On Forcing the Net Through a Sieve

Public Knowledge, a Washington DC based public interest group “working to defend your rights in the emerging digital culture,” has released a 60 page document exploring, and condemning, industry proposals for implementing “copyright filtering” on the internet. The report is entitled Forcing the Net Through a Sieve: Why Copyright Filtering is Not a Viable Solution for U.S. ISPs

“Copyright filtering” is a “method whereby network appliances use a technology known as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to inspect the data that travels over an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) network, identifying content as it passes through the filter and then dealing with that content accordingly.”

Here’s what the paper’s authors have to say in their Executive Summary:

“Copyright filtering, the latest proposed ‘magic bullet’ solution from the major music and movie studios and industry trade groups, poses a number of dangers to Internet users, legitimate businesses and U.S. federal government initiatives to increase the speed, affordability and utilization of broadband Internet services. The following whitepaper presents a number of reasons why the use of copyright filters should not be allowed, encouraged or mandated on U.S. Internet Service Provider (ISP) networks. Among them:

“1. Copyright filters are both underinclusive and overinclusive. A copyright filter will fail to identify all unlawful or unwanted content while harming lawful uses of content.
2. Copyright filter processing will add latency. Copyright filters will slow ISP networks, discouraging use, innovation and investment and harming users, businesses and technology policy initiatives.
3. The implementation of copyright filters will result in a technological arms race. Users will act to circumvent the filters and the architects of the filters will find themselves caught in a costly, unwinnable arms race.
4. Copyright filters do not make economic sense. The monetary costs associated with copyright filtering far outweigh any perceived benefits.
5. Copyright filters will discourage investment in the Internet economy.
Copyright filters will disrupt the Internet ecosystem, severely undermining our most promising engine for economic growth.
6. Copyright filters will harm free speech. Due to technological limitations, copyright filters will harm lawful, protected forms of speech such as parody and satire.
7. Copyright filters could undermine the safe harbor provisions that shield ISPs from liability. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ISPs are shielded from liability for their users’ actions. Copyright filters could undermine these safe harbors, which have allowed the Internet to become the most important communications medium of the modern era.
8. Copyright filtering could violate the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act. Copyright filtering could constitute unlawful interception under the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA).”

If you’re interested in the topic, you might also wish to see this press release from PublicKnowledge.org concerning their analysis

Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Chandra At Ten

Cassiopeia Image from Chandra X-Ray Telescope

Cassiopeia Image from Chandra X-Ray Telescope

On the occasion of the Chandra X-Ray Telescope’s tenth anniversary, the BBC News has created an amazing little four-minute slideshow of Chandra images. It’s really quite stunning.

For just a little more information on the Chandra anniversary, see Science Daily’s brief article on the topic.

For much, much more see the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, which, among a wealth of other materials, includes an x-ray photo gallery of such stunning images as this one, of the supernova remnant E0102:

E0102 (Chandra)

Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Dodo . . . and Moa

The Dodo of Mauritius (Raphus cucullatus), believed extinct since 1681 (Vanished Species)

The Dodo of Mauritius (Raphus cucullatus), extinct since c. 1681 (Vanished Species)

A new discovery reported in today’s Science Daily suggests that the Araliaceae tree of New Zealand has developed an elaborate camouflage defense that varies depending upon the age of the tree. Most intriguing is the credible hypothesis that this camouflage protection evolved specifically to discourage predation by the Moa, the large flightless bird driven to extinction by Maori hunting 750 years ago.

The discovery brings to mind the marvelous tale of the dodo and the tambalacoque tree related by Stephen Jay Gould in his exquisite book of natural history essays, The Panda’s Thumb, nearly thirty years ago:

“. . . the dodo stands alone, the first recorded extinction of our era. The dodo, a giant flightless pigeon (twenty-five pounds or more in weight), lived in fair abundance on the island of Mauritius. Within 200 years of its discovery in the fifteenth century, it had been wiped out – by men who prized its tasty eggs and by the hogs that early sailors had transported to Mauritius. No living dodos have been seen since 1681.

“In August, 1977, Stanley A. Temple, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, reported the following remarkable story (but see postscript for a subsequent challenge). He, and others before him, had noted that a large tree, Calvaria major, seemed to be near the verge of extinction on Mauritius. In 1973, he could find only thirteen ‘old, overmature, and dying trees’ in the remnant native forests. Experienced Mauritian foresters estimated the trees’ ages at more than 300 years. These trees produce well-formed, apparently fertile seeds each year, but none germinate and no young plants are known. Attempts to induce germination in the controlled and favorable climate of a nursery have failed. Yet Calvaria was once common on Mauritius: old forestry records indicate that it had been lumbered extensively.

Calvaria’s large fruits, about two inches in diameter, consist of a seed enclosed in a hard pit nearly half an inch thick. This pit is surrounded by a layer of pulpy, succulent material covered by a thin outer skin. Temple concluded that Calvaria seeds fail to germinate because the thick pit ‘mechanically resists the expansion of the embryo within.’ How, then, did it germinate in previous centuries?

“Temple put two facts together. Early explorers reported that the dodo fed on fruits and seeds of large forest trees; in fact, fossil Calvaria pits have been found among skeletal remains of the dodo. The dodo had a strong gizzard filled with large stones that could crush tough bits of food. Secondly, the age of surviving Calvaria trees matches the demise of the dodo. None has sprouted since the dodo disappeared almost 300 years ago.

“Temple therefore argues that Calvaria evolved its unusually thick pit as an adaptation to resist destruction by crushing in a dodo’s gizzard. But, in doing so, they became dependent upon dodos for their own reproduction. Tit for tat. A pit thick enough to survive in a dodo’s gizzard is a pit too thick for an embryo to burst by its own resources. Thus, the gizzard that once threatened the seed had become its necessary accomplice. The thick pit must be abraded and scratched before it can germinate.

“Several small animals eat the fruit of Calvaria today, but they merely nibble away the succulent middle and leave the internal pit untouched. The dodo was big enough to swallow the fruit whole. After consuming the middle, dodos would have abraded the pit in their gizzards before regurgitating it or passing it in their feces. Temple cites many analogous cases of greatly increased germination rates for seeds after passage through the digestive tracts of various animals.

“Temple then tried to estimate the crushing force of a dodo’s gizzard by making a plot of body weight versus force generated by the gizzard in several modern birds. Extrapolating the curve up to a dodo’s size, he estimates that Calvaria pits were thick enough to resist crushing; in fact, the thickest pits could not be crushed until they had been reduced nearly 30 percent by abrasion. Dodos might well have regurgitated the pits or passed them along before subjecting them to such an extended treatment. Temple took turkeys – the closest modern analogue to dodos – and force-fed them Calvaria pits, one at a time. Seven of the seventeen pits were crushed by the turkey’s gizzard, but the other ten were regurgitated or passed in feces after considerable abrasion. Temple planted these seeds and three of them germinated. He writes: ‘These may well have been the first Calvaria seeds to germinate in more than 300 years.’ Calvaria can probably be saved from the brink of extinction by the propagation of artificially abraded seeds. For once, an astute observation, combined with imaginative thought and experiment, may lead to preservation rather than destruction.”

It’s a truly wonderful story. But note that Gould adds a postscript which elaborates upon the ensuing controversy – see The Panda’s Thumb for more details – and then concludes: “The debate between Owadally and Temple is too close to call at the moment. I’m rooting for Temple, but if Owadally’s fourth point is correct, then the dodo hypothesis will become, in Thomas Henry huxley’s inimitable words, ‘a beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact.’”

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Remember the Maine!

The Battleship USS Maine, 1898

The Battleship USS Maine, 1898

Craig L. Symonds’ Decision At Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History is a superb little volume of considerable substance, which we will briefly review in the very near future. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt that will give you some notion of the work, Symonds’ description of the events leading up to the Spanish-American War and the Battle of Manila Bay:

“The sequence of events that brought Dewey’s squadron to Manila Bay at midnight on April 30, 1898, had begun a quarter of a century earlier and half a world away. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the enormous Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere, an expanse of territory that dwarfed the Roman Empire at its height, had all but disappeared. One by one, pieces of that empire had been stripped away as they secured their independence, cheered on by the Americans who saw in these revolutions Latin versions of their own struggle to break free of a colonial power. For the Spanish it was a cruel and painful process. It was a Spanish tradition that their American empire had been a gift from God for the Reconquista, the military campaign that in 1492 had driven the force of Islam from their toehold in Europe. Was it mere coincidence that in the very year of that victory Christopher Columbus had sailed under Spanish colors to ‘discover’ the New World? Yet four hundred years later the gift was all but gone. Of all that vast territory, only Cuba and nearby Puerto Rico were left. Though Cuba was a profitable colony, it was more for pride than greed that the Spanish clung to it, dubbing it ‘the Ever-Faithful Isle’ and resisting sporadic revolutionary outbreaks.

“American interest in Cuba was more than a century old. Up to the time of the Civil War, one element of that concern had been the ambition of southerners to acquire Cuba as a new slave state to balance the growing power of the free states in the North. In 1848, at the end of the war with Mexico, President Polk had tried to buy the island from Spain for $100 million, but Spain was not interested. Another element of the American concern was strategic; the location of Cuba, corking as it did the bottle of the Gulf of Mexico, mad it of great interest to American strategic planners. In 1854 these twin interests combined when, in Ostend, Belgium, a trio of American diplomats announced what amounted to an ultimatum. They declared that Cuba was a natural part of the United States and that if Spain did not agree to sell it, the United States would be justified in seizing it. ‘The Union can never enjoy repose,’ these Americans declared, ‘nor possess reliable security, as long as Cuba is not embraced within its boundaries.’ The United States subsequently disavowed the Ostend Manifesto, however, and southern hopes for a slave state in Cuba died with the Civil War.

“While the United States struggled through the Reconstruction years after the Civil War, Spain survived a long and wasting revolution in Cuba that was subsequently named the Ten Years’ War (1868-78). When not distracted by their own internal problems, Americans watched with interest, and often with open sympathy, for the rebel cause. A few American citizens did more than sympathize. Motivated by ideology, by profit, or simply by the romance of it all, these sympathizers, known as filibusters, smuggled weapons to the insurrectos and even volunteered their own services. In the middle of the Ten Years’ War, in 1873, the Spanish navy stopped and searched a chartered steamer named Virginius that was headed for Cuba under the American flag. Its captain was a former US naval officer named Joseph Fry, the crew was a mixed group of Americans and Cubans, and the cargo consisted of arms that were certainly intended for the Cuban rebels. Though the men were unquestionably filibusters, it would have been hard to make an ironclad case against them, for their vessel was still on the high seas when it was intercepted. Nevertheless, the Spanish conducted a quick trial, condemned the officers and crew of the Virginius to death, and shot fifty-three of them before the protests of a British official halted the executions.

“It might have led to war. President Grant sought to make a statement of sorts by ordering a concentration of the US fleet at Key West, though there is no indication he intended any more than that. Instead, the US State Department obtained an apology from the Spanish, who also agreed to pay an indemnity. The fact that the United States was then wallowing in the worst financial crisis of the postwar years – the so-called Panic of ’73 – may have muted American outrage. Still, it was sobering to some when the attempted mobilization of the fleet betrayed the weakness of the US Navy in the 1870s. The monitors, called out of mothballs, were so crank and unseaworthy that they were a greater threat to their own crews than to any potential enemy. In short, the Virginius episode demonstrated that in 1873 the United States lacked the capability to express its outrage, even against a tired and fading empire such as Spain.

“That was no longer true in 1895, when a second round of revolutionary activity broke out in Cuba. By then, [Stephen B.] Luce had founded the [Naval] War College, [Alfred Thayer] Mahan had published his book [The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783], and the United States had begun building the steam-and-steel ships of the ‘New Navy.’ That very year, in fact, the United States launched the USS Olympia, the newest vessel of its expanding fleet. It was not that the United States had any particular opponent in mind when it constructed this ‘New Navy,’ just a vague sense that the time had come for the United States to possess a fleet worthy of a great nation. After all, the possession of modern weapons would give America options that were otherwise not available in a diplomatic crisis. A few skeptics noted that great-power status brought dangers as well as options, but they were largely ignored.

“The renewed insurrection in Cuba was led by the poet Jose Marti, who quickly became its first martyr, and by two gifted field generals, Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez, who focused their campaign on the sources of Spanish wealth in Cuba, especially the sugar mills and tobacco fields. By 1896, the scorched-earth policy of these rebel generals had caused so much damage to the Cuban economy that Spanish authorities turned to the ruthless Lieutenant General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau to bring order to the island. Weyler had served as a Spanish observer during the American Civil War and was a great admirer of William T. Sherman. He responded to the destructive tactics of the rebels by adopting a hard-line policy of his own designed to deprive the rebel armies of the wherewithal to continue the fight. In order to protect loyal Cubans from the rebels, Weyler relocated (or concentrated) them into armed camps, a policy remarkably similar to the ‘strategic hamlet’ program adopted by Americans during the Vietnam War seventy years later. Overcrowded and often unsanitary, these camps spawned both hunger and disease, and the term ‘concentration camp’ took on a very negative connotation. Outside the camps, the rebels took or destroyed whatever of value they could find that was unprotected. The Spanish controlled the cities and the harbors, the rebels controlled the countryside, and the people of Cuba suffered.

“Americans professed to be shocked by the brutality of the conflict. The major urban newspapers, especially the big New York dailies controlled by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, vied with one another to present horror stories of destruction and brutality. In almost every case, the Spanish were portrayed as the principal instigators of violence and the rebels as victimized patriots. A representative example is the report filed by a New York World correspondent in May 1896:

“‘The horrors of a barbarous struggle for the extermination of the native population are witnessed in all parts of the country. Blood on the roadsides, blood on the fields, blood on the doorsteps, blood, blood, blood! The old, the young, the weak, the crippled, all are butchered without mercy. There is scarcely a hamlet that has not witnessed the dreadful work. Is there no nation wise enough, brave enough to aid this smitten land?’

“Recognizing that Weyler’s tactics not only failed to suppress the rebellion but also produced bad publicity, Spain’s rulers dropped the reconcentrado policy and replaced Weyler with the moderate Ramon Blanco. It was too late. The momentum of outrage combined with Spain’s tendency to brush off US complaints, all of it fueled by the nearly hysterical popular press, had created a climate in which war became almost irresistible. Under these circumstances, another incident like the Virginius episode would very likely have far different consequences.

“Though the Spanish-American War is commonly associated with the presidency of William McKinley, who was elected in 1896 over the populist William Jennings Bryan, the new American president dreaded the prospect of war and found the mounting martial drumbeat a distraction from his primary goal of ensuring the continued prosperity of the nation’s business interests. Though his predecessor in the White House had suspended courtesy visits by US Navy warships to Cuban ports for fear of inciting a negative reaction, McKinley decided to renew them. In January he responded to a request from the US consul general in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee (Robert E. Lee’s nephew) to send the second-class battleship USS Maine to Havana Harbor.

“The Maine was America’s first ‘modern’ battleship, and as evidence of its transitional status, it incorporated a hodgepodge of design features. Like Perry’s Lawrence, it boasted a full set of masts and spars, though the sails for those spars were never delivered and throughout its short history it operated as a steam vessel. Like Buchanan’s Virginia (Merrimack), it was equipped with a forward ram, and like Worden’s Monitor, its main battery was housed in revolving armored gun turrets. But the Maine had a curiously unbalanced appearance. Its two main turrets were offset from the centerline: the forward turret overhung the starboard side, and the after turret was cantilevered over the port side. The idea was to allow the ten-inch guns of its main battery to fire both forward and aft, but the result was disharmonious, and only an especially proud captain ever would have called it a beautiful ship.

“Captain Charles Sigsbee was the Maine’s captain, and whether or not he thought his ship beautiful, he was very much aware of the sensitivity of his assignment. Even after bringing the Maine safely to anchor in Havana harbor at midmorning on January 25, 1898, he kept the ship on alert, with one-quarter of the crew on duty around the clock and two of the ship’s four boilers on line. Publicly, however, he carried on as if his presence in Havana Harbor were nothing more than a routine port visit. He greeted dignitaries on board and gave them tours of the ship; he allowed officers (though not the men) shore liberty; and Sigsbee himself attended a bullfight in Havana as the guest of Blanco’s deputy, Major General Julian Gonzalez Parrado. He later wrote that he ‘had but one wish’ and that was ‘to be friendly to the Spanish authorities as required by my orders.’

“Meanwhile, McKinley became the center of a new crisis when the Spanish minister in the United States, Enrique Dupuy de Lome, wrote an indiscreet private letter to a friend who happened to be the editor of a Havana newspaper. A worker in the editor’s office who was sympathetic to the rebels stole the letter and passed it on to others who made sure that it landed eventually on the desk of William Randolph Hearst. It was published on the front page of the New York Journal on February 9. In that missive de Lome referred to the new American president as ‘weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd.’ He was, de Lome concluded, a ‘common politician.’ It was a pretty astute analysis, but diplomats of foreign governments are not supposed to say such things. De Lome resigned and Spain apologized, but the damage had been done.

“Six days later the Maine blew up in Havana Harbor.”

Commodore Dewey's Flagship at the Battle of Manila, USS Olympia

Commodore Dewey's Flagship at the Battle of Manila, USS Olympia

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  

Kindling for the Fire: Banned Books

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo offers food for thought in Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four, discussing “how Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future.”

One observation worth pondering:

“The difference between today’s Kindle deletions and yesteryear’s banning is that the earlier prohibitions weren’t perfectly enforceable. At best, publishers that found their books banned by courts could try to recall all books in circulation. In 2007, Cambridge University Press settled a lawsuit with Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian banker who sued for libel over a book that alleged he’d funded terrorism. Cambridge agreed to ask libraries across the world to remove books from their shelves. But the libraries were free to refuse. If bin Mahfouz had sued over a Kindle book, on the other hand, he could ask the court not only to stop sales but also to delete all copies that had already been sold. As Zittrain points out, courts might consider such a request a logical way to enforce a ban —if they can order Dish Network to disable your DVR, they can also tell Amazon or Apple to disable a certain book, movie, or song.

“But that sets up a terrible precedent. Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future — when all books exist as files on servers — courts would have the power to make works vanish completely. Zittrain writes: ‘Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban.’ This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we’ll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.”

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Civil War: A Narrative

Lincoln Meets With McClellan

Lincoln Meets With McClellan

It’s just over half a century since the first volume of Shelby Foote’s trilogy The Civil War: A Narrative was published. This monumental work – the first of which alone traverses the events from the fall of Fort Sumter through the battle Perryville in 816 pages – continues to serve as a measure of excellence in historical exegesis for the period. While not devoid of blemish, it remains a classic of the genre, a deeply rewarding book for the attentive reader.

Foote closes the first volume of his trilogy with a discussion of Lincoln’s December 1862 message to Congress, illuminating, disconcerting and inspiring us to this very day:

“By now, the assembled politicians were nearly as restless as the red men on the frontier. Presently, however, approaching its mid-point, the message changed its tone.

“‘A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.” It is of the first importance to duly consider and estimate this ever-enduring part. The portion of the earth’s surface which is owned and inhabited by the people of the United States is well adapted to be the home of one national family, and is not well adapted for two or more. . . . There is no line, straight or crooked, suitable for a national boundary upon which to divide. Trace through, from east to west, upon the line between the free and slave country, and we shall find a little more than one-third of its length are rivers, easy to be crossed, and populated, or soon to be populated, thickly upon both sides; while nearly all its remaining length are merely surveyors’ lines over which people may walk back and forth without any consciousness of their presence.’

“Such an argument might have been advanced in support of the unification of Europe or the annexation of Canada, but presently the listeners saw what Lincoln was getting at. He was talking to the inhabitants of the region to which he himself was native, ‘the great interior region, bounded east by the Alleghenies, north by the British dominions, west by the Rocky Mountains, and south by the line along which the culture of corn and cotton meets. . . . Ascertain from the statistics the small proportion of the region which has as yet been brought into cultivation, and also the large and rapidly increasing amount of its products, and we shall be overwhelmed with the magnitude of the prospect presented. And yet this region has no seacoast, touches no ocean anywhere. As part of the nation, its people now find, and may forever find, their way to Europe by New York, to south America and Africa by New Orleans, and to Asia by San Francisco. . . . these outlets, east, west, and south, are indispensable to the well-being of the people inhabiting, and to inhabit, this vast interior region. Which of the three may be the best is no proper question. All are better than either, and all of right belong to that people and to their successors forever. True to themselves, they will not ask where a line of separation shall be, but will vow rather that there shall be no such line.’ After a pause, he added: ‘Our national strife springs no from our permanent part, not from the land we inhabit, not from our national homestead. . . . Our strife pertains to ourselves – to the passing generations of men; and it can without convulsion be hushed forever with the passing of one generation.’

“This brought him at last to what he considered the nub of the issue. ‘Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.’ So far, he had not mentioned the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation except to note that it had been issued; nor did he return to it now. What he returned to, instead, was his old plan for compensated emancipation, the one way he saw for bringing the war to an end ‘without convulsion.’ His plan, as expanded here, would leave to each state the choice of when to act on the matter, ‘now, or at the end of the century, or at any intermediary time.’ The federal government was to have no voice in the action, but it would bear the total expense by issuing long-term bonds as payment to loyal masters. To those critics who would complain that the expense was too heavy, Lincoln replied beforehand that it was cheaper to pay in bonds than in blood, as the country was doing now. Besides, even in dollars and cents the cost would be less. ‘Certainly it is not so easy to pay something as it is to pay nothing; but it is easier to pay a large sum than it is to pay a larger one. And it is easier to pay any sum when we are able, than it is to pay it before we are able. The war requires large sums, and requires them at once. The aggregate sum necessary for compensated emancipation of course would be large. But it would require no ready cash, nor the bonds even, any faster than the emancipation progresses. This might not, and probably would not, come before the end of the thirty-seven years.’

“At this point, apparently – at any rate, somewhere along the line – the President had done some ciphering. By 1900, he predicted, ‘we shall have 100,000,000 of people to share the burden, instead of 31,000,000 as now.’ This was no wild guess on Lincoln’s part; or as he put it, ‘I do not state this inconsiderately. At the same ratio of increase which we have maintained, on an average, from our first national census of 1790 until that of 1860, we should in 1900 have a population of 103,208,415. And why may we not continue that ratio far beyond that period? Our abundant room – our broad national homestead – is our ample resource.’ The past seventy years had shown an average decennial increase of 34.6 percent. Applying this to the coming seventy years, he calculated the 1930 population at 251,680,914. ‘And we will reach this, too,’ he added, ‘if we do not ourselves relinquish the chance by the folly and evils of disunion, or by long and exhausting war springing from the only great element of national discord among us.’

“Descending from these rather giddy mathematical heights, Lincoln continued his plea for gradual emancipation, not only for the sake of the people here represented, but also for the sake of the Negroes, whom it would spare ‘the vagrant destitution which must largely attend immediate emancipation in localities where their numbers are very great.’ Whatever objections might be raised, he wanted one thing kept in mind: ‘If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.’ And having thus admonished the assembly, after forcing it to accompany him on an excursion into the field of applied mathematics, he thought perhaps some note of apology – if not of retraction – was in order. ‘I do not forget the gravity which should characterize a paper addressed to the Congress of the nation by the Chief Magistrate of the nation. Nor do I forget that some of you are my seniors, nor that many of you have more experience than I in the conduct of public affairs. Yet I trust that in view of the great responsibility resting upon me, you will perceive no want of respect to yourselves in any undue earnestness I may seem to display.’ Apparently, however, this was intended not only to make amends for what had gone before, but also to brace them for what was to come. Nor was it long in coming. Hard on the heels of this apology for ‘undue earnestness,’ he threw a cluster of knotty, rhetorical questions full in their faces:

“’Is it doubted, then, that the plan I propose, if adopted, would shorten the war, and thus lessen its expenditure of money and of blood? Is it doubted that it would restore the national authority and national prosperity, and perpetuate both indefinitely? Is it doubted that we here – congress and executive – can secure its adoption? Will not the good people respond to a united and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means so certainly or so speedily assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not “Can any of us imagine better?” but “Can we do better?” Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs, “Can we do better?”’

“As the long message approached its end, Lincoln asked that question: ‘Can we do better?’ Oratory was not enough. ‘The North responds . . . sufficiently in breath,’ he had said of the reaction to the September proclamation; ‘but breath alone kills no rebels.’ He knew as well as Sherman the need for the nation to be ‘born again,’ and he would also have agreed with the New England major who this month wrote home that he sometimes felt like changing the old soldier’s prayer into ‘O God, if there be a God, save my country, if my country is worth saving.’ A majority of 100,000 voters in Lincoln’s own state, fearing the backwash of liberated slaves that would result from Grant’s advance, had approved in November the adoption of a new article into the Illinois constitution, prohibiting the immigration of Negroes into the state. He knew, too, the reaction of most of the lawmakers to the proposal he was now advancing – including that of Senator Orville Browning, his fellow Illinoisan and confidant, who would write in his diary of his friend’s plea when he went home tonight: ‘It surprised me by its singular reticence in regard to the war, and some other subjects which I expected discussed, and by the hallucination the President seems to be laboring under that Congress can suppress the rebellion by adopting his plan of compensated emancipation.’ Yet according to Lincoln it was not he, but they, who were hallucinated and enthralled, and he told them so as the long message wore on toward a close: ‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

“Then came the end, the turn of a page that opened a new chapter. And now, through the droning voice of the clerk, the Lincoln music sounded in what would someday be known as its full glory: ‘Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We – even we here – hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.’”

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Linguist and the Emperor

The Linguist and the Emperor

A Very Brief Review of Daniel Meyerson’s The Linguist and the Emperor

Daniel Myerson’s brief history of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone is a somewhat unconventional narrative concerning one of the grand intellectual achievements of linguistics and archaeology: Jean Francois Champollion’s ultimately successful lifelong quest to comprehend the meaning of the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt. It is also, not coincidentally, the story of Napoleon’s audacious and disastrous invasion of Egypt.

A quick scan of the handful of reader reviews at Amazon.com will convince you that many, if not most, are disconcerted, even vexed, by Myerson’s novelesque approach to his subject matter. I counsel patience. There is more than enough in this little history to reward persistence.

The Linguist and the Emperor should perhaps not be the only work you read on the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone – but it is worth the read.

For additional related studies of interest, see the materials and links at AncientScripts.com.

You might also wish to take a quick look at the New Scientist’s Decoding Antiquity, a succinct overview of eight ancient scripts which have yet to be deciphered, from Etruscan and Meroitic through Minoan Linear A to the Indus script.

Epoch Times has an interesting article on a yet undeciphered script discovered in an antique book in Chongqing.

If you are interested specifically in Egyptian hieroglyphics, see Hieroglyphics!, especially the valuable links in “Introduction to Hieroglyphics” and “Learning Hieroglyphics.”

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Published in: on July 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Occupational Outlook Handbook

Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008-2009

Available in print at the library and also online, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook can be an invaluable resource for those looking for work, planning a career change, or mapping out their post-educational plans.

For hundreds of different types of jobs, the Occupational Outlook Handbook outlines the training and education needed; likely earnings; expected job prospects; practical descriptions of what workers do on the job; working conditions; job search tips; information about the job market in each state; and very much more.

The printed edition of the handbook is completely revised and issued anew every two years.

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  

On Books #8

Gulliver's Travels

Books, the children of the brain.

— Jonathan Swift

Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Opening Day















Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm  Comments (1)  

FDR and the Holocaust

FDR with Henry Morgenthau

FDR with Henry Morgenthau

A final excerpt from H.W. Brands’ Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt [for a terse review and earlier excerpts, see FDR: Traitor to His Class and FDR: Traitor to His Class (2)]:

“In January 1944 Henry Morgenthau scheduled an unusual Sunday meeting with Roosevelt. Morgenthau came not only as Treasury secretary but as Roosevelt’s oldest friend in the administration and as a pleader of a special cause. Morgenthau’s ancestors were German Jews who had assimilated into mainstream American society. Morgenthau himself had rarely attended synagogue and, by all evidence, never observed Passover. ‘We Jews of America have found America to be our Zion,’ Morgenthau’s father once said. ‘I am an American.’ But during the war the son discovered his Jewish roots when Jewish leaders came to him with evidence that Hitler was systematically trying to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

“Morgenthau initially hesitated to raise the matter with Roosevelt. He didn’t want to presume on their personal friendship, and the plight of Europe’s Jews was hardly the responsibility of the American Treasury Department. If any office in the administration was to deal with the issue, it ought to be the State Department. But Cordell Hull wasn’t interested, and Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary to whom Hull referred refugee and related issues, was downright hostile. The State Department had a long history of anti-Semitism that reflected the old-stock Protestant values of the nineteenth-century founders of the American foreign service. Morgenthau concluded that if the fate of the Jews was left to the professional diplomats, there was little hope.

“He began to look for an excuse to bring the Jewish question into the Treasury’s bailiwick. At the end of 1943 he found one, when the administration received a request to expedite money transfers to refugees from Hitler’s war machine. The State Department balked, but Morgenthau, reasoning that anything touching money involved the Treasury, determined to take the matter to Roosevelt. He scheduled a White House meeting.

“Roosevelt may have guessed the purpose of the meeting, for others had raised the Jewish question with him. During the summer of 1942 Rabbi Stephen Wise, the head of the American Jewish Congress, wrote saying that Hitler was trying to annihilate the Jews, as he had threatened to do for years. Wise asked Roosevelt to issue a statement bringing the matter to American and world attention. He said he wanted to read the statement to a Madison Square Garden rally on behalf of the Jews, and he offered language for the president to use. Roosevelt wrote his own words. ‘Citizens, regardless of religious allegiance, will share in the sorrow of our Jewish fellow-citizens over the savagery of the Nazis against their helpless victims,’ the president declared. ‘The Nazis will not succeed in exterminating their victims any more than they will succeed in enslaving mankind. The American people not only sympathize with all victims of Nazi crimes but will hold the perpetrators of these crimes to strict accountability in a day of reckoning which will surely come.’

“Roosevelt issued similar statements on subsequent occasions, sometimes singling out the Jews as victims of Nazi violence, sometimes not. A month after the Madison Square Garden rally he asserted that new intelligence from Europe revealed that the Nazi occupation of various countries had ‘taken proportions and forms giving rise to the fear that as the defeat of the enemy countries approaches, the barbaric and unrelenting character of the occupational regime will become more marked and may even lead to the extermination of certain populations.’ Those persons involved in such crimes would not escape. ‘The time will come when they shall have to stand in courts of law in the very countries which they are now oppressing and answer for their acts.’

“In December 1942 Roosevelt brought Stephen Wise back to the White House. The rabbi and several other Jewish leaders delivered a detailed memorandum describing the Nazi Extermination program. ‘Unless action is taken immediately,’ Wise said, ‘the Jews of Hitler Europe are doomed.’ Wise and the others asked for a new statement on behalf of the victims. Roosevelt replied, ‘Gentlemen, you can prepare the statement. I am sure that you will put the words into it that express my thoughts.’ He added, ‘We shall do all in our power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment.’

“Wise acted at once on the president’s offer. The rabbi emerged from the White House meeting to tell reporters that ‘the President said that he was profoundly shocked to learn that two million Jews had in one way or another perished as a result of Nazi rule and crimes.’

“Roosevelt followed up with a message of his own – and of America’s allies. The president approved a statement by the United Nations condemning the Nazi campaign against the Jews. ‘From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality to Eastern Europe,’ the statement declared. ‘The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labor camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.’ The statement went on to vow that ‘those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution.’

“Roosevelt kept his door open to the representatives of the Jewish cause. In the summer of 1943 a member of the Polish underground, Jan Karski, who at great personal risk had observed the extermination program in action, carried his eyewitness account to the West. Roosevelt invited him to the White House. Just what Karski told the president is unclear. Karski relayed a message from the Jews of Poland that if the Allies didn’t do something to stop the killing, the Jewish community there would ‘cease to exist.’ But, according to his later recollection of the meeting, he kept to himself what he had seen with his own eyes. Whatever Karski’s words to Roosevelt, the president’s reply was succinct: ‘Tell your nation we shall win the war.’

“These words didn’t satisfy Henry Morgenthau, and when he entered Roosevelt’s second-floor study on January 16, 1944, he came armed with a new report detailing the massacres. ‘One of the greatest crimes in history, the slaughter of the Jewish people in Europe, is continuing unabated,’ the report began. Roosevelt listened to Morgenthau’s summary and scanned the report. He waved aside Morgenthau’s assertion that anti-Semitism at the State Department accounted for the lack of interest there in the Jewish troubles, but he accepted Morgenthau’s suggestion that responsibility for refugee affairs be moved from State to a special board answerable to the president. The War Refugee Board was assigned to take ‘all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death and otherwise to afford such victims all possible relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.’

“Following an order by Hitler to round up the Jews of Hungary, Roosevelt issued his most detailed and scathing condemnation of the Nazi policies:

“‘In one of the blackest crimes of all history – begun by the Nazis in the day of peace and multiplied by them a hundred times in time of war – the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe goes on unabated every hour. As a result of the events of the last few days, hundreds of thousands of Jews, who while living under persecution have at least found a haven from death in Hungary and the Balkans, are now threatened with annihilation as Hitler’s forces descend more heavily upon these lands. That these innocent people, who have already survived a decade of Hitler’s fury, should perish on the very eve of triumph over the barbarism which their persecution symbolizes, would be a major tragedy.’

“Roosevelt had already declared that Hitler and his henchmen would be made to answer for their crimes. Now he promised that the reach of Allied justice would extend to those who collaborated with the Nazis. ‘All who share the guilt shall share the punishment.’ Roosevelt urged Germans and others to sabotage Hitler’s plan. ‘I ask every German and every man everywhere under Nazi domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide these pursued victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what he can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch, and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.’ Roosevelt pledged that the United states would employ ‘all means at its command’ to assist the escape of Hitler’s intended victims, ‘insofar as the necessity of military operations permits.’

“This last clause was crucial. Roosevelt remained convinced that the surest way to save the Jews was to win the war as quickly as possible. As it became apparent that a concentration camp at Auschwitz was a centerpiece of the German death machine, some Jewish spokesmen advocated bombing the camp or the rail lines feeding it. The bombing, the advocates argued, would slow the destruction of the Jews and thereby save lives. It would also make a political and moral statement that the Allies knew what was happening at Auschwitz and were trying to stop it.

“But there were arguments against the bombing. In the first place, it would certainly kill some of the very people the allies sought to save. Little imagination was required to predict that Hitler’s propagandists would display the bodies of those killed by the bombing and blame the Allies for many more Jewish deaths. Roosevelt was serious about bringing the war criminals to justice, and he didn’t want to spoil the evidence of their guilt. In the second place, bombing the camps or the rail lines would require the diversion of scarce resources. American and British bombers were fully employed during 1944 striking targets that contributed to the German war effort. To send planes over Auschwitz might well cost the lives of allied soldiers. Finally, there was no guarantee bombing the camp would do any good. The rail lines could quickly be rebuilt, and the killing of Jews might be accomplished by other means.

“How much of the argument Roosevelt heard, and how fully he participated in it is unclear. John McCloy, the assistant secretary of war, told a journalist decades later that Harry Hopkins informed him during the summer of 1944 that Roosevelt had been urged by some Jewish leaders to order the bombing but that, in Hopkins’s words, ‘the Boss was not disposed to.’ Hopkins asked McCloy to staff the request out. McCloy said he had already done so. The air force had rejected the bombing request on cost-benefit grounds. McCloy gave the negative report to Sam Rosenman, and, in McCloy’s words, ‘that was the end of that.’ McCloy added, in his retrospective interview, that he ‘never talked’ to Roosevelt about the subject.

“But McCloy subsequently changed his story. He told Morgethau’s son that he had indeed spoken to Roosevelt about bombing Auschwitz. The president, according to this later version, himself refused the request. He said the bombing would be ineffecrtive and would appear to make the United States complicit in the killings. ‘We’ll be accused of participating in this horrible business,’ Roosevelt told McCloy.

“Which version, if either, is true is impossible to tell. The contemporary record is silent on the subject. What is clear is that the bombing did not take place and that it did not take place because Roosevelt did not want it to. He knew bombing was an option, and he could have overridden objections from the War Department, as he had overridden the department regarding the timing of the second front. But he thought bombing would be a mistake. Whether he spoke through Hopkins of McCloy, directly or indirectly, the decision – like every other important decision of the war – was his.”

Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  

FDR: Traitor to His Class (2)

FDR Signs Declaration of War on Japan

FDR Signs Declaration of War on Japan

Near the conclusion of Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, author H.W. Brands epitomizes in four paragraphs the essential message of his biography:

“By the time she [Eleanor Roosevelt] died, the New Deal was almost thirty years old. In its maturity it exercised a hold on American life that would have gratified Roosevelt and appalled his opponents, including those angry, fearful types who had denounced him as a traitor to his class. Its power and durability owed much to a quirk of fate – a large quirk, but one unconnected to American domestic politics and policy. If not for the outbreak of war in Europe, Roosevelt would not have run for a third term. If he had not run, the Republicans, campaigning on his second-term troubles, and on his larger failure to restore prosperity, probably would have seized the White House. And they surely would have begun dismantling major parts of the New Deal. The protections to labor would have been vulnerable to a management-friendly executive. The constraints on banks and the stock market would have yielded to the same groups that had resisted them in the first place. Social Security, the centerpiece of Roosevelt’s reforms, might have been particularly vulnerable, in that at the end of Roosevelt’s second term it had scarcely begun to pay out anything to the great majority of its contributors. For most taxpayers, Social Security as of 1940 was simply a drain on their pocketbooks.

“But the war did come, Roosevelt did run, and the Republicans were barred from the White House for another dozen years. By then Social Security had developed a huge constituency, one so great that Dwight Eisenhower remarked that any president or party would have to be crazy to tamper with the system Roosevelt had created. And so it remained untouchable, except to expand its coverage and increase its benefits – and extend its spirit to such derivative programs as Medicare and Medicaid – into the twenty-first century.

“Partly through his own doing, partly through the dice roll of circumstances, Franklin Roosevelt radically altered the landscape of American expectations. The small-government world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was banished forever. Americans demanded more of their government: more services, more safeguards, more security. They got them – along with more taxes, more red tape, more intrusiveness. At times some Americans would wonder whether the cost was worth the benefit. But the skeptics were never convinced enough or numerous enough to turn back the clock and unravel Roosevelt’s handiwork. He gave Americans what most of them agreed the country required during the emergency of the depression, and they sufficiently liked what they got that they retained it after prosperity returned. In the generations that followed, as the American economy continued to thrive and as the benefits of America’s material fortune rained down on the wealthy even more than on persons of moderate means, the objective and honest of those who once denounced Roosevelt for class betrayal recognized that, in a decade rife with fascists, militarists, and communists abroad and irresponsible demagogues at home, he was the best thing that could have happened to them.

“The transformation Roosevelt wrought in America’s world role was no less radical than the change he effected in domestic affairs. America had turned its back on the world during the 1920s, and the depression reinforced Americans’ reluctance to think that what happened in Europe and Asia had relevance for them. Roosevelt did little to challenge this view during his first term. But beginning in 1937 he gradually awakened Americans to the dangers of ignoring that wider world and to the necessity of engaging it, for their own sake and others’. So well did he succeed that Americans never seriously reconsidered the conclusions he impressed upon them. In some cases they seemed to have learned Roosevelt’s lesson too well, making minor distant troubles imprudently their own. But a lifetime after his death, America remained committed to the principle that had guided his foreign policy: that close involvement with the world was America’s responsibility and in America’s best interest.”

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)