Archive for August, 2011

Illuminated Silmarilion

August 31, 2011

This is really, really cool, a hand-illuminated copy of Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

This German art student, Benjamin Harff, decided, for his exam at the Academy of Arts, to do something only slightly ambitious — to hand-illuminate and bind a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. It took him six months of work. In very 21st century elvish-monk style, he hand-illuminated the text which had been printed on his home Canon inkjet printer. He worked with a binder to assemble the resulting book.

There is an interview with the artist linked to the article.

A Blessed Land

August 30, 2011

I was reading this article over at Stratfor.com titled The Geopolitics of the United States: The Inevitable Empire. Basically the article is an analysis of the favorable geography of  the continent of North America which has virtually assured that any nation that controls at least the central core will become a great power. Here are some excerpts:

The American geography is an impressive one. The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway, and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin. So like the Turks, the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live.

The most distinctive and important feature of North America is the river network in the middle third of the continent. While its components are larger in both volume and length than most of the world’s rivers, this is not what sets the network apart. Very few of its tributaries begin at high elevations, making vast tracts of these rivers easily navigable. In the case of the Mississippi, the head of navigation — just north of Minneapolis — is 3,000 kilometers inland.

The network consists of six distinct river systems: the Missouri, Arkansas, Red, Ohio, Tennessee and, of course, the Mississippi. The unified nature of this system greatly enhances the region’s usefulness and potential economic and political power. First, shipping goods via water is an order of magnitude cheaper than shipping them via land. The specific ratio varies greatly based on technological era and local topography, but in the petroleum age in the United States, the cost of transport via water is roughly 10 to 30 times cheaper than overland. This simple fact makes countries with robust maritime transport options extremely capital-rich when compared to countries limited to land-only options. This factor is the primary reason why the major economic powers of the past half-millennia have been Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Second, the watershed of the Greater Mississippi Basin largely overlays North America’s arable lands. Normally, agricultural areas as large as the American Midwest are underutilized as the cost of shipping their output to more densely populated regions cuts deeply into the economics of agriculture. The Eurasian steppe is an excellent example. Even in modern times Russian and Kazakh crops occasionally rot before they can reach market. Massive artificial transport networks must be constructed and maintained in order for the land to reach its full potential. Not so in the case of the Greater Mississippi Basin. The vast bulk of the prime agricultural lands are within 200 kilometers of a stretch of navigable river. Road and rail are still used for collection, but nearly omnipresent river ports allow for the entirety of the basin’s farmers to easily and cheaply ship their products to markets not just in North America but all over the world.

Third, the river network’s unity greatly eases the issue of political integration. All of the peoples of the basin are part of the same economic system, ensuring constant contact and common interests. Regional proclivities obviously still arise, but this is not Northern Europe, where a variety of separate river systems have given rise to multiple national identities.

So long as the United States has uninterrupted control of the continental core — which itself enjoys independent and interconnected ocean access — the specific locations of the country’s northern and southern boundaries are somewhat immaterial to continental politics. To the south, the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts are a significant barrier in both directions, making the exceedingly shallow Rio Grande a logical — but hardly absolute — border line. The eastern end of the border could be anywhere within 300 kilometers north or south of its current location (at present the border region’s southernmost ports — Brownsville and Corpus Christi — lie on the U.S. side of the border).

There is a lot more and I really recommend you read the whole thing. I am not sure I agree completely, though. Geography is important but it is not the only thing. The Native Americans lived on the continent for millenia but remained in the stone age and were easily dispossessed by the Europeans. This, of course, was because the oceans that have protected the United States in its formative years isolated the New World from the mainstream of technological innovation before the development of ships that could sail across the ocean. Then too, I simply can’t imagine that the history and political culture of North America would have been the same if the dominant colonists had been the French or Spanish, rather than the English. And then, if the French had settled their colonies as densely as the English North America could still be divided between hostile English and French speaking nations.
Still, there cannot be any doubt that we Americans have been unusually fortunate in our homeland. It reminds me of this passage in Deuteronomy:
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. (Deut 8:6-9)
If ever a land deserved to be called the Land of Milk and Honey it would be our country. God has truly blessed us above any other nation, and yet we fail to thank and honor Him or to follow His wishes. If God drove the Israelites into exile for worshipping false gods, what must He be planning for us?

Uncle Omar

August 29, 2011

One of the disadvantages of being the president is that you have to put up with relatives who do not always behave appropriately  Bad behavior that be overlooked in “normal” people becomes a national scandal or embarrassment if you happen to be the brother, or son or daughter of the President We had Billy Carter, Ron Reagan, Neil Bush, and Roger Clinton. You wouldn’t think that President Obama would have much of a problem with this, since his daughters are young and well behaved. He has a half-sister who is an educator and writer but who lives a relatively private life. But, then there is Uncle Omar. It seems that he in an illegal immigrant and a drunk driver.

The arrest ends a mystery over the fate of a relative that the US President wrote in his memoir had moved to America from Kenya in the 1960s, although the circumstances of his discovery may now prove to be an embarrassment for the White House.

Official records say Onyango Obama, 67, was picked up outside the Chicken Bone Saloon in Framingham, Massachusetts, at 7.10pm on August 24. Police say he nearly crashed his Mitsubishi 4×4 into a patrol car, and then insisted that the officer should have given way to him. A report filed with the Framingham District Court said that a breathalyser at the police station registered his blood alcohol at 0.14mg/100ml of blood, above the state limit of 0.08mg.

According to a local newspaper, Mr Obama was charged with driving under the influence and driving to endanger, as well as failing to use a turn signal. He was detained as an illegal immigrant because the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has an outstanding warrant for him because he was previously ordered to be deported to Kenya.

The Times has established from his birthdate that Mr Obama is the Uncle Omar mentioned in President Obama’s best-selling memoir Dreams from My Father. In the 1995 book, President Obama writes of “the uncle who had left for America 25 years ago and had never come back”.

I am going to guess that they are not going to have a reunion at the White House.

It’s interesting that the link Drudge provided for this leads to The Australian.  I wonder if very many US newspapers have picked this story up.

It’s in the Washington Times where they include the detail that he tried to call the White House. I would love to be able to listen to a recording of that conversation.

Beach Tourism in Egypt

August 29, 2011
Retouched versions of this picture from the ge...

Image via Wikipedia

If you are planning to go sun bathing in Egypt, you had better plan your trip sometime soon. The Muslim Brotherhood, or at least, its affiliated political parties wants to place tougher restrictions on tourists in Egypt can wear and do.

Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered a severe blow since the outburst of anti-regime demonstrations in January. But that did not stop the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, from demanding stricter regulations over what tourists can do and wear while visiting the country. The party is urging officials to ban skimpy swimwear and the consumption of alcohol on Egyptian streets.

“Beach tourism must take the values and norms of our society into account,” Muhammad Saad Al-Katatny, secretary-general of Freedom and Justice, told Egyptian tourism officials on Monday. “We must place regulations on tourists wishing to visit Egypt, which we will announce in advance.”

The call for new strictures on tourists comes as Egypt debates the role of Islam in the post-Mubarak era. Freedom and Justice is competing in elections scheduled for this autumn for parliament and opinion polls show a majority of Egyptians favor a greater use of Islamic law and mores. But a vocal minority worries that Egypt risks becoming an Islamic republic.

I am sure there is a larger number of Egyptians who are looking forward to Egypt becoming an Islamic republic. Of course this sort of thing will hurt their tourism industry. I don’t see large numbers of tourists going to Iran these days. But, I suppose economic considerations are secondary to doing the will of Allah.

Personally I don’t have a problem with banning bikinis or alcohol. I do worry about this though.

But bathing suits are not the only worry of Egypt’s Islamists. Abd Al-Munim A-Shahhat, a spokesman for the Salafi group Dawa, has said that Egypt’s world-renowned pharaonic archeology – its pyramids, Sphinx and other monuments covered with un-Islamic imagery – should also be hidden from the public eye.

“The pharaonic culture is a rotten culture,” A-Shahhat told the London-based Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday, saying the faces of ancient statues “should be covered with wax, since they are religiously forbidden.” He likened the Egyptian relics to the idols which circled the walls of Mecca in pre-Islamic times.

I doubt that would be a popular position to take in Egypt, since I suspect that the vast majority of Egyptians are proud of their country’s ancient history. Still, there is a link between radical Islam and iconoclasm. Remember the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban. Egypt has generally been more liberal, but the Sphinx’s nose was chiseled off in 1378 by a Sufi named Muhammed Sa’im al-Dahr when he discovered Egyptian peasants worshipping it. He was hanged for vandalism afterwards, so maybe the Egyptians are still more sensible than some in the region.

Undisclosed Location

August 26, 2011
Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.

Image via Wikipedia

From Yahoo News. We finally find out where they hid Vice-President Dick Cheney after 9/11.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney disappeared and was whisked off to a “secure, undisclosed location” to protect his safety. But Cheney never confirmed where exactly he hunkered down.

That is, until now.

Cheney confirms in his new memoir, “In My Time,” that some of the speculation was correct–one of his “undisclosed locations” was his residence in Northwest Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reports.

It seems that Joe Biden discovered the secret when he became Vice-President and found a bunker under the Vice-Presidential house. I wonder why they didn’t put him in an undisclosed location.

Cheney also was hidden in Wyoming, his home state, and Camp David.

Diamond Planet

August 25, 2011
A model of a neutron star's internal structure

Image via Wikipedia

This is really cool. Astronomers have discovered a planet made largely of carbon that happens to be fairly dense. What form of carbon is fairly dense, diamonds. So, evidently this is a planet with a crystalline structure.

The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon — i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun,” said Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne

A neutron star is a stellar remnant that is very massive but very small so it is very, very dense. A star twice as massive as our sun compressed down to about the size of a city.

Pulsars are tiny, dead neutron stars that are only around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in diameter and spin hundreds of times a second, emitting beams of radiation.

In the case of pulsar J1719-1438, the beams regularly sweep the Earth and have been monitored by telescopes in Australia, Britain and Hawaii, allowing astronomers to detect modulations due to the gravitational pull of its unseen companion planet.

The measurements suggest the planet, which orbits its star every two hours and 10 minutes, has slightly more mass than Jupiter but is 20 times as dense, Bailes and colleagues reported in the journal Science on Thursday.

It would be wonderful to send a probe to this planet to get some pictures but it is too far away, about 8000 light-years away. Too bad.

 

New Constitution for Libya

August 25, 2011

Although the Libyan rebels have been busy taking Tripoli and breaking into Qadaffi’s compound, they have still managed to write a first draft of a new Libyan constitution. You can see it in pdf form here. At first glance it looks promising.

Libya is an independent, Democratic State in which the people are the source of authorities…The State shall guarantee for non-Moslems the freedom of practising religious rights.

The State shall seek to establish a political democratic regime to be based upon the political multitude and multi party system in a view of achieving peaceful and democratic circulation of power.

Human rights and his basic freedoms shall be respected

Freedom of opinion for individuals and groups…shall be guaranteed by the state.

There’s more like that. It sounds very liberal, something our own founding fathers might have written, except for one small detail.

Islam is the religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia).

That cancels out all of the fine sentiments expressed elsewhere in this document. It is sort of like the old Soviet constitution in which all sorts of freedoms and rights were guaranteed but only so long as those rights did not interfere with the goal of building communism. So, in effect the citizens had no rights. Under this constitution it would seem that the people of Libya will have all sorts of freedoms and rights guaranteed by the State but only so long as these rights do not conflict with Sharia. I am afraid that we have exchanged one tyrant for another in Libya

Here is an analysis from Stratfor on what is likely to happen next in Libya.

Maxine Waters and the Tea Party

August 22, 2011
Maxine Waters (D-CA), Member of the U.S. House...

As far as I am concerned, she can go to Hell

From (where else?) The Drudge Report. I think it would be fair to say that Rep. Maxine Waters is not a supporter of the Tea Party movement.

“I’m not afraid of anybody,” the California congresswoman told constituents in footage that appeared on ABC affiliate KABC in Los Angeles, not backing down from comments made about President Obama earlier in the week. “This is a tough game. You can’t be intimidated. You can’t be frightened. And as far as I’m concerned — the tea party can go straight to hell.”

Here is what she had to say about the L.A. riots back in 1992, according to Wikipedia,

Waters described the riots as a rebellion, saying “If you call it a riot it sounds like it was just a bunch of crazy people who went out and did bad things for no reason. I maintain it was somewhat understandable, if not acceptable.”

So, just to make things clear, in the liberal la-la land that Democrats like her inhabit, people peacefully assembling to petition the government are bad, people burning buildings and looting are good.

Glad we have that straight now.

Fighting in Tripoli

August 22, 2011

From Yahoo News. This might be good news.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Clashes broke out early Monday near Moammar Gadhafi‘s compound in Tripoli, a day after rebels poured into the Libyan capital in a stunning advance that met little resistance from the regime’s defenders.

Toast

The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya’s 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, NATO and anti-Gadhafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles (30 kilometers) in a matter of hours Sunday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.

By the early hours of Monday, opposition fighters controlled most of the capital. The seizure of Green Square held profound symbolic value — the plaza was the scene of pro-Gadhafi rallies organized by the regime almost every night, and Gadhafi delivered speeches to his loyalists from the historic Red Fort that overlooks the square. Rebels and Tripoli residents set up checkpoints around the city, though pockets of pro-Gadhafi fighters remained. In one area, AP reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.

It would seem the the rebels have already captured Gadhafi’s son and heir and they are on their way to capturing the whole city. I can’t imagine the Gadhafi regime surviving after this defeat, though I imagine he will go down fighting.

I said that this might be good news. The world will surely be a better place without Gadhafi in it but I don’t think anyone really knows very much about the rebels. Will they be able to form a government? Are they Islamist fanatics? Will the new government support terrorists? Nobody knows.

Oil Pipeline Protest

August 21, 2011
Location of bitumen depoits ("tarsands&qu...

There's oil in them thar hills

From The Hill. Because $3.60 a gallon for gasoline is just not expensive enough. We surely don’t need any more jobs in this economy. That’s one explanation for these protesters outside the White House who do not want President Obama to approve a pipeline to bring oil from Alberta’s oil sands down to the Gulf Coast.

Police arrested 65 environmentalists outside the White House Saturday as they staged a demonstration urging President Obama to block a proposed pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.

The civil disobedience launched two-weeks of White House demonstrations – with more arrests to come – as activists seek to increase political pressure on Obama over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The Obama administration is weighing TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile line to bring crude from Alberta’s massive oil sands projects to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The pipeline needs State Department approval to proceed, and the Obama administration plans to make a decision by the end of the year.

The protesters recite the usual litany about environmental damage and global warming (I’m sorry climate change).

But environmentalists oppose the greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands projects due to concerns about global warming and the destruction of Canadian forests, and also say the pipeline could suffer from spills that pollute U.S. water supplies.

We have to get our oil from somewhere, and I like Canada a whole lot better than I like Saudi Arabia. Of course, it would be nice if these people would allow us to extract  more of our own supply, but that’s just crazy talk.

I like this comment toward the end of the article.

McKibben, a key organizer of the protests, calls the Obama administration decision a referendum on the president’s climate change record, noting the decision rests solely with the executive branch.

“He doesn’t have to go through the crazy climate deniers in Congress to be able to do the right thing,” McKibben said in Lafayette Square Saturday morning.

“If Barack Obama mans up, says no to this thing, it will send a surge of electricity through all of the people that voted for him three years ago. It will be the reminder of why we were so enamored of this guy in 2008,” McKibben said.

If Barack Obama really wants to be a one-term president, then by all means he should stop the pipeline. As I said, it’s not like we need to provide more jobs or something.

 

And, as always, thanks to Instapundit for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

 


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