Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
On Tuesday, Jeff Ooi at Screenshots, Ethan Zuckerman at WorldChanging and I all had the same thought. We did not believe the low death toll figures being reported in Myanmar. It seems unlikely that, with the reports on death and destruction all around it, Burma could have escaped so lightly. It is possible that its military dictators do not want to admit its desperation. Amardeep Singh has astonishing before and after satellite photographs of Trinkat (scroll down), an island in the Andaman chain, which is a part of India but just off Myanmar's coast. See also: blog.rajanr.com, Instapundit, IrelandOn-line, and Oxblog
Blogging creates remarkable virtual communities. In today's mail, I got an off-print of Michael Meo's"The Mathematical Life of Cauchy's Group Theorem," Historia Mathematica, 31 (2004): 196-221. Historia Mathematica is published by the International Commission on the History of Mathematics. This is the abstract of Michael's article:
Cauchy's theorem on the order of finite groups is a fixture of elementary course work in abstract algebra today: its proof is a straightforward exercise in the application of general mathematical tools. The initial proof by Cauchy, however, was unprecedented in its complex computations involving permutational group theory and contained an egregious error. A direct inspiration to Sylow's theorem, Cauchy's theorem was reworked by R. Dedekind, G. F. Frobenius, C. Jordan, and J. H. McKay in ever more natural, concise terms. Its most succinct form employs just the structure lacking in Cauchy's original proof – the weath product.Some readers at Cliopatria will understand the abstract of Michael's article. Not having had a mathematics course since high school, I am intimidated both by Michael's abstract and his equation-riddled text. It certainly looks learned enough. The publishers of Historia Mathematica have told Michael that his article is"one of the five most frequently downoloaded articles published during the course of 2004. Readers paid for each download!" Michael teaches at Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland, Oregon. It's great to see a teacher at a public secondary school, where there's probably no reward system for it, doing serious scholarship. Best of all, my copy of it is signed:"To good-natured Ralph Luker, from one of his critics. M. Meo." Thanks and congratulations, Michael. [Ed:"good natured," eh? See item #1 above.]
I recommend Richard Jenkyns's"Mother Tongue" in Prospect. The abuse of words like"literally" and"precisely" has nearly rendered them useless among us. Where is Orwell when we really need him?
I also recommend"Meritocracy in America: Ever Higher Society, Ever Harder to Ascend," in the Economist. The report doubts that the engines of social mobility, including our colleges and universities, are playing that role any longer and argues that the United States has become increasingly and rigidly stratified. Thanks to Michael Schaeffer at The Weblog for the tip.
Finally, read Scott McLemee's initial sense of loss over the death of Susan Sontag. It has a different tone than Patrick Belton's memory at Oxblog."For my part," Belton writes,"I will simply note her astounding quality of presence: when she appeared at Oxford in connection with the annual Amnesty lectures, and briefly caught my eye sitting in the front row before her lecture, she remains the only Social Security recipient to have ever made me blush." We'll hear more from McLemee about Sontag.
Happy New Year to Wendy Love Anderson who promises a surprise in 2-0-0-5.
Happy New Year to Timothy Burke who bought and moved into a house for Christmas.
Happy New Year to Miriam Burstein who is giving a paper at the MLA.
Happy New Year to Oscar Chamberlain who surprises me with the breadth of his interests every time he posts.
Happy New Year to Jonathan Dresner, whose contributions at Cliopatria keep the dialogue going.
Happy New Year to Hala Fattah and may it bring peace and justice to Iraq.
Happy New Year to Sharon Howard. Show us the pink boots! Show us the pink boots!
Happy New Year to KC Johnson, unless being at Harvard next semester goes to his head!
Happy New Year to me, once I get through thinking of something to wish everyone else.
Happy New Year to Rob MacDougall and may he, too, get the fine job offer he deserves.
Happy New Year to Jonathan Reynolds who saw Tim Burke and upped the ante by becoming a new father and buying a new house.
Happy New Year to Greg Robinson who can correct Michelle Malkin's errors and, if necessary, correct them in French.
Happy New Year to Nathanael Robinson who fed his rabbit roasted garlic this year. Happy New Year to Hugo Schwyzer, who did not feed roasted garlic to his chinchilla this year.
Happy New Year to Jeff Vanke, whose family will grow by one and who will post at Cliopatria for the first time in 2005.
Happy New Year to Cliopatria's readers. Thank you for keeping us on our toes. May the New Year bring some solace to the survivors in southeast Asia and peace to the people of Iraq.
Then, last fall, under heavy outside pressure, it delivered two mild rebukes of Majority Leader Tom DeLay on two matters. The new policy would make it more difficult for an inquiry into DeLay-like matters to occur in the future: Ethics Committee members of the offending party could shield themselves behind a procedural vote (declining to open an investigation) rather than having to vote against formal sanctions after inconvenient facts become public.
There's no question that the ethics process was politicized in the late 1980s. But this morning's news brings word of why tougher, not less stringent, ethics laws are needed. It turns out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received more than his share of gifts over the past few years, including a $19,000 Bible from Republican donor, $15,000 for a Lincoln bust from the American Enterprise Institute, and $5,000 in cash from a mobile home enthusiast to pay a relative's education expenses. As Mark I. Harrison, who heads the ABA's Commission on the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, commented,"Why would someone do that — give a gift to Clarence Thomas? Unless they are family members or really close friends, the only reason to give gifts is to influence the judge." Thomas' office had no comment.
The Montana State Supreme Court has just ruled that, irrespective of issues of marriage, denying spousal benefits to the domestic partners of homosexual employees is a denial of their economic rights. Montana is, apparently, a common-law-marriage state, but allowing only heterosexuals to claim the benefits of marriage by simple affidavit was seen as a violation of equal protection.
It's kind of surprising, really, that common-law marriage hadn't entered the debate before now.
Update: Ralph's comment reminded me that I meant to post a link to this discussion of contemporary marriage which has nice demographic discussions. One of the interesting things it points out which I hadn't really considered was the way in which the liberalization of adoption and foster parenting rules has broadened the definition of"family" in ways that reflect on our definition of"marriage." In related news, as the NYTimes article cited above notes, an Arkansas judge struck down that state's ban on gay foster parents, but strictly on procedural grounds.
It is unlikely that the 109th Senate will make a more important decision: if Frist gets his way, the President will have a virtually free hand on judicial appointments until 2008.
Though the concept of a filibuster dates back to the 19th century, in the Senate since the Progressive Era, the filibuster passed through four distinct phases. The filibuster was rarely employed during the Roosevelt, Taft, and first Wilson administrations. Indeed, the first Wilson administration featured the opposite extreme, a structure similar to that of the current Congress: the use of the party caucus in a closely divided legislature, with the President passing two reform packages on almost straight party-line votes.
Wilson’s political mishandling of the U.S. entrance into World War I set the stage for ending the tradition of unlimited debate. Although an anti-war coalition had reelected the President in 1916, Germany’s resuming unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917 placed Wilson in an impossible position. Reluctant to recommend outright war, he instead introduced a measure to arm U.S. merchant ships for self-defense. When the Senate’s left-wing contingent, the peace progressives (about which I’ve written elsewhere), filibustered to prevent the measure from coming to a vote, the President fumed, “A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” In the resulting nationalist fervor, the Senate adopted Rule 22 that allowed debate to end with a two-thirds majority vote. The upper chamber then imposed cloture against the armed ship bill foes.
Adoption of Rule 22 ushered in the second, and most famous, phase of the history of filibustering. Southern foes of civil rights legislation consolidated their power by successfully arguing that the Senate, because only one-third of its membership changed with each election, was a continuing body, and therefore rules—including Rule 22—could only be changed by a 2/3 vote. Robert Caro analyzes the Senate of this era, which produced the longest filibuster in American history (Strom Thurmond’s 24-hour-plus rant) but ultimately the crushing of the Southerners’ power with the imposition of cloture for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
By this point, the third era of 20th century filibustering already had begun, with ideological dissenters (of either the right or left) targeting legislation that they deemed unacceptable with filibusters. Few now recall that the Senate’s second imposition of cloture occurred not with the 1964 Civil Rights Act but against the so-called “liberal filibuster” of 1962, when a small band of Senate dissenters, led by Albert Gore, Sr. (D-Tennessee), Paul Douglas (D-Illinois), and Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska), fought a Kennedy administration measure to establish the Commercial Satellite Corporation, a partnership between the government and AT&T to fund the first commercial satellite structured on terms very favorable to AT&T.
Despite his key role in weakening the filibuster with the Civil Rights Act’s passage, Lyndon Johnson had an agnostic attitude toward the tactic: if doing so advanced his agenda, he had no problem recommending a filibuster. On August 19, 1964, just five days before the start of the year’s Democratic national convention, the House passed a bill sponsored by Virginia’s William Tuck to deny to the Supreme Court the right to review court decisions concerning reapportionment and to block district court jurisdiction over any apportionment question. After Majority Leader Mike Mansfield announced that the Tuck bill would be pending business when the Senate returned after the convention, Paul Douglas (an economics professor before he entered the Senate) and Pennsylvania liberal Joe Clark urged the President to support a plank in the Democratic platform upholding the Supreme Court’s authority on reapportionment issues. Johnson, correctly recognizing that doing so would needlessly alienate Southern delegates, refused to do so. Then, when Bill Moyers reported that Anthony Lewis, the New York Times reporter known for his close ties to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, planned to file a story on the reapportionment issue, the President had heard enough. In colorful terms, he gave Moyers a message to relay to Lewis: liberals could accomplish their goal by filibustering for two weeks, after which Mansfield would have to set the amendment aside. (The audio clip is just over one minute, and starts with LBJ hilariously giving his opinion of college professors.)
Conservatives more often than liberals used the filibuster after the Democratic landslide in 1964. In the wave of procedural reforms following Watergate, the Senate in 1975 reduced the required vote for cloture to 60 senators, and, citing efficiency, allowed senators to block action on legislation merely by invoking the right to filibuster, without actually having to engage in one. As with many Watergate-era reforms, this one produced unintended consequences: Julian Zelizer, author of a sensational new book on the postwar Congress, recently noted that with the procedural change, “the filibuster exploded, and became a normal tool of political combat.”
So, how does Frist’s effort to restrict the filibuster hold up in light of this historic record?
1.) Frist’s argument that allowing filibusters on court nominees violates the constitutional requirement that the Senate advise and consent to such nominations is absurd.
2.) On the other hand, his contention that the filibuster is anti-majoritarian and that the Senate should not be considered a continuing body is identical to the argument that liberals offered in the 1950s.
3.) Also valid is his claim that the filibuster has been used in recent years far differently than in the past, and in a way few could have anticipated in 1975, when the current filibustering rules were established.
4.) But, as congressional scholar Norman Ornstein notes,"Having a system where an intense minority has a say is a good thing.” In this highly partisan Senate, where there is no reason to believe that without the threat of filibuster any Bush judicial nominee will even get closely examined, much less rejected, maintaining the current filibuster rule probably represents the only way for the Senate to play a meaningful role in the confirmation process.
American Red CrossContributions at Amazon.com, which Manan Ahmed recommends in comments for convenience, have mounted to over $4,000,000 and counting.
British Red Cross
CNN's List of Organizations Accepting Contributions
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Oxfam's UK Appeal
For those familiar with the apologist or “redeemer” schools of southern historiography, there is nothing particularly new in the text. In a nutshell, “Southern Slavery” portrays slaveowners as kindly, slaves as happy, and everybody as way better off during slavery. Perhaps the biggest zinger in the text is when it allows that slavery in the South does actually deserve some condemnation. “The truth is, Southern slavery is open to criticism because it did not follow the biblical pattern at every point. Some of the state laws regulating slavery could not be defended biblically (the laws forbidding the teaching of reading and writing, for example).” Ohhh... I see. BIBLICAL slavery is fine, it’s that nasty UNBIBLICAL slavery that’s the problem.
What is always saddening, of course, is to find out that something as painful as this is being utilized in a classroom somewhere. However, I have to say that I’m not terribly surprised. When I was living in North Carolina and teaching at Livingstone College it was not unusual for me to meet folks who were eager to engage a white teacher of African-American history in an argument about the portrayal of slavery and the civil war. At times I felt I should carry around a copy of South Carolina’s declaration of secession just to be ready for the “the Civil War wasn’t about slavery” argument. I once had a 15 year old become enraged when I told him that it was a lie that “hundreds of thousands of Negroes” had fought for the confederacy, as he was learning from his home-schooling textbooks. I was far from shocked when I later found Salisbury (where I was living) featured in chapter two of Confederates in the Attic. This was a town that had, in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, put up a statue to commemorate Confederate dead, complete with the old Confederate slogan. Dio Vindice (God Vindicates).
Of course, I shouldn’t just pick on North Carolina or pro-Confederacy white folks. One of the interesting things about the Civil War (and it’s inseparable companion, American slavery) is that it so often fosters bad history. One of the few things that “Southern Slavery, as it Was” gets right its claim that there is a tendency to teach a rather oversimplified version of antebellum slavery in American and African-American History classrooms – though the text’s authors fail to realize that they are guilty of the same foible. Slavery in the US was a terribly complex and highly varied system, with a great variety of social, economic, and political permutations. The tendency of many teachers to site sources such as the Willie Lynch Letter, which is almost certainly a hoax is a case in point. Perhaps what the case of Cary Christian School points up is that the “Past is Always Political,” and that far too many teachers are still guilty of approaching history in ways that validate, rather than challenge, their own (and their audience’s) preconceived notions.
Jerry Orbach's death will prompt lots of remembrances, I'm sure. My strongest memory of him will always be as the Narrator/El Gallo in The Fantasticks original cast. (Second would be his leading role in Carnival; I honestly didn't realize it was the same guy until a few years ago, though I grew up with both shows) Fantasticks was a groundbreaking work, which managed to combine mythic deconstruction with immense charm, smartness and sentimentality, absurdist realism.... ok, I grew up listening to it, and I've probably seen as many different productions as I have of anything else (Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret probably are neck and neck with it for number of in-theater viewings). In fact, my one foray into (adult) theater (not counting my musical turn as Bilbo Baggins or moment of silent utility as the pallbearer moment in Evita) was as the washed-up actor (The more complete recording of the Japan Tour includes Tom Jones in that role. He's better than I was, though that probably goes without saying. They probably didn't make him wear an orange wig, either.).
I understood better why I love Fantasticks so much after I saw and fell in love with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods. They are structurally and thematically similar shows: a charming first act playing out an absurd and abstracted version of an old myth/trope/theme/tale; a disturbing second half, in which, without losing the absurdism, the real implications of the first half come to roost and great wisdom is gained at great cost. Both have a first act that can stand on its own, though as a somewhat shallow performance, and give you very few clues as to the mayhem and trauma that awaits. And both include amazing four-way singing arguments....
For your amusement, I offer excerpts from Brooks Atkinson's original review of The Fantasticks, May 4, 1960:
Having won a lot of admirers with a short version of The Fantasticks, Tom Jones has expanded it for the production that opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse last evening. Although it is ungrateful to say so, two acts are one too many to sustain the delightful tone of the first. After the intermission, the mood is never quite so luminous and gay.That's the point, of course.
The characters are figures in a legend, acted with an artlessness that is winning. As the Narrator, the Girl and the Boy, Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner and Kenneth Nelson, respectively, sing beautifully and act with spontaneity, not forgetting that they are participating in a work of make-believe.So of course it went on to be the longest running off-Broadway show in history.... And though his face may be famous as Lenny Briscoe, his voice will always be September.
Perhaps The Fantasticks is by nature the sort of thing that loses magic the longer it endures.
Non Sequitur: New study finds that Internet takes time away from off-line social relationships, TV, sleep. Duh. [I never use that phrase. Never. This is worth it.] The study also finds that computer users spend an average of nine full working days per year struggling with Windows. OK, it said ten days, and" computer problems" but we all know what that means, don't we?
But I promised you that I wouldn't rant, because I've got to explain to the managing editor at the Virginia Magazine of History & Biography what"double first cousins" are. You know what double first cousins are, don't you? Not that they're that common – maybe with increased mobility they're becoming even less common – but you know what they are, don't you? Doesn't everyone know what double first cousins are?
Anyway, my young friend, Andrew Ackerman, has just done the last part of my rant for me over at The Nation. Go over there and read his"Tim Spicer's World." The Pentagon has handed a $293,000,000 contract to a Brit with a criminal background, no experience in Iraq and no real security experience, to coordinate security operations for American diplomats in Iraq. This is a guy who defended the murder of teenagers by men in his command in Northern Ireland, violated a British embargo of weapons in Sierra Leone, and led a comic book venture in Papua New Guinea. My rant has to do with the paltry $35,000,000 the United States government has coughed up for southeast Asian relief compared with the $293,000,000 we've just given this thug to do difficult work for which he has no experience. But I promised that I wouldn't rant.
But I digress. The real point of this post is to consider the relationship between Blogs and Ham radios. For much of this century, the first news out of a disaster area came from the lonely voice (or Morse click) of an isolated radio operator, getting power from who knows where, and casting out a tenuous thread of communication, hoping someone else in the world could pick it up.
It still happens, as we can see in this story about an emergency amateur radio network set up in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Although wireless blogging is growing, blogs are still far more vulnerable to land line destruction than amateur radio operators. Blogs can report. They can also warn, if someone relays the message. But in the aftermath of disaster, the radio operators remain essential. The more damaged the area, the more essential they are.
Postscript: I had planned to say something about the decline of Ham radio in the US, and its being supplanted by cell phones and the web. But the statistics on this amateur radio history site suggest that, at least in total numbers, there have never been more people in the US with licenses than there are today.
Postscript number 2: It is easy to forget how old and new technologies overlap each other. I cannot remember the source, but I once read that it was not until around 1850 that the freight traffic on Mississippi steamboats exceeded the traffic on flatboats.
Postscript number 3: I got this email concerning U.S. Ham Radio operators and my comment about license numbers above. It's informative, and a bit sad.
It is true that there are more licensed hams in the US than ever, BUT many are NOT active, and even if they are, just TRY and get them active in their local Amateur Radio Emergency Service group.
You would think that in the US, they (we) would not be needed - but look at 9/11 - The hams were the only way the Red Cross could get info in and out of the Ground Zero area - look at this years Hurricanes - The hams were needed again
One of the"Interesting" problems is that many of the local agencies say"we don't need them anymore - we have this nifty Nextel" (It's always Nextels for some reason). Then a disaster hits, and the end up yelling for the ham groups they have been dissing for the last few years, but now, they have no operators who know them, know their setup and the like
73 de KG2V Charles Gallo Queens County Emergency Coordinator NYC District ARES
A good point considering how often us academics have used the"The Long .... Century" device - like, my fav., Frank O' Gorman's The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History or David Blackbourn's The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918 or, most recently, Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times. Arrighi starts somewhere in the 16th c. if I remember correctly. I would argue that the twentieth century is far from over and may occupy us for another decade or so.
But, back to Timothy Noah's question. To accomodate TV graphic artists and hip commentators, I would like to put forth the Zeroes for this decade of death and destruction. The nihilists can claim Less than the Zeroes.
The most obvious focal point is religion. The ascension of Turkey into the EU is finally being taken seriously (even if it is not universally popular). The Turkish prime minister asserts that the specifics of history, culture and faith are less important than the acceptance of political values that are currently valid in European countries:
The EU is neither a union of coal and steel, nor of geography, nor of only economies. It is a community of political values. It has to be an address where civilizations meet and harmonize.
Is part of the process learning to bridge differences rather than fortify them into divisions? Islam is not sufficiently un-Europe in order to exclude Turkey--or Muslims. However, this may be a Jabèsian impasse: the inclusion of Turks, and Muslims, may be nothing more than an accommodation with a people who have assimilated, and not inherited, European civilization.
But is the question about religion in particular or about faith and secularism? The place of the Church in the creation of European civilization has been controversial. The Papacy has argued (and I would agree) that Christianity, even Catholicism in specific, has been central to the emergence of European institutions as they are taking shape within the EU. The beatifications of Karl I and Robert Schuman are evidence of how willing the Papacy is to prove this point. And although secularism and suspicion of faith are not limited to Christianity (hence the war on the veil), the drive to dissociate modern society from religion impoverishes its inheritance of civilization:
Et là est bien le problème : à trop vouloir refuser de parler de Dieu - ou de le voir, même dans les représentations d'une imagerie populaire -, au nom d'une prétendue laïcité, on en oublie notre histoire culturelle et les fondements de notre mémoire collective ... Etre laïque, c'est être indépendant de toute confession religieuse : indépendant, et non intolérant.
On a related note, I want to draw attention to Daniel Riot's piece at Europeus. He argues that anti-globalization movements, environmentalists in particular, that would oppose the creation of a constitution should consider that they would benefit from a unified European position on Kyoto and other matters of industrial emissions.
William Deresiewicz,"The Literary World System," a review for The Nation of Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters. In his closing paragraph, Deresiewicz writes:
But the most important question [Casanova's] book raises, for me at least, is simply this: Why are we so lame? Why is American culture, and the American intelligentsia in particular, so closed off from what's happening in the rest of the world? Why do we still need Paris to tell us what's going on (if we still even listen to it)? If anything, the situation is more dire than it used to be, when instability or repression in Europe supplied us with a steady stream of émigrés who acted as a bridge back to their former world. Susan Sontag used to play a similar role, but she no longer does, and no one's taken her place. The more we impose our image on the world, it seems, the more foreign the world becomes.Sadly, we note the death of Susan Sontag.
Here is a New Year's piece designed to make us wonder, in the manner of the famous chorus from Sophocles, at the hard-won accomplishments of humankind. It was co-written with a freshman at UT Austin. There is small hope for our world.
Palaima and Skelton: What it takes to bring us life's simple things
Tom Palaima and Christina Skelton, LOCAL CONTRIBUTORS
Austin American-Statesman Tuesday, December 28, 2004
If we are fortunate, as many of us in our bountiful country are, the season of Christmas and New Year is a time to wonder at the state of our lives and our world, and to notice small wonders that we normally overlook. If we are wise, we may see what matters and better appreciate how much we owe to the hard work and ingenuity of others.
We might learn from the most powerful people in our country. We might also learn from people who will be forever nameless. Recent events surrounding our secretary of defense have reminded us of how important the simple act of signing a letter can be. In writing officially to inform loved ones about the death of a soldier in service to our country, the time spent personally signing a letter conveys something humanly important to them. It brings reassurance that the same person of power who sent their soldier off to war has spent a few moments thinking about and sharing in the deep loss they feel.
Taking the time to write — i.e., to write down our thoughts and feelings with our own hands, to sign our own names as personal witness to what we have written — is a mark of our hard-won humanity. That so many of us have the tools and knowledge to do these things so readily is a marvel of the progress of civilization, science, labor, industry and education.
The next time you pick up a pencil to write a note, to draw or to make a simple mark, pause for a moment and think about the everyday miracle that is the pencil. In the long history of mankind, the pencil, more or less as we now know it, has been with us for just over two hundred years.
Pencil enthusiast Abdullah Ismail of Venus Pencil Company (PVT) Limited of Pakistan helps us feel the wonder of the pencil: "The ubiquitous, yellow (mostly), seven-inch . . . lead pencil (is) the simplest, most convenient, least expensive of all writing instruments. The wood-cased pencil is, perhaps, man's closest approach to perfection. The modern pencil can draw a line 35 miles long, write an average of 45,000 words and absorb 17 sharpenings. It is nearly weightless and totally portable. It deletes its own errors but does not give off radiation. It doesn't leak and never needs a ribbon change, isn't subject to power surges, and is chewable."
The pencil is also our first and truest friend in learning to write letters and words and to add and subtract numbers. It empowers us to look for and correct our mistakes. It helps us to work toward perfection in what we write and draw.
More marvelous than what the pencil can do is how and why this most democratic of all tools of communication even exists. If your pencil is already sharpened, take a look at the exposed wood now tapering down to the point. Keep looking. Rotate the pencil in your hand. See if you can detect the subtle differences in texture of the two pieces of wood that make up the pencil shaft. Then ask yourself, "How in the world did they cut and join the wood so precisely?" "How did they get that lead in there?" "Where does that lead come from?"
The lead is actually graphite. It was first mined for the making of the earliest pencils in 16th century England. The thin rods that made the modern pencil possible were developed in late 18th-century France and then in Germany (whence the Conté crayon and the Eberhard Faber pencil). They are a mixture of powdered graphite, water and clay. But the graphite has to be mined and processed, and that is hard and dangerous work.
If you are lucky, you can get someone like Professor Leon Long of the University of Texas Department of Geological Sciences to explain to you vividly how the graphite mine in nearby Burnet operated between 1900 and 1980. You can almost feel the blasting of big boulders from the open pit mining, the sweaty toil of loading and trucking, of rough sledgehammering and finer pulverizing. You do not have to breathe in and out all day long the particle-filled air of the processing rooms.
Much of the world's graphite is mined now in regions like Sri Lanka, Mexico, China and Brazil. Studies of miners in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1993 revealed that as many as one in 12 had clear symptoms of lung disease from carbon and graphite dust inhalation, despite work environment regulations imposed in 1972. The graphite pneumoconiosis is progressive even after exposed workers stop working in the hazardous mining and processing environment.
What Ismail calls the "ubiquitous pencil" can everywhere remind us of the hard-won cumulative progress of mankind and the large price many pay for the wonderful things that cost us so little and mean so much.
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I've never lived anywhere that didn't have natural disasters: east coast hurricanes, pacific rim typhoons and earthquakes (e.g. '95 Kobe, which woke me from a sound sleep), plains tornados, not to mention the ever-present tectonic uncertainty -- the"BIG ONE" which was theoretically due in the next century, or overdue, everywhere I've lived for the last fifteen years.
Now, I live in Hilo, Hawai'i --"the tsunami capital of the United States" -- one of the few American cities to have been devastated by tsunami multiple times over the last century. So it's no wonder that one of our few local museums is the Pacific Tsunami Museum, dedicated to the proposition that tsunami deaths can be eliminated with proper preparation and warning. Obviously, they've got some work to do, but to be fair they've only taken on the Pacific as their project. The museum's website has been rather hard to access lately, presumably because it is tsunami.org and they've gotten a lot of traffic related to the current crisis. If you really want to root around their site, I highly recommend coming back to it in a few weeks. Their FAQ page is quite substantial, though, if you need a basic primer on the science and signs.
Hilo has been hit by several major tsunami in recent history -- 1946 and 1960 were the largest, but 1975 was actually more destructive locally than the 1960 -- and so doesn't have quite the wealth of early architecture or downtown vigor you would expect. We do have clearly marked evacuation zones and routes, and the monthly tests of tsunami early-warning sirens sound just like the monthly tests of the tornado warning sirens in Iowa. Our home is a couple of hundred feet up from sea level, in about as much danger from tsunami as from lava..... which is to say that if I'm in danger from either of these things, so are a lot of other people.
I am sure that Glenn Reynolds is wrong about the value of tsunami warning systems, even aside from the fact that the investment necessary with 21st century technology is much less than the return in saved lives. As human population densities increase (and there's little evidence that they will be decreasing soon, though the rate of increase may be slowing) and as coastline has always been desirable non-agricultural living space, the potential loss from tsunami is increasing. Therefore the relative cost of precautionary spending will not only decrease, but it will be cheaper to maintain a system that we build now than to build a new system when it seems more necessary in the future.
Female candidates for local assembly seats under the Palestinian Authority have apparently done surprisingly well, according to this report. They have won 51 seats and 32 of them outright, without resort to Palestinian law which reserves seats for women.
With an early report and a subsequent angry"rant", my colleague, Manan Ahmed, has kept us posted about the massive earthquake near Sumatra and the terrifying tsunamis that followed it. The simplest details about the natural disaster are difficult to comprehend: an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter Scale, powerful enough to change the map of Asia by moving parts of Sumatra and small nearby islands by 60 to 120 feet and to have shaken the earth in its orbit. A subsequent tsunamis moving at jet speed through the Indian Ocean takes a death toll in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, even Kenya and Somalia of over 24,000 people, perhaps over 42,000, and still counting. The Command Post and Instapundit have done an excellent job of citing subsequent reports by bloggers in the region. Crooked Timber and Daniel Drezner keep us apprized of where we might send contributions for relief. The Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami is an important regional blog coordinating relief efforts.
Manan's anger is understandable. Most of the deaths might have been prevented because some authorities and, even, some bloggers knew of the massive earthquake three hours before the tsunamis hit the southeast Asian coasts. At Slate, Glenn Reynolds takes note of Manan's righteous anger in"An Ounce of Prevention." As he says, Manan's anger also presses the limits of human agency. One has to know that such a massive oceanic earthquake does launch a massive tsunamis. Undoubtedly some of them did, but one also has to be able to reach areas likely to be affected. It is telling that, next to India, Myanmar (Burma) has the longest coast on the Indian Ocean in the affected area. That includes the capital city of Yangon (Rangoon) and the reports of death and destruction there are unbelievably low. Maybe the destruction in Burma will force its military dictators, who have isolated it, to negotiate for relief from the rest of the world.
Within 15 minutes of Sunday's earthquake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii had sent an alert to 26 countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, but struggled to reach the right people. Television and radio alerts were not issued in Thailand until 9am - nearly an hour after the waves hit.
"We tried to do what we could. We don't have any contacts in our address book for anybody in that particular part of the world," said Charles McCreery, director of the centre.
and further down in the same piece:
Tad Murty, a tsunami specialist affiliated to the University of Winnipeg in Canada, said that officials in India, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries perceived tsunamis as"a Pacific problem" and had"never shown the initiative to do anything".
The head of India's National Institute of Oceanography said the likelihood of a tsunami hitting Madras had seemed as unlikely as New York's Fifth Avenue being inundated in the film The Day After Tomorrow.
"There's no reason for a single individual to get killed in a tsunami," Mr Murty said."The waves are totally predictable. We have travel-time charts for the whole of the Indian Ocean. From where this earthquake hit, the travel time for waves to hit the tip of India was four hours. That's enough time for a warning."
So, on the one hand, we have people who have never heard of embassies, consulates, disaster relief agencies, the UN, and a friend from the last oceonagraphy conference in the area. Charles McCreery does not know anyone in"that part of the world". And couldn't be bothered to send an email to the Indian, Srilankan or Thai embassy in D.C. Emails that are easily available to any lay person. On the other hand are people who couldn't be bothered to prepare for such an emergency because such things only happen in bad hollywood movies.
Because there was an alert system.This french blogger received an alert about the earthquake three hours before the tidal waves started hitting the land [english]. Presumably, such an alert could have been given to those in charge in India, Srilanka or Thailand? But they never signed up - at least, not in India. Now, the governments are rethinking their strategies and hope to have an early warning system. But here is the gem, again:
`The difficult part here would be coordination between emergency response agencies in the region.
Let me get this straight. In this day and age, when I can get the NYSE ticker on my toilet roll, they cannot figure out how to get disaster information out!? I want to scream from looking at the pictures of drowned babies on NYT and CNN.com. Those lives could have been saved if someone had a Blackberry subscription?
Like I said, I am angry.
Well, if technology could not save people from disaster, it is proving a great way to mobilize information for survivors and helpers. Wikipedia's page on the disaster is an amazing resource. As well as the many, many bloggers doing live posts. BoingBoing has a growing list.