"To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?" -- C.S. Lewis

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Harry Potter Theory: The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet were recently granted a dual interview with J.K. Rowling as part of the publicity campaign for The Half Blood Prince. I'll take you now to a snippet from the third installment of the interview, where JKR drops a nice little plot hint:

JKR: Well, I'm prepared to bet you now, that at least before the week is out, at least one of the Horcruxes will have been correctly identified by careful re-readers of the books.

I'm pretty sure I've found one. In chapter 6 of Phoenix, as everyone is lending a hand in the cleaning of the "Noble and Most Ancient House of Black," a "heavy locket that none of them could open" is discovered and tossed into the rubbish bin. Me thinks Regulus (aka: RAB) must've left it there. And I'm assuming Kreacher palmed it off. I'll have to skim forward and see if this is verified in the text, or whether this will be revealed in book seven.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Rowling's Latest: I enjoyed Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, and book seven can't arrive soon enough, as far as I'm concerned. Just had to make that declaration. But I won't spoil anything for anyone.

In that spirit, a tangent: I found myself in a doctor's waiting room this week and read something in a Time article on J.K. Rowling that I wouldn't have guessed:

The most popular living fantasy writer in the world doesn't even especially like fantasy novels. It wasn't until after Sorcerer's Stone was published that it even occurred to her that she had written one. "That's the honest truth," she says. "You know, the unicorns were in there. There was the castle, God knows. But I really had not thought that that's what I was doing. And I think maybe the reason that it didn't occur to me is that I'm not a huge fan of fantasy." Rowling has never finished The Lord of the Rings. She hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot.

Amazing. A British Christian author who writes fiction full of magic, wizards, and short heroes--but Tolkien and Lewis remain relatively untouched (even unfinished!) on her bookshelf.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Interesting Side Note: How did a gold 45 of the Village People's 1978 hit, "Y.M.C.A.," end up on display at the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian? Surf on...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bloggin' for Biden: I've got some personal experience with this story. My father actually witnessed a Middle Eastern male video taping a railroad trestle in northeast Dallas, Tx, a couple of years ago (post 9/11). It was a suspicious sight: The man had the distinctive posture of a military man, and there was nothing scenic about this trestle's surroundings. The man noticed my father's more than casual interest in him and hopped the next city bus--which took him downtown. We know this because my dad followed the bus. When the man exited the bus in downtown Dallas, he began filming the fronts of various office buildings. He noticed my dad again and then disappeared into the crowds.

My dad reported the incident to the authorities, and the very next week, a homeland security statement was issued to raise awareness around the nation's railroads. This made our family wonder whether other similar reports had been coming in from around the country.

The New York Times points out today:

One of the deadliest terrorist scenarios the Department of Homeland Security has come up with is an attack on a 90-ton rail tanker filled with chlorine. As many as 100,000 people could be killed or injured in less than 30 minutes. The simplest way of reducing the risk is banning rail tankers with deadly materials from areas that are likely terrorist targets.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who lent his wise, qualified support to the war in Iraq, has introduced a bill which would begin to guard against terrorist attacks on our nation's railroads within highly populated areas. As the Times says, "Every member of the Senate and House should be supporting [Biden's bill]."

Friday, June 17, 2005

MacArthur Censorship Lifted: The first reporter to arrive on the scene after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, was George Weller of the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. His initial dispatches never saw the light of day, thanks to the censorship of General Douglas MacArthur. Well, sometime in the last couple of years--following the death of Weller--his son stumbled upon copies of these reports; and four of them were published yesterday in Tokyo's Mainichi Shimbun.

Weller knew nothing (and neither did the Japanese) of radiation poisoning. When hundreds of Japanese with "neither a burn or a broken limb" began to die in the days following the attack, Weller labelled the cause "Disease X":

“[Disease X is] still snatching away lives here. Men, women and children with no outward marks of injury are dying daily in hospitals, some after having walked around three or four weeks thinking they have escaped.

"The doctors…candidly confessed…that the answer to the malady is beyond them.” At one hospital, 200 of 343 admitted had died: “They are dead—-dead of atomic bomb—-and nobody knows why.”

A massive U.S. attack on civilians. A nightmare.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Moral Of The Story: All righty, John Kerry has finally released his military records (even though he claimed he'd already done so during the campaign). And Kerry's cumulative grade average for his years at Yale is roughly equal to Dubya's. Kerry's four-year average was a 76. According to The New Yorker, Bush averaged a 77 during his first three years; his fourth is said to have been similar, but his grades weren't measured numerically that year.

Where Kerry did distinguish himself was in public speaking. He was chosen to deliver his senior class's oration. Granted, his critics in the recent presidential campaign considered his delivery a bit wooden; but in pre-MTV days (and only 10 years removed from Eisenhower), I'm sure his style was quite acceptable. But like Tolkien's Saruman, Kerry's gift (certainly when compared to Bush's lack thereof) left an assumption of exceptional aptitude where it wasn't necessarily warranted.

Andrew Sullivan is having a little fun at Howell Raines' expense today, quoting the former NY Times editor from last August:

Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead.

Raines, a willing slave to his intellectual snobbery, was far too easy to bait on this one. In fact, Kerry probably kept these records out of the public domain during the campaign in an effort to maintain his intellectual snob bounce in the polls.

But back to the Moral of the Story: Rather than drawing conclusions about either guy's intellect, isn't the more obvious first thought that these two guys were simply wealthy enough to take their college years off (in the Ivy Leagues, no less)? And in that regard, both bet correctly. Neither's academic record seems to have harmed his future in any way. Lazy and pragmatic, a privileged combination.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Ass For Brains Quote: In response to the disclosure of Deep Throat's identity yesterday, Jon Friedman of Marketwatch says:

The two most celebrated investigative reporters since Gutenberg just got scooped on their own source! And their journalistic mystique, as the keepers of the 'Most Famous Secret' of modern times, has been dramatically devalued….

Woodward & Bernstein's journalistic mystique has been "devalued"? Go home, Grasshopper. Please. There are adults at work here.

Really. How unclear on the concept can one be?! A source isn't a journalist's marionette. The source is a sentient being in his or her own right (I can't believe I'm writing this...). In this case, Deep Throat chose to come forward--in some other venue besides a Bob Woodward column. Woodward might feel a bit betrayed this morning, but scooped? I think not.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pickin' On Kruggy: Fortune Mag on the Web has posted an interview with Bush Administration economist Greg Mankiw (Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan). And I'm lovin' Mankiw’s assessment of NY Times columnist Paul Krugman:

When [Krugman] became a New York Times columnist, he decided to abandon writing about economics as an economist does. He’s very liberal, which is fine—most of my friends at Harvard are liberal—but whenever someone disagrees with him, his first inclination is to think that person is either a liar or a fool. It’s amazing to me that an academic would behave that way. The one thing that I value about academia is open-mindedness, the premise that all ideas and different points of view should be considered. No one has a monopoly on truth. The one defining characteristic of a good professor is to be open to all viewpoints.

That’s the Krugman we all know and, er, force ourselves to read now and then. His prose repulse his opponents and moderates (who might otherwise be sympathetic to his arguments) equally. Raw, naked anger isn't very attractive; and that's what we too often find in Krugman's columns.

And open-mindedness? Uh, as Mankiw indicates, zero.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Natural Defenses: I enjoy bird watching (the very tame sort--meaning I usually take visual note of whatever arrives at the bird feeders in our backyard). So the news of the re-discovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was exciting news to me.

After combing through several stories on the recent sightings of the once-thought-extinct bird, I found a good reason why no one ventures into the Ivory-Bill's last known habitat:

The rare bird - a little larger than a crow, with a wing span of about 19 inches - can easily fly about undisturbed in swamps like the 800-acre tract where researchers focused their search. It's hard for humans to even reach it, and once they do, it's hard to focus on bird watching.

One team that recently searched for the bird counted 17 poisonous cottonmouth snakes in 20 minutes.

Get the picture? Yeah, and even if I accept the Croc Hunter's assurances that cottonmouths don't deserve their aggressive reputations, one poisonous snake every 1.2 minutes is bad for business. It's good for our new-found woodpecker, though. And it provides this nature lover with some peace of mind--that the Ivory-Bill is nestled in about as safe a haven as he could ask for in this 2005 world.

Meanwhile, the discovery sent one resourceful librarian off on a search of her own. It turns out that the UW-Madison library system is home to a nice collection of rare natural history books containing some great old drawings of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Worth checking out.

Friday, April 8, 2005

The Long Emergency: When you come across an alarmist column such as this one, predicting an impending global emergency brought about by a decline in world oil production (in the near future, no less)--you just hope it's flat wrong:

As industrial agriculture fails due to a scarcity of oil- and gas-based inputs, we will certainly have to grow more of our food closer to where we live, and do it on a smaller scale. The American economy of the mid-twenty-first century may actually center on agriculture, not information, not high tech, not "services" like real estate sales or hawking cheeseburgers to tourists. Farming. This is no doubt a startling, radical idea, and it raises extremely difficult questions about the reallocation of land and the nature of work. The relentless subdividing of land in the late twentieth century has destroyed the contiguity and integrity of the rural landscape in most places. The process of readjustment is apt to be disorderly and improvisational. Food production will necessarily be much more labor-intensive than it has been for decades. We can anticipate the re-formation of a native-born American farm-laboring class.

Now, of course I don't consider Rolling Stone a source of sober and objective analysis of current events. But when it comes to the environment and our earth's finite resources, I will always support strategies that err on the side of extreme caution. (Hat tip: James Wolcott.)

My Unbearable Lightness of Blogging: I really have been busy with other projects lately. I'm trying not to neglect my self-imposed blogging duties, but that's how things have been going the last few weeks. I have every intention of picking up the pace again soon!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Handsome Man Alert: Seen that Steve Wynn commercial? He's standing on top of his new Vegas hotel explaining that he's so proud of it that he's signed his name on it (a wide camera shot reveals that his name is indeed splashed across the side of the building). After a brief pause to allow this clever joke to sink in, he then reaches deep within himself and musters a grin that would make Lank Thompson cringe. A bizarre pop culture moment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Told You So: Yesterday's quake near Indonesia reminded me of my December 28, 2004 post in which I wondered aloud whether the quake of that week had really moved islands by as much as 20 meters (66 feet), as implied by headlines all over the Internet.

I just conducted a Yahoo! search and found the following, which cites the work of two Danish scientists:

The Indonesian islands of Sumatra moved only 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) on average after last month's Asian earthquake and tsunami, and not dozens of meters as previously feared.

As I predicted, GPS came to the rescue. In addition:

The two Danish scientists' findings also contradicts a report from the Malaysian navy published on Monday stating that the depth in certain stretches of the narrow Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, had changed by as much as two meters after the quake.

"The GPS observations show that the Malacca Strait near Sumatra basically hasn't changed," [Shfaqat Abbas] Khan said.

This is what happens when scientists openly speculate about what might have occurred in response to an event such as last December's earthquake. Too often, journalists don't add enough weight to the qualifying terms of these statements, and then headline writers remove the qualifiers all together.

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