Thursday, December 08, 2011

Celebrate Moldova!

Limba noastră-i o comoară
 All Saints Church in Armenian Cemetery in the capital, Chisinau.
În adîncuri înfundată
Un şirag de piatră rară
Pe moşie revărsată.
Limba noastră-i foc ce arde
Într-un neam, ce fără veste
S-a trezit din somn de moarte
Ca viteazul din poveste.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The M Word

The prosecutor who tried to bring charges against Sandusky disappears, with his laptop--hard drive removed--found in the river?  Why isn't this the biggest scandal?

Revealed: Prosecutor who failed to nail Penn State coach for 'sex abuse' vanished in 2005 and was declared 'legally dead' this year

  • -Body of District Attorney Ray Gricar was never found but car abandoned and laptop dragged from river
  • -Gricar had a 'bitter taste in his mouth' about Penn State program

Read more:

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Great biography panel at the Mass. Historical Society

Carol Bundy chaired a terrific panel of Civil War-era biographers at the MHS on Thursday night:  Dean Grozzens on Theodore Parker, Tony Horwitz on John Brown, and Michael Burlingame on Lincoln.  The best quip of the night was Burlingame:   "I am a psychohistorian." <pause> "That's one word."

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Who are the wingnuts backing?

Every once in a while, when I have a powerful urge to know what the extreme right is thinking, I turn to my two "go-to" websites, RedState (far right) and  FreeRepublic (unhinged right).  Who, I wondered, could they be supporting in the Republican presidential primary? With a great deal of obvious resignation, the RedStaters seem on the whole to be for Perry (with the occasional pitiable Fred Thompson supporter(!)).  More surprising, the Freepers seem largely to be Cain backers, and pretty happy about the choice.  I guess they see it as vindication of their long, loud assertions that they are not racists. Well, good.

Update:  The sexual harrassment accusations against Cain do not seem to have damaged his poll numbers with Republicans one bit.

Rick Perry in college--WFT?

                                                                                                             Check out the heel chains.

Combined with Rick's indescribable Manchester speech of Friday, I'd say the Perry campaign is officially golden brown and lightly buttered.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gordis on Shalit's return: "A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness"

A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness
A Jerusalem Post Column
October 28, 2011


We all felt it. 

It was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent. 

We were witness that day to an entire country 

believing in something again. 

Mr. Prime Minister,

Before the Shalit deal fades entirely from view, many of us are hoping that you have noticed what you unwittingly unleashed.  I don't mean the next wave of terror or the terrible decisions that Israel must make before the next kidnapping.  We knew about those even before last week.  But last Tuesday, all of us - those opposed as well as those in favor (and there were persuasive arguments on both sides) - rediscovered something magnificent about this country.  It would be tragic if we returned to business as usual without pausing to take note.

Read the rest of this essay here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ornithorhynchus anatinus

"The bizarre appearance of this egg-laying, venomousduck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud."  I still don't believe in them.  I mean, come on.
Click on the link to see one swim.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uzbekistan: A Cotton Plantation State

On my trip to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, I learned for the first time about the forced labor program in Uzbekistan.  One-third of the world's cotton is exported from Uzbekistan, and much of the country's population, including children, is compelled to pick it under appallingly harsh conditions:
Instead of using machines to harvest cotton, as is done in other major cotton exporting countries, Uzbekistan's government uses children. Every autumn state officials shut down schools, and send students, together with their teachers, to the cotton fields. Tens of thousands of children, some as young as seven, are forced to undertake weeks of arduous labour for little or no financial reward. Headmasters are issued with cotton quotas and made to ensure that students pick the required daily amount. Children who fail to pick their target of cotton are reportedly punished with detentions and told that their grades will suffer. Those who refuse to take part can face academic expulsion. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Celebrate Estonia

From Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it's a place to start):

Estonia Listeni/ɨsˈtniə/ (EstonianEesti), officially the Republic of Estonia (EstonianEesti Vabariik), is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by the Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation(338.6 km).[8] Across the Baltic Sea lies Sweden in the west and Finland in the north. The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi), and is influenced by atemperate seasonal climate. The Estonians are a Finnic people, and the official language, Estonian, is closely related to Finnish.
Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into 15 counties. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of 1.34 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous members of the European UnionEurozone and NATO. Today, Estonia has the highest GDP per person among former Soviet republics.[9] Estonia is listed as a "High-Income Economy" by the World Bank, as an "advanced economy" by the International Monetary Fund and the country is an OECD member. The United Nations lists Estonia as a developed country with a Human Development Index of "Very High".[5] The country is also ranked highly for press freedomeconomic freedom,democracy and political freedom and education.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Like peace and quiet? Hate violence? Thank government.

Steven Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined has a one-two interpretive punch.  First, he demonstrates that we are probably living in the least-violent period of human history.  Second, the most important cause of this decline is the "pacifying force" of the modern nation-state, with its "monopoly on the use of force."  That makes it particularly alarming that a cluster of forces, from the Tea Party to the billionaires' clubs (Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity) to the NRA and its fellow travelers, are working so assiduously to cripple or kill government--to "reduce it to the size where [they] can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," as Grover Norquist to piquantly put it.

More on Pinker here (Wall Street Journal) and here (TED talk)..

Monday, October 03, 2011

Race Test

For those of you who believe that race exists, a test:  Can a single couple--one man and one woman--give birth to children of different races?

Who knew? Ruhnu.

Not a Martian from War of the Worlds; the lighthouse designed by Gustav Eiffel on the  Estonian island of Ruhnu.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We Are the 99%

Did you notice there's an occupation of Wall Street going on?  Russia Today calls it the American response to Arab Spring.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Political soulmates: The Afghan Whigs

Founded by Greg Dulli.  Previous band: The Black Republicans. Reverse evolution from Whigs to Republicans, but definitely on my wavelength.  1965 is a great album.

File:The Afghan Whigs.jpg

Mapping connections between disciplines

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For once in his life, Beck is right.

“How many warnings do you think you’re going to get, and how many warnings do you deserve? This hurricane that is coming thorough the East Coast, for anyone who’s in the East Coast and has been listening to me say ‘Food storage!’ ‘Be prepared!’ ‘Be somebody that can help others,’ you’ve heard me say this for years. People have made fun of me. That’s fine, I don’t care. I’ve been telling you, ‘Don’t be in a panic situation.’ If you’ve waited, this hurricane is a blessing. It is a blessing. It is God reminding you — as was the earthquake last week — it’s God reminding you you’re not in control. Things can happen. Be prepared and be someone who can help others so when disaster strikes, God forbid, you’re not panicking.”  --Glenn Beck

It's unfortunate that the one time Beck gets something right, the media goes right ahead and ridicules him for it anyway.

Listening to Earthquakes

Note:  This piece was written before the arrival of Hurricane Irene, and I haven't taken the trouble to update it.  The reader can easily interpolate the appropriate additional warnings and messages.

In 1638, the fledgling colony of Plymouth was struck by “a great & fearfull earthquake."  To the chastened Pilgrims, shaken but unharmed, the quake sent a powerful message: it echoed the discord within the community, “as if the Lord would herby shew the signes of his displeasure, in their shaking a peeces & removals one from an other,” in the words of its governor, William Bradford.

In 1727, an even greater earthquake shook the eastern seaboard, toppling scores of houses but again, as in 1638, claiming no lives.  The Rev. Cotton Mather interpreted the event as a decisive wakeup call from God:  “In the Works, wherein the glorious GOD goes out of the Ordinary Road,…His Voice becomes very Notable; and most inexcusable are they who Regard not the Works of the Lord…”

It does not require a Cotton Mather to interpret the lessons of Tuesday’s earthquake.  For me, the most crucial of them relate to the potential man-made disasters we have contrived for ourselves in the form of nuclear power.

Last spring’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan made plain the vulnerability of nuclear reactors, and reminded us what nuclear power is: using toxic and explosive radioactive material to boil water to turn a turbine that powers a generator which produces electricity, creating as a by-product even more deadly, often weapons-grade, radioactive waste that will remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. 

The ongoing tragedy of the Fukushima disaster—which as I write could still produce a global radiological catastrophe—demonstrated the inherent peril of these devices.  But Japan’s distance from us, and its location in one of the most earthquake-prone regions on earth, may have lulled Americans into the sense that “it can’t happen here.” 

If so, the Virginia earthquake should have laid that fantasy to rest.  Virginia is in the middle of a tectonic plate, not at the unstable edge.  The state has only once in recorded history, over a century ago, experienced a quake of such magnitude.  Unlike California’s Diablo Canyon reactor, built directly on a geological fault, Mineral, Virginia’s North Anna construction site, just 11 miles from the epicenter, had a clean seismic bill of health—until last August, when researchers for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rated the plant the the seventh most likely to sustain core damage from an earthquake,

The North Anna complex is only 82 miles from Washington, well within the range of a radioactive plume in the event of a meltdown. But that danger pales beside the number one most threatened: Buchanan, New York’s Indian Point Plant, a mere 25 miles from New York City.   The NRC rates the likelihood of a core meltdown from an earthquake at Indian Point as one in 10,000. 

By comparison, as MSNBC’s Bill Dedman observes, one’s chance of winning $10,000 in a multistate Powerball lottery is one in 723,145.[1]

The most powerful earthquake ever to hit the eastern United States (magnitude 7.7 on the Richter scale) occurred 200 years ago centered on New Madrid, MO.  It affected 50,000 square miles, caused the Mississippi to run backwards for a time, and made church bells ring in Boston.  In 1811, the affected region was only sparsely settled; today, it contains more than 15 million people, and fifteen nuclear power plants.  Last May, the federal government staged an exercise designed to model the effects of a New Madrid-scale quake today.  The results remain classified.  But Paul Stockton, the deputy defense secretary in charge of homeland security, described the impact of such a quake as “so much bigger than anything we’ve faced—way beyond Hurricane Katrina.” 

If they were alive today, William Bradford and Cotton Mather would view the Virginia earthquake, coming on the heels of Fukushima, as the clearest possible divine warning to America, and would consider it blasphemous folly for us to disregard it:  “Indeed there is this Argument for hearkening to the Voice of our GOD, that if we do it not, we provoke Him to Render His Rebukes in Flames of Fire unto us.” 

Oh, and the plant the NRC ranked as the second most threatened by earthquakes?  The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth.  One can only imagine what the Pilgrim Fathers would think about that.

[1] Bill Dedman, “What are the odds? US nuke plants ranked by quake risk,” website,, Mar. 27, 2011 (accessed August 24, 2011).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Slav Trade

Of this slave trade, which flourished down to 1783, when the Crimea was finally conquered and annexed to Russia, we have a graphic account by an eyewitness, a Lithuanian traveller of the sixteenth century. "Ships from Asia," he says, "bring arms, clothes, and horses to the Crimean Tartars, and start on the homeward voyage laden with slaves. It is for this kind of merchandise alone that the Crimean markets are remarkable.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Giverny notecards - my picture from Monet's water garden

I love turning my photos into notecards.  It's a drag that Shutterfly doesn't let you put a photo credit on the back, though --might as well get them pre-printed from the store.

5x7 Folded Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Conservative Historians

One thing I like about right-wing historians of the Ashbrook Institute/Claremont/Naval War College variety is that they take ideas seriously. Fashionably-trained historians avidly collect ideas like trading cards or shiny objects in a jackdaw’s nest; they are excited by their novelty or rarity but basically unconcerned about their content or, God forbid, their "truth." That is someone else's department, and it's not a department they ever plan to visit.  Conservative historians, on the contrary, are as excited about the big ideas--human nature, the best form of government, the balance of liberty and order, and so on—as bright eighth graders, and that’s a compliment. It does tend to make their solutions to current problems simplistic and dogmatic; not that the up-to-date solutions are proving any more successful.  I wonder, as well, whether these thinking conservatives’ dogmatism does not result in part from the unwillingness, or inability, of the orthodox historical establishment to engage with them seriously on an equal level. 

What makes me think about this subject is a book I just borrowed from the UConn library called Enlightened Republicanism: A Study in Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia.  It's by David Tucker, whose bio describes him as "an associate professor in the Department of Defense Analysis and codirector of the Center on Terrorism and Irregular Warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California."  His other books are on U.S. special ops forces and confronting unconventional warfare.  His book on Notes is one of the clearest, most insightful, and least tendentious analyses of the subject I have read.  It has the drawback (not rare in such studies, I'm afraid) of having virtually nothing to say about Jefferson's racist and irrational pronouncements in Query 14; but it is nonetheless one of the most useful works I have consulted in writing my article on Jefferson.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bloody Ban

Banastre Tarleton, the notorious British liutenant-colonel, was described as having a face as beautiful as a woman's.  Based on Sir Joshua Reynolds' portrait, I'd have to say that the woman is Glenda Jackson.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Where's Nali?

Nali Forbes

Lost cat.  Nali is about three years old, medium-sized, cinnamon-colored, affectionate but skittish and kind of spacy. She makes a tiny little mewing sound when upset. Purrs loudly when comfortable.  Missing since Tuesday morning.  She lives at 2055 Chapel Street, corner of Alden Ave.  Reward for return!