the blog eclectic

All the world's a blog
And all the men and women merely bloggers.....
--As You Like It, Act II Scene 7
References for

O Rare Don Marquis


Archy and Mehitabel
(Buy this at Amazon)
Jeff Frascino & Jeff Adams, Ed.
(Buy this at Amazon)
References for
Identifying a Character in "Cryptonomicon"
by Neil Stephenson
(Buy this at Amazon)
The Emperor's Codes
by Michael Smith
(Buy this at Amazon)

Wednesday, Feb 2, 2005

Zaquari on Democracy; Montesquieu on Religion

Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, Al-Qa'ida's leader in Iraq, gave a speech just before the Iraqi elections (23 January 2005). He spoke about democracy, and explained it in clear and simple terms. He understands it as well as we do - perhaps even better. The speech is on MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute):

He's evidently heard of Lincoln:

This principle - that is, government of the people [and] by the people - is the very core of the democratic system … and it exists only through this [principle].

He goes on to cite seven principles of democracy:

First: Democracy is based on the principle that the people are the source of all authority, including the legislative [authority].

Second: Democracy is based on the principle of freedom of religion and belief

Third: Democracy is based on considering the people to be the sole sovereign, to whom all juridical matters and conflicts should be referred, and if there is any controversy or conflict between governor and governed, each of them threatens the other to refer to the will of the people and its choice, so that the people should decide on the matter on which is disagreed.

Fourth: Democracy is based on the principle of 'freedom of expression,'

Fifth: Democracy is based on the principle of separation between religion and state, politics, and life;

Sixth: Democracy is based on the principle of freedom of association and of forming political parties and the like, no matter what the creed, ideas, and ethics of these parties may be.

Seventh: Democracy is based on the principle of considering the position of the majority and adopting what is agreed upon by the majority

That's a summary that we could well use in schools. It seems obvious that he's talking about American democracy (and not distinguishing it from the republican form it exists in here).

Zarqawi has a big problem, though: he considers every one of these principles to be evil and perverted, heresy and error.

Going down the list again, take a look at what he thinks is bad about them

"... people are the source of all authority, including the legislative [authority].":

That is the very essence of heresy and polytheism and error, as it contradicts the bases of the faith [of Islam] and monotheism, and because it makes the weak, ignorant man Allah's partner in His most central divine prerogative - namely, ruling and legislating.

"... the principle of freedom of religion and belief":

... a man can believe anything he wants and choose any religion he wants and convert to any religion whenever he wants, even if this apostasy means abandoning the religion of Allah… This is a matter which is patently perverse and false and contradicts many specific [Muslim] legal texts, since according to Islam, if a Muslim apostatizes from Islam to heresy, he should be killed, as stated in the Hadith reported by Al-Bukhari and others: 'Whoever changes his religion, kill him.' It does not say 'leave him alone.'
According to Allah's religion, he has only one choice: 'Repent or be killed.'

"... considering the people to be the sole sovereign, to whom all juridical matters and conflicts should be referred":

This conflicts with and is contradictory to the principles of monotheism, which determines that the arbiter, deciding by His judgment in matters of discord, is Allah and none else

"... the principle of 'freedom of expression,' no matter what the expression might be...":

...even if it means hurting and reviling the Divine Being [i.e. Allah] and the laws of Islam,

"... the principle of separation between religion and state, politics, and life...":
(This is so obviously perverse to Zarqawi that he doesn't really expand on it.)

"... the principle of freedom of association and of forming political parties..."

This principle is null and void according to [Islamic] law for a number of reasons… One of them is that voluntary recognition of the legality of heretical parties implies acquiescence in heresy… Acquiescence in heresy is heresy…

"... the principle of considering the position of the majority and adopting what is agreed upon by the majority...":

This principle is totally wrong and void because truth according to Islam is that which is in accordance with the Koran

He goes on to explain at some length how inadequate the concept of democracy is, and how incompatible it is with Islam:

... democratic experiments have had damaging consequences for the Muslims, causing weakness, controversy, division, and conflict ...

Zarqawi's mentor, Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, goes even further:

...democracy is the vile fruit and illegitimate daughter of secularism, because secularism is a heretical school of thought that aspires to isolate religion from life or separate religion from state and law, and democracy is the rule of the people or the rule of the tyrant

Democracy and tyranny: to them, practically indistinguishable concepts.

Another cleric manages to bring up the Crusades. Sheikh Abu Omar Al-Sayf, the Mufti of the Jihad fighters in Chechnya, wrote to his Iraqi followers:

"Your Jihad against the Crusaders is defense of Islam, whose enemies are aiming to remove it from the hearts and lives of the Muslims. In this crime of democracy, the ones aiding them [the Allied forces] are members of our people and those who speak in their name, who call their apostasy and corruption 'reform'…

"Democracy [in Iraq] is a victory for the Crusaders, even if they retreat from Iraq and leave their agents to guard the idol of democracy that has become the god worshipped besides Allah.

"Accordingly, the Jihad warriors must wage Jihad against the soldiers of the idol of democracy, whether these [soldiers] be Crusaders or their democratic agents who are apostates from Islam…

Montesquieu on Religion

There's an interesting observation in Montesquieu (to whom our Founding Fathers looked for the three-branch structure of government - executive, judicial, and legislative). He wrote an influential book, Spirit of the Laws (also online here). Considering that he wrote it in 1748, it shows a remarkable understanding of human nature.

That the Catholic Religion is most agreeable to a Monarchy, and the Protestant to a Republic.

WHEN a religion is introduced and fixed in a state, it is commonly such as is most suitable to the plan of government there established; for those who receive it, and those who are the cause of its being received, have scarcely any other idea of policy, than that of the state in which they were born.

When the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the North embraced the Protestant, and those of the south adhered still to the Catholic.

The reason is plain: the people of the north have, and will for ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not; and therefore a religion, which has no visible head, is more agreeable to the independency of the climate, than that which has one.

-- Spirit of the Laws, Book XXIV, Chapter V

That a moderate Government is most agreeable to the Christian Religion, and a despotic Government to the Mahometan.

THE Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the gospel, is incompatible with the despotic rage with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty.

-- Spirit of the Laws, Book XXIV, Chapter III

It is a misfortune to human nature, when religion is given by a conqueror. The Mahometan religion, which speaks only by the sword, acts still upon men with that destructive spirit with which it was founded.

-- Spirit of the Laws, Book XXIV, Chapter IV

posted by Mike 12:00

Friday, July 15, 2004

O Rare Don Marquis

Donald Robert Perry Marquis was an American newspaperman, writer, columnist, humorist, playwright, social critic, journalist, poet, parodist, historian, novelist, skeptic, cynic, satirist and philosopher, who lived and worked in New York up until his death in 1937. (His name, of Scotch/Irish origin, is pronounced “MAR-kwiss”. If you thought “mar-KEE”, go back and read the title again. It’s the title of a memorial article by his friend Christopher Morley; it would be hard to find a more fitting one.)

He is best known today as Don Marquis, creator of Archy and Mehitabel.

Archy is a cockroach, into whose small body was reincarnated the soul of a poet. (Archy “is”, because he lives on in the pages of four books of collected stories, still in print after 75 years.) Archy lived in Marquis’ newspaper office, and at night hammered out stories by hurling himself onto the keys of Marquis’ typewriter. (It was a standard Underwood; the effort was considerable.) Beside Archy - but usually at a safe distance - was Mehitabel, a cat, who wandered in one day from New York’s back alleys. Mehitabel tells a skeptical Archy that she is the reincarnated soul of Cleopatra. Through the eyes of Archy and Mehitabel, Marquis looked at society and the human condition, from “the under side now”.

In the 1920s, Marquis was New York’s most popular columnist. His column in New York’s Evening Sun ran from 1912 to 1922, when he moved to the New York Tribune, and continued there until about 1925. His columns ran six days a week, for about thirteen years. In 1917, Marquis thought highly of a song lyric by an up-and-coming young song-writer named Ira Gershwin, and ran it in his column.

In the years from 1921 to 1931, he suffered a series of family tragedies: his 5-year old son died; his first wife died; his 13-year old daughter died; and in 1935 and 1936 he was hit with a series of strokes that left him unable to write. In 1936, his second wife, who had been caring for him, died. He never recovered from that loss, and a year later, on December 29, 1937, Don Marquis died.

A friend of his, the writer and poet Benjamin DeCasseres, wrote a eulogy comparing Marquis, a just man beset by tragedy, to Job. But Job’s reward came here on earth; Don’s would have to come later.

Part of what makes Achy and Mehitabel timeless is that Marquis didn’t focus on individuals. His aim was wider. And he had other characters to expose the follies of the times. Prohibition - our disastrous fourteen-year experiment in social engineering - gave rise to Clem Hawley, the Old Soak. Hawley first appeared in Marquis’ column five years before Prohibition went into effect. The Old Soak eventually became a Broadway play in 1922 (during Prohibition), and was one of the most successful plays of the time.

Archy too took on Prohibition. In one episode, Archy is talking to the mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh, at the Metropolitan Museum. The pharaoh speaks:

     you must be respectful
     in the presence
     of a mighty desolation
     little archy
     forty centuries of thirst
     look down upon you

     i am dry
     i am as dry
     as the next morning mouth
     of a dissipated desert
     as dry as the hoofs 
     of the camels of timbuctoo
     little fussy face
     i am as dry as the heart
     of a sand storm
     at high noon in hell
     i have been lying here
     and there
     for four thousand years
     with silicon in my esophagus
     as gravel in my gizzard
     of beer

Archy breaks the bad news to him.

     well well said the royal
     my political opponents back home
     always maintained
     that i would wind up in hell
     and it seems they had the right dope

     and with these hopeless words
     the unfortunate residuum
     gave a great cough of despair
     and turned to dust and debris
     right in my face
     it being the only time
     i ever actually saw anybody
     put the cough
     into sarcophagus

Again, in “Certain Maxims of Archy”, a sort of modern-day “Poor Richard’s Almanack”:

     prohibition makes you
     want to cry
into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into

Marquis on Marquis

From an autobiographical sketch:

Height, 5 feet 10 ½ inches … weight, 200 pounds … has always been careful to keep thumbprints from possession of police …

From a letter to a journalism student, asking for information:

… I have been a promising young man in literary circles for at least thirty years ...

I was born in a small town in Northern Illinois of poor but honest parents, and the poverty and honesty which I inherited from them I have preserved intact throughout life…

He was conscious of his own mortality, and he lamented that he had left so much work undone. In this exerpt from a poem titled "Lines From a Gravestone", we see a little way into his soul:

Naught that I have been or planned
Sails the seas or walks the land:
. . . .
Naught that I have dreamed or done
Casts a shadow in the sun:
. . . .
Nothing I have caused or done,
But this gravestone, meets the sun:

A group of his friends proposed a 50th birthday party/celebration. He wrote back:

"I could not go through with [it]. …. It means … that half a dozen novels, which I planned in my 30s, will probably never be … 40 and 45 are bad enough; 50 is simply hell to face; 15 minutes after that you are 60; and then in 10 minutes more you are 85."

In the last year of his life, he got a letter from Hillaire Belloc, who wrote:

It is a permanent addition to the furniture of my mind. It is a masterpiece and rare indeed.

This is the piece that Belloc praised so highly.

At one point, he has Shakespeare say

     grind grind grind
     what a life for a man
     that might have been a poet

That may well have been Marquis talking.

Marquis the Poet

archy and mehitabel is partly a satire on "free verse" poets - who were abundant in those days. But Marquis was an able craftsman with more serious poetry. This one, Only Thy Dust..., published in 1922, is a far cry from the humor of archy or The Old Soak.

For technical virtuosity, few poems come close to Wireless Telegraph, from 1906. Look at the introduction and first stanza:

Dead priests that have sung when the world was young at Mercury's temple-place,
Your myth, it was true. It is born anew in the death of time and space!

MORE swift, more fleet, than the sun-stained feet of the Dawns that trample the night--
More fleet, more swift, than the gleams that lift in the wake of a wild star's flight--
Through the unpathed deeps of a sea that sweeps unplumbed, unsailed, unknown,
Where the forces untamed, unseen, unnamed, have ruled from the First, alone,
Now the Ghosts of Thought, with a message caught from the tales of the dreaming past,
Unheard, unseen, with nor sound nor sheen, speed through the ultimate vast.

Marquis the epicure

We don't know much about Marquis' eating habits. I think it's safe to assume that he was a meat-and-potatoes man, and a hard drinker. He was, after all, a newspaperman.

I've read that he didn't particularly care for beans. This may be a clue - in archy and mehitabel, he often writes of the Pythagorean theory of reincarnation - as in

     this is the song of mehitabel
     of mehitabel the alley cat
     as i wrote you before boss
     mehitabel is a believer
     in the pythagorean
     theory of the transmigration
     of the soul and she claims
     that formerly her spirit
     was incarnated in the body
     of cleopatra
     that was a long time ago
     and one must not be
     surprised if mehitabel
     has forgotten some of her
     more regal manners

... and one of the rules of the Pythagoreans was that they were forbidden to eat beans.

However, he did leave one beautiful recipe for baked beans.

In The Almost Perfect State, he points to beans as the cause of the world's ills, but at the end - in a recipe like no other, he tells you the way they should be prepared.

If you will eat beans, here is the way to prepare them.

First, you must have an earthenware Bean Pot, about six hands high, and of a dark bay colour. It is better if this Bean Pot is inherited from a favourite grandmother, with a porous texture (the Bean Pot, not the grandmother) that has absorbed and retained the sentimental traditions of at least three generations. But if you own no such heirloom (more precious than the rubies of an imperial crown!) a new one can be made to do.

Procure your white navy beans, and pick them over on a Friday night, not hastily or cursorily, but with love and care, one bean at a time, for this is both an art and a science on which you have embarked--it is more; it is almost a religious rite. Cast from you all split beans, all rusty or spotted beans, all too-wrinkly beans; save only such superior beans, smooth, hard, and shining, as a twelve-months' old child would love to poke up his nose.

Marquis on World Affairs

The "under side now" gave him the opportunity to look at the human race from a different perspective. He wasn't impressed with the ability of governments to solve world problems:

     ... i have noticed that conferences
     to establish international good will
     always break up with another row
     there is no hope for the world
     unless politicians of all sorts
     are completely abolished
     you cannot get a millennium by
     laying a whole lot of five year plans
     end to end if governments would just let people alone
     things would straighten out of themselves
     in the due course of time

Archy figures that the human race hasn't gotten quite as advanced as the insects:

     i do not see why men
     should be so proud
     insects have the more
     ancient linege
     according to the scientists
     insects were insects
     when man was only
     a burbling whatsit

There are occasional journeys into deep philosophy:

     i once heard the survivors
     of a colony of ants
     that had been partiallly
     obliterated by a cow s foot
     seriously debating
     the intentions of the gods
     toward their civilization

Marquis in Hollywood

In 1929, he took a job in Hollywood as a screenwriter. The experience was a disaster - he left after a few months and never returned. He did leave a scathing, vitriolic poem, Ode to Hollywood, which was unprintable then, and practically unprintable today.

Marquis the Old Softie

The poem of his that has stayed with me ever since I read it, many years ago, is from the viewpoint of another character, Pete the Pup. It's an absolute delight:

          pete at the seashore
i ran along the yellow sand and made the sea gulls fly i chased them down the waters edge i chased them up the sky i ran so hard i ran so fast i left the spray behind i chased the flying flecks of foam and i outran the wind an airplane sailing overhead climbed when it heard me bark i yelped and leapt right at the sun until the sky grew dark some little children on the beach threw sticks and ran with me o master let us go again and play beside the sea pete the pup


There are two excellent Marquis websites:

Jim Ennes' focuses more on Marquis' works, and John Batteiger's focuses more on his life and times. Both have an extensive collection of his stories, poems, and essays. Between the two, there's a wealth of Marquis' writings, from archy and mehitabel to The Old Soak to his scathing diatribe against the Hollywood movie industry. lists about 1100 copies of his books. They range from first editions - a signed copy of archy and mehitabel for $350, around $250 for unsigned first editions - to recent ones for about $2.

archy and mehitabel is still the favorite: 287 copies.

There are four books on the Project Gutenberg online text library. Both of the web sites above have links to those books.

posted by Mike 12:00

Monday, July 12, 2004

Seed Magazine: Germinating or gone to seed?

Seed is a relatively new magazine whose tag line is “science is culture”. The current issue, Nr 9, Spring 2004, has the first of a series of articles about science and society and about the environment and the election. Next is an investigative report on mercury in vaccines and its connection to childhood autism. An iconoclastic profile of Percival Lowell rounds out the three feature articles.

The next section is “Articles & Essays”. A column (an odd choice of words for an article running 15 print columns over five pages) titled “The Burden of Power” looks at the US position of power in the world (the writer makes liberal use of “hegemony” and “superpower”), and raises questions of what a Bush or Kerry win would mean in terms of US influence and the role of science in our approach to world affairs. But this article is little more than a thinly-disguised attack on the administration, coupled with a less thinly-disguised endorsement - mainly by implication - of Kerry.

The highlight of the issue, in my opinion, is a conversation between E. O. Wilson and Daniel Dennett, one that ranges from evolution to the relation between religion and science.  Dennett makes a tantalizing suggestion that religion would be an appropriate subject for a scientific study. (Though I can't imagine that he hasn’t read William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. On the other hand, his views on religion are well known.  He recently coined the term brights to refer to people unencumbered by religious beliefs.) 

The article the editors want you to read first - because it’s the cover story - is about the election. The headline blares “Vote Science 2004”, but the unwavering drumbeat is “Vote Kerry 2004”. Of 32 persons and organizations cited and quoted, exactly one - Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit - is anywhere close to being called conservative.  Of the thirteen organizations, they make no distinction between the Sierra Club and - which is described only as “an organization dedicated to ousting Bush”.

The term “screed” has popped up more than a few times in the blogosphere. I’d say that this is another good place to apply that label.  “The Burden of Power” is another nice fit.  Perhaps they should change their name from seed to screed – it adds only two letters.

“Vote Science 2004” – subtitled “The Greening of Election2004” – is certainly long and monotonous. A single note sounds throughout the piece: the environment is under massive attack, and only Kerry can save it.  The writer is Amanda Griscom, who also writes for AlterNet, Grist Magazine, Rolling Stone, and

Here are some of her claims – made with no supporting evidence:

George Bush has been called an environmental villain.

He’s been called a lot worse than that.

… blatant disregard for the health of the Earth.
America is in an economic recession

Ms Griscom hasn’t been reading the news recently.

The Bush administration has the worst environmental record in American history.

One of the Left’s favorite lines: “Bush is the worst president since…”

There is wide-ranging evidence of misdeeds in the area of environment.
Bush is governing from the right, shown by his assault on the environment
Many Republicans think Bush’s environmental policies are radical.
The Bush energy plan calls for more oil and gas drilling in pristine lands.

“Pristine” – evidently meaning ANWR – seems to mean home of millions of mosquitoes

The administration has failed to push for a clean-energy industry, unlike the Japanese and Europeans.
The Bush administration decided to pull out of the Kyoto protocol

Actually, it was the US Senate, who voted against it, 95 – 0, in 2001.

The Bush administration is working to destroy the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

A crudely-drawn two-page spread in the middle of the article notches up the fear quotient by highlighting really scary facts:

EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom had her blood tested for chemicals. They found traces of 28 chemicals, including DDT – banned in Europe. However, she seems to be in pretty good shape, despite being a walking toxic dump:

seeds source is evidently based on this 2003 European Commission report

Another graphic warns us about the food we eat: milk is “infused with bovine growth hormone”, fish is loaded with “cancer-causing PCBs”, and “don’t forget the beef, kids,you’ll go mad for it!”, genetically modified fruits and vegetables have  “unknown long-term health effects”,  GM rice with vitamin A “will keep you from going blind! Maybe”.

The GM rice is perhaps the only reasonable hope that a large part of India’s population will ever have of getting enough vitamin A.

There’s a “Human Worth Index”, putting the human body at about $4 million – down from $6 million (before all this nasty environmental stuff).   The only Google reference to “human worth index” is the seed page.  (I remember some years ago, there used to be an annual “human worth” calculation, based on elemental content, and it usually worked out to about $6 or $7.  Sort of like melting down a Rodin sculpture and finding the value of the metal.)

On the Kerry side:

Kerry voted in favor of 96% of all environmental legislation during his 20 years in the Senate.

Some of it may even have been good legislation.

Kerry “emphasized the connection between the environment, jobs, and national security in his stump speeches more than any other candidate”.

How could we have missed the connection between the environment and national security? We’ll certainly need lots of trees to hide behind.

Kerry’s environmentalism stretches back to 1970, when he spoke at the first Earth Day conference.

Maybe he did.  The only Google record of that is seed’s page.  But there are lots of interesting hits for “earth day conference”.  One of the few mentioning Kerry is this one, where Kerry says, no, he doesn’t own an SUV, it’s just his family that does.

He’s the Senate leader in the fight against drilling in the ANWR and the “infamous Bush-Cheney energy plan”.

Never miss an opportunity to editorialize.

He’s married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, “one of the most powerful environmental philanthropists in the country.”

Must be a typo – I’m sure they meant “activists”.

Kerry has the potential to be the greenest president in American history (Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters.)

I seriously doubt that this would be a good thing. Europe – mainly Germany and France – has its influential Green parties. Much of what they’ve done ends up as material for late-night TV monologues.  Like laws mandating that pig farmers provide toys for their pigs to play with, and spend quality time with their pigs.

From the LCV website:

Senator John Edwards has amassed a solid record on public health and conservation issues…

… by suing doctors for malpractice, based on medically unsupported evidence, in carefully-chosen counties likely to return huge awards, of which Edwards pocketed one-third.

So, in fact, Edwards and his ilk are one of the principal causes of high medical costs – malpractice insurance premiums for OBGYNs – the group most targeted by his suits – can run to almost $200,000 a year.  An unexpected result of his heroic legal efforts is that hundreds of doctors – mostly OBGYNs – are retiring early or leaving for other states, in effect, leaving women doctorless. Mississippi is particularly hard-hit by a doctor exodus.

Kerry will create 10 million new jobs during his first term in office. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment this June was 8.2 million.  Kerry would have to bring in another 2 million people into the country to reach his target.

Here are the groups Griscom quotes:

The Sierra Club Parser (“an online organization dedicated to ousting Bush”)
The New Democrat Network/Simon Rosenberg
Judicial Watch (“a conservative ethics watchdog group”)
Earth Justice
Natural Resources Defense Council
Environment 2004
League of Conservation Voters (“a bipartisan group”)
Republicans for Environmental Protection
The Union Of Concerned Scientists  (“a non-partisan alliance” - a little about UCS)
Apollo Alliance
Common Assets Defense Fund

In one unintentionally funny section, Griscom tells of using “politically-minded celebrities such as the Beastie Boys and Alanis Morrisette” to “get the message out”.   That’s really where I want to get my political insights.

She reveals one particularly interesting fact about campaign donations – one that isn’t getting enough publicity:

… the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law … [limits] the amount of soft money that can go directly to the DNC and the Kerry campaign. Now donors are redirecting much of the funding … [to]  … more targeted, issue-specific organizations whose campaign missions are aligned with those of the party.

Under McCain-Feingold, a supporter is limited to giving  $2000 to a political party.  However, there are loopholes big enough to drive Arnold’s Hummer through.

For one thing, George Soros can give $10 million to seedy organizations like, which has only one aim in life.

She ends with a quote from Al Gore’s New York speech:

After all, we brought down communism, won wars in the Pacific and Europe simultaneously, enacted the Marshall Plan, found a cure for polio, and put men on the moon. When we set our sights on a visionary goal and are unified in pursuing it, there is very little we cannot accomplish.

Brought down Communism: thank you, Ronald Reagan.
Won wars in the Pacific and Europe: there are times when we have to go to war, and when we do, we have to expect to win.
The Marshall Plan: something France and Germany seem reluctant to remember – maybe because it is a shining example of our “hegemony”.

The other main article, “Burden of Power”, is by Pulitzer-winning journalist Laurie Garrett. (That’s a graphics-intensive site – it even taxed my broadband connection.  This one is more user-friendly.)

Her credentials and bio are impressive, but the article she turned out for seed is not.

A quick run-through of “Burden of Power” (my occasional emphasis in bold)

… an all–powerful hegemonic state doesn’t need to be truthful…
… the US government … is rife with appointees who believe that scientific truth and Christian truth cannot be synonymous, and may well be in opposition…
…the administration is distorting and censoring scientific findings that contradict its policies; manipulating the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions…
…[at the Davos conference] It was January, snow was falling relentlessly on the alpine village, and Cheney’s icy demeanor mirrored the temperature outside. With little change in expression, save the occasional derisive smirk, the vice president took the stage to tell the world’s residents how they ought to conduct themselves…
The O’Neill book, "The Price of Loyalty", authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, had only been out 11 days when Cheney made those dismissive comments [“I wouldn’t believe everything I read in it.”] about a man with whom he had worked in three Republican administrations and had counted among his close friends…”

Wait a minute – is it O’Neill’s book or Suskind’s? She seems to accept the book as Revealed Truth. But there are rough edges in it.

“Suskind claimed he has documents showing that preparations for the Iraq war were well underway before 9-11. He cited--and even showed--what he said was a Pentagon document, entitled, 'Foreign Suitors for Iraq Oilfield Contracts.' He claimed the document was about planning for post-war Iraq oil.
But that is not a Pentagon document. It's from the Vice-President's Office. It was part of the Energy Project that was the focus of Dick Cheney's attention before the 9/11 strikes.
And the document has nothing to do with post-war Iraq. It was part of a study of global oil supplies.
There is only one possible conclusion: Paul O'Neill and Ron Suskind are attempting to perpetrate a massive hoax on the American people.

It’s disappointing to find a journalist of Garrett’s stature caught in a trap that could have been avoided with a little of the investigative journalism that won her the Pulitzer, the Peabody, and the Polk.

And why did Cheney wait so long before commenting on it?

Back to the article:

The two cabinet secretaries [O’Neill and EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman] shared a strong sense that the scientific community had made its case: that global warming was a reality, and that America had to do its part to immediately reduce fossil fuel emissions.”

The debate on global warning goes on. Bjørn Lomborg makes a good case for the opposition, and he’s far from alone.

Coming this August will be Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bob Woodward’s latest book, Plan of Attack, said to offer a grim blow-by-blow account of how a tiny, ultra-right wing clique took over the White House and reshaped every single department and agency in the US government. Fact-based policies were thrown out; and ideological litmus tests were instituted in every niche of the Executive Branch.”

Here’s Slate’s take on it:

Want to read Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack,without plowing through all 467 gossip-soaked pages?

Back to the article:

But Kerry so far has engaged in national debate by drawing from the Democrats’ standard book of arguments about protecting union jobs and cutting tax breaks for the rich.

It’s nice to have someone validate the party position.

Even those handfuls of Americans who could correctly define the term, Biden insisted, would shudder in embarrassment to learn that the United States is the undisputed hegemonic state of the early twenty-first century.”

Not like most science-fiction readers, who have known the word for decades, most recently in the current Ender novels of Orson Scott Card (Shadow of the Hegemon).  Knowing the word, I think they’d be quite proud that our country has reached that point, and of all the empires of civilization, used its great power far more often for good than ill. Think back to Al Gore’s crack about the Marshall Plan.

…it’s been harder still, to retain hegemony without angering every other nation in the world and bankrupting our own with costly military expenditures aimed at maintaining world “order” a.k.a. power.

Well, Britain doesn't seem doesn't seem all that cross with us, but evidently they don’t count.  And we’re hardly “bankrupt”.  Russia is bankrupt (again), and the EU is a lot closer to the edge than we are.

…As we drive down the streets of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit, Dallas, or Nashville we see cultural icons that are not at all the trappings of a gilded nation: tacky fast-food joints, graffiti declarations of neighborhood warfare. … street corner mini-malls where over-priced gallons of milk are sold in the same aisle as motor oil.

They’re called “convenience stores”, where you have the convenience of getting just about anything you need in one place, instead of driving all over town. That convenience is going to cost a little more, perhaps almost as much as in the few remaining neighborhood mom & pop stores.

And the last time I looked, milk was in the cooler, and oil was out on the shelves.  Cold oil and warm milk don’t really sell all that well.

Sure, there are blights, as there are anywhere in the world – and there are a  lot more over the rest of the world than here. 

Ms Garrett might try driving past museums, art galleries, local theater groups, parks, forests, major hospitals, universities, and research centers to even out her bleak view of the country.

…most Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Mom and Dad are both putting in 40-hour work weeks, commuting through this dismal landscape
It’s difficult to really feel like a citizen of an all-powerful state when you’re buying Vietnamese-made Nikes at the mall and wondering why the mortgage is still impossible to meet, even after refinancing it down to a remarkable 5.5 percent 30-year loan.

Impossible to meet? Ms Garrett should take another little jaunt through research-land and check out the statistics for home foreclosures. In 2002, the rate was about 1.23%, a far cry from “impossible”.  According to a 2003 Reuters story, the rate was 1.2% - holding steady from the year before.

There are certainly areas of the country that aren’t doing as well as others.  Still, we have the highest per-capita number of millionaires – and new ones – in the world (excepting perhaps the oil-rich countries of the Middle East – whose wealth is concentrated in the few royal families).

If the US is so uncomfortable with being the world’s superpower, “shouldn’t it get out of the superpower business?” asked Josef Joffe, publisher of Germany’s prominent Die Zeit newspaper. … Thierry de Montbrial, president of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, told Biden: “America is a hegemon. America is the hegemon, whether the US likes it or not.

Just what we need – the Germans and the French giving us advice.  How are your unemployment figures, Mr Joffee, Mr Montbrial? And how about your GDP?

If all the armies of the entire world united, they could not defeat America’s massive, well-trained sophisticated forces.

We’re good, and our military is certainly the best, but China has a much larger army.  A conventional  war with China is not something we’d want to undertake.  China’s army numbers about 2.2 million men, which is more than ours. Our military was dramatically reduced during the last administration.  One thing we do have in excess is technology.  Our weapons systems are most likely better and more accurate than anybody else’s, but every commander knows that the battle is ultimately won by soldiers on the ground.

On Meet The Press this spring, Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the few unabashed voices of liberalism on Capitol Hill,….

Now there’s an understatement.

Heck, we even come close to having hegemonic domination of many fields of science, though, thankfully, science isn’t an entirely American enterprise.

To dominate in a field of science is to excel. Take a look at Nobel Science Prizes since 1990 (an arbitrary cutoff date). Science prizes are in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine.  They’re awarded, you may remember, by the Swedish Nobel Foundation.

Physics: 20 winners from the US (in some years, the prize was divided between two or more researchers)
Chemistry: 18
Physiology or Medicine: 19

57 Nobel Prizes in 10 years – I’d say we're doing rather well.  If that makes for a hegemony, that’s just fine with me. And I suggest to Ms Garrett that we don’t do it to lord over the rest of the world.

In his State of the Union address to Congress in 2002, President Bush called for a $15 billion program to tackle HIV, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in poor countries. … Bush framed the effort in religious terms, saying on April 29, 2003, that fighting AIDS, “is rooted in the simplest of moral duties.

OK, then, what’s the bad part of that?

Some critics on the left have charged that the administration’s religious commitment to fighting AIDS is disingenuous.

Does anyone doubt what they’d say if we did nothing? In fact, they’re already compaining that we do too little.

The truth is that only $350 million worth of AIDS programs has been executed under the program so far. And those dollars come with a price both for the American scientists trying to treat people overseas and the governments who receive them.

The price:

…In addition, prevention through abstinence messages — messages about the importance of young people delaying becoming sexually active until they are married or in a committed relationship — will reach about 500,000 additional young people.

There’s that nasty old morality again.

How, earnest leaders wondered out loud in Davos, could the Bush Administration have been so wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?

For a while there I thought she’d never get around to the WMD mantra.  Yes, the CIA was wrong. But Bush wasn’t the only one who believed them.  Congress believed them, and voted to go to war.  The UN believed the case, and hurled mighty resolutions against Saddam – which he continually ignored.  Tony Blair believed the case.

And Saddam believed he had them – else why spend so much effort on trying to hoodwink 10 years worth of UN inspectors? And they still might be there – buried in Iranian bunkers, or salted away in neighboring Iran.  We’ll probably never know.

But if there’s good reason to think that somebody in you neighborhood has a gun and an attitude, it’s the wiser course of action to try to take him out – one way or another – rather than wait for him to take you out.

It still looks like that perhaps there are more things hidden in the unfathomable Iraqi desert than are dreamed of in our philosophy.

Will it be possible to hold elections in Iraq, after the June 30th transfer of rule? Can that nation be restored to stability?

So far, it looks good.  Iraqis are mostly in control of their own country, and they will be able to deal with their terrorists much more harshly than we were.

Next comes a long section of Bill Clinton quotes.  Bill said this, Bill said that… One that stands out:

We’ve got the energy, brain power, generosity of spirit: Tell us how to organize the world of our dreams,” Clinton said plaintively.

If he really had the energy, brain power, and generosity, he wouldn’t have had to ask around for ideas.  (She doesn’t give the source of that quote.)

In the O’Neill book we learn that former EPA Administrator Whitman was appalled to discover the president didn’t quite believe that global warming was occurring.

Neither do a lot of other people, who are in a position to know.  Like Lomborg. On the other hand, it is a lot warmer now, in July, than it was last December.  So maybe she has a point.

And, as the Union of Concerned Scientists noted, science is under threat by appointed Christian officials who hold the basic search for stem cells, dark energy, and our origins in disdain.

The UCS has its own problems:

I can say from personal experience that the accusation of a litmus test ... is preposterous. After all President Bush sought me out to be his Science Advisor - the highest-ranking S&T official in the federal government - and I am a lifelong Democrat.

Regarding the document ... by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), I believe the UCS accusations are wrong and misleading.

The UCS document also includes a highly unfortunate and totally unjustified personal attack on a Senate-confirmed official in my office.

John H. Marburger III

“Search for stem cells”?  Not a good choice of phrase from someone whose expertise is in biology.  And I still see articles in physics and astronomy magazines about dark energy.

She wants to ask Bush and Kerry what they believe about the creation of the universe, whether there’s life on other planets, and what’s the meaning of life (“human existence”, in her words). People all over the world have been thinking of these things for quite a long time now – at least since Aristotle – and it will be a long time before we get much further along than we are now.

These might be excellent questions for an interview for Chairman of the Philosophy Department, but presidents of any country have to keep their feet more firmly planted on the Earth.

Continuing in that poetic vein, she asks,

Can you imagine a hegemon that made it possible for every single citizen of the world to simultaneously, and with a reasonably shared level of understanding, watch the Hubble’s latest view of the ancient universe?

No – we have dreamed of utopias ever since Thomas More, and on a worldwide scale are not much closer than we’ve ever been.

Getting back to their motto, “science is culture”, there’s very little of either in seed, unless by “culture” you understand two pages of photos of hip young brights at a gala event hosted by the advertisers.  Or if by “culture” you mean “enviro-savvy celebrities”, depicted in a “connectivity chart” with photos of: Cameron Diaz - starred in a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio - “champion of the environment”, founded something-or-other with Larry David- “Seinfeld” creator who drives a Prius, as do Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon (his photo is helpfully labeled “This is Tim”) - he costarred with Kevin Bacon - who serves on a board, appeared in a commercial, and is “connected with everybody”.

One of the few nods to science, and one of the few high points of the issue, is the centerfold: a four-page-wide pullout of the NASA/Hubble deep space image, coupled with a short poem by astronomer Rebecca Elson. (Poetry here, obituary here.)

It’s printed both sides, so you can turn it over every few days and see another view of galaxies unimaginably far away.

Since seed uses “science and culture” in its tagline, it invites comparison to Wired. This is unfortunate, because Wired outshines it in every area.  Wired is no rubber-stamp for the administration, but they do have far more interesting content, a much better layout, and something noticelably absent from seed: a sense of humor.

posted by Mike 18:00

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Open Letter to McDonald's

Dear Ronald:

We are disappointed to hear that you are upset with the use of the term "mcJobs" (which, we understand, you have mctrademarked) to denote low-paying, dead-end jobs.

There can be no mcquestion about the low pay - which is not unreasonable, considering that in an ideal mcworld, a person would be paid according to his mcskills, mctraining, and mctalent. We realize, however, that this is not always the mccase.

We do side with you in disagreeing with the "dead end" tag. For many, this is a mcjob in which one learns the basics of the working world - show up on time, don't goof off, etc., etc., and from which an advance to higher pay and responsibilities is made mcpossible.

Perhaps the world would be better mcserved by your concentrating more on your mcproduct - which, we're told, is not all that bad - and less on trying to force mcpublic opinion by decreeing what may and may not be said.

Yours mctruly,

McGonigle, McTavish, McGovern & McPherson,
Attorneys @ Law.

posted by Mike 16:00

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Walk Through the Blogs

I've been taking the same route through the sites I read. Up till now, I open the next one through the control-O dialog box, and let IE fill in the URL from the first few characters.

Recently, it seemed that there ought to be a better way, especially since I missed a few of Chris Muir's Day by Day. Not that catching up isn't all that bad.

I put together a small HTML file with a bit of JavaScript, to make the process easier. It shows a window with one button, labelled "Next", along with the URL it links to. In the script, there's a list of a dozen or so blogs and other pages I like to run through. Each time you press the button, the next web page shows up in a separate window. Each new one overlays the last one, so you won't end up with a screen full of windows. When you've seen the last one, "Next" takes you back to the first, and you get to start all over again.

One nice feature is that you can follow a trail from any of the sites, as far as you like, then go back to the Walkthrough window and pick up where you left off.

The way I run it is to move the Walkthrough window towards the bottom of the screen, so that the button is visible, and have the new window open up at the top. With a 17" screen, there's plenty of room.

There's a link to a demo page at the bottom of this one.

I keep the HTML file on my local drive - it's a lot easier to make changes, such as adding new URLs, or changing the order of the list. If you're going to be on the road, just upload it to your site.

When you get to the demo page, you can do a "View Source", save the file on your disk, and make whatever changes you want. The demo page includes a complete explanation of the script. Because it's so simple, I put it in the public domain, for anyone to use any way they want. Needless to say, fortune will smile upon you and your descendants if you leave in the "written by" line.

There's an almost irresistable temptation to programmers to add "just one more thing" to a project. I've allowed only one thing past the original concept: showing the list of URLs. When you click one of them, it opens up in the new window. The script doesn't know about that, so pressing "Next" takes you to either the first URL, or picks up where you left off. A natural expansion would be to turn it into a Java applet, so you could add new URLs with a click, or maybe rearrange the list on-screen. I'm resisting, though. So many blogs, so little time.

Here's the demo page. It will open in a new window.

posted by Mike 17:00

Monday, February 4, 2003

Identifying a Character in "Cryptonomicon"

If you've read Neil Stephenson's grand, sprawling, gargantuan novel, you know that there are some real people in the story - Alan Turing, for example. There are also characters based more or less loosely on real people. This note identifies one of them, and gives a bit of the history of the man, one who played a significant part in the history of World War II that runs through the novel.

Even if you haven't read it - and if you haven't, the connection here won't mean much - I think you'll be fascinated by his story, and by the glimpse into a little-known aspect of World War II: how U. S. Navy cryptologists broke a Japanese naval code, and in the process, helped turn the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Let's start by picking up the thread in Cryptonomicon where he first appears. There are actually two threads that come together here: the first is one of the main characters, L. P. Waterhouse. He is a naive young man who turns out to be a mathematical genius, and who enlists in the Navy at the beginning of World War II. We first see our subject in the book through his eyes, and he provides a few of the details that tie this all together.

When he took the Navy intelligence test, Waterhouse saw such interesting possibilities in one of the questions that he made a significant advance in an obscure area of math, one that led to his getting a paper published in a European journal. But because he didn't finish the rest of the test, the Navy concluded that he must be pretty dim. They assigned him to a Navy band unit. (Present and former Naval people will probably recognize this sort of thing. It happens now and again in the military.)

A short time later, he's on deck, at Pearl Harbor, on a sunny Sunday morning in 1941, in the band, practicing, playing the glockenspiel. (I think Stephenson just liked the sound of that word.)

After the attack, the need for navy bandsmen had somewhat dwindled, and the need for clerks, typists and filers had appreciably increased. Waterhouse and his fellow bandsmen found themselves transferred to a new unit.

It is here that he met the object of our interest, the second thread in this story. This second thread is the man loosely based on an actual Navy Commander. Here's how L. P. Waterhouse first sees him, in Cryptonomicon:

"...he sees that the officer (if he even is an officer) is out of uniform. Way out of uniform. He's wearing a bathrobe and smoking a pipe. The bathrobe is extrordinarily worn... The thing hasn't been laundered in a long time, but boy has it seen some use. The elbows are worn out and the bottom of the right sleeve is ashy grey and slippery with graphite from being dragged back and forth, tens of thousands of times, across sheets of paper dense with number-two pencil work.
Some other fellow ... introduces bathrobe man as Commander Schoen..."

Stephenson, "Cryptonomicon", p. 67

Those are our two threads: a sailor pulled out of a band unit into a codes and signals unit, and the Commander of that unit, who wears a bathrobe and slippers, smokes a pipe, and looks a little disheveled.

The Commander could be a product of Stephenon's wild imagination, but he isn't. At least, not entirely.

People who have studied the history of U. S. Naval cryptography would probably recognize "Commander Schoen" as an exaggeration of Commander Joe Rochefort, USN. (Apparently Rochefort appears "in several disguises" throughout the book, but this is the only one I've found so far.) For the rest of us, though - and I found this story only recently - here are the details about the real-life inspiration for the character.

There's a fine book by Michael Smith, The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers, from which we can pull out the thread that is Rochefort. In a way, his story is an example of the adage that "no good deed goes unpunished" (another thing that may strike a familiar chord with present and former Naval personnel).

Smith picks up the story of Cmdr Rochefort. He was born in Dayton, OH, in 1898. He enlisted in the navy in 1918 and was later commissioned as an officer. In 1925, he was head of the US Navy cryptologic section. He took over the Pearl Harbor crypto unit in June 1941.

There's a photo of Cmdr Rochefort in the center section of the book. The photo is credited to the NSA. The NSA has a "Hall of Honor", paying tribute to the pioneers and heroes of American cryptology. The Hall is subtitled "These Were the Giants". Cmdr Rochefort's page is here.

"...for...3 months Rochefort rarely left the office. He slept there, ate there, kept going by US Navy-issue amphetamines, and even when working was invariably seen wearing a silk smoking jacket and slippers."

[Rochefort] said

"I ... put in 20 or 22 hours per day ... for about 48 hours at a stretch... I started to wear a smoking jacket over the uniform... it [kept] me warm... it had pockets where I could keep my pouch and pipe. Then my feet got sore from the concrete floor... So I started wearing slippers because the shoes hurt my feet."

Smith, pp108-109

One more detail:

"So urgent was the need for reinforcements, Rochefort recalled having to recruit navy bandsmen to operate his punched-card machines..."

Smith, p123

So there's our man: Cmdr Joseph J. Rochefort, USN. Smoking jacket, pipe, and slippers. Recruited navy bandsmen - like Waterhouse - into his crypto unit.

What happened next?

For the next few years, Rochefort's unit intercepted and decoded thousands of Japanese navy messages. Perhaps the high point of the unit was in June of 1942, just before the Battle of Midway.

Rochefort was sure, based on the messages he processed, that the Japaese fleet would attack at Midway. The admirals in Washington were convinced that it would be somewhere else, either Alaska, Hawaii, or even the West Coast. He managed to convince Admiral Nimitz, who sent the fleet to Midway. The Pacific Fleet won that decisive battle, one of the most important of the war. The admirals in Washington were sore losers, particularly the Redmon brothers:

"Safford had been replaced as head of OP-20-G [The Naval Cryptography division, of which Rochefort's unit was a part] ... by Cmdr John Redman, brother of Director of Naval Communications, Rear Admiral Joseph Redman. The Redman brothers were determined to ensure that communications experts were in charge of naval codebreaking. John Redman also appears to have resented being made to feel foolish by Rochefort over the Midway disagreement. Word began to spread within the naval hierarchy ... that the naval intelligence center in Hawaii was not working well and Rochefort was to blame. The esoteric codebreaker with a penchant for wearing a silk smoking jacket over his uniform was never likely to go over well with the tub-thumping Redman brothers. ... John Redman complained to his superiors that the Hawaii codebreaking operation was in the hands of a man who was merely "an ex-Japanese-language student".

Rochefort was replaced and sent back to San Francisco where he was put in charge of a new dry dock. Philip Jacobsen wrote, "What a waste of priceless talent for a political payback. Nimitz's recommendation for the Distinguished Service Medal was twice denied, but given to political cronies of the Redmans in Washington."

Smith, pp143-4

"The Pearl Harbor codebreaking operation that Rochefort put in place was one of the most efficient operating anywhere,... the breaking of Yamamoto's operational orders prior to the Battle of Midway was a truly spectacular success.

Rochefort, who retired from the navy in 1953, never did receive the Distinguished Service Medal that Admiral Nimitz had recommended him for in the wake of Midway, but it was belatedly awarded to him posthumously in 1986.

Smith, p227

He died in 1976. According to the NSA site, the award was the President's National Defense Service Medal, the highest military award during peacetime.

Starting points for further exploration

There are, of course, thousands of references and books about the subjects of cryptography and war. These few are the ones I came across in searching out this story. I'll add more later.

Philip H. Jacobsen, LCDR, USN, (Ret.) has an excellent site, (The Codebreakers). The section about Cmdr Rochefort is here.

Lord, Walter, "Incredible Victory" (Classics of War)
I haven't read this one, but the reviews on amazon are all very positive.

There is an association of US Navy cryptologic veterans, which has a journal, "Cryptolog, the Journal of the US Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association"
Smith got a lot of his information from this site. Click on their link "Fetaures" to read a set of naval interviews with Rochefort, done in 1969.

posted by Mike 10:45

Thursday, Sept 19, 2002

Democrats attack space

A lively little site,, which bills itself as The aggressive progressives, takes time out from its usual Bush-bashing to take on the non-military uses of space.

One wonders, since they're opposed to the non-military (in other words, commercial) uses of space, if they must necessarily support the military ones.

The subject of intense scrutiny from these progressives (for the meaning of "progressive", see here, here here, and especially here) is TransOrbital, a company which has just won approval to explore and land on the Moon. (I leave it to others to debate why somebody needs government approval to go to the Moon.)

Their first launch is scheduled for June 2003. It will be a lunar orbiter, to take photographs and make maps of the Moon's surface. After that, it will land on the Moon. (I suspect it will be a very hard landing.)

Part of Transorbital's mission statement says:

We want to do for the Moon what Jacques Cousteau did for marine exploration, to go, to see, sell the images as content and repeat it again and again. In the process, we hope to have some fun as well as helping to open up a new world for humankind.
I don't remember anyone getting upset and claiming that "we're giving the oceans away to France" when Costeau was exploring, mapping, and researching.

What claims

[Bush] has turned the moon over to a private, for-profit corporation called TransOrbital that has a far-reaching, frigthening agenda for the corporate domination of space.
They don't say what they think the "frigthening agenda" might be. Easier to shovel innuendo than to risk wasting facts that might be challenged. And we note the usual socialist dread of anything resembling "profit".
Bush simply acted as if the moon were his to give away.
Most of us missed the part about the deed to the Moon being handed over to TransOrbital. Costeau doesn't have the deed to the oceans, either.
The TransOrbital venture could be disastrous for the globe - no scientist today could predict yet how adding mass to the moon via human infrastructure or removing mass, via mining, will impact the delicate gravitational interplay between Earth and its only satellite.
That's the trouble with scientists - ask them a question and they give you a truthful answer. That's assuming, of course, that actually bothered to ask a scientist about that. A reputable scientist will only answer with what he knows is fact - because he's done the experiment - or what he can infer from available data. I suspect that any reputable scientist - and I mean here, astrophysicist, that being the area of expertise - would have to conclude that the amount of material that we could either carry away or add, would be negligible compared to the mass of the Moon - approximately 0.07349*1024 kg, equivalent to 8.08*1019 tons. These people have evidently been watching the recent Time Machine movie, in which the Moon disintegrates because we've been building resort colonies on it. Consider also that it still costs about $6,000 to move one pound of material to the International Space Station.

Over time - millions of years - considerable mass has already been added to the Moon - and to the Earth as well. Every one of those craters you see up there was caused by a meteor crashing at high speed onto the Moon's surface. The largest crater is about 200 km (about 125 miles) across. I leave it to you to consider what a 125-mile wide meteor, travelling at thousands of miles per second, might do to the Moon's surface, or to its orbit. It would certainly have been a grand sight, from the Earth. But the "delicate gravitational interplay" they worry about is just another charming fiction they've dreamed up. charges blindly on, heedless of fact:

Check out this home page: - notice the ad at the top of the page, where the company brags that it will make it possible to display commercial messages on the surface of the moon.
Since they haven't figured out yet how to make inline links, here's TransOrbital, once again.

Now let's try to find the part about "displaying commercial messages on the surface of the moon". Makes you think of giant flashing lights, perhaps spelling out

Preparation H

(If you're in MSIE you're missing the delightful blinking effect.)

Here's what TransOrbital really says:

A specially hardened time capsule in TrailBlazer containing messages and memorabilia will remain on the Moon's surface as a permanent message to the future. Join us by sending your thoughts, dreams, and images to the Moon.
Back to
Now check this site out for the Artemis Society - the group that is behind TransOrbital. It reminds us of those rghtwing front sites that lead to multiple front sites and nothing is what it seems. You'll notice that their web host calls itself the "Illuminati" and is based in Texas.
More innuendo. Since they didn't give the Artemis Society link, there it is.

First, they get the web host wrong: Artemis says

Illuminati Online provided web hosting services and electronic mail hosts for the Society for several years. The Society has since moved on to a much larger, faster server with multiple T3 connections one step off two Internet backbone providers, but we fondly remember and appreciate the excellent support and extensive resources that IO provided while we resided on their servers.
They even get the Artemis/TransOrbital connection wrong - they have it backwards. From the TransOrbital site:
A group dedicated to constructing the first commercial lunar base, and supporting commercial space work. TransOrbital's roots began here and we are a proud supporter of The Artemis Project.
As for the name, Illuminati, that comes from the famous role-playing game developed about 1981 by Steve Jackson. The owner of the ISP and Steve Jackson are brothers.

So, what does this "rghtwing front site", Artemis, tell us?

For one thing, the founder is Gregory Bennett. A reasonably thorough Google search fails to turn up any sinister right-wing connections. Or left, for that matter. He's a busy man. He's a VP at Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company specializing in the commercial development of space travel. He also owns Budget Suites of America. He's a science-fiction writer. And he's been in the aerospace industry for about 30 years.

Artemis is connected with The Moon Society. Once again, no right-wing connections. These people just want to put Man back on the Moon. We've been away now for about 30 years. It's time we went back.

I haven't read all of the rest of What I have read makes my head hurt. Their writing is not that good. It reminds me of a first-year journalism course. They rely more on character assassination and innuendo than on logical argument. Since they're so wrong about TransOrbital, I can only conclude that the rest of their site is a farrago of jejune babblement.

These ill-informed luddites really ought to take a look at China's space program. There's no doubt that the Chinese are going there, and that their aims are primarily military - see here and here.

posted by Mike 15:38

Tuesday, Sept 17, 2002

Aldrin biffs bozo

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in the lobby of the Luxe Hotel, in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sept 11. He just finished an interview with a Japanese TV crew (or may have been lured there under false pretenses). The bozo in question, one Mr Bart Sibrel, accosted him and asked him to swear on a Bible that he really did walk on the Moon. Sibrel also told Aldrin that he was a thief because he was taking money for an interview about something he didn't do.

Sibrel is 37, and hails from Tennessee. Down there they have some sort of old saying about catching flies more easily with honey than insults, but Mr Sibrel apparently hasn't heard of it. According to the news report, Sibrel is 6' 2", 250 pounds. Probably not all muscle, though. Aldrin is 5' 10", 150.

After considering Mr Sibrel's request, Aldrin gave Sibrel a good left jab.

Sibrel evidently makes a hobby of this sort of thing. He's made that same gambit to as many other astronauts as he can get close to. He's even pulled that one on Aldrin before.

Aldrin is 72 (born January 20, 1930). His mother's maiden name was Marian Moon. His father was a student of Robert Goddard. In 1951, Aldrin graduated 3rd in his class at West Point. He flew Sabre jets in the Korean War.

After that he attended MIT, earning a PhD in astronautics with his thesis, "Guidance for Manned Orbital Rendezvous." This work became the basis for the techniques NASA now uses for spacecraft to hook up while in orbit.

On July 20, 1969, he and Neil Armstrong landed on, and walked on, the Moon, in the Apollo XI flight.

After retiring from NASA, he took command of the Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California, from 1971 until 1972, when he retired from the Air Force.

Evidently Mr Sibrel makes his living trying to convince people that the Moon program never happened, that it was all an elaborate hoax by NASA to cover up the fact that they just couldn't do it.

Mr Sibrel is considering suing Aldrin. I hope it goes to court. Can you imagine a jury deciding against Buzz Aldrin?

The evidence against Sibrel

Some people give Sibrel the benefit of the doubt, saying that he really believes this nonsense, and is just a man with a cause.

I think I've found something that negates that argument.

According to his own site, Sibrel has

...awards from the American Motion Picture Society includ[ing] Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and two Top Ten awards.

Now look at one of his claims: The photos taken on the Moon didn't show stars in the dark sky.

That's the clincher. Here's a guy who is an expert videographer, and therefore understands how light and video - and film - work. He knows full well that stars will not show up in a fast shutter speed photograph.

The photo of Aldrin or Armstrong in a space suit on the Moon is a photo of an object in direct sunlight. Any first year photo student will tell you that the standard exposure for such an object is f/16 at a shutter speed of 1/(ASA of the film).

They were using a special Kodak Ektachrome film, most likely with an ASA of 25, to get the finest detail possible. 1/25 second is a little long for a steady hand-held exposure (the cameras were actually fixed to the space suits), so we convert that to 3 stops faster, 1/125 (the closest to 1/100 on the camera), and adjust the aperture accordingly, to f/8.

At 1/125 second, you don't get stars, even in a dark night sky. And Sibrel knows that. Therefore, it must be Sibrel, not Aldrin, who is (to paraphrase Sibrel)

...a thief for taking money to [to sell] something [he knows is a lie]"

Is Sibrel a plagiarist?

Sibrel's video is titled A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon.

This site tells of a report from 1997, titled A Funny Thing Happened On Our Way to the Moon, by Ralph Rene, described as "a brilliant lay physicist".

This site tells of Bill Kaysing, "head of a technical presentations unit at Rocketdyne's propulsion fuel laboratory in Los Angeles from 1956 to 1963". Kaysing wrote a book titled We Never Went To the Moon, America's $30 Billion Swindle

Both these people put forth the same types of argument that Sibrel does. The difference is that their conclusions are more or less freely available; Sibrel wants $19.95 for his video.

There seems to be a small, but thriving, cottage industry in the Moon-hoax sector.

More background

The camera was a Hasselblad, the Rolls-Royce of cameras. One of those cameras is still up there (they left it behind to save weight for the take-off). Quite a souvenir, if anybody finds it.

That camera site is the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. It's a treasure-chest of history and images from the Apollo programs (Apollo 11 through 17).

Transterrestrial Musings has a hard-hitting expose debunking the Aldrin-Simbel punchout - it's a hoax!! It's definitely worth reading.

There's at least one site that does a thorough fact-checking of the hoaxer's claims. If you're interested in the hoaxer's backgrounds, in the sorts of things they claim, and how every one of their misconceptions is turned to dust - Moon-dust - take a long look at the excellent Moon Base Clavius site.

There are quite a few people besides Sibrel who think it was all a fake. The Hare Krishnas are another group. According to their site,

It is now common knowledge throughout the world that the Apollo Moon landings were faked by NASA back in the 60's, although many gullible people still accept NASA's claim of landing men on the Moon, without bothering to carry out any research, or investigation, to see if NASA are indeed telling the truth.

They outdo Simbrel. They don't even bother to resort to science:

By it's own admission Nasa agreed the temperature on the moon to be 200 degrees below zero- *no human body could withstand that temperature even with 1969 technology.

The moon's surface according to Vedic conclusion, common sense, and scientific reasoning is made of a reflective substance; why then are there shadows in the video?

...we have information from a very reliable source, the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures, that the astronauts never actually went to the moon.
The Vedic account of our planetary system is already researched, concluded, and perfect. The Vedas state that the moon is 800,000 miles farther from the earth than the sun.
...according to the Vedas, each planet has its particular standard of living and atmosphere, and no one can transfer from one planet to another without becoming properly qualified. This means that if someone wants to go to Mars, for instance, he has to give up his present gross material body and acquire another one suitable for life on that particular planet.
...they cannot go to the moon planet, which the Vedas describe not as a lifeless desert but as a heavenly planet of extraordinary material pleasures. Where the astronauts actually went, or how this fabrication of lunar visitation will one day be exposed to people in general, are not part of our present discussion. But the Vedic teachings warn us that the manned moon landing is certainly an empty bluff.

The effects of strongly-held, unquestioned beliefs are strange indeed.

A thousand years from now, when the Moon is a thriving colony and jumping-off point for Mars and beyond, the Vedas will still say that the Moon is further from the Earth than the Sun. That's the difference between revealed religion and science. Science is revised whenever new facts contradict old theories. Religion almost never changes its holy texts.

posted by Mike 15:38

Monday, Aug 19, 2002

The Keystone Mullahs

A small, radical Islamist group in London decided to hold a press conference to publicize their fatwa to Muslims in Britain.

When the press arrived, they found out that the group wanted to charge them admission.

Things went downhill from there. ...more

posted by Mike 4:38 PM

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Aristotle's Law at Berkeley

A performance artist in Berkeley thinks the city ought to put one of Aristotle's laws on the books.

He thinks it oughtta be a law that "everything is identical to itself".

Well, of course, you can see the problems that they have probably been having to deal with, without such a law:

"No, that's not a banana, that's a three-toed sloth."

posted by Mike 2:00 PM

Lawsuits and Healthcare Costs

A recent article in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger helps explain, among other things, the high costs of healthcare.

Background: Dr Kirk Kooyer came to the Mississippi Delta in 1994. That's a poor area. A doctor doesn't go there to get rich and camp out on golf courses.

He managed to do a lot for the community:

The community's success prompted the National Perinatal Association to honor Kooyer in 2000 with its Individual Recognition Award for improving the health of mothers and infants.

Soon after he got there, he ran into the System::

Within two years of his arrival in Mississippi, Kooyer was sued in a wrongful death case after a patient died of a rapidly advancing infection. Although Kooyer felt he did nothing wrong, the case was settled rather than risk a verdict because his insurance company had gone bankrupt, he said.

Doctors aren't miracle workers.

Last fall, he was sued again, for prescribing Propulsid (heartburn medicine, linked to 80 deaths nationwide).

A woman "read the drug might cause harm" and stopped taking it.

"Actually, I didn't get hurt by Propulsid," Norton, who had the drug prescribed for her heartburn, said.

But because she had taken the drug, she said she thought she could join a class-action lawsuit "and I might get a couple of thousand dollars."

The last thing she intended, Norton said, was for Kooyer to be sued.

Anybody want to guess where she "read about it" and how she found out about the class-action lawsuit? (Hint: think "lawyers advertising".)

She said she intended for the drug company to be sued, but that lawyers told her it would be better for her case to sue Kooyer in order to keep the case in Mississippi.

Plain and simple case of lawyers looking for easy money.

He [Kooyer] recalled an overweight patient coming to him several years ago for the diet drug combination fen-phen. He said he warned her the drugs were deadly.

She went instead to an Arkansas physician, who gave her the drugs, and she was given $125,000 in a lawsuit settlement for alleged heart damage, he said.

The patient came by his office and showed him the check, he said.

"I told you about the damage, and you decided to get the drugs anyway. It doesn't seem fair for you to be accepting that check," he said he told her.

A different fen-phen patient was also paid even though she had nothing wrong with her, he said. "She called her settlement a blessing."

There is no right or wrong for some - for far too many - people. It's just a matter of "my lawyer can beat your lawyer".

Meanwhile, doctors are leaving Mississippi:

Kooyer is among about 100 physicians who are leaving or have left the state within the past year, according to the Mississippi State Medical Association. The association doesn't have a figure on how many are specifically leaving because of litigation risks and insurance premiums.

Kooyer sums it up:

"What we have is a crisis of character. At the root of this, the problem we have is individuals as well as legal and medical professionals have forgotten their sense of responsibility."

posted by Mike 9:00 AM

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Friends don't let friends...

This is the canonical list of things that friends don't let friends do.

Apparently, the first duty of a friend is to keep his friends from "falling into error".

This note digs out from among Google's 21,000 hits on the term "friends don't let friends" and takes a look at the most widespread, from the earliest (" drunk") to the most obscure ("...drink and su(1)"). ...more

posted by Mike 5:38 PM

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Speaking of Words:

Someone proposed a rule to cover the "I before E" (or vice versa) thing:

I before E, except when it's not.

That should completely eliminate any confusion.

posted by Mike 6:58 PM

Monday, April 08, 2002


Words are the bricks and mortar with which we build our sites. The key thing about people who like to write is, that they like to write. If Hougton-Mifflin won't buy their work, and the New Yorker won't print it, that's OK - they'll write anyway, and put it up on this, the world's biggest town square bulletin board.

As in all human endeavors, some are better than others. In this corner, I'll try to point out what I think is "good writing". This is partly a subjective issue - there's no one standard of "good writing", at least not as far as the words themselves, taken individually, like links on a chain.

What sets good writing apart from the rest, is the expression of ideas, the construction and layout of a good, convincing argument, the marshalling of facts to support a stance. When good ideas are handicapped by bad grammar and spelling, there's a problem. Readers have to trip over debris to get at the ideas.


There may be a count of active blogs; I'd guess somewhere around 100,000. A Google search for "blog" shows 823,000; "weblog", 992,000. MIT's Blogdex shows 14,214 sites and 1,092,797 links. (In proofreading, a day later, the Google "blog" count went up to 859,000; 'weblog", to 1,050,000. I'll check back in a week or so.)

Probably not more than a handful of us read all of them. There's probably a parallel between blogs and specialty-interest magazines. The last time I looked, there were about 10,000 specialty-interest magazines, most with small circulations and dedicated readers. Many great bloggers go for months with fewer than 100 readers. More than once or twice recently, I've read bloggers write, "Wow! Where did all those hits come from?". In at least one case, he followed up and found out: The Tipping Blog.

There seems to be a dozen or so people now whose blogs have attracted significant attention (and that number is most likely off by a factor of 10 or so (which isn't at all bad in cosmology)). You know who you are; you know who they are. I'll put in links, and I'll tell why I think they're good writers. (I don't want people to get the idea that I'm linking to good sites so I can bask in their sunshine, and pull in a few links myself.) If I don't mention somebody's site, it's just because I haven't seen it yet, or haven't read enough to make a call. (As if anybody would be depressed if this uppity newcomer didn't gush over their site.)

Some, like Andrew Sullivan and John Derbyshire, are working journalists whose business - and life - is writing. Others, like asparagirl and The Last Page work in other fields. (IT seems to be a good source of bloggers.) But they all write, most because they want to, a few because they're driven to.

My first example of "good writing" comes from John Derbyshire. This appeared in his NRO review of The Time Machine:

The best reason to watch this latest version of The Time Machine is 19-year-old Zambian-Irish (no kidding) pop-tart Samantha Mumba, who is exceptionally easy on the eye.
I like that one because in an imaginative use of a single word, a single image (pop-tart: breakfast-food concoction by Kellogg, designed to be popped out of a toaster, from "tart: n. A pastry shell with shallow sides, no top crust, and any of various fillings"), he categorizes a popular singer/actress. (I'm certain Ms Mumba would not be amused by that label, but it is the sort of thing that goes with the territory.) At least, JD doesn't stoop to the despicable levels of Chrstopher Hitchens - the Oscar Wilde-turned-Darth Maul.

posted by Mike 3:04 PM

Sunday, April 07, 2002


WSJ 4/5/02

Korean Airlines flight crews get Tasers. They've already gone through martial arts training. UAL is said to have bought 1300 Tasers, but the FAA hasn't approved their use.

Washington Post 4/5/02

Argenbright is out of almost all US airports. In the Washington area, they're replaced by Globe Aviation Services. We can all feel safer now - except that almost all of Argenbright's laid-off screeners are applying for jobs at Globe.

Washington Post 4/5/02

The air space around the White House, the Capitol Building and the Naval Observatory [note 1] is a Prohibited Area for all aircraft. Since 9/11, airplanes have drifted into this space almost 600 times - about 3 times a day.

[Note 1: The Naval Observatory is the traditional home of the Vice President. There are 4 other areas: 2) The Bush ranch in Texas 3) the Bush home in Maine 4) the nuclear plant in Amarillo, TX (thanks, guys - it's nice to finally know where that one is), and 5) George Washington's home in Mt. Vernon. (Well, maybe it's hard for him to sleep with all that noise).

Reuters 4/4/02

China's space program: Shenzhou III launched March 2002; astronauts early this century (by 2005); a manned space station soon; Beijing builds a space industry, aiming for a manned moon mission.

Times of London 4/4/02

The EU imposes a "green tax" of up to 50 pounds ($65) on London-LAX flights. Norway imposes a CO2 tax on all their flights.

Houston Chronicle 3/15/02

Russia pumps up the space tourism industry: They're aiming for 2005. Trips are expected to cost about $98,000, which buys you a 60 to 90 minute flight that gets you 63 miles up (probably a conversion of the Russian's 100 km), where for about 5 minutes you'll be weightless and extremely airsick.

posted by Mike 8:23 PM

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Since the term "illegal alien" has been replaced by "undocumented worker", I don't think we should stop there. Let's keep going, and make these substitutions:

"thief" or "robber" will be "undocumented property transfer agent"

"car thief" will be "undocumented automobile repossessor"

"murderer" will be "undocumented mortician".

posted by Mike 9:24 PM

(Today's a good day for news.)

Reported in today's WSJ. It's not online; here's a summary.

After Mad-Cow Scare, German Pigs, Farmers 'Enjoy' More Quality Time

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia is trying to counter the mad-cow scare. They figure that farmers can improve the quality of their pork by improving their quality of life.

In typical German fashion, they proclaimed a decree (not just a guideline)which says, in part:

A pig should get one square meter of stall space and a straw or soft rubber mat for napping. When it's time to play, the pigs must have chains or chewy toys on hand. "Balls also can be made available to the pigs for activity material," the edict states. Each pig should get at least eight hours of daylight. During the darker, shorter days of winter, farmers must compensate with lamps. ... A farmer or farmhand must spend at least 20 seconds looking at each pig each day -- and back up the loving care with paperwork showing he has enough pighands to provide quality time.

Needless to say, the farmers are Not Amused.

Later on in the story we see the source of this Great Plan:

For farmers, two women personify the threat: local agricultural minister Baerbel Hoehn, who drafted the edict, and her fellow Green Party member, Renate Kuenast, a spike-haired former lawyer who runs Germany's national ministry for consumer protection, food and agriculture. The Greens, who run the state and federal governments in coalition with the Social Democrats, devised the local rules and have attracted the farmers' ire. At a recent farmers' forum, bodyguards stood by with umbrellas to shield the two ministers in the event of flying produce.

Gotta watch out for those Social Democrats.

At a state-sponsored agricultural center, one engineer seems to have a faint grip on reality:

"We can make all the rules in the world," he says. "But the pigs sort out what they like for themselves."

posted by Mike 10:49 AM

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Election day in CA. More later.

posted by Mike 10:26 PM

First post. "Hello, World!"

posted by Mike 10:03 PM