The dawn of English

For those of you with an interest in linguistics, here are some very enjoyable podcasts on the development of English.  Someone in a ChicagoBoyz comments thread, I think, referred me to Episodes 28-30 for the incidental political history that was included in them, concerning the time we usually associate with King Arthur.

I've been watching the Starz series "Outlander," a time-travel yarn about an woman who leaves post-WWII England, via a McGuffin that doesn't matter, and lands in Scotland just before the 1745 Jacobite rebellion.  As I get older I find it more and more difficult to follow movie dialogue, especially BBC productions with regional accents, but for some reason I never have trouble with thick old-fashioned Scots accents, maybe because I've listened to so many old ballads.  I could listen to that accent all day.  (The show throws in a lot of Gaelic, too, of which I don't speak a word beyond "slainte," but it sounds incredibly romantic.)  Anyway, the point is that the Frisian described in Episode 28 of the linguistic podcasts sounds an awful lot like a mashup between Cockney- and Scots-flavored English.

Song of Brynhild

So, among Viking-oriented friends this week (of whom I have a surprising number), the big news was a study that showed that half of the Viking invaders of England were female. This contradicts long held beliefs among scholars of the graves of early Viking invaders, because the grave goods are only very rarely female brooches and dresses, and almost always are swords or other weapons. Scholars assumed that this meant that the person in the grave was a man.

On studying the bones themselves, however, it turns out that lots of those buried with weapons turn out to have been women.

I see that our old friend Lars Walker is not impressed with the study. He cites a rebuttal, and comments:
But, this paper essentially uses the presence of six female migrants and seven male as evidence that women and children most likely accompanied the Norse armies with the intent of settling the land once it was conquered, rather than migrating in a second wave once the fighting was over. It is, sadly, not at all about female Viking warriors, and not some Earth-shattering evidence that Norse armies were evenly split among women and men.
They'll still have to prove to me that there were any female Viking warriors at all, but the point is made.
The importance of the finding goes beyond that there were women among the earliest settlers, though. It is that women were not restricted to the roles that our scholars assumed they were restricted to filling.

We have plenty of reason to doubt that women fought in the field as part of Viking armies, both in terms of the written evidence from the early sagas, absence of mention of it from the surviving Anglo-Saxon records, and of course the physical facts of Viking-age combat. On the other hand, there is ample evidence in the sources of women who were trusted with the defense of homes, and homes being established in an invaded land will of course need especial defense. For that matter, the prominent role of women in the population of Northern Europe, and their affection for weapons even as wedding gifts, was remarked as far back as Tacitus' Germania.

What I think is important to take away from this study is that what scholars were certain about for generations about the rigidity of female gender roles simply wasn't so. Many women built their lives around an image of themselves with a sword, not a brooch, and their contemporaries accepted this so much that they honored them in death with the marks of the life they had chosen. We are the ones who assumed they wouldn't, or couldn't, do that. Best not to repeat the mistake, which was more a relic of 19th-century attitudes than a careful reading of the writings of our ancestors.

War Dogs

Seriously?  We don't make it a point to bring home military dogs when they're retired from active duty?

Culture and freedom

David Foster's site, ChicagoBoyz, linked me to a site called askblog, including this quotation:
[T]he cultural margin is more important than the institutional margin. … [T]here are no societies in which anarchy will work well but government would work poorly, or vice-versa.  Instead, on the one hand there are well-developed cultures, which could have good government or good anarchy, while on the other hand there are poorly-developed cultures, which could have only bad government or bad anarchy.
Another interesting post at the same site described a conservative tendency to arrange issues along a civilization/barbarism axis, while progressives tend to think in terms of an oppressor/oppressed axis.

I Imagine This Works Well

"Soldierfit," a workout plan based not on boot camp -- that's been done, and never very successfully -- but on the military life post boot camp. Assigning you an "NCO" to check on you every 30 days and chew you out for bad habits is probably somewhat effective, if you stay with the program.

Of course, it's a gimmick. You could always walk away, unlike the real military. Nevertheless, the structure probably would help a lot of people. One of the things I try to do for a few of my closest friends, not here on the internet but the ones I have in the physical world, is to keep in touch with them about their priorities and check on their progress regularly. Obviously I wouldn't impose myself if they did not wish it, but several of them have said that they like knowing they will have to account for their progress on a regular basis. It sometimes gives them that push to go to the gym, to write an extra chapter on their novel or dissertation, or whatever else they may be working on that is important to them.

That said, talking about what you're trying to do feels like accomplishing something -- and it's not, it's just talking. You have to hit that balance where what we are going to talk about is your accomplishment, so there'd better be one!

Baby steps in medicine

Twenty-five years ago there was great hope that advances in the understanding of the genetic underpinnings of cystic fibrosis heralded a cure in the near future.  That early hope was dashed, but medical researchers keep making small, concrete advances, many of which can hugely open up the life of teenagers and young adults suffering from this disease.  It may not be too long before we can refer to middle-aged people suffering from it.  It was not so many years ago that only a lucky child could survive it to the age of six.

Boys really are different.

Science says so.

The week in pictures

From Powerline:


Umberto Eco on Charlie Brown

An unlikely review, recently made available by the New York Review of Books. (H/t: The Paris Review.)

His review is harmed, I think, by his omission of Marcie.

Untapped Potential, or, the Rage of the Blank Slater

There's something Marxists, modern feminists, and militant atheists have in common...with each other but not with me. It ties back to the pernicious myth of the tabula rasa.

Nineteenth-century socialists, going back at least to Charles Fourier, sometimes had the notion that the human race, the whole of it, was full of enormous untapped potential...and that all it needed was the right arrangements (as envisioned by the socialists themselves) to unlock it, 'til they turned the seas to lemonade and freed the poles of ice (which in Fourier's mind was a good idea). The Leninist idea of the "New Communist Man" is the same idea...we could unlock this amazing, untapped potential, if only these wicked social arrangements (or the incomplete progress of the Revolution) weren't holding it back.[1] I think, if I believed that, I would have to be outraged at the abundance we were missing for no reason.

(I'm identifying the idea with blank-slatism, and it is tied to it, but Fourier wasn't a full-fledged blank-slater since he did believe in different human temperaments, and I remember one modest Marxist suggesting that the "New Men" after the Revolution wouldn't all have the same brilliance...just that the average would be "a Goethe, a Freud, or a Marx" while the geniuses would be beyond description. But the central conceit of huge potential, being held back by evil forces, was there.)

Reality is different. The human race has evolved rapidly in recent times, and the things we can do now are awe-inspiring...but intellectual ability is largely inherited, and not every person or every group of persons inherits the same amount. My own experience teaching doesn't suggest that each student's mind is just waiting to be molded to genius level. The idea of enormous untapped genius just waiting to be awakened all over the place doesn't make evolutionary sense, either. In denouncing wild claims about talking apes, Noam Chomsky managed to say something wise:
It's about as likely that an ape will prove to have a language ability as that there is an island somewhere with a species of flightless birds waiting for human beings to teach them to fly.
Give a prize to that villain. The human brain as it is costs a lot of energy to maintain; humans, like other creatures, evolved in a world where getting enough to eat was a real challenge; maintaining a massive store of brainpower they weren't even using would be an evolutionary absurdity, even without the idea that Man was waiting for a bunch of socialists to teach them to use it.

Limited brain power, with some men's far more limited than others', is not an arbitrary imposition of a wicked society, but an inescapable might someday be changed if we can re-engineer the human race, but that will take hard work, and the day is not today.

So much for socialists and intellectual power; now on to modern feminism and pleasure. In 1928, Margaret Mead informed the world that it simply wasn't so, that she'd found a world in Samoa where girls could and did sleep around as much as possible...with no bad effects at all; in fact the society came off as peaceful and happy as a dream of Fourier. Her account wasn't quite that one-sided and her debunkers are said to have exaggerated too much as well...but the idea entered Western consciousness. And from that, I think, proceeds the feminist rage at "slut-shaming" or the stigmatizing of "sex work." If girls can really have it all, the desires of the moment and the deeper desires of their biology, why should anyone be telling them "no"? All we need is just a little conditioning, shouting down those dupes of the Patriarchy, and then we can live the life of this calypso song. Who wouldn't be outraged at all we'd been missing?

Reality is different. Her most trenchant critics may have exaggerated, but Mead was wrong (or "Not Even Wrong") about Samoa. From the dawn of history through the 1920's, I think almost all the human race understood there was something wrong with heavy promiscuity, especially for women.[2] These fine folks at the University of Virginia found that as the number of the wife's previous sexual entanglements goes up, the quality of the marriage goes down. (The correlation is much weaker for men; the marriage is less likely to be top-quality if he has a child by someone else, but the researchers didn't find a significant relation to his number of prior sex partners.) My own observation, and the customs of every people I've read about, suggest that a woman with a "past" becomes a less attractive as a potential that families worldwide would fight, kill, or even sue over a daughter's seduction. It's so widespread as to make me think it's hardwired into human nature. The Christians wouldn't be surprised that following the Commandments made the husband and wife happier, and even an observant secular (unseduced by Mead) might get the idea by reading about foreign cultures or watching the lives around him.[3]

The agonies of frustrated youth are not the arbitrary imposition of a wicked society, but an inescapable might someday be changed if we can re-engineer the human race. But that will take hard work, if it's worth doing at all, and the day is not today.

Looking at religion from the outside...there's not a one of them that'll convince you it's true by simple argument and evidence (I greatly disappointed one of my pals when the "miracle of Fatima" did not turn me to Catholicism). Religion gets hold of people at another level entirely. Read scriptures by "plain meaning" and you'll find the central parts vacuous or outright barbaric. (As Christians and Muslims sometimes do about each other's.) Joshua's conquest of Canaan at God's command -- complete with commands to slaughter and subjugate -- looks as false an excuse as the Hamas Charter's claim that Palestine is fiqh and meant for Muslims alone. Now the believers have provided millennia of commentary, and even the scriptures have passages that are far more beautiful and subtle, but if you don't believe them they look like layers of pearl on top of a very nasty core of grit--not the work of a divine being. If you think a religion is just a set of factual propositions that people are convinced of, then religion in general, or at least the one you like least, looks like a simple con-job if not a demon's creed. How amazing that so many millions could fall for this...and how superior you must be to have seen through it. How tempting to end up like John Derbyshire's atheist father...watching the crowds at St. Peter's on television, and yelling at the screen, "You bloody fools!"

Reality is different. You no more comprehend a religion from reading its scriptures and apologetics than you comprehend marriage by reading your state's case law on the subject. Chances are, if you're an unbeliever, you're just missing an instinct your fellowman has...and as I commented here, that gives you little reason to be smug. I only tried the Book of Mormon once--I was really stunned that an intelligent person could think it was for real--but I have known too many intelligent Mormons (and liked every single one I've met, plus the one who writes my favorite webcomic, not to mention that extremely decent fellow I voted for the year before last) to dream I'm so far their superior.

The absurdities of religion (or, if you're religious, the absurdities of the other fellow's religion) are not the arbitrary imposition of a wicked society. It's not arbitrary even if it's obviously wrong, because it's feeding a real human need. The content can change, and maybe in a way that's better for the human race, but that takes time and agony. (some people can scratch their religious itch without believing the contents of any faith, but it's uncommon, and most quite understandably feel no need to leave the faith they've already got). The churches and mosques of the world are not crammed with "bloody fools" just waiting for, or else unable to understand, the five-minute explanation that'll turn them away once and for all.

Blank-slate ideas about plastic human nature lead to fantasies of abundant untapped potential. They lead also to the idea that our greatest frustrations can be talked or trained away, and from both places they lead to pointless rage.

[1] This is doubtless why the so-called "definitive answer" to The Book of Soul Destroying Blasphemy, by Abdul al-Hazred and the Foul Fiend Flibbertigibbet, is by an red-diaper Marxist (with, apparently, no more than Marx's level of commitment to accuracy when reporting the writings of others).
[2] Common sense suggests that men who get around too much are lacking self-control and judgment...that makes for a good husband (there's also a remark here that compulsive womanizers, like drunks and heavy gamblers, proved likelier to break in the stress of battle). I do not think anyone should be brought up to sleep around freely, but I am talking about instinctive, emotional consequences here...and as far as I can tell these are not made equal between the two sexes, but fall harder on women.
[3] A few oddball thinkers (Fourier among them) had the idea that sexual frustration was unnecessary, and the right social arrangements could eliminate it. (I wonder if the Utilitarian Utopia of Brave New World -- where "everyone belongs to everyone else" -- was inspired by him.) But as far as I can tell they really were odd, and seen as such.


Kano wins. Edward Luttwak... well, he came in second.

Department of Missing the Point

You can't blame a mother of a fallen son, in a way. Poor boy loved speed, he wasn't to blame. If only the driver had been looking further down the road, before he made that turn.

He was going 97 miles an hour at the time of the accident. I've gone faster than 115, through traffic, on a bridge where motion was constrained. If I'd have been killed doing it, no one but me was to blame.

Catechism 2290: "Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air." I've made my own confession on this point, I'm not too proud to admit.

You Can't Stay Here

I'm at a conference in a wicked city.  Mrs. W. is visiting #2 Stepson in a wickeder one.  Here's a song about how decent men behave at times like this.

"The rhyme's not rich, the style is crude and rough" - but I wish there were more such songs.


Via the New Yorker.

This wasn't nice

Via Ace:

Malthus was a chump

From "The Age of Global Warming," about Malthus's 1798 prediction that the human population would grow exponentially while the food supply would grow only arithmetically:
Plants and animals, including humans, convert carbohydrate to hydrocarbons (fatty acids) to store energy efficiently.  In using fossil fuels, mankind unlocked a store of energy used by plants and animal[s] [that had been accumulating for hundreds of millions of years] and, from the time of the Industrial Revolution, started to apply it on an industrial scale. 
By the end of the eighteenth century, Britain was becoming the world's first industrialised econom. The Promethean Revolution was underway. 
If Bacon was the prophet of man's material liberation through the advance of science and technology, Malthus was its Jeremiah--prophesying that mankind's future was to be trapped in an agrarian past which the Promethean Revolution was already making history. 
If ever there was an inflection point in the economic hisotry of mankind, this was it.  It was a spectacularly inapposite moment to the be writing a treatise on economic development and population based on the assumption of the static technological endowment of pre-industrial societies when industrialisation was taking mankind out of the Malthusian trap.
A little over 200 years later, it turns out that the food supply is capable of growing geometrically, while mankind with access to birth control nearly stops growing at all.

An Interview with Farage

A name likely to become more familiar to Americans, Nigel Farage leads the UK Independence Party.
Adams: You’ve seen the comments by the government that they were going to withdraw the passports of folks in ISIS who are Brits . . .

Farage: . . . That’s not what they said at all. They said they’d like to do something. I said two weeks ago, we don’t want these guys back in Britain. Once again, Cameron just mirrors everything I say because he realizes the public agree with me. He worded it beautifully, he’s brilliant. He said he would like to take away their passports, knowing full well that the European Court of Human Rights won’t let us do it.
UPDATE: It's a trap!

More Shorts from the War on Thinking Things Through

The Economist has published and instantly withdrawn a review of a book on slavery. Those who remember our reparations discussion will understand that I am sympathetic to the claims of the book about the facts, which the Economist panned as "advocacy" because "[a]lmost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains." Still, what we just witnessed was not a debate about the accuracy of the facts, nor even the accuracy of the portrayal of the people as victims or villains. A 'debate' of this brevity is a shouting-down of an unwelcome viewpoint, not a discussion of its merits.

Meanwhile in England, a woman is beheaded in her garden:
Some residents claimed last night that the suspect was a local man who had converted to Islam last year, but those claims could not be verified. Detectives said they had ruled out terrorism.
Detectives are quick with that conclusion, it seems to me. It may be a one-man act of terror, or it may be a crazy with a machete. But wouldn't you like, in the interest of knowing the truth of why the victim was murdered, to take a day or two to investigate before you rule things out?

"A Forecast of When We Will Run Out of Each Metal"

Not really that, of course, as the author makes clear.
In my opinion, there are two caveats that are always worth considering when looking at something like this.

1. “Reserves” are an engineering number that are based on economic viability. Technically speaking, there are small concentrations of gold everywhere. It is just not usually viable to mine 0.1 g/t gold. When we will “run out” of each mineral in this chart is based on current reserves and prices. If the gold price doubles, then suddenly it is economic to mine more.

2. This chart is a reminder that something has to give. Either prices are going to have to go up, or new amazing discoveries have to be made to keep prices down. It’s basic economics, and either way it seems that there are many opportunities in the mining industry for investors and speculators on both fronts.
In a sense every economic good is limited, more-or-less scarce. On the other hand, many things can substitute for one another: perhaps organic carbon for the kind of metallic wire we have used to conduct electricity for so long.

Still, it's the kind of exercise that xkcd would have enjoyed putting together -- only without the clever ALT text.

Hm, Where's That Bible?

Our Secretary of State has apparently decided the right way to persuade Muslim countries is by quoting the Bible. Well, not quoting:
"Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid out in Scriptures clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth, and for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God,” he continued.
So, where was it that God puts humankind in charge of the "climate"? I assume he's thinking of Genesis 1, where we get the general authorities. But they don't include hegemony over the skies, the seas, or anything like the weather.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food:

30 and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.
In fact, in the Book of Job, the absence of these powers are among the reasons God uses to draw Job's attention to his lack of wisdom and power.
8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb;

9 When I made clouds the garment thereof, And thick darkness a swaddling-band for it,

10 And marked out for it my bound, And set bars and doors,

11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
If you're old enough to remember 2008, you know who thought he would have the power to bid the oceans cease to rise: "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further!"
34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, That abundance of waters may cover thee?

35 Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go, And say unto thee, Here we are?
Well, canst thou, John Kerry?

Silver Linings

That should wake some people up.

Nothing I'd Hoped To See

The Archbishop of Canterbury has compared the genocide against Christians in ISIS-controlled territory to the Holocaust. Normally the way Holocaust comparisons go is that they are ridiculously overblown, and thus cause tremendous offense. This time, there really is a genocidal slaughter aimed at wiping out a religious minority, whose homes are being marked with a special sign in a kind of reverse-Passover to justify their plunder.

It is, in other words, a perfectly appropriate comparison for describing the conditions of our own day and time.


The Anchoress writes.
What Rotherham puts me in mind of is the behavior of the conqueror. One of the terrible after-effects of invasion and war has been the subjugation of the women, the rape of wives and daughters, the seed of the conqueror, inserted into a culture and a society — yet another tactic meant to subdue and eradicate.

And yet, there has been no old-fashioned “invasion” and no “war” in the southern part of Yorkshire. This conquering was invited, and it was invited throughout Europe, where Rotherham will be discovered to have been replicated. Why wouldn’t it be? Who in Europe would dare to prosecute?

Rotherham will not be the last “conquest”. There are radical Islamists — not “observant” mind you, just radical — living in the West and determinedly unassimilated to it, on every continent.

Earlier today I read about three churches in Columbus graffiti’d with the word “Infidels”.
The hardest part of this story, for me, was reading about the girl who saved up the clothes she'd been raped in for a very long time at the back of her closet. She finally got the courage to tell her family, who took the clothes and turned them into the police. The police took away the bags, and then came back and said they'd lost them. All of them.

They sent a check to pay for replacements.

UPDATE: Steyn:
So the individuals who presided over this regime destroyed the lives of 1,400 people in their care, and have paid no price for it. Indeed, some have been promoted, and put in charge of even more children.
Have you no rope in England?

"Feminism Is Trying To Update Chivalry"

Now that's a strange thing even to ponder. Let's talk about that.
Chivalry was of course much more than about how men were to treat women. It was a rigorous code for knights that dealt with their relationships with all sorts of different people. We tend to have a negative view of chivalric codes as patriarchal and archaic, for good reason. (They’re patriarchal and archaic.) But the focus on behavior under these codes were how a certain class of men were to treat everyone who was weaker. And that’s a problem that’s not going away.... They’re acknowledging that male and female sexuality actually does need to be respected for its differences and that the average man is stronger than the average female, and as a result of all this, we need men to behave better for our civil society to keep functioning.
Not everyone -- I was just telling Tex about the way the shepherd boy who followed Joan of Arc was treated, hamstrung and stitched in an oxhide and drowned. Men who were weaker might be treated gently if they had proven that they could do certain things, but not qua weaker. Just being weak got you nothing.

What is going on with chivalry is that there is a special virtue, a wonderful excellence of human capacity, in those men who could tame horses and ride them to war. They had to be brave to mount the horse. They had to be masters of themselves, because the horse is a prey animal who will spook at anything. They had to command and to lead the horse, but they had to be sensitive to its every least movement. Even a flicker of its skin, unconscious to the horse itself, carries meaning to an attentive rider.

To become the kind of man who could do these extraordinary things was to achieve almost the capstone of virtue. Aristotle gives the capstone virtue as magnanimity, 'being great-soul'd,' a step perhaps even beyond the horseman. Here is the one who is so fully good that he does not care if there is the slightest reward for his goodness. He does right in spite of the worst punishments, caring nothing for the consequences so long as he follows the dictates of honor. The best knight attains this too, but if he is to be a knight at all he must attain the virtue of chivalry. He must be able to sit a horse, however many times he has been thrown, and lead it into the smell of blood.

The reason for a man to do this is that this is what it means to flourish as a man. You can take a horse, twelve hundred pounds, lay your hand on him, and ride. The horse is stronger, bigger than you -- yet also weaker, less in understanding. You can develop a relationship with him such that control follows your least signal. In testing yourself against this mighty thing, you will become great. No one will trouble you. They will stand aside, unless they are one of the great themselves.
'I am with you at present,' said Gandalf, 'but soon I shall not be.... Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'
What is there to fear? Death? Not at all. Death has been faced many times, at least every time you lept in the saddle! So many times that Death is a comforting companion -- the road would not be quite right without him. Dishonor? Not while Death is your companion! Blood washes away dishonor, and he has trained himself to be such as to choose the blood over the dishonor every time.

Nothing here is archaic. The saddle and the man are there in the morning. They are the same as they have been, now and forever. If he lives this way, this man, he is doing it for reasons of his own that are fully satisfying. If it produces the kind of man you want -- and it is the kind you want, because how could you wish to claim 'equality' for yourself with any lesser man, the kind who steps aside from him with downcast eyes? -- that is a happy accident. He will treat you well, as long as he lives, because he is the right kind of man.

You have a society that produces few enough of these men, but not none. Look to that, if you want my advice.


I'd watch more sports if they were like this.  This is way better than a end-zone dance.

But they still lost.

Seeking a Black Knight

The Greater Depression

The economist formerly known as Brad DeLong argues that the only way to read the economic indicators is as preparing for a triple-dip. When, he asks, will we stop pretending this is not a depression?

The cynical answer is that "we," meaning the press who act as gatekeepers on the proper terms, will start calling it a Depression about two weeks after there is a Republican who can be held responsible for the condition of the economy. Looks like recovery summers until at least 2017!

The even-more-cynical answer is that neither journalists nor the administration's savants actually understand why the economy doesn't recover. All those "unexpectedly" comments by the press about bad economic news -- now a long-running joke -- are genuine. They honestly don't see that the economy has been so bad for so long just because of what they are doing to try to improve it.

Alaskans Trained as "Stay-Behind" Agents

I ran into this fascinating story today...that documents released under FOIA indicated that the U.S. was once worried about a Soviet takeover of Alaska, and planned to prepare "sleeper" agents to send out information in case this ever happened.

According to the story, the plans included caches of supplies for these agents to use...caches that were never needed. It brings to mind my favorite story about the Alaska Scouts of WWII. A man who became one of their officers had been dropped on a remote island with a shack full of C rations to spy on Japanese planes. He didn't see any, so he maintained radio silence, and the Scouts went out to "rescue" him when his C rations should've run out. According to a taped interview he gave (which I saw at the Anchorage Museum a few years ago), he cheerfully showed them the shack full of C rations, which he'd never even opened. Between his rifle, his fishing gear, and his crab traps, he was quite happy the way it was.

I checked the original file at "Government Attic" -- too long for me to read all the way through -- and ran across a description of a likely recruit:
An example of a typical person to be one of the principals, as suggested by OSI, is a professional photographer in Anchorage; he has only one arm and it is felt that he would not benefit the eney in any labor battalion; he is an amateur radio operator; he is a professional photographer; he is licensed as a hunting or fishing guide, and well versed in the art of survival; he is a pilot of small aircraft; he is reasonably intelligent, particularly crafty, and possessed of sufficient physical courage as is indicated by his offer to guide a party which was to have hunted Kodiak bear armed only with bow and arrow...
It's been a few years since I lived in that happy country, but I can believe they had plenty of recruits like this. My favorite quote from the story, though, is from one of the comments:
Well, back in the 70's the commander of the Alaskan National Guard was asked how long one of his Inuit Scouts could stay out on patrol. The Commander simply answered, "Until he dies of old age."


A favorite piece of music.  We had this at our wedding, with two flutes and a guitar approximating the bit that begins at 10:00.  I particularly like the part beginning at 19:00 as well.

The suite's five movements, which were written to accompany a 1934 Soviet film of the same name, follow the career of a fictional lieutenant in the Russian army. A clerk to the Tsar creates the lieutenant by miscopying two words. The new "officer" catches the attention of the Tsar, who begins to write out orders for him, which no one dares refuse. The lieutenant falls in love, marries, and finally ceases to be a problem when the palace administrators announce his death and burial.

I guess I always thought Prokofiev was earlier than he really was.  He was born in 1891.  Like many great composers, he was a child prodigy who began producing operas and symphonies as a pre-teen; this was before World War I.  After the Revolution, he spent time in the United States and Europe, but began rebuilding ties with the Soviet Union in the early 30s, when he composed Lieutenant Kijé, and resettled in Moscow in 1936.  Eventually, of course, he began to experience blowback from the maniacs in charge, but he never got into serious trouble.  He died in 1953, at about the same time as Stalin.

Side B

H/t Powerline.

LOTR's that might have been

Via Ace at Buzzfeed.  I don't know that I'd have enjoyed Nicholas Cage as Aragorn, but Daniel Day-Lewis would have been awesome.  Sean Connery was offered 15% of box-office receipts to play Gandalf, which would have been $400 million.  Paul McCartney wanted to play Frodo in a production by Stanley Kubrick, and that one punches all my buttons.

Good times

David Foster refers us to a Ricochet post asking for suggestions about the happiest times in history.  Claire Berlinski proposes the following:
  1. Rome under the Antonines, from roughly 160 AD to 220 AD.
  2. Baghdad under the Caliphate, from roughly 800 to 1000 AD.
  3. Western Europe under the peace of Innocent III, from roughly 1200 to 1300.
  4. France during the Belle Époque, from say 1880 to 1914.
  5. Vienna under the Emperor Franz Joseph, from 1865 to 1914.
  6. The United States under Dwight Eisenhower, from 1952 until 1963.
Several commenters proposed adding Victorian Britain to Belle Époque France; Vienna of that period is already included, and the U.S. was a fairly contented place then as well, just before we all got together and tore the world up.  One commenter proposed Solomon's reign.  Another suggested 14th-century Mali.