Non-Islamic Man-Caused Disasters

Non-Islamic Man-Caused Disasters

I've been hearing about the U.S. government's rebuffing offers of foreign help to clean up the Gulf, but mostly in the context of the Jones Act problems. And there were those stories about stopping boats from laying out booms because they didn't have enough fire extinguishers or lifejackets, or about stopping the building of sand berms because of the possible impact on fish.

Now Instapundit has linked to an article in the Financial Post that shows the stupidity has reached hitherto-unguessed levels. Our environmental laws treat a skimmer ship as if it were a factory discharging wastewater:

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill. . . .the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge.

. . . .Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

It turns out that American skimmers have to suck up the dirty water and transport it back to port for later disposal, which severely limits their daily capacity.

Someone might almost think they want this to go badly.


Apparently, What They Need at the U.N. Is Softer Blankies

I've never been much of a negotiator -- probably that empathy thing you're supposed to have. Often I have almost no idea how other people come to their decisions. Here's some research on factors that may be creeping into the process under the radar.

Research psychologists at Harvard, MIT, and Yale recently reported that our judgments are surprisingly influenced by the texture of objects we're in contact with during or just before the decision-making process. For instance, interviewers judged job candidates as better qualified and more serious about the position sought when they were given the resumes on heavy clipboards. The heavier clipboards also were associated with interviewers' higher opinions of their own accuracy in judging candidates.

In the same vein, listeners to a story about a social interaction described it as harsher when they had been given rough puzzles pieces to assemble as opposed to smooth pieces. Similarly, they described one character's attitude in a story as more rigid or strict when they had been given a hard wooden block to hold, instead of a soft blanket. When participants in a mock bargaining session were seated in comfortable chairs, they turned out not only to be more flexible in their responses to successive offers, but also more likely to judge their opponents to be "more stable and less emotional."

Looks like we should be presenting our resumes on heavy, smooth, soft tablets. If nothing else, you guys might view your wives as less emotional and unstable if you'd take the precaution of settling into a comfy chair before listening to their complaints. No fair going to sleep, though.

I couldn't find a clip from the "Day of the Dolphins" where Fa and Bee explain that they like humans because they're smooth, like dolphins, not rough like sharks, so I went with this:

Nor is it just these Ivy League researchers who are into the new "tactile tactics" in social conflict. No one was surprised when researchers from the University of Minneapolis and the University of British Columbia concluded that shoppers were more comfortable on carpet than on hard vinyl tile. What was a little surprising is that the comfortable flooring had opposite effects on their purchase judgments, depending on how far away they were from the products on the shelves. Moderately distant objects were judged "more comforting" by the shoppers who were standing on soft carpet, by some kind of unconscious confusion of the tactile sensation of one object with the inherent worth of another. In contrast, nearby products appeared to suffer from comparison with the softness of carpet: a gift basket was judged "less comforting" when the carpet-treading shopper was very close to it.

I suppose the trick here is to present the gift basket to the object of your affections when she's moderately far away on a soft carpet, but don't put it into her hands until you're maneuvered her onto some challenging parquet. But if you want to bring out the big guns:

Why can't the RNC do this?

Get out the Vote

I don't know about you guys, but this video doesn't just make me want to vote. It makes me want to crawl over broken glass on my knees to get to the polls. "Rise, and rise again . . . ."

Not that the November elections give me much room to act as a Texas voter in a district that Ron Paul apparently owns for life, and not that I would ever miss even a petty local election for any reason. (For one thing, I'm an election judge -- I have to show up early and stay all day.) But I really want to see a Brobdingnagian turnout.

I chose Nicias and Crassus as a follow up to Alcibades and Coriolanus because of the connection, as Nicias was general in Alcibades' disasterous expedition to Syracuse--and so the situation would be somewhat familiar.

Nicias was general on the expedition, but thought it a bad idea in the first place. Crassus, nortoriously got himself and his army destroyed in Parthia, on an expedition that many thought ill advised, but he went ahead with it anyway.

Who agrees with Plutarch's comparison?

AZ Disappointment


She sounds as if she may be expressing disappointment with the President. Obviously, he needs to fire and replace her in order to demonstrate that he is a strong leader, in command of the situation.

Toxic News

Now You Know How Bacteria Feel

When you take an antibiotic, you expect it to kill your infection without hurting you. Lots of antibiotics take advantage of differences between your “eukaryotic” cells (cells with nuclei) and bacteria’s “prokaryotic” cells (no nuclei). A typical antibiotic will shut down protein synthesis in bacteria’s ribosomes, which are the fantastically complicated little factories in cells (about the size of a small virus) where proteins are built according to instructions delivered by RNA. Stop protein synthesis and the cell dies. Luckily for you, your ribosomes use a different construction process from bacteria’s, so the antibiotic doesn’t shut down your protein synthesis and kill your cells.

Castor Beans

Unless you ingest ricin, that is. Ricin is a protein found in the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis). It messes up the protein synthesis in the ribosomes of eukaryotic cells, that is, nucleated cells, like yours and mine. In other words, ricin did to Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978 pretty much what tetracycline does to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There is a difference, though. Unlike the natural toxins in common antibiotics, which lock on one-to-one with their target molecules to disrupt bacteria’s protein synthesis, ricin jumps from ribosome to ribosome, shutting down one after another. As a result, a single molecule of ricin can kill a whole cell. This makes ricin one of the most toxic natural substances known, a thousand times as toxic as cyanide. A mere 75 micrograms can be a deadly dose in an adult human; one castor bean contains something like 1,000 micrograms.

Biochemists report recent progress in developing a ricin antidote and a ricin vaccine, but don’t count on them yet. Likewise, we may figure out someday how to target cancer cells with ricin, but for now it’s just bad news for all of your cells.

There are worse toxins than ricin, but few so widely available. Castor bean seeds are used in the production not only of the laxative castor oil, but also brake fluid, varnish, soap, and ink. Ricin is soluble in water but not in oil, so castor oil is OK from the point of view of health, if not of taste. But stay away from the bean pulp left over after castor oil production, and don’t eat unprocessed castor beans, unless you’re trying to cure Gaia of her human disease.

More cheerful news about poisonings throughout history here.

Two from ALD

Two From Arts & Letters Daily:

A piece on stoicism, which contrasts it to the products being generated by our own age:

Ours is not a philosophical age, much less an age of Stoicism. As Frank McLynn explains in his new biography of Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome's "five good emperors," commander of Rome's prolonged campaigns against the invasions of barbarian German tribes, and the last important Stoic philosopher of ancient days, our philosophers (academics) no longer profess to help the average person answer life's great metaphysical questions. Contemporary philosophers might contemplate such abstruse problems as whether mental properties can be said to emerge from the physical processes of the universe; what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for self-interest; where the mind stops and the rest of the world begins-not, perhaps, the pressing existential questions presented by the normal course of a human life.

Beyond the realm of professional philosophy, an ever-expanding tribe of self-appointed lay philosophers profess practical strategies for worldly success: how to win friends and influence, how not to sweat the small stuff, how to free ourselves from shyness, anxiety, phobias, poverty, extra pounds...
That part about university philosophers is mostly true as far as it goes, which is this far: Anglo-American philosophy departments. There is a lot of interest in broader questions in non-English speaking Europe, but there the problem is that they are mired in dead-ends.

That only means that the time is right for something new: a hailstone, or, if you like, a mustard seed.

Philosophy is more important than people understand, as the second article shows. It is on fertility:
Many conclude that if you value your happiness and spending money, the only way to win the modern parenting game is not to play. Low fertility looks like a sign that we've finally grasped the winning strategy. In almost all developed nations, the total fertility rate—the number of children the average woman can expect to have in her lifetime—is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children.
What, though, is being measured in these happiness surveys? People are asked how happy they are. Well, how happy are you? What am I asking you to evaluate? That is a question of philosophy.

What is a good life? The first article will point you in the direction of Marcus Aurelius' answer. If you can adopt his model, the question, "Are you happy?" means something entirely different than the question modern Americans hear you asking. They think you are asking them, "How do you feel?"

That shift in mindset has tremendous consequences. You decide to make it, perhaps, because you read a biography of Marcus Aurelius. Or perhaps you read some arguments about Aristotle, and how he defined happiness. Or perhaps you only watched Oprah, and stick with "How do you feel?" Whichever you do, you find that this decision -- an apparently minor preference for one way of thinking over another -- changes your life and everything about it.

Eric often says "Facta, non verba," and that is true as far as it goes. Some of the words, however, are necessary conditions for the deeds. If you don't have the thoughts, you'll never pursue the acts. You may never feel pain or know much by way of sorrow, and you may feel content. You will never, however, be happy.

Heard This Before

Seems Like I've Heard This Before:

An interview with Peter S. Kaufman, the President of investment bank Gordian Group and head of the firm's Restructuring and Distressed M&A practice.

They could cut loose BP America and it could be BP America that files for bankruptcy. My presumption is that it's BP America that's responsible for the spill. They can wall off the non-BP America assets from the Gulf -- which is about 50 percent of the company's net value --and try to reorganize BP America. That's likely to take a very long time, and BP would not make good on its promise for the 20 billion [in the escrow fund].

Or they could file all of BP, and do so in London. Wonder how well-received our government and legitimate Gulf claimants would fare in a British insolvency court?
Good question.


The Correct Answer is "Both":

A strange poll question will get you unreliable results.

Nearly half of American Adults see the government today as a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Adults see the government today as a threat to rights. Thirty-seven percent (37%) hold the opposite view. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.
The government is both a danger to individual rights, and a useful tool for protecting those rights. Making sure the danger isn't realized, and the tool is properly employed, is the whole proper business of government.



Don't forget, we are to read Nicias and Crassus, plus the comparison, for this weekend. Eric will lead the discussion, I believe, which should begin on Friday.

The 5th Commandment

Taking the Fifth:

I was looking at the Kagan email archives, which are an interesting project, when I was surprised to see the subject heading: "5th commandment." I hadn't gotten the impression that Dr. Kagan was terribly religious, so I clicked on it to see what the email said.

It's basically talking points on a bill allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools. They are remarkably coy in the most disgusting fashion of D.C. politics. Note that this message was forwarded, not written, by Dr. Kagan.

Jose checked the Catholic Web page, and Thou shalt not kill IS the 5th Commandment, so John gets the VP's award for Faith-Based Person of the Week.

Here's a longer Q&A for the 10 Commandments question:

Q. will the President support the amendment passed by the House to let
schools post the 10 Commandments?

A. If the House were serious, they would have remembered the Fifth
Commandment -- Thou Shalt Not Kill -- and voted to make it harder for
criminals to buy guns.
So, will the President support the amendment? No, but neither will he admit that he's not supporting the amendment. Rather, he will cite the Ten Commandments as a means of undermining the movement to honor them.

Now that reminds me of something...

Now, there are definitely valid questions for Americans -- and even Christian Americans -- about how much of the Old Testament Law they are really interested in bringing forward into modern life. The honest position here is, well, the honest position: "I don't believe the Ten Commandments are a proper guide for modern America." That's a perfectly defensible position.

What bothers me is this pose of being the superior readers of scripture -- and in the Kagan case, by people who admit they had to look it up to be sure which one they wanted to name. Even in the Obama case, the claim is that "folks haven't been reading their Bibles." I'd bet against that claim proving true; but again, the pose is one of arrogant intellectual superiority.

Brain Blindness

A Blindness in the Brain:

There is a tremendously interesting series being written on "unknown unknowns" starting here. As of this writing only the first three parts are published.

The argument being advanced is that there are things we don't just "not know" that we don't know, but things we cannot know that we don't know. It starts with a few amusing stories, but turns on the question of whether a known neurological disorder is actually just a very obvious example of a general problem with our brains.

An anosognosic patient who is paralyzed simply does not know that he is paralyzed. If you put a pencil in front of them and ask them to pick up the pencil in front of their left hand they won’t do it. And you ask them why, and they’ll say, “Well, I’m tired,” or “I don’t need a pencil.”
So, not only do they not know that they are paralyzed, they cannot know it. And they cannot reason to it: their reason, far from guiding them correctly, is inventing plausible rationalizations that let them avoid recognizing the problem.

So much for the disorder. But what about more general life?
DAVID DUNNING: I became very interested in judgments about the self, simply because, well, people tend to say things, whether it be in everyday life or in the lab, that just couldn’t possibly be true. And I became fascinated with that. Not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them. Which led to my observation: if you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.


DAVID DUNNING: If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute. The decision I just made does not make much sense. I had better go and get some independent advice.” But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer. And so we went on to see if this could possibly be true in many other areas. And to our astonishment, it was very, very true.
But in part two, the question arises: does the disease being used as a model for this investigation even exist? And how would we know?

It's an interesting question, but it is a known unknown; the true unknown unknowns are what they're after. And those are, of course, very difficult things to pin down. Even incompetence is not a very good candidate. It is true that the same standard I would use to decide how to weld two pieces of metal (say) is the standard I would use to evaluate whether I was a good welder. But I am still able to reason to my incompetence at welding from the fact that I find that I have no standard for judging how to weld two pieces of metal; or how to turn on an arc-welder; or how to be sure I wasn't about to burn off my foot. I can very quickly reason to knowledge that I am not competent to be operating the welder, and need further instruction.

Yet apparently this is often not true, and it is interesting to examine why.

It is also interesting to speculate about the general thesis, which is that brain states can disable reason (or retask it to mere rationalization). This touches on the matter that St. Augustine discusses in "On Free Choice of the Will," where he asserts that it is necessary to believe before you can begin to understand. The choice to believe something, or not, alters the brain state; and it is obvious enough that this may open some new roads, and close off others. What is interesting is the reinforcement of Augustine's argument: the idea that, having not made the choice to believe, the road is invisible to reason. Would it not be true that, having made the choice to believe, other roads are closed and hidden? Reason cannot grasp that they exist, because when pointed in that direction it will merely reply, "I do not need a pencil."

That is troubling as well as fascinating as a concept, because it is impossible to know which side of that canyon one is on. This, too, becomes a known unknown.

Now, Turning to Reason, & Its Just Sweetness

Now, Turning to Reason, & Its Just Sweetness

Iain M. Banks is the Scottish author of a series of science fiction novels about “The Culture,” a society made up spaceships driven by artificial intelligences. I’ve sampled the novels and concluded they aren’t for me, but I do appreciate some of the many names the author has given to the sentient ships:

Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Just Read the Instructions
Of Course I Still Love You
Serious Callers Only
Kiss the Blade
Funny, It Worked Last Time
Helpless in the Face of Your Beauty
You Would If You Really Loved Me
You’ll Thank Me Later
Poke It with a Stick
Hand Me the Gun and Ask Me Again
Lapsed Pacifist
Now Look What You’ve Made Me Do
Don’t Try This at Home
Now We Try It My Way
You’ll Clean That up Before You Leave
Now, Turning to Reason, & Its Just Sweetness
Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall
Stood Far Back When the Gravitas Was Handed out
Gravitas, What Gravitas?
Gravitas . . . Gravitas . . . No, Don’t Help Me, I’ll Get It in a Moment
Gravitas Free Zone
Low Gravitas Warning Signal
Absolutely No You-Know-What

Zombie Menace

The Zombie Menace:

At ForeignPolicy magazine.


The Lebanese Club:

An interesting article on Baghdad nightlife. It wasn't that long ago that there wasn't any -- except on dust-ridden nights, when it involved planting bombs and setting up rocket launchers. Much has changed in a short time.


Now There's Something You Don't See Everyday:

This piece on McChrystal is extremely good journalism -- you have to respect the reporter who managed to get this kind of access, build this kind of trust, and put this together. This isn't how we normally talk in front of reporters; but maybe we should. If the American people understood that this is just how people talk after months deployed, this kind of reporting would not have the potential to be disruptive. Everyone would shrug it off as normal combat steam-blowing. I heard way worse stuff from commissioned officers about Bush than that he was "disappointing" -- and when they'd talk about the next level of higher command, O My God, what you'd hear!

It's not a big deal. This stuff is constant at every level. On the few occasions you'd run into serious friction over it, people understood and would say, "You've gotta eat with those guys" -- meaning, they understood that you had to feel certain things just because of where you were and what you were doing. You get mad, you blow steam, then you suck it up and do the job. The job gets done, and when the deployment is over we forget every complaint and spend the next fifty years going to each other's parties and raising toasts to the memories.

If people thought it looked like something else, it doesn't. That party in Paris reminds me of some of the best times in my life, and why should we expect it to be different?

The problem isn't what was said or done; it's that so few Americans understand why it was said and done. This shouldn't be shocking, and shouldn't cause a political incident. This is how things are when you're talking to soldiers and Marines; the reporter just shows them honestly. It's a pity our politicians have so little stomach for them as they honestly are, because they're the best men we as a nation know how to produce.

Painting them as perfect, as we so often try to do in the press, sets them up for failure when some reporter gets inside the guard. Maybe it's time just to let people learn what it's like.

A Great Pie

A Great Pie:

Friday we had pot roast (pork); Saturday I made pizza dough for homemade pizzas. Last night was chicken and potatoes. Today, with all the weekend cookery, there are too many leftovers in the refrigerator.

So I took the leftover pizza dough and made it into a pie crust, shredded the pork and chicken, and stuffed the pie with that and some onions and potatoes, and vegetables from the pot roast. It came out well.

There are several good ways of spicing such a pie, both savory and (odd to the modern taste) sweet. The sweet ones -- made with things like cranberries or currants, cinnamon and ginger -- are sometimes called "Great Pies," and were served at holiday feasts. The savory ones are more likely to be eaten today. The Scots have a version called the bridie that is very good.

A number of traditional recipies can be found here. If you like it, and you might be down in Louisiana in September, you might like to try the Meat Pie Festival. I haven't been myself, but it sounds like fun.

Free Speech as Patronage

Free Speech as Political Patronage:

Via Dad29, an exception is being made:

...restrictions on companies that received government bailouts during the financial crisis apply to businesses, but not unions: Under the DISCLOSE Act, General Motors can’t tell you who to vote for, but the United Auto Workers union can.


Government contractors with contracts of more than $7 million are not permitted to engage in express advocacy. Unions that receive their dues from the taxpayer-funded salaries of public sector employees face no such restriction.
The whole "campaign finance reform" bus was always an affront to the first amendment. The freedom of speech that the Founders most wanted to guard was political speech.

Apparently, that freedom of speech will be just another form of patronage for the party in power.

Border Issues

The Border Issue:

Will Senator Kyl stand by this claim, I wonder?

It's a remarkable claim to make, and he has to know that the President will deny it. It wasn't long ago that no one wanted to get crosswise with the President on questions like this, because he was the most popular politician in the world. If some Republican said X and he denied it, the Republicans feared the public would believe they were lying because of their essential good feelings for the President. Does this show that the numbers are so bad that they don't worry about that anymore? Or is it these numbers that Kyl is more concerned about?

This story appears to be evidence for a developing middle position between "the President's doing his best, but..." and "the Manchurian President is intentionally destroying America out of malice." According to the middle position, the President isn't trying to destroy America intentionally; but he is intentionally using his office to harm or punish parts of America, sometimes aggressively and sometimes through neglect of his duty. See here re: "McCain-voting Gulf states."

I have largely found this middle narrative unconvincing -- on the general principle that you shouldn't attribute malice where incompetence is an adequate explanation -- but Senator Kyl's claim appears to be support for the "middle-malice" position.

UPDATE: As expected, the denial has arrived. So far, the Senator is standing by his claim.



In 1952 the little-known brief novel “Testimonies” appeared in print. The author was Patrick O’Brian, who later would achieve considerable fame from more than twenty rollicking novels following the careers of a British Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars and his particular friend, a ship’s surgeon, naturalist, and sometime spy. “Testimonies,” a first novel written when O’Brian was in his 20s, is a wonderful book, though much different in tone from the beloved Aubrey/Maturin series, which was begun a full 17 years later. Here is its description of Joseph Pugh, an awkward, alienated, slightly ill ex-Oxford don’s discovery that he has fallen in love with his Welsh neighbor’s young farm wife, Bronwen Vaughan:

I was very simple I suppose. I had no idea that I was there at all until I was in love so deep that it was a pain in my heart. I had thought it was the pleasure of looking at her, the pleasure of joining that good and kind family circle (good in spite of the bad undercurrent that I suspected) and talking about country things to Emyr and the old man. Then one day it was upon me. I knew then what was the matter, and why nothing had seemed profitable but the evenings I spent there; she came in, just as I had seen her the first time, and my heart leaped up and I knew that Emyr was talking but I could not link his words together. . . . There may be things more absurd than a middle-aged man in the grip of a high-flung romantic passion: a boy can behave more foolishly, but at least in him it is natural.

“Testimonies” takes the form of a kind of inquest, though its nature becomes harder and harder to pin down as the novel gathers speed toward its conclusion. Here is Bronwen explaining how she saw Mr. Pugh:

Q. . . . I understand that he had many different ways, the other way of talking and behaving, but he was still a man like every other man, was he not?
A. No. He was not a man like any other man. He was the dearest man in the world for me. The difference in him was right inside, nothing to do with him belonging to other people. Without his gentry or his money or anything, if you put him by another man it was gold against brass. But to begin with it was just the ordinary difference that made me so slow and stupid. Unless he is wicked (which you can see at once) you do not expect a man like him to admire you.

New and used copies are available in hardcover and paperback at Amazon and alibris.

I'm feeling literary this weekend, so I'm going to quote an A.E. Housman poem here and recommend a book in the next post.

The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of our little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
Oh ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

. . .

This is the first poem I recall having anyone help me with in college, and I remember the professor pointing out to us the constant playing with "can" and "may." What strikes me now is the mournful tone about having to bear being all of 24 years old. I still like "Bear them we can, and if we can we must."



When I read a piece like this one, I almost think I'd be sorry if the New York Times went out of business. Richard Snow writes a lovely story about his father's WWII service. Obviously military service was not a big part of the family tradition, and Mr. Snow says of his very young self, "I knew he’d been in the war, but so had most of my friends’ fathers, and it made no particular impression on me: if I thought of his military service at all, it was as just one more civic thing that happened to grown-ups, like voting, or going to P.T.A. meetings, or spending a morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles." He also speaks of his civilian's perspective on the "subtle ways" that a war can "vex the spirit," particularly in the case of a man who obviously never set out to be a warrior. But the piece is entirely free from either condescension to the military or hackneyed notions about the evils of conflict. When Mr. Snow accompanies his father to meet an old comrade, who has brought a destroyer into New York Harbor, the little boy gets an extraordinary glimpse of a side of his father he'd never imagined, in the company of these "blue-clad demigods." He says, "My comfortable present swung like a door giving on the past." It's a short piece really worth your attention on this Father's Day.

I haven't any comparable stories about a father from a decidedly non-military tradition who nevertheless stepped up. The closest my own father ever came to military service was in the last months of World War Two, when the concentrated efforts of his superiors in the nuclear physics establishment nearly lost their long battle to keep him stateside on their team. At 25, he hadn't completed his training or begun the long work he did at Los Alamos after the war, but they still guarded their research assets very closely. He got as far as being placed on some kind of transport en route to enlistment before they pulled strings and recovered him.

Deaf in one ear, wildly nearsighted, and nearly crippled in one hand, he'd have made an outstandingly poor soldier not so much for these reasons as for the fact that he was practically the archetype of the way-out-there Mad Scientist, only loosely tethered to the earth or his society. Here's a story that's not about him, but could be: A physicist at the University of Texas was reputed to wander around the halls in an apparent daze, often reading. One day someone stopped him in the hall and engaged him in a brief conversation, during which they jostled about a bit, avoiding passing traffic. When they were finished, he asked, "Which way was I going when you stopped me?" "That way," answered his surprised interlocutor. "Oh, good," he answered. "Then I've had lunch."

My father died 15 years ago. I'll never stop missing him.

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day:

Welcome to the 20th of June, Father's Day, which is a holiday of special importance here because it happens that certain birthdays and my wedding anniversary all fall on the same day. It's a major festival at Grim's Hall, about six months off of Christmas but with no religious aspects. It's a good day, the first day of summer, with the green of the forest at its heights.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945), "The Journey of Enid and Geraint " from: Idylls of the King.

The part of all that I share with all of you, however, is Father's Day. So, let's talk about that.

I read Colbert I. King's latest piece this evening. It's a pity that he didn't stop about halfway through the second sentence, because up until then he had a good point; there is no excuse for the poisonous piece that follows.

But let us ignore the poisons in his veins, and attend to the good point. Our President's other achievements and qualifications remain highly debatable a year and a half into his term, but one thing that is easy to admire is the family he has built. It's plain that he adores his daughters, and has a solid marriage to his wife. Whatever other disputes we may have with that man, in this matter I am pleased to speak well of him.

That's enough for today. Go and call your father, if you still may; or spend the day with him; or visit his grave, or his memory. It is no easy thing to be a father, and is indeed a great weight if it is undertaken with the seriousness it deserves. Not all bear it well, and none of us bear it as well as we might wish. The best gift to give a father is forgiveness, for those times he has not borne it so well; and respect, for those times he did.