Das Rabblemeister

Veni, Vidi, Scripsi

Archive for November 2010

Thursday, November 11 — Armistice Day (1918), known in the U.S. as Veteran’s Day

leave a comment »

Don't you hate it when this happens? (Image from Gizmodo. For more info on what happened and to see some other captions for this image, click on the image.)

  • On this day in 1918, at 11am Central European Time — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — a cease-fire went into effect that ended the fighting of World War I, which became known at the time at The Great War and The War to End All Wars. It had been a war so horrific — at times tens of thousands dead in one day, millions gassed with skin- and lung-searing poisons, millions more fallen to the new mechanical Grim Reaper, the machine gun. More than 8 million soldiers died, more than 20 million more were seriously injured or disabled, many millions of civilians dead from starvation, disease, genocide, and other calamities of war. The world was so shocked and horrified by war of such unprecedented scale and ferocity that it was certain mankind would never repeat such a thing. Or so it was thought, not realizing that within the Versailles Treaty that ended World War One lay the seeds of something far, far worse less than 30 years later.
  • In 1953, after World War II and the Korean War, an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner named Alfred King thought it would be a good idea to extend the November 11 Armistice Day, which had become a U.S. holiday in 1938, to be a day to celebrate veterans of all wars, not just those from World War I. King’s campaign gained local and soon national support, a bill to implement it was passed by Congress in 1954 and signed by President Eisenhower. Thus on June 1, 1954 the American Armistice Day holiday on November 11 became Veteran’s Day. After the passage of the Uniform Holiday Act in 1971 Veteran’s Day was temporarily moved to be the fourth Monday in November, but by 1978 it had been moved back to November 11, where it remains today.
  • Want to be mayor of Lynchburg, South Carolina? The town’s mayor, in a spat with the City Council, resigned this past August, and last week an election was held for a new mayor. Unfortunately, no one wanted to run, so there was no one on the ballot. So the town had a do-over — but still no one wanted to run. But someone was elected anyway, even though no one was on the ballot. How did that happen? Can’t figure it out? Find out.
  • Unexpected opposition: A very powerful, and perhaps unexpected, opponent has spoken out against the Ground Zero Mosque: Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it probably should: Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is one of the most internationally influential, and certainly the wealthiest, member of the royal Al Saud family that reigns over Saudi Arabia, sometimes called the “the Warren Buffet of Arabia,” estimated to be worth $19 billion. The American-educated Prince stated:

“I am against putting the mosque in that particular place. And I’ll tell you why. For two reasons: first of all, those people behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York, and not try to agitate the wound by saying ‘we need to put the mosque next to the 9/11 site’…The wound is still there. Just because the wound is healing you can’t say ‘let’s just go back to where we were pre-9/11’. I am against putting the mosque there out of respect for those people who have been wounded over there.”

  • Economics is boring, right? I mean, since the 1930s the biggest debate in economics has been between the theories of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek, two old dead white guys who wrote boring books on economics theory. By the 1970s it looked like Keynes had won, but in the last 30 years Hayek has made a big comeback — but really, how boring is all this? Well, sometimes not boring at all.
  • The best saved for last: To those of you who have served your country in uniform — thank you. All the rest of us owe you a debt we can never repay. And I think I speak for a great, great many in saying we will never, ever forget.

Friday, November 5 — Guy Fawkes Night (from 1605), Iran hostage crisis (1979), Fort Hood Massacre (2009)

leave a comment »

Hugo Weaving as Guy Fawkes in the film "V for Vendetta." Click on the image for more info, including trailers.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Hulloa boys, Hulloa boys, let the bells ring.
Hulloa boys, hulloa boys, God save the King!

‘Tis the traditional date for Guy Fawkes Night in Merrie Olde England tonight, also known as Bonfire Night, which has become curiously linked to recent American politics. It was also the inspiration for the quirky and interesting film V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving (whose face is never seen in the movie). Worth watching, but first be sure to read up on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot — you’ll appreciate the movie much more. 

Click on the image to learn more about the courageous Canadians who helped six Americans escape from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.

  • Also on this day:
    • Iran hostage crisis: On this day in 1979 the American embassy in Tehran was seized by “students” who were remarkably keen and skilled at locating and spiriting away all the intelligence documents they could find. Sixty-six U.S. citizens were taken hostage, some were later released, others escaped, but 52 of them continued in captivity for 444 days, released just as Ronald Reagan was taking his oath of office on January 20, 1981. It’s also worth remembering the Canadian embassy’s role in spiriting out six Americans who were able to get away from the Iranians, doing so at great personal risk to several Canadian officials.
    • Fort Hood Massacre: It was on this in 2009 that U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, armed with a Belgian FN 5.7mm pistol, walked into a medical building in Fort Hood, Texas, jumped atop a desk, shouted “Allahu akhbar!” and started shooting people, apparently indiscrimately. By the time he was shot and restrained (by a civilian police officer; soldiers are curiously required to be unarmed on base) Hasan had fired 214 rounds, killed 13 people and seriously wounded 30 more. Hasan had been in frequent contact with American-born Al Qaida imam Anwar al-Awlaki (believed to be in Yemen), who called Hasan a hero and that “fighting against the U.S. army is an Islamic duty.” The FBI had been aware of Hasan’s ongoing communication with al-Awlaki for some time, but dismissed it as harmless, probably Hasan doing research. Hasan is still awaiting trial.
  • Reading the classics: For readers of great literature, Amazon is currently offering, free for the download, 23 of the world’s great literature classics. Lots of good stuff there: Homer’s Iliad, War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, even a few boring-sounding chick books by someone named Jane Austen, whoever she is. They’re all in electronic book format usable not only in Amazon’s Kindle but also other e-book readers or on your computer or smartphone with free available software (you can look up the software — I’m not going to do all the work for you).
  • Banning ammunition violates the Second Amendment: Seems pretty obvious that if you have a right to buy and possess firearms (just affirmed by the Heller and McDonald decisions) then you also have the right to buy and possess ammunition. But apparently the wise sages who run the city of Washington, D.C. didn’t see it that way, and it took a decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals (Herrington v. United States, handed down yesterday) to explain it to them. Duh.
  • Can I do this too? Our oh-so-responsible Federal Government is set to run a $1.2-trillion deficit in the next year. To cover just the first six months of its over-spending, the Treasury will need to sell $600 billion in Treasury bonds. And because investors have been reluctant to keep buying those bonds, the Fed has announced that over the next 6 months it’s going to print $600 billion in new currency in order to buy those bonds. In other words, to pay for its over-spending the next six months, the government is just going to print paper money. If that doesn’t scare the lab samples out of you, you’re not paying attention.
    Of course that bit of news immediately caused the dollar to plummet, making its fall even steeper than it was before, making every dollar you have — in checking, savings, in your pocket — worth less and less each day the dollar’s slide continues.
  • On the lighter side of nuclear particle physics (you didn’t know there was one, did you?), turn up the loud, yo’, and check out the Large Hadron Collider Rap.

And on that phat rap attack — have a good weekend!


Thursday, November 4 — King Tut’s tomb found (1922), Hungary invaded by USSR (1956)

leave a comment »

The solid gold, exquisitely decorated burial mask of King Tutankhamun. He became Pharaoh at age nine, died at nineteen, cause still disputed. Click on the image for more about King Tut.

  • King Tut’s tomb was discovered by famed archaeologist Howard Carter on this day in 1922. Carter was working under the employ of Lord Carnarvon and waited until Lord Carnarvon arrived before entering the tomb together on November 26. Much excavation followed and it wasn’t until February 16 that the burial chamber was officially opened. On April 5, 50 days later, Lord Carnarvon died, giving a grand start to all the stories of “King Tut’s Curse.” After the opening of the burial chamber there was more excavation, not a few disputes, and Carter left the project. He returned in January 1925, but it still wasn’t until October 28, 1925 that the lid of the inner sarcophagus was removed and the mummy was first seen, almost three years after the entrance to the tomb was first discovered, more than 3000 years after the mummy had been placed in the tomb.
  • The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a popular Hungarian revolt against the Communist government that had been forcibly imposed by the USSR at the end of World War II. It was a spontaneous revolt that started on October 23 with student demonstrations. On October 24 Soviet troops and tanks stationed in Hungary moved into Budapest. But in daring street fighting by Hungarians often armed with no more than Molotov cocktails, Hungarian civilians were able to push back the Soviets troops and destroy, disable, and even take over some of the Soviet tanks. By October 28 the fighting was largely over and by October 30 a new popular government was being put in place. Political prisoners were freed and plans were laid for an open, multi-party democracy. A Hungarian delegation started negotiations for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary and Soviet ambassador Yuri Andropov (later head of the KGB and Soviet prime minister) promised the USSR would not invade.
    On the night of November 3 the Hungarian delegation was invited to Soviet Military Command near Budapest to discuss withdrawal of Soviet troops. But around midnight the delegation was arrested and very early on the morning of November 4 the Soviets launched a massive invasion with 22 Army divisions, including the Soviet 8th Mechanized Army. They encircled Budapest and moved in, firing indiscriminately at both civilians and military targets. The Hungarian free government pleaded for help from other countries, but none came. The free republic was crushed within hours.
    Afterward the Soviets and Hungarian Communists conducted mass trials of over 22 000 Hungarians, many thousands were imprisoned, hundreds executed. Some of the leaders of the revolution sought asylum in the Yugoslavian embassy, were granted safe passage out of the country by the Soviets, but were then captured as soon as they left the embassy and taken out of the country. Several were later returned to Hungary, executed, and buried in unmarked graves.
    In 1991, after the fall of the USSR, the Russian government under Mikhail Gorbachev apologized to the Hungarian people for the brutal invasion of 1956. Boris Yeltsin repeated this apology in 1992, speaking before the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
  • Does Star Trek represent a fascist society? Perhaps Communist? Well, think about it:
    • There doesn’t seem to be a civilian government, politics, or free elections. All the top-level decisions seem to come from Star Fleet Command, so the United Federation of Planets looks to be an Earth-centered military oligarchy.
    • There’s never any discussion of money or finance, as if free enterprise were irrelevant or non-existent.
    • There’s a lot of racial conflict: Klingons vs. Romulans vs. humans vs. all kinds of other freaky species, almost all of which seem to prefer their own kind over others.
    • In the original series, at least, almost everyone in Star Fleet looks to be white. There’s a token Asian (Sulu), a token black (Uhura), a token eastern European (Chekhov), a token Vulcan (Spock), and that’s about it most of the time. In Star Trek: The Next Generation there was a greater variety of tokens, but by far the most common were still plain-vanilla white people, and even some of the token aliens (like Counselor Troi and all the Vulcans) looked remarkably just like plain vanilla white people with no more than maybe a weird ear or nose. Apparently Star Fleet is mostly a huge horde of of WASPy-looking white people. There’s more diversity in Iowa than there is in Star Fleet.
    • The Prime Directive appears to be inherently paternalistic, preferring to keep less-advanced people as quaint cultural exhibits rather than share with them potential labor- and life-saving technologies, thereby also preserving Federation supremacy of technology and power.
    • All the Star Trek series, more so the later ones, seem to assume lefty-chic ideology, in fact in all but the original series it goes largely unquestioned. On the other hand, religion is either banished or ridiculed (a conscious decision by series creator Gene Roddenberry).

Is it a silly discussion? Of course it is, but it’s fun and lots of people have put lots of energy into it — see here and here, for example. (For some other viewpoints, see here and here.) I mean, the whole point of Trekkie-ism is to pretend this stuff is serious, just as among devotees of Sherlock Holmes there’s a universal convention that it’s all to be treated as real history, even though they all know it’s not. FYI: There are similar debates about Star Wars society, with many arguing that the Empire is actually in the right. Great topic for endless over-the-net debate.

Some pictures are hard to explain. For more hard-to-explain pictures, click on the image. (A tip o'the hat to the blog MyPointless, linked from the photo.)

Wednesday, November 3 – First canine astronaut (1957)

leave a comment »

  • Also on this day:
    • 1838: The largest-circulation English-language daily newspaper is founded. USA Today? No, though it’s #3. The Wall Street Journal? Nope, it’s #5. The New York Times? Ya gotta be kidding — it’s been bleeding circulation for more than a decade and close to being broke. It’s now down to #10 and falling, with circulation now below 1 million.  And it’s not one of the British papers, though The Sun is close at #2 and the Daily Mail comes in at #4.
      It’s the Times of India. With a circulation over 3 million and readership over 7 million, it’s the largest-selling and most widely read English-language newspaper in the world. Its web site is also the most-visited newspaper site in the world.
      The Times of India, however, is only the eighth most popular newspaper in the world. The top honor goes to the Yomiuri Shimbun of Japan with a circulation of over 14 million, almost five times that of the Times of India. In fact the Japanese are by far the top newspaper consumers in the world and the world’s top five newspapers in circulation are all Japanese. Rounding out the top 10 are the German Bild (#6), the Reference News of China (#7), the Times of India (#8), the U.K. Sun at #9, and the China People’s Daily at #10. On the world any-language list USA Today comes in at #13, the Wall Street Journal at #19, and the New York Times at #48. 

      Laika, the first living creature in orbit, wearing her flight harness. Laika paid a high price for being a pioneer.

    • 1957: Sputnik 2 was launched, carrying aboard the first living creature to go into orbit, an 11-lb stray female mutt named Laika, who had been found wandering the streets of Moscow. (The scientists involved deliberately chose Moscow strays because they figured they would already be accustomed to extreme cold and hunger. Seriously.) The Soviets had previously launched several dogs into up-and-back sub-orbital flights, but Laika was the first into orbit, an achievement hurriedly timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
      Unfortunately for Laika, technology did not yet exist to recover an orbiting spacecraft, so Laika was never intended to survive the trip. Telemetry indicated that she was highly agitated during launch; it took three hours for her pulse to settle back to normal but she was later detected to be eating (a special gel she’d been trained to eat). The plan was to eventually euthanize her with a poisoned food serving, but she didn’t live that long. By her fourth orbit, somewhere around the sixth hour in space, not more life signs were detected.
      The Soviets originally stated she had been euthanized, but that was widely disbelieved and many concluded she probably died of lack of oxygen. In 2002 a Russian scientist revealed that she had probably died of overheating due to a spacecraft malfunction which allowed the temperature inside the capsule to rise over 104F (40C).
      In 1998 one of the scientists involved, Oleg Gazenko, expressed regret at Laika’s death, stating that “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.” At the time her death sparked outrage and protests by animal lovers, but of course none within the USSR, where no protests were allowed and nothing was mentioned of them.
  • Well, the U.S. mid-term elections are over, so across the land robotic calls have stopped jamming everyone’s phones and television stations are mourning the end of all that juicy ad revenue. A few interesting things happened:
    • There’s no gentle way to say this: Democrats got their butts kicked at the national, state, and local levels. It was massive and it wasn’t pretty.
      And, perhaps not coincidentally, President Obama is leaving the country tomorrow. To the regret of approximately half the country, he will be returning nine days later, having completed a tour of India, South Korea, Japan, and Indonesia. He is conspicuously skipping China despite the fact he is so loved there, as shown by this — a rare privilege indeed and something one just won’t see in the U.S.
      Despite some news reports, Obama’s travel and entourage will not cost $200 million a day, but he and his retinue will be renting the entire Taj Mahal hotel and part of another luxury hotel. It’s a tough job, but it does have its perks.
    • One of the Republican winners was Lt. Col. Allen West (U.S. Army, ret.), who won Florida’s 22nd Congressional district. Congressman-elect West has never before held office, but remember his name — he’s already being touted as one with rare star quality. See why.
    • With the Democrats having lost the House of Representatives, controversial House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will of course lose her job as Speaker. And in one of the coldest, cruelest tweets of the year, humorist Andy Levy tweeted this question.
    • Strategically timed to disappear in yesterday’s news cycle: ACORN has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, apparently done in by being caught red-handed in sting videos which led to multiple investigations, being found guilty of voter registration fraud in several states, and finally a Congressional cut-off of Federal funds.
  • Liberal genetics? Why does one person turn out as a left-wing liberal while another, even a brother or sister brought up in the same home, turns out conservative? It’s been famously said that anyone who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart, but anyone who’s still a liberal at 40 has no brain, likewise that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, while a liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested. But maybe there’s a much simpler explanation: It’s genetic. A just-published study from Harvard and the University of California on 2000 American adults found a high correlation between the presence of a certain strain of the DRD4 gene and “an inherent bias against conservative thinking.”  This correlation of bias holds independent of education or upbringing. Perhaps those genetics explain the Kennedys?
  • In another study, this time in the U.K., analysis of data in the British Household Panel Survey revealed “evidence that daughters make people more Left-wing, while having sons, by contrast, makes them more Right-wing.” The effect is statistically significant but not huge: Of families with three sons and no daughters, 67 percent voted for Labour or Liberal Democrats, while for families with three daughters and no sons that rose to 77 percent. Not landslide material, then.

    Yes, this Lamborghini is very cool and does 200+ mph. But is it as cool as a Prius with the Plus Performance Package? (Click on the image for more on the awesome Lamborghini Diablo.)

  • For those of you who crave a Ferrari, Maserati, or Lamborghini, hold your checkbooks: Toyota is coming out with the Prius Plus Performance Package. Yessirree, for only a few grand spent at your Toyota dealer you can get a seven-piece kit of plastic body parts that make the stodgy Prius no faster (the engine and drive train remain unmodified) but does claim to improve aerodynamics and look racier. Part of the full performance package are new springs that lower the ride height, a rear anti-sway bar, and wider wheels and tires to make it stick a bit better in turns and under braking. The wider tires would seem to increase rolling resistance and therefore reduce gas mileage, but Toyota claims fuel economy is unaffected. It does look cool with the full kit. As cool as that gorgeous V-12, 200-mph Lamborghini? Well, you decide.

Tuesday, November 2 — Quit reading this and go vote!

leave a comment »

In Illinois, if you wear a T-shirt with this image on it, you may not be allowed to vote. Click on the image for the full story.

  • NASA issues superhero suits: The see-through version, though, should be banned, or at least banned from use by men. Or maybe just that one guy wearing it in the photo. Way too much information, no thanks. (Sexist pig that I am, I’d be OK with women wearing those, of course. That might help improve the abysmal ratings of the NASA Channel.)
  • How to estimate the size of a crowd: Saturday’s Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert rally in Washington, D.C. naturally brought forth the question of how it compared with the Glen Beck rally on August 28, particularly which one was bigger. So how does one estimate such things?
    There’s never a shortage of guesses about things like this, including by the news media, but it turns out there is a method for doing this, based on photographs, maps, and some standard estimation factors established by the National Park Service. See this article for an explanation of how one veteran crowd estimator does it and, based on that methodology, a comparison of the two events. Note that, based on this mathematical method, the CBS News estimates for both events – apparently no more than WAGs — were way off.
  • Is Obama a Keynesian? That was the question the comedy group Second City Network posed to a number of participants at the Stewart / Colbert media event. Since many signs at the event self-proclaimed that they are the intelligent, the sane, the educated (implying, I suppose, that those at the similar Tea Party event in August were not), this should be an easy question, no? Here’s the video.
    Apparently many of the sophisticates at the Stewart / Colbert event didn’t know the difference between a Kenyan (meaning someone born in Kenya) and a Keynesian.
  • TV news director commits big boo-boo: In Alaska, Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller, supported by the local Tea Party movement, is leading in a hotly-contested three-way election. Then yesterday news director Nick McDermott of local CBS affiliate KTVA called someone in the Joe Miller campaign, left a voice mail, inadvertently failed to hang up the phone properly, and for a couple of minutes the Miller campaign staffer’s voice mail ended up recording the rather shocking discussion going on in the KTVA news room. Here’s what it revealed.
  • For you iPhone users: In the item above, news director / co-conspirator Nick McDermott was using an iPhone. This is not the first time this election season that an iPhone that did not hang up properly created a very embarrassing political moment. Your humble correspondent is ignorant of the ways of iPhones (being a happy Droid user), but what gives here? Is it so hard to hang up an iPhone properly?
  • Evil” apps for iPhone and Android phones: Well, they’re not that evil, but they’re things the phone company never wanted you to have, some of them very, very useful. See “evil” apps for iPhone (most of these will work on iPads too), “evil” apps for Android phones. And remember this about power and responsibility.
  • This studly hunk says that if women enjoyed sex like men do, "Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking, “God, I’ve got to get my ******* rocks off”, or they’d go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to s**g behind a bush."

  • Would you recognize these symptoms: They can come on fairly suddenly, may not last very long, then go away with no discernible after-effects. What do they indicate?
    • Speech problems, slurred speech, or difficulty speaking or comprehending
    • Paralysis and weakness, which may occur in a leg or arm or in the face
    • Vision problems, such as double vision or loss of vision (may be in one eye or both)
    • Balance problems, including losing your balance, difficulty walking, and losing coordination
    • Headache, which is usually severe and with no known cause

Even though the symptoms may go away completely and the person may indicate everything is OK now, these symptom likely indicate an immediately life-threatening condition. See this for what they indicate and what you should do immediately.

  • Did you know that women don’t really enjoy sex? That’s what this man said, and he’s famous. He’s also been called “the cleverest man in Britain” (not sure by whom) and he’s equally famous for his sexuality, so how could he be wrong?
  • Do NOT show this to your kids: It’s not lewd or profane but, believe me, you don’t want your kids to see it. No, you really don’t.
  • That’s all for today. And now, if you haven’t already, GO VOTE!!!

Written by dasrabblemeister

November 2, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized