Tuesday, October 31, 2006

War hurts everybody
This is the kind of tragedy that happens when our leaders fail to consider the consequences of their decisions.
Israel's recent war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas has sent cannabis prices sky high in the Jewish state. Boosted security on the Lebanon frontier brought a drastic reduction in drug smuggling, with the cost of cannabis in Israel up eight-fold....

Oh, the humanity.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An object lesson in Wiki research
This post should serve as a lesson in the importance of the two source rule and why we should be careful using Wikipedia to research controversial topics.

The other day, I planned to do some research on my woolly mammoth chapter featuring the Velikovskians. I went to the Wikipedia looking for some definitions that I might link to. The words for the day were "uniformitarianism" and "catastrophism."

Uniformitarianism is the name given to the to underlying assumption of the Earth sciences that most of the features of the Earth are the result of small changes accumulating over a long period of time. It is the geological equivalent of evolution. As such it has a passionate opposition among radical religious fundamentalists and non-religious fringe theorists. For decades, the opposition to geological uniformitarianism has rallied around an idea called catastrophism, which claims that the most important factor in shaping the Earth has been sudden, violent events including, but not limited to, the Biblical flood.

There are actually two ideas involved in uniformitarianism. The first is simply that change in geology happens at a gradual and almost imperceptible rate. The other is that the forces of change have not changed over time. The forces we see at work now are the same forces responsible for change in the past. When self-proclaimed catastrophists rail against uniformitarianism, they usually reject both of these ideas.

Both "uniformitarianism" and "catastrophism" appeared as descriptive terms in the early nineteenth century at about the same time as history of the ice ages was discovered. Uniformitarianism went on to become something of a dogma in the Earth sciences, though never as total and oppressive as the catastrophists claim. Geologists knew that major earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions could shape the Earth, but they minimized the importance of such changes. The dogmatic streak in geological uniformitarianism probably peaked around the 1920s when Bretz's Missoula Floods and Wegener's continental drift theories were both rejected without a fair hearing. It's a testament to the scientific method that both ideas hung on and eventually did get a fair hearing and the acceptance they deserved.

You don't hear much about Immanuel Velikovsky anymore, but for three decades he was the best-known voice of anti-establishment science in the United States. Velikovsky's books sold millions in hardback. At his peak, his supporters managed to create an entire parallel intellectual structure complete with journals, conferences, and schisms. Velikovsky's ideas had two main parts, and both drove the established intellectual community nuts.

Velikovsky was born to a Jewish family in 1895 in, what is now, Belarus. He was a committed Zionist (in the original sense of the word, not in the current pejorative sense). He visited Palestine in 1914 and emigrated there in 1924. He played a significant role in the founding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a physician and psychiatrist, and published academic papers in the latter field. In 1939 he brought his family to the US to spend a sabbatical year working on a historical project. The outbreak of the war in Europe stranded him in the US and his historical project consumed the rest of his life.

Velikovsky's original idea, inspired by Freud's book Moses and Monotheism, explored the possibility that the Egyptian pharaoh Akhnaton was the same person as the legendary Greek king Oedipus. Stranded in America, with extra time on his hands, he began to look for evidence of the Exodus in the literature of non-Hebrew peoples. He thought he had a good candidate in the Egyptian Ipuwer Papyrus. Unfortunately, this document was dated several centuries earlier than the traditional date of the Exodus. To bring them into sync, Velikovsky needed to reduce the length of Egyptian history by about three hundred years. He also needed to find a naturalistic explanation for the miracles associated with the Exodus. This led him into catastrophist geology.

By 1949, Velikovsky had written his theories up as two books. The prestigious publisher Macmillan was prepared to publish them. Velikovsky's historical theory was revolutionary enough. He rearranged the 19th through 26th dynasties of Egypt and eleiminated an entire dynasty (he claimed the 19th and 26th were the same). What really gained him attention was his catastrophic theory of the Earth.

Velikovsky explained the miracles of the Old Testament by suggesting a complicated astronomical scenario. Sometime prior to 1500 BC, an enormous chunk of the planet Jupiter launched itself into space, leaving behind a giant red scar. This chunk of Jupiter would eventually become the planet Venus, but for the time being, careened through the inner solar system as a giant comet.

The comet Venus crossed the path of Earth at least twice. The first passage caused the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus story. At this time Venus knocked the Earth off its axis, killed all the mammoths, rained hydrocarbons on the Middle East, which soaked into the ground to become petroleum deposits, rained carbohydrates on the Middle East, which fed the escaping Hebrew slaves, and produced floods, mountain risings, and most catastrophic events described in the mytologies of all peoples. Fifty-two years later, Venus returned again to restore the Earth to its old axis and stop the sun for an hour so Joshua could kill more Canaanites at Beth Horon.

After that, Venus knocked Mars out of its orbit. Mars encountered the Earth a couple times, again adjusting its orbit and axis. Eventually, everyone settled into their current orbits sometime around the dawn of classical Greek history.

Velikovsky had some extreme ideas, too, but didn't develop them in public, leaving them to his followers.

This brings us back to the perils of using Wikipedia as the sole source of research on controversial subjects. The current Wikipedia article on "Catastrophism" is short and unbalanced. It doesn't mention modern creationists at all. It devotes one section to Velikovsky, but none to other influential catastrophists such as Charles Hapgood. The Evowiki entry on "Catastrophism," while also short, is much more balanced.

During the week that I checked Wikipedia, the "Catastrophism" article had eight sections. The additional section (which was online from October 15 - 22) dealt with one particular Velikovsky follower, John Ackerman, and raised the total wordcount for Velikovsky related material to almost half of the the total article. To any student depending on Wikipedia as a source, this would have given them the impression that catastrophism was essentially about Velikovsky, or that he was, at least, the most important person in developing the concept. Neither of these conclusions would have been correct.

What was the idea Ackerman had that someone thought needed to be added to the Wikipedia? The Ackerman section, added by an anonymous author, reads in its totality:
Velikovsky/Ackerman Catastrophism

The ideas of Velikovsky have been greatly advanced since 1998 by John Ackerman (Firmament, Chaos, and Peleh: Hidden Knowledge)in recent years, using new interpretations of ancient myths in the Rig Veda, Hindu, Egyptian, Greek and Roman myth and data from NASA planetary missions. This work has revealed a 3000 year period of repeated close encounters of Mars and Venus with the Earth from 4000 to 687 BC. In fact, all myths composed during this period were meant solely to describe the events that were taking place in the heavens close to the Earth. Ackerman has used detailed interpretations of these myths to deduce a scenario of recent cosmic encounters, which shows that all of these cultures were observing the same bodies. These encounters explain ancient stories of the erratic motion of the Sun, the 360 day calendars found in almost every ancient culture. The oceans and atmosphere of the ancient planet which Ackerman calls priori-Mars were completely transferred to the Earth during this 3000 year period when it was in a geosynchronous orbit only 33,000 km (surface to surface distance) distant. Only as a result of these infusions of volatiles did the Earth become capable of supporting the present population of mankind. These encounters were involved in the biblical miracles at the Exodus, the defeat of Sennacherib at the time of Hezekiah, the flood of Noah and the fall of manna (ambrosia, soma) from 'heaven.' The final departure of priori-Mars from the vicinity of the Earth took place when its solid iron core exited the planet through what is now called the Valles Marineris, and was deflected into the inner solar system, forming what scientists call the 'planet' Mercury, while the mantle drifted outward and collapsed in on itself to form the diminutive 'planet' Mars, which has been found to have a partially liquid iron/sulfur core. The V/A catastrophism also reveals many facts still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles, concerning the other planets. 1. Jupiter and Saturn are not gaseous, but comprise primarily water in the form of gas hydrates. 2. Venus is a new planet, only 6000 years old. 3. Terrestrial planets are formed catastrophically from vast plasma clouds that rebound from high energy impacts on the giant gas hydrate planets. As a result each terrestrial planet has a unique age. The biblical 'firmament' was priori-Mars, which was 800 million years older than Earth. It was the 'spaceship' that carried the 'elohiym to the Earth.

The anonymous author presents Ackerman's theory as if it has already been recognized as the best interpretation of the available facts. That's not the case. Most scientists are unaware of Ackerman's theory and, if they were, almost all would reject it. Imagine the poor student who reports that Venus is only six thousand years old.

Recently, I have seen a number of references to kids being fooled by the brilliant parody site Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and writing research papers about the fictitious invertebrate. I don't know if it's true. A number of teaching sites use the tree octopus as an example of a professional looking site that sounds legitimate, but isn't. At least it is clearly a parody. Material, which appears for the first time in a Wiki entry, is harder to evaluate. Is something new because the article was incomplete and needed this information to be complete? Or is it new because someone is trying to pull something over on us and they just haven't been caught yet.

The answer isn't censorship, filtering the internet, or any other solution that aims to protect kids from objectionable information. The only thing that will help students when faced with bad science or bad history disguised as alternate viewpoints or honest controversy is to learn critical thought. They need to learn a healthy suspicion about the appearance of authority, while learning how to recognize earned authority.

* This summary doesn't do justice to Ackerman's ideas. His dramatic narrative of the history of our solar system makes Velikovsky's planetary pinball look bland by comparison. Ackerman is typical of the generation of Velikovsky followers that ran with his ideas after the old man's death. Some of the others of this group have postulated that the Earth was once a moon of Saturn, that dinosaurs are proof the Earth once had a much weaker gravitational field than it does now, and that electricity is a more important force in celestial mechanics than gravity. My woolly mammoth chapter on the Velikovskians (coming soon!) will only touch on these ideas. Most of them deserve their own full post treatment.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Footprints in the valley
The Cuatro Ciénegas Valley is a biological wonder hidden in the Eastern Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. The Nature Conservancy, which is working with Mexican groups to preserve as much of the region as possible, describes it as:
As a rare sanctuary in a harsh desert habitat, Cuatro Ciénegas teems with endemic species. The refuge has more than 75 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, insects and more than 400 species of cactus found nowhere else in the world. An impressive variety of bats and migratory birds also find refuge in this desert oasis. The gypsum dunes, native grassland matrix community, xerophilic shrubs, canyon systems, and Coahuilan box turtle are other targets that have been the focus of attention in Cuatro Ciénegas.

Cuatro Ciénegas is more than a unique environmental heritage; it is also an important scientific laboratory. NASA's attention has been drawn to the region by primative algae and bacteria growing in some of the pools. Because the stromatolite-forming algae resemble the earliest life known to have existed on Earth, NASA believes studying the ecosystem of the pools can give them clues on how to identify life on other planets. The NASA research team at Cuatro Ciénegas is focusing on identify the type of atmosphere being produced by the primitive life forms. When the next generation of orbiting telescopes replace Hubble in the next decade, data from Cuatro Ciénegas will guide the research programs to study the atmospheres of planets around other stars. If we discover other life in space, this is the most likely way we will find the first traces. Other research teams are looking into the evolution of cynobacteria and horizontal gene transfers.

Now we can add archaeology to Cuatro Ciénegas' treasures. A joint Mexican-American team thinks they may have located the oldest human footprints in the new world in the soil around one of the springs. In 1961 Arturo Gonzalez, director of the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico, found casts of two human footprints in a small museum and has spent the last forty-five years trying to find out where they were from. Last May, he and Martin Lockley, director of the Dinosaur Tracks Museum at the University of Colorado, discovered the source. The two footprints were part of a track thirteen prints and almost thirty feet long.

Though tests are still being run, based on stratiography, the two think the prints are ten to fifteen thousand years old. This easily makes them the oldest in North America--six thousand year old prints have been identified in Nicaragua and California--and possibly the oldest in the new world. A single footprint at Monte Verde in Chile has been dated at 12.5 thousand years old.

At the end of the last ice age, Cuatro Ciénegas would have been an even richer environment than it is now. It's marshes would have been filled with migratory birds, its pools with edible shellfish, and its surrounding land would have teemed with game drawn by the grasses and springs. For any humans who had crossed the dry mountains surrounding the valley, this would have been a paradise. As the mountains became even dryer following the ice age, the valley would have become even more attractive. Gonzalez and Lockley's discovery will help us better understand the lifestyle of some of the first people in the Americas.

Until very recently, most archeologists believed that the first humans entered North America overland into the central plains about 11.5 thousand years ago. These people are called the Clovis culture. Pre-Clovis finds, like Monte Verde, remain controversial, but are becoming more broadly accepted. However, assembling the scattered pre-Clovis finds into a coherent history still escapes the archaeological community. Cuatro Ciénegas might be one more valuable piece in the puzzle.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Show us some respect
If they are going to cheat, I wish they would at least show us enough respect to tell us plausible lies.
U.S. Senate candidate James Webb's last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.

The name of the Republican incumbent, George F. Allen, just happens to fit perfectly.
Election officials attribute the mistake to an increase in the type size on the ballot. Although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot.

Thus, Democratic candidate Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only -- or "James H. 'Jim' " -- on summary pages in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville, the only jurisdictions in Virginia that use balloting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin.


Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, who said yesterday she only recently became aware of the problem, pledged to have it fixed by the 2007 statewide elections.

Apparently, giving the voters paper ballots with every candidate's complete name is beyond their technical ability.

This is a race that some polls are showing statistically tied. A small confusion can make the difference between winning and losing. Does anyone remember "Jews for Buchanan" in 2000?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Carnival of Bad History #10
We have a short carnival for you this month, but it's one that highlights the broad range of places in which bad history can be found.

Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires finds a little bad history in the glorification of the "Lost Cause" as he reminices about the misadventures of a peacnik Yankee, travelling with his mom to Wild West City in New Jersey for his first reenactment as a Confederate cavalryman, on the same day that his father and sister marched in the largest peace protest in American history.

Over at Neural Gourmet we are all happy to see a bit of bad history finally corrected while the subject is still alive to enjoy his vindication.

A good friend of Archy's, Marty Langeland, submits this essay on beans and the truth about those cattle drive chuck wagons, featured in so many old Western movies. As an added treat, he adds his own recipe for camping beans.

Former CoBH host, Hiram Hover, discovers the power of controlling definitions in "So THAT’S What You Mean by 'Civil War.'"

Future CoBH host, The Axis of Evel Knievel, tells us about today, October 22, and two example of how religious blinders can lead to bad history.

Perhaps we didn't get a lot of bad history submission this month because everyone is wrapped up in the suspense of watching the election approach. Fortunataely, I can only stand the suspense about three days out of the week. On the other days, I take refuge in exploring unconventional belief systems (that's what I'll call them today).

My own exploration produced one explicitly political bit of bad history. Pat Buchanan beleives the radical gay agenda was an influential force to be dealt with in Washington DC before World War One. I found one bit of completely traditional bad history in yet another highly hyped Atlantis theory. Finally, I found one bit of completely beyond-the-fringe bad history in the story of how the Nazi-Yeti alliance was aborted. Somehow, I feel that that brings us full circle back to Pat Buchanan, but maybe that's just me.

Next month will be a great month for bad history. No matter how the election goes, one group of pundits will tell us that there has never been an election like this one while another group of pundits tells us this election was just like any other. The persecuted religious right will start complaining about how America's long tradition of goverment sponsored Christmas is being undermined. Everyone knows that whatever they believe is endorsed by the ages; we will hear from them all. If no bad history can be found in the election post mortems or in holiday rhetoric, there will surely be bad history in the holiday movies. We have but to look and we will find it.

Update: Natalie Bennett of Philobiblon will host the November Carnival of Bad History. The Axis of Evel Knievel will host the December edition.
"We’ve never been stay the course"
The reason people like George Bush so much is because he is consistent and honest. He'll never go changing his story or lying to us like those icky Clinton people.

BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course.

BUSH: And so we’ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course.

BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We’ll stay the course.

BUSH: And that’s why we’re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that’s why when we say something in Iraq, we’re going to do it.

BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq.

BUSH: We will stay the course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: James Baker says that he’s looking for something between “cut and run” and “stay the course.”

BUSH: Well, hey, listen, we’ve never been “stay the course,” George. We have been — we will complete the mission, we will do our job, and help achieve the goal, but we’re constantly adjusting to tactics. Constantly.

Think Progress has the sources for all of the quotes.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why I avoid reality shows
They want to remake Donald Trump's Apprentice with an aging carnival fraud.
After four decades of bending spoons, halting clocks, reading minds, and penning metaphysical thrillers, Uri Geller is seeking a paranormal protege.

A reality television show being produced in Israel, where Geller grew up, will feature 10 contestants vying for the title of "heir" to the world-famous celebrity psychic.

"The format will be something like 'American Idol'. We will keep the performances that are most riveting and amazing," Geller told Reuters Wednesday, adding that viewers with "intuitive powers" will also be invited to call in and compete.

Mind reading and predicting the future might take some of the suspense out of the show. The only way I might watch this would be if one of the rounds tested their ability to hide from James Randi.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Honors for Don
Don Young is, sadly, Alaska's only congressman. He has been a self inflicted embarrassment on the state for over thirty years. I've never been one to miss an opportunity to insult old Don, so I'm pleased to see that some national media have noticed Don this week and decided to recognize his accomplishments in the House.

The latest issue of Rolling Stone has Don down as the third worst member of congress, following Hastert and Sensenbrenner, but ahead of such luminaries as Tom Tancredo, Richard Pombo, and Curt Weldon. The Rolling Stone profile focuses on Don's recent notoriety as a shameless pork-barrel politician and crude buffoon, particularly his packing last year's transportation bill with earmarks like the "bridge to nowhere" and telling reporters who suggested that the money might be reassigned to Katrina reconstruction that they could "kiss my ear!" The problem with the profile is that, by focusing on his porking prowess, they neglected evidence that he might really be as stupid as he looks and sounds.

The profile in Radar Magazine didn't neglect that evidence. In fact, it was the entire reason Don was number two on their list of the ten dumbest members of congress. For over thirty years I've said Don was the stupidest person in congress, so I was a little surprised to see him only managing second place. Don's offensive stupidity is a matter of pride for some Alaskans. Then I saw who took first place: Katherine Harris. If for no other reason, Harris' current run for the Senate earns her a place of honor in the idiot congressperson's hall of fame. Harris' campaign has lost more than 25 senior staff and consultants this year and is currently being run by two fichus plants and an autographed picture of Mamie van Doren.

Don doesn't need to worry. Harris' is the type of stupidity that burns itself out in one horrifying conflagration. Don's is the sort that endures. Next Year, Harris will be gone and Don will be secure in his title as the stupidest once again. There can only be one.
I write letters
Just before I went bed on Sunday the eighth, I checked the news for one last time and saw that North Korea was claiming to have successfully detonated a test nuclear weapon. I was angry and disgusted that our idiot leaders had followed their policy of tough-guy brinkmanship and allowed this to happen. I did what generations of citizens do when annoyed with their leaders. I wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper.
Editor, The Times:

North Korea just announced that it has successfully tested an atomic bomb ["North Korea claims successful nuclear test," Times, page one, Oct. 9].

I can't wait to hear Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the White House press office explain why this is Bill Clinton's fault and how it proves that we need to re-elect the same Republicans who allowed this to happen to two more years in power.

I sure am glad those unserious Democrats haven't been in charge of our national security; they might have allowed us to become less safe.

Right now, the only thing that's keeping us on the West Coast even a little safe is the fact that North Korean missiles aren't any more dependable than our anti-missile shield is.

Isn't it about time we elected a Congress that actually believes national security involves making the country safe and not just in steering contracts to campaign contributors?

The Republicans have failed us in every possible way. It's time for them to go.

— John McKay, Seattle

Over the next few days nothing happened and I assumed I was not going to be printed. I said many of the same things here in my blog. For those of us who use blogs to give voice to our opinions on events of the day, our blog is like a newspaper that always accepts our letters. The downside to their generous publication policy is that most our blogs have a very low readership. Besides, there's nothing like your words on actual paper to impress your older relatives.

And speaking of older relatives, we went to visit Mom on Friday. She's fine, thank you. When we got back on Sunday, I checked my e-mail and found a letter from the Seattle Times. We want to print your letter in the Sunday Times, but need to confirm that you're really John McKay and not someone trying to inflate their ego by pretending to be John McKay.

I rushed to the paper and checked out the letters. Nothing. I had missed my chance by letting the e-mail go unchecked over the weekend. I answered the letter from the Times, thanking them for thinking of me and saying I'd keep trying. Yesterday, I got another letter from the Time saying they did run my letter and would be happy to send me a tear sheet if wanted one.

I ran to the recycling bin and checked out the Sunday letters again. And there, at the top of the page, surrounded by a tasteful white margin, in bigger print that rest of the letters, was my first published letter to the editor. I hadn't thought to look at the big letter at the top of the page.

Today, I am no longer just an angry left-wing blogger; I'm a genuine letter-writing local crank. It's taken me fifty years to achieve this status. I hope I'm up to the new responsibilities.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Alaskan snowflake featured on stamp
As part of the secular war on Christmas, our minions at the US Postal Service will issue 100% Jesus, Mary, and Joseph* free stamps for the holiday season. The stamps will feature photographs of four completely secular snowflakes including this beauty from Fairbanks.

The photographs are the work of Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Libbrecht is the author three gorgeous books about snowflakes.

* As usual, they will aso be issuing a set of Christian-themed stamps as well. Also as usual, the stamps will feature Mary and baby Jesus, but Joseph will be left out in the cold, with the snowflakes. And, just to make the baby Bill O'Reilly cry, they will water down the Christianness of this most Christian time of the year by offering Kwanza, Eid, and Hanukkah stamps.
A new talking point
Brit Hume on the October 15 edition of Fox News Sunday:
Let's talk about this possibility -- it seems likely now, in almost all cards that the Democrats will get control of the House, which will bring us two years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is not a popular figure or respected figure nationally. Her behavior will be more visible than ever, more conspicuous than ever.

Fred Barnes writing for the October 23 edition of The Weekly Standard:
If politics were fair, Democrats would be in as much trouble as Republicans. And they'd be just as vulnerable. They've been obstructionist, anti-tax-cut, soft on terrorism, and generally obnoxious. On top of that, Pelosi is the most unpopular national politician in America.

The Conservative information machine has been regularly attacking Rep. Nancy Pelosi for weeks. What marks this as an official talking point is the fact that both of these hacks are using the same image--unpopularity. What's interesting to me, is that this line of argument was first trotted out by Chris Matthews on the September 5 broadcast of NBC's Today Show:
I think it's interesting, Matt, that both sides agree on the stakes. ... It is whether we want Nancy Pelosi to be the first woman speaker of the House or not. My own view is that iconic fact of that woman sitting behind the president during a State of the Union address is an enormous change in our culture. ... A lot of the more conservative people will say, "Wait a minute, this woman's from San Francisco, she's a liberal."

As much as I think Matthews is often a loud-mouthed idiot and unwitting tool of the Conservative information machine, I don't think he is a conscious and voluntary right-wing hack (except where Hillary Clinton is involved). Matthews was probably speaking for himself and not testing out a line for the Republican Party and its supporters. It is they who are stealing his material.

It's a silly line, too. I would be very surprised to find out that very many voters have any idea who Nancy Pelosi is outside the Washington pundit corps, political bloggers and other junkies, and parts of California. And the number outside of those three groups who are willing to base their Congressional votes on keeping Pelosi from becoming the Speaker must be vanishingly small. Still, if the Republican Party wants to spend its time and resources propagating a message that is meaningless to most voters, I will not stop them.
On Darwinism
I mentioned this in the comments over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars but it's worth repeating here. On the subject of yet another silly diatribe against teaching evolution in the schools, Ed and a couple of commentors had words to say about the frequent use of the word "Darwinism" by ID supporters and other Creationists.

Their use of the terms "Darwinism" and "Darwinist" aren't the result sheer ignorance; it's a carefully thought out propaganda strategy. An "-ism" implies an ideology or a dogma. It moves evolution out of science and into the land of politics or religion: though which is based on faith or blind adherence and not reason. Americans are trained to be suspicious of ideology and like to believe that their beliefs are practical and nonideological (whether they really are or not is another question). Just getting the word "Darwinism" before the audience gains them a few points in any argument. This is the same reason that some Creationists use the terms "evolutionism" and "evolutionist" to describe our side.

There is also a certain amount of misdirection and even projection involved in this choice of words. ID and other forms of Creationism are faith-based dogmas and not reason-based scientific theories. ID itself is really nothing more than a marketing campaign for Creationism. It's significant to notice that, following the first legal setbacks by Creationists trying to force their religious view onto school curricula back in the seventies, they changed the name of their belief from Creationism to Creation Science. While this name change may have been a useful propaganda move, they failed to convince the courts that their dogma wasn't a religion and the far more sophisticated marketing campaign of Intelligent Design was born.

By abandoning their own "-ism" name and applying and "-ism" to evolutionary science, the Creationists are using the age-old grade-school debating tactic of claiming "I'm not the poopy head; you're the poopy head." No amount of shouting will change the fact that they, and not we, are the dogmatic poopy heads.
Good History
History Carnival #41 is up at ClioWeb. This is the carnival that features (mostly) good history. The one that features bad history will be right here in less than a week.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Call for bad submissions
I'll be hosting the Carnival of Bad History again on October 22. Here is your chance to take apart a bad movie, demolish someone's invalid historical analogy or metaphor, or pick on a goofy conspiracy theory. Any bad use of history is fair game. Except Nazi penguins. I have dibs on the Nazi penguins.
Do they still make minute steaks?
When I was a kid, we used to occasionally eat something called "minute steak." This was a thin piece of otherwise inedible beef, that had been run through a tenderizing machine a couple times, and usually breaded. Sometimes, it was served with mushroom gravy as a form of Salisbury steak by our school cafeteria.
Bad science writing and an old favorite
Last week those clever folks at the Seed Science Blogs were talking about science journalism (why isn't it better, what can we do about it). I don't have any answers, but I do have a great example of bad science writing. This was picked up today by Science Daily, a news site for science related news. It's their top headline at the moment and tagged as a geology story.

As you can see, the headlines are an automated feed from the United Press International (UPI). I believe the story is short enough that I can quote the whole thing without violating copyright laws.
ROME, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Italian scholars in Rome are debating the controversial theory that Sardinia is the lost island of Atlantis, and whether the theory merits further research.

The theory, offered by Italian journalist Sergio Frau, has drawn both international acclaim and criticism, the Italian news agency ANSA said Friday. About 250 academics have dismissed the claim, saying it sensationalizes Sardinia's history.

The thesis received a boost in 2005 during a United Nations-sponsored symposium on the issue, suggesting it merited serious consideration, ANSA said.

The gathering of academics, archaeologists, geologists and historians coincides with the opening of an exhibition on Frau's ideas, outlined in his book "The Pillars of Hercules."

The location of Atlantis -- or whether the fabled sunken continent ever existed -- has never been confirmed, ANSA said.

The story itself is a very close paraphrasing of the first few paragraphs of the ANSA story that the UPI refers to as its source. For comparison purposes, here is the beginning of the ANSA story.
(ANSA) - Rome, October 13 - Top scholars have gathered in Rome this week to discuss the exciting and controversial idea that Sardinia is the lost island of Atlantis.

The theory, developed in a book by the Italian journalist Sergio Frau, has drawn international acclaim but also fuelled heated criticism.

Despite selling 30,000 copies in Italy, a detailed 20-point appeal by 250 academics has dismissed the book, claiming it sensationalizes Sardinian history.

But the theory received a major boost last year, when the United Nations cultural heritage body UNESCO organized a symposium on the issue in Paris, suggesting the idea was worth serious consideration. Academics, archaeologists, geologists and historians from across Italy are now meeting in Rome's Accademia dei Lincei to look at the theory in closer depth and discuss possible paths of future research.

The meeting has also been timed to coincide with the opening of an exhibition on Frau's ideas, originally shown in Paris last year. "Atlantika" uses Frau's book, "The Pillars of Hercules", as a springboard for exploring theories and ideas on the legendary island and its whereabouts. Neither the location nor the existence of Atlantis have ever been confirmed.

As you can see, the same points are made in the same order, often using the same, or similar, words.

My point here isn't to accuse an anonymous UPI writer of plagiarizing an anonymous ANSA writer, but rather to point out the laziness that is endemic in much of modern journalism and the source of may complaints about political, medical, and scientific journalism. All three of those areas of journalism have many first rate writers capable of performing detailed analysis and synthesis of information and reporting it in an interesting and informative style. Unfortunately, most of the bulk of reporting is done overworked low-level writers who can do little more than repeat what they have been told and attach a mildly sensational hook to get the readers' attention.

While the UPI story is little more than a paraphrasing of the first few paragraphs of the longer ANSA story, it's very likely that the ANSA story was nothing more than a paraphrasing of a press release issued by the Accademia dei Lincei for the museum exhibition. There is nothing newsworthy about another amateur suggesting another location for Atlantis. Frau's theory isn't even new; almost every inch of land bordering the Mediterranean has been suggested as a location for Atlantis at one time or another. But Frau needs to sell books, the museum needs to sell tickets, ANSA and UPI need to sell news and the result is headlines on a science news site letting us know that scientists have discovered Atlantis.

As to Frau's theory, it doesn't appear to offer anything new. Frau has picked an ancient civilization that left some enigmatic structures behind and figured out how a rereading of Plato might be said to describe this people. The same method has been used to place Atlantis all over Mediterranean basin and in Ireland, Denmark, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Mississippi, and almost anywhere else you care to mention except Fairbanks, Alaska (no one has ever placed Atlantis in Fairbanks).

Plato was very specific about Atlantis. It existed 9000 years before his time. It was of sub-continental size. It existed beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Its capital was a great port on the edge of a square plain. It had a Bronze Age civilization. It fought a war with Athens. It sank beneath the sea in one night leaving only a muddy shoal to mark its location. No one prior to or contemporary with Plato ever mentioned anything even remotely similar to Atlantis.

Scientists have not located Atlantis for the simple reason that scientists are not looking for Atlantis. The overwhelming belief is that Atlantis was a literary construct of Plato's, created to make a political point that he never got around to making. The closest that most scientists or literary critics get to looking for Atlantis is to suggest that Plato might have used certain real events as inspiration for his fictional creation.

Frau's theory revolves around the location of the Pillars of Hercules.
Frau had his brainwave after seeing a print of two maps of the Mediterranean as it was in the Bronze Age.

One showed Tunisia and Sicily almost touching; the other, of the Straits of Gibraltar, was remarkably similar.

Frau thinks Erathosthenes moved the pillars because in the 120 years between Plato's era and his, the Greek world changed dramatically, and the strait between Sicily and Africa was no longer at the outer reaches of the Empire.

Furthermore, geological shifts and rising sea levels widened the distance between Tunisia and Sicily, contributing to Erathosthenes' mistake and reinforcing it over time.

If you move the Pillars of Hercules, shrink the island by two orders of magnitude, contract the time element to one tenth, say it didn't really sink but just had a bad earthquake, and ignore all of the other elements of the story, then the Nuragic civilization of Late Bronze Age Sardinia fits perfectly. This is the classical method of Atlantis hunters: if everything is different, then everything is the same.

As long as we have Atlantis hunters seeking attention and lazy journalists seeking stories we will be able to count on a steady stream of headlines telling us that "scientists" have found Atlantis. That's probably a good thing because it means I'll have a sure line to easy publicity for my forthcoming book about Fairbanks, mud, and mammoths.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Food and language
Here's a question for all you foodies and folklorists (I'm looking at you Martin).

Does anyone have a name for that series of meals wherein meal A provides the ingredients for meal B and, possibly, so on throughout the week? The Platonic ideal lasts al week. The simplest example is the big holiday meal which leads to innumerable turkey or ham sandwiches for the next week.

Actually, I have something more complicated in mind. In our house, when I roast a chicken, I save the pan, with all the drippings it produces, and the carcass, with all the roast seasonings, and boil it all to start soup for the next week. Roast A leads to soup B. Shopping for a roast chicken meal includes soup ingredients.

Does anyone have a name for that sequence of inevitably liked meals, and does anyone have a favorite example that they would like to share with the class?
This means he likes us?
I've never understood the right-wing fixation on George Soros. Take Bill O'Reilly.* Last week, O'Reilly had Neil Cavuto on to discuss his interview with Soros earlier that same day.

Okay, let's digress here. Isn't it just a little creepy for one talking head on a television station to interview another talking head on that same television station about what he just said on his show? If Fox is that desperate for programming, maybe they could do what stations did when I was a kid: run old movies and cartoons during the slow hours and sign off late at night. Would anybody really miss Fox News if they went away for twelve hours a day? Wouldn't this country be a better place if people watched more Betty Boop cartoons and screwball comedies and less Bill O'Reilly big hair Gibson?

That's just a thought. Back to Bill and Neil.
But what I'm trying to tell you is ... this guy, he's a charlatan, man. He's trying to put across that he's a -- he's a give-peace-a-chance kind of guy, and he wants radical change in this country. He wants everything changed, Neil, from top to bottom, and I backed that up in Culture Warrior. I mean, I go down the list.

CAVUTO: You know, I tell you, Bill. I read your book, and I've read his book. And I know you don't like him, and I think it's fair to say after this interview he doesn't flip over you. But the fact of the matter -- nor is he getting Factor gear, by the way. But I'll tell you, he's just a strong advocate of his position. And you know, you can agree or disagree with that, but I think it's a bit of a stretch, you know, to say he's a phony and all of this other stuff.

O'REILLY: I didn't say he was a phony.

No, Bill, you said he's a charlatan, and that's a big difference.
O'REILLY: Yeah, he's damaging the country. He is the single most dangerous individual in the United States of America. And his assassins, the people he hires to harm the people with whom he disagrees. And he sits back and he goes, "Oh, I don't know what they're doing." Bull.

But I'm glad you had him on, Neil, and you were respectful to him.

CAVUTO: Oh, man.

O'REILLY: And we --

CAVUTO: But you've got to -- look, this guy has given $5 billion of his money away to a lot of good causes. So there's some good he has done. You've got to acknowledge -- some good.

O'REILLY: Mussolini -- Mussolini made the trains run on time, Neil.

Last week Soros was the moral equivalent to Mussolini. What does Bill O'Reilly, who doesn't "do personal attacks" have to say about Soros this week?
[A]ccording to George Soros, we torture people in Iraq. We humiliate all the Iraqis. We kill people who are innocent. We're Nazis. That's what we're doing in Iraq. This is what George Soros really believes. He believes it. He's not a phony.

Right Bill, he's a charlatan. We got that. Soros, who is the moral equivalent to Mussolini, thinks we're Nazis. Doesn't that means he likes us? Does it mean we're innocent victims of the American army? I don't understand, Bill. Please explain it to me.

* Please! [ba-da-boom]
Bridge closed early
I'm always interested in archaeology and paleontology from the old country, so, naturally, this story caught my eye.
Scientists have found new evidence that the Bering Strait near Alaska flooded into the Arctic Ocean about 11,000 years ago, about 1,000 years earlier than widely believed, closing off the land bridge thought to be the major route for human migration from Asia to the Americas.

The story is quite simple really. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution drew some sea floor cores from the Chukchi Sea on the north side of the Bering Strait in 2002. They are just now examining them in detail. The result was that they found more sediment than they expected, leading them to believe that the area has been underwater longer that previously believed. Establishing the date when the Bering Strait flooded is important to understanding a number interesting problems, including climate change at the end of the last ice age and the migration of humans into the New World.

The Bering Strait is in an area that changes dramatically during the ice age cycles. For one thing, the Strait is not a gap between two continental plates as you would expect from a casual glance at the map. The North American and Asian continental plates are sutured together over a thousand miles west of the Strait at the Verkhoyansk Mountains. The Bering Strait is merely a wide, flat lowland at near sea level. Depending where sea level is that millennium the Strait might or might not be under water. For the last two million years it has been more often dry than wet there.

When dry, the land is not a narrow isthmus a some expect, but rather a wide sub-continent that separates the Pacific and Arctic Oceans with about a thousand miles of land. During an ice age the land between the Verkhoyansk Mountains and the edge of the ice sheet in Canada (approximately where the MacKenzie River flows today) was a separate ecological province that paleontologists call Beringia. This was the main zone of the woolly mammoth steppe.

Understanding the ecological and climatological history of Beringia has been very slow in coming. The region is not only remote, thinly populated, and difficult to work in because of the extreme climate, but for most of the twentieth century large swaths of it were off limits because of the Cold War and communication between scientists on opposite sides of the Strait was restricted by their respective governments. The situation has improved a little since the end of the Cold War. Communication and cooperation between scientists is much easier, but permission and transportation for outsiders to work in the Russian northeast are still difficult to obtain.

What will establishing that the Bering Strait flooded earlier mean? I don't expect it to change much in the argument over human migration into the new world. There were indisputably people in Alaska before the new date. The more interesting result will probably be in reconstructing the climatological history of the region. Opening and closing the Bering Strait has a huge effect on how the Arctic Ocean works. It changes the circulation of the Arctic Ocean, its salinity, and the heat transfer between the Arctic Ocean and the rest of the world's seas.

I expect to see a tiny flurry of activity as scientists comb through old evidence to see if anything confirms or refutes the conclusion that the Bering Strait was open sooner. If confirmed, then the students of historical climatology will need to revise their models. This might even have a small impact on how we model future changes due to global warming in the region. This should be fun.

Update: Spelling corrected so Elayne will still love me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nazis in Antarctica
Since I started writing this blog, I have started many stories that have proven too large to tell in one post. Sometimes I complete a story over time. Sometimes I find that other bloggers have jumped on the same story and made it pointless for me to repeat what they have to say. Sometimes real life interferes and I get distracted by changing events, crap like work, and my own short attention span (in my defense, I should point out that I have a kitten who is really cute). In spite of all that, occasionally someone like the Farmer (a young whippersnapper in spirit if not body) points out those unfinished essays. To them, I can only say "pooh" and take a shot at finishing a story:

By the Spring of 1945, as it was clear that the war in Europe was almost over, the whole world pondered the fate of Adolf Hitler. Following the July 1944 assassination attempt, Hitler had ceased appearing in public and his movements and whereabouts were treated as a state secret. Secrecy breeds suspicion and, where there is a lack of information, the vacuum will be filled with rumor, speculation, and conspiracy theories. Hitler did all he could to encourage this in his last days. As he died, the victors in the war did a superb job of taking over the burden of creating confusion.

In the West, newspapers printed every story regardless of improbability or whether or not it contradicted the story from the day before. Hitler was dead, killed by one of his closest associates. Hitler was alive and had had all of his closest associates killed. Hitler was on his last legs, feeble, insane and syphilitic. Hitler was fine, hiding in the South, and preparing to lead a guerrilla resistance. Hitler had fled the Reich and was hiding under the protection of Franco.

In the East, Stalin sifted through the rumors seeking to calm his own fears. For a time he feared Hitler would negotiate an anti-Communist separate peace with the West. As the Reich's armies faded in significance, Stalin feared Hitler himself would escape the hangman by surrendering to the weak West.

And in Berlin, Hitler had his own plans. As he gave orders for the German nation that had failed him to be destroyed, he also gave orders for a tiny loyal remnant to harass the conquerors as far into the future as possible.* Hitler made certain that he would not be made the subject of a humiliating trial by the West or by the East. After killing his dog, Hitler and his wife of less than a day committed suicide. As an added insult, he ordered that his suicide be kept secret and that his body be completely destroyed so that his enemies might always fear his return. It was an act of cheap spite which would pay dividends for decades.

Within two weeks of Hitler's death, the Soviet Army had captured Berlin, interviewed two witnesses to his death and cremation, and recovered and identified his remains. During that same time the remnants of the German government led by Admiral Karl Doenitz President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces had publicly announced Hitler's death and surrendered the Reich to the Allies. Despite all of this evidence, Stalin chose to keep what he knew a secret and allow the rest of the world to wonder.

My previous words:
Stalin, by now, had discovered that a live Hitler might be useful to him. The possibility of a return of Hitler justified a harsh occupation and division of Germany. The same possibility required keeping tight control on Eastern Europe; only the Soviet big brother could protect them from a resurgent Germany should Hitler return. The possibility that Hitler might be hiding in Spain was an excuse to demand the Western Allies treat the Franco regime roughly. At one point, he even insisted that Britain and the US invade Spain just to make sure Hitler wasn't there. The suggestion that the Soviet army had allowed Hitler to escape, allowed Stalin to treat the generals with contempt and hide them from the public eye.

This doesn't mean that the confusion was a carefully coordinated plot on the part of the Soviet government. Although they were in possession of all of the relevant facts about Hitler's death, there is no evidence that the people at the top put two and two together, or believed it when they did. Although they were perfectly capable of an evil conspiracy, the Soviet leadership assumed others were equally as deceptive and expected to find lies when they looked for facts. In addition, the Soviet government was one of the world's biggest bureaucracies. The politburo did not always know what the army was saying and the army did not always know what the propaganda branch was up to. Although all were trying to please Stalin, the boss did not always make his wishes clearly known. Chaos and uncertainty are the normal condition in a totalitarian state. .

Long before, Hitler and Stalin had been allies against the West. With Hitler's death, they unintentionally became allies again.

Me again:
The possibility that the Fuehrer had escaped led numerous die-hard Nazis to brag about their part in helping him escape. Lieut. Arthur Mackensen told how he had flown Hitler from the Tiergarten Park on May 5 to Denmark, where the local Nazis held a mass rally to say farewell before the Fuehrer had departed for parts unknown. Others flew him to Spain or Japan or saw him board a U-boat for South America.

The last suggestion generated a flurry of excitement as the last U-boats at sea began surrendering during the summer. When the submarine U-530 surrendered to the Argentine authorities in early July, a Buenos Aries paper reported that the captain had delivered Hitler and Braun to a secret base in Antarctica before returning to South America to surrender. The same story was reported and embellished by the Chicago Times the following day.

The captain of the submarine, Otto Vermouth, said no such thing. While sailing near New York, the crew of the U-530 had begun to get news of the fall of the Reich and confused orders to surrender or scuttle the submarine. The crew held an election and voted to head for South America. Although Vermouth managed to destroy the ship's log and code books before being picked up by the Argentine navy, an analysis the submarine's fuel consumption proved to Allied investigators that the U-530 had made no side trips an its way from New York to Argentina.

U-530 in Argentine captivity

In mid-August, another U-boat, the U-977 commanded by Heinz Schaeffer, also turned up in Argentina with a similar story. Argentina turned the sailors and the submarines over to the Allies who questioned the crews carefully before repatriating them to Germany (at least one of them later emigrated to Argentina).

The Allies were, with good reason, worried about Nazi leaders escaping to Authoritarian states in South America. Many of them did, including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele. Since the Western Allies were unsure of Hitler's fate, they were especially on the lookout for him in any location where escaped Nazis concentrated. Hitler sightings in South America would happen with tedious regularity well into the seventies.

In the early fifties a number of tabloids picked up on the Antarctica rumor and featured it as often as the South America sightings.

Nazi Germany does have some genuine connections to Antarctica which have folded into the myth of Hitler's secret hideaway on the Southern continent.

Prior to the First World War, Germany had a very nice little colonial empire in Africa and the Pacific. Expansion of that empire featured very prominently in the war aims of the imperial government. In the peace that followed the war, Germany was deprived of all her colonies and declared unfit to be a colonial power. Many Germans saw this as one of the primary injustices of the Paris treaties and sought to have their overseas empire returned.

Hitler himself had little use for colonies. This was made obvious when he conquered France and didn't bother to demand the return of the German colonies annexed by France. However, Hitler did find German resentment over colonies to be useful and frequently gave lip service to the cause of colonies during the thirties. One exception was a curious expedition that the Reich sent to Antarctica in 1938-39.

In the 1930s, animal fats were still an important industrial resource and Germany suffered from a shortage of fat. Germany was one of the main purchasers of whale oil from Norway at a considerable expense to the German foreign currency reserves. In 1937 Germany launched a whaling fleet of its own, which set sail for the Southern Ocean. When the fleet returned the following summer, three annual exploring expeditions were planned. Hermann Goering took a personal interest in the project and rushed the preparations through the Reich bureaucracy. Due to the war, only the first expedition took place.

On December 17, 1938 the freighter Schwabenland sailed from Hamburg for Antarctica. The ship carried two Dornier Wal seaplanes, which could be launched from the deck using a catapult. The area they were to explore had earlier been visited by Norwegian explorers and named Dronning Maud Land. While the Schwabenland was at sea, the Norwegian government announced its annexation of the area.

This didn't stop the Germans. The two Dornier planes made fifteen flights over the region, took thousands of photographs, and dropped flags on the ice pack. The crew also landed on the coast, surveyed some landmarks, and planted a few more flags. The result was that they mapped 600,000 square km of new land, named many features, and discovered some hot springs and ice free "oases" in the interior. When they returned, Germany claimed about half of Dronning Maud Land and named it Neuschwabenland, or New Swabia.

Though the expedition was billed as scientific and economic, the crew did have a military mandate. While looking for potential whaling bases they also were looking for potential naval stations. If the second and third expeditions had been carried out, they would have tried to establish a permanent base on the Antarctic coast.

During the war, German surface raiders and a few submarines were active in the far southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans near Antarctica. One surface raider, the Pinguin captured an entire Nowegian whaling fleet and sent it to occupied France in early 1941.

The combination of the presence of escaped Nazis in the southern cone of South America, genuine interest by the Reich in the neighboring area of Antarctica, and German naval activity in the region during and after the war has proven irresistible to the conspiratorial minded. Many writers remembered that the the Schwabenland expedition had sighted hot springs and dry oases in Antarctica. It seemed to make sense that the Germans would have militarized that space. Perhaps they originally built a supply depot for surface raiders and submarines and later converted it into a hiding place in case of the unthinkable.

When Admiral Doenitz took over the u-boat fleet in 1943, he is supposed to have said "The German submarine fleet is proud of having built for the Fuehrer in another part of the world a Shangri-La on land, an impregnable fortress." This quote is frequently cited as evidence for the Nazi Antarctic base.

Finally, South America was home to many early UFO enthusiasts. Though they represented all types of UFO belief from the standard extraterrestrial theory to Atlanteans from the hollow earth and the highly esoteric and mystical, many South American UFO enthusiasts embraced the Nazi Antarctic base idea.

In the postwar years, the reputation of Nazi Germany's technical prowess grew until it seemed to have no limit. Many people around the world saw the space race and the atomic arms race as more a matter of our German scientists versus their German scientists and not a race between the Soviet man and Yankee know-how. If the Germans could build jet planes and put an American on the moon, digging a few tunnels into the ice didn't seem at all unlikely.

Unlike the myth of Hitler's personal survival, which has faded over the years, the myth of Nazi super science has continued to grow. Now, an entire publishing industry is flourishing on tales of Nazi space ships and flying saucers powered by free Tesla energy. The end of the Cold War and the opening of Eastern Europe led to a boom in conspiracy thought as eastern fringe science and history cross fertilized with western fringe science and history.

As the generation who fought World War Two pass away we will only discover more forgotten secrets. Some will be real, as the governments involved finally declassify the last official secrets from the war. Other secrets will be more folkloric as people repeat the stories from sources who are no longer alive and able to issue corrections. And some will be like this:
With the passing of time, all those who served in the Neuschwabenland campaign are no longer with us. The last survivor gave me the following account of the forgotten battle....

We were forced to undertake a gruelling month's training where we were prepared for cold-weather warfare. From being plunged into the icy Atlantic to facing the elements in a tent on South Georgia, the training was arduous and there seemed little sense in the madness that we were forced to undertake. However, after the month's training we were briefed by a Major and a scientist, and as the mission was relayed to us we all realised that there would be little chance of us all returning, especially if the suspicions proved correct.

We were informed that we were to investigate "anomalous" activities around the Mühlig-Hoffmann Mountains from the British base in Maudheim. Antarctica, so we were told, was "Britain's secret war". We were then briefed on British activities in the South Pole during the war.

We sat intrigued as to what was being divulged; none of us had heard anything so fascinating or frightening. It was not common knowledge that the Nazis had been to Antarctica in 1938 and 1939, and even less known was the fact that Britain began to set up secret bases around Antarctica in response. The one we were to visit, Maudheim, was the biggest and most important as well as the most clandestine Antarctic base of them all. The reason for its importance was the fact that it was within 200 miles of where the Nazis had supposedly built their Antarctic base.


Still, more and more revelations were forthcoming. The summer before, we were told, the original scientists and commandos had found an "ancient tunnel". Under orders, the force went through the tunnel but only two returned before the Antarctic winter set in. During the winter months, the two survivors made absurd claims over the radio about "Polar Men, ancient tunnels and Nazis". Radio contact was finally lost in July 1945, and ominously for our mission, going into the unknown, the last broadcast brought us all further anxiety as we listened to the fear in the voice: "...the Polar Men have found us!" was screamed before contact was lost.


As we split up to search the base, a trip wire was detonated and a siren sounded, destroying the silence and startling the whole force. A shout was soon heard, demanding us to identify ourselves, but the voice could not be targeted. With our guns raised the Major introduced us to the voice, and then, thankfully, the voice was given a body. The voice belonged to a lone survivor, and what he divulged made us more anxious and had us wishing that there were more troops amongst our ranks.

The lone survivor claimed that in Bunker One was the other survivor from the "tunnel" trip, along with one of the mysterious Polar Men that we had heard on the recorded broadcast. Despite obstructions and objections from the survivor, Bunker One was ordered to be opened. The survivor had to be held back and his fear and anguish panicked us instantly, and none of us wanted to be the one to enter the bunker.

Fortunately, I was not selected to enter; that honour was bestowed on the youngest member of our unit. He proceeded inside, hesitating slightly as he struggled with the door. Once inside, a silence descended across the base, followed moments later by two gunshots. The door was opened and the Polar Man dashed to freedom. None of us was expecting what we saw, and the Polar Man had fled into the surrounding terrain so quick that only a few token shots were fired.


That night our fears were confirmed, as the Polar Man did indeed return. However, this time no more casualties occurred [on our side], but the Polar Man was slain as he was lured to the camp. The scientist decided that the Polar Man was "human" but, it seemed, had been able to produce more hair and withstand the cold far more effectively. The corpse, after a brief post-mortem, was stored in a body bag, and with the cold could be preserved until a more meticulous dissection could occur.


We walked into the darkness, and thankfully after four hours of walking we began to see some light in the far distance. However, the light was still another hour away; and as each of us battled with our mind's questions of what we would uncover, we inched forward.


As we looked over the entire cavern network, we were overwhelmed by the numbers of personnel scurrying about like ants, but what was impressive was the huge constructions that were being built. From what we were witnessing, the Nazis, it appeared, had been on Antarctica a long time. The scientist jotted down everything he could, drew diagrams and took rock samples as well as the odd photograph. The Major, on the other hand, was more interested in how the base was to be destroyed without being caught by the Nazis present.


Throughout the day, mines were laid and more photos were taken; and with the odds of not being detected looking good, a hostage was taken, as well as proof of the Nazi base, the "Polar Man" and photographs of new, and quite advanced, Nazi technology.


The mines did indeed close the tunnel, but, for those Nazis and Polar Men behind, the chase was still on. In a fighting retreat, only three of the 10 escaped the tunnel: the Norwegian, the scientist and myself. The rest had fallen gallantly in making sure that some of the party survived.

Upon reaching the safety of the dry valley, enough mines were laid to close the tunnel permanently. After the mines were detonated, there was no evidence of any tunnel ever existing.

All the evidence was destroyed. The British government classified everything and the scientist denied having seen anything unusual in Antarctica. We're not told what happened to the Norwegian. Maybe he tried to tell someone, but who the heck can understand Norwegian? And so we have only the word of the lone anonymous survivor of the last battle of World War Two.

We should not let the sacrifice of those brave British soldiers be forgotten. Who can measure the debt that we owe them? If the alliance between the Nazis and Antarctic Yeti had been allowed to go forward, it would only have been a matter of time before the giant squid would have joined them. Where would we have been then?

I still haven't gotten around to tying in the Spear of Destiny or told the full tale of the Nazi flying sauces like I promised the Farmer. I'll just have to save those for next time, whenever that is.

* The werewolf units that Hitler envisioned never came into being. No supplies were set aside and the teenagers who were ordered to resist the Allies till they died quietly discarded their uniforms and weapons and went home.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's nice to be an authority on something
Over the last few days I have received a noticable number of traffic hits from people googling the phrase "mammoth penises." Thanks to this post, Archy is the second highest ranking site out of 288,000 for mammoth penises. I wonder what it would take to become number one.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Almost sad
I wrote a letter to my local paper last night and suggested this, as a joke.
Republican campaign officials said yesterday that they expect to lose at least seven House seats and as many as 30 in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, as a result of sustained violence in Iraq and the page scandal involving former GOP representative Mark Foley.


[T]he White House plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism, after North Korea's reported nuclear test, in hopes of shifting the debate away from casualties and controversy during the final month of the campaign.

They're going to run on national security, the very issue where their failure is the most obvious and deadly. They think that, if they scare people, it will help them beacuse Republicans are tough on security. If they remind everybody that the boogie man du jour, North Korea, now has the bomb, they think eveyone will run back to big, Republican daddy to save them, even though the only reason North Korea now has the bomb is because of their macho, sabre-rattling approach completely backfired.

It looks like Bush has resigned himself to having his presidency remembered like every other thing he as attempted as an adult--a total failure. They aren't even trying.
Was it a dud?
Arms Control Wonk is speculating that the North Korean bomb test was a dud. Although there was a seismic event at the time and place claimed by the North Koreans, it was smaller than anyone's first bomb has ever been. Most tests are in the 20 kiloton range and the North Korean test looks to have been in the one half to one kiloton range. If correct, this would be good news, but it still doesn't offset that fact that they were confident enough in Bush's impotence to call his bluff in the first place.

Update: Kevin Drum also suspects a dud.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

North Korea has the bomb
All of the news agencies are reporting that they announced a successful test. Other governments are cautious about confirming it, but no one has denied it. It looks like it's for real.

Thank god the Republican grown-ups are in charge of our national security. If those unserious Democrats were in charge they might have allowed us to become less safe over the last few years.

PS: I hear George Soros and Bill Clinton are behind this.
More Foley revelations
This story will appear in tomorrow morning's Washington Post:
A Republican congressman knew of disgraced former representative Mark Foley's inappropriate Internet exchanges as far back as 2000 and personally confronted Foley about his communications.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. ...

The revelation pushes back by at least five years the date when a member of Congress has acknowledged learning of Foley's behavior with former pages. A timeline issued by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested that the first lawmakers to know, Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House Page Board, and Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), became aware of "over-friendly" e-mails only last fall. It also expands the universe of players in the drama beyond members, either in leadership or on the page board.

Besides pushing back the timeline and expanding the cast of Republican congressmen involved in covering up for a child predator in their midst, this serves expose the lies that the Republicans and their extremist conservative supporters have been pushing in an effort to escape the consequences of their actions (or lack of action). Kolbe is a Republican, not a Democrat. He did not sit on this for six years only to mention it just before the election, because he wants Republicans to lose. He is not a practical joker. He did not make this up.

Unless you want to believe that an eleven term Republican is a paid operative of George Soros and Bill Clinton, none of the excuses offered to the press by Hastert, Drudge, Limbaugh, or Dobson can hold up after this revelation. Of course Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican in congress so, to the extent that they acknowledge him at all, I'm sure the conspiracy nuts will use Kolbe to push some new gay bashing narrative.

Friday, October 06, 2006

October surprise
The Foley affair has definitely disrupted whatever plans the party of moral values had for the last few weeks before the election. Based on their September actions, it's safe to assume they were planning some kind of dog and pony show to keep people scared and emphasize their "Democrats are weak; only we can save you" mantra. Their only hope of regaining some control over events will be to convince people that the scandal is over and redirect our attention to fear of the outside world.

I expect that this weekend, their tactic on all the talk shows will be to move away from the conspiracy talk (which just keeps interest in the scandal alive by promising new revelations) and push a narrative of "we've shown strong leadership in taking responsibility and starting an investigation. There's nothing to do now except wait for justice to work its course." Then they will try to talk about how electing Democrats only encourages terrorists to kill our children in their own hometowns.

Naturally, this is complete nonsense. Dennis Hastert saying he has taken responsibility is not the same as actually taking responsibility and accepting the consequences. If anything his saying he has taken responsibility is an attempt to avoid consequences. Asking Republican Congressmen to investigate Republican Congressmen comes very close to being pointless as does asking for an investigation by an FBI that answers to the most shamelessly partisan Attorney General since John Mitchell. These kabuki investigations only serve to help the Republicans delay the consequences of their actions till after the election. We need to keep the pressure up on the Republicans not to change the subject and to allow an independent investigation of possible wrongdoing by members of congress or their staffs.

Meanwhile, that October surprise that they had cooked up to sweep them to victory next month is still sitting out there on hold. Are they still going to try and launch it? What was it? Air strikes against Iran? Discovery of a code red terrorist plot? Use the comments to offer your theories. Ideas with evidence are preferred, but rank speculation is welcome, too.
Science marches on
Last night 1200 scientists and others gathered at in Harvard's Sanders Theatre for the most important night of the scientific year: the awarding of the 2006 Ig Nobel Prizes. Unlike that other prize with a similar sounding name, winners of the Igs are expected to make people laugh as well as think. And, yes, they are real.

This year's winners include:
  • Math: How many photos must be taken to almost ensure no-one in a group shot has their eyes closed, by Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes
  • Ornithology: Why woodpeckers do not get headaches, by Ivan Schwab and the late Philip RA May
  • Nutrition: Why dung beetles are fussy eaters, by Wasmia al-Houty and Faten al-Mussalam
  • Acoustics: Why the sound of fingernails scraping on blackboards is so annoying, by D Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand
  • Medicine: The Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage, by Francis Fesmire, Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan and Arie Oliven

No matter how painful my hiccups get, I'm not trying that cure.

Let's have a big round of applause for the winners.
Guarding us against repeat offenders
Once again, the level of compitence exhibited by our government in keeping us safe from terrorists is in the news.
A US no-fly list used to try to prevent terror attacks includes the names of 14 of the long-dead 11 September hijackers, US news channel CBS reports.
Jailed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein also features on the list, which has been seen by CBS's 60 Minutes programme.

The names of Bolivian president Evo Morales and Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, also appear.

A former FBI agent told the programme the list was assembled hastily.

The document lists 44,000 people banned from flying in the US, and was drawn up after the 2001 attacks on the US, the programme reports.


"They basically did a massive data dump and said: 'Okay, anybody that's got a nexus to terrorism, let's make sure they get on the list.'"

However, the names of the 11 British suspects recently accused of a plot to blow up airliners flying to the US were not included on the list.

Cathy Berrick, director of Homeland Security investigations for the General Accounting Office told CBS that this was due to concerns that the list could end up in the wrong hands.

I might be wrong, but I think most suicide bombers tend not to be repeat offenders.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Taking responsibility
In a press conference today, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said he did nothing wrong in the Foley affair and will not resign. He then demonstrated his talent for improvisational humor by delivering the line "the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here" with a complete straight face. Hastert's idea of taking responsibility has been to play down the seriousness of the crime, blame other congressmen for not telling him (they did), blame Bill Clinton and George Soros for plotting against him (they didn't), try and make a staffer take the fall (he refused), order an ivestigation of the press, order an investigation of the victims, and repeat that he didn't do anything wrong. In what way does any of that constitute "taking responsibility?"
Just so you know
No woolly mammoth or mastodon has ever been accused of improper communications with or predatory behavior towards congressional pages. Sabre-tooth tigers, on the other hand, are predators.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making up history
Pat Buchanan demostrates that his knowledge of the history of his own home town is as dependable as his knowledge of the Holocaust and other world events.
I'll tell you, this is going to boomerang on the Democrats for the simple reason of this. You know, the consensual age for sex in Washington, D.C., is 16 years old, which means if this congressman had gone off to a motel with this kid, it'd have been no crime committed, although conservatives would be outraged. One of the reasons the age of consent has been reduced is the gay rights movement, which is holy [sic] inside the Democratic Party.

The age of consent in Washington DC has been 16 since 1901. This either means that the gay rights movement was well organized and exercised influence far earlier than most of us ever suspected. Or that Pat Buchanan is just making stuff up to support his prejudices. I'm bettingthat it's the latter. As long as I'm in a betting mood, I'll also lay odds that back in 1901 the sge of consent was raised, not lowered. Washington DC is, after all, a Southern city.
Go do a good deed
Bora Zivkovic, our own Coturnix, is a grad student with kids in school and grown-up bills to pay. His rent is due and he's come up short this month. Go drop a few bucks into his tip jar (he's set up to accept PayPal or Amazon) and help out a friend. It will only take a couple of us to make a difference. Don't wait, do it now.
Mastodons in the news
A geologist and a physician have concluded from a study of 113 mastodon skeletons that tuberculosis was endemic in the big beasts during the late Pleistocene. Bruce Rothschild, the physician, fist noticed tuberculosis lesions on a metacarpal (front foot, palm bone) at a dig in 2001. Curious about how common tuberculosis might have been in mastodons, he sought out specimens in museums across the country and found evidence of the disease in over half of the individuals he examined.

One of the three major theories to account for the extinction of large mammals at the end of the last ice age is the hyperdisease theory. According to this idea, put forth by Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History, an epidemic of a highly virulent disease wiped out many of the now extinct species. MacPhee has suggested the possibility that the disease was carried by humans and their dogs from the old world into the new. While the idea is intriguing to some, so far no evidence of a pathogen has been found in the remains of the last Pleistocene giants.

Rothschild's tuberculosis doesn't quite fill the role of MacPhee's epidemic. The mastodons that Rothschild examined come from a couple thousand years time span. While tuberculosis isn't the sole cause of the extinction of the mastodons, it might be a contributing factor--one stressor among many. Combined with the shifting of their range as the climate changed and the introduction of a new predator (us) the combination might have been enough to push them over the edge. It's important to remember that, to be a cause of extinction, a stressor doesn't need to kill every individual in a species; it's enough to merely reduce their birth rate to below the number required for replacement. At that point, they go into a fatal decline.

Are these three stressors enough to account for the decline of the mastodons? Maybe. Could they also account for the extinction of any or all of the other species that died off at the same time? Also maybe, but much more research is required.

Rothschild's partner in this study, Richard Laub, points out that their work has relevance in beyond solving a ten thousand year old murder mystery. Tuberculosis is still a killer today. Understanding this ancient strain and its spread might help to understand modern antibiotic resistant strains and the danger of epidemics during a period of climate change. This is a perfect example of how research that appears to be completely academic can suddenly have useful applications in real life. It's another argument you can save to throw at that anti-science in-law or co-worker the next time they disparage pure science research.
Another obsolete narrative
Although the conventional wisdom narrative of the Mark Foley affair hasn't been established yet, certain elements of it are starting to take shape. One of these treats the reprehensible actions of the House Republican leadership in covering up for Foley as something brought about by this election cycle. This ignores the indications that they have known about his improper communication with pages--or rumors that, if investigated, would have led them to know about the communication--for years.

As I've mentioned before, people like the cyclic or pendulum metaphor of politics and treat it as if it was a law of nature, even though it is not. One version of this comforting story is an organic narrative of the life cycle of corruption.

According to this narrative, when one party self-destructs through hubris, corruption, and an over-abundance of power, the voters rise up and replace them with the other party. That other party enters power with a moral purity gained through their Christ-like time in the wilderness. Their purity and idealism remain intact for a time, but soon the temptations of power begin to wear them down. They make deals with the devil in order to maintain their grip on power. They become increasingly arrogant and reckless until, finally, their corruption is so blatant and unashamed that the voters rise up and replace them with the other party, now made pure by its time in the wilderness.

We can see this narrative at work in the many pundits who make the observation that the Republicans have managed to become unbearably corrupt in twelve years whereas it took the Democrats fifty years to get that corrupt. The flaw in this narrative is not in the "power corrupts" side of the equation, but rather in the "suffering ennobles" side. Those who crave power, whether they are trying to keep it or gain it, are equally likely to make deals with the devil. No one is immune to temptation.

In interviews with ABC News and The Washington Post, former pages have said that they were warned to be careful around Foley as far back as 1995. What's significant about the year 1995? That's the year that the Republicans took power in the House in the Gingrich revolution. That's the year Mark Foley was first sent to the House. Within their first year in power Foley was revealed as a problem.

While we might not be able to prove that this or that Republican knew about Foley, it's highly unlikely that his actions could have continued and that the rumors could have been common knowledge among the pages with out at least one Republican congressman having heard them. What's more likely is that the Republicans have been determined to hang on to power since the day they first grasped it their hands. It's likely that many of those same Republicans who tried to impeach Clinton for his affairs were also protecting a child predator in their midst.

The Republicans didn't just recently become corrupt and decide to protect Mark Foley in order to keep his seat in the 2006 election; they have been corrupt since day one and have been turning a blind eye to rumors of his behavior since day one.
So, what else is news
While the Republican House leadership tries to get their stories straight about who knew or did what when and why they did or didn't do it, I wonder what else is in the news. For me, one of the most frustrating things about the last six years has been the hydra-like nature of the radical right's attack on the Bill of Rights, enlightenment civilization, and the things that make America worthwhile. Every time we focus on one crime, they take advantage of our distraction to degrade something else. As we tried to stop Bush's war from destroying an international order that took sixty years to build, they started dismantling the regulatory system that keeps our food and drugs safe, protects our environment, and stands up for the rights of workers and other powerless people. While we tried to save social security, they tried to gut the Endangered Species Act. When we rushed to defend the Bill of Rights, they rushed to sell off the national forests. So, what craven and destructive acts are they trying to sneak through while we're all trying to make the House leadership take some responsibility for their criminal inaction?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The party has been postponed
In this year's military appropriation bill was a line item authorizing twenty million dollars for the victory celebration. It seems the Congressional Republicans were sure we would win the war in time for the election and planned on a big party. The spending bill for next year includes a paragraph allowing them to roll that money over into next year.
Blame the liberals and the gays
I didn't think the horrible shooting at an Amish school in Pennsylvania could be connected with the Foley scandal in the House of Representatives, but the voices of morality on the far right have managed to make that connection for me. It seems that both of these are the fault of liberal cultural elites.

Since taking over the anchor desk at CBS News, Katie Couric has instituted a new feature called "Free Speech" wherein people not associated with CBS deliver a guest editorial. So far those voices have overwhelmingly tilted to the right. Last night she featured Brian Rohrbough, the parent of a child killed during the Columbine massacre. Mr. Rohrbough blames the school shootings on secular culture.
I’m saddened and shaken by the shooting at an Amish school today, and last week’s school murders.

When my son Dan was murdered on the sidewalk at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, I hoped that would be the last school shooting. Since that day, I’ve tried to answer the question, “Why did this happen?”

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

This is not a new argument; it's an old favorite on the religious right. The idea that evolution, secularism, and liberalism are to blame for all of society's ills was the theme of the television documentary From Darwin to Hitler pushed by tele-evangelist D. James Kennedy last summer. The argument is completely ahistorical and implies that Western Civilization existed in some golden age of peace until it was disrupted by the publication of Origin of Species or by the Supreme Court decision ending mandatory school prayer.

Mr. Rohrbough is entitled to whatever lessons he takes from his grief. I'm mentioning him because he happened to be pushing his blame liberal culture argument on the same day that political conservatives were pushing the same narrative to reduce their own responsibility for failing to do anything about Mark Foley's predatory behavior over the last five years.

Newt Gingrich on Fox News:
GINGRICH: I think had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would also have been accused of gay bashing. I mean, the original notes had no sexual innuendo and the parents did not want any action taken.

CHRIS WALLACE: How would it have been gay bashing?

GINGRICH: Because it was a male-male relationship.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page:
But in today's politically correct culture, it's easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in emails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert's head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys. Are these Democratic critics of Mr. Hastert saying that they now have more sympathy for the Boy Scouts' decision to ban gay scoutmasters? Where's Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on that one?

Tom Minnery speaking for James Dobson's Focus on the Family:
This is yet another sad example of our society's oversexualization, especially as it affects the Internet, and the damage it does to all who get caught in its grasp.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, another Dobson front group:
The Foley scandal shows what happens when political correctness is put ahead of protecting children.

The problem is liberal tolerance. The problem is liberal political correctness. The problem is this modern culture. The cure is not fewer conservative Republicans in power, but more. It's a message that we'll hear more of in the next few days. It's also one hundred percent wrong. People like Foley, who betray the most sacred of trusts, have always existed and always will exist. They are not a sudden, new phenomenon created by liberal culture and a lack of prayer in our schools. The problem is not so much that Foley existed; the problem is that the Republican leadership chose to protect Foley and turn a blind eye to his victims. The Republican leadership chose to protect him because they were afraid of scandal and unwilling to lose even one seat in the House, not because they were afraid of the power of political correctness. As Digby points out, that argument is just plain laughable.
Since when has the GOP been afraid to be called homophobic or gay bashers? They positively revel in it. In fact, just a couple of months ago 202 Republican House members voted for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. (It failed to get the required 2/3rds for passage.) Somehow, I don't think the Republicans are quaking in their boots at being called anti-gay.

Foley betrayed our trust because he is a sick person; the Republican leadership betrayed our trust because they wanted to hang onto power. Foley is starting to face the consequences of his actions. When will the rest of the Republican Party face the consequences for theirs?