they are a challenge but if you can handle them you will be a better person for having read them.

Soldiers and Ghosts by J E Lendon is another book on warfare during the Greek and Roman periods but one that totally rethinks the subject. Some parts of it, like his theory that most Hellenic warfare was based squarely on attitudes inculcated by the Iliad, I found unconvincing, but other parts of it helped me to revisualize the ancient battlefield in ways that will be useful.

I followed that up with a quick read on Gutenberg.org of Xenophon's The Cavalry General. It is a manual for how to recruit, train and lead a force of cavalry back in the days when it all seemed to be so new, the late 5th century BC. A fascinating and helpful view of the cavalry commander and his men and mounts.

That's all for the moment. More when I come back.

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Tea Bags: History as remembered

Jack was commenting on the origin of using the term "tea baggers" or "tea bagging" in reference to the various protests that coalesced under the name "Tea Party."

This is the way I remember it, so this must be the truth (for purposes of this blog anyway):

When groups began referring to themselves as the Tea Party, they also started using the tea bag as their symbol and referring to some of their activities as to 'tea bag' something or someone, as seen here in an early protest in Feb of 2009. I distinctly remember at least a few protesters referring to themselves as tea baggers who were going to tea bag the tax and spend budget buster. I knew this from articles I read on TPM at the time, before either Josh Marshall, or poor naive Clemens learned what the term REALLY means in our modern culture.

Once we were all educated to the use of the term for a sexual practice (Josh even had a clip from "Sex and the City" where the girls discuss doing this) that the liberal media hit upon it as a snide way to put down the movement.

So neither the movement nor the liberal media invented the term's sexual connotation. That apparently was already part of a part of our culture.

Since I would never want to impart a snide flavor to Sententiae I hereby declare a moratorium on the term .... at least until the next time I need to use it.

UPDATE: Just discovered this little article from NRO by Jay Nordlinger giving a brief history of the term. I love new terms.

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Down there in the Unnamed Port City

Carmen is down in that pestilential swamp hole to our south for three weeks on family business. It is not too far from where this happened today:
It turns out the guy who tried to use fake ID to get into MacDill Air Force Base with a number weapons and lots of ammo was himself an AWOL serviceman. The military press person is saying it doesn't appear to be a case of attempted terrorism. But it's hard to figure where an AWOL soldier trying to drive his car into another military base with a lot of weapons isn't up to no good. [The TPM version of the story]

Take care honey! Stay away from military bases! At least until next week, when you go to visit Mother who lives only several stone throws away!

I found this on TPM while researching my reply to Jack's last comment.

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Tea Party Philosophy

There has always appeared something a bit unhinged about the Tea Baggers (as they first wanted to be called). Too much anger, too much hate. Two emotions I don't deal with either internally or externally very well. There is a lot of racism involved, though that supplies only part of the electric force running through the synapses to motivate the limbs of the creature. To some extent they are channeling age old populist anger at the elites. Now that is something I have more sympathy with, but it is exceeding dangerous for the Repubs, and not much better for the Demos. It is a force that is destructive to the political process itself because the process is seen as in the hands of elites that are inimical almost by definition to popular forces.

Is the movement coherent, does it have a sane agenda past the inane slogans and cheers? I doubt but we will see. In the meantime, J M Bernstein, a professor of philosophy, has a smart take on the deep motivating forces behind the movement in a little essay in today's NY Times. You should read it all, but here is some of it:
The seething anger that seems to be an indigenous aspect of the Tea Party movement arises, I think, at the very place where politics and metaphysics meet, where metaphysical sentiment becomes political belief. More than their political ideas, it is the anger of Tea Party members that is already reshaping our political landscape. ..

... In a bracing and astringent essay in The New York Review of Books, pointedly titled “The Tea Party Jacobins,” Mark Lilla argued that the hodge-podge list of animosities Tea party supporters mention fail to cohere into a body of political grievances in the conventional sense: they lack the connecting thread of achieving political power. It is not for the sake of acquiring political power that Tea Party activists demonstrate, rally and organize; rather, Lilla argues, the appeal is to “individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power.” He calls Tea Party activists a “libertarian mob” since they proclaim the belief “that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone.”

... Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?

His conclusion seems to fit the odd contradictions seen in most comments from Tea Baggers:
My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.

Well, as Chou-en-Lai once said, too soon to tell. But I think there is something to Bernstein's analysis, though it seems incomplete. As of yet the movement has not budged out of its low numbers and has not demonstrated any electorial clout beyond primaries which can be swung by the oddest little things (Alvin Greene!)

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14 June 2010

No Comment:: Animal edition

09 June 2010

Strange little story from Arabia

As I have said, I am reading the Gutenberg version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrences's memoir. It is chock full of the strange little stories. Here is one of Lawrence and his Arab irregulars camping within the walls of an old Arab fortress:
In these slow nights we were secure against the world. For one thing, it was winter, and in the rain and the dark few men would venture either over the labyrinth of lava or through the marsh--the two approaches to our fortress; and, further, we had ghostly guardians. The first evening we were sitting with the Serahin, Hassan Shah had made the rounds, and the coffee was being pounded by the hearth, when there rose a strange, long wailing round the towers outside. Ibn Bani seized me by the arm and held to me, shuddering. I whispered to him, 'What is IT?' and he gasped that the dogs of the Beni Hillal, the mythical builders of the fort, quested the six towers each night for their dead masters.

We strained to listen. Through Ali's black basalt window-frame crept a rustling, which was the stirring of the night-wind in the withered palms, an intermittent rustling, like English rain on yet-crisp fallen leaves. Then the cries came again and again and again, rising slowly in power, till they sobbed round the walls in deep waves to die away choked and miserable. At such times our men pounded the coffee harder while the Arabs broke into sudden song to occupy their ears against the misfortune. No Bedouin would lie outside in wait for the mystery, and from our windows we saw nothing but the motes of water in the dank air which drove through the radiance of our firelight. So it remained a legend: but wolves or jackals, hyasnas, or hunting dogs, their ghost-watch kept our ward more closely than arms could have done.

He offers no explanation beyond that last half sentence. But his Arabs knew all about wolves, jackals, and the rest, and they were scared out of their daring. As was Lawrence, apparently.

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South Carolina - once again

No, this isn't about sex, lies, and the Republican Party. It's about the Democrats. And the just plain ol' inexplicable. Here's a brief rundown on Alvin Greene, a guy who decided to run for the Democratic nomination for the suicide run against Jim DeMint (R).
Greene's unemployed, recently out of the Army and living with his parents, and has an outstanding felony arrest from last year for showing obscene photos to a college student.

Back in March he walked into the state Democratic headquarters with a personal check for $10,400. That's the filing fee. The party people said they weren't allowed to take a personal check. It had to come from a campaign account. So a few hours later he came back with a check from a campaign account. And he signed up to run.

And that was it. He held no events. He never campaigned. He didn't go to the convention. He never filed any money filings. He never raised any money. He didn't even have a website. In other words, by every conceivable measure he never actually mounted a campaign.

Naturally he won the primary.

any theories greatly appreciated.


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North Korean crazy

You know you are dealing with a special kind of crazy when a country guns down citizens of the only country on the planet that will support its already crazy government.

North Korean border guards shot and killed three Chinese citizens at the border. Even China figures it has to protest:
Chinese analysts said that although cross-border disputes occur regularly, often involving livestock, a shooting of Chinese civilians is rare. "It's a big deal," said Zhang Liangui, a professor at the International Strategy Institute at the Central Party School in Beijing. "This will affect Chinese people's views of North Korea."

Do you think?

In a last ditch effort to evert total disaster Kim Jong Il releases unprecedented video statement!

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06 June 2010

The last plane from Stalingrad

Before you read this post, please watch this little film clip from the German movie "Stalingrad." Start watching it at about 5:43. Then watch the first few moments of this second clip. (Be patient, I will explain). It is a convincing and accurate reconstruction of the last German plane escaping from Stalingrad.

Now I will tell you a funny story: Shortly after the last German was cleaned out of the Stalingrad pocket Charles De Gaulle visited the Soviet Union. He was given the grand tour of the battlefield. Everywhere he went there were remains of shattered German tanks and equipment. De Gaulle kept muttering "What a remarkable people!"

About the third or fourth time the general said this his Soviet translator couldn't take it any more and blurted out "Yes! The Soviet People ARE a remarkable people!"

"No," De Gaulle replied, "I mean the Germans. To have made it so far!"

Now come forward in time, to about 1983. I was at a faculty reception talking to a professor who was obviously American by voice and body language. In what passes for light chatter among historians we somehow got off on World War II. I tell him this story because I think it is funny.

He laughs slightly and says in a normal tone of voice, "You know, my father was evacuated from Stalingrad on the last airplane,"

I gape and stammer, which army was he in? "Oh, the German army."

I was born in 1949 and he was no more than three or four years older than me. If that soldier had not managed to get on that plane somehow I would have been talking to a different person that evening.


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Sunday Animated Lecture

Via Andrew Sullivan comes this humorous and enlightening animated lecture on the geography of time. There is a lot of interest here, especially for us old fuddy duddies who have to teach the wired generation.

Take a look and see what you think. I love the drawings in it.

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"I wanna be evil!"

"I wanna be bad!"

The great Eartha Kitt, just because you need a day brightener.

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The Wilhelm Scream

Is it true that in space no one hears you scream? Especially if you do it over and over with the same scream?

A compilation of the famous (I now learn) Wilhelm Scream, named after the eponymous cowboy who first screamed it. I wonder if he gets residuals for this?

I learned this from Carmen who found it on You Tube. Life with her is a constant education.

in at least several respects.


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BP and the big mess

Frank Rich in the NYT takes Obama to task for trusting "experts" - i.e. missing the point of the Double Aughts: all elites and institutions failed. Here is his rundown of the record of British Petroleum:
This is baffling, and then some, given BP’s atrocious record prior to this catastrophe. In the last three years, according to the Center for Public Integrity, BP accounted for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors” — including 760 citations for “egregious, willful” violations (compared with only eight at the two oil companies that tied for second place). Hayward’s predecessor at BP, ousted in a sex-and-blackmail scandal in 2007, had placed cost-cutting (and ever more obscene profits) over safety, culminating in the BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 in 2005. Last October The Times uncovered documents revealing that BP had still failed to address hundreds of safety hazards at that refinery in the four years after the explosion, prompting the largest fine in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The fine, $87 million, was no doubt regarded as petty cash by a company whose profit reached nearly $17 billion last year.)

I'd tell you what I think about BP but then I would be unAmerican, at least according to one well known Republican.

who the hell names their child after Ayn Rand?


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05 June 2010

But it's not about race

After that bracing little refresher course on post-racial politics from South Carolina we can turn to the great state of Arizona, where events have unjustly earned the state a reputation as being filled with anti-Mexican racists.

Hard to see why anyone would think that, but there is this from a town in Arizona called Prescott where the local elementary school decided to have a mural painted. Some of the children in the mural are based on actual students at the school. Here's a sample of some reactions, a told by the artist in charge of the project to the Prescott Daily Courier:
As the Miller Valley mural took shape, Wall said, he and the other artists working at the site heard regular racial slurs from the passengers of cars driving by.

Wall reports hearing comments such as "You're desecrating our school," "Get the ni----- off the wall," and "Get the sp-- off the wall."

"The pressure stayed up consistently," Wall said. "We had two months of cars shouting at us."

The hostility seems to have been sparked at least in part by local city councilman Steve Blair, but since he tells us
" 'I'm not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it's a word I can't stand.' " ... and " 'The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time' " it could not be about race.

My imagination may be more flexible than Councilman Blair assumes.

the kid in question btw is an Hispanic (legal) but don't worry - the school told the artists to lighten his face.

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04 June 2010

Without Comment


Coming to a beach near you soon

If you are on the east coast, or the Gulf coast, you may be making plans for a fun filled week at the beach this summer.


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Someone in South Carolina gets it right!

Due to the nasty, borderline unfair nature of those last two posts about South Carolina, our beloved neighbor to the south, I have decided to let someone who seems to be sane and is also a Republican gubernatorial candidate, SC Attorney Gen'l Henry McMaster have the last word:
The behavior of my opponents, their campaigns and their supporters over the last few weeks has not served our state well. In fact, it's been embarrassing.

South Carolina is a wonderful state, blessed with talented people, abundant resources and unlimited potential. Success is ours for the taking. And it's time we start acting like it.

For the sake of our state and our people, I'm calling on them to cut this nonsense out right now. They should rein in their attention-starved surrogates, re-focus on the important issues at hand, and renew their commitment to putting South Carolina's interest above their own self-interest.

Because in the end, any short-term personal political gain they may earn comes at the expense of South Carolina's bright future.

So, does this mean his campaign is toast?


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Up date on South Carolina post

That last post? The one that left us wondering why an ethnic slur on Arabs would be hurled at someone of Indian descent? Or why her Sikh Indian father would be concerned about a "war over there"? Against Muslims? Well, Nikki Haley, the Indian American convert to Christianity Republican cutie pie is NOT going to take this laying down. And good for her.

From her spokesone:
“Jake Knotts represents all that is wrong with South Carolina politics. He’s an embarrassment to our state and to the Republican Party. South Carolina is so much better than this, and the people of our state will make that quite clear next Tuesday.”

Meanwhile Jake Knotts, the buffoon in question, makes a half-hearted attempt at an apology. Sort of.
“I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur.”

I still believe that Knotts is a drooling cretinous ignorant fool, but I apologize preemptively for any unintended slur.

some drooling cretinous ignorant fools may be offended.


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Carrying South Carolina to new heights

You may have thought that Joe Wilson, Mark Sanford, and whoever is not telling the truth in the Haley affair had carried South Carolina's reputation about as far down as it could get.

Oh no. There is this guy on Nikki Haley, much embattled but leading candidate for governor:

Not only did state Sen. Jake Knotts refer to Haley as a "f#!king raghead" he also went on a tear about her being a crypto-Sikh pretending to be Christian and part of some wild conspiracy theory Haley being a stalking horse for turban-wearing foreigners trying to undermine South Carolina's God-fearing culture.

According to the Free Times, Knotts claimed Haley's father is sending letters to Indian saying that his daughter is the first Sikh in the United States running for high office and that "we're at war over there."

Where do they get these guys?

Oh yeah. South Carolina. And the Republican party there.

couldn't we just build a fence along our southern border?

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02 June 2010

The Hitler Fashion Statement

A new ad campaign. Only in Italy.


Without Comment

More Foxx News

This from a scurrilous blog whose biting and sarcastic tone poor Clemens is a stranger to. But just for fun you can see it here.

She's called the murder of Matthew Shepard a hoax.
She wants to change the rules of U.S. citizenship so that if the parents of the child are not American citizens neither is the baby.
She believes that we have more to fear from health care legislation than from terrorists.
She states that the only people who don't have health insurance either choose not to purchase it or are illegal.
She declares that the Federal government doesn't "need to be in health care."
Not only that but "We don't need to be in education,"
And she claims that President Obama is at the least coddling, and at most colluding with terrorists: "All the promises he's kept have endangered our lives."
And screw the kids - She voted against a resolution that affirmed the National School Lunch Program.

As the bumper sticker says "Virginia Foxx is not crazy like a fox. She's just plain old crazy"

Of course, I must admit that most of my friends and neighbors down here in the foot hills vote for her. The mountaineers up in the High Country have more sense. Or rather they know her better.

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Foxx News

This is from a blog about local politics I just found, WataugaWatch. Keeps you update on all the political wackiness of the western end of the Tarheel state. Here is it's latest about our favorite NC politica, Virginia Foxx:

"Stupid Is As Stupid Does

That's Congresswoman Virginia Foxx posing with a poser, one Patrick Thacker, who was passing himself off as a representative of the U.S. Navy Association. Thacker is not a veteran of the U.S. Navy nor an actual member of the U.S. Navy Assoc. He was a "stand-in" at an expensive Florida political reception for Congresswoman Foxx, who has now gotten herself insinuated into a big investigation of the U.S. Navy Association, which has been nothing more than a political fundraising operation for right-wing politicians, complete with fake business cards and an "office" in Washington, D.C., that's nothing more than a P.O. box in a UPS store.

The tangled corruption, and Foxx's dumb involvement in same, was outlined yesterday in an investigative piece in the St. Petersburg Times. "

The St Petersburg Times - a lonely sane voice in that pestilential swamp to our south.

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