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November 30, 2009

Weekend Book Report – A War Like No Other

A War Like No Other A War Like No Other
How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War

Victor Davis Hanson

2005
400 Pages

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I was reading “A War Like No Other” around the time Mrs. Moron and I were trying to choose a name for our first child, a boy.  Being a “live-in-the-moment” kind of guy, I naturally suggested “Pericles.”

Which is why men have wives.

Author Victor Davis Hanson is a classical scholar in the traditional sense.  And by “traditional sense” we mean, “he makes you feel like an idiot in comparison,” as he does his own translations from the original Greek or Latin.

“A War Like No Other,” chronicles the Peloponnesian War between the Athenian empire and Sparta and its allies, a conflict that would consume nearly three decades and change the course of history forever.

If you are like most Planet Moron readers, you’re probably asking yourself, “I wonder if the author properly addresses the role the ill-fated Syracuse campaign played in the ultimate outcome of the war a decade later?”

Also, “I like cheese.”

The book is in fact largely organized around the methods of warfare employed, from chapters on “Fear” and “Fire” to “Horses” and “Ships.”  There is at first a gimmicky feel to this, as with all attempts to take a fresh approach to well-trodden ground (like a chess set that uses Star Wars characters, or calling cuts in a program “savings”) but it works here and offers a fascinating perspective into the means of war and the manner in which it was fought at the time.

A major theme of the narrative, and an inspiration for the title, is the escalating brutality of the war, unseen in earlier internecine Greek conflicts, that marked the 27-years of the on-and-off hostilities.  Modern readers will no doubt find the barbarous accounts of men and women being torn apart by swords and spears by these primitive ancients disturbing, accustomed as they are to the far more sophisticated approach of using bullets and high explosives.

Those were savage, savage, times.

For those interested in this era, or who just like good war stories, it’s hard to go wrong with “A War Like No Other.”

J.

PS:  The kid did end up with a name that will get him beat up at recess far less often than "Pericles."

Some comments on the Kindle: "A War Like No Other" was not available for the Kindle. And therein lies a problem.

I still love the Kindle (originally reviewed here), but my fears regarding availability (much like downloadable music a few years ago) have been confirmed.  From past Book Reports you'll note I don't spend a lot of time on the best-seller lists, so I'm finding maybe half the books I want to read available for the Kindle. On the plus side, it is approaching the $199 price it always should have been.

Bottom line, it remains a product for early-adopters.  That's my comfort zone, since it has buttons and is shiny, but it might prove frustrating for those less fascinated with gadgetry and with eclectic reading habits.

November 30, 2009 at 01:06 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 26, 2009

Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving Proclamation In Freeform Haiku

Some political observers were surprised that Barack Obama’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation was fairly basic, and failed to “highlight his new administration’s accomplishments or reassure the nation at a time of gratitude and family togetherness” as is more traditionally done.

If he was going to take a stripped-down approach to the effort, we feel he should have gone with a more elementary format.

Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in Freeform Haiku:

Thanksgiving has been around a long time
You should volunteer more
Are we done here?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

J.

November 26, 2009 at 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2009

CONSENSUS WATCH – 11/25/2009

An ongoing series dedicated to vigorously monitoring emerging threats to The Consensus that global warming is real, caused by humans, and must be addressed at all costs. Because without consensus, scientific conclusions would remain vulnerable to new data.

 Controversy continues to swirl around the release of confidential files from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, one of the premier global warming Consensus supporters in the world, that seemed to suggest that data was deliberately manipulated, competing scientific theories were suppressed and documents illegally destroyed.

What casual readers probably don’t realize is that scientific progress has long been founded on the timeless principles of subterfuge, deception, and trickery.

For example, some critics suggest that this statement from a private email sent by climate researcher Kevin Trenberth to Penn State’s Michael Mann illustrates inner doubt within CRU that was never expressed publicly:

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

But compare that to similar doubts Isaac Newton expressed regarding his theories on gravity, in a private letter to English scholar, Richard Bentley:

"That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it."

What if some nefarious character had hacked into Bentley’s oak secretary desk and released this letter to the public?  Sure, Newton could try and claim that the statement was taken out of context but by then, the damage would have been done.

And that whole apple-falling-on-his-head story?  A complete fabrication of little scientific value intended as nothing more than an emotional appeal to the masses.  Imagine what might have happened had this come to light at the time. Gravity-deniers would use the revelation to cast doubt on Newton’s work. He would lose all credibility, as would his ideas.  The consequences?  Think of all the ways Newtonian physics lay at the foundation of our modern way of life:  Satellites.  Commercial air transport.  Donkey Kong.

Another source of controversy to emerge from the hacked files are the inaccurate data sets, fundamentally flawed climate models, and hopelessly corrupted results.

However this recalls an earlier innovator, Thomas Edison, who famously said, in explaining his 10,000 failures in developing a storage battery:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

You see, Consensus supporters haven’t failed to prove that humans are causing sustained global warming through emissions of carbon dioxide that must be addressed immediately if we are to prevent climate catastrophe.

They’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t prove that humans are causing sustained global warming through emissions of carbon dioxide that must be addressed immediately if we are to prevent climate catastrophe.

J.

Greenhouse Gases Bodysuit We have new baby items for our Consensus Watch Store.  Because if you can’t exploit an innocent baby to further your own personal political agenda, what good are they? 

Introducing our “You're worried about Greenhouse Gases?  I'll give you Greenhouse Gases!” infant bodysuit and bib, and our “Looks like my parents are going to need Carbon Offsets Bodysuit some serious Carbon Offsets!” organic baby bodysuit.

November 25, 2009 at 12:58 PM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 23, 2009

Enjoying Yourself Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

In their December “Nutrition Action Health Letter” out last week, Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman with The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), exposed a deadly health hazard lurking unseen in every movie theater across the country:

Eating a medium-sized popcorn smothered in buttery flavored oil is the equivalent of eating a medium-sized popcorn smothered in buttery flavored oil!

Or, put another way, it is the caloric equivalent of eating three McDonald’s burgers.

If you are like most Planet Moron readers, you are probably saying to yourself, “You had me at ‘smothered in buttery flavored oil.’”

Also, “Wow, I had absolutely no idea that eating a tub of popcorn swimming in liquefied fat might be just like eating other things that have a lot of fat.  Thank you, Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman, thank you for caring so darn much!”

So, what healthy choices does the CSPI recommend in lieu of a tub of larded up popcorn?

“The best snack at the movies? No snack at all.”

The way the CSPI sees it, if you eliminate foods you enjoy, you will live longer.

Or at least it will seem that way.

Sadly, secretly pumping oil all over your popcorn while clandestinely standing in front of you asking if you want more oil pumped all over your popcorn which is concealed in a container misleadingly labeled “popcorn,” is not the only problem the CSPI has with movie theater snack bars.

Regal theaters’ medium and large sizes hold the same exact amount of popcorn!

As Hurley and Liebman ask:

“Other than for the free refill (shudder), why else would moviegoers pay $8 for a large (a medium is $7)?”

Exactly!  Other than getting twice the amount of popcorn for almost the same amount of money, there is no reason we, or Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman, can think of. 

And but for them, Regal, clearly the Bernie Madoff of movie theater snack bars, would have gotten away with it’s clearly-far-better-value-for-the-money popcorn scam.

Another revelation to come out of the CSPI study:

“Oversized boxes and bags (four to five ounces) of candy sold at movie chains are universally high in calories.”

We know that large bags of candy have a lot of calories only because they used “laboratory analyses.”

And possibly their eyes.

In the end, Jayne Hurley asks the question on all our minds:

"Sitting through a two-hour movie isn't exactly like climbing Mt. Everest, why do theaters think they need to feed us like it is?"

Indeed, why do movie theater owners offer indulgent treats to willing  buyers in an entertainment venue designed to charm, delight, and provide  a momentary diversion from the toils and travails of everyday life?

We’re thinking “greed.”

J.

November 23, 2009 at 07:14 PM in Current Affairs, Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2009

You keep using that word. Ethics. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Gary Steiner, a professor of philosophy at Bucknell University and a strict ethical vegan, worries that “most people just don’t care about the lives or fortunes of animals.”

Gary Steiner cares, though.  He cares so much about the lives or fortunes of animals that he advocates that 53 billion of them never get the chance to a have a life or fortune.

This is the only possible conclusion one can draw from his Sunday New York Times editorial in which he implores people to care as much as he does and, “forswear the consumption of animal products of all kinds.”

Given that nearly all of these 53 billion land animals slaughtered every year for various forms of human consumption exist only because we raise them for human consumption in the first place, means that Gary Steiner’s animal ethics requires that 53 billion animals every year are never born.

Talk about tough love.

Steiner notes that “Many people soothe their consciences by purchasing only free-range fowl and eggs,” noting that “Chickens may be labeled free-range even if they’ve never been outside or seen a speck of daylight in their entire lives.”

You see, Gary Steiner has so much respect for animals that he believes that unless a chicken engages in activities Gary Steiner enjoys (a stroll outside, perhaps a hot cappuccino and Puccini playing in the background) then its life could not possibly have any meaning or value.

He asks:

“How can intelligent people who purport to be deeply concerned with animal welfare and respectful of life turn a blind eye to such practices?”

He points out that:

“In the case of killing animals for human consumption” it’s  “outright murder.”

He tells you:

“Think about that when you’re picking out your free-range turkey, which has absolutely nothing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. All it ever had was a short and miserable life, thanks to us intelligent, compassionate humans.”

Oh, and also:

“By and large, meat-eaters are a self-righteous bunch.”

However, Gary Steiner didn’t just want to point out the many ways in which he is very much more ethical than you, he also wanted to use the space allotted to him in the New York Times to point out how very hard it is to be Gary Steiner.

“You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried to function as a strict vegan in a meat-crazed society.”

“What were once the most straightforward activities become a constant ordeal.”

“You face quite a few social difficulties as well, perhaps the chief one being how one should feel about spending time with people who are not vegans.”

Being morally superior is hard work.

Given that domesticated animals are, evolutionarily speaking, one of the world's greatest success stories, Gary Steiner, self-avowed animal ethicist and champion of animal rights, has a problem with his call that we should “forswear the consumption of animal products of all kinds.”

He never asked the animals.

J.

November 22, 2009 at 09:26 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 20, 2009

CONSENSUS WATCH – 11/20/2009

An ongoing series dedicated to vigorously monitoring emerging threats to The Consensus that global warming is real, caused by humans, and must be addressed at all costs. Because without consensus, scientific conclusions would remain vulnerable to new data.

While we were putting the finishing touches on our piece yesterday regarding Senator John Kerry’s harmless hyperbole overstating increases in US Carbon emissions by a factor of 32, and Al Gore’s innocuous exaggeration of the earth’s interior temperature by a factor of a thousand, news was breaking that a major global warming research center’s database had been hacked revealing that climate scientists had manipulated data in order to support The Consensus.

Naturally, the usual suspects are suggesting that this information demonstrates that The Consensus is a fraud and that scientists are faking data, basing their accusations on little more than the fact that the information demonstrated that scientists are engaged in fraud and are faking data.

This is a woefully inaccurate interpretation of the material.

First, we have already determined that The Consensus is real and that “urgent action is needed by world leaders in order to save our climate.” Given that, it’s not clear why we’re still examining research data.

Second, we have to remember that simply reporting data is easy. However, consensus science demands far more rigor, and requires that we have researchers dedicated enough to do the hard work necessary to apply statistical tricks, hide inconvenient results, and occasionally just make things up. This is largely due to the fact that consensus science requires that research support a pre-determined conclusion, whereas regular science is a more chaotic, sloppy affair, in which no one knows what the data will prove until it’s been produced.

So before we start casting about accusations and aspersions on peoples’ character, we should stop and think about the difficult, thankless work consensus scientists perform, day in an day out, never knowing just how much data will need to be tampered with and massaged.

As Kevin Trenberth, an IPCC lead author, said in one email: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

But have faith, Consensus Watchers, we’re sure they’ll find a way.

J.

November 20, 2009 at 10:39 PM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 19, 2009

CONSENSUS WATCH – 11/19/2009

An ongoing series dedicated to vigorously monitoring emerging threats to The Consensus that global warming is real, caused by humans, and must be addressed at all costs. Because without consensus, scientific conclusions would remain vulnerable to new data.

Proponents of global warming have been caught engaging in some harmless exaggerations this past week while discussing the various anthropogenic climate threats facing our planet.

First, Senator John Kerry, in explaining the need for a climate change bill, noted that in  “the last eight years emissions in the United States of America in greenhouse gasses went up four times faster than in the 1990s.”

Unfortunately, a strict reading of the data indicates that greenhouse gas emissions did not go up the “four times faster” claimed by Senator Kerry but slightly less, in the sense that they went up many times slower, not faster. But in fairness to the Senator, he was correct in noting that there was a period once known as “the 1990s.”

Second, Al Gore, making the argument for geothermal energy, explained that temperatures in the interior of the earth run at “several million degrees.”

Only a real perfectionist would point this out, but that’s off the mark.  By several orders of magnitude.

But all this ignores the fact that science isn’t so much a science as it is an art, and so we should grant a little poetic license sometimes.

For example, Einstein’s famous equation E=MC²?  A complete exaggeration, meant to help get his point across to an audience skeptical regarding the relationship between mass and energy.  (At most, E equals M multiplied by C doubled.)

Thus freed from a strict adherence to accuracy, proponents of climate change should feel free to discard factual data, which has clearly contributed to insufficient levels of hysteria among the public, and instead be more creative. 

We suggest the following lines of argument:

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average SUV in just a single year doubles the total output of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.

Every time you exhale, a butterfly cries.

Polar bears, particularly vulnerable to global warming, face grave risks to their survival as temperatures rise.  Here is a polar bear as it lives in the wild today:

Cute Polar Bear

And here is a polar bear after ten years of exposure to projected levels of global warming:

Polar Bear Global Warming Victim

If oceans rise at the rate expected, by the next century, Kevin Costner will have gills.

Bookerundersea_1509075c This underwater cabinet meeting in the Maldives was NOT a stunt.  This is an actual cabinet meeting.  The entire population of the Maldives now lives under water which has wreaked havoc with the country's agriculture, gas ovens, and check writing.

These people naked on the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland had their clothes burned off… by global warming!

See how easy it is to make a compelling argument regarding The Consensus once you no longer feel imprisoned by facts and data?

Just ask President Obama.

J.

Consensus Watch T-shirt Just in time for the traditional Thanksgiving gift-giving holiday, CONSENSUS WATCH MERCHANDISE!

In addition to the “my parents fought global warming and all I got was this lousy sweatshirt” item we introduced last month, we’ve updated most of the Consensus Watch store adding T-shirts, thermoses and other items Stop Raping The Planet Shirt and improving some of the graphics ensuring that all items are guaranteed to be 63% less crappy!  Why? Because at Planet Moron, quality is Job #27

November 19, 2009 at 09:24 PM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 18, 2009

We’ve Also Been Known To Combine Scotch With Water

In keeping with the long American tradition that everything is assumed to be illegal until you have demonstrated to the proper government authorities that it is not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasnotified nearly 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it intends to look into the safety and legality of their products.”

Under the law, “a substance added intentionally to food is deemed ‘unsafe’ and is unlawful unless its particular use has been approved by FDA regulation”

Presumably if it’s added unintentionally, it’s okay, which strikes us as a rather large loophole (“There’s caffeine in there?  Really?  Caffeine? I don’t recall intentionally adding that, ifyouknowwhatimean…”)

If you are like most Planet Moron readers, you’re already on your way to the store, both excited and surprised to learn that there still exist alcoholic beverages you have not yet tried. 

Also, you are wondering where in the Constitution the federal government is empowered to make everything illegal without prior approval.

That’s easy.  The federal government can do anything it wants as long as it promotes “the general welfare.” This is known as “the principle of unlimited government.”  Jefferson probably said something about it. (Not Thomas. William maybe.)

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs at the FDA, defended the agency’s investigation by noting that, “The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible.”

One place they could have looked seriously at the evidence was any nearby bar where they would have found to their collective horror such dangerous and non-FDA-authorized caffeinated alcoholic beverages being consumed as rum and colas, Jack and Cokes, and Irish coffees.

Given that the FDA is intent on going after anything strange and unfamiliar to them, don’t be surprised to see the following enforcement actions in the near future:

Little Debbie S’mores:

LittleDebbie-Smores It has come to the attention of the FDA that Little Debbie has been marketing a product that combines chocolate, marshmallow and graham crackers together into a single food product thus creating a potentially deadly carbohydrate cocktail. While chocolate and graham crackers meet the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) standard, the marshmallow additive, particularly at the elevated levels found in this product, will be the subject of an exhaustive investigation. And, no, none of us have ever been camping, why?

Smucker’s Goober Grape Peanut Butter & Jelly

Smuckers The FDA is unaware of any studies that clearly demonstrate that peanut butter and jelly can be safely consumed together, particularly when, as suggested by the manufacturer, the product be eaten together with some unspecified bread product. This leaves open the possibility that consumers will abuse this wide discretion granted them and begin experimenting with pumpernickel, sour dough, and multi-grain with unknown consequences.

Chex Mix

Chex Mix We don’t even know where to begin.  The combination of five separate food additives into a single bag creates a nightmare scenario and will likely require years of extensive testing just to determine whether the interaction between Wheat Chex and bagel chips poses a safety issue, never mind the complexities introduced by the mini bread sticks. We intend to move quickly on this given word we have received that these mixes are being consumed at gatherings called “parties” which we understand involve more than two people in a room together talking about things other than work and whether or not Kirk could beat up Picard in a fist fight.

Eggs

Egg Incredible? Incredibly dangerous, perhaps. The American Egg Board has apparently been flying under the radar for years marketing a product in which both egg whites and yolks are packaged together with the clear intent that they be consumed contemporaneously.  Those of us at the FDA have only ever eaten egg white omelets and therefore will require that the American Egg Board demonstrate that combining yolks with whites does not pose a safety hazard to consumers.

J.

November 18, 2009 at 07:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 17, 2009

And People Say We Drink Too Much. They’re Right, But That’s Not The Point…

Which of the following best explains the difficulties scientists have had proving the existence of the Higgs Boson:

A) The instruments created to identify the Higgs boson are inherently complex and difficult to work with.

B) The Higgs Boson, only ever theoretical in nature, does not exist.

C) The Higgs Boson exists, but not in the form expected.

D) Time-travelling birds have come back from the future to sabotage the effort using baguettes.

If you chose “D,” you just might be smart enough to be an esteemed theoretical physicist. 

Or, absent advanced degrees in quantum mechanics, a permanent address, and basic personal hygiene practices, a raving lunatic.

However, Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, believe that the troubles scientists have had getting the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) up and running so as to begin the latest search for the Higgs boson is because “’ God,’ or nature, hates the Higgs and tries to avoid them."

According to these highly regarded scientists, neither of whom is known to indulge in powerful narcotics, this “reverse chronological causation” may very well result in birds being sent back in time with French bread.

If nothing else, their theory suggests that the old assumption that God prefers to use fire, brimstone and lightening bolts to vent His earthly wrath was badly mistaken.

Wrath of the Baguettes

Now, if you are like most Planet Moron readers, you are probably asking yourself the obvious question: “Do these birds bring the bread back with them from the future, or do they get it here?”

Also, "Can I make use of the science of ‘reverse chronological causation’ to better my own life?” 

Of course you can:

At home:

“Honey, I believe that nature so abhors your choice of wall sconces that it is sabotaging our bathroom remodeling project.  Also, I think a parakeet stole my drill.”

At work:

“I’d have had the PowerPoint presentation finished for the Meachum account were it not for a croissant, a temporal paradox, and an all-powerful deity who really hates flow charts.”

At school:

“I’m just saying, if God doesn’t want me to solve this algebra problem, who are we to argue? And you have to admit, this is one fine boule.”

At the courthouse:

“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling birds!  From the future.  With the pain viennois.”

In the Oval Office:

“Mr. President, with regards to your decision on Afghanistan, let me run something by you…”

If anyone gives you trouble, remember to explain to them:

“It’s science.”

J.

November 17, 2009 at 07:16 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

And We Defend Our Decision To Start This Blog

While working at a Habitat for Humanity site in Thailand, former President Jimmy Carter defended his handling of the Iranian Hostage crisis.

In other news, Christopher Darden defended having OJ try on the glove, former Congressman William Jefferson defended his kitchen-appliance approach to retirement planning, and Will Ferrell defended his involvement with Land of the Lost.

J.

November 17, 2009 at 02:21 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack