Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Earthquake Lessons

Photo by km6xo.

Stumbling down my hilly street after a snowstorm today I started thinking about earthquakes. Not that I am expecting one, but all emergencies have certain things in common.

Stewart Brand created the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review - essentially creating an empire on the concept of "Access To Tools." When the Loma Prieta earthquake struck he was in the Marina district of San Francisco. He parked his car and ran off to help - leaving all of his valuable equipment in the trunk. So much for access to tools.

Afterwards, everyone rushed to congratulate and reward heroic rescuers like Brand but, he noticed, no one asked them what they had learned from the experience.

So he did ask and the results were the best article I ever read in Whole Earth Review. I am pleased but not surprised to see that it is available on the web.

If you don't have time to read the whole article, flip to the last page where the lessons are summarized. It could save your life, or help you save someone else's. As I suggested, some of them apply to any emergency. For example:

• Give people who are trapped all the information you’ve got, and enlist their help. Treat them not as helpless victims but as an exceptionally motivated part of the rescue team.
• Most action in a disaster is imitative. Most effective leadership is by example.
• Bystanders make the convenient assumption that everything is being taken care of by the people already helping. That’s seldom accurate.
• Collect tools!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Atlas of True Names




Okay, this is brilliant and I need one immediately. If the names on the map above look a little odd it is because this is from the Atlas of True Names, an etymological guide to place names. For example, the name New York means New Wild Boar Village. As several people have commented, the names in Europe sound remarkably like they come from Middle Earth.

The two Atlases (World and Europe) haven't been published in the U.S. (United States of the Home Ruler) yet. I want 'em.

Thanks to the Map Room for pointing this out and Spiegel for the illustration.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All Birds Can dance

Photo by nature_photonutt
All Birds Can dance. Even falcons get hula instruction. Juvenile kiwis love mazurkas; night owls prefer quieter rhythms. Strutting turkeys use Vienna waltzes (xenophilious, yet zippy.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Did she really say that?

Photo by J Medkeff

This is not a political blog. But please, somebody, tell me that Sarah Palin, a major party candidate for Vice President of the United States, does NOT think the First Amendment protects politicians from being criticized by reporters.

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."
-Sarah Palin, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Deportees



Originally uploaded by verbavolant
Photo by Verbavolent

Just finished a book by one of my favorite authors, Roddy Doyle. If you haven’t heard of him, you may have seen the film based on his first novel, The Commitments. His The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a masterpiece and the sequel, Paula Spencer, ain't bad either.

This new book, The Deportees, is a collection of short stories about the wave of immigration that hit Ireland in the last ten years as the Celtic Tiger suddenly found itself in a bath of unexpected wealth. Doyle wrote the stories for a newspaper run by two Nigerian immigrants, so he set himself the additional challenge of creating them in 800 word chapters.

There are funny stories, and serious ones (and even a ghost story). The title story is a sequel of sorts to The Commitments in which Jimmy Rabbitte the manager starts another band, made up of only immigrants. “No white Irish need apply,” he writes in the ad, with no irony.

“Home to Harlem” is about a young Irish man with an African-American grandfather who gets disgusted with what he sees as his countrymen’s smugness about their culture and decides to prove that the great Celtic writers were influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

And, if he couldn’t do it, he’d cheat; he’d make it up. Yeats had died clutching his copy of THE NEW NEGRO. Beckett never went to the jacks without THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLKS under his arm.
But my favorite story is “57% Irish,” about a young man with a half-baked scheme to measure how Irish a person is by measuring their physical reactions to a famous soccer goal. “He’d written his conclusions monhs ago; he was just rounding off the numbers now, picking his evidence.”

When the government hears about his work they hire him to adapt it for use in deciding which immigrants get citizenship – and they want to cook the results.
Our hero has a personal stake in immigration. His ex-girlfriend, Stalin, is Russian. “Stalin wasn’t his girlfriend’s real name, just her temperament.”

Doyle is often funny and sad at the same time. At one point this story made me laugh at loud. And then I took a look at the phrase in question: “the poor man’s suicide.” And that is not a metaphor, like “opium of the masses,” it refers to a character’s death, but it cracked me up. Amazing writer.

One note. The book is full of what an American character calls “The Irish and their famous profanity.” She is promptly given a verbal slapdown for stereotyping, but be aware that the language is rough.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not Crying Over Sour Milk


Yogourmet
Originally uploaded by pwenzel

When we got married one of our wedding presents was a yogurt maker. It came with four heavy plastic cups. You poured in the milk and starter and after about six hours you had four cups of yogurt that tasted better than anything commercially available.

Nice stuff, but fussing with those cups was too much trouble. When the machine busted we didn't bother replacing it.

But lately I have had a craving for the real stuff, homemade yogurt. Somebody, I figured, must be making a machine that makes a quart or more at once.

A year of looking didn't come up with anything that looked practical. Then, about a month ago I found a Yogourmet model on the shelf at the Bellingham Community Food Coop. The box said it makes one or two quarts in about five hours.

And guess what? It works.

They want you to buy their starter, which is pretty expensive - about ten bucks to make six quarts. But after we got a good batch (our second try) we saved a cup in the fridge and used it to start the next batch. So far, that has been working fine. We also find that since we use low fat milk we have to add milk solids.

For many years my standard breakfast has been Rainforest Granola and Stonyfield Farms nonfat French vanilla yogurt (no longer available in Bellingham, alas). The homemade yogurt is so good I put it on the granola plain, no sweetener, no flavor needed.

Yogourmet. At my house, it's what's for breakfast.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saluting General Powell


Colin Powell
Originally uploaded by deneyterrio
Photo by deneyterrio

This is not a political blog. I don't want to talk about elections, endorsements, or debates. But I have to thank Colin Powell for saying what nobody in either party seems to have had the guts to say:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, "What if he is?" Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?


Thank you, General.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Making Money

Photo by BidWiya

Money
Originally uploaded by BidWiya


I have written here before here about Terry Pratchett's fantasy/satire series called Discworld. I just finished his most recent book (and most likely one of his last - he has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's). And I have to say, it feels frighteninly prophetic.

Making Money is about Moist von Lipwig, the rogue who was rescued from the gallows to take over the post office of the largest city on the planet called Discworld (in Going Postal). Having rescued the postal system from disaster by a variety of original ideas, unethical schemes, and sheer gall, Moist is now placed in charge of the Royal Bank.

You see, there is a banking crisis on Discworld. There isn't much confidence in the system. It probably doesn't help that Moist begins his term of office by announcing that he wants to get rid of all the gold cluttering up the vaults, and rely on newfangled paper money....

Of course, even Pratchett can't make up anything as bizarre as what is going on in our world. We don't have trolls, werewolves, and guilds of assassins, but we have conservatives demanding government bailouts for industries, and executives begging for taxpaper money while they go off to spas.

Personally, I find it easier to believe in the trolls.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pedaling to a special interest




crowd with bicycles
Originally uploaded by bellyanz1
I just read a fascinating article in the New York Times. Apparently I am a special interest. Who knew?

After the bailout package failed last week Congress started sticking every molecule of pork they could find in it in the hopes of sweeting it enought to get the dozen or so votes they were missing. And they succeeded.

Turned out one of those sweeteners was the Bicycle Commuter Act which gives biking parity with car parking and transit. In other words, employers can give biking employees a reasonable monthly reimbursement and take it off their corporate takes.

Interesting part is the bill's sponsor, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, couldn't bring himself to vote for the bailout that contained it. Talk about bittersweet, huh? Blumenauer represents Portland, OR, the most bike-commuting city per capita in the US.

I don't know if this will effect my family. The university doesn't pay corporate taxes and they already subsidize my transit pass (if the weather turns stinky I can put the bike on a bus rack), and my wife's employer already pays their staff a reward for not driving to work (and thereby saving parking spaces for the customers).

But it's interesting to be part of a successful pressure group. Guess I'll sit around and look powerful

Friday, October 10, 2008

VERIFY: News That Stays News


doctor bag 0215
Originally uploaded by brtpropshop


On October 7, 1916 a librarian named Frank Place, Jr. published an article in the New York Medical Journal that is just as relevant today as it was 92 years ago.

The title was " Verify Your References: A Word to Medical Writers." Place was not the first (nor heaven knows the last) to complain about bad, incomplete, misleading, or downright fraudulent references (alias footnotes, endnotes, or citations) in scholarly papers. But few have done it so eloquently.

Place laments that: "Articles that mean nothing are ascribed to mythical authors; journals are quoted that never will be published, and dates are indicated that none of us will ever live to see."

And as one who has spent some time tracing the evolution of an error from one article's citation to the next, I heartily agree when he says that some authors: "so far forget science as to quote articles that it is plain they have never seen, but have lifted bodily from some other list. Certainly there should be some distinction between the article read and one known only by hearsay."

Place argues that verifying your footnotes "is of the spirit of the scientific method. Substantiate your statement by proof, either of your own or by the work that others have done before you. We work with the tools that others have made and placed in our hands, and we hope to make tools to place in the hands of others who follow us. If our predecessors have experimented and have left no record in material objects or written description, their works profit us nothing."

According to the Web of Science, Place's article has been cited in 11 articles since 1990. He would no doubt be depressed but not surprised to learn that one of those citations gets the volume wrong, while another (an article specifically about citation accuracy) screws up the page numbers. The more things change the more the meme chooses.

Here are a few more thoughts from my new favorite medical librarian:

"Give authorities [ references ] as they are printed, not as you would like to have them printed."

"Should not the scientist be as truthful and as accurate in recording his help as in giving his own work?"

"Verify the reference that your best friend gives you. Verify the reference that your revered chief gives you. Verify, most of all, the reference that you yourself found and jotted down. To err is human, to verify is necessary."

Place, Frank Jr. "Verify Your References: A Word To Medical Writers." New York Medical Journal. 104 : 697-699. October 7, 1916.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Street Fight


Awesome Desk
Originally uploaded by walindsey

Dear constituents;

You have made it clear that you want an explanation of my vote on the so-called bailout bill. As your representative I have always felt it was my duty to listen to your voices and then to give you the benefit of my best judgment, and that is what I did on this issue.

I know you had strong opinions on the bill. Everyone in my office knows. One of my office staff, after hours of taking your phone calls, burst into tears and quit. But that particular staffer had an adjustable rate mortgage, so he'd been under a lot of pressure lately.

As I sat at my desk (which once belonged to Reymund Puccell, who I'm sure you agree was one of the finest governors our great state ever produced) and studied the bailout proposal this is what I was thinking. Is it giving too much to Wall Street without providing any help to Main Street? I called a meeting with my economic advisors, who have degrees from some of the finest community colleges in our beloved congressional district, which I have done my best to represent honestly and honorably for so many years, as I'm sure you will remember in November. But while I waited for them to arrive I began to ask myself if we were phrasing the question broadly enough.

Wall Street and Main Street are important, of course, but what about Martin Luther King Boulevard? The African-Americans have suffered a great deal under the housing crisis and I don't think the bill does anything for them. And what about Madison Avenue? I know that in the largest city in my district Madison Avenue is a quaint and atmospheric location full of wonderful antique shops, but as a metaphor it refers to the advertusung intdustry, and more broadly to marketing. Is the bailout bill going to effect our ability to market, and therefore to sell our goods, including the many wonderful products produced in our district, some of which have been finally finding a welcome overseas, due to the dollar being so woefully undervalued?

And then there is Hyacinth Crescent. The suburbs are hurting and my beloved middle-class constituents have been calling, writing, texting and emailing to insist, quite rightly, that we mustn;'t forget about how they have suffered from the housing crunch, the education follies, the health cost fiasco, and the gas orgy. And speaking of gas, the Interstate is another street that has made it's point of view clear. The truckers and others in the transportation industry have spoken with commendable force and clarity.

I mustn't forget the rural routes too. My farmland constituents have let me know loud and clear that they expect me to act on their behalf. I know how vocal they can be; the last time I had a staffer leave in tears was during the run-up to the farm bill. But that's neither here nor there.

The message from all sides has been clear and remarkably consistent. Do something immediately. Don't vote for the bailout. But save the markets. But not with this plan. This plan is unacceptable. Voting against it would be disastrous. And act now!

Personally I was hoping the gutless leeches on the other side of the aisle would show some bipartisan spirit, but my faith was misplaced.

And that, in short, is why when the vote came up in the house I decided to crawl under the Governor Reymund Puccell desk (built out of native maple a century ago by some of our state's finest craftsmen) and stay there. Not hiding, as some of my opponents have claimed, but adopting a pose of watchful waiting. And so I missed the vote.

It is now up to the wisdom of you, the voter, to judge my actions. Next month you will decide whether you want me to continue doing my best to represent your interests here in our nation's great capital, or call me home, where I will no doubt spend my time in your coffeeshops, boring you over and over with stories about my glorious career, and whining about the disloyalty of those I served so well.

The choice is yours. All I can say is, as the time to go the polls approaches and you think about your choices, if you find yourself wishing you could hide under your own desk, perhaps you will not judge me me too harshly.


I remain, for the moment,

Your congressman.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Other Other George Bush


bush4
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
Take a look at the document on the right. The man's name is an attention-getter, but it's really a distraction.

The important question is why did it require a private act of Congress to permit George W. (for Washington, not Walker) Bush to own the land he had been farming for ten years? Everyone agreed that he was one of the most important pioneers in the northwest, so why couldn't he claim and own a piece of land like every other settler did?

The answer: because he was a Mulatto, and African-Americans were not permitted to own land in Washington Territory.

This gentleman was arguably more interesting than the various other George Bushes that have come along since. A successful merchant, Bush subsidized other members of the wagon train that he and his family used to cross the Oregon Trail. Some of the settlers chose to defy the Hudson Bay Company and become the first Americans to settle north of the Columbia River, because Bush could not live in Oregon (to keep slavery out, they had banned all Blacks). When the first winter hit Bush was one of the very few farmers with crops in the ground and he shared them with his neighbors when he could have made a profit instead.

I remember reading a discussion of Bush's birth year and one historian said, approximately, that of the several possible he was choosing the least likely because, in the case of this man, the least likely usually turned out to be correct.

Why hasn't Hollywood made a movie about this guy?

You can see the full text of the committee report (2 pages) here and here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ramat Rachel 12 - Soldiers in sequins


Ramat Rachel glass
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana


This is my last entry about volunteering at an archaeological dig in Israel. If you have just arrived, please start at the first entry.

By the way, the photo shows the only piece of glass I found. See the rim? Probably from a glass or bottle from the early Muslim era. Not much, but I liked it.

A few final questions…

What has changed since you were last in Israel in 1997?

The Old City in Jerusalem is a lot scarier than it used to be. I talked to some people who visit the country more often than us and they agreed. More crime, more crowds, more bad manners, and a lot more security.

I also noticed a lot more influence of people from the former Soviet Union than last time I was here. Russian language TV, some store names in Cyrilic.

In 1997 I was astonished by the number of soldiers wandering around with what I took to be semi-automatic machine guns. This time I also saw a few people in civilian clothes carrying them, and a few more with holstered pistols. (One of my fellow volunteers, an American nurse, was thrilled to pieces that the tractor driver who attacked traffic on the day Obama arrived was shot dead by a civilian. She’s a big fan of Bernie Goetz, if you remember him.)

I also saw a lot of soldiers in what you might call partial uniform. One was dressed in fatigues and carrying a white sequined purse (yes, it was a woman). I could imagine a US marine drill sergeant seeing her and having a coronary on the spot.

Can you define the archaeological experience in one word?

Dirty. Let’s not neglect the obvious: you are digging, scraping, loading, transporting, and generally messing around with dirt. We had to shower, shampoo, repeat, and use conditioner, after every days work. I wore brand new sneakers and one shoe lace broke from the sheer strain of being pulled tight with so much sand in it..

Whenever we heard that a photographer was coming to immortalize our site we stopped digging and spent up to half an hour sweeping away at the walls and surfaces with a brush. This is not silly: people will be studying the photos for years so you want the details to show as clearly as possible.

On the other hand, (surprise!) the photos with people in them were staged. The most attractive young people were sent down again and again to have their picture taken. That was silly. Not that I volunteered to pose, by the way. I loved it when Oded tolk Konni to “look like you’re brushing, but don’t brush.”

By the way, our friend Evelyn urged us to buy some of the new nylon hiking clothes and she was right on the money. They were loose, cool, and wore like iron. Terri and I each wore the same pants for ten days of crawling over, under and through dirt, stones and dust. Thedy didn’t develop a tear or even a stain. Wash them out in the sink, hang ‘em up in the tub and in the morning they are ready to play again.

Kneepads came in very handy too, although I didn't spend a lot of time on my knees, per se. They were great for leaning against rocks and for crawling out of pits.

What is the solution to the question of Israel/Palestine/East Jerusalem/Golan Heights/Subprime Mortgages?

No clue.

Would you do it again?

Terri and I reached the same conclusion independently. We are glad we did it, but we don’t plan to do it again. We can only afford the time and money for a trip like this every few years, and there are other places we want to see, When we retire we may have a rethink.

The experience was great. The people were interesting. The work was very hard but fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone with the archaeology jones.

And most important, did the Ramat Rachel diet work?

You mean eat all you want and do manual labor in the hot sun all day? I lost six pounds. Actually, I think the food/labor balanced out. The difference was that the only dessert the hotel had that I liked was watermelon.

Ramat Rachel 11 - Sweep it under the floor


Ramat Rachel floor 2
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
This is a closer picture of that bundle of floor layers. Do you see what is under them?

That's right. Someone found a layer of broken pottery and, rather than clean it away, someone probably just piled dirt to level it out and then built their floor above it. And the next layer went over that, and so on.

So the diggers had to carefully remove a layer at a time, knowing that eventually they would get to a huge amount of broken pots.

By the way, why do you have to go down a layer at a time? Because you can't find out when a floor was made by what's on top of it, only by what's in it or under it. If the floor stands on top of a coin from 40 BCE, then the floor could not have been built in 41 BCE.

One of the bosses explained the fallacy of looking at what's above instead of what's below. "See that stone floor? What's on top of it? A picnic table! So the floor must be from the plastic era."

Ramat Rachel 10 - On the level


Ramat Rachel floor 1
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
On one of our tours of the site Yuval told us that every archaeology student gets told about stratification. They are showed a diagram that shows the levels of a dig. Here is a Greek level, and above it a level from the Roman era, and on top of that is the Byzantine.

Now, look around, Yuval said. Under this one tarp you can see an Iron Age wall, a Byzantine wall, and a military trench from the 1948 War of Independence. They are all at the same level.

Good luck, archaeology students!

But at the other extreme, look at this photograph. As Terri says, it doesn't seem real, but like a drawing for that archaeology class. See the neat layers fo floor on top of floor? That is how it was found at Ramat Rachel. Now go to the next blog entry for a closeup.

Ramat Rachel 9 - A beautiful collapse


Ramat Rachel Column
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana

“This is a beautiful collapse of a Byzantine church,” said Omer happily. We were getting the end of the week tour of the entire dig, so everyone got to see what the other groups had been doing. The reason Omer called it beautiful was that the big stones that made up the wall had fallen over so perfectly that anyone could have picked them up and put them back in place: in short, the fall was a diagram of the original wall.

Every day Oded and the other leaders selected a find of the day. Let me tell you about some of them. They were exploring a columbarium – a manmade cave whose walls were full of triangular niches for pigeons to lie in. Oded says pigeons were iron age chickens: used for eating, fertilizer, and as the smallest acceptable sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple. So, he said, if you were coming to the big city for the festival and realized you left your goat at home – don’t you hate it when that happens? – you could buy a pigeon to sacrifice instead.

One day in a bottom niche they found a small clay pot,, maybe the size of a softball. They gently removed the lid and found a cache of silver coins. That got us an article in Ha’aretz, one of the major Israeli newspapers. The dig has been getting good publicity – Oded’s phone keeps ringing, - and that has it’s good and bad sides. It brings in sponsors and other resources. It also encourages looters who think they can find “buried treasure.” (Ha’aretz probably didn’t help by calling the silver coins gold.

ANother cool find was a column base, or really about a quarter of the base (see photo.) Many column capitals (columns) have been found in Judah, but this is the first column base. It is about the size of a sofa ottoman and you can see the carving of a flower on the side. Someone had apparently dumped it into a hole on D1 a long time ago and it broke into several pieces. You can see several hands holding it together for the picture.

But I think the coolest thing we found was a red ball about the size of a grape, made of a half-expensive stone (okay, Oded meant “semi-precious,” but don’t you like it better his way?)

There is a hole drilled through the ball so you can hang it on a necklace. And on one surface there is a picture carved: it is a wordless seal. You put a little wax on a document, press the image onto it and you have a bulla, or seal impression, guaranteeing the official and confidential nature of a document.

Archaeologists love bulae, but seals are even better, because they are rarer and the bulla is an imperfect copy of the original.

Oded made a clay bulla and sent digital photos of seal and copy to two experts by email (incredible how much faster this stuff can happen than, say a decade ago). The experts independently offered the same tentative conclusion: the seal appeared to be from the second Parthian Empire.

Why is that cool? The Second Parthian Empire only ruled Judea for about a dozen years. That narrows down that particular level somewhat dramatically. (Okay, the seal could have been found during the empire and lost in a level 100s of years later, but you deal probabilities.)

Other finds of the day included a wall where no one expected it. But once they noticed it they found traces of the wall in several parallel holes. Yuval said: “This wall is our friend now. It follows wherever we go.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ramat Rachel 8 - The mysterious toothbrush


Ramat Rachel hotel 1
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
This is the view from our hotel room.

One reason we chose Ramat Rachel for our digging experience was the quarters. Many digs want the volunteers to stay in hostels or four in a room. Here the dig is next to a four star hotel, owned by the kibbutz, and we got a discount.

Well, it isn't what we would call a four star hotel. Terri called it a four star hostel. Maybe two stars in the states, maybe a bit more. But it does have the best outdoor pool in the region, a spa, and Terri was impressed by the gym, although she had to pay about eight bucks to use it.

A gym story. Terri was lifting weights and found the equipment set up for people with longer arms, which made it difficult to put the bars back safely. The attendent noticed and kindly offered to spot for her. She asked where Terri was from and explained: "Women in Israel don't lift weights. They are afraid they will get big muscles."

"Not unless they take steroids," said Terri.

The food is buffet style a thte hotel and is included in our fee. There is a lot of it and some of it is good but it is repetitive - I cheer on the rare occasions when their excellent couscous appears. The meals are fleische (meat as opposed to dairy) which brings up my big complaint.: dessert. Since they can't have milk with the meals why are desserts imitation cheesecake, imitation cream pie, imitation ice cream, dairyless pudding, etc? Why not fruit pie, cookies, nut bars, jello, or other things that need no milk? (To be fair, fruit pies showed up occasionally, but the imitation milk was a constant.)

One thing I need to say about the hotel: we forgot to ask for a smokefree room until a few days before we arrived. They managed to round one up and that was much appreciated.

On the other hand, whenever the maid cleaned our room we smelled smoke. One day we came in and the TV was on and one of the waterglasses in the bathroom contained an unfamiliar toothbrush. Now, THAT was creepy.

Inevitably some of the staff speak better English than others (They all speak it better than I speak Hebrew.) One day I called and asked that something be brought up to our room, 668. The woman at the desk assured me that they had no room 668.

Oh no? Then where did they put that toothbrush?

Ramat Rachel 7 - The pit is not the pits


Ramat Rachel Pit 4
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
On Friday three strong young me,(not including me) smashed the hell out of the stone with a sledge hammer and a sort of manual jackhammer ("The perfect thing for a hangover," said one of the students. There had been free beer at the end-of-week party the night before.)

That reduced the rock to about the size of a microwave oven and four strong men, (again not including me) tied ropes to it and pulled it out.

Then I got to spend a happy two hours digging down in the pit. See the photo by John Vanee. Found my first pottery handle. Bosses occasionally came by and said, in amazement "Are you still finding pottery down there?" I would toss up my latest find and keep going.

Ephrat pointed out a weird arch on one side that appeared to be different from the rest of the put. And on the next workday Felix and Tibor broke through it and found a smaller hole (room?) made of softer earth. Perhaps more will be revealed.

Ramat Rachel 6 - Sinking deeper


Ramat Rachel pit 3
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
This is the pit about as deep as we could get it without getting the stone out.

Ramat Rachel 5 - Against the clock


Ramat Rachel Pit 1
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
The day after the terrivle Monday we all got reassigned. John and I, a couple of older fellas, were taken to a small section of D1, perhaps eight foot square, surrounded by stone walls. Lisa said: "This is a pit. Do you see it?"

Well, no. I saw dirt. Lisa drew a circle and told us to dig down and see what we found.

And sure enough, we found a pit dug into the rock. By the time Oded arrived at 9 AM to take some pictures the pit was about a meter wide and a foot deep. There was a big stone that someone had apparently dumped into the hole a long time ago (probably when they decided to fill it up and put a floor on top.) The stone got bigger as the hole went deeper.

Bosses came by and speculated about what the hole might be. A well? A cistern? A bell-shaped cave? "Maybe it's the Assyrian archives," Oded joked. "When you find cuneiform tablets leave them in place so we can photograph them in situ." Archives are to the modern archaeologist what gold and mummies were to the 19th century digger. Imagine finding the correspondence of the rulers of Ramat Rachel! Such treasures have been found on occasion.

Getting back to the photography. I stayed down near the pit to place the half meter stick Oded always carried to show the exact length of objects in pictures. At one point he told me to turn it "against the clock." Oh, counter-clockwise.

By the end of the day the pit was two feet deep and showing no sign of bottoming out. The big stone was making it harder to dig dirt out, but we kept finding pottery and bones -- not a skeleton, somebody's iron age lunch litter.

Because the day before had been awful I made a point of telling Lisa that this had been a fun day. She told me I was a good worker (true, I think) and had a good eye for spotting archaeological stuff (not true, I think). and asked my opinion of some of the work. So things were looking up.

Two hours later I was struck by a stomach virus that was making rounds of the group and spent the rest of the day in bed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ramat Rachel 4 - I must be a volunteer, because you couldn't pay me to do this


Ramat Rachel Aharoni
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
This dog hung around the site so we named him Aharoni. Presumably the spirit of the original excavator was keeping an eye on us.

A bit of archaeology jargon: the diggers don’t refer to a year, but to a season. The 2008 season at Ramat Rachel is four weeks long: twenty working days. We are never allowed to forget that every day a precious 5% of the season is disappearing and we have to make the most of it.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to work out that way.

I worked on Site D1, one of about eight active spots. Lisa, a smart, funny German woman was in charge, assisted by Ephrat, a quieter, younger Israeli, who was raised on Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, five minutes from here). About a dozen volunteers worked on D1 in a big rectangle surrounded by sandbags. Some parts were already several three or four meters deep and have revealed stone walls, an olive (or wine) press, and so on.

On the first Friday Lisa decided to open a new section. That meant using pickaxes to chop open the surface, filling sandbags to mark the edge, and hauling away the rest of the dirt by the bucket and wheelbarrow load until you see something the bosses think is interesting.

The problem is that this area was hardpan, dirt tough as cement. After an hour or so of our slaving away at this Lisa reassigned us. A bulldozer would come on Monday, she assured us, and do the awful work of cutting through the rocklike top layers.

Fair enough. But on Monday no bulldozer appeared. Oded, the Boss Boss Boss, explained cheerfully that all the Arab bulldozer drivers were being examined “to see if they were crazy.” Last week, for the second time this year, an Arab from East Jerusalem had driven his bulldozer into traffic and tried to kill people with it. (This happened the day that Obama arrived in Jerusalem.)

So, since there was no bulldozer, Lisa and Oded decided that Feliz, John, Rachel, Konni and I could be a bulldozer. We worked from 5:30 till 1 that day using pickaxes on soil we had been told a machine could remove much better. (On Friday one of the bosses had joked that they might not bother with a ‘dozer because “fuel is expensive and food is cheap.” It wasn’t so amusing now.)

At the end of the day moral was low, blisters were high, and my lower back hurt (repeat after me, everyone: lift buckets of dirt with your knees, not your back). Lisa called us together and said it would probably be two or three days before the machine was available and did we want to keep going the next day or be reassigned?

Everyone voted for the latter. When it was my turn to speak I said “I want to be productive. If you say a bulldozer can do this better than me then give me something else to do and let the machine do it.”

“Wisely spoken,” said one of the German students.

But we still need to talk about the pottery from that awful Monday. Archaeoloists love pottery because they can use it to determine the date of a site (9th century pottery doesn’t look like 8th century, to an expert), and maybe where it was made. For obvious reasons, pottery found near the surface doesn’t tend to be very useful. It could have been picked up anywhere and trod underfoot anytime in the last few hundred years.

However, we stalwart diggers did find a few nice sherds during that grueling, backbreaking Monday, including a couple of pieces of rim and handle, which are especially useful. When we were cleaning up I gave the specimen bucket to Ephrat who showed it to Lisa. Lisa looked at the top two or three pieces, and shook her head. Ephrat then dumped our day’s finds into the rubbish bin.

To paraphrase the Terry Pratchett novel I am reading, that took the cake, the candle and the biscuit with sprinkles on top. Monday was a very bad day. Oded later admitted that using us as a bulldozer was “our mistake.”

The next day things looked up, as I started sinking into a pit.

Ramat Rachel: 3 - Get with the schedule


Ramat Rachel: Rob
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
That photo (by fellow volunteer John Vanee) may appear to be Indiana Jones contemplating his latest great discovery, but it is actually me on popsicle break. I think I was trying to decide between cherry and grape. Here is a summary of a day on the dig...

The alarm goes off at 4:15 and you think it's a mistake or a crime against humanity, but you struggle out of bed and try to make yourself
presentable. Then you check that your backpack contains: kneepads, hat, workgloves, sunglasses, camera, water bottle, sunscreen, and cell phone. All set? Good.

At 4:45 you head down to the hotel lobby. In the coffee bar they have set up cereal, tea, milk and something resembling pound cake. Not a very inspiring breakfast, so you are lucky you cribbed some pears from last night's dinner.

The volunteers (100 of them) and staff (perhaps 20?) slowly trickle in and suck up caffeine. At 5:15 you take the five minute walk past the beautiful hotel swimming pool to the archaeological park. By 5:30 your group is collecting tools - pickaxes, hoes, brushes,and wheelbarrows - from the locked containers and starting to work.

It is barely light enough to see but it will be in a few minutes. The
section boss tells you what you will be doing that day. The next three
and a half hours are the most productive part of the day, because it is
delightfully cool and everyone is fresh.

At 9 AM somebody shouts "Breakfast!" We drop everything
and walk (across foot-narrow stone walls in some places) to the potwashing area, which is covered by a huge tarp. Here everyone sits down for the best meal of the day.

In most Israeli restaurants and certainly any big hotel the food is kosher so every meal is either dairy or meat (or parve, neutral,,, but that's unlikely.) Fish is bi, and shellfish , like pork, is taboo.

Breakfast is milche - dairy. This morning I had scrambled eggs, a cheese pastry, sliced peppers, a crisp roll to which I added tuna fish and cheese,watermelon, a yogurt, and tea. Not bad.

After breakfast you go back to work until eleven-thirty when we have fruit break, at our worksites. Today it was plums and popcicles. Then you work until 1 PM when you carry the buckets of pottery sherds back to the big site Then, for a change, you get to wash a bucket of yesterday's pottery which has been soaking in water overnight. By 2 PM you get to go back to the hotel and - the schedule insists - SHOWER before lunch. Trust me, you need the shower.

After lunch your time is your own until 5 or 6 PM when there is a lecture or other event, depending upon the day. (Imagine meeting archaeologists you have been reading about for twenty years and struggling to stay awake during a fascinating lecture, because it has been a LONG day.) Dinner at 7, and then if you are
smart (or at least middleaged) you tumble into bed and wait for the alarm to start the whole cycle over.

Ramat Rachel 2 - Everything you know is wrong


Ramat Rachel
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
As I said, Yohanan Aharoni was the first archaeologist to dig here, back in the fifties. He thought he had found an Iron Age palace belonging to Hezekiah, king of Judah around 700 bc. Problem with that logic is who builds a palace three miles from their main palace?

Oded Lipschits is running the dig now and he has a different theory. Let me exlain the layout and see if you come to the same conclusion.

What we have here is a palace (or palatial buliding, anyway), a citadel (small fort) in front of itm and in front of that something unique in Judah: imported brown topsoil with water fountains and paths: a planned garden.

So, around 700 bce, the time Judah became a vassal state of Assyria, this impressive building went up three miles from, Jerusalem the capital. It looked down on the capital, and on major trade routes. It cotinued to be occupied as Judah was taken over by the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks. Then the Hasmonean era began and Judah was free (think of the
Maccabees and Chanukah) and the Ramat Rachel palace was destroyed by fire.

Do you see it? Oded thinks (if I understood him ocrrectly) that this wasn't a Judahite palace. It was the adminsitrative office of the occupying power, close enough to the capital to keep an eye
on it, but not in-their-faces where it would draw trouble. And as soon as they Jews liberated their country they destroyed the
occupier's palace.

Anyway, that's Oded's theory at the moment. The interesting thing about archaeology is that tomorrow's dig may change it all.

For example, on the first day they gave us a tour of the site, telling us what they thought was going on each each area (there are about eight active sites this year's season). On Thursday night we repeated the tour for a review of the week, and at one
site everything they thought they knew had been overturned in four days work.

As I understand it they were expecting to find an extension of that garden. Instead they found a trench, maybe three meters deep, five meters wide and well, after establishing that it went at least fifty meters long they stopped for a think. The photo above shows Oded at the end of the trench.

Almost certainly it is the foundation trench for an outer walll, but no
one expected to find a wall there at all. Hmm...

Ramat Rachel 1 - Digging Israel


Ramat Rachel Site D1
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana

My wife Terri and I just spent two weeks volunteering at an archaeological dig at Ramat Rachel Israel. I am going to put up several blog entries describing the experience, so be warned.

Ramat Rachel is about halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, less than three miles from each. It is so close to the political (but not geographical) West Bank that during the 1950s several archaeologists were killed by Jordanian border guards.

The name is modern, coming from the kibbutz. During the 1940s the kibbutz decided to build a water tower on the hill. That's when they discovered the ruins. Yohanon Aharoni was the first excavator and he discovered ruins from the Iron Age (circa 700 BCE) to the Early Muslim era (say 1000 CE).

The current dig is co-sponsored by the University of Tel Aviv and the University of Heidelberg. Oded Lipschits is the archaeologist in charge, alias the Boss Boss Boss.

The photo above shows an early morning at D1, the section of the site where I was working (click on it for more detail). Oded is the gentleman in the middle with the camera. If you are interested, read along and you will learn a lot more about the experience.

By the way, Keren, a volunteer with much more energy than me actually live blogged throughout the four weeks of the dig. Read it (with plenty of pix) here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Zombies of the Comics Page



I subscribe to two papers. I recently discovered I could save time without cutting back on my Mirth Quota by skipping all the zombie comics. I define those as any comic strip that is neither written nor drawn by an original creator. Here are the ones in my two papers:

BC
Beetle Bailey
Blondie
Dennis the Menace
Frank and Earnest
Hagar the Horrible
Herman
Peanuts (okay, orignal writer/artist, but they are reruns)
Prince Valiant
Sally Forth
Shoe
Wizard of Id

If I'm wrong about any of these, I'm sure someone will tell me. Quite a lot, huh? No wonder the new cartoonists are all on the web.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jesse's Rule


Reverend Jesse Jackson
Originally uploaded by gloperflicker
I am hereby putting all public figures on notice. I am drafting, codifying, and invoking as of today, a new law for the behavior of all politicians, preachers, business executives, entertainers, authors, and others in the public eye. It is called Jesse’s Rule in honor of the Reverend Jackson, the last person who will receive the benefit of the doubt, since he committed his offense before the law went into effect. Here it is:

Section 1. Just as all guns are to be considered loaded, all microphones are to be considered live.

Section 2. All public figures are assumed to be aware of Section 1.

Section 3. Therefore, any public figure who says something stupid, insulting, and/or vulgar in front of a live microphone will be assumed to have done it deliberately, and with malice aforethought.

Section 4. Any public figure who wishes to claim immunity from Section 3 will be required to go before live cameras and microphones and announce: “I forgot that all mics are to be considered live. I have the same IQ as gravel.”

Section 5. In addition, any liberal public figure who does the live mic routine on Fox News and wishes to claim it was an honest mistake, will not be allowed to speak in public again until he has written out 5,000 times in longhand, “I am dumber than a chainsaw pedicure.”

Thank you for your attention. I’m sure you will agree the Republic is a safer place now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Utah Phillips: Lost to all but memory


Utah Phillips
Originally uploaded by Patrick T Power
 The first folk music event my future-wife and I went to occurred one summer during the early 1970s. It was the Middletown Folk Festival in southern New Jersey.

It was probably the only time I have ever been to a festival and knew not one of the performers. We were greenhorns then and I think the only folkie names I would have recognized were Dylan, Baez, Seeger, Paxton, and Guthrie (Arlo, not Woody).

Parts of the show were great and some were not so much, but the highlight came when the MC came out and said: "We had this performer here a few years ago. We think we've recovered enough to have him back. Here he is, a rumor in his own time, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, U. Utah Phillips!"
And out came an old guy with white pony tail and beard under a cowboy hat, arms stuffed with muscles and tattoos.

Ha, The old man was younger then than I am now. But if I have lived longer than he had at that point, let's admit that he had lived wider and deeper.
I don't remember every song he did. I know he sang his tribute to a cattle drive cook, "The Goodnight Loving Trail," and accompanied it with one of his bizarre tall tales about Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, the true-life pioneers who created that trail.

By the time his set was over I was a committed, lifetime folkie.

In those days it seemed that he sang mostly about trains and hobos and the West. His Wobbly songs and more overtly political material came later. As he aged he would put more talking and less playing into each show. I think this was partly because his hands hurt and partly because he had so much he wanted to say.

What a songwriter. What a storyteller.

The last time I saw him he filled the brand new Seattle Opera House at Northwest Folklife. I remember him strolling onto the stage and looking around the magnificent hall. "We used to have a place like this where I live," he said, "in Nevada City, California. We tore it down and put up an old Indian graveyard."

That same night he talked about all the good news he heard as he travelled around the country - and how none of it made the mainstream media. "We could be winning and not even know it!"

On the first album I bought of his, "Good Though!" he had a song called "Old Buddy Goodnight," about finding a hobo who froze to death in a freight car. The last verse ends:

"Give him a line in your paper
and here's what I want you to say.
There's still some things worse than dying alone.
One of them's living that way."

Bruce Phillips died on Friday, with his wife by his side.

Utah Phillips lived surrounded by friends, fans, folkies, and fellow workers.

His songs will live a long time, if this crazy world manages to keep going. And if it does, he's one of the people we have to thank for it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Inventive proposal


ring
Originally uploaded by watanabekanako
Maybe it's just because I was part of a wedding this weekend but I liked this one. A patent attorney proposed via a patent application. Tip of the iguana tail to Phosita.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Park and ride


Bicycle Parking
Originally uploaded by vormplus
I usually bicycle to work but last week I had a medical appointment and had to drive my car. While I cruised around the campus, sharklike, searching for a space for the jalopy, I remembered something that happened about ten years before.

We received a note from my daughter's school inviting us to some parent-teacher event. It was inoffensive until the very end. Then there came a sentence that had me muttering to myself for days. It read: PARKING IS LIMITED, SO...

We'll pause here. How do you think they finished that line?

PARKING IS LIMITED, SO PLEASE CARPOOL.
PARKING IS LIMITED, SO CONSIDER TAKING ONE OF THE FOLLOWING BUS ROUTES.
PARKING IS LIMITED, SO WHY NOT BIKE IT?
PARKING IS LIMITED, SO, PLEASE CONSIDER SAVING THE SPACES FOR THOSE WHO NEED THEM MOST.

No. Here's what my kid's school chose to advise:

PARKING IS LIMITED, SO PLEASE COME EARLY.

Think that one over, okay? Please come early.

I sent them a letter asking them what, exactly, they thought they were teaching my daughter with that letter. Because what I saw them teaching was this:

This world has limited resources. Please don't think about sharing. Don't be considerate. And for heaven's sake, don't try to think outside the box and look for alternative solutions. Just jump in and get your share before someone else takes it.
Maybe that's even good advice, but it isn't what I want the school teaching my kid. I never got a reply to my letter, which I suppose was immediately dropped in the Crank File.

And speaking of cranks, and gears, and handlebars, this Friday is Bike to Work and School Day in Bellingham. Get the ol' Mountain Bike or Racer or Hybrid out and dust it off. On your commute you may pass one of the Celebration Stations where volunteers will provide you with cookies, coffee, juice, candy, coupons, stickers, and tons of moral support. Hope for good weather.

Monday, April 21, 2008

File under government, sexism, comics, history...


PS Magazine
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
The wonderful folks at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries have digitized PS, the US Army's preventive maintenance magazine. From the 1950s through the 1990s they used comics to teach mechanics how to take care of army equipment. For the first twenty years the art director was none other than the legendary cartoonist, Will Eisner, creator of the Spirit, and inspiration for almost everyone in the business. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of top notch cartoonists put in some time at PS.

The lady on the cover, by the way, is named Connie, and contrary to what you might expect, the beautiful blond is the smart character in the comic, keeping the soldiers from screwing up.

Monday, April 14, 2008

An amazing book, 3

Third and last unofficial screen capture from the magnificent new Census Atlas of the United States. This is my salute to the rugged individualist. The Census form asks people to identify their ancestry and most people meekly admit to being Swedish, or Native-American, or Italian-English-Irish, etc.

But there will always be somebody who sets his/her jaw, folds his/her arms and says "I'm an American!" This table shows the percentage of people in each county who identified their ancestry as "United States, a state name, Southerner, American or Northern American." The darker the color, the higher the percentage. The darkest represents about 7% of the respondents.

An amazing book, 2

Another unofficial screen capture from the Census Atlas of the United States. The red arrow shows migration to California between 1955 and 1960. The blue arrows show the reverse trend between 1995 and 2000.

Everyone who lives in Washington knows that a lot of Calfornians moved up here in the late 1990s (60,000+). But how many know that 40,000 Washingtonians headed to the Golden State in the late fifties? I sure didn't.

An amazing book

Our library just received its federal depository copy of the Census Atlas of the United States. It is just a wonderful piece of work. You can see it on the web but I respectfully suggest you find a library that has the hardcover. That way you can stick your nose down into the details.

I'll put up a few unofficlal screen captures for your enlightenment. See this one? It shows the (census) year of maximum population for each county in the United States. The brightest yellow means the highest number is 2000 - the county is bigger now than it has ever been. That's true of my home, for example.

But the darkest colors are reserved for counties that reached their pop peak BEFORE 1860. Wow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Encyclopedia of Earth


EARTH
Originally uploaded by miqul

This is pretty cool. The Encyclopedia of Earth wants to be the largest reliable source on environmental issues. It is free, online, and sort of a controlled Wiki. Approved authors can change each others' work but there are assigned editors, and nothing is done anonymously.

They borrow (with permission) articles from government agencies and other reliable sources. So, for example, the article on Rachel Carson comes from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (her former employer) but there is a separate article on her environmental ethics written for the Encyclopedia by a philosophy professor in Colorado. (There is a brief bio of each author, so you can judge their reliability.) This is followed by a dozen other articles that mention Carson.

Very nice work. We could use a hundred more in different fields.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Historians Heart Librarians


Heart shaped book
Originally uploaded by Trash Queen
My favorite history blogger is Ed Darrell of Millard Fillmore's Bathtub.
Recently he wrote a little piece in praise of librarians and gave a long list of librarian blogs with interesting names. A subset lies below. (I repeat his warning that they haven't been checked to see if they are safe for work viewing.)
(Not So) Bad Girl Librarian
Library Snark
Love the Liberry
Miss Information
Naked in the Public Library
Tiny Little Librarian
Vampire Librarian

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

About a theft


Vandalized book
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
Here's the nutshell. Someone stole a lot of maps and similar pages from the library where I work. A lot of people at the university helped catch the alleged thief. You can see the whole story at my other blog, Criminal Brief.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Labor history online


On strike
Originally uploaded by louder
Something cool from the US Department of Labor: the Wirtz Labor Digital Library. A few titles that popped up on a casual browse:

If Your Baby Must Travel In Wartime - a guide for mothers traveling (mostly by train) during World War II. Illustrations by the brilliant Gluyas Williams make it more interesting.

A History of Organized Felony and Folly: The Record of Union Labor in Crime and Economics. A 1923 guide by the Wall Street Journal of all the crimes of organized labor. Interestingly enough the only source in the digital library that mentions Clarence Darrow.

Boy Power - The newspaper of the U.S. Boys Working Reserve, which I had never heard of, but was apparently a government program during WWI to steer youngsters into useful occupations.

The Potter and Lead Poisoning - A nineteenth century Biritsh government document about an industrial hazard.

There are 18 documents about black lung. None about Wobblies., but "IWW" brings up three editions of Important events in US Labor History.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Before New York, New York

Next year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's visit to the island of Mannahatta, now known as Manhattan. Eric Sanderson, a landscape ecologist, has created a map of the island as it would have looked back then. You can read about it and see pictures in the New Yorker
Thanks to My Green Element for pointing it out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Better Than Free


Free Dirt
Originally uploaded by Sanandreas

I just read a cool article by Kevin Kelly called "Better Than Free." He argues that the Internet is about making free copies of everything (books, pictures, music, movies, etc.). So how do we get people to pay for something that's free? By adding value, of course, and he discusses eight "generatives," things that can't be copied but have to be created. They include immediacy (I want it now), personalization (I want only the part that interests me), accessibility (I want someone else to take care of it and make it available when I need it), Interpretation (I'll pay someone to help me use the free service), etc.

He talks about "findability," thinking of aggregators like Amazon and Netflix that help people find "the good stuff." He points out that one of the original "aggregators," TV Guide, used to make more than the TV networks, simply by helping people find the best of stuff that was available for free. He also argues that publishers, film studios and music labels are aggregators.

A short, interesting read.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So, What Will The Revolution Be?


Smoke Bomb Igniting
Originally uploaded by e20ci
In the last blog entry we established that the revolution will not be televised. But what, according to the web, WILL the revolution be? Glad you asked.

The revolution will be posted.
The revolution will be folksonomied.
The revolution will be photographed.
The revolution will be digitized
The revolution will be motorized.
The revolution will be accessorized.
The revolution will be mapped.
The revolution will be You-tubed.
The revolution will be wireless.
The revolution will be modernized.
The revolution will be visualized.
The revolution will be wikified.
The revolution will be socialized.
The revolution will be solarized.
The revolution will be dugg.
The revolution will be fictionalized.
The revolution will be advertised.
The revolution will be animated.
The revolution will be illuminated.
The revolution will be e-mailed.
The revolution will be cataloged.

So now you know.

I should add, I saw Gil Scott-Heron perform once, probably around 1990, right here in Bellingham. He was stunning. And boy, if he wasn't a great musician he could have just done stand up comedy.

I understand he's had trouble with drugs in the last decade. (He might say he's had trouble with police, but either way the result is bad news).

Monday, February 18, 2008

What The Revolution Will Not Be


Smashed TV
Originally uploaded by Grant Neufeld
Do you remember a wonderful song from the 1970s called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised?” Gil Scott-Heron is a jazz musician and is sometimes called the father of Rap because of that amazing rant. You can read the lyrics here or hear it at Rhapsody.

Yesterday I saw a new book entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements

A great title. It reminded me that the comic strip Wondermark (which combines 19th century graphic art with 21st century humor) offers a T-shirt for sale that proclaims “The Revolution Will Not Be Telegraphed!”

That got me thinking. So I went to what New Scientist magazine refers to as a Famous Web-based Search Engine and got a comprehensive list of what the revolution will not be. These are my favorites, loosely categorized. (Yes, I know. The revolution will not be loosely categorized.)

The revolution will not be downloaded
The revolution will not be uploaded
The revolution will not be blogged
The revolution will not be webcast
The revolution will not be podcast
The revolution will not be digitized
The revolution will not be engineered
The revolution will not be shrink-wrapped
The revolution will not be recycled
The revolution will not be merchandised
The revolution will not be effectively distributed
The revolution will not be designed
The revolution will not be advertised
The revolution will not be outsourced
The revolution will not be funded
The revolution will not be sexualized
The revolution will not be feminized
The revolution will not be fertilized
The revolution will not be fraternized
The revolution will not be plagiarized
The revolution will not be curated
The revolution will not be copyrighted
The revolution will not be metered
The revolution will not be mapped
The revolution will not be satirized
The revolution will not be motorized
The revolution will not be motorcycled
The revolution will not be piloted
The revolution will not be lego-sized
The revolution will not be verified
The revolution will not be shushed

We will let Mr. Scott-Heron have the final word:

The revolution will be no re-run, brothers.
The revolution will be live.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Scandalmonger


US Constitution Article 1
Originally uploaded by Kelly Nigro
I just finished a fascinating novel by, of all people, William Safire. He wrote Scandalmonger during the second Clinton administration, when the newspapers were having a great time with scandal, but he was thinking of a period 200 years before.

If you thought there was a Good Old Days when people behaved themselves and journalists didn’t concern themselves with personal naughtiness by politicians, Safire will disillusion you. His main characters are William Cobbett and James Callendar. Cobbett was an Englishman who, starting under the administration of George Washington, started writing viciously about the Jeffersonian clique of Anti-Federalists, alias the Republicans. Eventually libel charges chased Cobbett back to England where his journalism got him prosecuted by both major parties there, and caused William Hazlitt to nickname him the “fourth estate.” (Yes, that where that term comes from.)

Callendar, on the other hand, was a Scotsman, who monged (?) scandals on behalf of the Republicans, until they took office. Then, disappointed in their behavior (or the lack of spoils that went his way), he turned coat and went after them. He was the first to write that Jefferson was the father of the children of his slave, Sally Hemings.

This is a novel with many pages of endnotes, explaining which parts are fictional and which are based on truth. (Most of the dialog from presidents is taken from their works, which may explain why Jefferson sounds so artificial. I suppose Washington does too, but I suspect he really did sound like that.)

This is a really enjoyable history lesson, and one line made me laugh out loud. A bit of explanation. Safire sees James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution as a political naïf, while he views James Monroe as a more experienced and pragmatic wheeler-dealer. Inevitably there is a scene in which Madison defends the Freedom of the Press.

“Still, the people must be informed,” Madison put in. Monroe rolled his eyes; the man must have been reading his own amendments.

A Historic Moment


old man with cane (2005)
Originally uploaded by jamesobutler
On Saturday, at an otherwise ordinary shop in Seattle, the clerk asked me if I was entitled to take the senior discount.

I told her I was not and thanked her politely for asking.

Then I burned down the store.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Stopped, Thieves


Rare books
Originally uploaded by bmb
If you read only one federal court appellate decision this month (yeah, I know, you forgot your new year resolution to read two a week, didn't you?) make it this one.

It tells the fascinating story of four college students who came up with the caper of a lifetime - to steal a truckload of rare books from the Special Collections Room at Transylvania University in Kentucky. Alternatingly hilarious and frightening (fortunately the brave librarian they attacked -- and the equally heroic one who confronted them -- were not badly hurt) the story has a happy ending. The main point for the appeals court to decide was: Can the books they dropped OUTSIDE the Special Collections Room but INSIDE the Library be considered stolen when calculating the value of stolen items (and therefore, the length of their sentences)? The judges say: Yep.