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Saturday, March 23, 2002

Japanese Maple

Spring for us is when our Japanese Maples bring out their new leaves. They tend to be small trees with colorful and delicate foliage -- happy in sheltered spots partly shaded by taller trees. There is always a certain pain associated with them though, because we can feel the winds already starting to fray those feathery leaves. The one in the picture is Acer palmatum Filigree.
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I was just reading Dr Weevil's corrections of various legends. The Romans, for instance, did not sow Carthage with salt. (I'd always kinda wondered about that, Salt was expensive back then, and you would need a huge quantity to ruin any significant area of land)

I'll give you a correction of my own. Robert Fulton created the first successful steamboat, but it was not named the Clermont. It was called The North River. North River was the local term for the Hudson (dating from when it was the northern boundary of Dutch territory) Clermont was its nominal home port.

Dr Weevil seems, like me, to be bugged by Nick Denton's discussions of liberal webloggers, not because he's all wrong, but because he assumes that various definitions are agreed upon ...

In his ongoing search for liberal bloggers, Nick Denton ... writes this astonishing sentence:
For the purposes of this discussion, I'm defining liberal as anyone who cares about injustice, whether in the US, or in the world at large.
If that's the criterion, there are thousands of us out here. It apparently comes as news to many who pride themselves on their liberalism and openmindedness that some of us voted for Reagan twice because we care about injustice in the U.S. and the world, and thought that a world with a stronger U.S. and a weaker U.S.S.R. would be a juster world. We may have been horribly and shamefully wrong in thinking that, but the idea that people voted for Reagan out of pure malevolence and a deep and abiding love for injustice is tripe -- or some other bovine byproduct. [ me, I voted for Reagan because he was an oppressor, grinding the little people under his boot-heel ]

In the last six months, daisycutters and special forces have done more for freedom and justice abroad than a hundred NGOs, a thousand special ambassadors, or a million protesters. For all their ostentatious caring, lefties I know are quite grudging in admitting that the War on Terror has done any good at all. It is the righties who melt with pleasure over pictures of Afghan men shaving their beards, going to the baths, going to the movies, Afghan women going back to school, back to work, back outside, Afghan children flying kites and riding makeshift ferris wheels, Afghan dervishes whirling again, and so on and on and on.
For purposes of my discussions I'll define liberal as people who pretend to care about injustice while really wanting to Run the Circus.

By the way, Nick has a post about how the EU is going to target its retaliations against the steel tariffs to swing states where Bush will feel it the most! Perhaps I shouldn't, but I find this very funny.

Friday, March 22, 2002

I liked this, from the Federalist Newsletter:

Memo to Leahy & his Contra-Constitutional Cadre: Because the Judiciary committee voted against sending appellate nominee Pickering's nomination to the Senate floor for a vote, his nomination is still in effect; only a vote by the full Senate can defeat a presidential nomination. Some historical notes:
"And as there would be a necessity for submitting each nomination to the judgement of an entire branch of the legislature." --Federalist, No. 77.

"The President proposes such a man for such an office. The Senate has to consider upon it." --Iredell, North Carolina Ratifying Convention, 28 July 1788.

"The whole Senate must now deliberate on every appointment," --John Adams, July 1789.

"The President is to nominate, ... but his nomination cannot confer office, unless approved by a majority of the Senate."
--Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution.

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More useless facts...Natalie Solent's various posts on policy followed mindlessly (or mindfully) are very good. But those sailors weren't doing busy-work. Steel near salt water rusts with the most shocking speed. All that painting is part of an endless losing battle against oxidation. After the Coral Sea, they chipped the flammable old paint as a preliminary before adding new paint.

I'm not a sailor or anything, just a bookworm stuffed with odd facts. Another thing that kept sailors busy: You've heard of water-tight doors and compartments. Those doors had gaskets that sealed against a knife edge, which only worked if it was kept polished and smooth, a consuming task in salt air. And the knife-edges would cut your shin open if you went through the hatch carelessly.

Warships being built now start out with a lot of baked-on enamel. And for some critical parts there is a sort of spray gun that melts aluminum wire and sprays it on like paint!
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Bill Quick linked to a piece by David Warren called Watch This Space, which says that our current maneuvers in the Middle East are not as squashy as they might appear:

... Mr. Cheney also made clear to other Arab leaders, that while the U.S. anticipates the establishment of an independent Palestine, and has now even sponsored a Security Council resolution to that effect, it will not allow the formation of another Islamist rogue state, in the suburbs of Jerusalem. A Palestinian leader who will not dissolve every tie he has with terrorist violence, is one who must be retired.

Syria is also in the firing line. Mr. Cheney not only cancelled his planned visit to Damascus, he let the Syrian dictator, Bashir Assad, know why. The Syrians are instrumental in the current Hezbollah build-up in southern Lebanon, where tensions are now sky high. They have been simultaneously playing with Iraq and Hamas. There are intelligence reports of Al Qaeda representation, and Damascus connexions keep turning up in Afghan caves. While the ultimate sources of terrorist funding and equipment in the Syrian neighbourhood are the regimes in Baghdad and Tehran, Damascus is the safe house and co-ordinating centre. The escalation of attacks on northern Israel is largely intended to distract the Bush administration from Iraq, as well as to rally and focus Muslim world opinion.

Mr. Assad, whose problems include being genuinely dull-witted, has thus been gravely warned. If he does not also make a "100% effort" to close down the terrorist operations he is now hosting, Syria will also qualify for a regime change. Mr. Cheney's non-arrival was the equivalent to flying a small airplane banner across the sky over Damascus, reading, "Watch this space."

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Reading about Mars somehow got me thinking about Charles Lindbergh. People called him Lucky Lindy, and thought of him as a daredevil. Actually he was a very cool and calculating pilot. Brave of course, but he knew just what he was doing.

He seemed foolhardy because his flight went against all the conventional wisdom of the time. The others who were trying to fly from New York to Paris thought that safety lay in having big multi-engine planes and 2 or more crewmen. Lindbergh calculated that his light, simple single-engine plane (built by Ryan Air, an obscure little company in San Diego) would actually be more reliable.

One hates to think what real experts could have concocted -- say, government experts ... government aeronautics and space experts.... If bigger planes with bigger crews = better and safer ... hmmm.

Lindbergh's book, The Spirit of St Louis, remains one of the all-time great reads. I can never be really sleepy without thinking of his epic battle against sleep in the clouds above the Atlantic.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Jay Manifold at Voyage to Arcturus has been posting reports from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

One report was on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

...Dr Boynton of the University of Arizona presented the gamma-ray spectrometer findings. He got a big round of applause by leading with the comment that this was the 3rd attempt in 18 years to send such an instrument to Mars .... it has provided unambiguous evidence of large amounts of subsurface ice. Epithermal neutrons are slowed down most efficiently by hydrogen atoms (whose mass is closest to that of the neutrons themselves), becoming thermal neutrons. Lower-than-usual epithermal neutron counts therefore imply the presence of hydrogen, most likely in the form of water ice (a much remoter possibility is some kind of hydrated mineral). This has been observed only at the south pole, because the north pole is still covered with CO2 frost, as the northern hemisphere of Mars is just beginning to emerge from winter.

When pressed for an estimate of the amount of ice, Dr Boynton would say only "more than several percent" and "somewhere between whopping and gobs." So I assumed a 3,000-km-wide circle (roughly the surface area of latitude >60° S on Mars) and a 1-meter thickness of 10% ice. This works out to 700 billion metric tons or thereabouts, for the south polar region alone. Probably an underestimate, and presumably it will have to be multiplied by at least 2 to include the north pole. So reasonable estimates would start at a couple of trillion metric tons and go up from there. That'll keep a colony going for a while.
Jay seems to be part of a company hoping to send a private enterprise unmanned spacecraft to the moon (oops, sorry, now I've lost the link)

What folly! Everyone knows that only the most titanic of government efforts, backed by tens of thousands of experts and the limitless reserves of the treasury, can tackle such a task. Stand aside boys, and let NASA do its job.

Richard Bennett links to a study that suggests that a chemical in the spice Tumeric may help prevent Alzheimers ... Charlene, more curries please, before it's too late.

Of course the trouble with findings like these is that they spread rapidly, often becoming urban legends. Health food shops may soon be selling Tumeric pills. In scientific research, however, preliminary findings often don't lead to anything. Further studies may show little or no effect. But the negative reports will not spread across the Internet -- they're not exciting, and a slow accumulation of negatives doesn't provide a 'hook' for stories.

My dictionary says that curry comes from a Tamil word kari, meaning to season or spice. In English it's become a catch-all term for Indian food. Wrong, perhaps, but useful.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2002

United States in the First World War, #2

It is March 21, 1918. Ludendorff attacks at Saint-Quentin. He smashes the British 5th Army, and pushes forward 40 miles in four days. He is stopped only 50 miles from Paris. There is now a deep bulge in the line, and at its tip is Montdidier, and the village of Cantigny. I will be taking you there in April.

PershingPershing hoped to wait until he had a larger, better trained army to commit to battle. But the situation is dire, and he offers General Foch his best 4 divisions. (American divisions were very large then, 26,500 men. The 4 were equivalent to perhaps 9 French divisions. Still not much in a war of that size). !st Divison, Big Red One will be going to Montdidier. The 26th, The Yankee Division, National Guardsmen from New England, will take over what has been a quiet sector, near Toul, by the village of Seicheprey. We'll meet them soon, and things won't be quiet for long.

You in the year 2002 can't even imagine how unprepared for war the United States is. One almost unbelievable effect of Wilson's policies, was that, though the greatest war the world has seen has been raging since 1914; until 1917 the US Army knew almost nothing of it -- only what they read in the papers.

There may have been divisions on paper, but no units larger than a brigade had actually maneuvered. In the new divisions being hastily raised, less than 1% of company commanders have more than a year's experience.

In our postmodern, post Christian,
post objective truth generation, celebrity equals
credibility. Celebrities have replaced God.
When they speak, some people think the
rest of us should listen."
--Cal Thomas

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Dawson recommended a new blog called:The Conservative Economist It looks promitzing...

My Crazy Plan To Help Russia
Why not open borders between Alaska and Siberia. This way Americans could set up factories in Alaska to use Russian Labor. Indeed, Russian businesses could set up shop in Alaska where they wouldn't have to worry about corruption.
Thinking, thinking, somebody's thinking. I look forward to the day when the Russians are teaching us about capitalism. (sort of like those Anglican Christians in Africa who are sending missionaries to America!) They've made a good start with a 13% Flat Tax.
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Men of 77th Division., Argonne Forest

The United States in World War One #1

Clinton wasn't the first feckless president to believe that refusing to prepare for war is the way to prevent it.

President Woodrow Wilson worked tirelessly to keep us out of WWI. But his policy of making no warlike preparations was the very reason that Germany made the decision to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. They knew that sinking our ships would bring America into the war, but they gambled that they could win before we could raise an army and transport it to France. They came closer to success than most people realize.

I'm going to be posting some pieces about the United States in the First World War. Why? Because we've mostly forgotten that war, and because it was a beginning for us: The United States, already an economic giant, is about to come on-stage; to tread the boards of politics and war with the great powers. I like beginnings.

It's March 19, 1918. General Pershing has 325,000 men in France, and is trying desperately to train them for modern war. He isn't ready for battle, but in just two days events will force his hand ...

More soon. [ Today's trivia question: What was a trench donut? ]
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"Unfortunately money is not the root of all evil; evil is the root of
all evil. Many of the goody-goody politicians who claim they would be
paragons of virtue if it were not for campaign contributions are in
error. Freed from the presence of soft money or even hard money most
of these politicians would be just as bad. Once again, some
politicians are lying to you. Not surprisingly, they are the same ones
claiming to be virtuous. --R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.

Sunday, March 17, 2002

I've read Patrick Hayden's weblog Electrolite now and then, but didn't quite know quite what to make of it. Smart, witty, likable, but kinda lefty ... good stuff but it never quite clicked for me. But Natalie just told me that Hayden is posting long quotes from Master and Commander, the first of Patrick O'Brian's long and splendid series.

That's good enough for me. I'll be reading him for sure -- I'll even endure quotes from Woody Guthrie songs. What he is is one of the well-written liberal blogs that Nick Denton said he couldn't find. Natalie calls it robustly anti-idiotarian.

And, digging deeper, I see that he and his wife are both editors at Tor Books! I've read a lot of good Science Fiction from Tor.

Here's a fun little bit of O'Brian. Two very hungry midshipmen are on interminable blockade duty, with no fresh food:

'Sausage,' cried the other. 'Oh Butler, what an infernal bloody thing to say,' He too leaned over the hammocks, staring towards the passage; for at any moment now the Niobe might appear from her cruise ... and it would be the Lively's turn next. 'Sausage,' he cried above the Mistral, as he stared, 'hot, crisp, squirting with juice as you bite 'em -- bacon -- mushrooms!'
-- from H.M.S. Surprise

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Word note: Rice paddy is a misnomer. Paddy is a Malay word that means rice! The term to describe those flooded fields where people in straw hats plant seedlings is paddy field.
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Up, and at my chamber all the morning and the office, doing business and also reading a little of L'Escolle des Filles, which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world.

-- The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 9 February 1668