Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fragments of my research - III

Russia did not acquire Siberia "in a fit of absentmindedness," as John Seeley once said of the British Empire, but their conquest of the East was nearly as unintentional. When Ivan IV (not yet terrible) inherited the throne of Muscovy, his realm covered slightly less than half of the European part of modern Russia and had dangerous borders in all directions except the ice-bound North. The Russians were cut off from Europe by Poland and Sweden who controlled all of the shores of the Baltic Sea. In the South and Southeast, the remnants of the Tatar Golden Horde, which had once conquered and devastated the Russian principalities, still controlled the rich black-earth lands of the Eurasian steppes. Besides depriving the Russians of the agricultural land they so desperately needed, the Tatar khanates cut them off from trade, regularly raided Russian villages for slaves, imposing an enormous cost for defense on Moscow, and cut them off from the fur trapping lands of the Ural Mountains, which might have paid that defense budget.

It's hard to overestimate the importance of the fur trade in the development of the Russian state. From the very beginning, fur--primarily sable fur--was the single most valuable trade commodity from Russia and the largest source of revenue for the princes. For centuries very little coned money circulated in the Russian lands and furs functioned as the primary currency. It was the quest for fur trapping country that had led the Russians to move out of their core homelands and conquer their way to the Arctic Ocean, but by Ivan's time, even those vast lands were being trapped out. The increase in wealth the wealth of Western Europe, brought on by the conquest of the Americas, and new fashions of the Renaissance made fur, made Western Europeans more eager than ever to buy furs and made it more important to the Russians to improve their access to Western markets and to new fur trapping lands. To solve Russia's strategic and economic dilemmas, Ivan chose the path that many leaders both before and after him have chosen in times of stress: he declared war on everybody.

The Khanate of Kazan was the first to fall before Ivan's ambition. Kazan dominated the middle Volga and was the main barrier between Muscovy and the fur trapping lands of the Urals. Besides that, Kazan was the closest foe to the city of Moscow and, therefore, the greatest threat to the Muscovite state. In the summer of 1552, Ivan led his army down the Volga and laid siege to Kazan. Six weeks later his troops sacked the city and massacred most of the population. Four years after that he moved down to the Volga and did the same to Astrakhan. Seeing the direction the wind was blowing, most of the smaller Tatar groups on the steppe made their peace with Ivan. These two conquests gave Russian merchants access to the Middle East by way of the Volga River and Caspian Sea, gave Russian farmers access to the fertile lands of the steppe, gave Russian trappers access to the Urals, and gave all Russians greater security. Ivan was not yet thirty years old.

At this point, the most obvious direction for Ivan to turn would have been directly south to challenge the Khanate of Crimea, the last significant remnant of the Golden Horde in Europe. From their base on the Crimean Peninsula, the Crim Tatars dominated a large swath of fertile steppe that included eastern Ukraine and cut Muscovy off from the Black Sea. They regularly raided the Russian lands for slaves, even penetrating as far as Moscow. However, while the Russians easily outnumbered the Crim Tatars, defeating them would be quite difficult. Not only would the Russians have to stretch their supply lines across hundreds of miles of almost uninhabited steppe, they would then have to force their way into the easily defeated Crimean peninsula. Faced with that prospect, Ivan chose to challenge Poland and Sweden for control of Livonia (essentially Estonia and Latvia), a principality that Poland and Sweden were in the process of dividing between themselves. The war was a disaster. Poland and Sweden had better armies, better weapons, and more wealth than Muscovy. Ivan's determination and increasing terribleness allowed him drag out his inevitable defeat for twenty-five years.

Long before his defeat, at the very beginning of his excellent adventure, Ivan made the decision that would lead to Russia becoming the largest country on earth. Soon after conquering Kazan, Ivan gave the Stroganov brothers, Grigori and Yakov, exclusive rights to exploit a territory the size of Belgium or Maryland situated between Kazan and the Urals. In the space of less than fifty years, the Stroganov family had combined superb business acumen with uncanny political instincts to become the richest family in Muscovy and favorites of the young tsar. Ivan gave them their fiefdom on the Kama and Chusovaya Rivers with the simple terms that they create prosperous new province for him by opening mines, starting businesses, trapping and that they bear the expense of guarding the new border. Things went so well for the first sixteen years that, in 1574, Ivan renewed the Stroganov privileges and gave them permission to look for additional opportunities beyond the Urals. This did not turn out the way he expected.

Several attempts over the centuries by Russian principalities to extend their power across the northern end of the Urals had come to bad ends leaving the rulers of Muscovy reluctant to engage in new adventures there. Despite their exaggerated sense of the power of the trans-Ural peoples, small numbers of merchants had crept along the Arctic coast and established tentative trade relations around the mouth of the Ob River. It was through these merchants that Ivan and the Stroganovs knew about the fur wealth of the East.

Directly cross the Urals from the Stroganov holdings lay the Khanate of Siber, yet another fragment of the Golden Horde. Isker (also called Qashliq), the capital of Siber, was essentially a trading post at the northern end of the Central Asian trade network. While core of the khanate was in the valleys of the Tobol, Ishim, and Irtysh Rivers (southern tributaries of the Ob River), tribes all across western Siberia paid the khans tribute. Siber was also the northernmost outpost of Islam, though attempts by the Tatar ruling elite to convert the indigenous population had been unsuccessful. For most of its existence the khanate had been torn by the ongoing struggle between two dynasties. The Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552 led the Taibugid khan, Yadigar, to come to an agreement with Ivan and pay a tribute in furs, though he underpaid Ivan's demanded amount by a factor of thirty. This insult to their sovereignty led the rival claimant, Kuchum of the Shaybanids, to overthrow and kill Yadigar. Kuchum stopped the tribute payments in 1563. This was the situation into which the Stroganovs sent their agents.

When Ivan conquered the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in the fifties, he opened a new world to settlement by Russian peasant farmers. As the flow of immigrants on the river grew to a flood, the usual human predators showed up to prey on them. As the new authority in the neighborhood, it fell to Ivan to deal with the bandits. In 1580 he sent an expedition to sweep both sides of the river and execute any pirates they came across. On of the most notorious of the river bandits was a Cossack named Vasily Timofeyevich. His followers and enemies alike called him Yermak, "the millstone." I assume that makes more sense in Russian that it does in English. As Ivan's enforcers moved down the Volga, Yermak's band made a strategic retreat up the Kama, into the territories controlled by the Stroganovs (the family concern was now run by a new generation, Maksim and Nikita, the sons of Grigori and Yakov). True to the family reputation as business savants, the new generation saw an opportunity in the arrival of the fugitive Cossacks. They hired Yermak and his men for the planned expedition across the Urals.

On September 1, 1581, Yermak departed for Siber at the head of a force of 540 Cossacks, 300 Swedish POWs, two priests, and a runaway monk who had signed on as the cook. The first step of the expedition was hauling their boats up tributary of the Kama to its portage across the Urals. They camped for the winter on the Asian side of the pass. In the spring, they hauled and sailed their boats down the Tura River and into Kuchum's realm. After some skimishes on the river, Yermak's little army arrived at Isker. Kuchum gathered his forces a few miles from town and fought a pitched battle with Yermak's band. The outcome was never really in question; Yermak had guns and Kuchum did not. Suffering disastrous losses, Kuckum abandoned his capital and took to the woods to fight again another day.

In Isker, the cossacks found more than enough booty to make each one a wealthy man, but, more importantly, they found food. It was now more than a year since they had departed from the Stroganov lands, their supplies were almost gone, and they faced the necessity of staying the winter in Isker. As soon as it was possible to travel in the Spring, Yermak bundled all of the furs they found in Isker and ordered his second in command, Ivan Koltso, to take them to Moscow to announce their victory, and appeal to the Tsar for reinforcements, supplies, and amnesty for him and his Cossacks (as bandits, they all had prices on their heads).

Things were not going well back in Europe. Ivan was old, in ill health, and possibly insane. His war in West had finally ended in defeat. The state was almost bankrupt. In a fit of rage, he had killed his son and heir. And, to make things worse, since the Stroganovs had stripped the border defenses to outfit Yermak, Siberian tribes were crossing the Urals to raid eastern Muscovy. Ivan had expected the Stroganovs to build a few forts across the Urals and prospect for silver and, instead, they had started a war with Siberian Tatars. He dispatched an angry letter to the Stroganovs accusing them of "disobedience amounting to treason."

Just as the Stroganov cousins were making peace with their God and waiting for the executioner to come knocking at their door, Koltso arrived at the Kremlin with an enormous load of furs and the message that Yermak had detroyed the Khanate of Siber and annexed its lands in the name of Ivan. Ivan forgave the Stroganovs, pardoned the Cossacks, sent Yermak a coat of gold washed chainmail, and ordered 300 streltsy (musketeers) to secure his new province.

Unfortunately, it was too late in the year for the musketeers to travel; Yermak and his men had to spend a second winter in Isker. By spring most of their gunpowder and shot was gone. Ambushes by Kuchum's Tatars and their native allies had reduced the Cossack band to a handful. They blockaded themselves in Isker and braced for a third winter. Koltso and the musketeers arrived in November, but they had lost or used all of the supplies on the journey across the Urals. They straggled into Isker expecting Yermak to feed them. Because he had spent the summer fighting Kuchum and had been expecting the reinforcements to bring supplies, Yermak hadn't even put up enough food for his own men. As the winter progressed the soldiers began to die of scurvy and starvation. The living were forced to eat the dead to survive.

But, survive they did and they were able to gather enough food over the summer to restore their strength and fighting ability. In August, they heard rumors of a Turkish caravan on its way to Isker from Bukhara. They headed up the Irtysh River to meet it, in the hope of collecting more plunder and supplies. It was a trap. While Yermak and his men camped on an island in the river, a group of Mansi natives surrounded the camp and killed most of the Cossacks. Yermak and a small group tried to break free and swim to freedom, but the tsar's chain mail dragged Yermak to the bottom. Leaderless and facing a fourth winter, the last ninety men packed up and tried to escape back to Russia. In the Ural passes, they met a new army on its way to relieve them.

Ivan the Terrible died soon after he sent the first group of reinforcements. His reputation has swung to wild extremes over the years, much like his sanity did when he was alive. "Grozny" the Russian word that is usually translated a "terrible" can also be translated to mean "awesome" or "mighty." Stalin saw Ivan as an early Russian national hero and gave the pioneering filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein permission to make a biographical trilogy of his life. Stalin liked the first installment, but thought the second one, where madness begins to overtake the terrible tsar, looked a little too familiar. It wasn't released and production of the final installment was halted.

Yermak's legend grew over the years until he acquired all of the attributes of a saint. He became a golden haired giant, a chaste and kindly crusader whose only thought was to spread the one true faith. Epic poems were written about him. The truth became so fogged that, until recently, historians didn't even know what year his conquest took place in.

Kucum was never able to reassemble his realm and was assassinated by rivals after resisting the Russian advance for sixteen years.

Boris Gudonov, regent for the new tsar, decided Siberia was worth the trouble to keep and sent the second force of troops that met the survivors of Yermak's expedition. Then he sent a third force, and then a fourth, and a fifth... The Russians built a fort near the ruins of Isker and called it Tobolsk. Tobolsk grew into a town and the town became the capital of Siberia. Rough men followed the rivers eastward across the continent harvesting furs through trade, trapping, or extortion. The state and the church followed attempting to bring order and accounting to the process of collection. In a little over fifty years they had expanded the Muscovite state four thousand miles to the shores of the Pacific.

The generation of men who conquered Siberia were mostly illiterate and, even if they could write, they had little time for natural history, anthropology, or anything else not related to surviving, extracting wealth, and making it back alive. By the middle of the next century, a different type of person began to arrive in Siberia. Along with a more settled population came educated administrators, diplomats, and higher church authorities who had time to more closely look at the land and its treasures. At some point, they became interested in the giant bones and ivory that the natives called "mammoth."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a mystery

When I buy a bag of sliced hot dog buns at the store I find them baked into sets of four that I have to tear apart. How do they slice to ones in the middle?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fragments of my research - II

Altough he is known only to a small number of Americans, Xuanye, the Kangxi emperor of China, was one of the great rulers of the last five hundred years. He was the third emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty and ruled for sixty years. When he came to power in 1662, the empire was still suffering from the effects of the conquest. The economy was a mess and the warlords of several provinces in the South and Taiwan were in open revolt. Xuanye subdued the revolts and stabilized the frontiers of the empire by defeating the Eastern Mongols and by forging a treaty with the Russians that recognized Chinese authority over the entire valley of the Amur River. He devoted a significant part of the budget to rebuilding the road and irrigation systems and encouraged farmers to move back into areas depopulated by the conquest and rebellions. He invited Jesuits and other Westerners into the country in order to take advantage of their technical and scientific expertise. When the Pope became worried that his Jesuits might be becoming contaminated with ideas like toleration and sent a delegate to bring them back into line, Xuanye had the delegate arrested and told the Jesuits to continue as before. He studied Western medicine and learned to play the piano. Late in his life, he decided to write a book about natural history which gathered together many classical Chinese works. Xuanye's book was translated into French by one of the Jesuits in Beijing, Pierre-Martial Cibot, as part of a sixteen volume mémoire on all things Chinese. Much of what has been written about the Chinese and mammoths is based on this work.

The Chinese definitely had knowledge of the mammoth in modern times. The first literate Westerners to enter Siberia in the seventeenth century observed the local natives prospecting for fossil ivory and selling it to China. Besides being an artistic medium, mammoth tusks and other fossils were prized by Chinese apothecaries who ground them into powder and sold them as dragon bones and dragon teeth. This practice was so dependable that paleontologists in the 1920s sought out apothecaries to direct them to local bone beds. Many extinct species were discovered this way. Because medicinal properties were ascribed to many objects, Chinese medical tracts and herbal guides are one of the best sources for information about fossils and other exotic substances.

As to whether the Chinese actually traveled to Siberia and saw the source of mammoth ivory first hand is a hard question to answer. There no surviving accounts of Chinese journeyers in the North or even second-hand mention of such accounts. However, the Chinese did have some knowledge of the people further up the Pacific coast. The chronicles of the Eastern Zhou (770-256 BC) make references to the tribes in the Amur valley. Sources from the Han dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) describe tribes further up the coast that suggest they knew about the Chukchi on the Bering Straits. Ivory artifacts from that period have been found on both the Siberian and Alaskan sides of the Bering Sea that appear to have been carved with metal tools. To the North and Northwest lived nomadic tribes of Mongols and Turks who were deeply involved with Chinese civilization since the earliest days. Although they acted as trade intermediaries with the tribes further north, they acted as a barrier to Chinese expansion into Siberia.

The animals that appear in Chinese literature that are most likely mammoths are usually referred to as giant rodents (shu). An uneducated person finding a mammoth carcass in the ground would try to compare it to an animal they knew. Most medium sized burrowing mammals are clearly what they are--rabbits, badgers, martens--but rodents come in hundreds of types and sizes, from the very tiny to the big enough to eat. It would seem perfectly reasonable to the discoverer of a mammoth to call it an unknown species of giant rodent.

In the Shen i king, a book written during the Han dynasty and credited to Tung-fang So, a minister to the emperor Wu (140-87 BC), the following passage appears: “In the regions of the north, where ice is piled up over a stretch of country ten thousand miles long and reaches a thickness of a thousand feet, there is a rodent, called k’i shu, living beneath the ice in the interior of the earth. In shape it is like a rodent, and subsists on herbs and trees. Its flesh weighs a thousand pounds and may be used as dried meat for food; it is eaten to cool the body. Its hair is about eight feet in length, and is made into rugs, which are used as bedding and keep out the cold." The ice sounds like a description of the Arctic Ocean and the large animal with long hair found in in the frozen earth is a good description of a frozen mammoth carcass. Tung-fang So also wrote that the k’i shu died when exposed to air or light. This belief was common among the Siberian tribes who sold ivory to the Russians from the sixteenth century forward. Did Tung-fang So have that kind of detailed information direct from northern Siberia at such an early date? If that is the case it means the Siberian traditions survived unchanged for almost two thousand years even though there was considerable movement among the peoples of Siberia during that time. Could the information have survied and traveled the other direction, from Chinese merchants, familiar with the Shen i king, to each later tribe that controlled the ivory prospecting grounds?

T’ao Hung-king, in the fifth century, wrote a pharmacopia entitled Ming i pieh tu. In the eighth Ch’en Ts’ang-k’i wrote a work called Pen-tsao Shi-i on the omissions of previous pharmacopias. Both included sections on the fen (an animal which moves in the ground) also known as yin shu (hidden rodent). They told their readers that there were two types of fen, the common small mole and the other fen, which was the size of a water buffalo. The best candidates for a buffalo sized mole are the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros.

At this point, an interesting fact to notice is that none of the Chinese sources have mentioned ivory yet. This doesn't necessarily mean that the various shu are not mammoths. Although European naturalists had enthusiastically studied the mammoth since about 1700, it wasn't until the twentieth century that they knew how the tusks were positioned. The reason for this was that they had never recovered a skull with the tusks still attached. Though generous bounties were offered for mammoth remains, the Siberian natives never reported them until after they had removed and sold the tusks. It's possible that a similar process was at work in rural China.

Philipp Johann Tabbert, enobled as von Strahlenberg, was a Swedish officer captured by the Russians in 1709 and sent to Tobolsk, Siberia to wait out the end of the war. For officers of the nobility, POW status wasn't particularly onerous in the eighteenth century. They were usually sent to a distant province where they were boarded with someone near to their class (as usual, things got worse as you went down through the ranks). In Strahlenberg's case he stayed with governor and they became close friends. The governor allowed him considerable freedom to explore his intellectual interests. His captivity lasted twelve years. By the time it was over he had enough material to write a comprehensive study of the geography of Siberia and the anthropology, languages, and customs of some of the native tribes (published in English as Russia, Siberia, and Great Tartary). He drew what was the most detailed map of Siberia that had been seen (he was the first to show the Ural Mountains as the border of Europe). He also had a lot of time to think about mammoths. In one passage of his book, Strahlenberg quotes Pen-tsao Kan-mu, a Chinese tract on herbs written by Li Shin-Chen and published in 1578.
The beast Tien shu is mentioned in the ancient ceremonial written in the fourth century BC, and is called fyn shu or In shu, i.e. "the self concealing mouse." It is found in holes in the ground, has the appearance of a mouse, but is as large as a buffalo. It has no tail, and is of a dark color. Its strength is very great, and it digs itself into holes in the ground in hilly and woody places. Another writer says the Fyn shu frequents only dark and solitary places, and dies when it sees the rays of the sun or moon. Its feet are very short in comparison with its bulk, so that it travels only with difficulty. Its tail is about a Chinese ell long*, its eyes very small, and its neck crooked. It is also stupid and inert.

Parts of Li Shin-Chen sound familiar to the sources we have already seen, especially the Shen i king.

You have to pause and marvel at the unlikeliness of all this. How does a German officer in the service of the Swedish king, being held prisoner in Siberia become aware of the contents of a Chinese herbal guide written one-hundred-fifty years earlier? It's possible that a copy of Pen-tsao Kan-mu made its way to Tobolsk. In the eighteenth century, the city was the capital of Siberia and the first stop on the trade route to China. Or, as is more likely, did Strahlenberg learn about it after he returned to Sweden, while he was writing his book?

Some non-rodent traditions exist. A fourteenth century work by T’ao Tsung-i explains the origin of khutu, a material used for knife handles: “Ku-tu-si is the horn of a large snake, and as it is poisonous by nature, it can counteract all poisons, for poison is treated with poison.” During the same period, Arab and Persian writers reported that their Chinese informants had told them that khutu came from a fish, a tree, or a giant bird. Some of the Muslim eyewitness descriptions of khutu are clearly mammoth ivory. Whether the second-hand Chinese descriptions of khutu also refer to Mammoth ivory is an open question.

The Kangxi emperor in his natural history brought many of these materials together and commented on them in the light of the new knowledge that he had acquired from his Jesuits and others.
The books say that in the very cold regions of the north ice forms to a thickness of a hundred feet and melts not even in the spring or summer. This region is now known actually to exist. Again, the Yuan kien lei han [a thirteenth century encyclopedia] contains the following statement: "The k’i shu, which is described as reaching the weight of ten thousand pounds, is found even at the present day. In shape it resembles the elephant, and its tusks are like those of the same beast, but the ivory is yellowish in color." In both these points, the ancient books are confirmed.

Five years later he expanded on this.
While all the assertions found in books are not to be implicitly believed, there are, on the other hand, statements which, however false and absurd they may seem, are nevertheless perfectly well founded. Thus, for instance, Tung-fang So relates that in the regions of the north ice is formed to a thickness of a thousand feet, and does not melt either in the winter or summer. When the Russians presented themselves at our court this year, they stated that in their country, at a distance of something over twenty degrees from the Pole, there is what is called the Polar Sea. The ice lies frozen there in solid masses and prevents the access of human beings. Thus, for the first time, the truth of Tung-fang So’s assertion has been confirmed. Again he states that in the northern regions, under layers of ice, is found a large animal of the kind of a rodent, the flesh of which weighs a thousand pounds. Its name is fen shu. It burrows under the ground and dies when it sees the light of the sun or moon. Now, in Russia, near the shores of the northern ocean, there is a rodent similar to an elephant, which makes its way under ground and which expires the very moment it is exposed to light or air. Its bones resemble ivory, and are used by the natives in manufacturing cups, platters, combs, and pins. Objects like these we ourselves have seen, and we have been led thereby to believe in the truth of the story.

The "Russians" from whom the emperor gained his information were probably the missions of Lorenz Lange, a Swede, or John Bell, a Scot. Both were in Beijing on business for Peter the Great during that year and both, in their memoirs, wrote about the source of mammoth ivory.

During the first quarter of the eighteenth century, while Peter the Great was busy fighting the Swedish, the Kangxi emperor was involved in a complex struggle in Central Asia that involved China, Tibet, Russia, and the Zungharian Khanate that dominated much of what is now Xinjiang and Kazakhstan. In 1712, as part of this struggle, the emperor sent an envoy to the Torguts, a Mongolian tribe that, during the previous century, had trekked to the lower Volga region on the far side of the Zungharians**. The envoy, named Tulisen, was to feel out diplomatic opportunities an observe Russian economic and military power. On his return, he produced a map of Siberia as good, or possibly better than Strahlenberg's. In his report, which had the charming title of "Jottings on the places where one sent me in the cut-off frontiers" (i.e. outside the empire), Tulishen described an encounter with mammoth ivory.
In the coldest parts of this northern country is found a species of animal which burrows under the ground, and which dies when exposed to the sun and air. It is of enormous size and weighs ten thousand pounds. Its bones are very white and bright like ivory. It is not by nature a very powerful animal, and is therefore not very ferocious. It generally occurs on the banks of rivers. The Russians collect the bones of this animal, in order to make cups, saucers, combs, and other small articles. The flesh of the animal is of a very cooling quality, and is eaten as a remedy in fevers. The foreign name of this animal is mo-men-to-wa [mammoth]; we call it k’i shu.

There is no doubt that Tulisen was talking about mammoth ivory since he calls it by that name. Two things are worth notice in his account. First, his Russian informants were of the belief that mammoths were still alive in Siberia. Second, he recognized the mammoth as being the same as the k’i shu. Tulisen was still on the road as the emperor was completing the first version of his natural history. As with Strahlenberg, the question is: did he make that connection at the time, in which case that passage from Shen i king, was well known to the educated Manchurian and Chinese elite of the Qing dynasty, or did he have a chance to see the emperor's book while writing his report? Did the emperor use Tulisen's report while writing his second account? Tulisen gave his report to the emperor in 1715. The emperor published his natural history the next year. The longer version of the emperor's observations was published in 1721 and a public version of Tulisen's report came out two years later in 1723. Lange's memiors came out that same year, Strahlenberg'a in 1730, but Bell didn't publish until just before his death in 1763. Who influenced whom and what external influences were involved? This is an important question, as the answer would be an indication of how knowledge of the mammoth was spread. Unfortunately, it is a question that hasn't been answered.

Coming soon: Earthshaking moles, the mammoth gets a name, and conquering Mongolian mammoths of doom!

* The ell is an extremely variable measure, running from about sixteen inches to fifty-seven inches. The longer measures are mostly fabric measures and irrelevant here. Ell is derived from elbow and usually means something like a cubit (fingers to elbow) or an arm (fingers to pit). I have no idea what Strahlenberg or his translators mean by a Chinese ell.

**It is frequently claimed that the purpose of Tulisen's mission was to entreat the Torguts to return to China. There is no indication of this either in Tulisen's report or in the instructions issued to him by the emperor. The idea that that was his purpose appeared in the nineteenth century, no doubt influenced by the fact that the majority of the Toguts did attempt to return to China in 1771. The decision was prompted by the pressure from the Russians when they were attempting to subdue the last independent nomad state on the European steppes, the Khanate of Crimea. Sadly, the most of the Torguts died during the journey.

Postscript bleg: My language skills are legendarily bad. The sources for my research range over four centuries. This means the Chinese words have been Romanized using at least three different systems as well as no system at all (by writers who tried to sound it out on their own). If anyone can convert these Chinese names and words into Pinyin for me I would be eternally grateful.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fragments of my research - I

A specter was haunting Europe in the 1690s.

Well, it wasn't haunting all of Europe, at least, not yet, but, as specters go, this was a pretty good one.

Word of the specter first appeared on the edges of Europe, in the country that was still referred to as Muscovy. Dutch and German travelers brought word of it back to their countries. Within a few years additional travelers had brought back more stories and the specter was known in England, France, Sweden, and everywhere that learned men gathered to discuss the new natural philosophies. Descriptions of the specter were vague and contradictory. Muscovite merchants said the natives of Siberia had known about the specter since the dawn of time (six to eight thousand years earlier, depending on who you asked). Some said it was a monster that lived underground; others said it lived in the water. No one had seen it alive. It was said to die on exposure to sunlight or air. All, however, agreed that it was an enormous beast--bigger than anything known--and that it had teeth (or horns) longer than a man. The natives called it Mammoth.

The mammoth had been known to merchants outside of Siberia for centuries, but not by that name. Ivory from the North entered into various trading networks on the periphery of Eurasia after passing through numerous middlemen so that its origin and even the name used by its producers was not known by the final sellers. The earliest accounts of something that might be mammoth ivory come from Arab and Persian travelers of the Muslim golden age.

Ahmad ibn Fadlan traveled with an embassy from the Caliph of Baghdad to the Volga Bulgars in order to convert the Bulgars to Islam. They succeeded within a few days. Having some extra time on his hands, ibn Fadlan explored the habits of the neighboring peoples. Vikings, he tells us, are the filthiest of all Allah's creatures. The local merchants told him of a large fierce beast (unnamed) that lived on the steppes. It had a single large horn in its forehead from which the Bulgars carved bowls. When it saw riders on the steppes, it would chase them down and kill the riders with its horn. It never hurt the horses. It had the head of a sheep, the body of a mule, and the tail and hooves of a bull. Some people thought it was a rhinoceros. Mammoth enthusiasts, by ignoring everything except the size of the horn, have decided that this is a description of fossil ivory. Unicorn enthusiasts, by paying attention only to the location of the horn and the beast's solidarity with horses, have laid claim to the beast. Cryptozoologists, seizing on the mention that it might be a rhinoceros, have decided that this is proof that woolly rhinoceroses lived into historic times. Since ibn Fadlan was a little sketchy about his return trip, Michael Chrichton added a loop further north into his itinerary so he could help the Vikings fight Grendel in his book Eaters of the Dead. In the movie version of Chrichton's story, The Thirteenth Warrior, ibn Fadlan was played by Antonio Banderas.

The next Islamic writer to mention a mysterious carvable material found in the North as the great Persian polymath Abu Rayhan al Biruni. During his seventy-five years, al Biruni wrote over one hundred forty books on almost every subject imaginable, but primarily on astronomy. He has a crater on the moon named for him. Only twenty-two of his books survived in their complete form, but he was generously quoted by later writers giving us a wide selection of his thought. The relevant material for mammoths appears in his Kitab al-Jawahir (Book of Precious Stones) where he discusses a material called khutu used for knife handles. He reports several possible sources for khutu: fish, fowl mammal, and vegetable.
Although khutu is an animal product, yet people like it and collect it as a treasure.

It is the bone of the forehead of a bull. This is what has been said in books, although the only additional information we could get is that this bull is found in Khirghiz. Its forehead is thicker than two fingers which would show that it cannot be the forehead of the Turkish bull, as it is smaller bodied. But it could well be the horn. As for the belief that it is the forehead of a bull, it would be the forehead of the mountain goats of Khirghiz. Only they can have such foreheads.

A tradition which runs about it – and it is extremely difficult to check the veracity of the factual truth behind this tradition – has it that it is the forehead of a big bird. Natives in the wilderness of China believe it to be a very large fowl residing in uninhabited regions beyond the sea of Zanj and China, eating large ferocious elephants.

The Bulgar bring from the northern sea teeth of a fish over a cubit long. White knife hafts are sawed out of them for the cutlers. The middle portion is distributed among the single hafts, so that every piece of the tooth has a share in them; it can be seen that they are made from the tooth itself, and not from ivory, or from the chips of its edges. The various designs displayed by it give the appearance of wriggling. Some of our countrymen bring it to Mecca where the people regard it as white chatuq.

AmIr Abu Jafar ibn Banu had a large box-like case made of long and broad khutu planks.

Ibn al-Husayn Kashghari, a later writer who quoted and expanded on al Biruni, explained what chatuq is:
Horn of a sea fish imported from China. It is said that it is the root of a tree. It is used for knife handles.

In a few short lines we hear that khutu could come from a bull, a goat, a bird, a fish, or a tree. The only thing we can be sure it is not is rhinoceros horn. Today, rhinoceros horn is extremely popular in the Muslim world for making high quality knife handles and it was popular in al Biruni's time as well. However, al Biruni wrote seperately about rhinoceros horn and its use for knife handles and was clear that they were not khutu. The wide variety of sources indicates that the word khutu was used to describe more than one substance. The word itself was a loan word from Chinese. It's likely that many merchants used the word indiscriminately for "knife handle stuff."

Two elements in al Biruni's investigation of khutu point towards a possible mammoth source. Amir Banu's large box made of khutu planks has to be ivory from a proboscidean. Nothing else is large enough to produce planks. The elephant was familiar enough to everyone in the Chinese, Indian, and Muslim worlds that if the box had been made of elephant ivory, they would have said so. For that example, at least, fossil mammoth ivory is the only possibility (unless they lied about the size of the box). The other element of interest is the Khirghiz connection. The Khirghiz of al Biruni's didn't inhabit the small corner of Central Asia that is today's Kyghizstan. They controlled a wide swath of the steppes from China to Europe and controlled all of the trade between the Muslim world in the south and the hunter and fisher people of the north. If any mammoth ivory entered the Muslim world it would have had to come from Khirghiz or Bulgar middlemen.

The elephant eating bird is too similar to the roc of the Arabian Nights to be anything but the source of the legend. Al Biruni says the story comes from the Chinese who place the bird off at the edge of the world. In 1916 Berthold Laufer put forward the idea that the giant bird with a horn might be a description of the skull of a woolly rhinoceros. On the Arctic coast of Siberia, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth bones can be found mixed together. Both rhinoceros horns and mammoth tusks were sold to the Chinese who used them for making knife handles, among other objects. While the khutu that al Biruni wrote about might not have been rhinoceros horn, its possible that the khutu of the Chinese was.

In the twelfth-century, the Andalusian geographer Abu Hamid al-Gharnati, also visited Bulgar and reported "a tooth four spans long and two spans wide and the cranium of the animal resembling a dome; teeth were also found in the ground like elephant's tusks, white like snow, one weighing two hundred menn; it was not known from what animal it was derived; it was wrought like ivory, but was stronger than the latter and unbreakable." The teeth were sold for a great price in Kwarezm in Central Asia. The fact that he specifically references ivory dug out of the ground makes it almost certain that his informants were speaking of fossil mammoth tusks.

In 1255, the monk Kirakos of Gandsak travelled to Karakorum with Haithon I, king of Cilician Armenia, to pay tribute to the Mongol Khan. Kirakos describes many of the wonders of the East, including the Isle of Dog-faced men. Among the marvels, he mentions "a sandy island there where is found a precious bone in the form of a tree, called fish-tooth; when it is cut, another bone will shoot forth at the same spot, in the manner of deer's antlers." This sounds similar to Kashghari's horn of a sea fish / root of a tree description. The detail of a new bone appearing where the old one was cut might indicate fossil ivory washing out on a beach or an animal that sheds its horns.

Giles Fletcher, who was sent as ambassador by Queen Elizabeth to Russia in 1588, also saw ivory from a fish. "Besides these (which are all good and substantiall commodities) they have divers other of smaller accompt, that are naturall and proper to that countrey: as the fish tooth (which they call Ribazuba) which is used among themselves, and the Persians and Bougharians that fetch it from thence for beads, knives, and sword hafts of noblemen and gentlemen, and for divers other uses."

The first ivory to appear in England that we know for sure was mammoth tusk arrived in 1611. Josiah Logan wrote the following in a letter to Richard Hakluyt in June of that year, after returning from a trading expedition to Pechora on the Arctic coast of European Russia:
There use to come hither in the Winter about two thousand Samoieds with their Commodities, which may be such as we dreamed not on yet. For by chance one came to us with a piece of an Elephants Tooth, which he said he bought of a Samoied.

Logan knew enough of the world to immediately recognize an elephant's tusk (and to know the value of a hunk of ivory that large). There was no question in his mind that the "tooth" came from a bull, fish, tree, rhino, or unicorn.

Studying early knowledge of mammoths presents two problems. The first, is that the people who found mammoth remains were almost never literate and the people who wrote about mammoth remains were so far removed that they almost always got their information second or third hand or worse. The second problem is that, lacking a common name for mammoth remains, it is a huge task to sort out references to mammoth ivory from similar materials used in carving. Giles Fletcher's fish tooth ivory is most likely walrus ivory. Notice how close his description is to Kashghari's and Kirakos'. Does that mean they were all describing walrus ivory? Could they have each been describing something different? And, while Fletcher's description is clearly of a walrus, can we be sure that all of the ivory he saw came from the same source? Was he throwing mammoth ivory in with walrus ivory and calling them the same thing? More research is in order.

Coming soon: Chinese mammoths, earthshaking moles, and the mammoth gets a name.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Limbaugh: "I Hope Obama Fails"

He wanted that to be the headline today. Rush Limbaugh once again shows how utterly lacking in class he is by hoping millions of Americans descend into poverty and that the international scene remains convulsed by war and instability for four years just so he can say "I told you so." This is the face of the modern conservative movement.

Other random observations

Warren was a pompous blowhard. No surprise there.

Aretha was magnificent. No surprise there.

Obama admitted that nonbelievers are Americans too. That might be a first for any politician since Ben Franklin.

Lowery's benediction was really quite good.

The girls were adorable. No surprise there.

I think it was Chris Matthews who pointed out that the idea of a Black man, a Catholic, and a woman holding the top three offices in the land would certainly have given the founders an attack of the vapors.

I was expecting a million person conga line singing "Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead," but I was disappointed.

The next moment of hysteria

He made it. There was no last minute coup by Cheney or other catastrophe to bar the change of power. The world is once again safe for democracy. I notice that the sun seems brighter, the air sweeter, and food tastes better since noon (eastern time). Clever Wife and I watched the transfer of power and then turned the TV off. The aimless blithering by talking heads was a little much for us.
There was an odd moment when Obama stepped up to give the oath of office with Chief Justice Roberts. They had trouble getting started. After giving his name, it seemed like Obama wasn't sure what the words were and was waiting for extra prompting from Roberts. Then they talked over each other before finishing the oath without additional glitches. That impression is doubly odd when you consider how well Obama usually so well prepared in public. After all, the oath is only thirty-five words long*; how hard is that to memorize? In fact, the fault was not with Obama; it was Roberts' fumble that created the confusion. Obama's pause was to give Roberts a chance to correct himself. The correct oath begins:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States...

What Roberts said was:
I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...

The complete exchange (according to ABC news) went like this:
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...

OBAMA: I, Barack...

ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...

OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...

OBAMA: ... that I will execute...

ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...

OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...

ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...

OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...

ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

ROBERTS: So help you God?

OBAMA: So help me God.

I'm dwelling on this at length because I think we'll be hearing a lot about it from far right bloggers and the conspiracy and militia crowds. Because of the fumble, many of them will, no doubt, claim that Obama isn't really the president. The militia crowd is especially prone to according a near magical power to words. One of the arguments they make about why the income tax is illegal is based on a claim that the texts of the Sixteenth Amendment passed by the various states didn't all have the exact same punctuation. Another argument--the one where they claim to be something called "sovereign citizens"--rests upon the idea that reciting certain words can exempt you from laws you don't like. I'm not sure what implication they will draw from the idea that Obama isn't the president. If he is not, does that mean Bush is still president, or does it mean Biden is? Will some claim that we have no president? Would that mean the central government has ceased to exist? Will the Malkinites' heads explode? Does the Pope poo in the woods? Stay tuned for further developments.
* Not counting the new president's name or " help me God." "So help me God" is not part of the Constitutionally mandated oath. The founding generation was careful about avoiding such blatant subversions of the separation of church and state. It's something that later generations have added and made traditional as part of the creeping religiousization of our national rites and symbols.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The next desperadoes?

Historically, one characteristic of bad economic times has been the rise of desperadoes as populist folk heroes. In 1959, the historian Eric Hobsbawm identified the social bandit or noble bandit as a major historical and literary archetype. This style of tale, about the bandit as a trickster, defier of authority, and defender of the common people, can be found all over the world, going back through Robin Hood into the earliest known literature. In historical literature, noble bandit escapades are often apocryphally attributed to real people. One Jesse James legend has him giving some of his loot to a widow to pay her mortgage and then robbing the landlord to get it back. Nineteenth century European nationalist movements regularly appropriated noble bandit folklore as evidence of a primitive national consciousness. In other cases, the bandits themselves worked to live up to the social bandit stereotype. During the depression, Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd was adored by some because, when he robbed banks, he burned the mortgage records. The Australian bandit Ned Kelly did the same.

This leads me to wonder if we're in for another round of the same. Millions of people are losing their jobs. Hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs. Tens of millions are struggling to keep up payments on credit card balances with usurious interest rates. Meanwhile, wealthy conservative pundits sneer that we have no one to blame for our troubles but ourselves and that we are clearly morally deficient for letting ourselves get into this state. Our Congress has shown itself much more eager to bail out a small number of white collar bankers and stock traders than they are millions of blue collar laborers. The time seems ripe for some serious economic populism.

Banks no longer keep records of mortgages and loan balances on paper or in file cabinets; they keep them in computers. The Pretty Boy Floyd method won't help anyone this time around. However, among the millions losing their job are tens of thousands of tech workers and bank employees. Will the next round of noble bandits be hackers nursing a grudge? I'm not encouraging anyone to fry the databases of their credit card issuers--as Nixon said, that would be wrong--but I doubt as if anyone is waiting for my permission. And, even if the noble hackers don't appear, we can be assured that hell will be raised in the next few years.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Speakin' of Ann and Sarah, also

While Ann Coulter is out telling anyone who will listen that those bad liberals are always playing the victim card and whining about how the liberal media is victimizing her by not giving her as much exposure as she wants, Sarah Palin has her own whines about how she was victimized by that "upper echelon of power brokerin' in the media and with spokespersons" and their their filters, you know, and also yer Joe Sixpacks sittin' around their kitchen tables in real America tryin' to make ends meet and Putin with his head readin' all her magazines and all the newspapers, so she told Charlie thanks, but no thanks. Also.
Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) believes Caroline Kennedy is getting softer press treatment in her pursuit of the New York Senate seat than Palin did as the GOP vice presidential nominee because of Kennedy’s social class.

“I’ve been interested to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled and if she will be handled with kid gloves or if she will be under such a microscope,” Palin told conservative filmmaker John Ziegler....

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out and I think that as we watch that we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here also that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be.”

Palin said she remains subject to unfair press coverage of her and her family.


She observed that Katie Couric and Tina Fey have been “capitalizing on” and “exploiting” her.

Why would the the liberal media elite give Palin more scrutiny than Caroline Kennedy? It might be because Kennedy has lived in the public eye since before Palin was born. We know who Kennedy is, but 99% of Americans had never heard of Palin until McCain announced her as his running mate. It might be because Kennedy is one possible candidate for one Senate seat from one state, while Palin was a major party nominee for Vice President of the United States. And if there is a class issue, it's that Kennedy has some and Palin does not.

She's ba-aaack

It appears that Ann Coulter is doing the talk shows, peddling yet another badly researched, libelous screed about how bad liberals are and inciting violence against non-Ann women. As usual she's using her platform to make outrageous statements that get her more undeserved publicity. I have to giver credit: the lady can play the television news media like a violin. No matter how many times they say they won't be fooled again, they line up like jonesing drug addicts every time she crooks an unnaturally long finger in their direction. This is probably a good time reiterate that I do not have nude photos of Ann Coulter and if I did have pictures of Ann Coulter naked I wouldn't post them on my site for free. If you want nude pics of Ann Coulter, you'll have to look elsewhere. Oh, and for the record, I also do not have naked photos or nude video of Sarah Palin nude (XXX).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Shooting stars

The first jobs I had after dropping out of grad school were as an office temp. For me this was a step up the employment food chain. Since I was almost forty and just out of a decade in academia, it took a while to adjust to the culture of the office. In an office with a lot of temps there is a bit of a clash of cultures going on all the time between the career office workers and the various tribes that they bring in on a temporary basis. The career office workers don't always want to bond too closely with the temps who might be gone in a few days or weeks. I suppose this has changed a little since then as nobody is permanent in any job.

In this particular job, a hospital HMO had brought in a couple of college, students out for the summer, and me to reorganize a large file system. The college students and I formed our own clique and shared academic war stories on our breaks. We all knew we were temporary and shared the permanent workers hesitation about bonding too closely. Between the two cliques were the temps who wanted the assignment to turn into a permanent gig. They spent an equal amount of time in both groups. On this day, one of the straddlers, Gregg, was sitting with college crowd.

"If the sun disappeared," he asked in an attempt to engage the college students in conversation, "how long do you think it would take the oceans to freeze?"

I pondered the depth of the problem. I thought of the oceans of Europa under their miles of ice. I thought of the heat generated by midoceanic thermal vents. I thought of mighty tectonic forces and streams beneath glaciers that lubricate their movement. I tried to phrase all of this into a succinct answer. "Well," I began, "I don't think they would freeze all the way down. At least not right away..."

Ion, just back from a stint in the Peace Corps, cut me off. " What do you mean "If the sun disappeared'?" he said, cutting right to the chase.

"Uh, you know, if it shot off into space."

"That never happens!"

"Sure it does. It happens all the time. What about shooting stars?"

"That's not what that means!!!""

I'm not sure if we ever did manage to convince Gregg that stars don't just get up and leave or to explain about meteors, laws of inertia, and such. If Gregg was reading the science news today, he'd be sure we were the ones who didn't understand the universe.
A total of 14 young stars racing through clouds of gas like bullets, creating brilliant arrowhead structures and tails of glowing gas, have been revealed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. They represent a new type of runaway stars, scientists say.

The discovery of the speedy stars by Hubble, announced here today at the 213th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, came as something of a shock to the astronomers who found them.


The bow shocks that the stars created in those interstellar clouds could be anywhere from 100 billion to a trillion miles wide (the equivalent of 17 times to 170 times the width of our solar system, out to the orbit of Neptune).

These bow shocks indicate that the stars are traveling fast, more than 112,000 mph (180,000 kph) with respect to the dense gas they're plowing through – roughly five times faster than typical young stars.

Damn, these shooting stars are cool.

Republicans behaving badly and other political games

Here's few things that caught my attention in today's news.

Appearing on CSPAN yesterday, congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) said the solution to the current economic crisis is to "do what Ronald Reagan did" and implement "across-the-board permanent marginal tax reductions." When a caller pointed out that deficits skyrocketed under Reagan, Pence replied:
You’re absolutely correct in saying that they saw deficits and the national debt grow under President Reagan, but it was—and check me on this, people can check things easily on the internet these days, check me on this—the rate reductions that President Reagan enacted resulted in more than a doubling of the revenues over the next seven years that went from the American people to the federal government.

That's the standard supply-side myth made famous by Laffer and his laughable curve—cutting taxes raises revenue—we all know it is complete crap. Matt Corley at Think Progress took Pence up on his suggestion and looked up the actual figures for us. According to the Office of Management and Budget, when adjusted for inflation into year 2000 dollars, tax increased from $1.077 trillion in 2001 to $1.236 trillion in 2008. When not adjusted for inflation, the figures sound a little more impressive; they went from $599.3 billion to $909.3 billion—a tiny bit over once and a half. When you take into account that the economy was in a slight uptick between two recessions and not at all good when Reagan took office and was still coasting on the Wall Street boom (though down from its peak) when he left, that's even less impressive. The only question that remains is, was Pence lying through his teeth or does he really believe that nonsense? In either case, should this boob be allowed to make laws?

The excruciatingly silly Pajamas Media has hired Joe "the plumber" Wurzelbacher to be a war correspondent in Gaza for their new online TV channel. I'll let you make your own jokes on this one.

John McCain just sent out a letter his e-mail list announcing his "new grassroots organization called Country First."
Country First will allow us to strengthen our Party, better define our Republican ideals and message, recruit and back strong, dedicated candidates and continue our efforts to bring real reform to government by always putting our country and the noble ideals she stands for first.

An organization formed from the top down is the exact opposite of a grassroots organization, but McCain isn't the first to do violence to that particular concept. Steve Benen points out that the right isn't exactly lacking in organizations to push their agenda and, in fact, many of the existing groups are closing their doors now that their funding pool is shrinking. CNN goes so far as to say Country First is nothing more than a PAC for McCain's senate reelection campaign in 2010.

Maybe I should make this a weekly feature rather than only focusing on things that I can work into a full post.

We have a contender

Next December when you're looking for the dumbest headline of the year, keep this one in mind. We had a heavy rain last night. This morning, the Seattle Times has a banner headline—all caps, the full width of the front page—reading "DOWNPOUR." There really is a story here; we had some serious flooding out in the county. However, all that headline tells me is that it rained in Seattle in the winter. Anyone who has ever visited Seattle in the winter knows that it rains almost every day from October to April. No rain is worth a headline, downpours are not. Is a headline like that really supposed to sell newspapers? No wonder the newspaper business is in trouble.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Math is not his strong suit

After setting himself up for some heavy duty criticism by trying to block Obama's plans for economic stimulus and infrastructure repair, Sen. Mitch McConnell is suddenly Mr. Bipartisanship. Or at least he's learned the word and likes to throw it around a lot. Appearing on This Week with George Stephanopoulos says we need to go slow on this, we need to examine things from every angle, and the Democrats have to listen to the concerns of the Republicans and let them "be a part of the process." Let's set aside for a moment the irony of any Republican who's been in congress over he last sixteen years championing the rights of the minority or demanding that we go slow on emergency legislation. McConnell's justification for giving him some concessions isn't even mathematically correct. He begins with:
Look, I think everyone knows that half the American public is represented by a Republican senator.

And, just to make sure we catch that talking point, he repeats it later.
Do we want to do it with essentially no hearings, no input, for example, in the Senate from Republican senators who represent half of the American population?

Let's do the math on that one. There are forty one Republicans in the Senate (not counting Joe Lieberman). Forty one out of a hundred is--um, divide... move the decimal two places..okay--forty one percent. According to the Census Bureau, the population of the fifty states on July 1, 2008 was 281 million (with Puerto Rico, DC, and the Pacific territories the total population was 305 million). Fourteen states with a total population of about seventy four million are represented by two Republican senators each. Thirteen states with a total population of seventy nine million have only one Republican senator each. That means about one hundred fourteen million people are represented by Republicans. One hundred fourteen into two hundred eighty one is roughly forty percent. Forty percent (or even forty one) is not half.

The generous conclusion is that McConnell is just plain stupid. The more realistic conclusion is that he's disingenuous and trying to mislead us. It probably won't do any good to point out his double standard over the rights of the minority when Republicans are in charge versus the rights of the minority when Democrats are in charge. Sadly, crying hypocrisy over the slightest boo-boo has become so much in vogue over the years, that no one pays attention to genuine hypocrisy anymore. It's probably best just to call him stupid and be done with it. We would rather win on the issues, but winning because we make the other side look ridiculous is still winning, and getting the job done is more important than accumulating debating points.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

It's 2009

Once again the new year arrived right on schedule. Making sure the new year functions properly will require some maintenance on your part.
  • Remember to write 2009 on all your checks, if you still use checks.
  • Change the battery in your smoke detector.
  • Update the copyright date on your websites or blogs.
  • Pretend like you're starting a diet, but don't get carried away.
  • Drop a few things off at the food bank.
  • Remember your family.
  • Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher.
  • Find an excuse to pamper yourself.
  • Write someone a real letter on real paper.
  • Try something new.
  • Keep reading archy.