September 30, 2009


If enlightenment is having the mind of a child, as some say, then this surely is The Way.

"I have seen the light!"

Mariner's baseball, now with omniscient color commentary...

September 29, 2009


With Latouche in the running for the movie job at Disney, it falls to me to suggest you have a look at this totally awesome model of an Arado AR-196 A-3, the plane of Tintin's expedition in The Shooting Star, and of the German Navy. An earlier, Latouchian take on this flying existential oddity is here.

September 27, 2009

Keep the crazy coming!

The Silly Party is not polling well.

One Sentence Book Review - Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

I purchased it as light reading but found that the essays in Neyer's book are analytical, well-judged, and even stylish, such as the one that begins "Red Sox seasons die the deaths of spaghetti western cowboys: never graceful, but rather writhing, painful, and melodramatic."

The Coffee is Fine

As I prepare to depart this little country, I would just like to say something about the coffee. It's fine. No, no, really, it is fine.

At the Hotel Mabi, where I have made my home this week, they have a very nice morning coffee setup. Right next to the buffett line they have twin coffee / cafe au lait machines that let you select coffee strength and style. Select Normal / "Cappuccino" and the machine sprays just the right amount of warm milk into your cup (a good ceramic cup, with the machine manufacter's logo on it), followed by a jet of rich black coffee. It tastes fine, it's good coffee, and since it is free (included with breakfast) only the worst sort of curmudgeon would offer anything but unstinting praise.

Of course to get the full European flavor you need to go out the door, down the street to De Markt, Maastricht's big market square, which is ringed with sidewalk cafes. And every one of them is serving lattes and cappuccinos with good, solid, authentic Italian espresso.

There is nothing wrong with these drinks. They are good, basic, delicious espresso drinks, exactly as they have been served in Europe for my whole life and longer. That's what Europe's about, isn't it, keeping what is good, not changing things that don't need changing. Although, for some reason, I need a couple of these to really wake up in the morning.

Now the Dutch are on the cutting edge of Europe, and my hosts made sure that I tried their new chain Coffee Lovers, which brings even greater dedication to their coffee. Their menu of espresso-based specialty drinks will be familiar to anyone from the Bay Area or Seattle, and the coffee, I must say, is delicious. Like Stabucks, Coffee Lovers favors a deeply roasted - some might feel very slightly over-roasted - espresso with a rich flavor that, like Starbucks' perhaps errs just a slight bit on the bitter side. With fresh Dutch milk it is the finest coffee beverage within the national borders and it really is nice. There was an outlet at the university where I had my conference, and there is another at the local bookstore when I have idled away my hours this weekend, and that delicious roasted espresso latte just hits the spot. It is fine, and very good, and certainly no one in their right mind would complain about it.

It's just, you know...

Um look, didn't the Dutch used to own Indonesia? Indonesian coffee is, like, oh my God. Hey, remember Spinelli's? That awesome place down in Cole Valley that closed back in the 90s? Yeah, they're in Singapore now, no kidding.

The reason people lined up in the rain for that coffee was they had a connection to this Indonesian stuff that was beyond category. I mean flavorful, spicy, rich yet kind of light...shit I'm dreaming of it right now. When the plane lands in Singapore, Spinelli's is always my first stop because just writing this I can taste that celestial brew...savoring its balanced complexity and feeling it working its magic through my central nervous system. Spinelli's, yeah. Awesome stuff.

After Spinelli left town we were left with SBUXtm, Tully's, you know, the usual suspects. And Peet's of course, which is really fine coffee. Not for everyone, of course. It's real strong, double-shot even in a small latte, and roasted pretty aggressively, though, I would argue, not erring on the side of bitterness. Peet's optimizes their espresso for the hot specialty drinks, so their iced drinks suffer (Starbucks' espresso surely ices better), but for a morning wakeup, Peet's is really my only choice anymore. Everything else tastes, well, just a little bland. And of course Peet's is named for its founder, Alfred Peet, a Dutchman who in 1966 opened a little roasting operation in Berkeley and simply accepted no compromises.

In his early years he walked the coffee plantations of Indonesia, and in due course he brought to America the finest Costa Rican and African coffees. When asked to recount his life story, he reportedly said, "the coffee tells my story."

That, my friends, is as triumphant a sentence as a man can utter. His story - his worldliness, his uncompromising demand for excellence, his willingness to endure almost anything but mediocrity - my God, I taste it every morning and I swear, I am ready to go to war. How can I give anything less than my absolute God-damned best at home and at the office when a man has dedicated his life and soul to ensuring that every waking day of my life I will have at least one delicious beverage experience? How could I look my children in the eye at the end of the day if I knew in my heart I had not made that same commitment? How? I ask you.

Perhaps I have drifted a little from my subject... I meant to say, and I mean this, the coffee here in the Netherlands is fine. It's just that I had expected...well, never mind. It is fine, and I am glad. This is a nice place, and to criticize it, for not being something else...would just be unfair.

The coffee is fine.

September 26, 2009

No joke


If loving this is wrong, I don't wanna be right!


Can It Be Fixed?

September 25, 2009

The Ultimate Weapon

Tomorrow, Jake Locker leads the ranked-for-the-first-time-this-century Washington Huskies against the legacy-admission-Hoover-Institution-harbouring Stanford Cardinal. It's payback time!


September 24, 2009

How can I explain to the Dutch that they are immoral...

...when this is going on Seattle?

Wonder why it took the cops so long to complete their investigation...

Habsburg-Ottoman cage match canceled

Ertugrul Osman dead at 97.

(Habsburgs win by default.)

September 22, 2009

Notes From Hell

I am in the Netherlands for a conference for the next couple of days. A few notes:
  • About 2x the size of New Jersey, The Netherlands has about the same population density (higher than Haiti or Japan).
  • I penciled in 2-3 hours to clear customs and get from the airport to central Amsterdam, where I could make my way to the central train station and then board a train to Maastricht, at the other end of the country. This all turned out to be unnecessary because - get this - they have a big train station right at the airport! You walk out of customs, buy a ticket from the machine, go to Platform 3, and Bob's your uncle.
  • The trains, which run constantly, are modern, clean, and quiet. My seat had a reading light, which actually worked.
  • I had to change trains at Utrecht, which delayed me for another ten minutes. Change trains at Utrecht? Do they have any idea how silly that sounds when this is all I know about Utrecht?
  • Apparently unaware of the Marxist yolk under which they labor, the population seems mildly cheerful.
  • The countryside, much of which lies below sea level, is mostly flat, agricultural, and wet until you get well inland. Here in Maastricht we are really on dry land, right on the German and Belgian borders. Maastricht claims to be the longest continuously-occupied settlement in the Netherlands. Those bitches in Nijmegen can talk about their Roman charter, but there's no evidence anyone lived there in the early Middle Ages.
  • Coffee is available.
  • Modernism is big here. The whole country seems to have made a commitment to a national architectural fabric of steel, glass, and colorfully painted concrete. In Maastricht they have done a very nice job of preserving the town center while putting a lot of modern infrastructure and office space in and around it.
  • Everyone has cool glasses and nice hair.
I will be out in the field today, mingling unobtrusively with the locals, trying to learn more about the crude and misguided socialism that has made the Netherlands one of the ten richest countries in the world (GDP per capita).

September 20, 2009

Living Vicariously

I'm not sure how discreet I should be so I'll just say that the guy I know in the military recently finished sniper school. Forty out of forty at 800 yards. Best distance: 2,200 yards. Wow.

September 19, 2009

A Song in My Heart

Fiddle de dum,
Fiddle de dee,
The lovable losers
Beat USC...!

Your Mac is not cool enough

This will fix it.

That May Be More Calendar Than I Need

Although Moleskine does stand for quality.

Belay that Twitterin'!

Mateys, I done heerd the scuttlebutt that Talk Like a Pirate Day Not be worthy of a-recognizing!! I'll be a dutch-herring buss!! Vast that' lubberly beard juice, ye blasphemous barge-limpets! The Devil's small clothes to such un-seamanly sentiments!

What holiday be a finer ruddy bacchinal than this noble celebration? Why, I've lost count of the port-maids brought by the lee on September 19. Naught a game girl loves more than a rolling broadside o' manly buccaneer's banter! Mind ye keep Talk Like a Pirate Day well, or it's to the bilges with ye, with sea-rats for mates AND rations!

And Still They March

India "losing" to Maoists.

September 18, 2009

Play nice!

In his first NFL regular season game, Aaron Curry fined for unnecessary roughness.

Labels: ,

September 16, 2009

About that draft

Oh, we're off to a great start. This guy was going to be my horse, and now appears to have forgotten how to play football:

RB Steve Slaton was limited to 17 yards on nine carries by the Jets. At one point, he had six carries for one yard. Slaton appears to have lost his quickness and instincts, but he also hasn't gotten any blocking from his linemen. He was the only back in the NFL to rush for at least 100 yards against the Titans last season, and he did it twice. Now the coaches would probably be happy if he generated 100 in two games. The one play Slaton did make on a screen pass ended with his losing a fumble at the Jets' 20.

(Yahoo! Sports)
Oh, and now his coach has decided to not give him touches around the goal line.

This game sucks.

Discard your stale, old software

Did you know that as software gets older it gets ratty and stale and simply can't be fixed? Who knew? Microsoft explains this phenomenon here.

Oh, and since the Linux kernel is even older than XP, I suggest you be very careful of your Linux software. It could explode any minute!

Garry Wills: Enemy of the State!!

While I very much understand the view there has been a massive concentration of power in the Executive Branch since well before the Bush Administration, and share the hope that everything will change,  the softly cynical resignation of Wills' column irritated me enough to write a more thorough response.

I supported Obama knowing full well that any American president has a tendency to maintain executive power.

But I also believe this is a president with tremendous knowledge of and respect for the Constitution. Wills' column, while making a nod that he is not doing so, still equates Bush and Obama- this is not only ludicrous but a feed for hopeless cynicism, which is the tone sounding through the column. 

Oscar Wilde's line- the cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing - describes Wills curmudgeonly indulgence. He is saying little has changed, here are these egregious examples of the concentration of executive power, and because Obama is not doing everything we want, it's more or less hopeless.

But this is destructive to its own cause. I am far to the left, but I recognize that this is the classic progressive error.  What you have now is a Congress and a President that have made vitally important strides towards restoration of basic constitutional rights and processes.  You have a President who truly knows the Constitution and its value. This has to be acknowledged to make progress.

At the same time, the Administration needs to have its ass sued, frequently. Wills makes the point that Obama continued holding secret White House visitor logs, and reversed only when sued.

All true. But I think the larger point is that they actually reversed policy, almost cheerfully, when successfully sued. The Bush Administration didn't give a levitating copulation for a legal ruling. It's the difference between returning your problem computer to Costco, arguing and getting your money back, and returning it to Steve's Freshly Stolen Laptops.

The difference in the legal system will be monumental. Obama's judicial appointees are far, far, far, far more likely to look favorably on constitutional rights, to start restoring balance to our system of power-sharing, to start putting the teeth back in the Bill of Rights.  And the Administration is likely to, get this, willingly enforce judicial rulings that go against their desires. That is an essence of the constitutional sharing of powers.

And until Obama, this whole system was on its way to dying.  I must remind you that it had gotten so bad under Bush that the ACLU frequently stopped trying to protect the Constitution by lawsuits, because the rulings of these right wing freaks were laying waste to our most ancient rights. Imagine, for a moment, President Mitt Romney.

Now, we have been restored, not to constitutional health, but to constitutional life. What we have now is a damaged relationship between executive power and the US Constitution. What we had was growing dicatorial authority in the Executive.

The reason I am angry at Wills here is because if you fail to recognize this, if you indulge in a hegemonic view of the executive, of Obama as some sort of warm fuzzy dictator barely distinguishable from Bush in his grab for power,  you will miss this new opportunity to rebuild our legal and constitutional system, an opportunity that Obama's election has permitted at all.

You will be left saying that there is almost no point in speaking up for the Constitution, like Wills' does in this column, at the very moment when democratic political action and coordinated legal action has its best chance to save Constitutional law, the Bill of Rights, respect for the law, and the proper sharing of powers.

Time to write letters supporting Obama's judicial nominees, who generally believe in a constitutional system with Balls- of Rights- so to speak. Time to join the ACLU, if somehow you missed that during the Bush years.

September 15, 2009

Preach It, Brother

Nonetheless, some of us entertain a fondness for the quaint old Constitution. It may be too late to return to its ideals, but the effort should be made. As Cyrano said, "One doesn't fight in the hope of winning" (Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès).

- Garry Wills

September 14, 2009

Downfall Meta


Last Man Out

As I've read about these journeys around China, I've been struck by how much more difficult the historian's job becomes as we move into the modern age. The travels of a 7th century monk turn out to be meticulously documented, with details easily verified from contemporary texts and the archaeological record. But, as we draw closer to the present day, things become murkier. We find two, or three, or four versions of the most basic stories. By the mid-1930s we might have a million soldiers engaged, and no two reports corroborating one another. Did 40,000 Communists die at the Xiang River, or did they desert? Did Mao evade Chiang on the Long March, or did Chiang let him go because his son was being held hostage in Moscow? Who fought the Japanese? What really happened at Luding Bridge?

The further into this material I go, the more I think of a children's story by Arnold Lobel:

Toad sipped his tea.
"Frog," he asked,
"are you making this up?"
"Maybe yes and maybe no,"
said Frog.

We do know that once Mao was securely in power, he started crossing things off his list:

That last item culminated in the Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1961), which led to the starvation of perhaps 20 to 40 million people. There is considerable debate about how many died, and whether or not it was an accident. Some have argued that Mao consciously sacrificed peasants' lives to help gain Superpower status (perhaps trading grain to Russia for nuclear weapons technology). Whatever the motivations, in its stated intentions and results the Great Leap Forward strongly resembled the Plague of Hunger that Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in the early 1930s, known today as the Holomodor.

At the same time, the Communists redoubled their efforts to destroy religious institutions. Monks were were captured, tortured, and killed. George Crane's fine 2000 book, Bones of the Master, describes the experience of a young Ch'an monk caught in this nightmare in Chinese Mongolia:

Yesterday the monks had harvested the last of the cabbage and potatoes. The yellow beans, the wheat, and the millet were finished. China was starving. More than thirty million would die in the next two years. Only bureaucrats and rats would eat...

When would death arrive at Puu Jih? There were stories, rumors sliding from village to village like the hunger. And then last week, late one night, a young lama from Mei Leh Geng Jau lamasery on the Ulansuhai plateau roused them from their beds with his shouting and pounding on the gate. His face was drawn white, thin as paper. His eyes were wild. He told them that the ninth patriarch, the great
Ch'an Master Hsu Yun, Empty Cloud, had, at the age of one hundred twenty, been hacked to death by the Communists.

The monks prepare to leave:

[They] bowed to their master, amazed that he had descended the mountain at night. But the time for ceremony had passed. He grasped each of them by the shoulders and held them for a moment. To Tsung Tsai he said, "Everywhere are hungry ghosts. Go quickly. Keep a strong mind."

Tsung Tsai said nothing. There was nothing to say, no gesture for endings. Soon, he knew, his teacher would forget the world, forget himself, simply let go, and die. He feared his older brothers too would soon be dead, and he could not contemplate the emptiness of the world without them.

Tsung Tsai's fears turn out to be correct - he will be the only one to survive. The book describes his surreal and perilous journey out of China, through a desolate rural landscape. In some places bodies are stacked like cordwood, some with cuts where cannibals have taken organs.

He moves stealthily past the edges of populated areas, knowing no one can be trusted:

The city was dangerous. Jeering mobs eager to prove their revolutionary
integrity hunted "reactionaries," turning on anyone they thought suspect.

He finds a railroad - the one possible way out:

With a few other desperate people, he climbs onto a train, then hangs on for dear life as the walls of a narrow tunnel scrape away his companions, one by one.

Eventually he comes safely to Hong Kong, then to America, and then to George Crane's doorstep. In the mid-1990s the old monk persuades Crane to help him return to Mongolia, find the ruins of his monastery, and seek a bone fragment of his teacher to take as a relic.
"Frog," asked Toad,
"did this really happen?"
"Maybe it did
and maybe it didn't,"
said Frog.

I loved the book, and both Zen teachers (Jack Kornfield) and literary types (Robert Bly, Peter Matthiesen) have reviewed it favorably. But is it a little too well written to be true? Perhaps, some have suggested, George Crane is our generation's Carlos Castaneda?

A few reasons to be skeptical:
  • It is hard to believe that a surviving Ch'an monk could wander, undiscovered, around New York for so long. After all, the search for zen masters in my lifetime has been rivaled only by that for Kung Fu instructors from the Shaolin Temple and blues masters from the Delta (was that really Son House?). A real Chinese Ch'an master? With this story? Right here in Woodstock? Sensational.
  • Some endorsements have been slightly hedged, e.g., "the style is novelistic, and it is best to read Bones of the Master as if it were a novel." - Dharmalife
  • And what about this monastery, Puu Jih (not to be confused with the one in Malaysia)? Crane says the Red Guard blew it up in 1966 and took all the stones away, so there's nothing left. Hmm. In 2000 reviewer Margaret Ramirez wrote: "experts at Harvard and Columbia whom Crane contacted before the trip had no knowledge of Ch'an monasteries in Inner Mongolia and were curious about what he would uncover. The Puu Jih monastery, with its 13 monks, may have been the only such monastery north of the Yellow River." If it existed at all.
Crane's own artistic philosophy does not reassure us on this score. In the sequel to Bones of the Master, Beyond the House of the False Lama, he writes:
Truth is the murkiest, the most illusory of all human constructs. Fact number one: truth and lies both, equally, contradict themselves eventually. Nothing is as it seems. The one thing that all storytellers have in common is a wildly subjective approach to the truth... The only difference between fiction and nonfiction is that with fiction one changes the names.

Mao, the great propagandist, would have agreed wholeheartedly, although he would likely have characterized Crane as subjective and decadent.

In Crane's defense, Bones of the Master generally accords with what we know of historical fact, and some of the detail (not to mention the photographs) would be damned difficult to make up. Unlike Castaneda's work, the chronology appears consistent throughout. There is a picture of Crane and Tsung Tsai together on the back of one edition of the book. On Picasaweb there is a photograph of a monk called Tsung Tsai, supposedly taken in 2008, that looks a great deal like the young man on the cover of the book. And shall we admit this testimony, from a woman who says she is Crane's daughter?

I believe Crane's story, mostly on internal evidence. Either this mostly happened, or he is a master of fiction such as I have never seen. Maybe I haven't read enough fiction, but are there many people who could conjure this from thin air?
The cemetery was a half mile west of the village, bounded to the south by a dike. The graves were unmarked mounds of sand and stone. I followed Tsung Tsai. He pointed: “Mama, my two brothers are here.” He bent and placed small pieces of pancakes from our breakfast on each grave. He took a handful of incense sticks that Fang-fang had given him as we left the house. I stood with my parka unzipped and held outstretched, trying to shelter him from the wind. He tried again and again to light them, but it was no use: the wind was too strong.

“Just forget,” he said, and stuck a few on each grave. His eyes closed and his lips moved.

Next, he went to the graves of his father and grandfather and repeated the ceremony. When he finished, he bit his thumb and sobbed, finally giving himself over to grief – for his lost family, his lost world.

I looked down at the rough mound that was his father’s grave. I felt nothing. No reincarnated souls. No hungry ghosts. Another poet whose bones refused to turn to dust.

For all the existential horrors described in Bones of the Master, the one that scared me most, described in an epilogue, is the least amenable to rational analysis. After surviving his journey out of China and his arduous pilgrimage back, Tsung Tsai confronts a different kind of monster. In the apparent safety of Hong Kong in 1997, a former student of his named Lei - a practitioner of black magic - seeks to destroy the old monk and take his power.

Buddhist Temple, Hong Kong

This is serious stuff for a Buddhist. Buddhists believe it is possible to be free of delusion, but it is hard-won, and perhaps only granted to a few. The idea that an advanced practitioner might be deliberately turned and thrown back into the maelstrom is horrifying. Confucius said "one may rob an army of its commander-in-chief; one cannot deprive the humblest man of his free will," but that is precisely Lei's intention.

In their climactic confrontation, the sorcerer begins a hypnotic and dazzling bell ceremony as Tsung Tsai faces him. Crane, in attendance, apparently experiences sensory overload and loses consciousness.

But the sorcerer fails in his attempt to disequilibrate the monk. "[I]f you have one hundred masters each ringing bells, you cannot touch me," Tsung Tsai tells him. "If you have one thousand masters each ringing three bells, you cannot touch me. And yes, even if you have ten thousand masters each ringing three bells, you cannot touch me. You cannot, for I am monk, and I am emptiness."
"Frog," asked Toad,
"was that a true story?"

"Maybe it was

and maybe it wasn't,"

said Frog.

In these matters the only kind of evidence is testimony, and there are two kinds of people - those who think they have experienced something, and those who have not. Tim Young struck me as someone who perhaps had experienced something, and I remember a powerful performance by him at a seance one night, long ago. Perhaps the dead talked to Tim.

The novelist Amy Tan recalls that as a child, her mother thought she had the gift of talking to the dead. Tan herself did not believe she had any such ability. And yet now Tan has changed her mind...
Ten years ago, I clearly saw a ghost, and she talked to me. It was my mother. She had died just 24 hours before. Her face was 10 times larger than life, in the form of a moving, pulsing hologram of sparkling lights. My mother was laughing at my surprise. She drew closer, and when she reached me, I felt as if I had been physically punched in the chest. It took my breath away and filled me with something absolute: love, but also joy and peace — and with that, understanding that love and joy and peace are all the same thing. Joy comes from love. Peace comes from love. "Now you know," my mother said.

I can't say I've had such an experience.
I've discussed these things over the years with the sane and the mad, but more than anything have been struck by the unyielding, unforgiving nature of physical reality. Mao showed how efficiently spiritual arguments could be resolved, if you didn't mind using a gun.

Well, maybe I have experienced something, albeit brief and small. When we buried my grandfather, a bird fluttered above the funeral. A cousin pointed and said, a little wishfully, "there goes Jim." When we buried my mother I remembered this and looked up. There, very high, I saw a solitary bird, circling toward the heavens.

Frog and Toad sat
close by the fire.
They were scared.
The teacups shook
in their hands.
They were having the shivers.
It was a good, warm feeling.

September 13, 2009



Desperate Degradation in Copenhagen!!
Marxist Misery in Munich!!

 Stalinist Hell-Beach of Barcelona!!

Socialist Shock Troops in Sorry Switzerland!!

The Red Rape of Paris!!


Matt Hasselbeck's and My Problems

Not only does Hasselbeck have a fantasy team- but we have the same problems, like whether to start Manning, Farvre or Hasselbeck.  There is some variance in which Manning.

In other urgent news, the UW Huskies WON a game for the first time since, what, the Iraq War started? I forget. 15 game losing streak.  I like QB Jake Locker's quote: "To be honest, some of us were going, 'Hey, what do we do?'"

September 12, 2009

Straighter than a Jonas Brother?

There is an old saying among sportswriters - the smaller the ball, the better the story. Rick Reilly demonstrates here. Congratulations Rick, you shameless cheater.

One Sentence Book Review

Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: All The World's a Stage is a readable, informative, and sometimes very funny briefing on the Bard, "a man so good at disguising his feelings that we can't even be sure that he had any."

September 11, 2009

The Sarah Palin- Joe Biden Debate Opera.

Yes, it's a little opera, but it's apparently based on the, um libretto, from the debate.

Brughel: The Proverbs

The wiki article on the painting 99 Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559, by Bruegel the Elder, which I have come to use frequently in talking about what art is, finally includes a list of the identifiable proverbs or idioms of the time, and a little image from the painting where the proverb is symbolized. 

Many of the expressions are current, some are insightful - but this painting is so astoundingly rich a mere list of the proverbs is a very pale shadow of its qualities- the particular drawing, the color the many thousands of specific choices to bring it into existence. I have always been especially drawn to its democracy- hundreds of characters, from all walks of society, presented in an attentive equality, humor, tenderness and sometimes contempt. An amazing work, and a timeless refutation of the strange rejection of attentive seeing that characterized contemporary art for some time.

Some of the better old proverbs are of course much fun:

"To have the roof tiled with tarts" means to be filthy rich. It's a great image and one Bruegel reuses in other paintings.

"To be pissing against the moon."

"They both shit through the same hole."

"Tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ." One reason this is interesting is that is overwhelmingly a secular picture- overtly Christian symbols are rare. And even this one means "to hide deceit under a veneer of christian piety." Even more odd, this character is a late renaissance image of Christ that is not religious in intent- it's an illustration of a principle.

I also hope this explains the obscure joke in Rebar for Tootsie Rolls where Mack pays a guy to engrave this on his .38. That would be pissing against the moon.

September 08, 2009

Even the Washington Post Began to Take Notice

E.J. Dionne Jr. writes:

"Upon Barack Obama’s election, even my most conservative friends who supported John McCain said Obama could do a world of good for poor children in the country by stressing the importance of education, hard work, staying in school and taking responsibility. Yes, those are often thought of as conservative values.

"But when Obama proposed to do just that on the first day of school, the far right -- without asking any questions or seeking any information -- decided to pounce, on the theory that everything Obama did should be attacked relentlessly as part of some secret and dangerous ideological agenda."

Please guys, it's not funny anymore. Turn down the crazy, you're scaring the kids.

Peary Did Not Reach the Pole! Most Shameful!

Admiral Peary, it appears, fraudulently claimed to have reached the Pole.   Byrd's flight claim is heavily disputed. Which means it was Amundsen, of course, who reached it in 1926 in the airship Norge with sponsor Ellsworth and pilot Nobile.

Note the very interesting side study about a recent study of "counterfactual belief," which, if you look at the PDF, provides a fascinating pie chart of why people still believed that Sadaam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. I strongly suspect this whole article was written to slip that in.

Jolly well done, Roald Amundsen!

Snowmachines made the journey in 1968. Somehow this cheapens it. It wasn't until 1969 that someone actually got there going the whole way on the surface of the ice on foot -Sir Walter Herbert- who then proceed to cross the Arctic Ocean.

September 07, 2009

Lobbing it up underhanded

A prefatory note to The Laird's upcoming What I Believe.

Scientists claim to have discovered that the human brain is hardwired to believe in God. (A brief disgruntled comment on 'hardwiring' research is here.)

My own sense of things is that nature earnestly wants you to believe in something, but is not too particular what that something is.

I take this as total validation of my view, formed after watching the television version of Steambath, that Valerie Perrine was hot.

Addendum: A couple of essays from This I Believe touching on this. Of course, This I Believe is not going to pack the field with people saying there is no God and the search for religious meaning is a bigger waste of time than World of Warcraft. But they did choose one, and Penn Jillette delivered. Lots of people on the show say they believe in God, but I thought Whitney Harris could be the standard-bearer for the saner religionists.

Not sure where to put Heinlein, but his is good, too.

Too Hot to Handle

As the mainstream media has backed away from rebroadcasting the President's message to America's youth, we at Eisengeiste feel obliged to reprint the most inflammatory parts below. The full text, accessible for research purposes only, may be found here.

  • But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
  • And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
  • And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
  • We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
  • At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
  • But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try... That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
And, most nightmarish:
  • And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country. The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
That's right kids, even if you want to, you do not have the President's permission to fail.

I trust this is sufficient to alert you to the severe threat this man represents.

September 06, 2009

German Space Program Gets Underway

Berlin TV tower - lift off from Fabian Tischer on Vimeo.

September 05, 2009

Just a little more on that

Online here, How to Be a Good Communist, for your convenience. This was written in 1939 (Laird: the 70th anniversary!), by Liu Shaoqi, a Chinese Communist Party leader and a pretty hot ticket until he got on the wrong side of the Cultural Revolution.

I think this section, from "Examples of Wrong Ideology in the Party" gives a good sense of the Communist message to the rest of China at that time:
[S]ome comrades of peasant background used to think that communism meant "expropriation of local tyrants and distribution of the land". When they first joined, they had no understanding of the real meaning of communism. Today, quite a number of people join the Party chiefly because it is resolute in resisting Japan and advocates the Anti-Japanese National United Front. Others join our ranks because they admire the communist Party for its good reputation or because they realize in a vague way that it can save China...

Nevertheless, there is no terrible problem here. After all, it is not a bad thing that people turn to the Communist Party, enter it seeking a way out of their predicament and approve of its policy. They are not mistaken in coming to us. We welcome them - everyone except for enemy agents, traitors, careerists and ambitious climbers.

September 04, 2009


Aaron Curry

Ladies and gentlemen: Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Aaron Curry. In the first half of his second pre-season game last night, he made four tackles, two for losses, hit quarterbacks twice, then sacked one and forced a fumble to set up a Seahawks field goal.


September 03, 2009

Sad news

Stanford is down to its last $12 billion...

September 02, 2009

Another walk

By 1930, Chiang Kai-shek had things pretty well sewn-up. The former warlord had succeeded Sun Yat-Sen as head of the Kuomintang, and following the Northern Expedition had largely reunified China under Nationalist rule. He'd then put down three defecting generals in the Central Plains War.

It hadn't come cheap. The Nationalist government was almost bankrupt, and there had been hundreds of thousands of casualties. And it hadn't been clean - the Central Plains War had been, even by the murderous standards of the place and time, an ugly affair.

Chiang had won the battles, but he had not yet consolidated political control. That made mopping up the Communists the new top priority. Following the most modern military doctrines, and with the help of good military advisors, he undertook a series of Encirclement Campaigns intended to annihilate the Communist enclaves.

Although the Nationalist forces were more numerous and better-equipped than the Communists, execution was uneven. The early campaigns in Jianxi, a key stronghold ("The Soviet Republic of China"), went badly. The Communists maneuvered effectively and even counter-attacked, focusing on understrength or inexperienced Nationalist units. They probably owed much of their success to the political, organizational, and military skills of this guy:

Mao Tse Tung, Prime Minister of the Soviet Republic of China, 1931

Mao had lived his entire adult life in a country adrift (he was 18 when the Qing were overthrown). The political battles were for keeps, and no one could be trusted. Jonathon Spence observes:
Certainly no historian working on twentieth-century China can deny that there were "moles" at work in many sections of the Nationalist Chinese army and intelligence agencies, moles placed either by the Nationalist Party, the Communists, or pro-Japanese sympathizers, and at times they influenced events in a decisive way. There were also double agents, on all three sides. All three sides had their own assassination squads.
No one at the leadership level could afford to care about the body count. Certainly not the warlords, who killed Zhu De's wife and kids. Not Chiang, who had personally overseen the liquidation of thousands of Communists in Shanghai. Not the Japanese, who were warming up for the Rape of Nanking, before using the country as a chemistry experiment. And certainly not the Russians, who were just getting into the good part of the national fitness program we now call Stalinism.

It was not the kind of environment that would produce a Gandhi.

We don't know how great a strategist Mao really was, any more than we know who wrote his poems, did his calligraphy, or drew up his posters. In military affairs he certainly had significant help from Zhu De. But whomever was in charge was giving the Nationalists a very hard time.

Even so, the Nationalists gradually got the upper hand. On the fifth try (1933-34) they finally inflicted a decisive military defeat on the Communist force in Jianxi, and the whole enclave, under mixed leadership, tried to break out. The result was a military catastrophe. An anonymous Wikipedia author deserves credit for this fine account:
Initially, the First Red Army, with its baggage of top communist officials, records, currency reserves and other trapping of the exiled Chinese Soviet Republic, fought through several lightly defended Kuomintang checkpoints, crossing the Xinfeng river and through the province of Guangdong, south of Hunan and into Guangxi. At the Xiang River, Chiang Kai-shek had reinforced the KMT defenses. In two days of bloody fighting, 30 November to 1 December 1934, the Red Army lost more than 40,000 troops and all of the civilian porters, and there were strongly-defended Nationalist defensive lines ahead. Personnel and material losses after the battle of the Xiang river affected the morale of the troops and desertions began.
What was left of the army paused for a leadership conference. "Go north, to fight the Japanese," Mao argued. If it could be done, something might yet be salvaged. If they got through, they could:
  • Move the Red Army closer to Russia's political and material support.
  • Confront the Japanese: It was still two years before the Rape of Nanking, but the Japanese were clearly the worst of the imperialist aggressors.
  • Defang Chiang Kai-shek: If Chiang fought the Communists as they tried to fight the Japanese, he would appear to be placing his political ambitions above the welfare of the country.
There was one problem. It was, in the words of Scott W. Morton (author of the definitive short history of China), "a task of almost unimaginable difficulty." But the Communists were out of options. They decided to try.

Route of the Long March (source: Wikipedia)

Morton again:
Those on the march covered 6,000 miles in just over a year, crossed twenty-four rivers and eighteen mountain ranges, five of them under permanent snow. They passed through twelve provinces and occupied sixty-two cities. By the end their numbers had been reduced to about 30,000 (some say fewer)... There were fifteen pitched battles and a skirmish of some sort almost daily.
In 2003 two researchers retraced the route (their book is here). Their view that the route was shorter-than-advertised prompted a stern reaction from the Chinese government ("the 25,000 li of the Red Army's Long March are a historic fact and not open to doubt"). But lost in that controversy was this simple truth: it took the authors 384 days to cover the route...about the same time it took Mao's Army. And Mao's troops did it with bad equipment, food shortages, and people shooting at them.

You might imagine that they survived by ravaging the countryside and shaking down the peasants. But that's probably not what happened.
The Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention (tr. People's Daily):

The Three Main Rules of Discipline:

  • Obey orders in all your actions.
  • Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses.
  • Turn in everything captured.

The Eight Points for Attention:

  • Speak politely.
  • Pay fairly for what you buy.
  • Return everything you borrow.
  • Pay for anything you damage.
  • Do not hit or swear at people.
  • Do not damage crops.
  • Do not take liberties with women.
  • Do not ill-treat captives.
Both Morton and historian Stephen Uhalley argue that the Red Army actually followed these rules, and in so doing was able to draw a sharp contrast with the Nationalists, who behaved more "traditionally". In this brutal era, Mao was able to frame a story of a movement that acted with honor and decency toward common people. The people believed it.

(For a long time I wouldn't have believed a word of this, but now I do. A few years ago we had a guest in our house, a woman who had been born and raised among the Party elites in China. Another woman who was working for us broke a cup, and threw it out. Our Party-affiliated acquaintance was aghast, and earnestly tried to convinced the perpetrator to come to me, admit that she had broken the cup, take full responsibility, and throw herself on the mercy of the court. The cup-breaker, who was from Taiwan, saw little need for such gestures. It made for an interesting afternoon.)

But when you think of the corruption that was endemic in China in the first half of the 20th century, and the frustration of common people - imagine the political impact of that kind of commitment to honesty. Imagine being a peasant, and having troops show up - and not harm your family or steal your livestock. It reinforced the same crude but simple message Mao had been broadcasting to the poor every chance he got: we're on your side, the other guys aren't. Everyone is a bastard, and I am too, but I fight the foreigners and their puppets for you.

The Long March also left Mao more or less in charge of the whole enterprise. He said, in 1935:
The Long March is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes, while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent. It has proclaimed their utter failure to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept us. The Long March is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in eleven provinces that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation.

Happy Days Are Here Again...

It was not a victory, exactly. It was a perilous escape under fire, like Dunkirk, the retreat from Chosin, or the Dalai Lama's flight to India in 1959. And it was a journey out of the heart of the country, to access foreign knowledge and resources, with the hope of returning and making a better China. In that sense, Mao's motivations were surprisingly similar to those of Xuanzang or Sun Yat Sen.

Another decade of fighting lay ahead, against both the Nationalists and the Japanese. We don't know much about that war. It was brutal (e.g., the Three Alls Policy) and personal (Nanjing was mostly - don't click on a full stomach - face-to-face murder). And it was massive - by the time the Japanese surrendered, there had been maybe 4 million Chinese military casualties, perhaps 2 million Japanese, and 15-20 million civilians.

We cannot know all the details, but we know the outcome. By the late 1940s a probable majority of Chinese were on board with the Communist world view. China had been the playground of foreigners and profiteers for too long. It was time to run them out and reclaim the country. It was the one argument that Chiang, with his personal wealth and U.S. sponsorship, could not refute.

Anyone who didn't get that world view - anyone who wouldn't get with the program, or who by accident of birth or place in society happened to be in the way - had to go. Mao would be cleaning house for a long time.

Action must be taken NOW

This week saw the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. Five years from now, we will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgium from the Nazi's during WWII. BUT: will we also be commemorating the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II??? Does this mean 10 solid years of WWII commemorations? (I'm kinda still WWII'd out from the 60th anniversary.)

There's only one solution: NO 75th ANNIVERSARY WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATION. It's OFF, you understand?

September 01, 2009

OMG, an Onion link- the 2nd lowest form of Blogging!

Sometimes, it's funny cuz it's true.