The Know-It-All

Cover of "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humb...
Cover via Amazon

Before he spent a year following every single rule in the Bible, and before he used his life as an experimentA. J. Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z and wrote about his experiences in The Know-It All. This is a feat not likely to be repeat since the Encyclopedia Britannica has ceased to print actual copies of the encyclopedia.

The Know-It-All is not a book about the Encyclopedia. Rather, it is the story of the experiences of a man who decides to read the Encyclopedia. Jacobs often refers to the facts he learns, usually in the context of something related to his life experiences, or some odd fact he did not know before.

The Know-It-All is an interesting and funny peek into the life of a man who wants to make himself smarter. By his account, Jacobs turns into something of an annoying know-it-all by spouting off trivia at any occasion. Reading the encyclopedia is probably not the best way to try to know it all, Still Jacobs found that the more facts he learned, the more he began to see the connections between seemingly disparate subjects. and in the end he managed to obtain a bit of wisdom to go along with all of those facts.

The Final Frontier

I am a little disappointed by Charles Krauthammer‘s latest column, in which he laments the end of the space shuttle program.

As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.

The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again. It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.

Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor. The planned follow-on — the Constellation rocket-capsule program to take humans back into orbit and from there to the moon — was suddenly canceled in 2010. And with that, control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China.

As s Conservative, Krauthammer should know better. He seems to be following the Liberal line that if the government does not provide a good or service, than it will not be provided. In fact, America is not ceding control of space. Private enterprise is picking up where NASA has left off. There are already several companies ready and willing to provide launch vehicles, including SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. As for Constellation, Rand Simberg has pointed out repeatedly that it is a waste of taxpayer money with no defined mission except to provide jobs to the aerospace industry, a kind of space Solyndra, if you will.

Krauthammer goes on.

Nor for the private sector to get us back into orbit, as Obama assumes it will. True, hauling MREs up and trash back down could be done by private vehicles. But manned flight is infinitely more complex and risky, requiring massive redundancy and inevitably larger expenditures. Can private entities really handle that? And within the next lost decade or two?

But they are. The first private manned spaceflight was back in 2004. Granted it was only a suborbital flight, but Space Ship One showed that a private manned space flight is not too complex and risky. Even now, there are plans for more manned flights and eventually space tourism. We are  not retreating from space. We are taking space exploration to its next step, ending the government monopoly on space travel and opening space up to private enterprise.

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. It also happens to be Vladimir Illich Lenin‘s birthday. Pick which ever one you want to observe. They are both celebrations of Communism.

Google Space

I just saw this on The Drudge Report. This is the most exciting story I have read in quite a while.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and billionaire co-founder Larry Page have teamed up with “Avatar” director James Cameron and other investors to back an ambitious space exploration and natural resources venture, details of which will be unveiled next week.

The fledgling company, called Planetary Resources, will be unveiled at a Tuesday news conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, according to a press release issued this week.

Aside from naming some of the company’s high-profile backers, the press release disclosed tantalizingly few details, saying only that the company will combine the sectors of “space exploration and natural resources” in a venture that could add “trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Planetary Resources will explore the feasibility of mining natural resources from asteroids, a decades-old concept.

“This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources,'” according to the press release.

Planetary Resource was co-founded by Eric Anderson, a former NASA Mars mission manager, and Peter Diamandis, the commercial space entrepreneur behind the X-Prize, a competition that offered $10 million to a group that launched a reusable manned spacecraft. Other notable investors include Charles Simonyi, a former top executive at Microsoft, and K. Ram Shriram, a Google director.

The venture will be the latest foray into the far-flung for Cameron, who dived last month in a mini-submarine to the deepest spot in the Mariana Trench. The plot of his 2009 science fiction blockbuster film, “Avatar,” concerned resource mining on alien planets.

It is long past time that the exploration and exploitation of space was opened up to private enterprise. Maybe someday I’ll get to take that vacation on the Moon after all.

Dog Eating

I know this election should be all about jobs and the economy rather than whether Barak Obama ate dog meat when he was a child in Indonesia, but I just can’t resist dwelling on this.

There is Dogs Against Obama.Too bad dogs can’t vote.

This one is cute.

Hot Dogs

There are a lot more where they came from.

Mourdock for Senate

Official photo of Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN).
Official photo of Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The editors of the National Review Online have decide to endorse Richard Mourdock in his campaign for Senate against Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary.

One need not support formal term limits to recognize the existence of informal ones, and the tightening polls in the Indiana Senate Republican primary suggest voters there may be starting to think Senator Richard Lugar has been in Washington long enough.

The conventional wisdom has been that the six-term incumbent Lugar is a safer general-election bet than his opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock. But the primary has heretofore shown Lugar to be out of touch with Hoosiers, an institutionalized Capitol Hiller who for a spell was ruled ineligible to vote in his own primary after a local board determined he hadn’t owned a home in Indiana in three decades. Though a subsequent ruling allowed Lugar to claim a family farm as a residence, the die is cast. Lugar has become a carpetbagger in his own state.

By contrast, the low-key Mourdock’s mantra has been “capable, competent, and conservative,” a line he used last week after a fine performance in his sole debate with Lugar, and one that could describe our impression of the man after he met with National Review editors recently. Mourdock is popular in Indiana, having won reelection as state treasurer with 63 percent of the vote, and has impressed the grassroots, securing endorsements from a number of Tea Party groups and delivering a strong speech at CPAC. Like so many who have seen the light, Mourdock became a conservative in the age of Reagan; he is a successful oil geologist whose growing interest in thinkers such as Milton Friedman led him to run for Congress and eventually win county and statewide office. As treasurer, Mourdock has shown himself to be both fiscally prudent and possessed of a certain fighting spirit, most prominently when he (unsuccessfully) sued to recover $6 million the state’s pension funds had lost when the Obama administration’s auto bailouts arbitrarily rewrote a century of bankruptcy law.


The debate between Mourdock and Lugar showed that latter still has the reflexes for the kind of homer politics that goes under the name “constituent services”; he assured the audience, for instance, that he is “thinking about corn and soybean prices every day.” But after 36 years in the Senate, Mr. Lugar evinces a political philosophy so subtle that in unfavorable light it scarcely seems to exist at all. Whether it is his limp defense of ethanol subsidies (which Mourdock opposes), his cold praise of the “scholarly” Ryan plan, or his seeming unfamiliarity with his own voting record on Social Security, Lugar cut the figure of a man grown more accustomed to the backslapping of the cloakroom than to the candid back and forth of the town hall. Even on foreign policy, where he is often praised as a statesman, Lugar lacks his opponent’s clarity on the United States’ role in the world. His opposition to the surge in Iraq was poorly thought out and, ultimately, wrong, and he was a champion of the New START treaty, which was a gift to Russia.

Lugar is a decent man who has in the past been more reliable than not on a number of important conservative issues. Arlen Specter he is not. But we can do better. Mr. Mourdock strikes us, for instance, as a man who would not cast votes, as Lugar did, to confirm Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Nor would he co-sponsor the DREAM Act, support the auto bailouts, or oppose the Vitter amendment to limit taxpayer-funded abortion, as Lugar did and does.

For these reasons we support Mr. Mourdock in the Indiana Republican primary. We think he will make a strong candidate and a good United States senator. After Lugar’s long career in Washington, Hoosiers deserve new blood and Lugar deserves a happy retirement and a gold watch. We’d be happy to spring for one.

I am glad to see this. Richard Lugar is a good man and an able public servant and no hint of scandal has ever been associated with him. Indiana should be proud to have had him as our Senator. Still, he is eighty years old and has been in the Senate for thirty-six years. No one can stay in Washington for that long without becoming out of tough with the people back home. It is a continual source of frustration for Conservatives that the people we elect to serve us become steadily more acclimated to the Washington culture and drift leftwards. Lugar is not as bad as many, but I think it is time for him to step down.


The Question Obama Doesn’t Want Us to Ask

It seems to be that if Mitt Romney really wants to win this election, he ought to steal a page from Ronald Reagan’s old playbook and ask the voters, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”,  “Is the country better off?”, “Is our credit higher rated?”, “Are we more secure?”, “Are the numbers for unemployment or gas prices moving in the direction you want?”, that sort of thing. If the election is decided on that basis, then Obama hasn’t got a chance.

Obama knows this, of course, so he and his friends in the mainstream media will be doing their best to make sure that question isn’t asked. They will be trying as hard as they can to distract us and divide us. Indeed, they are already doing so, but it will get worse. Expect to hear more complaints against the evil 1% or millionaires and billionaires who don’t pay their fair share. I don’t imagine Obama himself will do so, but the media will be happy to attack Romney’s Mormon religion as something weird and strange. Remember, bigotry is acceptable, as long as it is practiced by the tolerant progressives.

Personally, I find Mormonism to be a strange and even silly religion, what with its God from the planet Kolob, its secret temple ceremonies, and magic underwear. Still, whatever my disagreements with Mormon theology, I am certain that if I visited a Mormon service I would not hear a sermon like this.

So, if anyone in the mainstream media begins to raise questions about Romney’s Mormonism, we might want to ask them why they were so incurious about Obama’s religious background.

Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Cover of "Caesar: Life of a Colossus"
Cover of Caesar: Life of a Colossus

There are, perhaps, only a handful of names from the ancient world that are still well known to this day. Among these, Gaius Julius Caesar must surely be one of the most familiar, even to those who don’t know much about history. A strong case could be made that Caesar was the most influential secular figure in ancient times. The changes he made to the Roman state shaped the course of history and politics for the next two millennia. We still use the calendar he introduced in Rome, with only minor changes. His name is synonymous with king or ruler in many languages (Kaiser, Tsar, Czar, and possibly Shah). Caesar truly was a colossus among men.

Yet, in many ways, Caesar was an enigma.  We know a lot about his policies and military campaigns from his own books and the writings of his contemporaries, yet his motives and ultimate designs remain a mystery. Did Caesar plan all along to overthrow the Roman Republic, or was he improvising, or was he an ambitious aristocrat in an age in which all the conventions were breaking down. Was he planning a major new campaign of conquest in the East when he was assassinated? Why did some of his supporters assassinate him? Did he intend to make himself King?

Adrian Goldsworthy attempts to answer these questions and more in his comprehensive biography of Julius Caesar, Caesar: Life of a Colossus. He begins by exploring the world of the late Republic in which Caesar was born. Even in his youth, there were signs that the Republic no longer worked as well as it did in centuries past. There were class struggles, military coups, and increasing lawlessness and egregious lust for power among the ambitious Senatorial Class. As he grew up, Caesar learned to play the game of power as well as any of his peers, becoming a prominent young lawyer and politician. Then he embarked on his remarkable military career.

Goldsworthy notes that while he made some mistakes early in his conquest of Gaul, Caesar learned from them and soon became one of the greatest generals in ancient history. Although he was from the highest nobility, he developed a unique rapport with his men, who were willing to follow him anywhere.  Caesar’s most controversial decision was to cross the Rubicon into Italy with his army, thereby seizing power and provoking a civil war. Goldsworthy explores Caesar’s motivations for this fateful decision and concludes that Caesar was more interested in preserving his safety and honor than in becoming dictator.  Nevertheless, he did seize absolute power after he emerged victorious over his enemies.

Caesar could be ruthless at need but, according to Goldsworthy, he was not a cruel man, and whenever possible, he preferred to pardon former opponents and sought their support. This proved to be his undoing, since several of his assassins, including Brutus and Cassius, were just such former enemies.

Goldsworthy deals with each portion of Caesar’s life in as much detail as possible. He tries to stick, as close to the known facts as possible, but any biography of a person who lived so long ago must necessarily include much that is speculation.  He also takes the opportunity to correct popular misconceptions about life and war in ancient times, which Hollywood and popular entertainment has been all too apt to spread. Overall, Colossus is a solid and readable biography about a most remarkable man.

Yes, The Titanic was Real

I  had thought I had lost any capacity to be amazed by the ignorance of some people but I was wrong. I would have thought that even someone with only the vaguest grasp of history would have realized that the movie Titanic was based on real events. According to this article in the Independent, I would be wrong.

IT may have been one of the most iconic disasters of the twentieth century but it appears that some Twitter users are only now waking up to the fact that the sinking of the Titanic was not just the plot of a blockbuster film.

While subscribers to the microblogging site may be kept constantly up to date with the latest news and gossip, it is appears that some are less than familiar with the major events of the more distant past.

The sinking of the White Star liner with the loss of 1,500 lives in 1912 stunned the world and became a byword for tragedy.

But it appears that it has become so enmeshed in popular culture – particularly with the recently re-released film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet – that some were not aware of the historical reality.

Twitter: Kelly Derrick: Is it bad that I didn’t know the titanic was real? Always thought it was just a film” :literally dont know what to say

Neither do I. I really don’t know how someone could be so ignorant. Maybe they don’t teach history in public schools anymore, except for politically correct victimology. I just don’t know.

Sinking of the Titanic, drawn from wireless de...
It really happened.



Rhonda Robinson has a post at PJ Media on lessons that your teenager can learn by watching The Hunger Games. The post is worth reading and I recommend you do so but I was intrigued by her contrast of The hunger Games with that other teenage hit The Twilight Saga.

Many comparisons have been made between Katniss and Twilight’s Bella. Given that both target the same audience of young girls and carry controversial themes, it should be mentioned.

As I said in my Twilight post, Bella is every parent’s worst nightmare. To her parents, Bella is a good kid: quiet, keeps to herself, presumably makes good grades. Yet she has a secret death wish, and will throw her life away at the drop of a certain boy’s hat. She is sullen, preoccupied, and secretive. Katniss is the exact opposite.

Both girls find themselves with a less than ideal family life, with little or no real parental guidance. While Bella recoils in the arms of a potentially deadly relationship, Katniss spends no time feeling sorry for herself. She takes on the responsibility of providing for her despondent mother and fragile little sister.

Nancy French over at Patheos contrasts the two like this:

 Katniss Everdeen’s love causes her to bravely sacrifice on behalf of others – from taking care of her family to figuring out how to play a game in a way that hopefully won’t kill her friend.

While Bella’s absent parents cause her to seek an intense love outside of her immediate family at an incredibly young age, Katniss assumes the role of care giver for her family, learns to hunt, and deals with merchants in the marketplace. She’s fierce, loyal, and independent even in the most trying of circumstances.  (If we could bend the book/time/movie continuum and introduce the two characters, Katniss wouldn’t get Bella. “Why is she so depressed all the time?” she might say to Gale while looking for squirrels in the woods. “ Why is she so sullen when she has so much food to eat and so much free time?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer Bellas and more Katnisses in high schools across America?

I have always been a little uneasy about the Twilight Saga. I have never read the books and I have only seen parts of the movies, yet to me, there has always been something unsettling about the series, though I couldn’t quite say why until I read this post. I think a good deal of my uneasiness comes from Bella’s statement on the back of the first book, Twilight.

About 3 things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him, and I didn’t know how potent that part might be, that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him

Think about that for a minute. Bella is describing a young man, well vampire, who is dangerous, might well seek to harm her, but she is irrevocably in love with him. How many abused women could say that?

In folklore, vampires were always evil creatures who existed by sucking the blood or life from the living. They had little control over their desire to destroy the living and didn’t really want such control. Vampires were destroyed, not made sparkly, by the Sun because they were beings of evil who could not endure the pure light of the Sun. Remember, in many ancient religions, the Sun was perceived as a source of good and Sun gods were almost always benevolent. Since vampires were considered to be evil creatures, it would be extremely dangerous for a human to seek out a vampire. To put it in Twilight terms, Edward Cullen’s thirst for blood would overcome any affection he would have for Bella.

I know that vampires don’t really exist and Stephenie Meyer can write whatever she wants in her stories. But, there really are men out there who are destructive, who desire to rape or kill others and who do not seem to be at all willing or able to control such desires. There are some women, especially young women, who are attracted to such men. Bella Swan seems to be just that type. I do not want my daughters or any other young girl to get the idea that if they fall in love with a “dangerous” guy, somehow everything will turn out all right because they love each other. I do not want my daughters to grow up to be moody, angsty, or willing to let some man hurt them, because they “love” him. I would much rather my daughters grow up to be like Katniss Everdeen, brave enough to take care of themselves and to take on the world.