Friday, January 28, 2005

More Nature's Operating Instructions

I forgot to include this quote from Margolin's essay:

The California natives ate lower on the food chain than we do today. They consumed foods that white settlers had contempt for, such as squirrels, mice, gophers, and grasshoppers, which everybody said tasted like shrimp. They also ate oak moths and moth larvae, which everybody said tasted like shrimp. And they ate shrimp, which everybody said tasted like moth larvae. But, of course, eating certain animals at certain times of the year was a powerful land management tool, controlling populations that could otherwise compete too successfully for the food supply or harm the land's productivity.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

How much fun can we take out of school?

The Madison School Board will vote on Monday whether to allow or ban classroom pets.

In 1992, when our eldest was a fifth grader at Glendale, one of the teachers, Mr. Licht, brought his hobby farm into the classroom. Many of the students were refugees from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit who had never seen live rabbits and ducks. Mr. Licht also had a 40 gallon pond life aquarium and a corn snake. The corn snake had an adventure; it escaped. #2 daughter, then a first grader, found the snake in her classroom and she and her sister returned the snake to its proper place. Glendale sits on the edge of a small forest preserve, and the teachers took kids out for nature hikes at every opportunity. They found "pill clams" in May in the pond; went birdwatching, studied the Indian mounds on the drumlin.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Licht won a stack of science teaching awards. He made a strong impression on city kids who needed to see nature up close. Our eldest became fascinated with the rabbits in Mr. Licht's class, earned a rabbit, and brought "Carrot Muncher" home. Carrot Muncher won Reserve Champion Pet Rabbit at the Dane Co. Fair of 1996.

Madison School Board is looking at the pet ban because of allergies and children who are afraid of animals. We know about allergies; #2 daughter developed an allergy to rabbit feed and we had to keep our rabbits outside. Our daughter now keeps two reptiles, which we received from owners who didn't know how to care for them: Fluffy the cantankerous corn snake and Leon the turtle. Quite hypoallergenic they are, and so long as we keep them clean and well doctored, and wash our hands, we should have no health problems from them.

People who are afraid of animals benefit from finding a way to accept one animal. A letter in today's paper describes a little girl who, though terrified of dogs, was willing to meet and accept a service dog in her classroom and benefitted from the experience. Something similar happened in our family. #2 son is mortally terrified of dogs,having witnessed an attack on one of the family rabbits by a stray; but even he was willing to accept a particular dog, a big black Lab with Walla Walla tags who dropped a stick at our son's feet on the shores of Whitefish Lake. Our cousin told our son to throw the stick in the lake. 90 minutes later, a very wet dog reluctantly went home with his stick when we left for lunch; and our son had at least one good experience with a dog. Why "protect" kids from something that can make them grow?

What this ban appears to say is, "How can we make the learning environment so perfectly safe that nobody needs to grow and learn?" I am reminded of an old commercial for allergy medicine, in which a boy is sitting dejected on his porch, tossing a ball into a baseball mitt he can't use, because he has allergies and isn't supposed to be out playing. A grating voice yodels from offstage, "Harold, I hope you're not doing anything!" Every attempt to sterilize and sanitize our schools makes the learning experience so much more drudgery.--mrs. james

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Oscar nominations

So F-9/11 got no nominations, and "Passion" only minor ones. Now that I think about it, that's probably sensible.

F-9/11 was just a political tract, and a dishonest one at that. It wasn't supposed to be entertaining, or even educational (a documentary is supposed to try to be accurate). It was simply an ABB door-hanger: even the DVD release was timed for the election. Not that Hollywood hasn't tried to be political before, but entertainment is job 1 there. F-9/11 wasn't good entertainment.

I haven't seen "The Passion" (am I the only one?), but from talking to the people who went, I think that most of the audience was there to take part in a religious activity: to empathize as deeply as they could with what Jesus did, and use that understanding to rededicate themselves. This is about as far from entertainment as you can get, and I think a lot of the voters realized that trying to give out awards for a religious ceremony might seem tacky.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nature's Operating Instructions, the True Biotechnologies by Kenny Ausubel

Kenny Ausubel is a dyed-in-the-wool nature-worshiping "four legs good two legs bad" loon who is not above putting words in the mouths of his guests. I would strenuously decline to have him set the rules of society.

That said, he put together a mostly interesting and intelligent collection of writers who describe what they have done or observed to actually improve our use and reuse of resources.

I hate waste, and love to see efficient and robust ways to use and reuse things. It is fascinating to read about ways to retain rainwater, purify polluted water, bioconcentrate heavy metals. It is also amusing to read Amory and Hunter Lovins describing how large corporations (the devil incarnate to a lot of the other writers) have been developing energy saving measures, ways to reuse "waste" materials, new business models that offer things like rented carpet (only the worn is replaced, which means less down time for the customer; and they developed ways of high-level recycling carpet into carpet), and so on.

And many of the authors are correct that we need to pay attention to folklore and indigenous methods, as for instance the Miwok clam beds. North of San Francisco the Miwok collected clams from 11 beds until the government decided they could manage it better and compelled the Miwok to stop. Five years later, with only one clam bed still viable, they discovered that the harvesting method was also a form of tilling--the beds were essentially artificial.

This is not to say that everything the aborigines did was wise--the burning the West coast Indians did may have had benign consequences, but not so the slash-and-burn agriculture of the natives in tropical West Africa. Western science still has a great deal to offer, and most of the authors recognize it.

Almost every time a writer switched to spirituality or sociology the result was worthless mush. You may safely skip those. And Jim Motavalli (Reinventing the Wheel) seems to lose his way in the hydrogen economy--perhaps because he can't bring himself to use the n-word (nuclear). Energy has to come from somewhere, and wind and solar don't quite cut it.

On balance, about half the book is worthless. The rest includes a number of very interesting ideas and examples. I've been around the sciences for a few years now, and I recognize the signs of a puffed-up plan. You can often tell when the proposal has some down sides that the author has conveniently neglected to mention, though you don't necessarily know what they will be. Several of the descriptions of water purification have those tell-tale signs. But I don't really mind that much--let the pros go over it, give these things a real try and measure what the side effects are. Everything has side effects.

I'd recommend the book, with the caveat that the spirituality stuff is junk and that a global replacement of the word 'nature' with the word 'creation' would help considerably. And remember that the projects and plans won't be the cure-alls the writers suggest. Things don't have to be cure-alls to be good policy.

Looking backward

The other day I downloaded the archives for this blog, stripped out the Blogger paging/formatting code, and appended the works into a long single page. Then I pointed Firefox at the file and reviewed what I'd written over the past few years. It adds up to about a book's worth of text. Obviously it was never meant to be a consistent whole: just a log of what seemed interesting at the moment; so the content and tone vary all over the map. And not all the posts are mine, of course.

One thing stands out: I need to apologize for not editing more carefully. I left gaps, assumed that the reader knew what I was thinking, and didn't look up the answers to various questions. I'd write some things very differently now. I won't apologize for the puns, though.

I wonder how many times the word I appears . . . 1066 lines in 391 posts.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I wonder how much ice is in Titan's makeup. Imagine a "mantle" made of ice. Earth's mantle has pressures of order 1E11 Pascals at the bottom, which would get you well into the ice VII/VIII/X phases. Ice has lots of phases. The density change between the ice VII/VIII and ice X looks especially interesting. If you had any migration of material within the mantle, and some of the ice X rose to a level where the pressure dropped below the phase transition boundary, it could undergo a "sudden" change in volume, rather like some of the transitions in mantle rock on Earth. I'd think this would make any convection go faster, and maybe drive some of the crust around. That would mean earthquakes, subduction, etc. The energy would have to come from somewhere--formation energy, tidal compression a la Io, radioactives in a metal core. I gather that the first two aren't very significant at this point, so if Titan doesn't have a metal core it would be pretty inert. Still, if it did...

And, of course, near the surface you should get some of the methane in the ice. If you subduct that, you could get some cool methane/water volcanoes.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Pet Theories

Back in my undergrad days I took a speach class from a free-spirit kind of fellow who had some pet theories about art and life and the body. One such, which he expounded in vivid terms, was that things emotionally dear to us we keep close to our physical heart: and therefore most men keep their money on their left side: wallets in the back pocket, coins in front. (The heart is slightly left of center in the body.) What do you find in the right front pocket? Dull stuff like combs. Handkerchiefs you find in the right back pocket--the farthest from the heart. Glasses, our tools of vision, are right next to our hearts; because we love seeing the world.

Of course reality was a bit more mundane. I kept stuff classified in different pockets because that's the way my Dad had showed me. I later found it made excellent sense: for every time I reach for my wallet I reach for a handkerchief five times, and I recomb my hair or scratch a scalp itch far more often than I make change. My right hand is my strong/flexible hand, so the tools are best kept handy, on the right.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Shroud of Turin

Fake or real? Neither?

Suppose it was a stage prop from a passion play. Take a fresh piece of linen. Wrap the actor playing Jesus in it. If the scene was very realistic, there might be a little bit of blood. In any case the fabric will pick up sweat and body oils. Now pack it away for a century or so. The oils can oxidize, and mark the fabric. Now let somebody find this and try to figure out what it is.

This would seem to explain the origin easily enough. So what could we check to test this hypothesis?

  • Smear a volunteer with dye and wrap him in a sheet. Unwrap it and see if the facial highlights on the sheet show the same pattern as the shroud. Do you get smearing?
  • Do body oils oxidize to leave such marks on linen? Looking at old fabric samples should be able to tell us that.
  • Did old passion plays leave their props in the church? Did they include the wrapping of the body? The latter we could answer from looking at existing scripts, the former isn't really answerable. I'd think if the church had the storage space they'd be willing to keep this kind of thing.
  • Would wrapping an actor in this kind of fabric for a couple of minutes be apt to suffocate him? If no, then this might work. If yes, then they probably didn't do it and this would have been a burial shroud for somebody--but then why retrieve it?

Of course, the same sort of thing could be worked to create a fake relic. Lightly paint a statue of Jesus, carefully wrap it in fabric, and voila! Although I'd think they'd do Veronica's instead: they'd be easier to make and need less fabric.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Christianity Today has an article on Tim LaHaye's gripe about his publisher.

Tim LaHaye, coauthor (with Jerry Jenkins) of the Left Behind series, is publicly airing his displeasure with his publisher. Tyndale House is selling The Last Disciple, a novel with a distinctly different take on the Book of Revelation than that of the Left Behind series. LaHaye says he feels betrayed and told The Dallas Morning News, "They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense."

So now LaHaye owns Tyndale, because they sold a few books together? Or is he trying to create a buzz about Last Disciple to help sales?

The controversy has been covered in Time and on Good Morning, America. The fuss has helped sales of The Last Disciple reach 60,000 in hardcover over the first two months, Beers said.

I haven't had much interest in apocalyptic literature since I read The Late Great Planet Earth back when that book was all the rage. It seemed kind of amusing, so I tried my hand at writing the same sort of thing. I found it trivial--too much like cheating--and without any substance or authority. Anybody remember the old TV show Batman, in which Batman guessed the location of this week's villain using random clues and far-fetched puns? Or the movie They Might be Giants, with 'Sherlock' tracking Moriarty through the city in a mad scavenger hunt of numbers? Thus are the apocalyptic writers: "Oooh, there's a number 10, that must be something from Daniel's prophecy!"

Somehow LaHaye's whine doesn't inspire me to go read his books.

Survivors of 70 Million Years Ago?

A great meteorite may have destroyed the dinosaurs, but apparently some creatures knew how to duck it. :-)

Dress for success

On the way from the bus stop I saw a very lean and stringy fellow heading up the hill. It is only about 20 F, but the sight of a man in the snow dressed in cap, gloves, coat, and baggy shorts gives a slightly surreal accent to a winter day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


When I read the news, I sometimes feel like I'm on Mars. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are breaking up? I'm not sure who they are: actors apparently. I gather they got married, but actor's marriages break up at such extraordinary rates that I've no idea why this divorce should be a surprise. "Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."

I guess it makes sense that the marriages of actors should be ephemeral. Their careers are based on giving false impressions, and they get to be very good at it. Apply those skills during the "getting to know you" time, and you can fake out the other party. Faking out a spouse is harder. So perhaps you'd feel cheated because your spouse doesn't look quite as good before the attentions of a dozen makeup men, or talk so well unrehearsed. If any news attention at all (marriage, divorce, arrest) is good for the career, then mayfly marriages are logical.

Actors used to be looked down on and not trusted much, because their profession was lying. We've gotten away from that, and I think it says more about us than it does about possible changes in the profession of acting. Perhaps we're more Accepting(™), or perhaps we're so hungry for illusion and entertainment that we don't care, or perhaps we're not so sure whether lying is actually evil.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Acupuncture for the 21'st century

The News of the Truly Bizarre broadcast this morning included a story about a woman who went for acupuncture treatment, and found herself somewhat deflated when the practitioner punctured one of her saline implants. Vanity of vanities, etc; I still chuckle at the story. But somewhere, probably in UC Berkeley, there's a student who has just decided to write his thesis on how to reroute the lines of qi when there are foreign objects in the body, like a plate in a hip, or implants (and the differences between saline and silicone), or pacemakers. He can't lose: fame and nobody to prove him wrong!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Liberia: Portait of a Failed State

by John-Peter Pham

This is a very detailed history of Liberia and how it came to the state it currently finds itself in. Liberia was never an official colony of the US, and it never really had the "special relationship" Liberians often liked to mention; so it is hard to attribute their problems to anything but circumstances and their own mistakes. Circumstances weren't kind to Liberia: European powers didn't care to recognize the government's claim to land it signally failed to even map, much less control. It found itself so strapped for funds that it occasionally had to give up control of portions of its finances to European representatives. But the lack of interest in infrastructure development and the lack of enthusiasm for allowing any voice to the uncivilized natives (and the abusive practices that developed over time) were crippling. I'd not seen Tubman described this way before: a man who used cronyism to try to establish a power base independent of the settler-descendants, with himself as a kind of "squire of the manor", but using means that brought more prosperity and spread the wealth around more than before.

Tolbert's succession on Tubman's death wasn't automatic (as suggested on p 47): Tubman died before elections and Tolbert had to be confirmed as the new presidential candidate. He started off with a popular campaigns against corruption, but the economy was bad, debt grew, and the OAU meeting he sponsored cost 200 million dollars (the country's debt was 600 million). And he and his family were very wealthy. "When Tubman stole a dollar, he would give ninety cents back to the people in the form of food or minor amenities, as for Tolbert, he would return ten cents." Rice riots, imported Guinean troops to suppress them, growing dissatisfaction with him and the dominance of the Americos all weakened him, and then Master Sergeant Doe and his band murdered him.

Doe, of course, was no improvement: he was brutal, dishonest, and paranoid; and he succeeded in making bitter enemies of the rulers of his neighboring countries. They eventually wound up sponsoring Taylor's rebellion, which came within a few miles of capturing the whole country. But the brutality of the two armies was horrifying enough that, under Nigerian pressure, ECOWAS intervened and sent peacekeeping soldiers to buffer between the armies.

And here we come to the center of Pham's critique. The intervention may have been well-intentioned (though he thinks it was driven by Nigerian ambitions), but it would probably have been better to just let Taylor win. If at least one of the sides in a conflict does not want to make peace, or feels like it has almost won, "peacekeepers" aren't. They are effectively intervening on one side. In the end, the war dragged on for years, Taylor succeeded in having his proxies destroy Sierra Leone (he had a grudge against the leader, and diamonds were a tempting source of money), and in the end Taylor was elected president anyway.

After a few years of Taylor came the LURD rebellion. Taylor was forced into exile (how complete remains to be seen) and the compromise government is shot through with corruption. Over and over peace agreements brokered by outside powers have focussed on civilian leaders--who have always been sidelined because they have no military power of their own and no respect nationally.

Pham makes a plea for some realpolitik. He points out that the worst of the consequences for the neighboring states came after, not before, the ECOWAS intervention: unintended side effects. Quoting Kissinger:

In the end, civil wars are about who dominates. As political legitimacy erodes, a vacuum develops which must be filled by some new authority. As the United States engages in a humanitarian military intervention, media and other observers descend on the scene, certain to find conditions deeply offensive to Western sensibility. They will urge a whole variety of initiatives, from ending corruption to the administration of justice, that make sense in the Western context. None, however, can be accomplished without greater intervention, drawing the United States ever deeper into the political process. And, sooner or later, no matter how well-intentioned, such conduct will begin to grate on African sentiments, and that, in turn, will tend to undermine domestic American and indigenous African support for the operation. Nothing is more likely to end a permanent American contribution to Africa than a military role in its civil wars.

He mentions Jean-German Gros taxonomy of failed states, which I quote in full here:

Is there a well-defined territory that is internationally recognized? Is there a polity whose social boundaries can be more-or-less delineated and which has a general sense of belonging to the country and the state in question? How effective is the control exercised by whatever authority structure lays claim over the territory and the polity? In other words, do public authority figures have a monopoly over the means of coercion nationally, or are there parts of the country that are off-limits? Are taxes--as opposed to tributes paid to local lords acting in the name of the state--collected, and do they make their way into state coffers?

Based on this, Gros identifies five types of failed states: the anarchic state, where no centralized government exists and where armed groups act under orders from warlords {sic} contest control; the phantom (or mirage) state, where a semblance of authority remains with efficacy in a very limited area; the anemic state, whose energy is sapped by insurgency of by a breakdown in effective control by the central government over regional and local agents; the captured state, where the state embraces only an often-insecure ruling elite rather than the entire polis; and the aborted state, that never fully consolidated.

The distinctions made by this taxonomy--or any similar model that could be constructed--are particularly useful if one must contemplate anything other than the laissez-faire attitude that is ethically unacceptable to the international consensus. Where a collapsed state falls on the spectrum necessarily determines the approach that is ultimately adopted to dealing with it. An anarchic state will require an entirely different response than an aborted state. The chosen solution, if not adequate to the nature of the state failure in question, runs the risk of not only being ineffectual, but also being outright disastrous, as the experience of recent years has shown. A good case can be made that the Rwandan genocide happened because the UN actually learned the lessons of the imbroglio in Somalia: the problem was that the former was a failed state of the captured variety, whose organizational machinery, alas, worked too well, while the latter was one of the anarchic kind, with its governmental structures completely disintegrated.

What causes failed states? Pham points out that the end of the Cold War (WW III) did not cause states to fail, but the end of outside subsidies permitted long-simmering but suppressed quarrels to surface (and freed up a lot of military hardware for cheap). Instead, "Collective identities in underdeveloped societies are particularly conflict prone because identities are derived from fundamental, incontrovertible, and non-negotiable values such as language, history, and religion." Leaders use tribal divisions to "distract their citizens from other domestic failures, often when the ethnic division is nowhere as profound as being claimed" (Tharoor, Deputy UN SecGen). And it is pretty hard to feel a part of a partly alien government when only the elites seem to ever benefit, with corruption at every level.

This is a good history of Liberia, a good evaluation of the processes that cause a state to fail, and a good start on analyzing what is needed to deal with them. I wrote a little of the difference between "peacekeeping" forces and "peacemaking" forces--this goes a little farther. (A quick once-over by an editor would have helped the book a bit.) Read it.

Warrant for Genocide

by Norman Cohn

I located and read this one on Ideofact's recommendation. It is a detailed history of Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I haven't the stomach to give a detailed synopsis: suffice it to say that the hunger for illusion was and remains a formidable force in politics and culture.

What is the Protocols? A collection of lectures and directives that read like no business minutes I've ever heard of: a plan for world domination by disrupting commerce, culture, morals, and religion.

The cultural/political environment the book grew from was the reaction to "the growing forces of nationalism, liberalism, democracy, and secularism" in the middle to late 1800's. At first the greatest villains were supposed to be the Freemasons, with Jews in the background, but ultra-rightists in Russia and Germany seized on the idea that Jews were the manipulators of it all. As royal houses (isn't the king ordained by God?) collapsed those who clung to the older ideas noticed that (among others) Jews benefited from the "rights of man." The Russians in particular were eager to get rid of Jews, and the directors of the pogroms tried to inspire the soldiers with what antisemitic literature they could find or concoct. In Italy the Masons were active in the struggle for national unity and the deprecation of the temporal power of the Pope and thus the Freemasons must be agents of Satan, right? And since the Jews were also presumably the enemies of God, there must be a conspiracy between them, right? Never mind that the Jews were hardly prominent in the Freemasons . . .

The literary antecedents of Protocols were various. From early years some church fathers held that the Antichrist would be a Jew. From "the first crusade onwards Jews were presented as children of the Devil, agents employed by Satan for the express purpose of combating Christianity and harming Christians." One Hermann Goedsche, caught using forged letters to frame political enemies, retired to work on a newspaper and write novels. One of his novels, Biarritz, contained a chapter describing a secret meeting in a cemetery of a group of Jews who come to worship the Devil, receive instruction, and describe the various ways they are manipulating the economy, culture, and politics in order to ruin everyone else and gain control themselves. This chapter, excerpted into a pamphlet by Russian antisemites, morphed into a document called The Rabbi's Speech which by 1881 was being treated as a genuine work.

From France, Gougenot des Mousseaux wrote Le Juif which tied the old superstitions about Jews and Satan with kabbalah and near future events. From Chabauty came the idea that there had been a single Jewish conspiracy since the start of the Dispersion. Italian Jesuits tried to "discredit Freemasonry by presenting it as part of the Jewish world-conspiracy." (The Catholic church did not cover itself with glory during this period.) From (apparently) Serbia Osman-Bey wrote World Conquest by the Jews which claimed to have stolen documents which revealed the great conspiracy and the great campaign against Russia, and which called for the extermination of the Jews.

The most direct literary source is a deeply ironic one: the Dialoge aux Enfers entre Montesquieu et Machiavel by Maurice Joly, written as a dialog between Montesquieu (champion for liberalism) and Machiavelli (champion of cynical despotism) to criticize the regime of Napoleon III.

Moreover, something of Joly's insights even survived when the Dialoge aux Enfers was transformed into the Protocols; that is one reason--though as we shall see, not the only reason--why the Protocols often seem to forecast twentieth century authoritarianism. But that after all is a poor kind of immortality; and there is a cruel irony in the fact that a brilliant but long-forgotten defense of liberalism should have provided the basis for an atrociously written piece of reactionary balderdash which has swept the world.

Joly's pamphlet is indeed an admirable work, incisive, ruthlessly logical, beautifully constructed. The debate is opened by Montesquieu, who argues that in the present age the enlightened ideas of liberalism have made despotism, which was always immoral, impractical as well. Machiavelli replies with such eloquence and at such length that he dominates the rest of the pamphlet. The mass of the people, he insists, are simply incapable of governing themselves. Normally they are inert and are only too happy to be ruled by a strong man; while if something happens to arouse them they show unlimited capacity for senseless violence--and then they need a strong man to control them. Politics have never had anything to do with morality; and as for practicability, it has never been so easy as now to impose despotic rule. A modern ruler need only pretend to observe the forms of legality, he need only allow his people only the merest semblance of self-government--and he will have not the slightest difficulty in attaining and exercising absolute power. People readily acquiesce in any decision which they imagine to have been their own; therefore the ruler has only to refer all questions to a popular assembly--having first, of course, arranged that the assembly shall give the decision he requires. The forces that might oppose his will can be dealt with easily enough: the press can be censored, political opponents can be watched by the police. Neither the power of the Church nor financial problems need be feared. So long as the prince dazzles the people with his prestige and by winning military victories he can be sure of their support.

Cohn traces the actual author of the Protocols to someone in the employ of the Russian spy director in France (and secret police administrator), Pytor Ivanovich Rachkovsky. He thinks that "Joly's satire on Napoleon III was transformed by de Cyon into a satire on Witte (a political opponent) which was then transformed under Rachkovsky's guidance into the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This crudely written work began to appear in Russia, first serialized in a newspaper and later appearing in booklets. Sergey Nilus, a "mystical" monk popular in the household of the Tsar, wrote The Great in the Small, the third edition of which (produced especially for Nicholas II) contains the Protocols; and Nilus' version became the definitive one. The "Black Hundreds" who urged on the pogroms and exterminations that inspired Hitler, and later the "White Russian" royalists, seized on this book, and made sure that soldiers had important parts read to them (there were lots of illiterate soldiers in the Russian army) to inspire them to kill Jews.

So much for the origins of the book. I have no heart to describe how it spread, how it found advocates around the world (including Henry Ford), how the Nazis embraced it, how even a forgery trial failed to dampen enthusiasm for it (though the Times printed a retraction of an earlier positive review).

And I'm sickened to see the Protocols treated as gospel (almost like the Koran) among the Arabs, and see the same kind of grim claims of conspiracy with Jews controlling the Americans (instead of European parliaments)--this time by leftists (Cynthia McKinney, Michael Ruppert and many others) instead of rightists--and growing random violence against Jews showing up again in the West.

As for Warrant for Genocide: Cohn is a good writer. The topic is deeply depressing, and rather specialized. If you want the origins of the Protocols, my thumbnail sketch is probably adequate for you. If you want all the details, by all means read the book.

Fever Dreams

Or perhaps I should say "fever hallucinations," since what I experience with a high enough fever is sensory rather than narrative. Each sensation slips away if I focus on it, but returns when I don't. No, they don't make any sense--they must be some random connections in the brain that light up when things get too hot. It's been this way for as long as I can remember.

One is the sensation on the palm or tongue of a steady thin smooth stream of water, such as you get when you turn the faucet on to just barely above the drip stage. Another is the ghostly feeling of a thin rod on the hand: ghostly because it is only the superficial nerves and not the deep ones. The last needs a bit of explaining. With eyes closed, I normally have the sense that there's something like a red dome before me, near on the sides and moderately farther away right in front. In a high fever, the area right at the front of vision is the point of a cone that falls away on the sides to disconcerting (almost terrifying) distance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tsunami and prophecy

I've have nothing much to say about the tsunami itself, or the suffering it caused: nothing that others haven't already said, and often said better. The sufferers and the helpers are in my prayers.

I'm not happy with what I saw of the TV reporting of it: reporters had no knowledge of history, and I didn't see any before/after satellite shots until several days later, though I'd bet Defense had some in hand within 24 hours.

I'm sad to see the civil wars shining through, and the paranoia and the aid scammers (The UN appears in that rogue's gallery: at last report {yesterday} they'd delivered press releases and claimed credit for other folk's work, but delivered nothing to the victims).

I'm very unhappy with the amateur prophets (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian) busy explaining how this was God's judgment on the infidels/straying. What credentials do they display to show us that they're the voice of God explaining why He's just brought disaster?

From Deut 18:18-22 I gather that it is legitimate to demand credentials: in this case that the would-be prophet must predict something that actually happens. The other requirement is orthodoxy, or to put it another way, consistency with already verified revelation. (And so I ignore Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu "prophets" right off the bat. And people who announce special prophecies from Mary. Is this narrow-minded of me? Tough.)

This is not to say that I refuse to listen to what people have to say, or that I'm unwilling to agree with as much as I honestly can.

Take another example. Falwell and Robinson passed up a great opportunity to shut up back on September 13, 2001. While they were accurate enough in recognizing evil, they forgot that God's judgments are His own, and they presumptuously claimed to know what God was doing. Without credentials. The usual suspects started howling about "hate speech," missing the point entirely. "Hate speech" of this kind is merely a side-effect of the more heinous offense of false prophecy. As it is in Sri Lanka and Indonesia right now.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

WCRP: jargon

I do some computer management, and try to keep a distant eye open on the hardware and software available. I've read far too many articles which the author stuffed with countless buzzwords in the hope that I'd imagine there was honey there.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Dixie in Madison's Capitol

Susan Lampert Smith had an article in the Wisconsin State Journal about what happened when the Richland Center High School bank played for the Capitol on the 3'rd. They played a medley of Civil War songs that included "Dixie" at the inauguration.

State Sen. Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee released a letter to Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz about the selection by Schultz's hometown band, saying he and his guests were offended by "Dixie."

"They were surprised," Meinen said, of his students, none of whom are black. "I printed off the lyrics to Dixie for them, and we had an excellent discussion during class about why some people might be offended."

The band didn't play "Dixie," the battle song of the Confederacy, on its own. It was part of "The Blue and the Gray," a medley of Civil War-era songs by Clare Grundman that is a standard part of the high school band repertoire.


At the same time, Meinen said he supports Coggs' right to protest the selection, and said it provided his students with the chance to learn.

"They learned to be careful what you say, and be careful what you play, because someone could be offended by it," he said. "In some ways, it might be good that it happened."

These issues are always tricky, especially if you're a member of the majority culture that doesn't share the same history, and sees the Civil War as something that happened long ago and far away.

The lesson is that the history of slavery doesn't seem so long ago to people who still experience the racism that the "Dixie" era represents.

Or perhaps the lesson is that Senator Coggs gets his panties in a knot very easily. May I propose an alternative moral from Rick Nelson's Garden Party?

But it's all right, now,
I've learned my lesson well,
See, you can't please ev'ryone,
So you got to please yourself.
Emblems of Kentucky

When most people think Kentucky, they'll think Kentucky Derby and bourbon. But on a recent visit to Louisville, the TV informed me that what's really characteristic of Kentucky is

  • obscure medical procedures
  • ambulance chasers
  • end of year automobile sales
. And snow. Lots of snow. And frozen slush. More than we've had in Wisconsin so far this year.